Unarmed Strike 5E: D&D Fisticuffs Explained

unarmed attack 5e

Sometimes, you get in a little barroom brawl that can only be solved with your fists. These situations can happen a lot when your party is particularly aggressive. So, what happens when you put down the weapons and break out the ol’ reliable left and right hook? The Unarmed Strike in Dungeons & Dragons 5E is a weapon that every character can use. However, it’s not necessarily the best weapon in everyone’s arsenal. This guide to the Unarmed Strike 5E will tell you all you need to know about this ability.

Unarmed Strike 5E Guide

unarmed attack 5e

The Unarmed strike is an attack that a character can do with their fists, legs, shoulder, elbow, or any other extremity that they plan on using. Even when wielding weapons, a character can attempt to swing on someone else with any way they can – most commonly with kicks.

Are Unarmed Strikes Weapons?

The way you deal damage with an unarmed strike is an awful lot like a weapon attack. In fact, they are treated as melee weapon attacks under the rules. However, unarmed strikes are not considered weapons. This is true despite their placement on the weapons table in the Player’s Handbook.

How do Unarmed Strikes Work in 5E?

When you perform an Unarmed Strike against an enemy, you roll a d20 + Strength + Proficiency to see if you hit. Every character is proficient with unarmed strikes, so you get your proficiency to it no matter what. On a hit, you deal 1 point of Bludgeoning damage, and add your Strength modifier to the damage.

Since you are proficient with an Unarmed Strike, you may constantly use it as a weapon. That means, even if you are not wielding a weapon, you may perform an Unarmed Strike against someone attempting to escape from your 5ft Threaten Range. Your DM may decide to change this basic ruling, so ask when an opportunity attack is likely.

D&D 5E Monk Unarmed Strike Rules

The monk class is the most potent unarmed attacker in the game. When you take a level in Monk, your basic Unarmed Strike damage is increased to 1d4. At level 5, 11, and 17, your Unarmed Strike’s damage increases by an additional dice size (1d6 -> 1d8 -> 1d10). 

In addition, you may use your Unarmed Strike to deal damage with Dexterity instead of Strength. Finally, after using the Attack Action, you may spend a Bonus Action to attack with an unarmed strike again.

There are additional Monk features that allow the Monk to expend Ki Points to improve their unarmed attacks in different ways. These features include Stunning Strike, a feature obtained at level 5 which allows the Monk to attempt to stun a punched target.

At level 6, your fists are always magical, without the need of magical enhancements. This is an extremely powerful buff, but hopefully, your DM would have provided other methods of getting magical fists by now.

Other Ways to Improve 5E Unarmed Strike

The Monk is by far the most powerful Unarmed Striker that you could possibly ask for. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s your only one. You have a few other methods of improving the base damage of your Unarmed Strike.

Alter Self

The spell Alter Self is an interesting option for improving an unarmed strike. Available to sorcerers and wizards, this spell allows you to give yourself natural weapons that could be used as unarmed strikes. These weapons deal 1d6 + your strength modifier in damage. Not only that, but they are treated as magical weapons that get an additional +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls.


Certain feats improve your ability to deal damage with unarmed strikes. Specifically, the Tavern Brawler feat allows your unarmed strikes to use a d4 for damage instead of dealing a single point. What’s more, this feat even lets you use your bonus action to attempt to grapple your target. The Dragon Hide feat also gives you 1d4 damage bonus thanks to retractable claws.

Racial Features

Race can increase your Unarmed Strike damage. This is usually through Claws, like for the Tabaxi. Races usually have a cap of 1d4 + Strength modifier for increased Unarmed Strike damage. So, the same as the base level of the Monk. This is far from a superb increase in your damage output, and is usually just for flavor. However, compared to 1 + Strength, this is a pretty good buff that you should remember in important situations. This is a fairly rare bonus, so don’t expect it in every single situation. Only a few races have the opportunity to have improved unarmed strikes of any kind. Another interesting not, a tabaxi’s claws do not prevent your character from making a standard unarmed strike by kicking or headbutting. That means when using unarmed strikes, a tabaxi can choose between slashing or bludgeoning damage. Other races that offer natural weapons that have bonuses to unarmed strikes include:

  • Aarakocra – Talons that deal 1d4 + Strength modifier slashing damage
  • Centaur – Hooves that deal 1d4 + Strength modifier bludgeoning damage
  • Dhampir – Bite that deals 1d4 + Constitution modifier piercing damage
  • Leonin – Claws that deal 1d4 + Strength modifier slashing damage
  • Lizardfolk – Bite that deals 1d6 + Strength modifier bludgeoning damage
  • Minotaur – Horns that deal 1d6 + Strength modifier piercing damage
  • Satyr – Horns that deal 1d4 + Strength modifier bludgeoning damage
  • Tabaxi – Claws that deal 1d4 + Strength modifier slashing damage
  • Tortle – Claws that deal 1d4 + Strength modifier slashing damage

Fighter Unarmed Fighting Style

The only other significant and easy improvement to unarmed strikes comes from Fighting Styles or specific class boons. For instance, the Fighter can gain the Unarmed Fighting Fighting Style, which boosts their unarmed attacks from 1 to 1d6. They can get even stronger if the Fighter is not wielding any weapons or a Shield, up to a d8. While this may seem to vastly outpace the Monk, you cannot be as effective as the Monk when it comes to making multiple unarmed attacks per round. In addition, the monk will eventually outpace the Fighter in both Unarmed Strike damage and utility. It’s still a really, really fun option, and early on, you pound the monk’s damage potential! Currently, no other class can emulate the Fighter’s Unarmed Fighting Style or the Monk’s Martial Arts ability.

