Tavern Brawler 5e

Published on March 20, 2023

Crush your drink and grab a chair, it’s time for a bar fight!

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What Is Tavern Brawler 5e?

If your character is bound to get rowdy when they indulge themselves or wants to specialize in a fighting style where they focus on grappling their opponents, Tavern Brawler can help your dreams become a reality. Not only does this feat allow you to boost your STR or CON (thereby making you more buff), it allows you to add your proficiency bonus when you use improvised weapons, boosts your unarmed strikes, and lets you grapple as a bonus action. Put up your dukes, cause it’s time to ring the bell!

How Does Tavern Brawler Work?

This half-feat allows you to boost your STR or CON, and provides 3 other benefits:

  • You can add your proficiency bonus to attacks made with improvised weapons.
  • You now deal 1d4 + STR with unarmed strikes.
  • You can attempt to grapple creatures as a bonus action after you hit them with an unarmed strike or improvised weapon.

So, let’s break these benefits down.

The first ability makes attack with improvised weapons much more likely to hit. The damage these weapons output is usually up to the DM, but if your character is strong enough, you should be able to reason that the huge log you’re swinging around could constitute as a maul.

The second ability gives a bonus to unarmed strikes, but isn’t particularly significant. Normally, these attacks only output 1+STR damage and now they output 1d4+STR damage. This only averages out to be 1.5 damage more than your original unarmed strike.

The third benefit is certainly the most powerful. Being able to grapple as a bonus action is awesome for action economy and can be impactful for Rune Knight fighters or some barbarian builds. It could also be hugely beneficial for builds that want to use the Grappler feat to restrain their foes. Unfortunately, you have to hit with an improvised weapon or unarmed strike to trigger this ability, which can drastically impact your normal damage output.

Is Tavern Brawler Good?

We gave Tavern Brawler a C Tier rating In our 5e Feats Tier List, making it a below-average feat in D&D 5e.

Unfortunately, Tavern Brawler doesn’t even come close to being optimized when comparing it to Shield Master, Sharpshooter, or Great Weapon Master. Even with this feat, grapple-based character builds that use improvised weapons will always be outpaced by regular melee classes.

Tavern Brawler 5e Interactions

Critting With Unarmed Strikes

Thanks to this feat, you can now crit on your unarmed strikes, outputting a whopping 2d4 + STR damage.

Monks/Unarmed Fighting and Grappler

Though they likely would never take this feat, monks or fighters that take Unarmed Fighting don’t need to worry about the 1d4 overriding their higher unarmed strike damage dice. These abilities can take precedent over the benefit granted by Tavern Brawler if you choose (which you should).

Grappling Between Strikes

Based on Jeremy Crawford’s ruling on Shield Master, it would seem that you cannot grapple between attacks if you have more than one. That said, you could attack and hit, bonus action grapple, then Action Surge with a fighter.

Which 5e Classes Make the Most of Tavern Brawler?

The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good the Tavern Brawler 5e feat is for a specific class/subclass.

  • Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
  • Orange Situationally good, but a below-average option otherwise
  • Green is a good option
  • Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
  • Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized

This is an extremely niche feat that realistically only works for two classes. Even within those classes, it only works for niche builds. However, thanks to Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, there are a few more instances in which this feat can provide some significant upsides.

Artificer: Nothing here for an artificer.

Barbarian: Not a terrible half-feat to choose. If you're going for a grappler barbarian build it might be worth multiclassing into fighter or choose the Fighting Initiate feat to pick up Unarmed Fighting. It's also worthwhile to pick up Grappler so you can restrain your grappled targets.

Bard: Nothing here for a bard.

Cleric: Nothing here for a cleric.

Druid: RAW, a beast's attacks aren't "unarmed strikes" and therefore wouldn't work with Wild Shape.

Fighter: If you wanted to build your entire playstyle around MMA, this feat can help it become a reality. Pick this feat up, along with Grappler so you can restrain creatures once you've grappled them. You'll also want to go for Unarmed Fighting, which allows you to deal 1d6 on unarmed strikes and you automatically deal 1d4 damage at the start of the turn when grappling creatures. When it comes to subclasses, Champions, Battle Masters, and Rune Knights are all decent for this purpose.

Monk: While grappling as a bonus action could work well for monks, they aren't stacked into STR and have two many other bonus action abilities to worry about this feat.

Paladin: Paladins can't smite with unarmed strikes so you'd have to use improvised weapons for this feat to be effective. Seeing as paladins don't normally have a lot of options for their bonus action, this could be beneficial. Unfortunately, the tradeoff of damage just likely isn't worth it.

Ranger: While you could multiclass into fighter or grab Fighting Initiate for Unarmed Fighting, there are likely no benefits to a ranger grappler build.

Sorcerer: Nothing here for a sorcerer.

Warlock: Nothing here for a warlock.

Wizard: Nothing here for a wizard.

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. He is a Adamantine best-selling author of Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery on DMs Guild and is a contributing author at D&D Beyond. Follow Mike on Twitter.

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