Character Creation Guide – Monk

In the heart of a serene mountain temple, a lone figure practices her martial arts, each movement a dance of precision and control.

A female monk channeling their ki.

Her name is Liara, a disciple of the Way of the Open Hand. Her journey from a novice to a master is a testament to discipline, inner strength, and the pursuit of enlightenment.


Monks in the world of Dungeons & Dragons are not just fighters; they are spiritual warriors who harness the energy of their soul, known as “ki”, to perform extraordinary feats.

Whether dodging arrows, striking with unmatched speed, or healing wounds through meditation, Monks blend physical prowess with spiritual insight.

Mystical and disciplined, Monks tread the path of enlightenment, seeking to balance their inner selves and the world around them.

This guide delves into the intricacies of the Monk class, from their martial arts techniques to their spiritual subclasses and the synergy of races that complement their unique abilities.

Whether you are a player aiming to master the flow of ki or a Dungeon Master seeking to introduce the philosophical challenges a Monk might face, this guide aims to illuminate the path of the Monk in the grand tapestry of character creation.

Introduction To Monks

In the vast lore of Dungeons & Dragons, the Monk is a beacon of discipline, self-control, and inner power. They are not merely brawlers; they are ascetics who seek perfection through the harmony of body and soul.

D&D monk meditating.

A Monk’s strength doesn’t come solely from physical training, but from their connection to the ki, the life force that flows through all living beings.

Embodying the principles of balance, Monks can be found in secluded monasteries, distant mountain temples, or wandering the world as nomadic philosophers.

Their journey is one of self-discovery, mastering both the martial and the mystical, and finding their place in the vast cosmic balance.

Role In A Party

Monks are the embodiment of agility and versatility on the battlefield.

A d&d monk preparing to fight in the street.

While they can hold their own in direct combat, their true strength lies in their speed, evasive abilities, and the unique techniques they employ using their ki. Monks often serve as the skirmishers of a party, darting in and out of combat, disrupting enemy formations, and taking down high-priority targets.

Outside of combat, their disciplined mind and keen senses make them excellent scouts and investigators.

A Monk’s philosophical nature and spiritual insights can also aid in diplomatic situations, providing a perspective that is often different from the more worldly views of their companions.

Class Features

Monks embark on a journey of spiritual enlightenment and physical perfection, honing their skills to become agile combatants and masters of their inner energy known as ki. Their unique blend of martial prowess and spiritual discipline grants them a set of distinctive class features.

Hit Dice: Monks utilize a d8 for determining their hit points, mirroring their balance of physical agility and inner strength, which is suitable for combatants who blend offense with evasion.

Hit Points at 1st Level: A Monk begins with 8 hit points plus their Constitution modifier at the 1st level, grounding them in a foundation of resilience as they embark on their disciplined path.

Hit Points at Higher Levels: As they advance, Monks gain 1d8 (or 5, if taking the average) hit points for each level beyond the first, plus their Constitution modifier. This steady growth in vitality is a testament to their increasing mastery over both body and spirit.

Female D&D monk.

The core of a Monk’s power stems from their deep connection to their inner energy, the ki, combined with rigorous physical training. This harmonization of spirit and body bestows upon them abilities that enable unmatched agility, precision strikes, and the use of techniques that can confound, immobilize, or even heal.

Their unarmored defense, a manifestation of their spiritual discipline and physical training, allows them to calculate their Armor Class in a unique way. Rather than relying on armor, a Monk’s AC is determined by adding their Wisdom and Dexterity modifiers to a base of 10. This reflects their innate ability to dodge and parry attacks through a combination of instinct and insight.

As they grow in experience, Monks acquire the capability to traverse vertical surfaces and liquids, unleash a barrage of rapid strikes, harness their ki for remarkable feats, and resist the effects of aging.

The path of a Monk is holistic, uniting the mind, body, and soul into a singular, potent entity. Whether immobilizing adversaries with stunning strikes, self-healing through sheer willpower, or momentarily stepping into the ethereal plane, Monks epitomize the harmony of inner and outer strength.

