Updated: Oct 25
Perhaps you're a Dungeon Master that wants to stir things up in the otherwise quiet village. Maybe you see your players are getting restless and are about to throw an insult or vicious mockery at the brute in the local tavern.
For my table, running a Bar Brawl has turned into a campaign staple. It usually happens at least once per campaign, with varying consequences.
Let's discuss how to make your D&D bar brawl encounter smooth and come alive at your table.
Describe The Tavern Setting
Describing the setting will set the foundation for any encounter. As a Dungeon Master, it's critical you have a general idea of what you have in mind. For the bar, some questions to consider are:
Tavern Atmosphere: Is it a quiet, awkward dive bar or a lively, local guild hub?
Layout: How is the space arranged? Are there small tables spaced about, a few long tables, or just a few stools surrounding a small bar? Is it a single floor or does it rise multiple stories? Are there any eye-grabbing features like a colourful fireplace, an ominous pit, or a bright chandelier?
If you're specifically looking for a map design of a dungeon or place, check out this article, in which I talk about a map layout and design.
Entertainment/Games: What do the locals do at the bar other than drink? Is it a gambling den? Do they throw darts? Do performers frequent here such as solo musicians, dancers, bands, or comedic acts?
Who's There: You'll want to consider what type of people frequent the establishment. This could be the deciding factor on if a bar brawl even ensues. If it's the bar filled with the city guard, then likely not. However, if the bar is jammed with crooks, thieves, charlatans, and scammers, then a bar brawl may be one petty insult away.
Don’t Over Plan or Overcomplicate
It's much easier said than done to not over plan. The same thing goes for your potential Tavern Brawl.
I say potential because it may not even happen. If it does, it may be in an entirely different location than expected. I find myself guilty of this sometimes as well, as it's tricky to tell if you are overplanning or not. The Dungeon Master has a lot of say, even in unpredictable situations. Let's quickly revisit some rules regarding improvised weapons.
“An object that bears no resemblance to a weapon deals 1d4 damage (the DM assigns a damage type appropriate to the object).” ~Basic Rules
Dungeons and Dragons welcome an atmosphere where anything can happen. Players will think outside the box (as will you) and come up with more ideas on the fly than you could anticipate. This is where a lot of the excitement lies in D&D. In short, don't over plan the bar brawl.
I do think that it's nice to have a framework for a Dungeon Master. In saying that, here are some examples I thought of as tavern objects, items, and weapons. It may be useful to make a little cheat sheet before the session, so feel free to use some of the ideas below.
Bar Brawl Improvised Weapon Examples
Hot Soup: Deals 1d4 fire damage. Also, has a chance at the target Blinding for 1 round (DC15 Dexterity Save).
Stein Glass: 1d4 Bludgeoning Damage. If it’s made of glass, it breaks and can be used as a Dagger, dealing 1d4 piercing damage.
Tables: Flipped on their side, they make some solid cover, adding an AC bonus to ranged attackers (partial cover +2 AC).
Bar Stool/Chair: 1d8 Bludgeoning Damage (2-handed)
Table/Chair Leg: 1d6 Bludgeoning Damage
Chandelier: There are a few large ropes holding up the ceiling’s chandelier. A creature can use the chandelier with a successful Acrobatics Check to avoid getting attacked and swinging to the other end of the bar. Attackingranged from the Chandelier grants advantage on attack rolls. Alternatively, the Chandelier can be knocked down. Three ropes hold up the chandelier. The ropes each have AC15 and can be snapped with a DC17 Strength Check (ropes only need to be hit once to snap). Anyone underneath the chandelier takes 4d8 Bludgeoning Damage when it falls and they’re knocked Prone.
Darts: From the good old dartboard. Like your typical darts out of the Player’s Handbook.
Dartboard: Strap it on as a makeshift shield, granting +2 to AC. However, it’s very susceptible to breaking, as per DM discretion.
Minstrel’s Instrument: 1d6 Bludgeoning Damage. The instrument breaks creating a horrible, wood-snapping, string-breaking sound. The target makes a DC13 Constitution Saving Throw or is Stunned for 1 round.
Spirit Shot: Taking a shot of this hard liquor has random effects, as per the table below*:
Die Roll (D20)
Spirit Shot Effect
The drinker is plastered and they fall Prone. They gain the Poisoned Condition until they complete a Long Rest. If they roll a Natural 1, they're also asleep and are considered Unconscious.
The drinker is wavering. They gain Disadvantage on Attack Rolls and Ability Checks until they finish a Short or Long Rest.
The drinker is slightly invigorated. They gain 1d10 + Con Modifier as temporary HP for 1 hour.
The drinker is filled with vigour! They gain 2d10 + Con Modifier as temporary HP. They are also Immune to Fear. If they roll a Natural 20, they also gain Resistance to all nonmagical Bludgeoning, Piercing and Slashing damage. All of these effects last for 1 hour.
*Alternatively, you could ask for a Constitution Saving Throw rather than a random roll. The effect would depend on how much the player succeeds or fails the save.
I hope this little bar brawl brainstorm has helped you! If you're looking at balancing encounters properly, see my encounter design article.
Do you have any advice to share? Don't hesitate to leave me a comment.
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