© Wizards of the Coast by Alix Branwyn

The Tavern Brawler Feat: A Civilized Guide to Hitting People and Monsters

Not all warriors are trained as soldiers. Some find their martial prowess honed in back alleys and barroom brawls.

If you’re looking to make a character that can wield a sword and broken bottle equally, then the Tavern Brawler feat in D&D 5e makes this unique fighting style possible.

What Does the Tavern Brawler Feat Do?

The Tavern Brawler feat in D&D 5e allows a character to use their environment just as well as a weapon in combat. While unconventional, this feat makes you a dangerous foe regardless of whether you are conventionally armed or not. This feat is great for those that want to get creative in melee. 

If you’re not familiar with this feat, it can be found on page 170 of the Player’s Handbook, and reads as such: 

Tavern Brawler

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 and unarmed strikes. 
  • Your unarmed strikes 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. 

In other words, this feat adds unarmed strikes and grappling to a character that wants to add those options to their turn. 

Normally, unarmed strikes deal 1 + Strength modifier in damage. With this feat, you can use a d4 instead. That means that your average damage with an unarmed strike will go from one to 2.5, which is a big jump if you can make multiple attacks on your turn. 

Adding in the ability to grapple as a bonus action is exciting, too. A grapple is normally done in place of one of your attacks, meaning that you can’t deal damage and grapple a creature with the same attack.

With this feat, you can deal your damage with an improved weapon or unarmed attack and then go for the grapple. If you don’t have a use for your bonus action normally, this could be a good way to fill that out. 

The most flavorful part of the feat is the improved weapon proficiency. While this may not do much for most characters, this does add interesting options you might not have normally. 

For example, acid and alchemist’s fire are items from the Player’s Handbook that require a ranged attack roll as an improved weapon.

That wording means you don’t add your proficiency bonus to the attack roll and you roll with disadvantage for using an improved weapon. Improved weapon proficiency removes both of these, making you an excellent user of these items. 

Add these facets to the fact that this feat boosts one of two useful ability scores and you have a feat that offers a lot of tactical options in a fun and unique way. 

Best Characters For This Feat

When taking a look at what Tavern Brawler offers, it’s clear that this feat is great for characters that are looking to add in some unarmed attacks or grapples to their fighting styles.

Since these martial options require being in melee with an enemy, characters that want to be up close will benefit most from this feat. 

Melee Fighters and Rangers

While not all melee characters use their Strength score, fighters and rangers that use their Strength for their weapon attacks can benefit from Tavern Brawler. In addition to having more weapon options at their disposal, it gives these classes something to do with their bonus action. 

Most Rangers have this covered with the hunter’s mark spell, but this feat gives them a crowd control option in place of a damaging one if they so choose. However, many fighters don’t use their bonus action save for dual wielding, making this feat a good pickup. 

Barbarians

Barbarians get their own section because they are best suited to picking up this feat and using it. Outside of their rage feature, most Barbarians don’t have a use for their bonus action without dual-wielding. The tavern Brawler feat lets Barbarians put their high Strength score to good use with grapples. 

Speaking of rage, the rage class feature makes Barbarians even better at grapples. While a barbarian is raging, they have advantage on Strength-based ability checks.

Part of making a grapple check is rolling a Strength (Athletics) ability check, meaning that rage gives you advantage on that check. That advantage could be the difference between a grapple landing or missing. 

Common Questions About Tavern Brawler

Since the Tavern Brawler feat is a strange one, questions come up sometimes about how to best use it and the rules surrounding the feat. Here are some common questions we see around this feat: 

Does This Feat Stack With Unarmed Strike?

This feat doesn’t stack with other abilities that augment your unarmed strike. All features that would change the damage of an unarmed strike say that they replace the damage, not add to it.

In D&D 5e, replacement abilities don’t stack together unless otherwise stated specifically by the feature. 

Is Tavern Brawler Good For Monks?

Tavern Brawler is fun, but not good for Monks. Monks rely on their Dexterity and Wisdom in combat, meaning that taking a feat that boosts strength is tough.

Their Martial Arts feature doesn’t stack with the d4 damage die, and Monks get plenty of bonus action attacks they can use to grapple with already. 

How Much Damage Do Improvised Weapons Do in D&D 5e?

Improvised weapons deal as much damage as the DM says they do. According to pages 147-148 of the Player’s Handbook on improvised weapons, these weapons deal damage equivalent to a similar weapon on the weapons chart or 1d4, depending on what the DM believes makes the most sense. 

Are Natural Weapons Considered Unarmed Strikes? 

Natural weapons are considered unarmed strikes only if the feature that grants the natural weapon says they count. Some natural weapons, like claws or talons, replace the unarmed strike damage of a creature.

Other natural weapons, such as horns or hooves, are not unarmed strikes due to the nature of where those natural weapons are located on the creature’s body.