Proficiencies

Armor: Monks typically shun the use of traditional armor, relying instead on their agility and training to defend themselves. Their unique style of combat emphasizes fluidity and speed, which would be hampered by wearing armor.

Weapons: While they specialize in unarmed combat, Monks are also proficient with a select group of weapons that fit their combat style. They are adept with simple weapons and certain martial weapons like the shortsword. Monastic traditions also often incorporate specialized weapons, such as the nunchaku, quarterstaff, or kama, into their training.

Tools: Monks gain proficiency with one type of artisan’s tools or musical instrument of their choice, reflecting the meditative or artistic practices they might have engaged in during their time in the monastery.

Saving Throws: Strength and Dexterity are the primary saving throws for Monks. Their rigorous training focuses on harnessing the power of their physical form, making them particularly adept at resisting effects that target their muscular power or agility.

Skills: As they embark on their spiritual and martial path, Monks choose two skills from the following list: Acrobatics, Athletics, History, Insight, Religion, and Stealth. These skills highlight their disciplined training, blending their physical prowess with their deep understanding of philosophy, meditation, and the history of their order.

Core Class Features

Unarmored Defense (1st Level): Right from the outset, Monks learn to utilize their agility and spiritual awareness over traditional armor. While not wearing armor or wielding a shield, a Monk’s AC equals 10 + their Dexterity modifier + their Wisdom modifier. This ability showcases their unique training, relying on swiftness and intuition to evade blows.

Martial Arts (1st Level): Monks are masters of unarmed combat. They can use Dexterity instead of Strength for their unarmed strikes and monk weapons, and they roll a die to determine the damage they deal with such attacks, which increases as they gain levels. This also allows them to make an unarmed strike as a bonus action when they attack with a monk weapon or unarmed strike.

Ki (2nd Level): As Monks advance, they tap into a spiritual energy called Ki. This energy fuels a variety of abilities, from unleashing a flurry of blows to briefly stepping across water or vertical surfaces. Their mastery over Ki represents their inner discipline and connection to the world’s life force.

A d&d monk running on water

Unarmored Movement (2nd Level): Monks gain increased speed and mobility, moving faster when unarmored. As they progress, this ability is enhanced, even allowing them to move along vertical surfaces and liquids without falling.

Deflect Missiles (3rd Level): With quick reflexes, Monks can catch or deflect projectiles when they are hit by a ranged weapon attack. By spending 1 ki point, they can even throw the missile back with precision.

Monastic Tradition (3rd Level): At 3rd level, Monks select a monastic tradition, which represents a specific path of training and spiritual devotion. Whether they’re a Way of the Open Hand Monk, focusing on precise combat techniques, or a Way of the Shadow Monk, blending stealth and subterfuge, this choice deeply influences their abilities and combat style.

Slow Fall (4th Level): Monks can use their reaction to reduce any falling damage they take by an amount equal to five times their Monk level, highlighting their agility and control over their body.

Ability Score Improvement (4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th Level): Similar to Fighters, Monks have opportunities to enhance their abilities. They can use these moments of reflection and training to improve their physical or mental attributes. Alternatively, they might select a feat that complements their combat style or spiritual path.

Extra Attack (5th Level): Beginning at 5th level, Monks can attack twice, instead of once, whenever they take the Attack action on their turn. This reflects their advanced combat training.

Stunning Strike (5th Level): Monks can channel their Ki to disrupt an opponent’s flow of energy momentarily. When they hit another creature with a melee weapon attack, they can spend Ki to attempt to stun the target, hindering their actions and leaving them vulnerable.

Ki-Empowered Strikes (6th Level): Monks’ unarmed strikes count as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to non-magical attacks and damage, showcasing the spiritual power infused in their blows.

Evasion (7th Level): Monks can nimbly dodge out of the way of certain attacks, such as a dragon’s fiery breath or an ice wizard’s freezing blast. When subjected to an effect that allows a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, they instead take no damage on a successful save and only half damage on a failed save.

