Pathology: The Drunken Master Monk – So you wanna be Jackie Chan?

Welcome to Pathology, the series where I take a look at a specific Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Class and Path, and break down its abilities to hopefully help you understand how to make it work for you.  Today, after a vote, we are going to look at the Monk Path from Xanathar’s Guide, the Drunken Master.

I mean, lets face it.  We all want to be Jackie Chan at times!

First, in order to really understand the Drunken Master and how they work, you need to have a brief overview of the major abilities of the Monk.  Early on in your Monk career you will gain a few major abilities, and when I say early on I mean level 1 and level 2.

First are your Martial Arts.  This causes your unarmed attacks to be treated as Melee Weapon attacks (technically though Unarmed Strikes are always weapons), and increases the damage you do with punches and kicks based on your level.  This also allows you to switch between using STR and DEX for you attack bonuses and damage bonus when using Monk Weapons or Unarmed Strikes.  Additionally you can make an Unarmed Strike as a bonus action when attacking with a Monk Weapon or Unarmed Strike, thus giving you 2 attacks right from level one.  Admittedly your Unarmed damage at level one is only 1d4 but it increases as you level.

Second is Unarmored Defense, which allows you to apply your WIS and DEX to your Armor Class when not wearing armor.

We all know Pandaren are excellent Drunken Masters

At second level you get the other two major Monk features, which are Unarmored movement, and Ki.  Unarmored Movement is straightforward, you gain a bonus to your move speed based on level, starting with an additional 10ft of movement at 2nd level.  Ki is your Monk Resource, and can be spent at level 2 to do one of the following actions:

  • Flurry of Blows: You gain 2 Unarmed Strikes as a bonus action instead of 1 for this turn.
  • Step of the Wind: Take either Disengage or Dash as your bonus action for the turn, and double your jump
  • Patient Defense: Take the Dodge action as a bonus action on your turn.

These all cost 1 Ki point, and you will gain more Ki as you level up.  The monk gains a lot of other fun class features (like Stunning Strike at level 5!) as you level but these 4 are really the CORE of the basic monk class.  Everything else sort of builds on this in my opinion.

What this means to me is that the monk as a base line is a Pressure class.  They are designed to get where others cannot easily reach and cause trouble for the squishy backline of the enemy, or inflict many repeated hits on a single target in the hopes of causing disruption.  A wizard will have a hard time concentrating on a spell when a Monk hits then 4 times, causing Concentration rolls for EACH hit!  A monk has the potential to do more damage than the Fighter or Barbarian, but more often than not they will do more consistent damage but less overall due to having their damage spread out over multiple hits.

But what about the Drunken Master?  What powers do they get when they take the Path at level 3?  Let’s take a look!

First, at level 3, you gain one of my favorite abilities as a Drunk Master.  It’s called “Drunken Technique” and to understand why it’s amazing, we need to talk about the Disengage action.  As written, Disengage allows a user to ignore all opportunity attacks that would be triggered by movement for the turn.  Normally, it takes a full action to activate unless you have an ability (Like the monks Step of the Wind) to activate it in another way.

However, the Drunken Master’s “Drunken Technique” ability grants them the following when the activate Flurry of Blows.  It grants both Disengage for the round, AND an extra 10ft of movement for the round.  This means that when a Drunken Master decides to Flurry, then can now move around the battlefield with impunity, ignoring any Opportunity attacks their movement would trigger, even moving say through an enemies square.  And since you can trigger Flurry at any time, and you can break up your movement AND attacks as you see fit, a 3rd level monk can easily bounce around and hit 1 to 3 different targets without worrying about getting hit back.  This ability is important by the way for when we get the Drunken Masters level 17 Capstone power.

At level 3 you also gain bonus proficiency in both the Performance skill and brewers supplies if you don’t already have them.

I want to take a moment here and discuss Stunning Fist, which ALL monks gain at 5th Level.  I want to explain a tactics you can use as a Drunken Master that other monks cannot do without taking a specific feat (Mobility).  You see, if you notice, a Drunken Master’s ability to move around the battlefield is unparalleled on a turn that they use Flurry of Blows.  They can easily reach multiple enemies.  At level 3 they could in theory reach and attack 3 unique targets.  At level 5, when they get Stunning Fist, they can reach 4 targets with their Flurry.

The main reason I bring this up is how Stunning Fist was changed from 3rd Edition, where it used to be a separate action, to 5th edition, where its now a Ki activated power.  When you successfully hit an enemy, you can spend 1 Ki to attempt to Stun the target.  They make a Con save vs your Martial Arts Save DC, and if they fail they are stunned till the end of your next turn.  You can, if you keep hitting one target, lock someone into doing nothing if they keep failing their saves.  However, the Drunken Master can easily with Flurry attempt to stun MULTIPLE TARGETS in one round.  This is a major deal and can let the Drunk Master control enemies very easily should they fail their Con saves.

