For some time now I’ve been bothered by an annoying rules inconsistency in the way ‘natural’ attacks in 3.5e are handled differently from ‘non-natural’ attacks. Specifically, I don’t like the way that you only get a single attack per round with a natural weapon irrespective of your BAB (unless you are a Monk), but suddenly when you pick a weapon up you are getting multiple attacks.

Here’s an example that illustrates the ridiculousness of this in a very clear way. Suppose I’m a weretiger fighting in hybrid form. The rules say I get one attack with each of my claws. Now suppose I pick up a set of ‘Tiger Claws’ (palm-grip weapons with claws that protrude between your fingers). Now, if my BAB is +6 or more I get an extra attack with one of those tiger claws.

It is true that if I want to use both tiger claws in this way, and I don’t have the two-weapon fighting feat, then I suffer penalties to hit – -4 and -8 respectively.   But if I do have the feat (thereby reducing the penalties to -2/-2), why can’t I use it with my natural claws to have 3 attacks when my BAB is +6 – i.e. 2 attacks at -2/-7 with my first claw and 1 attack at -2 with my second claw?  It seems worth doing, and why should I be able to do it with artificial claws but not my own?

And if I have ‘Improved two-weapon fighting’, then I should be able to get two extra attacks, one with each claw, so now my attacks look like this: Primary -2/-7, Offhand -2/-7 instead of just two unmodified attacks.

Well, we could say – OK then, let’s allow this, as an interpretation of the rules. It clears up the apparent inconsistency.  In passing, we should also say that a human can have two unmodified fist attacks as well (if it doesn’t say this in the rules already) or else, if you want to fight ‘weapon style’ to gain extra attacks then you use the same penalties as a creature with claws, as discussed above. (Unless you are a Monk, in which case stick with the rules for Monks).

But…it doesn’t end there. There are quite a few creatures in the Monster Manual(s) that would gain a disproportionate benefit from using this interpretation. The Purple Worm has a BAB of +16, so it should get 4 attacks with one of its natural weapons. It could use this to bite 4 times in a round. There are numerous other similar examples.

This creates a dilemma. It seems non-intuitive that a weretiger can’t use its BAB to have multiple claw attacks unless it picks up a set of metal claws and uses them in essentially the same way as it does it natural claws, but if you say ‘OK, then, it can’ then it leads to the logical necessity of allowing huge monsters like purple worms to have multiple bites in a round which seems unbalanced and non-intuitive (at least, to me it does).

My suggested solution is to allow creatures with BAB of +6 or more the option of waiving their right to additional attacks in exchange for some other sort of benefit. I’ll confess it’s tempting to say ‘a feat’ for every additional attack you waive so that my own combat-shy sorceress character can get an extra feat out of it ;). But after some mulling I think that this would be too wide-ranging a benefit and would lead to too much head-scratching over what bonus feats you are going to award your dinosaurs or whatever in exchange for their dropping their notional extra attacks.

So what I am looking for here is a single universal benefit, not to have a wide range of choices that can lead to an agony of indecision at the gaming table particularly if DM’ing monsters. It has to be easily applicable on the fly.

My idea at the moment is as follows – for every additional attack you waive the right to, you gain the benefit of a +2 dodge bonus to AC when fighting or casting defensively or taking the total defense action. So a purple worm will, if it elects to fight defensively, take a -4 penalty to hit and instead of gaining only +2 to AC it will gain a rather more impressive +8 to AC (as it waives the right to 3 extra attacks).

This isn’t something you can switch off and on. When your BAB reaches +6 you elect to drop your right to an extra attack and gain this benefit instead. As well as benefitting the big monsters this is also a good option for the purely wizardly types who would probably prefer some more defensive capability rather than extra attacks. Maybe ‘pure’ healers too.

It is suggested that monsters relying on natural attacks will have this option by default. It is an easy one to remember and apply, I think – if your monster goes defensive, check its BAB – if it’s +6, give it an extra +2 AC, if it’s +11 give it +4 and if it’s +16 or more it gets +6 (on top of the normal AC bonus for being defensive – +0 for defensive casting, +2 for defensive fighting, +4 for total defense).  I’d also say that it’s a genuinely worthwhile benefit to take as an alternative to having extra attacks, and one that will really make defensive fighting worthwhile.

(NB the bonus for casting defensively also applies to use of spell-like abilities defensively.)