Say a monk is holding a pint of ale in one hand. Given how Martial Arts is written:

You gain the following benefits while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield.

Will the monk lose the ability to use their Martial Arts ability until they drop the pint since it technically could be an improvised weapon?

Assuming that's the case they should probably never be the one who holds the torch considering you could swing it as an improvised weapon.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you building a character inspired by Jackie Chan's Drunken Master? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 2:47

2 Answers 2



armed in this sense means wielding a weapon. The wording of the rule implies ("unarmed or wielding ... ") that characters not wielding weapons are unarmed.

Just because an object the monk happens to be holding could be used as an improvised weapon doesn't mean they are wielding a weapon. If the monk was swinging a lit torch like a club, they would be wielding it as an improvised weapon (and wouldn't be unarmed) ... except most improvised weapons are clubs, and clubs are monk weapons.

As another example, if a monk picked up a fallen character's battleaxe so they could give it to an ally, they aren't necessarily wielding it, and so they don't necessarily stop being unarmed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You could probably improve this by emphasizing that wielding means using it in combat. Perhaps provide an example such as using a longsword to stab a target and thereby unable to further utilize martial arts in that round because a longsword does not qualify as a monk weapon. However if the character was simply holding a longsword but engaging the target with unarmed strikes, they would be free to utilize their martial arts. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the last sentence not do this? \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 21:08

This question calls to mind the real-life Australian case of Deing v Tarola in which the Supreme Court of Victoria "clarified the Weapons Act by stating that a studded belt is not a weapon when used for its intended purpose, but may become one if an offender intended to use it as a weapon."

The Improvised Weapon rules (SRD p65) state:

Sometimes characters don’t have their weapons and have to attack with whatever is at hand.

This suggests that, like the studded belt in Deing v Tarola, an object becomes an improvised weapon when the character chooses to attack with it. If the character does not use the object as a weapon, then it is not a weapon.

A monk might therefore hold a pint of ale in one hand while using unarmed strike or a one-handed monk weapon.

Nevertheless, there ought to be some penalty for trying to fight while holding a pint of ale, at least if the character is attempting not to spill it. The Disadvantage rules (SRD p77) may apply here:

The GM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

If it was my ruling to make, I would allow the Monk to use their Martial Arts ability, but with disadvantage on the attack roll.

(An exception might be made for a Drunken Master, but in that case a penalty should apply if they don't drink while fighting.)

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Disadvantage seems harsh here. Fighting unarmed while holding a tankard of ale is a perfect example of a Cool Thing that a PC can do that will feel awesome without having any unbalancing effects. The player characters are supposed to be awesome. I'd say a monk can use Martial Arts with a full tankard of ale, and at worst they would need to make a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to avoid spilling. Consider: a spellcaster holding concentration on a spell doesn't take disadvantage on any other activity, and the consequences of losing concentration are (arguably) much worse than spilling some beer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 13:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkCogan I guess it depends on the tone you're looking for in the game. Your Dex check idea is a good one. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 13:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "at least if the character is attempting not to spill it". What a wonderful thought. I'd go so far as to say that this act should disadvantage their combat rolls, but should they survive the fight it should reward them in some manner (XP, reputation). \$\endgroup\$
    – Wayne
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 18:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wayne Inspiration (PHB, p. 126, DMG pp. 240-241) is a reward intended tor be used for exactly these types of situations! \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Some decades ago I was sitting beside the dance floor at a pub, balancing a just started pint of ale on my knee watching two friends of mine dance, when a Jive catch was missed and the girl came flying off the dance floor toward me; I caught both girl and ale without spilling a drop. Sometimes it only becomes difficult when you have to think about it in advance. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 19:52

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