Stillness of Mind (7th Level): Their rigorous mental training allows Monks to free themselves from effects that charm or frighten them, showcasing their inner tranquility and focus.

Purity of Body (10th Level): Monks attain a level of physical and spiritual purity that renders them immune to disease and poison, highlighting their resilience and harmonious connection with their body.

Tongue of the Sun and Moon (13th Level): Monks understand all spoken languages and any creature that can understand a language can understand them, symbolizing their deep connection to the world’s myriad cultures and beings.

Diamond Soul (14th Level): Monks gain proficiency in all saving throws, and they can spend 1 ki point to reroll a failed saving throw and take the second result, illustrating their exceptional resilience and willpower.

Timeless Body (15th Level): Monks no longer suffer the frailty of old age and can’t be aged magically. They also no longer need food or water, representing their transcendence over mortal limitations.

Empty Body (18th Level): By spending 4 ki points, Monks can become invisible for 1 minute. During this time, they also have resistance to all damage except force damage. Additionally, they can spend 8 ki points to cast the Astral Projection spell without needing material components, showcasing their mastery over their physical and spiritual form.

Perfect Self (20th Level): When Monks have no ki points remaining, they regain 4 ki points when rolling for initiative, representing the culmination of their inner discipline and the boundless energy within.

These features, in their entirety, paint a picture of the Monk as a master of both body and spirit, weaving together martial arts and mystical energy in a harmonious dance of combat and meditation.

Subclasses

Way of the Open Hand (Player’s Handbook): Monks of the Way of the Open Hand are masters of martial arts combat, whether armed or unarmed. They learn techniques to push and trip their opponents, manipulate the ki of their enemies, and resist damage with their own life energy. It’s the quintessential combat-focused tradition.

Way of Shadow (Player’s Handbook): This tradition follows Monks who meld stealth and guile with their martial training. They become adept at moving through the shadows, casting darkness, and even teleporting through areas of dim light or darkness. It’s perfect for those who wish to play a ninja-like character.

Way of the Four Elements (Player’s Handbook): Monks of this tradition tap into the elemental forces of the world. They can spend ki points to cast spells and execute special elemental-themed moves, making them a versatile blend of martial prowess and elemental magic.

Way of the Drunken Master (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything): These Monks move in a stumbling, unpredictable fashion, emulating the movements of a drunkard. They can redirect attacks and capitalize on the momentum of their enemies. Their style is deceptive, fluid, and unpredictable.

Way of the Kensei (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything): Kensei Monks see weapons as an extension of themselves. They master the use of weapons in their martial practices, turning them into part of their monk arsenal. They can make ranged attacks more deadly, and their weapons become more potent over time.

Way of the Sun Soul (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything): Monks of the Sun Soul harness the power of light and radiant energy. They can shoot radiant energy from their hands, create an aura of light, and even erupt in a radiant explosion. They blend spirituality with radiant combat.

Way of Mercy (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything): Monks following this path master the art of healing and mercy. They can mend wounds and provide relief to those suffering, but they can also use their knowledge to inflict pain, making them a balance of life and death.

Way of the Astral Self (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything): These Monks can summon a portion of their inner spirit, known as an astral self. This astral manifestation enhances their combat abilities, providing them with unique attacks and defenses.

Way of the Cobalt Soul (Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount): The Monks of this tradition seek understanding and knowledge. They can extract information from those they hit, counter others’ reactions, and have a reservoir of analytical capabilities that aid them in battle.

Each Monastic Tradition offers a unique playstyle, allowing the Monk to specialize in various aspects of combat, spirituality, and mysticism. Whether seeking enlightenment, mastering martial arts, or harnessing the power of the elements, there’s a path for every Monk.

Race Recommendations

Monks rely on agility, precision, and inner harmony. Their martial arts and ki manipulation benefit from certain racial traits. Here are some races that naturally align with the Monk class due to their innate characteristics:

Human: The versatility of humans makes them adaptable to almost any class, and Monks are no exception. The standard human’s bonus to all ability scores can give a Monk a well-rounded stat distribution, while the variant human’s ability to choose a particular ability score to boost and gain a feat can be optimized for specific Monk builds.

