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D&D 5E The 50th Anniversary, "Unarmed Strike", "Natural Weapon", and "Melee Weapon Attack"


Mind Mage
It is awesome that the 50th Anniversary of D&D is also the 10-Year Anniversary of D&D 5e, specifically.

I cant wait!

The designers mentioned that they are already working on an anniversary edition that will update the core books.

It seems like the edition will include any updates as well as some of the popular options that have become available during the years of 5e so far.

The anniversary core books look to be a thoughful, high quality, product.


Among issues that I hope the books update is the terminology relating to unarmed strikes, such as "melee-weapon attack" versus "melee weapon attack", and a vague notion that an unarmed strike isnt a "weapon", and so should be removed from the Weapons table in the Players Handbook. But some how it is a "natural weapon", such as in the Alter Self spell.

Honestly, I find this whole issue so convoluted and confusing, I keep on forgetting what the problems are and what the solution is. I need to research the texual issues and the semi-official rulings all over again, each time the issue of weapon-enhancing an unarmed strike comes up. I should have researched the issues − yet again − now, before starting this thread. Then I would be able to explain clearly what the problem is!

But the problem is, unarmed strike remains a problem even after all these years of 5e.

In some ways, unarmed strike is an obscure corner case, that rarely shows up. The standard unarmed strike only deals 1 hit point of damage! Few use it.

But the need for clarification (and simplification!) is important to me for two main reasons.

Most important, the issue involves gaming rules and self-evident "natural" English, to make the game easier to understand and use. Obviously, a rules system as complex and open-ended as D&D 5e occasionally needs technical jargon with specific rules-contexted meanings. But "melee-weapon attack" versus "melee weapon attack" seems a less helpful technicality. I still dont understand what terrible overpowered abuse would happen if magically weapon-enhancing unarmed strikes. If a Paladin uses fists to "smite", that seems ok mechanically, even flavorfully fun! (Heh, I dont remember if Paladin smite is actually one of the unarmed-related issues or not.) There seems to be no reason for the astonishing convolution of gaming terminology. D&D is such a complex system, it requires a commitment to "keep it as simple as possible but not simpler", in order for a wider public (including me) to comprehend it, play it, and enjoy it.

The first reason is simplify the mechanics of unarmed strike for rules playability. The second reason is flavor.

I love the unarmed unarmored warrior archetype. International fightsports, Norse wrestling, Japanese ninja, Brazilian martial arts, and so on, are awesome! I want more of it in D&D. I welcome the recent options of the unarmed combat Fighting Style for the Fighter class.

I vaguely remember back when. The 4e Swordmage disappointed me because its magic didnt apply to unarmed strike. Why not?! It is awesome to make magical spell attacks using ones own body as a weapon. Conceptually, this is a possibility that should be a normal option.

For me, unarmed strike is a normal part of my D&D experience. I want it to work better − and more straightforwardly.

Toward a solution. I want.

• An "unarmed strike" is a "natural weapon".
• An "unarmed strike" is a "melee weapon", a weapon having melee range.
• Magic for a "weapon" or "melee weapon" applies to unarmed strike.

Where the unarmed strike occurs in the Weapons table, and where the Alter Self spell casually synonymizes "unarmed strike" and magically enhanced "natural weapon", the original intent of the 5e Players Handbook seems to be that the unarmed strike is a normal weapon, like a sword or an arrow.

I cannot understand why there needs to be something so confusing instead of the natural English.

I hope the 50th Anniversary core books simplify the terminology for "unarmed strike", "natural weapon" and "melee weapon", so that it is once again obvious to use. Whatever problems caused the terminology to convolute, I hope the core books resolve them consistently and elegantly.

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