Friday, March 18, 2016

Natural Attacks Can Turn Your Pathfinder Character Into a Monster

The party has battled its way through the blighted forest, scaled the cliffs of the blackened reach, and now finds themselves in the den of Flame Breaker, the ancient red wyrm. The adventurers manage to survive the great beast's breath, but those who rush in foolishly find that the dragon has other, more personal weapons at its disposal. After two claws, two wings, a bite, and a tail slap, those members of the party who aren't dead are going to spend the rest of the round ducking for cover and trying to heal.

Should have brought your A-game, my tiny morsels.
While the sheer array of natural attacks a dragon can rain down on a party is impressive, it's far from the only monster in the manual that gets so many powerful strikes. What a lot of players either don't know, or totally forget about, though, is that natural attacks aren't a toy reserved for the DM. You can add them to your character, as well, and often to truly devastating effect.

What Are Natural Attacks (And How Do They Work)?

Since we're crossing into territory a lot of players never enter, let's begin at the beginning. A natural attack is when a creature has some variety of natural weapon they can attack with. This might be a bite attack for a wolf, or a slam attack for a golem, a gore for a minotaur, you get the idea. All the different types of natural attacks, and their damage by size, are listed in the Universal Monster Rules.

With me so far? Good.

There are also two types of natural attack; a primary, and a secondary. A primary natural attack is made with the creature's full base attack bonus, ability modifiers, feats, bonuses, etc. just like a regular attack would be, and it adds the creature's full strength modifier to damage. If a creature only has one natural attack, it is considered a primary attack, and it adds 1 1/2 times its strength modifier to damage. A secondary attack is made with the creature's base attack bonus -5, and only adds 1/2 the creature's strength modifier to damage.

So bite is good?
Some of you are probably nodding along, but you're not sure where this is going. Sure, getting to add 1 1/2 your strength on a bite attack is great, but your bite only does 1d4 points of damage, and you could swing a greatsword to much bigger effect.

Remember the dragon example above? All creatures with multiple natural attacks get to take all of them as part of a full-attack action. No matter what level you are.

Time For Some Examples

All righty, let's reach for some low-hanging fruit. Let's say you're playing a 2nd level alchemist, and you take the feral mutagen discovery. This grants you a bite attack that deals 1d8 damage, and 2 claw attacks that deal 1d6 damage when you imbibe your mutagen. All of these attacks are listed as primary attacks. So, even though you're only level 2, you can claw, claw, bite as a full-attack action, with each attack getting your full bonuses, tearing someone to shreds like Lon Chaney on crystal meth. Not only that, but natural attacks can be modified by feats like Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, Power Attack, etc.

But wait, there's more!
You're probably thinking sure, natural attacks sound pretty cool for lower-level stuff, but once I get a magic weapon they just aren't going to keep up. Hold onto your hats, folks, because you don't have to choose between your iterative attacks (the ones with weapons we're all so familiar with) and your natural attacks.

You see, you can choose to make a full-attack action using both your iterative attacks, and your natural weapons. The only catch is that, when you do this, all your natural attacks are considered secondary attacks.

How does that work? Well, let's say you're playing a level 2 barbarian with the Lesser Fiend Totem Rage Power. This means that, when you Rage, you grow a pair of horns, and gain a gore attack with them. But, because you raided a sweet dungeon, you also have a flaming greatax. No problem! First, you take your regular attack with the greatax, adding your full BAB, bonuses, etc. Then you take your attack with your horns. They're now a secondary attack, instead of a primary, so you subtract 5 from your total.

There is a caveat here, though. You cannot make natural attacks with a limb that is holding a weapon. So, the alchemist we mentioned earlier could swing a mace, then take a bite, and a claw attack, both as secondary attacks, if he wanted to, but he can't make two claw attacks because one of his hands is holding his bludgeoner. Make sense?

Of course, this can get really crazy when you start playing a brawler or a monk, and your character has several natural attacks as well. A brawler with a bite attack and two claws, for example, could declare his iterative attacks are kicking his enemies, and then he could take his three natural attacks, albeit as secondary attacks, to become a whirlwind of death. Or when you have a tiefling who's a two-weapon fighter, who also gets a gore attack, and two hoofs because of his goatish inheritance.

The Limitations of Natural Attacks

Before you get too excited, putting together a half-human, half-beast death machine, it's important to remember that natural attacks have limits in what they can do. For example, lots of spells that grant weapon bonuses do not grant those bonuses to natural attacks. When you buy magical enhancements, you'll need to get an amulet of mighty fists in order to add magic to your strikes. Additionally, you may need to eat up several feat slots taking things like eldritch claws or improved natural attack and multiattack (the latter two are found in the Bestiary under "Monster Feats") in order to make sure your attacks keep pace with the monsters you're fighting.

Whatever they happen to be.
It is important to remember, though, your natural attacks aren't something that can be disarmed, and you always have them with you. Also, they benefit from class features like favored enemy, smite, and sneak attack the same way any other weapon would. So if using a lot of natural attacks is something you want to do (especially in conjunction with two-weapon fighting to get all the attacks in), you might want to see how you can turn your body into a weapon.

