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So the drunken master prestige class has a schtick, which is using improvised weapons semi-competently. He gets to apply his unarmed strike damage plus a scaling bonus damage die to attacks with them. But the scaling bonus damage die is pretty poor (drastically inferior to sneak attack, for example), and improvised weapons are really problematic: you cannot magically enhance them, and while unarmed strikes suffer from a similar problem, there are many unarmed-strike-specific options out there that help with that problem (ki strike, amulet of mighty fists, necklace of natural attacks, and so on). None of those help with improvised weapons, even if you get to add your unarmed strike damage to your attacks with them.

All this is to say that the drunken master is better off not using improvised weapons, for all his class centers around them (he also shouldn’t use his alcoholism-based features due to the penalties they apply, but that’s not relevant to this question).

But what if there were other things we could combine with drunken master that require improvised weapons, or that help fix these problems? Are there enough options out there to make the use of improvised weapons desirable, so that maybe at least one level in drunken master becomes desirable to avoid non-proficiency penalties and add your unarmed strike damage?

To be specific, answers should be

  • Things that allow improvised weapons to count as magical, or better, actually receive magical enhancement. These benefits have to be something that you can move from one weapon to the next, since the drunken master frequently breaks his improvised weapons.

  • Things that require you to use an improvised weapon, and provide a significant benefit.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Only official material? Official and licensed material? Or official, licensed, and third-party material? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 10 '17 at 19:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Cite sources, the more official the better, I won’t be accepting an answer on the basis of third-party material (but won’t object if it’s there alongside official/licensed material). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 10 '17 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why can't you enhance an improvised weapon magically? As long as it's masterwork, you should be ok, I think... \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Sep 10 '17 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer If it’s a masterwork weapon then it isn’t improvised. Besides, since the drunken master breaks his weapon on natural-1s, investing in a particular improvised weapon is a poor choice. I suppose you could try to stock up on rerolls to avoid that but... that’s not really the point of this question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 10 '17 at 20:36
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Only a tiny amount of official material even touches on improvised weapons. The feat Area Attack (Savage Species 30) is, quite simply, out of reach for most PCs. A creature that takes the feat Improvised Trip Attack (Dragon #295 73) can make trip attempts by hurling improvised weapons or actual weapons. The feat Improvised Weapon Proficiency (Dragon #295 73) doesn't actually grant it. The prestige class brawler (Dragon #295 72–3) should be awesome with improvised weapons—it does get proficiency with them at level 1—, but it's ultimately a letdown. And, short of taking a standard action to rub onto an improvised weapon oil of magic weapon [trans] (1st-level spell at caster level 1) (Dungeon Master's Guide 230) (50 gp; 0.1 lbs.) and similar substances—which may or may not work depending on the DM—, I don't know of any way to make an improvised weapon magical.

Officially, this is probably just too many hoops for too little benefit

One feat makes using improvised weapons better than using traditional weapons. The general feat Mercurial Strike (Dragon Compendium Volume 1 102) has as its benefit

Any time an opponent provokes an attack of opportunity from you but you are unarmed, you may draw a melee weapon and make your attack of opportunity with it. The target of your attack of opportunity is caught flat-footed for that attack.

Normally, it's impossible to realize this feat's benefit off-turn more than once per round: once a weapon's been drawn due to the feat's benefit, the wielder's no longer unarmed, and dropping a weapon is a free action, and that can't be done off-turn. However, an arrow—therefore a magic arrow—"that hits its target is destroyed; one that misses has a 50% chance of being destroyed or lost" (PH 113) no matter how that arrow is employed (see this question), and that includes an arrow employed as an improvised melee weapon.

C-c-c-combo! (definitely not broken)

The feat Mercurial Strike is the basis of the combination below. It's a mid-level trick for a mundane warrior. This is not a great trick, nor is it even a 100% reliable trick! However, it is a trick that works better when the trick's user employs improvised weapons, specifically ammunition that's destroyed on a hit and can be lost or destroyed on a miss.

  • Buy the DM pizza then ask the DM if a magic arrow's magical properties apply when a magic arrow is used as an improvised weapon. Mope if the DM still says No.
  • Get as much sneak attack damage or sudden strike damage as you can.
  • Take the following feats: Combat Expertise (Player's Handbook 92), Combat Reflexes (PH 92), Dodge (PH 93), Karmic Strike (Complete Warrior 102), the aforementioned Mercurial Strike, and Quick Draw (PH 98). (This can be done by a level 9 human ninja or rogue that has one flaw.) Plus, get a way to threaten your area while unarmed (see below).
  • As a class skill get the skill Iaijutsu Focus (Oriental Adventure 68–9). (Getting the skill as a class skill might take the feat acquired with a second flaw—I suggest the feat Academy Graduate (Savage Tide Player’s Guide 8).)
  • Get proficiency with improvised weapons. Several methods are listed here, but, in short, I recommend 1 level of barbarian with the alternative class feature city brawler (Dragon #349 92) then joining the affiliation Bloodbound of the Red Ring (City of Stormreach 99–102) and fighting arena battles until your affiliation score's 11. Those two combined mean you'll suffer no nonproficiency penalty with improvised weapons and you'll have earned the ridiculously metal title of—I kid you not—Slaughter Master! [Cue guitar solo.]

