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So, when I see someone faulting the Drunken Master, it's typically because of what the character gets at level 1:

Drink Like a Demon (Ex): A drunken master's body handles alcohol differently from other people's. He can drink a large tankard of ale, a bottle of wine, or a corresponding amount of stronger alcohol as a move action. Every bottle or tankard of alcohol he consumes during combat reduces his Wisdom and Intelligence by 2 points each, but increases his Strength or Constitution (character's choice) by 2 points. A drunken master may benefit from a number of drinks equal to his class level. The duration of both the penalty and the bonus is a number of rounds equal to the character's drunken master level + 3.

I assume they say this since it makes the AC of a Drunken master tank due to losing so much WIS. Aren't there good ways to alleviate this though? Can't you simply run 1 level of Fist of the Forest to get AC bonuses from DEX/CON/WIS (Assuming at least 1 level in monk).

AC Bonus (Ex): While unarmored, you gain a bonus to your Armor Class equal to your Constitution bonus (if any). See the monk class feature (PH40).

Yes I know it's a form of monk and monks are the accepted worse class, but is Drunken Master really that much worse than other monks? Are there other things I'm missing besides people bashing on this ability? I feel like managing to get +10 or more STR in a fight can be extremely useful to for hitting and for damage while not losing out on AC. Or is it the fact that abilities like Tumble and DEX related abilities become so hard to do (Which can be alleviated as well by pumping skill points.)

What exactly about the Drunken Master makes it so weak compared to other Monk Prestige classes? The main benefit is the level 1 Drinking ability which also destroys your WIS, but aren't there good ways to work around that?

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It's the Mental Damage

Drink Like a Demon has two problems. The first is that it's an uneven trade; you're losing 4 points of ability score and only getting 2 back. This does a few things to your Drunken Master that are bad:

  • Lowers AC
  • Lowers vital Wisdom-based skills (such as Perception)
  • Lowers your Will saves
  • Lowers your save DCs for your special abilities
  • Makes you more vulnerable to monsters and spells that deal mental ability damage

While you can run Fist of the Forest to mitigate the AC problem, all you ever end up doing is breaking even - and that's if you take the Con, and not the Strength. If you want a melee benefit out of Drink Like a Demon you've gotta burn AC point after AC point while simultaneously making yourself increasingly weak to save-or-suck and save-or-lose spells like charm person, hold person, and anything else that requires a Will save. The end result is that you turn yourself into a glass cannon that, at any moment, could be pointed at your party by a monster.

Sadly, not even the common "fix" of going Kung-Fu Genius works; Drink Like a Demon lowers your Intelligence.

Additionally, as Tridus mentioned in the comments, each drink you take is burning a move action, meaning that every round you take a drink is a round you cannot move, use Flurry of Blows, or make a full attack. Essentially, drinking makes you worse at doing your job (delivering damage to targets of opportunity) while also making you more vulnerable.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ascetic Mage would work as a “fix” where Kung-Fu Genius doesn’t, since it swaps things to Charisma instead of Intelligence and drunk like a demon doesn’t kill Charisma (someone had a very optimistic view of his drunken charm writing that, I suspect), but it does make entry more awkward since you need to get arcane spellcasting somehow. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 11 '17 at 20:30
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The problems of the drunken master prestige class are many. Actually, it has almost nothing about it that isn’t just about completely terrible.

Very harsh prerequisites

Qualifying for drunken master is miserable: you need two awful feats, plus one of the taxiest of feats in the game in Improved Unarmed Strike. This is a huge knock against the drunken master.

Worse, it requires flurry of blows and evasion: that makes it hard to be a drunken master without being a monk. That’s bad because monks are bad, but more significantly, that’s bad because drunken master is really bad for monks in particular. While it uses unarmed strike damage for its improvised weapon attacks, it doesn’t progress monk unarmed strike damage so that doesn’t add very much. And then it goes and tanks Wisdom, which is pretty crucial for... nearly every monk class feature of note.

Drunk like a demon is a really bad version of rage

Consider rage: +4 Strength and Constitution, +2 to Will, −2 to AC, which can be activated as a free action. In comparison, a second-level drunken master +4 to Strength or Constitution, while taking −4 to Intelligence and Wisdom (after using it twice). That tanks your Will save, which is often critically important, kills monk class features, and it can drop you out of qualifying for feats. And it takes two turns to build up.

Higher levels allow larger bonuses, but remember that the barbarian started from 1st, while the drunken master started at 6th. Barbarian 8 gets you +6/+6, which the drunken master matches at the same ECL. And the larger bonuses take longer and longer to accrue, which is a really bad thing in a fight. The barbarian’s are still a free action.

