As an essential edition to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, the Way of the Drunken Master stumbles and belches its way into the Monk’s toolkit. Using techniques from the real-life Drunken Style, the Drunken Master is all about deceiving enemies into thinking you’re more foolish than you are. Whether it be because you’re actually drunk or simply a good actor, the Drunken Master will have you staggering to level 20 in no time. Let’s step into this strange-smelling dojo, and figure out why this might be one of the best Monk subclasses of all time. Get the scoop with our Drunken Master 5E Guide.
Twist and Dive: Drunken Master Monk 5E
The Drunken Master is a defensive powerhouse, giving the Monk a suite of tools that keep it alive in the early and mid games; when the Monk is the most likely to die. That means the Drunken Master offers next to no offense, and instead relies on Flurry of Blows to keep it’s damage even comparable to other subclasses. Despite that weakness, staying alive means you’ll eventually win the fight, and that’s the Master’s specialty!
Of course, what kind of drunken master would be if you weren’t a bit of an actor?
When you choose this tradition at 3rd level, you gain proficiency in the Performance skill if you don’t already have it. Your martial arts technique mixes combat training with the precision of a dancer and the antics of a jester. You also gain proficiency with brewer’s supplies if you don’t already have it
This is a proficiency just drowning in flavor! Performance is exactly what a Drunken Master is best at. While you won’t beat any Bards or Sorcerers that decide to pick up a lute, you’ll still be well-loved by the townsfolk.
Mechanically, Performance is by far the most GM-based skill on the list. Your Performance check will either gather dust on your character sheet or save your party from death by a dragon – there is rarely middle ground. Some GMs will allow you to use Performance to make money, so that’s certainly a consideration. Talk to your GM to see what you can get away with; there’s no reason for Bards to have all the fun!
Brewer’s supplies are flavorful, but it’s going to be rare that you break those bad boys out for some cocktails. Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition actually has no baseline rules for intoxication. That means your GM would have to come up with the disadvantage and advantage rolls for if you or your party are good at using this proficiency.
Depending on how harshly your GM makes Intoxication into a debuff, this could get some combat merit. Maybe you could provide really hard liquor for an event that you plan on stealing from. Or lower a keg of beer in front of some Goblins to make a Goblin cave a little easier.
You would have to really stretch to make these proficiencies work, but GMs that reward creativity might let you get away with a lot. This isn’t the reason to take this subclass, but you could make it the reason your character did.
This ability, by itself, changes the monk’s playstyle – From a frontline brawler to a rather sneaky skirmisher.
At 3rd level, you learn how to twist and turn quickly as part of your Flurry of Blows. Whenever you use Flurry of Blows, you gain the benefit of the Disengage action, and your walking speed increases by 10 feet until the end of the current turn.
So, Attack of Opportunity hurts a little bit. It prevents anything with a reach of 5 ft from really stepping out of melee range without some way to do so safely – taking a sword to the back of the head is a pretty good incentive to just stick to the fight. The monk has a way to get Disengage as a bonus action, but that means you lose your extra punch from Martial Arts… Not to mention expending some ki.
This adds Disengage to Flurry of Blows, something you’d really like to spend Ki and actions onto. At the start of your turn, you can attack and Flurry, throwing up to 4 unarmed attacks at level 5. Then, you can zip across the battlefield to your next target before your opponent can even blink. Do remember that this does nothing if you use a movement action before you attack; you need to move to provoke an attack of opportunity, after all. Use this only if you start your turn right next to someone.
The bad part of this ability is that it technically costs a ki point; you can’t Disengage without that point, so you have a limited number of times that you can use it. Thankfully, Flurry of Blows is an absolutely god-tier ability for Monks, so you’ll be granted this buff often. Swerve in and out of a fight, and let your fellow melee warriors do the tanking.
You gain 2 bonuses at 6th level, both of them rather significant.
Leap to Your Feet. When you’re prone, you can stand up by spending 5 feet of movement, rather than half your speed.
Leap to Your Feet is situational, but keeps you in line with your skirmishing attitude. Losing half of your movement speed as a monk can mean you’re not in punching distance (A.k.a., not being very useful!). And, thanks to Unarmored movement, you technically lose more speed than most characters when you fall on your face. When situations come up where this matters, you’ll be really happy you have this benefit.
Redirect Attack. When a creature misses you with a melee attack roll, you can spend 1 ki point as a reaction to cause that attack to hit one creature of your choice, other than the attacker, that you can see within 5 feet of you.
Redirect Attack tends to be a rather juicy option. One of the most common boss fights in the game is “big thing with a big weapon.” During those fights, that big thing tends to have one or two smaller things nearby. As long as they are anywhere near you, you can totally cause the boss to absolutely splatter his ally.
That’s the best-case scenario, but rarely will you find Redirect Attack isn’t worth a ki point. You’re guaranteeing that someone near you takes damage.
If you’re wondering whether or not to save your ki, consider this; would that enemy’s attack hit harder than one punch? If the answer is yes, spend that ki. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, after all! Or… One sword in the rib is worth two fists near the face.