Magic Items

Some magic items may boost your potential to deal damage with unarmed strikes. Items like the Dragon Hide or the Eldritch Claw tattoo might aid you in dealing additional damage, or giving you new types of Unarmed Attacks. Look out for these items on your adventure!

The Eldritch Claw Tattoo is especially handy, as it can increase your range and give you magical unarmed attacks. This can be extremely useful, since it can let your Monk stay out of melee range of deadly foes. Since Monks can have low HP, having the Paladin or Barbarian tank it instead is usually nice.

Unarmed Strike and Natural Attacks

is unarmed strike a natural weapon? if you are wondering about the possible interaction between unarmed strikes and natural attacks of certain 5E races, you are not alone. It’s not hard to understand why, as a character with claws, horns, or tails could add substantial damage to a monk’s flurry of blows. Unfortunately, natural weapons and attacks are not unarmed strikes according to this tweet from Jeremy Crawford.

As Jeremy explains, natural weapons are just that – natural weapons. This is an individual classification that is not considered an unarmed strike, martial weapon, or simple weapon. While there are some similarities between natural weapons and unarmed strikes, it is important to note that benefits that apply to unarmed strikes do not also cover natural weapons.

Are Unarmed Attacks Worth it?

Generally speaking, it is not worth making an unarmed strike unless you (a) have built your character around this type of attack or (b) are completely desperate. When playing a monk or a character with the Tavern Brawler feat, you can comfortably rely on unarmed strikes to deal notable amounts of damage. However, that is not the case for most builds.

Keep in mind that most characters will only deal 1 + their strength modifier in damage. That means any character with strength as a dump stat could conceivably deal zero damage on a successful unarmed attack in 5E.

In older versions of the game, there were some viable reasons to make this type of attack. For example, an unarmed strike was one way to knock a foe unconscious as opposed to killing them. Those rules are not a part of 5E, making an unarmed strike even less useful in this version of the game.

Unarmed Strike 5E FAQ

This section answers all of your burning questions about unarmed strike in D&D.

Does Divine Smite Work with Unarmed Strike?

Divine Smite does not work with unarmed strike. This ruling is in conflict from previous rulings from Jeremy Crawford, who has said an unarmed strike is treated as a melee attack. In this tweet, Crawford explains that divine smite is not intended to work with unarmed strikes. His reasoning is confusing, as he points to the lack of a weapon in making unarmed strike unavailable for divine smite. However, the wording of divine smite only requires a melee weapon attack, something Crawford has previously said includes an unarmed strike. Confused? Me too. It’s worth noting that Improved Divine Smite specifically requires an attack using a melee weapon, meaning there is little doubt Improved Divine Smite will not apply to unarmed strikes.

Do You Add Attack Bonus to Unarmed Strike?

Yes, you add your attack bonus (specifically, your Strength modifier) to unarmed strikes. As mentioned above, unarmed strikes are not considered weapons, but these attacks are considered melee weapon attacks. That means you can add your strength modifier to your attack roll.

Does Unarmed Strike get Proficiency Bonus?

Unarmed strikes add your proficiency bonus to your attack rolls. For the purposes of an attack, these strikes are treated the same as any melee weapon attack roll. that means you not only add your strength modifier to the attack roll, but you also add your proficiency bonus as well.

Can You Bonus Action Unarmed Strike?

Without a special ability or trait that allows for it, you cannot use your bonus action to make an unarmed strike. Attacks with uarmed strikes are treated like standard melee weapon attacks. That means you must use your action in order to attack, outside certain exceptions. Those exceptions generally show up when you play as a monk. The Martial Arts and Flurry of Blows class features allow you to make use of bonus attacks for this purpose.

Is Unarmed Strike a Weapon Attack?

Unarmed strikes are considered melee weapon attacks, even though they are not considered weapons under the rules. In fact, unarmed strikes are the only exception to the rule that only a weapon can make a melee attack.

Are Unarmed Strikes Finesse Weapons?

Unarmed strikes are not finesse weapons, as they lack the Finesse property. That means you cannot use your dexterity modifier for your attack roll instead of strength. In fact, unarmed strikes lack any weapon properties at all. That means there are no versatile unarmed strikes.

Wrapping Up Our 5E Unarmed Strike Guide

While the Fighter and Monk can make Unarmed Strikes reasonably strong, most other classes cannot. Druids mimic Unarmed Strikes by transforming, and some of these unarmed strikes can be augmented by magical items. In general, though, you’re more likely to find Unarmed Strike items for the Monk more than things that help the Druid.

Unarmed Strikes can get you into more trouble than they are usually worth. Unless your Strength is unusually high, or the circumstance just requires you to deck someone in the mouth, it’s better to leave punching bad guys to the professionals. Still, especially for Opportunity Attacks, it can be worth just throwing a kick out whenever you need to. One damage is one damage closer to defeating the enemy.

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