Unarmed Strike (5e Variant Rule)
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The unarmed strike was included in the weapon list, rather than as a separate rule. At the time, it was assumed by this author that it was indicative of 5e's combat mechanics. Essentially, an attack must be made with a weapon, so a weapon was considered to be equivalent to an attack. This is not the case, and there has been a revision of the PHB clarifying that the developers did, in fact, intend for attacks and the weapons that make them to be dissociated.
The unarmed strike itself is left vague so that any type of unarmed physical attack works the same; a punch, a kick, a headbutt, elbowed in the face- whatever. The default unarmed strike is a simple 1 melee bludgeoning damage with no weapon traits. Some may feel that this is either anticlimactic or too unrealistically weak, as fist fights between even untrained adults can easily be as lethal as a knife fight. This offers several variant options for altering how unarmed strikes work without tampering with the rules.
- A common variant is for it to deal 1d2, d3, or d4 damage, rather than flat 1 damage.
- Alternatively, damage could be set to scale with the character, dealing damage based on character level or proficiency bonus.
- A commonly added property (though not usually consciously stated or noticed) is the "light" tag, allowing a character to give a left hook and right hook, or some variation thereof, on their turn.
- Another tag with potential is the finesse tag, allowing a character to use dexterity instead of strength as the damage bonus.
- Finally, one could use the versatile tag, letting a character do a heavier version of the attack, such as slamming someone over the head with both fists clenched together, or to represent full-body attacks, such as a shoulder-check. How much damage this deals can be handled in any of a myriad of ways, such as
- dealing a higher flat value damage or adding a static bonus to damage dice,
- dealing damage dice or increasing die size,
- or doubling damage.