At the 11th level, you get a semi-reroll effect that is incredibly in-tune for a tipsy titan like yourself.
Starting at 11th level, you always seem to get a lucky bounce at the right moment. When you make an ability check, an attack roll, or a saving throw and have disadvantage, you can spend 2 ki points to cancel the disadvantage for that roll.
This is a lot better than it seems.
Canceling disadvantage is normally worth as much as gaining advantage. If this ability said 2 ki points to give yourself advantage to one roll for… anything important in combat, really… it’d actually be worth about the same as this.
For the Monk, getting advantage on one attack roll isn’t really worth it. Monks rely on a thousand papercuts rather than landing one lucky crit, so disadvantage doesn’t mean too much for them. You could theoretically use this to escape disadvantage if you knew that this punch would end the fight, but… That’s a pretty rare instance.
The disadvantage on ability checks can be rather unfortunate, but rarely life-endangering. Instead of spending ki to negate disadvantage on Athletics, maybe find another way around. If there’s no way to get around the disadvantage without a party member spending spell slots, then it’s worth using this ability; Ki regenerates a little easier than most spells, after all.
Now, let’s talk about save disadvantage. I’m sure a few people have had disadvantage on their save and watched in horror as their GM casts a spell at their character. Maybe it ended up just being extra damage, or maybe you got a permanent curse. Maybe your character died because of it. If you don’t like any of those options, spending 2 ki points is a really, really low price to pay. Monks tend to be good at saves, so letting the dice ruin your chances just isn’t worth it.
As a note, this does step on Diamond Soul’s toes, just a bit. If you need to choose between one or the other, remember that the reroll only applies to one of the dice; you can reroll the worse dice, but if both of them fail, then you’d have to spend ki points. Use Drunkard’s Luck on really important saves that you’re disadvantaged on, and Diamond Soul if you think saving the Ki is better.
Your final ability for the monk tradition is the only offensive option they get. It’s actually quite a doozy!
At 17th level, you gain the ability to make an overwhelming number of attacks against a group of enemies. When you use your Flurry of Blows, you can make up to three additional attacks with it (up to a total of five Flurry of Blows attacks), provided that each Flurry of Blows attack targets a different creature this turn.
So, at base, this seems good, but situational. You swing at someone, and then you get to hit up to 5 creatures that are close enough for you to punch. That’s kind of not amazing, right? You don’t want to be that close to that many enemies, yeah? It’s a decent area of effect, but what does that matter when you’re surrounded by 5 people?
Well… Remember Drunken Technique? How you have the benefits of the Disengage Action? And even more movement speed than a Monk normally does?
It’s runnin’ time.
At level 17, you have +25 ft movement speed (+35 ft with D. T.). You can move 65 ft for most races, punching 5 creatures in the face, and there’s nothing they can do to stop you. This increases your total number of attacks at this level to a whopping 8, with only a small situational penalty. That puts fighter to shame!
Be sure to pump your Attack, Extra Attack, and one Flurry into a single enemy. Just to be sure that you’re not spreading your damage too thin across a fight.
Best Race for Drunken Master Monks
The Drunken Master is in a weird state. None of their abilities have DCs attached to them – instead augmenting Flurry of Blows – so Wisdom isn’t a huge deal. In addition, they actually stay out of the frontlines whenever they can, reducing the amount of AC they need. You’ll still want enough to get misses every now and then for Redirect Attack, but Dexterity is much more important – Get Dexterity, then Wisdom or Constitution, depending on your race.
The Elemental Evil Player’s Companion is completely free, and thus you can ask your GM to help you create the perfect skirmisher. The Aarakocra has Dexterity and Wisdom, perfect for damage and redirect. It also has Flight. That tends to push it over the edge for most GMs, but do remember that Flight makes you an easier target for ranged attackers and spellcasters; you’ll be in danger a lot if you use your flight for more than fancy escape tactics. Talk to your GM about using this, and then drunkenly flap your way across the battlefield!
Looking for something a little bit basic? Elves tend to be one of the most commonly “good” races in the Player’s Handbook, because Dexterity is nice. Pick up a Wood Elf, and you gain Wisdom, a decent ranged option, some bonus stealth and… Even more movement speed. If you want your monk to fly 75 ft per turn, punching people in the face, then Wood Elf is the best way to get there. Besides that, you can now challenge a Dwarf to a drinking contest and probably win!
Conclusion – Our Take on the Drunken Master 5E
That wraps up a Drunken Master 5E Guide! The Way of the Drunken Master transforms the Monk into a backline skirmisher. Rather than offering new options to spend Ki, or extra versatility beyond the base Monk skills, it turns Flurry of Blows into the picture of action economy. Despite this lack of options or significant changes, the Drunken Master is incredibly fun, fast, and one of the most entertaining ways to play monk in the late game. We highly recommend trying this monk archetype out, but only if there’s at least one other person to keep your casters safe; you’ll probably be on the other side of the battlefield!