Unarmed strikes and natural weapons

Homebrew and House Rules

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I know there's been a lot of discussion on how unarmed strikes and natural weapons interact in a full round attack.

I had an epiphany last night of the house rules I'm going to be using, and I thought to post it here in the hopes that the Pathfinder devs will notice it, and hopefully incorporate it. I believe this is both balanced, and matches the intent - as much as there was a consolidated intent anyway.

For a primer, a reader should read some of this thread, and specifically some of the posts by Pathfinder developer Sean K Reynolds, AFAIK starting here:
http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2p331&page=6?What-Exactly-Is-a-Tentacle-Att ack#254

I think Sean is on the right path, but I think he's a little off.


Let's talk about the problem first. Let's take a canonical example, a human with 2 claws and 1 bite.

You can get 2 claws and a bite with PF-core barbarian rage powers.
http://www.d20pfsrd.com/classes/core-classes/barbarian/rage-powers/paizo--- rage-powers/animal-fury-ex
http://www.d20pfsrd.com/classes/core-classes/barbarian/rage-powers/paizo--- rage-powers/beast-totem-lesser-su

You can get 2 claws You can get that with half-orc, ranger, and a feat.

IMHO, the most important canonical example is a simple human werewolf.

First, I think we need to agree that all of these examples, especially the human werewolf, should be able to make a full round attack and do claw claw bite, all as primary natural attacks. Whatever rule that happens, we should not through out this sacred cow.

Obviously, you cannot make an attack with a manufactured weapon in the same full round attack that you use the same arm to make a claw attack. I believe this is RAW (rules as written).

Next, let's consider some of the abuse we can do with these guys. The most straightforward way is to take improved unarmed strike, and try to claim that one could do the following in a full round attack. Assume 6 BAB (base attack bonus).
** unarmed +6, unarmed +1 (iterative), claw +1 (secondary), claw +1 (secondary), bite +1 (secondary),

It can get worse with two-weapon fighting. Throw on the two-weapon fighting feat (TWF), improved two-weapon fighting feat (ITWF), and the multiattack feat to get:
** unarmed +4, unarmed -1 (iterative), unarmed +4 (off-hand TWF), unarmed -1 (off-hand ITWF), claw +2 (secondary), claw +2 (secondary), bite +2 (secondary),

(One separate open question for me is whether two-weapon fighting penalties were meant to apply to secondary natural attacks. Separate question for a separate time.)

As far as I can tell, this is completely Pathfinder RAW. This is also what we want to stop.


I don't think focusing on unarmed strikes is the answer. You can do the same abuse without unarmed strikes at all. Use these:
http://www.d20pfsrd.com/equipment---final/weapons/weapon-descriptions/blade -boot

** armor spikes +4, armor spikes -1 (iterative), blade boot +4 (off-hand TWF), blade boot -1 (off-hand ITWF), claw +2 (secondary), claw +2 (secondary), bite +2 (secondary),

The problem is not unarmed strikes, or at least it's not just unarmed strikes.


The critical realization for my epiphany is this.

We all should already know that D&D developers back in the day, and Pathfinder developers now, are not always the best min-maxers and optimizers. I mean - they do great work, and I am not ungrateful, and it's generally quality stuff. However, sometimes they add a feature X without realizing that feature Y exists.

I believe that most developers, in 3.5 and in Pathfinder, who wrote abilities, spells, and other options which gave natural attacks to players worked under the following beliefs. I believe that most such developers had the belief that using a claw natural weapon (or slam natural weapon) would interfere with manufactured weapon attacks, and that other kinds of natural attacks would be in addition to a player's normal manufactured weapon attacks. These developers did not think about the impact that unarmed strikes, blade boots, armor spikes, and other non-hand-held manufactured weapons would have when the player had claw attacks (or slam attacks).

I suggest to nerf claw attacks and slam attacks in particular. It's an ugly fix. It's ugly in the sense that it's not thematically pleasing. It's an ugly exception to an otherwise sensible framework. However, if we want to preserve the ability to claw claw bite - but also disallow unarmed claw claw bite and similar shenanigans - then we have to treat claws (and slams) as special. That's the only option in light of all of this pre-existing material which IMHO was written already under this assumption.

I propose this addition to the rules:


Humans and most creatures are limited to using at most two manufactured weapons in a single full round attack. A human uses the two-weapon fighting rules when attacking with two manufactured weapons. As usual, a human may use his unarmed strike in place of one or both manufactured weapons. If the extra attacks from two-weapon fighting are made with unarmed strikes, they are still off-hand. (This is true even for a monk. Flurry of blows is an exception.) (Note: you may substitute your unarmed strikes for both manufactured weapons, and thus two-weapon fight with unarmed strikes only. However, unarmed strikes are treated as a single weapon for the purposes of enhancing it, such as from a magic fang spell.) [TODO there might be a rule for substituting one manufactured weapon for another without increasing the number of attacks you get. If there is such a thing, reference it here. We are not nixing that rule.]

It takes focus and attention to use natural weapons on arms. This includes most claw and slam natural weapons. This required focus and attention interferes with the creature's ability to make manufactured weapon attacks. This is true for all manufactured weapons, including even blade boots and armor spikes.

Each such natural weapon used to make an attack limits the creature to one less manufactured weapon (which also limits unarmed strikes). Examples: If a human makes one claw attack in a full round attack action, then he cannot use two-weapon fighting in that action (nor a monk's flurry of blows which is just a variant of two-weapon fighting). If a human uses two claw natural weapons to make attacks in a full round attack action, then he cannot make manufactured weapon attacks nor unarmed strike attacks at all in that action.

Certain unusual creatures can make more manufactured weapon attacks than a human, such as the Calikang. Usually such creatures have additional pairs of arms. Such creatures still only treat one manufactured weapon as its main-hand and all other weapons as off-hands. (Only the main-hand weapon gains additional attacks from high base attack bonus.) However, such creatures can make additional extra off-hand attacks with the two-weapon fighting rules, which is more properly called multiweapon fighting.

For example, the Calikang can make 5 extra off-hand attacks with the two-weapon fighting rules. The Calikang has the unwritten racial ability to use multiweapon fighting which is limited to 6. Like a human can two-weapon fight, a Calikang can six-weapon fight. Each claw or slam natural weapon used in a full round attack lowers that number by one. For example, a Calikang who makes 2 slam attacks in a full round attack may only make 3 extra off-hand attacks with manufactured weapons or unarmed strikes, and a Calikang who makes 6 slam attacks in a full round attack may not make any manufactured weapon attacks nor unarmed strike attacks at all.

I think a simpler solution would be to modify the improved unarmed strike feat and instead of it being it's own category, it provides a method for non-clawed creatures to gain natural attacks. IUS gives a "armed strike/armed strike" natural attack...which would completely prevent the scenario of 4x improved unarmed strike + claw/claw/bite.

Taking the feat a second time allows the addition of two more limbs as secondary natural attacks (legs on a human). This would also qualify the individual for the multiattack feat (and if you want to incorporate additional 3.5 material, the improved multiattack and rapid strike/improved rapid strike feats (Draconomicon).

If the character has 4 arms and two legs, you can take it a third time, and these limbs are also secondary natural attacks.

Your solution does nothing to solve for blade boots, armor spikes, and other manufactured weapons which are not hand-held. You can do almost the same abuse with those without unarmed strikes at all. I mentioned all of this in my first post. Do you disagree? Do you think that unarmed strikes are more abusive than armor spikes and blade boots, even though you get almost the same attacks both ways? Why and how?

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