Improvised Weapons are a really bad idea

Improvised weapons, by definition, cannot be magically enhanced. This is a huge flaw that the drunken master has no good answer for. Even when they do d12s, you can just use a greatsword, whose 2d6 is superior to 1d12, and magically enhance that. You get to add on your unarmed strike damage but it’s not nearly enough since drunken master doesn’t even progress monk unarmed strike damage. And it’s incompatible with any unarmed-strike-specific features you might have, so even that route is denied to you. Neither amulet of mighty fists nor necklace of natural attacks can be applied to improvised weapons. What all this means is, even as a drunken master, an option you could have used by default is better than your iconic class feature. A drunken master is seriously better off using real weapons than improvised ones.

The rest of the features (barring stagger) are really mediocre

They just don’t do much. Corkscrew rush is almost good, but the risk of proning yourself is just awful. The bonus feats are not exactly high-quality, and you could have gotten them long ago as a fighter or something. The AC bonuses are really small. Breath of flame is barely better than flaming hands, a 1st-level spell.

Stagger is quite good, but almost-as-good effects are available far more cheaply

Stagger allows you to charge in any twisting path you want, and allows you to negate all attacks of opportunity with a single DC 15 Tumble check, which is pretty awesome.

But feats exist that allow you to make one turn during a charge; you could take a couple of those, and it’ll be really rare that you can’t charge who you want to. And Tumble can just be used during a normal charge; you have to make a Tumble check for each attack of opportunity, but Tumble is worth being good at.

Note that this has nothing to do with whether or not playing a drunken master character is a good idea

A drunken master character could be a lot of fun—but you don’t need, or want, the drunken master prestige class to do it. Build any martial artist sort of character you want, and then describe yourself as using the drunken fist style. After all, the actual drunken fist martial art, zui quan, does not make significant use of improvised weapons. (Or even alcohol. They're just imitating the unpredictable movements of a drunkard because it gives them an edge in a fight.) Zui quan is a mostly barehanded fighting style, with some staff or sword using forms. Those are real weapons, not improvised ones. So go ahead and play a drunken master if you like—but skip the actual prestige class, you’re better off without it.

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It's not as bad mathematically as people are saying…

The damage bonus from unarmed attacks of the monk and the damage bonus for improvised weapons of a drunken master do stack. Complete Warrior says, "A drunken master’s improvised weapon deals as much damage as his unarmed strike plus an extra 1d4 points." And with further progress, he deals 1d12. So, if jumping into drunken master at character level 6 after having 5 levels as a monk, he deals 1d8 + 1d4 points of damage… then more as he advances as a drunken master. A full monk would have 2d6 at level 15, but the monk/drunken master's 1d12 + 1d8 seems superior to me. And at level 20 it's 1d12 + 1d10 points of damage for the monk 10/drunken master 10 versus 2d10 for the level 20 monk.

…But you do lose some good monk stuff…

Not getting some class features from your normal class is typical for a prestige class, but a drunken master usually loses an extra attack during a flurry of blows because he never gets greater flurry as a level 11 monk. Also, a drunken master loses out on some extra speed, which is crucial for the monk who wants to take foes seeking safety in the back ranks. A drunken master also isn't immune to poison, his SR is terrible, misses out on quivering palm, and never becomes an outsider. Those are hard to lose when compared to the abilities of a drunken master.

And it's not all about the math

I'm not saying that drunken master is a really good prestige class, but there are many classes that aren't extremely good if all you're trying to do is optimize. Drunken master is more a role-playing class than a combat class while still being not bad at combat. Most special abilities can be used without without drinking, if you need to. Only drink like a demon, for medical purposes, and breath of flame need booze.

Don't play a drunken master if you're aiming for ultimate power. Instead, play a drunken master in a have-fun-and-I-don't-care-that-much-about-combat campaign. But keep in mind that you really are losing some nice stuff that can be used outside of fights by leaving monk—like tongue of the sun and the moon—to get that fighting stuff from drunken master.

So consider carefully if it's worthwhile to switch these nice monk abilities for the ability to kill enemies with your tankard (without spilling its contents, of course).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good point about the stacking, I missed that. But if you want to roleplay a drunken master, the actual drunken master prestige class is a really bad way to do it, and that is why it’s a bad class. You can turn any martial artist kind of character into a drunken master by just saying that’s his fighting style and describing him that way, buying alcohol and carrying it around, and so on. You don’t need to take a very, very bad prestige class in order to call yourself a drunken master. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 10 '17 at 15:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I adjusted my answer to incorporate the bit I had missed about the stacking, and added a section at the end addressing what the drunken master prestige class brings to the table from a roleplaying perspective. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 10 '17 at 15:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Edited to make this a standalone answer; though it started "as a comment" I think it has sufficient info in it to not be "not an answer." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Sep 10 '17 at 15:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth noting that at this point, no one is claiming that a drunken master’s improvised weapon damage doesn’t stack with his unarmed damage; I changed my answer when I saw yours (thanks again for pointing it out). Also, personally, I find your section on losing out on things from monk to be a little... missing the point. Yes, you miss out on things, that’s normal for a prestige class. The problem is that drunk like a demon makes you worse at the things you already have, which is very much not something most prestige classes do. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 11 '17 at 18:32

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