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    Aug 2013

    Default Bekeleven's Monkday Guide to Monks

    Quote Originally Posted by Kolja Liquette, “Dead Levels”
    The monk is the only other core class, aside from the barbarian, that has no dead levels. Players always have something to look forward to with the monk, which boasts the most colorful and unique special abilities of all the character classes.
    Monks look fun. And good! You have all strong saves, a moderately good base attack bonus, good health, high speed, and more attacks than any other class. Why wouldn’t the class be the most powerful?

    The truth is that Monks are mechanically deficient. Monks are not boring, in that half the time you have nothing to do. Instead, you can always do something, and it will always be mediocre. Or you can specialize at one thing, in which case you can shine, if that thing plays to the strengths of the monk. However, other classes and builds can generally do more, and more easily, in the same areas. Some people think that you must call yourself your class name, e.g. you must play a the Samurai class from Complete Warrior if you wish to play a person with the societal station of samurai. I hope that if you want to play a ascetic or martial artist, in a game that relies heavily on rolls and mechanical interaction, you find it within yourself to look beyond the class of Monk.

    1. Design Philosophy and Synergy: How was the monk designed to be played?
    2. Wording, Power, and Uncommon Situations: A breakdown of the monk's abilities
    3. It's a Numbers Game: Why the monk can't compete mechanically
    4. Monk Without Monk: Other classes surpassing the monk at its supposed strengths
    5. Conclusion: The Playable Monk: How to make the most of the monk's powers
    Epilogue: Fixing the Monk: Examples of rebalancing attempts.
    Appendix: Vow of Poverty and other notes: Information that doesn't fit elsewhere.

    Special thanks to CaptnQ's monk tips on effective monks. The section "TO, Earl Grey, Hot" is almost entirely based on his suggestions. He also pointed out the specific definition of "Unarmed Strike."

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    Part 1. Design Philosophy and Synergy

    Quote Originally Posted by Dragon 271, “Countdown to 3rd Edition”
    Unarmed Strike means that monks don’t invite attacks of opportunity when fighting unarmed. Without it, an unarmed character might eat steel before he can throw the first punch. Better yet, a monk can launch a flurry of blows, gaining an extra attack at the cost of a -2 penalty to hit on each attack. When fighting lightly-armored opponents, this is a great option.
    Zipping through the battlefield at the speed of light, the monk finds his prey. One strike, two strikes, a dozen and the beast lies defeated on the ground. Grabbing a stray arrow headed for his spine, he turns and sprints towards the archer unwise enough to draw his attention.

    Sounds good, right?

    The monk doesn’t know what he’s doing. Not the player: The class itself. For now we won’t discuss the monk compared to other class. Let’s discuss what the monk is meant to do.

    Skirmish: The monk isn’t a tank. It’s obvious, given the class’s high movement rate, that the monk should be striking and fading, letting no enemy draw a bead. It’s equally obvious, given his hit die - the lowest on dedicated melee characters - that he shouldn’t be trading blows.
    Unfortunately... The monk’s signature ability, Flurry of Blows, works only on a full attack. Full attack means a round in which you can’t move. It means trading blows. So should Mr. monk be standing around punching people, or should he be dancing through his enemies?

    Control the battlefield: As previously discussed, the monk is meant to be wherever is needed to shut the enemies down. Due to the mechanical impotence of maneuvers such as disarming, sundering, and bull rushing - especially while unarmed - the monk’s best form of battlefield control is tripping. Tripping is best performed while Large, for attack bonuses and to control more squares, preventing enemies from closing into range of you or your fragile spellcasters.
    Unfortunately... The Monk’s ability to control the battlefield is limited by its own class abilities. Spell Resistance makes it hard for party mages to increase size or strength via buffing spells. At level 20, the monk’s own capstone ability makes it immune to its strongest buff spell, Enlarge Person. While level 20 rarely sees table, it’s a good example of the self-contradictory design that guided much of the monk’s history.

    Grappling and Damage: The mechanical issues of monk grapplers and monk damage-dealers are discussed more below. These maneuvers fail not due to mechanical conflicts within the class, but simply because the class is too weak to perform them competently.

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    Part 2: Wording, Power, and Uncommon Situations

    Quote Originally Posted by Dragon 271, “Countdown to 3rd Edition”
    All of those abilities are just at first level! Afterward, monks gain a regular arsenal of physical and mystical abilities, including Deflect Arrows, Slow Fall, Improved Trip, and everyone’s favorite: the dreaded Quivering Palm! Naturally, that’s not all, and a monk perfects her mind as well as her body, eventually gaining spell resistance, immunity to disease and poison, the ability to speak with any creature, and even freedom from normal and magical aging.
    Most monk special abilities are weak, useless, or extremely situational. This makes some amount of sense! The only other class that gains something every level, Barbarian, is often gaining things like +1 trap sense, and the monk is balanced against that. However, the Barbarian has many, many, many mechanical benefits over the monk, and its weak class features fail to close the gap. Below, I review some class features of the monk in detail.

    Ki Strike: Overcome certain forms of damage reduction a level or three after a player wielding a magical weapon can do so. An ability designed to, at best, keep monks in the competition rather than give them anything others lack.

    Slow Fall: By level 20, this ability is still less powerful than a first-level spell. In addition, it’s a situation that comes up so rarely as to nearly be forgotten altogether. This is common among monk powers.

