15
\$\begingroup\$

In the latest errata for the D&D 5.0 PHB, unarmed strikes apparently ceased to count as weapons, being something you use instead of weapons:

Equipment

Weapons (p. 149). Unarmed strike doesn't belong on the weapon table.

Combat

Melee Attacks (p. 195). The rule on unarmed strikes should read as follows: "Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike: a punch, kick, head-butt, or similar forceful blow (none of which count as weapons). On a hit, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + your Strength modifier. You are proficient with your unarmed strikes."

Is this a significant change, or just a relatively benign clarification or error-fix, particularly with regards to how it affects Barbarians, Monks, and Brawlers?

Is this a major nerf or empowerment in any way, and if so why? How much does this actually affect characters who fight unarmed — does it break or change a lot, or only a limited obscure amount? Does this break popular character builds? (Is it doing enough I should be letting my players reroll?) If it's hard to tell how much this affects, I'd be interested to know that as well.

\$\endgroup\$
23
\$\begingroup\$

Mostly, it cuts down argument and post count on the official forums. :-)

Now that unarmed attacks are not weapons, we can say that unarmed fighting does not work with two-weapon fighting, frenzy, Divine Strike (maybe), retaliation, battle magic, duelling fighting style, great weapon fighting style, two-weapon fighting style, disarm manoeuvre (maybe), Warlock weapon bond and/or pact weapon (yes, I saw a post somewhere about a player trying this one!), war magic, improved war magic, eldritch smite, sacred weapon, horde breaker, and whatever other ones my quick flick through my book has missed.

The change makes melee combatants a little less flexible. Before, if you had a light weapon in one hand you could use two-weapon fighting to punch/kick/whatever. Now you can't. It wasn't an awesome option, but 1 damage (or 1+STR if you had the feat or style) was better than nothing.

To summarise, it is not a nerf or empowerment - it is a simplification that removes ambiguitiy and sources of argument.

Note that there is a difference between a "melee weapon attack" and an "attack with a weapon" in the rules.

A "melee weapon attack" can be made with a melee weapon, a fist, a claw, a tail, or something else. It is one of the four ways of making an attack (the others being "ranged weapon attack", "melee spell attack" and "ranged spell attack"). Yes, it is confusing that a "melee weapon attack" might not involve a "weapon". Some features use the phrase "weapon attack" with means either a "melee weapon attack" or a "ranged weapon attack".

"Attack with a weapon" is when you hit a foe with something that is on the weapons table.

Unarmed fighting is a "melee weapon attack" but is not an "attack with a weapon".

For example, two-weapon fighting (Basic Rules v0.3, page 74):

When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon…

This does not apply to unarmed strikes.

Some features use different phrasing (for example, divine strike uses the phrase "weapon strikes"). Whether or not this applies to unarmed attacks and natural weapon attacks is unclear.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ But doesn't it cut down heavily on flavor for players that like their characters being able to beat foes into the ground with their bare hands? \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Jun 16 '15 at 21:06
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ -1 This answer completely wrong because it totally disregards the second referenced change in the errata: "Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike: a punch, kick, head-butt, or similar forceful blow (none of which count as weapons)." This explicitly states that attacking unarmed is a melee weapon attack. So most of what you've listed can in fact be used with unarmed strikes. \$\endgroup\$ – Disillusioned Apr 3 '16 at 8:05
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The summary is also an extreme oversimplification. While in most situations the impact would be minor, it is a huge nerf whenever a character cannot (or doesn't want to) use their weapons. (E.g. When fighting a Rust Monster.) \$\endgroup\$ – Disillusioned Apr 3 '16 at 8:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Finally not all ambiguities are resolved. E.g. Wording on both Divine Strike and Divine Smite suggests (but fails to be explicitly clear) that the abilities involve weapons (which unarmed strikes are not). Yet both abilities trigger with weapon attacks (which unarmed strikes are). \$\endgroup\$ – Disillusioned Apr 3 '16 at 8:18
14
\$\begingroup\$

Mostly this is just an explanatory errata, and in most situations it does not change the rules or common builds for barbarians monks and brawlers, which wished to make use of unarmed combat.

