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
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.
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.
Monk Unarmed Strike
The monk 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 It
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.