Some Ways You Can Get Natural Attacks

For those of you who've read this far who are wondering how to make natural attacks a part of your character, there are a lot of ways you can acquire them. Here are just a few of the more common ones you won't have to beg your DM for too hard.

- Rage Powers: Powers like the lesser fiend totem, beast totem, and animal fury grant you natural attacks while raging (gore, claws, and bite respectively). It's also worth noting that the greater beast totem grants you pounce, which could be a nightmare for anyone caught at the end of your charge attack.

- Mutagen: The feral mutagen mentioned in the example above is another great way to get a full bevy of natural attacks. If you're planning on taking levels of Master Chymist, it also allows you to hit harder, and hurt more, with those natural attacks.

- Class Features: Several sorcerer bloodlines grant natural attacks for a certain period of time at lower levels. Draconic sorcerers, or those who take levels in Dragon Disciple, will gain claws and a bite for a certain amount of time during the day. Druids who use their wild shape will gain the natural attacks of the creatures they become. Rangers can choose to take the natural weapon fighting style, which doesn't grant natural attacks itself, but it does give you access to feats which do, like Aspect of The Beast.

- Racial Features: This is where most natural attacks come from, because to have them all the time you've got to be born with them. Races that gain natural attacks, or have the option to gain natural attacks include orcs and half-orcs (bite), catfolk (claws), tieflings (variety of natural attacks, with racial feats), skinwalkers (bite, claws, or gore, typically), Tengu (bite, and sometimes others), and goblins (bite). There are other available races that get, or can get, natural attacks, but these are some of the more common ones.

- Magic Items: Though not common, there are some magic items that grant natural attacks. The Demon Hand, in particular, grants you a natural claw attack that's one size category bigger than you. The only requirement is that you have to replace your hand with a demon hand. This was one of my favorites mentioned in Replacing Lost Limbs With Magical Prosthetics in Pathfinder.

- Feats: There are a lot of feats that grant natural attacks to certain races or classes. Aspect of the Beast lets druids gain natural attacks, while Razortusk gives orcs and half-orcs a bite attack if they swapped out the racial feature.

For those who've been missing my long-winded crunch lists, hopefully this week gave you plenty to chew over. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? For as little as $1 a month, I  can keep the faucet open, and the flow coming straight to you. Also, if you haven't started stalking my updates yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?


  1. You made a little mistake: a monk or a brawler in flurry are explicitly nefgated from stacking the flurry and natural attacks.

    1. At no point did I say otherwise, Blackstorm. I said you could take your iterative attacks, declaring your unarmed strikes to be kicks so you can still use your two claws and a bite attack.

    2. No, that's exactly what he's saying is prohibited. Making a flurry and natural attacks at all, ever, regardless of what limbs you use.

    3. "A monk cannot use any weapon other than an unarmed strike or a special monk weapon as part of a flurry of blows. A monk with natural weapons cannot use such weapons as part of a flurry of blows, nor can he make natural attacks in addition to his flurry of blows attacks."

    4. Ben, iterative attacks are NOT a flurry.

      A flurry of blows is a unique, full-round action. Iterative attacks are the number of attacks you take WITHOUT making a flurry of blows attack.

    5. Plus there's always the Feral Combat Training to enable natural weapons into Flurry.

    6. Plus there's always the Feral Combat Training to enable natural weapons into Flurry.

  2. There's also the Tusked trait for half-orcs/orcs (or anyone who take's Adopted)

    well, and I guess the goblin one "mother's teeth", but it's terrible in comparison

    1. Man I kinda hate Adopted. It's awesome when it's for something like Dwarven Battle Training or something, but "My elf was adopted by an orc so she grew tusks" yeah...okay.

    2. Adopted lets you take a race trait, not a racial trait. When you pick up your two traits and your flaw you can use adopted to take a race trait from that page.

    3. Tusked IS a race trait.

  3. been working on a dumb idea. strong point is 7 attacks by lvl 3, kinda stays their for a bit after. skinwalker wearboar gets you gore adopted gets you tusked hexcrafter magus gives you hair <secondary sadly) take the feat to reduce secondary attack penalty. then 2 lvls into ranger for aspect of the beast for claws lvl 3 feat for race feat "extra feature: hooves" now when you FRA you are more or less smothering what your attacking. i recomend puting lowest score into charisma cause with that lvl of natural attack you one ugly bitch i recomend barb over ranger just for the ability to pounce later down the line and elemental rage to save you some gold later down the line

    1. sorry for double post. also for some dms you might be able fenigal more natural attacks from the alchemist discoveries the discriptions they have are wierd and kinda looks like they can't but i have had some dms be like why not

  4. Another interesting way to get natural attacks is from the new Mutant options in Heros of the Wastes. Players can opt (with permission) to have their character be a mutant and to chose a mutation from the list. One of which being that the character gains size-dependent bite and claw attacks. If they already have a bit or claw, their damage upgrades to the next size category.

    You can also get two slam attacks as an option.

    Meaning some races that get a nice natural attack (like Tiefling which can get a bite) can get an upgraded bite attack fairly quickly