    Purity of Body: Become immune to nonmagical diseases. You can avoid making saves against Dire Rats, Otyughs, Night Hags and Bearded Devils... 4 of the 6 sources of disease in the Monster Manual. You can’t even use it to clear traps, since all traps in the Dungeon Master’s Guide use Poison and not disease. This ability overlaps the monk’s all-good saves, covering a weakness monks don’t have. And honestly, when is the last game where you saw Cackle Fever in play?

    Wholeness of Body: Until 13th level, this ability heals fewer hit points per day than a 750GP Healing Belt from the Magic Item Compendium. If you’re so desperate for extra hit points, buy two and it will cover you until level 26.

    Diamond Body: Immune to poisons. Now the Rogue can make you stick your hand into chests. Not useless, but again, you already had good saves.

    Abundant Step:
    Sure, Wizards were doing this at level 7. Well, now that you’re level 12, you can dimension door too! Less distance. Once per day.

    Diamond Soul: It’s a standard action to disable this for one round. Hopefully, you will never need heals mid-combat. Since the primary thing a monk does well is make saves, the helpfulness of this is questionable, unless facing optimized wizards that use no-save spells.

    Quivering Palm: Wizards have been casting Phantasmal Killer for 8 levels by the time you get a 1/week hit-with-attack-and-save-or-die. By the time you DO get this, wizards are now casting Polymorph Any Object (Save or Lose, no attack necessary), Symbol of Death (No save just die against low-HP enemy), Maze (no save just removal against low-int enemy), Scintillating Pattern (Remove many weak enemies from combat with no save), or other equally powerful effects. Multiple times per day, not once per week. Oh, and quivering palm doesn’t work against whole swaths of the monster manual. And its save is based on a tertiary ability score. And it’s once per week...

    Timeless Body: when is the last time in a game where your character was aged against his will?

    Tongue of the Sun and Moon: Wizards have been casting Tongues since level 5. If you really, really, really need it active for all day, by 17th level a wizard can prepare it in 4 of his 3rd level slots and it will last about 12 hours.

    Empty Body: Mimic a 7th level spell for a number of rounds per day that add up to a single casting.

    Perfect Self: The perfect capstone to the monk: Immunity to enlarge person! And DR 10/Magic at 20th level is best forgotten. The type change makes you immune to some person-only enchantment effects... except that you have a good will save, high wisdom and +2 against enchantments already.

    What did I leave out? Here are the monk abilities that I consider worth the paper they’re printed on: AC Bonus, Speed Bonus, Unarmed Damage, Bonus Feats, Still Mind, Evasion/Improved Evasion. From 20 levels with abilities, down to 5 (1, 2, 3, 6, 9)... and one of those is Still Mind. Maybe I’m reaching a bit too hard.

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    Part 3: It's a Numbers Game

    Quote Originally Posted by Dragon 272, “Countdown to 3rd Edition”
    Perhaps the most impressive of the barbarian's class abilities is Damage Reduction. Like some monsters, the barbarian can shrug off some small amounts of damage with each blow. This extraordinary power can reduce damage to 0 (though not below, so you rules lawyers can forget about healing your barbarians with a flurry of blows).
    Flurry of Blows doesn’t deal very much damage.

    Let me back up. In melee combat, there are four rather important numbers that each participant will be trying to raise. Attack bonus, damage per hit, armor class, and hit points. There are plenty of other numbers in the game, and monks (thankfully) put up a fight in saves and are not the worst in skills. So, in this section, I’ll be looking at those four numbers, numbers that every melee character needs for combat. I’ll touch briefly on a fifth number, attacks per round, where the monk was meant to excel. Afterwards, we’ll discuss grappling, another of the monk’s purported strengths.

    Intro - Abilities

    The deepest root of mechanical inequality are the ability scores required to make a functional character. Consider a fighter: A typical fighter build adds strength to attack and damage, constitution to his his points, and wears heavily enchanted full-plate (effectively adding no abilities to armor class). A barbarian will add strength to attacks and damage in melee, and constitution to hit points, but will have moderate dexterity for increasing armor class with Mithral Full Plate or an Adamantine Breastplate. Rangers, who wear light armor, will need even more dexterity than the monk. At level 5, a ranger will typically be using a +1 chain shirt or similar, gaining only 5 AC from armor and requiring dexterity for the rest.

    Then we come to the monk.

    Like the other three mentioned martial classes, the monk adds strength to hit with weapons. The monk also adds strength to weapon damage, and unlike the swords and axes employed by the other three mentioned classes, adds it only once per damage roll (except if attacking with a quarterstaff wielded two-handed). The monk needs constitution for hit points like all of the others, although more than the fighter and barbarian, as it gains 1-2 fewer HP per level on average from its smaller hit die. The trouble comes with armor class, where instead of decking oneself in metal like a sensible person, a monk adds dexterity and wisdom to AC. Already we can see that an effective monk needs moderate scores in four abilities. Therefore, in general (especially when using point-buy, which is considered a balanced measure), the monk will have lower scores in each of its 4 main abilities than, say, a fighter will have in its two.

    1 - Attack Bonus

    It’s hard to untangle Attack Bonus, Damage, and Attacks Per Round. But I’ll try to discuss it. The most common components of a healthy attack bonus are Base Attack Bonus (BAB), Strength (in melee), Size bonus, and weapon enhancement.

