D&D 5e: Tavern Brawler: Not Quite Useless
D&D 5e: Tavern Brawler: Not Quite Useless
SOURCE: Player’s Handbook
What Does Tavern Brawler Do?
Benefit #1 –
+1 to strength or constitution
Useful on any character with an odd number in these scores.
Benefit #2 –
You are proficient in improvised weapons.
This lets you pick up a bottle and attack with proficiency. Improvised weapons are not very strong, however.
Benefit #3 –
Your unarmed strike uses a d4 for damage.
This lets you punch people and deal a little more damage. This still doesn’t necessarily make punching a good idea, though.
Benefit #4 –
When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or an improvised weapon on your turn, you can use a bonus action to attempt to grapple the target.
The most useful part of the feat. If you (for most characters) sacrifice damage, you get a free grapple attempt. Sometimes a fair tradeoff… But there’s more we’ll cover later.
Mechanics and Requirements
About Unarmed Strikes and Improvised Weapons
The basics of unarmed strikes are as follows; you can attack with any part of your body, whether it’s a free hand, a leg, your face, or something more bizarre. Make an attack roll using strength and proficiency, and on a hit, you deal damage equal to 1 + your strength modifier. Tavern Brawler replaces the 1 with a d4, making it 1d4+strength mod. This is 1.5 extra average damage, which is not a lot.
Improvised weapons are a kind of weapon attack you can make using any available object that isn’t a weapon; you don’t make the attack with proficiency unless the DM determines it resembles a weapon you’re proficient with, in which case you can use it as if it were that weapon for the purposes of proficiency. However, you always deal 1d4+strength mod with your improvised weapons. Tavern Brawler just makes you proficient in these.
There are also no feats that significantly boost unarmed strike or improvised weapon damage; there’s no Sharpshooter or other equivalent feat.
The only reasons to make unarmed strikes or improvised weapons are
- There are no other options
- You have decided that sacrificing damage is worth the theme of your character or the situation
- You’re a monk and unarmed strikes are just something you’re stuck doing. However, in the case of monks, the bonus action grapple conflicts with martial arts, making it a poor choice.
Remember though, that you don’t have to use the same weapon for every attack of the attack action; you can attack with something like a spear, then punch the enemy, and then get your bonus action grapple.
Because unarmed strikes and improvised weapons, except in the case of monks, always use strength, you want a high strength score for this character. Either your strength or constitution score must be odd. Strength gives you multiple benefits a higher chance to hit, more damage, and once you hit, you can use your bonus action to attempt to grapple.
Ideal Characters for Tavern Brawler
Barbarian – Barbarians have advantage on strength checks to grapple, and rage allows them to add a flat bonus to damage, making the lower damage die less necessary, and reckless attack gives advantage on strength based melee weapon attacks, including unarmed strikes and improvised weapons (as long as you don’t throw them). They almost always have a fantastic strength score, so you can boost a 17 or 19 to an 18 or 20 with this feat.
Monk – Yes, monks kind of suck, but the bonus action grapple, despite costing your precious martial arts bonus action, can still be pretty useful, especially at low levels when your action attacks are better than your bonus action attacks.
Paladin – Certain subclasses of paladin like being close to the enemy, such as the Oath of Conquest paladin. Using an unarmed strike as part of your attack action and then grappling the enemy is a good way to fill a bonus action if you don’t have one.
Resist the urge to take one level of monk so you can make your underwhelming unarmed strikes with dexterity. It’s not worth it almost all the time.
Levels in rogue for sneak attack may be useful if you want to grab someone and then stab them to death using a finesse weapon while still using strength for it, but I would not do this strategy on a character that’s mostly rogue since they can’t sneak attack on the unarmed strike (even if they dip into monk because it just lets you use dexterity, instead of making it finesse)
Race or Subrace Choices
Tabaxis, Minotaurs, Satyrs, and other races have a d6 unarmed strike, which can make your level 5 “weapon attack + unarmed strike + bonus action grapple” combo more powerful. The Dhampir’s bite is not an unarmed strike, it counts as a simple melee weapon, so it’s ineligible for this synergy.
Combos, Tactics, and Synergies
Skill Expert in Athletics will allow you to land your grapples more easily, but that’s about it.
Spells that Synergize
Enhance Ability can give you advantage on strength checks, but that’s about it.
Strategies for Maximizing Tavern Brawler Effectiveness
To use this feat well, you need to do the aforementioned strategy of mixing in unarmed strikes with grapples and weapon attacks, essentially performing several kinds of attack on each of your turns. Remember that you have two hands, so if you desperately need to grapple two people, you can.
This is also useful to take if you discover that your DM loves disarming the player characters, or if they love having fights break out in bars, assuming they’re not overly annoying with it.
Final Thoughts on Tavern Brawler
Is Tavern Brawler a great feat? Nope, not even close. It hurts your damage if you try to use any of its features. But it’s a half feat that boosts strength or constitution, and it can give you some grapples at the cost of damage, which makes this far from the worst feat in the game.
You can also fight in bars better than everyone else.