The bare hands skill is used when attacking while wielding nothing. Every class has this skill, except Monks and Samurai, who instead possess the superior martial arts skill. The strategy information may not apply to monks, who can be powerful fighters even in the absence of a weapon.
Bare hands do 1d2 base damage to both small and large monsters. Both basic and skilled yield +1 to damage on 50% of all hits, expert and master gives a 50% chance each hit of a +2 bonus to damage. Monk's and samurai's martial arts skill does 1d4 damage, with much greater bonuses for skills on 75% of all hits.
Attacking with bare hands causes silver damage if you are wearing a silver ring and no gloves, similar to wielding any silver object. Attacking with bare hands if you have at least basic skill has a small chance of causing a staggering blow under some conditions, which stuns the opponent and moves it backwards.
While a desperate player may need to attack with bare hands from time to time, the need is so rare and the benefit so marginal that this skill should never be enhanced by most characters. Carrying some form of ranged attack will greatly reduce your need to resort to bare hands.
Bare-handed damage is so poor that only a martial artist should bother going for the silver damage from a worn ring.
Since the damage bonus is only applied to 50% of hits, the average damage is not 1.5 + bonus, but 1.5 + 0.5*bonus. This makes the +2 bonus for Expert/Master skill even more pitiful, especially considering the 4 skill slots and 360 hits required.
Note that both roles capable of martial arts start with Basic skill, and no roles can advance to Grand Master in bare hands, so two entries in the table are not actually possible.
Bare hands skill
Starting skill level
Roles which can reach at least Master skill start with Basic skill, other start Unskilled. This means that Barbarians and Cavemen (and Samurai in martial arts) start Basic despite starting with melee weapons, while Tourists start Unskilled despite lacking a melee weapon.
- Bare-hands or martial arts skill only grant their damage bonus if the d2 or d4 base damage is at least 2. See uhitm.c, line 546 and uhitm.c, line 603
- The bonus would be added by weapon_hit_bonus in weapon.c, but this is never called because uhitm.c, line 283 or uhitm.c, line 1957 checks if you're wielding something.