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DnD unarmed strike 5e rules explained

Want to build a slap-happy character who mainly uses unarmed strike 5e attacks? Here's the key Dungeons and Dragons rules you should know.

DnD Unarmed Strike 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a Leonin

The Unarmed Strike 5e rules sound like they should be simple, but the truth is far stranger. Simply punching, kicking, or headbutting an enemy requires a surprising amount of reading to make sure you’ve got your rules right. For every improvised attacker out there, we’ve done the hard work for you – here are all the key DnD unarmed strike rules you need to know.

We’ve covered the rules as written in the core DnD books, as well as how those rules interact with different DnD classes, DnD races, 5e feats, and DnD magic items. Any basic questions you have about hitting, we can answer.

DnD Unarmed Strike 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a Monk in combat

Standard rules for unarmed strike 5e

According to the DnD 5e Player’s Handbook: “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 seems simple, but there are a few things to unpack here. Firstly, you’re always proficient with unarmed strikes, so you’ll add your Strength modifier and proficiency bonus to attack rolls (unless you’re a DnD Monk, but more on that later).

Secondly, in ordinary circumstances, your character’s body does not count as a DnD weapon – even if unarmed strikes are considered melee weapon attacks. This means an unarmed strike (whatever body part you’re using) doesn’t synergize with a lot of character features in Dungeons and Dragons.

DnD unarmed strike 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of two goblins fighting

For example, a DnD Paladin can’t use Divine Smite if they land an unarmed strike, as they need to be using a weapon. Also, you can’t typically use your bonus action to make a second attack as per the rules of two-weapon fighting, as you need to be using a weapon with the ‘light’ property.

Next, there’s no damage die to roll on a successful hit with an unarmed strike. This means you can never land a critical hit with a standard unarmed strike. It also means it’s possible to deal zero damage – if your Strength modifier is -1, throwing a punch will probably never be worth it.

DnD Unarmed Strike 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a Monk doing a flying kick

Unarmed strike 5e rules for different DnD classes

DnD Monk

The one DnD class that’s designed to use unarmed strikes is the Monk. As a Monk, you can use your Dexterity modifier instead of Strength for unarmed strike attacks, and you can make a second unarmed strike as a bonus action – even if your first attack was with a Monk weapon rather than a part of your body. Hell, if you use the Flurry of Blows feature, you can spend a Ki point to make two unarmed strikes as a bonus action.

Plus, you roll 1d4 instead of dealing the base damage. This damage die grows larger as you go from DnD level up to level up, eventually maxing out at 1d10. Advance far enough, and your unarmed strikes eventually become magical, too.

DnD Unarmed Strike 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a Barbarian threatening a guard

DnD Barbarian

One of the DnD Barbarian subclasses has its own version of unarmed strikes – the Path of the Beast. This Barbarian 5e transforms into a beast when they rage, and they can choose to manifest one of three simple melee weapons:

Weapon Damage type Damage die
Bite Piercing 1d8
Claws Slashing 1d6
Tail Piercing 1d8

These attacks each come with their own unique bonus, but they also count as melee weapons. This means, unlike a standard unarmed strike, they’ll synergize with any rule that requires you to hit with a weapon.

DnD unarmed strike 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a Dragonborn

Unarmed strike 5e rules for DnD races

Several DnD races have unique features which alter the standard rules for unarmed strikes. Most of these features (especially since the release of Monsters of the Multiverse) change the damage type dealt by unarmed strikes and allocate a damage die rather than the usual set damage.

Here are the DnD races that can make more powerful unarmed strikes:

Name Unarmed attack name Damage type Damage die
Aarakocra Talons Slashing 1d6 + Strength modifier
Centaur Hooves Bludgeoning 1d6 + Strength modifier
Leonin 5e Claws Slashing 1d4 + Strength modifier
Lizardfolk Bite Slashing 1d6 + Strength modifier
Minotaur Horns Piercing 1d6 + Strength modifier
Satyr Ram Bludgeoning 1d6 + Strength modifier
Tabaxi 5e Claws Slashing 1d6 + Strength modifier
Tortle 5e Claws Slashing 1d6 + Strength modifier

It’s also written that the Loxodon can use their trunk to make an unarmed strike, but they don’t use any exceptional rules to do so.

DnD unarmed strike 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a tavern brawl

Other rules that interact with unarmed strikes


There’s only really one 5e feat that shakes things up when it comes to unarmed strikes. Tavern Brawler lets you deal 1d4 damage with your unarmed strikes, and you can choose to use grapple 5e as a bonus action after a successful hit.

Given how many races can deal better damage and the synergy the Monk class already has with unarmed strikes, this isn’t a particularly popular feat (unless you’re playing Baldur’s Gate 3, where it has a lot more utility).

DnD unarmed strike 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of a Githzerai

Magic items

There is a range of DnD magic items designed to enhance unarmed strikes. These include:

  • Wraps of Dyamak – adds increasing attacks and damage bonuses to unarmed strike
  • Wyrmreaver Gauntlets – adds 1d6 force damage and 30 feet of reach to unarmed strikes
  • Eldritch Claw Tattoo – adds a +1 bonus to unarmed strike attack and damage rolls, and can add 15 feet of reach and an extra 1d6 force damage to attacks
  • Gloves of Soul Catching – Unarmed strikes deal an extra 2d10 force damage, and you regain this number of hit points or advantage on a roll of your choice
  • Cape of Enlargement – Adds your proficiency bonus to unarmed strike damage

For more on how to play Dungeons and Dragons, check out our guides to DnD backgrounds and 5e spells.