    Hopefully you can already see where this is going. All 3 classes to which I am comparing monk have full base attack bonus. This discrepancy begins by giving the monk a -1 to hit, and ends with a -5 relative to the other classes. As discussed above, the monk’s strength will also be lower. In addition, if the monk wishes to get the damage dice out of his fists, he will have no enhancement bonus to his weapon (barring niche builds and a few magical items I mention below). We will see below that this may not be the best use of a monk’s capabilities, but keep it in mind. Even wielding a magical monk weapon, every other component of the monk’s attack bonus is lower than the same component on another martial character (save the ranger, if the ranger is specializing in something other than melee).

    I really wanted to discuss how flurry of blows reduces a monk’s attack bonus even further until level 9. But at this point, I don’t even see the need to expand any further.

    2 - Damage

    The most powerful force in melee is power attack. Boring, but true. Power attack multipliers are indisputably the highest damage you can do if damage is your goal, especially if you use Shock Trooper to mitigate the reduction in accuracy. The number associated with your weapon - 1D6 (Average 3.5), 2D6 (Average 7), or even 2D10 (Average 11) will quickly fade when compared even to a moderate strength bonus, to say nothing of power attack.

    For instance, consider a 5th-level barbarian with a +1 greatsword. Assuming he has only a 19 in strength, he can rage up to strength 23 and power attack for 2D6 + 9 (Strength) + 1 (Enhancement) + up to 10 (Taking up to -5 power attack penalty). Both his ability score and his base attack bonus are dealing more damage than his base weapon, or even weapon plus enhancement bonus. The most important part of the weapon is that he’s holding it in both hands. If he takes Leap Attack at 6th level, increasing power attack returns to 3:1, the difference gets on more absurd.

    Therefore, the largest component of damage for a melee bruiser is generally power attack returns. This means that the higher the initial attack bonus, the more penalty the player can take to the attack roll, and the more damage the player can do. As discussed above, monks have the lowest attack bonus and can thus least afford to power attack at all. In addition to low strength playing into their attack roll AND their damage roll, it also plays into their damage roll THROUGH their attack roll, creating an exponential effect.

    This is compounded by the fact that the only two-handed monk weapon in the player’s handbook is the quarterstaff. However, with a higher enough strength, the quarterstaff more than makes up for its 1D6 damage die. For instance, a monk with 18 strength deals 2 more per hit from strength than a monk striking unarmed. This means that a quarterstaff for said monk deals the same damage as an unarmed strike until level 11. And by level 11, hopefully you’ve enchanted the quarterstaff to at least +1.

    But in the end, a barbarian, ranger or fighter will have higher strength (much higher, in the case of a raging barbarian) and higher base attack bonus. This means that if both use power attack to the same extent, the monk will end up with a lower to-hit. It also means that if both use power attack to the maximum they can, the monk will end up with a lower to-hit, and still gain less damage than the other three due to its lower base attack bonus.

    3 - Armor Class

    A first-level ranger will use light armor like the chain shirt. A first-level barbarian will likely use medium armor such as scale mail. A first-level fighter will use the same. By level 5-7, each will have likely chosen the form of armor they’ll stick to for the rest of their careers: The ranger will be in something like a chain shirt or mithril breastplate, the barbarian in a breastplate or mithril fullplate, and the fighter in full-plate. Obviously, I’m ignoring high-dexterity, ranged-spec fighters in this comparison.

    So at level 1, their AC bonuses will be approximately Dex+13, Dex+14 and Dex+14. At higher levels, their bonuses will go to Dex+15, Dex (max 4)+18 and Dex (Max 1)+18, then rise slowly as they enchant their armor or the party cleric casts Magic Vestment (+5 over 20 levels). In order to meet the AC of the worst armor here, the Ranger’s, the Monk need a wisdom that starts at 16, grows to 20 at level 5, and hits 30 by level 20.

    Once again, not to sound like a broken record, but the monk’s stats can’t be anywhere near this. A monk with the elite array (25 point buy) will have 15 Strength, 14 Dexterity, 13 Constitution and 12 Wisdom, and probably put most level-up points into strength. Even with a +6 item, 18 wisdom gives the monk the armor class of a ranger in a nonmagical chain shirt. A monk gets hit, easily. The only consolation is that bracers of armor can make up for the enhancement bonus of the ranger’s breastplate, putting them only a few AC points behind.

    4 - Health

    There’s not much to say, except that a Monk will have lower constitution than a fighter or barbarian, and likely lower than a melee ranger as well since melee rangers only need a wisdom of 14 by level 15. Their hit die and constitution mean they will have fewer hit points than a fighter, their constitution means they will likely have fewer hit points than a ranger, and there’s no way a monk will have hit points approaching those of a raging barbarian.

    5 - Attacks Per Turn

    How many attacks is a character expected to get off per round? Surely this is where flurry of blows will shine!

    Not exactly. First of all, the monk’s relatively lower base attack bonus means it has fewer iterative attacks. Even ignoring the downsides of flurry, a monk has only one more attack than a 1-weapon-fighting character with a full base attack bonus at levels 1-5, 8-14 and 16-20. At levels 15 and 16 the monk has two additional attacks. At 6 and 7, the monk has no additional attacks. The monk will have more of these at his highest attack bonus, but other characters will have a higher maximum attack bonus, so the difference is little. Both groups will miss with their final iterative attacks, and probably their second-to-last as well, assuming the enemy has a level-appropriate AC (around CR+12 to CR+15).

    Now, let’s imagine a world in which most attacks hit and all of them deal good damage. The problem becomes getting the attacks off in the first place. How does a monk deal damage?