A female elf monk.

Wood Elf: With a boost to Dexterity and Wisdom, the primary stats for a Monk, wood elves are naturally aligned with the Monk class. Their Fleet of Foot trait increases their base speed, which, combined with the Monk’s own speed increase, makes them exceptionally agile on the battlefield.

Half-Orc: While not the traditional choice for Monks, Half-Orcs can be effective due to their Relentless Endurance and Savage Attacks traits, making them durable in combat and able to deliver powerful punches.

Tabaxi: Their natural agility and speed make Tabaxi an excellent choice for Monks. The Feline Agility trait, which allows them to double their speed until the end of their turn, combined with a Monk’s enhanced movement, can make them incredibly mobile.

Choosing the right race can complement a Monk’s abilities and playstyle. Whether focusing on raw power, speed, or a balanced approach, there’s a racial choice that can optimize a Monk’s potential in and out of combat.

Feat Recommendations

Monks, with their focus on martial arts, agility, and the manipulation of ki, can benefit greatly from specific feats that enhance their combat prowess or offer them new capabilities:

A monk running fast.

Mobile: This feat is particularly synergistic with Monks. It increases their speed, doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks from a creature you’ve attacked during your turn, and aligns well with the Monk’s hit-and-run tactics.

Tough: Given that Monks often find themselves in the thick of melee combat but don’t have the largest hit dice, the extra hit points provided by this feat can be a lifesaver.

Sentinel: This feat allows a Monk to control the battlefield. When an enemy within your reach makes an attack against a target other than you, you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against that enemy.

Mage Slayer: For Monks who frequently find themselves facing spellcasters, this feat allows them to capitalize on their agility to disrupt magical foes.

Alert: The bonus to initiative and the inability to be surprised align well with the Monk’s emphasis on swift reactions and awareness.

Sharpshooter: For Monks who utilize thrown weapons or darts, this can increase their damage output significantly.

Defensive Duelist: Using finesse weapons, a Monk can leverage this feat to increase their defensive capabilities, parrying attacks with precision.

Grappler: Enhancing a Monk’s close combat capabilities, this feat allows those who wish to focus on pinning and controlling opponents an effective means to do so.

Magic Initiate: For those looking to add a touch of magic to their Monk repertoire, this feat can grant a couple of spells that might fit a more mystical or elemental-themed Monk.

Mobile and Sentinel, in particular, can be game-changers for Monks, allowing them to maximize their mobility and control the flow of battle. When choosing feats, it’s essential to consider the Monk’s role in the party and the player’s desired play style. Whether emphasizing raw combat prowess, control, or versatility, there’s likely a feat to enhance a Monk’s capabilities.

Equipment And Gear

Monks, in their pursuit of martial and spiritual mastery, have a unique relationship with equipment and gear. Their martial arts often prioritize the power and precision of the body over weapons, and their ascetic traditions may lead them to favor simplicity in their belongings. Here’s a breakdown of typical equipment choices for Monks:

A monk holding a staff.

Starting Equipment:

  • A Monk begins their journey with a choice between a shortsword or any simple weapon.
  • They can also choose between a dungeoneer’s pack or an explorer’s pack for their adventuring gear.
  • For ranged options, they have the choice of 10 darts or a shortbow and 20 arrows.

Armor: Monks typically don’t wear armor. Their training allows them to harness their inner energy, granting them an Armor Class that often exceeds what most light armors can offer. This Armor Class is calculated as 10 + their Dexterity modifier + their Wisdom modifier.

Weapons: Monks are proficient with shortswords and any simple weapons. However, their true strength lies in their unarmed strikes. As they progress in levels, the damage of their unarmed strikes often surpasses that of many weapons. Still, some Monks might favor weapons like quarterstaffs, nunchaku, or kamas, which can be considered monk weapons and benefit from their Martial Arts ability.