However, it is a significant change in a minority of use cases, where an ability focused on a weapon, rather than on an attack of some kind. This is explicitly explained by Jeremy Crawford when he says in twitter:

@DnDJester A monk can still use Stunning Strike with an unarmed strike. @pukunui81

For example. The spell to make a mundane weapon into a magic weapon, or to give a weapon some new property, does not apply to limbs or heads of creatures, no matter how well trained. Similarly, anything that requires you hold a weapon in your hand, does not apply to your hands themselves.

At first glance, one might think that this changes the rules for all Melee weapon attacks, since the "unarmed strike" was never intended to be listed as a weapon.

Weapons (p. 149). Unarmed strike doesn't belong on the weapon table.

However, in the Combat section, it explains that in any situation where there is a "melee weapon attack", the weapon in that attack can be replaced with an "unarmed strike". Even though it is not a weapon itself, it still can be used within a "melee weapon attack". This is an exception to the general rule regarding melee weapon attacks, which would normally require a weapon.

Melee Attacks (p. 195). The rule on unarmed strikes should read as follows: "Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike: a punch, kick, head-butt, or similar forceful blow (none of which count as weapons). On a hit, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + your Strength modifier. You are proficient with your unarmed strikes."

This emphasis is based on the tweet by Jeremy Crawford who wrote:

Addressing a nuance in the PH errata: the rule lets melee weapon attacks use unarmed strikes, despite those strikes not being weapons.

When one is unarmed, they are by definition without a weapon, and a strike is therefore a melee attack, which is done without a weapon. One way to think about this is that all melee attacks fall into one of two categories, either a spell attack or a weapon attack, and since striking while unarmed is not a spell, it counts as a "melee weapon attack". Therefore most multiclassing builds or brawler builds relying on using unarmed strikes to trigger other abilities generally work. They are not intended to work however, with the feats that target weapons. For example, the Savage attacker feat. (reroll weapon damage dice)

Game designer Jeremy Crawford pointed out this blog post as a good summary of the rules change.

During this "transition phase" where the Monster Manual errata has not yet been released, Jeremy Crawford, also clarified that monster resistances are based on the damage type, and not if its a weapon or not, and monsters such as werewolves which are resistant to nonmagical weapons, should instead be resistant to "nonmagical weapon attacks."

\$\endgroup\$
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I like the explanation that all attacks are either "weapon" or "spell" attacks. One could go further to say they're all "melee" or "ranged" attacks. This combined, produces 4 different permutations to classify the type of an attack. And the errata explicitly classifies unarmed strike as a melee weapon attack (while noting that in spite of this classification, body parts quite obviously aren't, literally speaking, weapons). \$\endgroup\$ – Disillusioned Apr 3 '16 at 6:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ PS: I'd like to suggest that you accept your own answer. It is the most accurate and comprehensive available. \$\endgroup\$ – Disillusioned Apr 3 '16 at 8:25
6
\$\begingroup\$

Here's additional clarification from the Designers:

Addressing a nuance in the PH errata: the rule lets melee weapon attacks use unarmed strikes, despite those strikes not being weapons.

So I think this does a few things:

  • It clarifies proficiency. (you are proficient, even as a Wizard)
  • It clarifies variety. (yes you can kick your opponent)
  • It does allow for a bonus to damage, that bonus is your Strength modifier.
  • It is a melee weapon attack that just so happens to not use a physical weapon. If your Fighter wants to throw a kick as part of his 3 attacks in his Attack Action, he can do so.
  • There are no extra features specified. It's not Light or Finesse, it doesn't even necessarily use your hand.

The only real hole here is the question of Light. It could easily be argued that using a hand is at least as "light" as using a dagger and therefore the hand must be Light. But the text is clear that Unarmed Strike is not necessarily a hand strike.

Clearly DMs and PCs can fight that out over the kitchen table :)

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.