    A barbarian rages and pounces on his enemy using the Spirit Lion Totem Alternate Class Feature from Complete Champion, allowing him to make a full attack on the end of his charges. Most medium or high-optimization fighters will do the same, although some may use the Spring Attack / Bounding Assault line instead, given their glut of feats. A ranger that chooses not to take any levels in barbarian can cast Rhino’s Rush, dealing double damage on charges, in lieu of multiple hits.

    Due to obvious alignment and multiclassing restriction, a monk has no access to these options. So a monk can only deal full damage - which, again, will be lower per-hit than other melee classes - by standing next to others (who have higher AC and HP) and trading full attacks. Flurry of blows looks less enticing now, I hope.

    Bonus - Grapple

    Monks are brawlers. So can they beat other classes if they get one to the floor?

    Well, grappling is tricky in D&D. As you get to higher CRs, many enemies are too large, and too high-strength, to even attempt grappling. Others will have freedom of movement as a spell or spell-like ability. However, there are valid grapple targets at every CR. I’ll quickly write up how each of these classes compares in a grapple with no specialization, or with grapple specialization.

    Grapple checks are BAB + Strength + Size Bonus, with occasional bonuses from items or the feat Improved Grapple.

    Let’s consider characters not specialized in grappling. Monk loses between 1 and 5 points relative to full BAB classes from its BAB alone. The monk generally has lower strength than other martial classes. So, the monk has a lower grapple bonus. How about damage? In a grapple, your average monk will deal more than an average fighter, who will probably be attacking with a backup dagger or something similar (At level 10, the monk is dealing 1D10+5 or +6 Strength, while the fighter deals maybe 1D4+8 strength). A Barbarian’s rage may even out his damage even with a dagger. A ranger will have lower strength than a barbarian or fighter, but probably have an enchanted short sword from two-weapon fighting, to help even it out.

    Now, onto grapple specialists. All parties will have improved grapple if they are built to grapple. The monk will still probably have lower strength, and will definitely have lower BAB. The monk’s chance to come out ahead lies in the size bonus.... but, unfortunately, any grapple build will be increasing size with Enlarge Person or Expansion. The only difference is that the monk has spell resistance so the wizard’s casting doesn’t work half of the time, and at level 20 can’t be targeted by Enlarge any more.

    Can a dedicated monk grappler beat a fighter with no specialization? At level 1, improved grapple will make up the difference between their strengths and BABs. At level 20, BAB alone more than cancels out the feat. So, maybe, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

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    Part 4: Monk Minus Monk

    Quote Originally Posted by Dragon 271, “Countdown to 3rd Edition”
    Immunity to disease? Check. Fall like a cat? Check. Resist mental attacks? Check. Stun your opponents? Check. Self healing. Check. Quivering palm? You bet your booty!
    Take everything groovy about the monk, slap a d8 Hit Die on that bad boy, streamline the rules, and add a dash of poetry, and you’ve produced something very like the 3E monk. Fans of Hong Kong action movies can now play their own versions of Jet Li and Jackie Chan.
    In this section I’ll build characters to accomplish certain goals with various conditions attached. Each challenge builds a character at a specific level. The goals are all things that should, hopefully, play to a monk’s strengths. Many of these builds will show that a properly optimized non-monk can beat a monk even in areas where the monk is supposedly strongest, or at least in areas where the monk is expected to compete. Some may show the monk coming out ahead. The point is not to demonstrate that the class is irredeemably useless. The point of this exercise is to get you looking into a variety of alternate places for your Jet Lis and Jackie Chans.

    I am no god of op-fu. I know many common tricks, but rarely build or play melee characters. Feel free to suggest build revisions!

    Challenge: Core-Only Human Unarmed Combatant. Level 1. 25 PB.
    Human Monk 1. 15/14/13/8/14/8. HP: 9. AC: 14 (15 with Dodge), Attack: +2 (Flurry +0/+0), Damage: 1D6+2 (Unarmed Strike, Average. 5.5). Feats: Improved Unarmed Strike (B), Stunning Fist (B), Improved Initiative, Dodge

    Human Barbarian 1. 16/14/14/8/11/8. HP: 13. AC: 16 (Chain Shirt, 14 Rage), Attack: +4 (+6 Rage), Damage 1D3+3 (Unarmed Strike, 1D3+5 Rage, Average 4.5/6.5). Feats: Improved Unarmed Strike, Power Attack.

    This is a fairly basic example of how somebody new to the game might go about building their Jet Li using the Player’s Handbook.

    Challenge: Core-Only Grappler, PHB Races, Level 3. 25 PB.
    Half-Orc Monk 3. 17/14/13/6/14/6. HP: 20. AC: 14, Attack: +5 (Flurry +3/+3), Damage: 1D6+3 (Unarmed Strike, Average. 6.5), Grapple +9. Feats: Improved Unarmed Strike (B), Improved Grapple (B), Improved Initiative, Combat Reflexes

    Half-Orc Barbarian 3. 18/14/14/6/10/6. HP: 31. AC: 17 (Breastplate, 15 Rage), Attack: +7 (+9 Rage), Damage 1D6+4 (Spiked Armor, 1D6+6 Rage, Average 7.5/9.5), Grapple +11 (+13 Rage). Feats: Improved Unarmed Strike, Improved Grapple

    A good example of how the monk isn’t a strong grappler even before the BAB disparity enlarges at late levels. It loses points in grapple due to the Barbarian’s Rage, and needing more points in wisdom causes a lower base strength. In a non-core game, the barbarian can consider Spiritual Bear Totem from Complete Champion and get Improved Grab.