Tools: Monks start with one type of artisan’s tools or a musical instrument of their choice, reflecting a pastime or a part of their monastic training.

Special Gear: Monks often carry items that reflect their spiritual journey or their monastic traditions. This could be anything from prayer beads to meditation mats, scrolls containing teachings or mantras, or even special herbs used in alchemical or medicinal practices.

Magic Items: As Monks advance in their adventures, they might come across magic items that enhance their combat capabilities or provide new abilities. Bracers of defense, for instance, can increase their Armor Class, while a Staff of Striking can enhance their weapon attacks.

For Monks, their gear is often an extension of their training and philosophy. While they might not rely on heavy weapons or armor, the items they choose to carry often have deep personal or practical significance, aiding them in their journey both as martial artists and spiritual seekers.

Roleplaying Tips

A monk speaking to a group of people.

Monastic Origins: Every Monk has a starting point in their journey, often rooted in a specific monastery or teacher. Consider the teachings, traditions, and practices of this place or individual. Was it a secluded mountaintop temple, a bustling urban dojo, or perhaps a lone wandering master who took you under their wing? The principles and lessons learned there can shape your Monk’s worldview, code of conduct, and even their fighting style.

Spiritual Journey: Being a Monk is not just about martial prowess; it’s equally a spiritual journey. Is your Monk seeking enlightenment, atonement, or perhaps they’re on a quest to find ancient teachings? Their inner journey can be as significant, if not more so, than their physical adventures. This can provide a rich backdrop for character development and personal quests.

Inner Discipline: A Monk’s power comes from their inner discipline and mastery over their body and mind. This discipline can manifest in daily routines, meditation practices, dietary restrictions, or specific codes of conduct. Perhaps your Monk meditates every dawn, abstains from intoxicants, or follows a strict vegetarian diet. These details can add depth to your character and provide roleplaying opportunities.

Connections to the World: While many Monks might hail from secluded monasteries, they are not necessarily isolated from the world. Consider your Monk’s relationships and connections. Do they have a rival from their training days? A mentor they deeply respect? Or perhaps they left behind a family or loved ones when they chose the monastic path? These connections can be pivotal in guiding your Monk’s actions and decisions.

Martial Arts as Expression: For a Monk, combat is not just about defeating an opponent; it’s an expression of their training, beliefs, and inner self. Each move is deliberate, each strike is a culmination of years of practice. Think about how your Monk approaches combat. Is it a dance, a form of meditation, or a display of raw power? The way your Monk fights can reveal a lot about their personality and beliefs.

Roleplaying a Monk offers a unique blend of physical prowess and spiritual depth. Whether you’re engaging in philosophical debates, seeking ancient wisdom, or showcasing your martial arts skills, embracing the duality of the Monk’s nature can lead to a rich and rewarding roleplaying experience.

Combat Tactics

A d&d monk in a fighting stance.

Speed and Mobility: Monks are known for their incredible agility and speed on the battlefield. Their Unarmored Movement feature allows them to traverse the field rapidly, scaling walls or even running across water at higher levels. Use this mobility to outflank enemies, reach key objectives, or assist allies in a pinch.

Stunning Strike: One of the Monk’s most potent abilities, Stunning Strike, can incapacitate foes, making them vulnerable to subsequent attacks. This is particularly useful against powerful single targets, as it can provide allies with a brief window to unleash their most powerful attacks without fear of retaliation.

Ki Management: A Monk’s Ki points are a valuable resource, powering many of their special abilities. Deciding when to spend Ki and on what abilities (e.g., Flurry of Blows, Step of the Wind, or Patient Defense) can be crucial in ensuring the Monk remains effective throughout prolonged encounters.

Versatile Engagement: With their martial arts skills, Monks can deal significant damage unarmed, making them effective even when disarmed or in situations where weapons might be inappropriate or unavailable. They can choose to deal non-lethal damage, making them adept at subduing foes without killing them.

Defensive Abilities: Features like Deflect Missiles, which allows Monks to catch or even redirect ranged attacks, and Evasion, which helps them avoid certain area effects, make Monks surprisingly resilient. These abilities, combined with their potential for high AC when unarmored, mean that a Monk can often wade into battle relatively safely, even without the protective gear other classes might rely on.

