I'm planing to create an Aarakocra monk and looked for some information about that. I've read multiple times that you will want to use a weapon only until you reach a certain level (I believe it was 5th level).

But I didn't get why I should throw away my weapon after that level.

For example, a Monk with a quarterstaff (which counts as monk weapon), could just attack with the weapon and use the damage role of Martial Arts.

Why should I remove the weapon on higher levels?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might help if you linked to the places you’ve read this. As is, this question cannot be answered by anyone who hasn’t stumbled upon the same claims, since we have no details on the claims actually made. It would be a very bad answer to just speculate what others might have meant when they said a thing. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 21 '15 at 12:09

It depends on how good your weapons are, and how good your kung-fu is.

Making multiple attacks is the key, and there are two rules available to obtain them. Two weapons fighting (PH p.195)...

When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you're holding in one hand, you can use a bonus action to attack with a different light melee weapon that you're holding in the other hand. You don't add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative.

...and the Martial Arts class feature (PH p.78):

When you use the Attack action with an unarmed strike or monk weapon on your turn, you can make one unarmed strike as a bonus action.

Note that the bonus action unarmed strike granted by martial arts still adds the ability modifier to damage.

The relative merit of armed and unarmed attacks depends on how much damage an unarmed attack does, and this depends on Monk level: 1d4 at level 1, 1d6 at level 5, 1d8 at level 11, etc.

Presuming your Dexterity is higher than your Strength, your reasonable weapon options at level 1 are as follows:

  • Use a pair of light weapons (e.g. shortswords) with two weapon fighting. This does 1d6 + Dexterity, and 1d6 as a bonus action obtained from two weapon fighting.
  • Use a versatile weapon (e.g. spear or quarterstaff) in two hands to do 1d8 + Dexterity, and 1d4 + Dexterity as a bonus action obtained from martial arts.
  • Use no weapons, doing 1d4 + Dexterity twice.

    Assuming a Dexterity modifier above zero, the versatile weapon is the best choice.

Level 5 Improvement

At level 5, a Monk gains the Extra Attack feature and an increase in martial arts damage to 1d6. The situation is now:

  • Pair of light weapons: 1d6 + Dex (attack), 1d6 + Dex (extra attack), 1d6 (two weapon fighting bonus action)
  • Versatile weapon: 1d8 + Dex (attack), 1d8 + Dex (extra attack), 1d6 + Dex (martial arts bonus action)
  • No weapons: 1d6 + Dex, 1d6 + Dex, 1d6 + Dex

Level 11 Weapons start to become an option rather than requirement

At level 11, martial arts damage increases to 1d8 and matches the versatile weapon for damage.

Either way, you don't need to be unarmed to obtain the damage provided by martial arts, as described in the PH p.78.

You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapon. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.

Damage isn't everything. Using a versatile weapon in both hands means you don't have a free hand. Here are some abilities you give up:

  • The level 3 Monk class ability Deflect Missiles (PH p.78) grants a free ranged counterattack if you have least one hand free.
  • Gloves of Missile Snaring (DMG p.172) require a free hand to function.
  • You have greater freedom to interact with an objects. For example, switching to a ranged weapon doesn't require first sheathing or dropping a melee weapon.

    All the comparisons to this point make the assumption that you only have access to mundane weapons. Clearly, the bonuses to attack and damage for magic weapons will tip the scales back in their favor. It's something of an arms race between the Monk's improving martial arts damage, and the bonus to attack and damage for increasingly rare and powerful magic weapons.

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I've found the reason to remove the weapon on the 6th level.

Ki-empowered Strikes: Starting at 6th level, your unarmed strikes count as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to non-magical attacks and damage.

So if you want to make magic damage, either you need a magical monk weapon or your mighty fists of doom.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Most warriors are going to want a magical weapon around, or honestly probably before, 6th level. So if you already have a magical weapon, this doesn’t seem like a big deal either way... \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 21 '15 at 12:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Want does not mean get, as I can sadly attest. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 21 '15 at 12:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Magic weapons/items are NOT a given in 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 21 '15 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fine, my point then is that the description of the claim is that unarmed attacks would be better anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 21 '15 at 13:13

I would say role-playing. Role-playing a monk can be challenging from a weapon and attack purposes because the most common gear you find won't easily fit the traditional monk character mold. That said I'm currently at level 4 with my Monk and I have not found any problems with fighting unarmed, but I my Wood Elf monk has a high Dexterity so the attack and damage bonuses are good.