    Challenge: Damage Dealer, Core+Completes, Level 6. 32 PB.
    Half-Orc [Hand and Foot] Monk 6. 21/14/16/6/14/6. HP: 48. AC: 16, Attack: +10 (Flurry +9/+9), Damage: 1D8+6 (Unarmed Strike, Average 9.5). Feats: Improved Unarmed Strike (B), Stunning Fist (B), Deflect Arrows (B), Improved Trip (B). Item Boosts: Mighty Fists +1, Bracers of Armor +1, Strength +2

    Water Orc [Spiritual Lion Totem], [Wolf Totem] Barbarian 4/Fighter 2. 22/14/18/7/8/6. HP: 66. AC: 18 (+1 Breastplate, 16 Rage), Attack: +13/+8 (+1 Weapon, +15/+10 Rage), Damage 2D4+10 (+1 Guisarme, 2D4+13 Rage, Average 15/18). Feats: Power Attack, Improved Bull Rush, Leap Attack (B), Shock Trooper (B), Extra Rage.

    Here, the monk’s build is hampered by both the alignment restrictions and multiclassing restrictions, but the true imbalance can’t be seen until the Barbarian charges. With a charge, the barbarian can Power Attack for up to 6 points, then use Shock Trooper to place the penalty on AC. Normally this would provide +12 damage for a 2-handed weapon, but by making a jump check he can succeed on a 1, the barbarian provides a total of +18 damage per hit thanks to leap attack. Combined with the normal charge modifiers and a rage, this gives him an AC of 8, and two attacks at +17/+12 that deal 2D10+31 each. Note that the second attack still has a higher attack bonus than any attack by the monk. This allows him to deal 84 damage per round assuming his misses balance his crits. If he picks up a Valorous weapon he’s well on his way to be an ubercharger.

    Rogues can also be melee damage dealers, but I generally wouldn’t recommend building them until the book list gives access to Lightbringer Penetrating Strike or Death’s Ruin.

    Challenge: Battlefield Controller, All Books (except Tome of Battle), Level 8. 32 PB. Partial BAB/Saves.
    [Decisive Strike] [Passive Way] [Invisible Fist] [Water Step] [Planar] Monk 6/Fist of the Forest 2

    This build is in-progress. I'm deciding between Warshaper and Fist of the Forest for the monk. Monk will have Knock-down thanks to Passive Way granting Improved Trip early. A fanged ring (improved natural attack) and the bracers that grant reach will be good magical items, but again, I'm still playing around with it.

    As for the counterbuild, I'll probably just do a classic Barb/Fighter/Psywar, with a possible warshaper entry through Shifter or Quasilycanthrope. Shame there are no monk weapons with reach.

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    Part 5: Conclusion: The Playable Monk

    Quote Originally Posted by Dragon 271, “Countdown to 3rd Edition”
    The redesigned monk is no longer the fragile fist of earlier editions. Unlike fighters and rogues (previewed in the past two issues), monks don’t rely so much on feats or skills - though their skill allotment is second only to the rogues, and many feats are practically swiped from the classic kung fu movies. Instead, the monk class shines because of its class abilities. Unlike any other class, the monk gains a special ability – and sometimes two – at every level from 1st to 20th.
    The simplest playable monk is the swordsage. Specifically the unarmed-variant swordsage, if you wish to be technical.

    As we’ve seen, the monk has one of the weakest chasses for melee combat of all martial classes, with its D8 HD and 3/4 BAB; it has decent skills but no spare ability points for Int (or Cha); it is hampered by its inability to use certain types of equipment; and its deficiencies can only be corrected with massive spending.

    However, the class isn’t all bad: It has good saves, it has high base damage with unarmed strikes and can make many attacks on a full attack, and it gets abilities every level. Kolja Liquette is right: the monk’s abilities are colorful and unique, and you can always look forward to the next one.

    Below is a quick overview of information that is expanded upon in most monk guides and handbooks (or even guidebooks). It is presented just to give an idea of the monk’s options.

    Alternative Class Features
    Some tricks a monk can pull are nice. This is especially true thanks to dragon magazine. Below are a few of the best Monk ACFs.

    Invisible Fist - Exemplars of Evil. In exchange for Evasion, you gain periodic invisibility. Who needs attack bonuses when you’re always hitting flat-footed AC? Take in combination with some ACFs that grant bonuses against flat-footed target, like Passive Way monk from the SRD/UA.

    Decisive Strike - Player’s Handbook 2. Instead of flurry, you can make one attack as a full-round action that deals double damage. However, any attacks made before your next turn also deal double damage. Take with combat reflexes, increase your size and reach, and go to town.

    Martial Monk - I haven’t listed this elsewhere because it’s a poorly edited, unbalanced dragon magazine ACF. However, the monk can have some unbalanced options without being powerful, so don’t sweat it too much. This lets you exchange your 1st, 2nd, and 6th level bonus feats for fighter bonus feats, but neglects to strip the clause about ignoring prerequisites. Suggestions include epic feats, Weapon Mastery, Elusive Target, and Clever Wrestling (Reaping Mauler synergy).

    Optimizing Unarmed Strikes
    How do you hit people really, really hard? There are a few weapons, spells, and magical items that help a monk make most of a bad situation.