Harmony of Mind and Body: Monks at higher levels gain abilities that reflect their mastery over both their physical form and their mental faculties. Abilities like Stillness of Mind, which lets them end charm or fear effects on themselves, or Diamond Soul, which grants proficiency in all saving throws, highlight their inner strength. In combat, these can help a Monk resist many of the debilitating effects enemies might employ.

Adaptable Fighting Style: Monks are versatile fighters, capable of switching between ranged and melee combat with ease. With features like Radiant Sun Bolt for the Sun Soul subclass or the Kensei’s ability to adopt certain weapons as monk weapons, they can adapt to the needs of the battlefield seamlessly.

Monks are a blend of raw physical prowess and spiritual focus, making them unpredictable and versatile combatants. Their unique blend of features means they can adapt to a variety of combat scenarios, whether that means taking on hordes of enemies, focusing on a single powerful foe, or anything in between.

Party Synergy

Monks in a Team Setting: Monks are versatile combatants, and their abilities can complement a range of party compositions. Whether they’re darting around the battlefield to help squishier allies or using their stunning strikes to set up devastating combo attacks, Monks bring a unique dynamic to any adventuring group.

Support and Control: With their Stunning Strike, Monks can momentarily incapacitate key threats, allowing spellcasters in the party to position themselves or cast spells without interruption. This synergy can be especially potent when combined with area control spells or abilities that require setup.

Frontline and Flanking: While Monks might not have the sheer durability of classes like Fighters or Paladins, their speed and evasive abilities make them excellent at flanking and engaging backline threats, such as enemy archers or mages. Working in tandem with another frontline fighter can lead to effective pincer movements, trapping enemies and leaving them vulnerable.

Distraction and Evasion: Given their mobility and defensive capabilities like Evasion and Deflect Missiles, Monks can draw enemy attention away from more vulnerable party members. By baiting out attacks and dodging them, Monks can act as a distraction, allowing other members to act with more freedom.

Spiritual Insight and Diplomacy: Beyond combat, Monks often have a deep connection to spiritual or philosophical teachings. This can make them invaluable in situations requiring diplomacy, insight, or understanding of religious or arcane matters. Their perspective can provide unique solutions to challenges or offer mediation in tense situations.

Adaptable Roles: Depending on the subclass and chosen abilities, a Monk can shift roles as needed. A Way of the Shadow Monk, for example, can take on stealth and reconnaissance duties, while a Way of the Four Elements Monk might offer ranged elemental attacks, complementing the party’s spellcasters.

In essence, while Monks excel in one-on-one combat and skirmishing, they truly shine when their skills are integrated into a team dynamic. Their ability to adapt and respond to changing battle conditions makes them a valuable asset to any adventuring party.

Conclusion

The Monk class in Dungeons & Dragons presents a unique blend of martial prowess, spiritual discipline, and unparalleled agility. Their journey from a novice practitioner to a master of both body and spirit is one filled with personal discovery, rigorous training, and the pursuit of enlightenment.

A female monk channeling their ki.

Whether they harness the elemental forces, delve into the mysticism of shadow arts, or follow the teachings of a particular monastic tradition, Monks bring a distinct flavor to any adventuring party.

The path of the Monk is not just about combat; it’s about balance, understanding, and the constant strive towards perfection. It’s about tapping into the energies of the universe, understanding one’s place within it, and using that knowledge to protect, guide, and inspire others.

For players looking for a class that offers a dynamic combat style, deep role-playing opportunities, and a connection to ancient traditions and philosophies, the Monk is an exceptional choice. Their journey is one of self-improvement and enlightenment, and their story is one that can add depth, drama, and excitement to any D&D campaign.

Remember, the true strength of a Monk doesn’t just lie in their fists or their ki, but in their heart, their determination, and their unwavering spirit. Embrace the way of the Monk, and let your inner strength guide you to greatness.

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