At level 6 the Drunken Master gains two abilities.  One is called Leap to your Feet, allowing you to stand from prone for only 5ft of your movement, rather then half.  This is an incredible ability allowing all sorts of fun tricks.  For example: Fighting a bunch of archers?  Drop prone on your turn, so they get disadvantage on all attack rolls against you.  Next turn, stand for only 5ft of your movement, get near em, action to drop prone again.  Very easy for the monk to close the distance in this way.  This tactic is a bad idea if there is an enemy who can get within 5ft of you though so keep that in mind.

Also, you get Redirect Attack, which for 1 Ki Point, which lets you use your reaction to cause a melee attack roll that misses you to hit another target within 5ft of you that is NOT the attacker.  Pretty handy to mess with enemies.

At level 11 a Drunken Master gains Drunkards Luck, which lets them negate disadvantage on a save, attack, or ability check for 2 Ki Points.

Finally at level 17 Drunken Master Monk’s get their capstone power: Intoxicated Frenzy.  This ability lets them activate Flurry of Blows to gain not 1, not 2, but 3 additional Flurry Strikes!  This means they get a total of 5 Flurry of Blows attacks on top of their 2 normal attacks.  The negative here is that each of the 5 Flurry strikes must be made against a unique target.  So you could hit 1 enemy with both normal attacks, 1 flurry strike, and then move around hitting up to 4 other unique enemies with Flurry strikes.

Now personally, I love how thematic this final ability is but I think it’s a tad hampered by the requirement that each flurry attack must be against a unique enemy.  If you don’t have 5 enemies in the fight, you cannot get the maximum benefit from the power.  In any game I run, I would allow a player to split the attacks between 2 targets, and each attack cannot be made against a consecutive target.  IE If there are 2 enemies, you could hit one of them 3 times, and one twice, alternating the strikes between them.

So there you have it!  The Drunken Master Monk in all its glory!  Now, unlike the Divine Soul Sorcerer where I broke down some suggested spells per level and even homebrewed some Bonus Spell Lists, for this guy I am going to bring you a multiclass build that I discussed on twitter a while back with a few folks.

I present to you the concept of the Angry Drunk.

For this build you will be taking either 1 level or 3 levels of Barbarian.  The rest of your levels will be Drunken Master Monk.

This build works by leveraging the Rage ability of the Barbarian, mixed with the multiple attacks of the Monk, to generate some heavy damage spikes.  Now for this build to function, you actually need to have a high Strength score, as Rage only applies its bonus damage to attacks made with Strength based weapons.  Since a Monk can alternate which stat they use for their Martial Arts attacks between Dex and Strength, this is not really an issue.

Additionally, you will gain access to the Barbarian’s Unarmored Defense, which does NOT stack with the Monks.  You can use either calculation but not both to determine your overall AC.  This gives you a bit more flexibility in where you put your stats.  Do you go with CON, DEX, and STR?  Or WIS, DEX, and STR?  My personal suggestion is WIS, DEX, and STR since your Monk saves are tied to WIS.

Now if you only take a single level of Barbarian, you will gain access to a D12 hit die for that level, Rage, and Unarmored Defense.  You would have 2 Rage uses per long rest, and they would grant you +2 to your damage rolls when using STR for your Martial Arts, advantage on Strength checks and saves, and resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage of the nonmagical variety.  What you give up is the level 20 Monk ability, which lets you instantly gain 4 Ki if you start a fight with no Ki available, which I honestly never see happening unless you are slogging through a long extended fight.

However, if you take 3 levels of Barbarian, thats an additional 3d12 Hit Die, Rage 3x per long rest, Reckless Attack (to give yourself advantage on your first attack each round), Danger Sense to give yourself advantage on Dex Saves vs things you can see, and most importantly the Primal Path.

I am not going to go too deep here on any of the Barbarian paths, but my personal suggestion would be to go Totem Warrior and choose either Bear or Wolf.  Bear would make you resistant to all damage except psychic (and its magical and nonmagical by the way), while Wolf would mean you get advantage on attack rolls as long as an ally is within 5ft of your target.  Either would greatly enhance the Drunken Master.  Also you can roleplay as an angry wrestler, like THE BOULDER!

I hope this has helped you realize your dreams of being the true Jackie Chan, and if you are looking for more Path breakdowns, feel free to check out my “Pathology” tag here on my blog for more posts!

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