    Size Increases: Being larger is the easiest way of getting more base damage onto your fists. Enlarge Person or Expansion work the best. If you don’t actually like being larger, look into the spells Mighty Wallop or Greater Mighty Wallop. The Fanged Ring grants Improved Natural Attack, increasing your attacks 1 size category, as well as adding con damage on crits for only 10K.

    Scorpion Kama, Battle Gauntlets, Ward Cestus: Weapons that deals base damage equal to your unarmed strikes. Good for adding weapon special abilities or two-weapon fighting. Each has its own wrinkles, especially if playing by strict RAW. Battle Gauntlets allow for 2-handed strikes, but use a body slot. Ward Cestus requires a proficiency feat. Only the Kama preserves the ability to flurry.

    Amulet of Mighty Fists: Core-Only way of getting enhancement bonus to attack and damage. Not bad at first, especially since most item alternatives are from obscure or 3.0 sources, but the costs spiral out of control. Look for someone to cast Greater Magic Weapon or Greater Magic Fang if you need this greater than +1.

    Necklace of Natural Attacks, Bracers of Striking: With only a slight markup, treat your unarmed strike as a weapon. This gives you access to any special ability you could need. I recommend these, for all that they’re 3.0.

    Kensai: Kensai deserves a special mention. It’s a prestige class that lets you multiclass with monk, lets you enchant your fists as weapons, and scales them at the cost of XP. It will cost you Fort and Ref saves, but at least it has a D10 Hit Die.

    Other Classes
    Some prestige classes are good for monk. Some base classes, too.

    Tashalatora: This feat lets you stack levels in monk with a psionic class of your choice for most of monk’s scaling abilities. Essentially, Monk 1/Psion or Psywar 19 and you get all the goodies of both. Certainly a power upgrade, but I don’t count it as a monk build, really.

    Enlightened Fist, Sacred Fist: Monk/Caster Gish classes. Makes a wizard/Cleric monky, but you stop feeling like a monk in my opinion.

    Fist of the Forest: Increases your fist damage 2 steps and gives Con to AC. Dump wis and use this. 3 levels.

    Shiba Protector: Take for one level. Add wis to attack and damage.

    Tattooed Monk: Monk, but throw on a few supernatural abilities. Can be good if you don’t have much else going on.

    Reaping Mauler: A Grappling-specialized Prestige Class that requires you to be medium or smaller for its class abilities to work. This is because Clever Wrestling, with the aforementioned size requirement, is a prestige class prerequisite. To get around this, take a level in martial monk or take 3 levels in Leviathan Hunter to gain the feat without needing the size.

    General Melee Prestige Classes: There are many classes that are designed for traditional melee battlers like fighters and barbarians, but also improve the monk. Warshaper, War Hulk, Bloodclaw Master, and many more... if you can meet the prerequisites to these, which may require dipping, consider them.

    Hit and Keep Hitting
    One unique ability of the monk in high-optimization environments is the ability to layer weapon special abilities onto its unarmed strikes and hit tons of time. Normally, striking multiple times is a bad idea without a source of bonus damage, but enough weapon abilities can fake it. Consider a necklace of natural weapons and a bracers of striking, using Flurry of Blows along with the Snap Kick feat and possibly even two-weapon fighting (the half-baked mechanics describing interactions between two-weapon fighting, unarmed strikes and flurry is not something I will get into except to say that needing to parse such rules is my primary reason for advising against this build). The number of attacks can get incredible, and if you have, say, some save-or-status effect on each hit, plus some bonus damage, you may be able to do real good.

    TO, Earl Grey, Hot
    There are some silly mechanical tricks you can do with monk, given certain readings of the rules. I advise against using any of them at a table. Morphing Manyfanged Daggers into a Ward Cestus works if you get permission to modify unique weapons from your DM, and makes a weapon that deals 4X your unarmed strike each hit. Falling onto enemies using Slow Fall can cause them damage based on your weight (Reflex 15 negates). I’ve even seen it argued that wearing a beekeeper’s outfit (which gives 0 AC) lets you stack Armor Special Abilities with your bracers of armor, as well as use armor augment crystals, while still counting as unarmored. Finally, if your DM is dumb or crazy enough to give free access to all of dragon magazine, you can do things like plant weapon and armor under your skin and get insane mundane and magical bonuses to all sorts of effects while remaining arguably “unarmed” and “unarmored.” By the end of it you end up looking like a shadowrunner who ran out of essence years ago. And is wearing a beekeeper’s suit.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Epilogue: Fixing the monk

    Quote Originally Posted by Dragon 274, “Class Acts”
    Players often desire abilities for their characters that extend beyond the bounds of the Player’s Handbook. That’s okay.
    Easy Changes
    The monk’s abilities are cool. So really, all the monk needs is to be competent. Easy, right? Here are some easy changes that will make a big difference:

    Full Base Attack Bonus: You’re a melee martial character. What are you honestly doing without this?

    Powerful Build: Size helps unarmed damage, grapple, checks, trip checks... most of monk offense.

    Easier Flurry: Let the Monk flurry on charges, flurry on standard action attacks, flurry on attacks of opportunity... let them use their signature attack more!

    Sample Rebalanced Monks
    There have been oodles of attempts to bring the monk’s power up to par. Below I link a pathfinder monk variant and a homebrew rebuild.

