Tavern Brawler 5E: DnD Feat Guide

Tavern Brawler is a 5E feat that I love far more than what the final grade is going to be. This is a feat that focuses heavily on certain types of characters, the roleplay, and adding a little extra to make way for those glorious side moments off the beaten path of the main storyline. The barbarian brags about his manliness. The female fighter swigs her drink and then uses the mug to crack the barbarian in the face.

Some rages, some action surges, and a lot of bar brawling later the matter still isn’t settled, especially since the monk decided to sit stoically in the corner and smile.

Tavern Brawler is a great feat when it comes to flavor and adding some substance to arena fights, bar brawls, and fist-de-cuffs, though it won’t make anyone’s list for most powerful or outstanding feats.

The monks might have their martial arts but if you want to know how to beat a half dozen roughnecks with a beer stein, candlestick, and meat platter in 5E you need a professional tavern brawler.

two men bare knuckle boxing
Two bare knuckle brawlers showing the very Old Tyme bar brawling skills.

Breaking Down the Tavern Brawler Feat

The only way to get the full view of what the tavern brawler feat has to offer is to look at the wording of the Tavern Brawler feat exactly as it appears in the Player’s Handbook, so let’s jump right in!

Directly from the Player’s Handbook:

Accustomed to rough-and-tumble fighting using whatever weapons happen to be at hand, you gain the following benefits:

  • Increase your Strength or Constitution score by 1 to a maximum of 20.
  • You are proficient with improvised weapons.
  • Your unarmed strike uses a d4 for damage.
  • 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

Player’s Handbook, p. 170

fist punch
Throwing a punch: Only one benefit of taking the 5th Ed Tavern Brawler feat.

There’s a lot to digest there, so let’s break down the 5E tavern brawler feat benefits one by one.

Related Article: DnD One Tavern Brawler Feat Guide – See What’s Changed!

Benefit #1: Increase your Strength or Constitution score by 1, to a maximum of 20.

This does make up a little bit for the taking of a feat versus a +2 or +1/+1 ability score improvement. I generally don’t like these too much as they are more of “limiting damage” versus an actual benefit, but they can be a good way to even out odd numbers to get to the next bonus for an ability score check or save.

Also, having Constitution as one of the potential ability score improvements for a +1 does make this better as going from a 13 to a 14 or a 15 to a 16 gets the next bonus, which gets you those extra hit points.

Benefit #2: You are now proficient with improvised weapons.

From a practical mechanical standpoint, this doesn’t really mean much. Even with proficiency, generally speaking conventional weapons will be stronger or better mechanically than an improvised weapons. Unless you’re in a prison setting in which case this might be a godsend to your campaign.

However to me, it’s awesome for flavor and encourages the type of craziness I adore from a good D&D campaign. Being able to find and figure out how to use random objects for improvised weapons and get that proficiency bonus to hit just increases the craziness that can happen and creativity from the table.

Always a good thing and once in a while even in a non-silly or non-crazy moment, this can be a lifesaver in a very niche situation.

So maybe not that important a benefit, but man is it fun! And that needs to count for something in DnD.

Benefit #3: Your unarmed strike uses a d4 for damage.

As long as you’re not a monk this is great. For fist-de-cuffs with characters who don’t have the tavern brawler (and aren’t a monk) the damage on a hit is 1 + STR modifier and the damage is bludgeoning (p.195 PHB). Adding a d4 gives potential for a lot more damage output.

Benefit #4: When you score a hit with an improvised weapon or unarmed strike on your turn, you can use a bonus action to try to force a grapple.

Flavor-wise this fits in well and if you have the Grappler feat that is a very good combo for a build that focuses heavily on the brawling fighter or pirate going from tavern to tavern, port to port. Again, it makes sense with the flavor text of the feat although in practical mechanical terms it is a meh.

knocked out bar brawler
Did not take the tavern brawler feat…and then pushed the DM too far.

5E Classes That Should Consider Taking the Tavern Brawler Feat

While this is a feat that is more style and pizazz than anything else, there are some classes where it makes a little more sense or thy have a little more wriggle room than others for a fun feat because the build does not have to be optimized to be effective.

Barbarians make perfect sense for this feat. They are rough and tumble, you assume they love their mead, and it would be weird for barbarians to have not grown up ready to throw down at a moment’s notice. Adding this to rage can make sure anyone throwing down in a tavern, or a tavern patron betting against your raging barbarian in an MMA-style brawl, rue the decisions that brought them to that point.

Fighters are another class that should feel just as comfortable in a bar brawl as anyone else. They have the ability to take two extra feats, and if they start off with a “Feat Variant” as a human from the PHB or another race from Tasha’s (assuming your DM allows those variant rules) they get three more.

No one blinks an eye at a fighter as happy to throw down hands in a tavern as they are drawing sword, spear, or axe on a battlefield. Plus, you know, action surge.

Fighters are proficient in literally every other type of weapon…be a shame if they didn’t know how to use improvised weapons when a tankard, a chair, and half full bottle of wine were all that was at hand.

Paladins might be a surprising choice but they’re one I love, in part because of one of the main characters from R.A. Salvatore’s Demon Wars series (Brother Avelyn Desbris), and because you can get away with making Paladins a one skill class (and it doesn’t even have to be charisma since most your spells will be smites) you can take a feat to make a slightly less conventional build.

