On Proficiency Penalties and Unarmed Strike

Not being proficient with a weapon causes you to incur a -4 penalty to attack rolls with that weapon. By default you are not proficient with an “improvised” weapon so you will incur said -4 penalty should you attempt to use one. You are always considered proficient with your natural unarmed strike; however, using an unarmed strike without the proper feat means that you provoke an opportunity attack.

Normal unarmed damage is 1d3+str and improvised weapon damage is usually 1d4+str and up so your damage output is greater if you use a weapon and you don’t get hit back. Of course this extra damage only happens IF you actually mange to hit which given the -4 penalty is less likely than if you just slugged the guy with your fist.

Example: Two evenly matched human commoners with 10s in every stat and 2hp. We’ll call them Bo and Jo
Bo and Jo each have AC10 and +0 to hit with their unarmed strikes so they have a 55% chance of hitting each other. If Bo decides to pick up a pointy stick and try to stab Jo he only has a 35% chance of hitting, but should Jo try and punch Bo Bo gets a “free” attack. Now I’m not too good with statistics but I’m pretty sure that the chance that Bo misses both attacks is found by multiplying the miss chance (65%) in each case together so he has a 42.25% chance to miss which equates to a 57.75% chance to hit so in this case it is better for Bo to pick up the pointy stick.

Unless your character has improved unarmed strike it is far better to use anything you have on hand as a weapon especially if you are facing an armed opponent. Even if you are a monk or have improved unarmed strike it is still risky to use unarmed strikes against numerous opponents including goblin dogs and ice golems who can damage you if you touch them.


~ by katallos on February 21, 2010.

One Response to “On Proficiency Penalties and Unarmed Strike”

  1. […] mentions proficiency penalties and unarmed strikes. I wonder how many different sets of house rules govern this across the multitude of […]

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