    Jiriju’s Monk Remixed: A popular option on these boards. Grants many additional options and larger numbers for things like unarmed damage, wisdom to attack and damage, better magical fists, and a spell resistance fix. Does not improve BAB, but allows flurry more often.

    Qinggong Monk: Worth mentioning as a Pathfinder Archetype (AKA ACF) that makes the Pathfinder Monk useful. The pathfinder monk is already more powerful than the 3.5 stock monk, but not very significantly.

    Oberoni Fallacy
    Just because you can fix the monk, does not mean that the monk was never broken. I hope by this point in my rambling screed you can appreciate that the monk is rather broken.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Appendix: Vow of Poverty and other notes

    Vow of Poverty
    Vow of Poverty replaces equipment. Monks don’t use equipment, but still get all the benefits! Seems like a match made in celestia, right? Not quite. Vow of Poverty is conceptually broken and mechanically underpowered, and in addition, the monk has a very desperate need for some types of equipment that Vow of Poverty does not in any way mitigate.

    Vow of Poverty is Broken

    To fulfill your vow, you must not own or use any material possessions, with the following exceptions: You may carry and use ordinary (neither magic nor masterwork) simple weapons, usually just a quarterstaff that serves as a walking stick. You may wear simple clothes (usually just a homespun robe, possibly also including a hat and sandals) with no magical properties. You may carry enough food to sustain you for one day in a simple (nonmagic) sack or bag. You may carry and use a spell component pouch. You may not use any magic item of any sort...
    A wizard with vow of poverty can’t own or use a spellbook. Wizards that take it have to hunt down an obscure Dragon Magazine ACF just to be able to prepare spells. Yes, the rules on equipment and items are that restrictive.

    And they’ll need them, since the wizard can’t use a door, so he has to dimension door into and out of his bathroom. Yes, the rules on equipment and items are that poorly worded.

    Monks can’t cast dimension door, so I guess they just get really good at holding it in.

    More seriously, the mechanical benefits of Vow of Poverty are, at best, equal to the items you can afford with standard Wealth By Level as outlined in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. At worst, you’re getting less, and still dealing with restrictions. And don’t think that the restrictions are limited to “just wizards” or “just people that use doors.” If a friend is bleeding out, you can’t even pour his own healing potion down his throat. Because somehow doing so would make you a worse person?

    Monks with Vow of Poverty are underpowered
    Vow of Poverty doesn’t give enough to a monk to make up for the items the monk loses, and also fails to give monks certain powers that they desperately need.

    The best part of Vow of Poverty is that it gives +8 to an ability score, a normally unreachable amount for an enhancement bonus. Unfortunately, this has two caveats: One is that you can equal that benefit from a +6 item and a +2 Tome, since a VoP character can’t gain inherent bonuses. The second is that the total ability bonuses are +8/+6/+4/+2, and a Monk needs 4 stats high, so one of your stats is ending only 2 points higher than it was at level 1. +4 and +6 to all four stats would be better for a monk than the given spread, and by level 20, wouldn’t be much of a drain on money either.

    Other benefits of Vow of Poverty don’t equal the benefits of equipment. For instance, the resistance bonus to saves hits +3 at 17th level, which is rather late for a 9K equivalent ability. Deflection and natural armor to AC scales similarly slowly, easily replicated by items. The AC bonus is good, since bracers of armor are expensive, but not irreplaceable by any stretch and doesn’t allow for armor special abilities.

    Which segues into the second point. The mechanical benefits of VoP, even if they come with good numbers occasionally, are inflexible and limited. You get Mind Shielding but not true Mind Blank. You get no effective form of healing, weapon or armor special abilities (except Kensai), access to tactical teleportation (Anklet of Translocation, Bolt Shirt, etc.), No access to the Monk’s Belt to increase damage and AC, no miss chances, no extra actions (Belt of Battle et al), and no flight. Flight is incredibly important in high-level games, on the same footing as the freedom of movement and true seeing that (thankfully) are granted. Without flight, the VoP monk is taking out his sling (“ordinary simple weapon”) and hoping he wanders into a pile of smooth round stones on the battlefield. Anyone high enough up is untouchable barring a monk with Far Shot or similar silly builds.

    Either one of the two above issues would be enough of a reason not to take VoP on a monk. VoP works only in a select few builds, and those work mostly because they can afford to lose power and still be playable. This is not a decision a monk should make.

    You make me MAD, and you make me Angry
    How can the multiple ability dependence of the Monk be reduced?

    Weapon Finesse/Intuitive Attack
    See all of the damage calculations above? Now, imagine them, but ignore anything after the plus sign.

    Kung-Fu Genius/Carmendine Monk
    This is great for multiclass monks if you’re using int-heavy classes. If you’re just working with a monk, however, you’ve transferred your attribute dependence, not erased it. You now have more skill points and lower will save, but still need 4 abilities.

    Fist of the Forest/Shiba Protector
    These are good options! Fist of the Forest gives Con to AC, and Shiba adds Wis to attack and damage.

    The rules say what?
    In addition to many other problems with the Monk, the rules also fail to accurately describe them. The most glaring issue is that Monks are proficient with a very small number of weapons, and unarmed strike is not among them. Some creature types gain proficiency with unarmed strike anyway, as it is a natural weapon. Unfortunately the most common case, humanoids with no racial hit die, does not.