The Paladin who throws down a smite against evil when on the battlefield, and following a god or goddess who allows for the finer celebratory allowances, and therefore is happy to join the barbarian in clearing the rift-raff out of the local tavern.

The roleplaying of a paladin like that could be refreshing and hilarious for all involved, and can be done without wrecking a fairly optimized build.

5th Ed Classes that should always look at taking the Tavern Brawler Feat:

  • Barbarian
  • Fighter
  • Paladin

5E Classes That Might Consider Taking the Tavern Brawler Feat

Again, anyone who wants to set up a brawling character with this feat can do so, but among those classes not in the first list are five where you could conceivably see Tavern Brawler make sense at least in background or story even if it’s not the first feat that jumps to mind.

Bards. This might seem weird at first, but honestly, they’re performers who had to start from the bottom from tavern to tavern, circus to show, from one roughneck gig to another…so why wouldn’t a bard learn a thing or two about the fine art of brawling for those few times the charisma fails?

Besides, do Bards really need any feats? With their special skill set, spells, and Charisma, there are few classes that need little investment to do so much.

Clerics. There are gods of beers and taverns, right? For such a Cleric, this might be a fun feat to add some more flavor to a class that tends to carry a reputation (somewhat fair, also somewhat not) of being among the most boring from a roleplay aspect.

Rangers. They’re used to the wilds and spending a lot of time in less civilized lands…it’s not surprising that those that like to spend some time in town would choose the more rough and tumble wild drinking holes and possibly pick up a few tricks along the way.

Rogues. The classic intimidation & strength based Half-Orc rogue build from Pathfinder doesn’t really have a reliable 5E conversion, however if you want to push that charismatic build anyway, adding Tavern Brawler to your rogue build just kind of makes sense and will get a smile from old school multi-system TTRPG fans.

Warlocks. There are so many builds of warlock and especially among the melee builds like Hexblade it can make a lot of sense to add this in for some flavor.

5th Ed Classes that should consider taking the Tavern Brawler Feat:

  • Bards
  • Cleric
  • Rangers
  • Rogues
  • Warlocks

5E Classes That Should NEVER Take the Tavern Brawler Feat

Since so much of this feat is flavor text, this is more mechanics suggestion than anything else (other than the monk who really should never take this feat unless the DM homebrews the rules surrounding it to let them stack for monks). Personally, I’d love to see a sorcerer who spent all other upgrades on tavern brawling after maxing out charisma.

I think that would be hilarious.

But for your normal D&D player who doesn’t jump at the unoptimized mess of a build under the pretext of “It’s funny,” here are the classes that really shouldn’t ever take the tavern brawler feat with any conventional build: Artificer, Druid, Monk, Sorcerer, Wizard.

Monk should NEVER take Tavern Brawler feat unless the DM does some serious homebrewing feat rules for you to make Tavern Brawler an add-on of benefits for monks instead of RAW.

Druids wildshape. Artificers should have a suit and/or mechanical backing.

Spellcasters generally aren’t the brawling types. Still, my mind is racing to make that build, but this isn’t a feat that comes along to spellcasters all that often.

5th Ed classes that should never take the Tavern Brawler Feat:

  • Artificer
  • Druid (why hit someone in the face when you can turn into a gorilla or bear or wolf instead?)
  • Monks
  • Sorcerers
  • Wizards

Final Feat Grade for 5E Tavern Brawler

Tavern Brawler Feat Grade: C

Is the 5E Tavern Brawler Feat Worth It?

So here’s the deal, it’s a C-grade because as feats go it gives value but is nothing special. It’s clearly designed for a special type of build and mechanically could easily be ranked even worse. However, from a roleplaying and flavor perspective, it’s fabulous.

5E Tavern Brawler FAQ

Does the Tavern Brawler feat stack with a monk’s unarmed attack?

The 5E Tavern Brawler feat does not stack with a monk’s unarmed attack. Because of this, monk is (unintuitively) is possibly the worst class o take this feat with. Unless you have a DM who will work with you to homebrew the rules, avoid this feat like the plague when playing monk.

How does Tavern Brawler affect a monk’s martial arts in 5E?

The two cannot stack on one another. This would make the monk’s martial arts weaker if the Brawler Feat superseded the training or it would simply cease being useful if the common sense martial arts improvements took hold.

They don’t blend successfully.

How do you calculate unarmed strikes in 5E?

In 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons unarmed strikes are calculated as 1 + STR modifier. The only exceptions are monks, who use the martial arts skill for unarmed strikes based on monk level and players who take the Tavern Brawler feat and get to use a d4 + STR modifier.

This means it is possible for a player to do 0 damage on punches if they have a negative Strength modifier due to having a Strength score of 9 or less.

What’s the best unarmed fighting style in 5E?

A leveled up monk will have the best unarmed fighting style as they have a d10 at high levels and even at mid-level have a d6 or d8. They also have the ability to use their DEX or their STR modifier, which means either build can work with a monk and since many monks max out their Dexterity relatively early a monk’s unarmed fighting style is often 1d8+5 at mid-levels and 1d10+5 at high levels.

Plus the Monk gets to add the ability modifier not just to damage but also their attack roll, which even tavern brawlers are not allowed to do.

How good is tavern brawler 5E?

Tavern Brawler is one of those feats that gets a A+ for roleplaying, flavor, and style, and a much lower C/D grade when it comes to mechanics and actual benefit for most campaigns. It’s a feat that is fun to take and will often be flexible enough to come up a few times but it’s never going to be a “must have” on any PC build.

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