    The alternative class feature city brawler also grants a barbarian the bonus feat Improved Unarmed Strike (PH 96-7), which means you now threaten an area while unarmed.

  • Wade into melee, trying to get hit using the feat Karmic Strike, and, in anticipation, maybe activating an amulet of tears (MIC 70) (2,300 gp; 0 lbs.), a talisman of undying fortitude (MIC 188) (8,000 gp; 0 lbs.), or the feat Stone Power (Tome of Battle 32–3).

  • When a foe does hit you, employ the benefits of the feats Karmic Strike and Mercurial Strike to make a melee attack with an arrow—or even, if it makes a difference, a magical arrow—against your flat-footed foe, dealing extra damage due to the skill Iaijutsu Focus and sneak attack or sudden strike.

The only melee weapon other than ammunition that I'm aware of that's destroyed on a successful attack is the ocanthus knife (Planar Handbook 77, 78) (450 gp; 1 lb.), which is, obviously, more expensive (and far heavier) than a mundane arrow but—more importantly—the knife does not, like an arrow, have coin-toss's chance of being destroyed or lost on a miss. In this regard, the arrow (or whatever kind of ammunition you prefer) is actually superior to the ocanthus knife: hit or miss, you want that weapon gone so you can make another attack if successfully attacked again, and there's at least a good chance of a fragile, elusive arrow disappearing even on a miss.

This trick is incredibly complicated, doesn't work all the time, and is kind of silly, but it's also sort of flavorful: imagine a human barbarian 1/ninja 9 who wades into battle with his bow, shooting arrows willy-nilly, hoping someone will make an attack of opportunity against him so that he can whip out an arrow and eviscerate that foolish foe that thought our hero unable to defend himself! That shtick plus ninja plus freakin' Bloodbound Slaughter Master of the Red Ring? [Cue guitar solo.] That's, like, right out of a 1990s indie comic. The grim-and-gritty adventures practically write themselves.

I know of no other way to make using an improvised weapon superior to using a traditional weapon. Further, I know that even this trick involves stabbing foes with autoannihilating arrows, which will rub some folks the wrong way. What can I say? I'm sorry, but I got nothin' else.

Licensed products' "secret weapons"

AEG's Way of the Open Hand (June 2004) is an officially licensed product bearing the Wizards of the Coast seal. I recommend the book only to those desiring entire runs of games as Hand's editing leaves much to be desired, but the text does include three feats that improve the value of improvised weapons:

  • The feat Himitsuheiki Novice (75) has easily met prerequisites, and the benefit removes the nonproficiency penalty for improvised weapons, grants a +1 bonus on attack rolls made with improvised weapons, allows improvised weapons to be treated as certain other weapons, and grants proficiency with the club, dagger, greatclub, spear, and whip. A not-horrible feat made more interesting by providing proficiency with both a martial weapon and an exotic weapon.
  • The feat Himitsuheiki Advanced (76) grants as its benefit, in addition to a bonus when making a feint attempt, the ability to succeed on an easy Spot skill check to take a move action to move up to 10 ft. and simultaneously acquire something that can be used as a weapon; further, if an unattended item can be used as a weapon (like, for instance, if it is a weapon) and it's within your reach at any time during your turn, you can take a free action to scoop it up (which is kind of cool if specializing in disarming, I guess).

  • The feat Himitsuheiki Master (76) doubles the wielder's threat range with improvised weapons (making the feat Improved Critical (improvised weapon) (PH 95) unnecessary, I guess, if the DM even lets that be a thing) and grants the creature once per round a +2 dodge bonus to AC when the feat's possessor intentionally drops a weapon.

The only other feat barely worth mentioning in licensed products is the don't-blame-me-I-didn't-name-it untyped feat Improvised Weapon Feat (Masque of the Red Death 117), the benefit of which allows the creature to take a move action to simultaneously travel up to 10 ft. and ready for use an improvised weapon extant in the environment… with which the creature automatically becomes proficient. However, Masque (Oct. 2004)—from Arthaus's Ravenloft line—is kind of a separate standalone game despite bearing the Wizards of the Coast-approved seal, so good luck with that. I mean, chances are you were probably already trying the DM's patience by looking through the regular licensed Ravenloft stuff.

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  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ That combo is hilarious, and I love it. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Sep 11 '17 at 0:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why go through all of that when you can monk+drunken master+war hulk+hulking hurler... then rip a pillar off of your local temple and use that as an improvised weapon. Or, if you are playing a Really Big Guy™, manage your strength correctly, and have a Portable Hole Full of Beer™, you could just use the whole temple as your improvised weapon instead. Substitute chaos monk and/or other rage shenanigans along with Greater Mighty Wallop for spice and roflcopters. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Sep 12 '17 at 1:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nijineko Because monk is terrible, drunken master is terrible, war hulk turns the PC into a nitwit, and the three combined with hulking hurler turns a PC into an unholy game-breaking abomination that no DM will allow. A DM might actually let someone play this PC. :-) However, it sounds like you've thought about this: why not post your own answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 12 '17 at 2:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan It was just an off the top of my head combo... if I post an answer, I'd have to go actually research the details of the interaction so that I don't flub the answer on some finicky point. Besides which, just because it's a terrible build and/or class(es) doesn't mean it wouldn't be FUN. ^^ \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Sep 26 '17 at 19:48

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