    There are other issues. Tongue of the Sun and Moon avoids the wording of the spell Tongues, making it ambiguous whether you can understand all languages or just speak them. Due to extremely bizarre specific definitions, if you miss an unarmed attack mid-flurry, your flurry becomes illegal (unarmed strikes are defined as strikes that hit something, meaning that non-striking unarmed attacks are not a legal flurry weapon).

    Any class with as many abilities as the monk would have issues like this. It’s just a shame that the monk’s problems aren’t with quivering palm and empty body not working, but instead include problems like -4 to all attacks and its signature move being broken.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Titan in the Playground

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    Default Re: Bekeleven's Monkday Guide to Monks

    Wow. You were busy while the forum was down.

    This is a great guide that clearly answers the question in a fair and comprehensive manner.

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Bekeleven's Monkday Guide to Monks

    Quote Originally Posted by OldTrees1 View Post
    Wow. You were busy while the forum was down.

    This is a great guide that clearly answers the question in a fair and comprehensive manner.

    Hopefully I never need to expand it (or link to specific parts) since the forum upgrade appears to have entirely disallowed double posting.

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    Titan in the Playground

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    Default Re: Bekeleven's Monkday Guide to Monks

    Quote Originally Posted by bekeleven View Post

    Hopefully I never need to expand it (or link to specific parts) since the forum upgrade appears to have entirely disallowed double posting.
    Well if you do need to expand it, you could use later posts (Say posts 1, 3 & 5) and put a table of context in the first post.

    I do expect you will need to expand it at some point (when an uncovered aspect of the question emerges). However it is comprehensive enough that it should cover all approaches to the question for a long time.
    Last edited by OldTrees1; 2014-03-31 at 01:42 PM.

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Bekeleven's Monkday Guide to Monks

    A race that should be mentioned in any worthwhile monk style guide is the psionic duergar. If you can apply the lesser variation to it you get a race with manifester level that scales to HD. Why is this important? Because the best slotless monk items are limited by manifester level, namely the Ectoplasmic Fist and (Cannot remember the name, it's in Magic of Eberron or EBC and grants you +2 Armor bonus per shard, max 5). When you combine all of these with the good ACFs you can get an excellent damage dealer who is stealthy and in possession of some solid magical abilities. SorO over on MinMax has a good guide, The Matrix Monk. Note that his style is vitriolic, but he's not wrong here.
    If you see me talking about Shaper Psions, assume that anything not poison immune within 100 feet will be dead.
    Quote Originally Posted by kardar233 View Post
    I was going to PM you about it because I wanted to know, but then you posted it later. Elegant solution. Watch out for Necropolitans.
    My Homebrew Signature such as it is.

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    Bugbear in the Playground

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    Default Re: Bekeleven's Monkday Guide to Monks

    Great work! Hopefully we can rename Monkday to Manaday or something now. The Dragon quotes had me in stitches!

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Bekeleven's Monkday Guide to Monks


    > You note "enlarge person" is the strongest monk buff. That just isn't true at the level you become immune to it. It might be funny, but you'll lose credibility when a hyper-optimized monkday OP reads this thread. After all, not all monk day OPs are unoptimal - there is definitely a "Monk is fine because it works well when I, Sir Optimislimo VII, play it in my game with my buds Blaster Sorc John and Healbot Benny!" subgroup. Or otherwise monk players in groups that are just not as good with their classes as the monk lover is with theirs.

    > I was going to defend the value of (Ex) poison immunity, but diamond body is (Su). I would actually add some sort of mention of this in the guide. (Su) means your high level PC not only needs to be dealing with unusually strong poisons or unusually massive toxic barrages to deeply care about this ability, but needs to be doing it outside of an antimagic field. Despite one of the strengths of poison being it's ability to function without magic.

    > Wholeness of Body: On the other hand, some Monk Day OPs are on the low-op end and find that belt to be overpowered. I would add a comparison to some other classes' healing power or even a wand of cure light.

    > The dragon section is missing Chaos Monk. Flailing Strike is better than flurry of blows and the level 5 substitution can daze on a charge (allowing for charge-daze followed by flurry on the next round). It is also the same alignment as barbarian, so pouncing is back on the table.

    > Actually, why can't you go Barb 1/Reg Monk X? Barbarian only loses rage for becoming lawful. I think the comment that you can't dip for pounce is wrong. You can definitely dip for pounce.

    > The guide needs to directly address the monk OPs whose personal experience show the monk to be fine. I suggest something like:

    On power of the monks you have played:
    You surely may have played a monk that held its own in your group. It might have even surpassed your party members. But this is virtually always because the monk player is either far more optimized than everyone else at the table or because the player is simply much better with IC tactics. Ask yourself this - what if you set out to make a non-monk that outdoes the monk. Not your fellow players, not some guys on a message board. Just yourself putting as much effort into some other martial class as you've put into the monk. I have no doubt that you could do better (Although you might still dip two levels in monk, it's a good dip).

    Other Issues:

    > There are several typos, particularly in the first few paragraphs.

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    Ogre in the Playground

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    Default Re: Bekeleven's Monkday Guide to Monks

    Alternate low level Monk:
    Barbarian 2 with the following ACFs: Spirit Totem: Lion (CC), Whirling Frenzy (UA), City Brawler (Drg#349), Wolf Totem (UA) - at level 2 it has 3 attacks per round with unarmed strike, pounce, and trip, full BAB, 2d12 HD, mediocre skills, and it can wear light armor. Also it is mostly SAD needing mainly just Str and Con.
    Last edited by gorfnab; 2014-03-31 at 10:33 PM.

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