I want to make a half-orc monk and I was wondering if the racial feature Savage Attacks from the half-orc race and unarmed strikes from the monk's Martial Arts feature work together. Or, is there some reason that unarmed strikes don't apply to this?


3 Answers 3


The Savage Attacks trait says:

Savage Attacks. When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you can roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.

All it requires is that you get a critical hit with a melee weapon attack. An unarmed strike can be used to make a melee weapon attack, so yes, Savage Attacks will work if you get a critical hit with an unarmed strike.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @JAMalcolmson Sorry, I misunderstood what you were saying: I thought you were disagreeing with the conclusion, rather than pointing out that the answers on that question don't support it. I've added an answer to that question and changed the link to point to it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Oct 7, 2016 at 12:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I initially upvoted this ages ago, but I've since ended up at the opposite conclusion: because it says you roll the "weapon's damage dice" again, it does require the attack to be made with a weapon (as with Divine Smite). I've left my own answer accordingly. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Mar 10, 2019 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is wrong. The one provided by @V2Blast is right: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/88852/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Tarod
    Feb 6 at 17:26

No, the Savage Attacks trait doesn't benefit unarmed strikes.

The half-orc's Savage Attacks trait says (emphasis mine):

When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you can roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.

Because it does say "the weapon's damage dice", it only applies on attacks made with weapons - not unarmed strikes.

Even though unarmed strikes are considered "melee weapon attacks", they do not involve a weapon, as mentioned in the "Melee Attacks" section of the rules (emphasis mine):

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).

As such, things that require a weapon don't work with unarmed strikes.

The same is true of the similarly worded (...and very similarly named) Savage Attacker feat. The description of the Savage Attacker feat says (PHB, p. 169; emphasis mine):

Once per turn when you roll damage for a melee weapon attack, you can reroll the weapon’s damage dice and use either total.

Page 8 of the Sage Advice Compendium includes the following official ruling on the Savage Attacker feat's interaction with unarmed strikes:

Does the Savage Attacker feat work with unarmed strikes?

No. Savage Attacker relies on a weapon’s damage dice, and an unarmed strike isn’t a weapon (a point that was clarified in the Player’s Handbook errata).

The half-orc's Savage Attacks trait includes the exact same phrase as the Savage Attacker trait: "the weapon's damage dice". Thus, by the same logic, Savage Attacks also requires an attack with a weapon - so unarmed strikes don't count. They're melee weapon attacks, but are not made with a weapon. (This is not changed by anything in the monk's Martial Arts feature either.)

As always, DMs can houserule otherwise.

(It likely does not break anything to allow this; even for monks, the highest damage die they can have on an unarmed strike is 1d10, whereas several weapons can also do 1d10 damage, and greataxes and lances do 1d12 damage. While monks can make more attacks per turn than some other classes, the benefit of the Savage Attacks trait in particular is limited to critical hits, so this does not seem particularly game-breaking to allow.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd argue it's ultimately pointless as the monk could just pick up a Monk Weapon, then have the benefit of smite or Savage Attacks with no change in their rolling. \$\endgroup\$
    – Josh
    Mar 13, 2019 at 8:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Josh It does matter a little. For example, a monk can only use its Flurry of Blows feature to make unarmed strikes with a bonus action. So whether or not the Savage Attacker feature works with unarmed strikes can change whether the monk has two or four chances to use that feature every turn (at level 5+). \$\endgroup\$ Mar 13, 2019 at 18:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gandalfmeansme not super significant but I do get your point, it continues the trend of the designers discouraging multi-classing \$\endgroup\$
    – Josh
    Mar 14, 2019 at 7:57

That is dependent on the DM

A point of contention will always be whether or not unarmed strikes count as melee weapon attacks. A PHB errata and sage advice compendium muddy the answer to this question. This answer tries to assert that unarmed strikes count as a melee weapon attack using this SAC as its proof. However, in that very same compendium, that question is answered outright.

Does the Savage Attacker feat work with unarmed strikes? No. Savage Attacker relies on a weapon’s damage dice, and an unarmed strike isn’t a weapon (a point that was clarified in the Player’s Handbook errata)

Therefore, the operative question is: does Martial Arts override this, and allow unarmed strikes to be considered melee weapon strikes because of the nature of monks?

By definition, the answer is no.

But your DM may decide differently. Firstly, the way it's worded and described is VERY confusing, misleading, and generally uncool. Unarmed strikes are melee weapon attacks until they aren't, because for the above example unarmed strikes do not qualify even though the rule says melee weapon attack and unarmed strikes have been described as a melee weapon attack in that errata despite not involving a weapon and clearly being treated as an unarmed strike, which itself is being treated as separate from a melee weapon attack despite the...well, you get the loop from here. Your DM may choose fun over semantics. Secondly, damage die exist for unarmed strikes for monks, therefore bypassing the objection that damage dice are needed. But then there still comes the matter that unarmed strikes are simply not melee weapons – and even that if having damage dice was enough, then half-orcs with the tavern brawler feat might also qualify their unarmed strikes to work with Savage Attacks. These complications may make for a stronger case that, even for monks, the RAW are also the RAI. Though the quote above addresses Savage Attacker and not Savage Attacks, both rely on damage die and trigger on melee weapon attacks for the added dice, ergo the answer seems to apply for both. So I'd say to be prepared for DMs to staunchly deny the extra crit damage die as there is nothing that supports monk unarmed strikes counting as melee weapon attacks, and everything supporting the RAW – that monk unarmed strikes are still just unarmed strikes, and unarmed strikes are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, not eligible for Savage Attacks. But I know I would absolutely allow it because I wouldn't want to invalidate Half-Orcs as a race choice for my players' monks, nor would I want to restrict their RP/play style by forcing them to use weapons lest they lose out on their racial abilities. And if any exception to this rule should be allowed, it would be for monks and their martial arts.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Unarmed strikes are not made with weapons, but they are melee weapon attacks. Perhaps more importantly, the Savage Attacker feat is not the same as the half-orc's racial Savage Attacks feature. (They are confusingly named.) And with monks, their unarmed attacks do involve damage dice, so there is indeed something to roll. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Apr 16, 2018 at 3:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman and V2Blast While both points are correct enough based on wording in that errata, for the purposes of Savage Attacks and Savage Attacker, this appears to be untrue despite the way it was worded in that very SAC. Both add dice with melee weapon attacks (different circumstances), but it seems that unarmed strikes are melee weapon attacks until dealing with a feature that specifies melee weapon attacks, then they absolutely aren't. So apparently they aren't, even though they are. Safe to say they aren't? V2, saw your comment after I edited. Thought of that and added a counterpoint. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 16, 2018 at 3:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Rather, I should say that I addressed that damage die point before reading your comment on it. Because you're right, but apparently for the RAW it's only half the solution? Regardless, it does rather feel like monk as an exception should be directly addressed. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 16, 2018 at 3:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to add a paragraph break or two to the last paragraph to improve readability. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Mar 12, 2019 at 9:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed, your answer was spot on and first and v2blasts is nearly identical in information. If you can organize this more clearly, you may get the bounty . \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 12, 2019 at 12:40

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