That said, I misread how the bonus unarmed attack works when I first built it and thought I had to in order to get the bonus attack. I am currently trying to decide if I want to use a short sword, staff, or spear as my main weapon with my unarmed attack.

If there were more magic items specifically for monks (gloves, robes, etc) that boosted your unarmed attack and/or damage I think it would make that option a lot more viable.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take the tour when you get a chance. Note that the asker was advised to use unarmed attacks at higher levels. Other answers have provided a mechanics reason to make that switch. Is there a roleplaying reason to start with monk weapons and then switch to unarmed at higher levels? \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Jun 11 '17 at 14:27

Using a versatile weapon, like the spear or the quarterstaff, leaves a hand free between your Attack actions.

It's in the Errata: the two-handed property (as applicable to versatile weapons when wielded using both hands), is relevant -only- when attacking with the weapon. NOT when simply holding it between your turns.

So, you're not giving up any of your Monk by two-handing your staff or spear for attacks. You are counted as holding it in one hand between your attacks.

If your DM gives you a hard time about this... you might want to get one that is more open-minded.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't answer the question of why a monk would want to fight unarmed. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jan 26 '16 at 2:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman Might this answer be a frame challenge? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 26 '16 at 3:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast The question's frame doesn't include anything about two-handing. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jan 26 '16 at 3:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question includes a two handed weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 26 '16 at 3:36

I'm currently playing an Aarakocran monk in 5e and have just gotten to level 7. Using a weapon that does not impose any restrictions due to the monk traits such as a spear or quarterstaff gives the most damage output… use it two-handed! Attack + Extra Attack + Bonus action unarmoured strike or 1Ki Flurry for 2x unarmoured strike.

(Attack action + extra attack) 1d8 + 1d8

(Attack action + extra attack + bonus action) 1d8 + 1d8 + 1d6 (changes with level)

(Attack action + extra attack + 1ki flurry) 1d8 + 1d8 + 1d6 + 1d6

Add your attack mods to that. If you're an open palm Dex truck with a good amount of Wis then you are fine. My AC stands at 18 including a +1 AC prot. bracer. Using a +1 spear I add +5 +5 +4 +4 to an attack with a flurry totaling +18 damage as long as I land the hits.

Use that weapon until you get the 1d8 strikes… but only if you don't have a magical weapon yet.

You will never put out the damage of a spell-caster using a fireball on a group… but you can solo a boss whilst your friends kill the swarm… use your utility Ki skills wisely!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to StackRPG, Mcgaz! I suspect this answer is going to get a bit of a rough reception, since it does not directly answer that was asked. You have some good analysis though. You can edit your answer to give a yes or no, with support to back it up. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Jul 3 '17 at 21:50

In addition to what Sebkha said there are a few situational reasons for unarmed attacks as well, even if you could theoretically do more damage with a weapon.

  1. Even if a weapon could theoretically do more damage you may be better off without obtaining one. Your money spent on your weapon can instead be spent on other equipment, which could be give you just enough to afford an upgrade elsewhere. If your GM hands you a nice weapon you can allow your warrior or other weapon-dependent teammate to use it who will gain a larger benefit then you.
  2. If you don't have access to any weapons your still just as effective. When your making a daring prison break and your warrior is barely dishing out damage with his pathetic punches wishing he had a sword and your still a whirlwind of death this is useful.
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Since the number aspect has already been explained I will focus on something else.

An important reason to fight unarmed is to keep your hand free at all time. There are a few situations where you would either want to keep your hand free or you simply don't have the time (action) to spend freeing your hand. Usually this will happen during a combat encounter.

Maybe it is an enemy archer that is using his elevated position to move out of sight after shooting (gaining total cover). You will probably want to climb up to either fight or push the archer(s) down.

It could also be that you, or your warrior friend, just disarmed someone but they are out of free hands to pick up the weapon, magic staff or MacGuffin of choice before the enemy can pick it up again.

You should also never underestimate the effectiveness of your surrounding. Maybe your turn will be better spent throwing barrels down the stairs.

There is always the against the clock type where you just have to activate the switch(es) to close the castle's gate before the rest of the enemies arrive while fighting the ones that already infiltrated the castle.

In short, you never know when the DM will try to make you do something else than fight during a combat encounter.

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The martial art damage die is applied through monk weapons, so you can hold a dagger in one hand which will (eventually) do 1d10, can be used for sneak attacks, leaves a free hand, can be used with flurry of blows, and still leaves room to use a bonus unarmed strike.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This does not actually answer the question asked. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Nov 4 '17 at 12:15

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