All maneuvers in Tome of Battle have a clearly defined paragraph of flavor text, clearly marked in italics, and a rules text right below it.

I understand the first part of this rules text to be some sort of reprise of the flavor text. Look at Bounding Assault:

You combine speed and power into a deadly combination...

A guy I know says that, since it's not italics and it's out of the "fluff" paragraph, it must then be "crunch" and therefore, based on the following snippet, says that Punishing Stance only works with weapons (and not with every melee attack like its last lines seem to describe).

You hold your weapon overhead, allowing you to chop down with superior force.

Is it possible to determine who's right? Has there ever been a RAI interpretation (by which I mean, author's word) on this point, or a solid reasoning as to why it is one or the other way, based maybe on examples from the same book that only make sense if one of the readings is taken for true?

Note that melee touch attacks only count as attack-like for determinig if feats apply to them.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think any book that uses the italics-then-normal-typeface format for its entries (e.g. spells in Spell Compendium and Complete Mage) has rules describing exactly what that format means. Wizards of the Coast probably just assumed its D&D 3.5 players would be familiar with Magic: The Gathering's similar format. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ In response to the title (which isn't mentioned in the question's body, by the way, which is a little strange), has the DM already resolved this question? That is, how is the creature making the melee touch attacks? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 20:17

2 Answers 2


Complete Arcane and Rules Compendium discuss the concept of “weaponlike spells,” which can be treated as weapons for a number of purposes. Rules Compendium goes further and says that a touch-attack charge qualifies as being armed for the purposes of threatening areas and taking attacks of opportunity.

In effect, it is no more impossible to “hold your weapon overhead, allowing you to chop down with superior force” with a touch-attack charge than it is with a rapier or a fist: stupid, but if someone wants to be pedantic enough to read this much into punishing stance’s description, it can be done.

Realistically, the line is a description, not a proscription. The “flavor text” formatting is never really defined, and most things don’t even bother using it; only spells and similarly-formatted things do. But “flavor text” in one form or another litters the rules, and this is no different. It is an important skill in reading the rules to differentiate with description and proscription.

And ultimately, the problem here is really with Tome of Battle—the line is incredibly specific for an extremely generic effect. Touch attacks are far from the only things that have problems with the description; as I already pointed out, that line doesn’t make a whole lot more sense for a rapier or unarmed strike than it does for a touch attack.

The proscription in punishing stance is that you must be in the stance, and you must accept the −2 AC penalty, in order to gain the +1d6 damage bonus. A touch attack definitely qualifies as a melee attack.


The answer is yes, but probably not in the way you intended.

You can 'benefit' from Punishing Stance with Touch Attacks but you would generally not apply benefits to damage. You can, however, increase your ability to land touch attacks with abilities/stances etc that increase your ability to accurately hit things.

For the purposes of D&D, your hands can be considered weapons if you have Improved Unarmed Strike or a prepared touch spell. That being said, things that provide a damage bonus to melee strikes do not apply to spells, so it depends on what your intent is.

If you're trying to emulate the Esoteric Magus from Pathfinder, you can make Unarmed Strikes that apply touch spells and also apply Punishing Stance to the Unarmed Damage.

I don't have the Tome of Battle, but this is based on rules set forth in basic D&D 3.5 available on the SRD here:


See '"Armed" Unarmed Attacks'

A monk, a character with the Improved Unarmed Strike feat, a spellcaster delivering a touch attack spell, and a creature with natural physical weapons all count as being armed.

and 'Touch Spells in Combat'

Touching an opponent with a touch spell is considered to be an armed attack(...) Alternatively, you may make a normal unarmed attack (or an attack with a natural weapon) while holding a charge.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The claim “That being said, things that provide a damage bonus to melee strikes do not apply to spells, so it depends on what your intent is,” is false, I believe, and it’s pivotal to your answer. Can you back up this statement? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 16:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel I clearly state that D&D considers 'unarmed' a type of weapon. Just look at the weapon table. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan thanks, I'll find that reference ASAP. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .