In 1972 to 1975 a television show existed that inspired a generation. The TV show Kung Fu, with the hero Kwai Chang Caine, an American-Chinese who, as a boy becomes a Shao Lin Monk. Eventually he must flee China to America, to find his American family and along the way brings some Kung Fu justice and wisdom into the Wild West.
This is the key inspiration for the Monk as we see it in the Players Handbook. The idea of an Eastern style Monk in the European setting provides many questions thematically. The cross-culture questions aside, the official reason comes from Gary Gygax’s own World of Greyhawk setting.
The Scarlet Brotherhood is the well from which the class springs forth. Whether the PCs were trained by the Brotherhood directly, or through a Monastery affiliated with them (or even in opposition to) is why the only applicable Race is Human.
In this treatise, we explore the Monk class and hopefully see the Monk from a different point of view.
The Monk class, without a doubt, is a difficult class to play and requires discipline, not only as a Character, but also for the Player. Any Player that rolls up the Statistics to qualify for a Monk will almost always look to the Ranger sub-class first. The low AC competes with the Magic-user for the worst, the average starting 5HP (a Thief averages 4HP and Fighter 6HP), the limited weaponry, and the class has minimal defensive bonuses available that may come from possessing exceptional stat scores.
So, where’s the pay-off? Somewhere, however, there must be a bonus to being a class that competes for the ‘weakest ever’ title (at least the Magic-user gains spells).
Be like water, dear reader, or that half filled cup, and remember you might be a butterfly having a dream, read on and explore one of the hardest classes to qualify for.
The Monk is not the easiest class to become.
The class requires scores of 15 in Strength, Wisdom, and Dexterity; and minimum score 11 in Constitution.
These values are some of the highest required for any class and they represent the character qualifying for the Monk. Any character with these values is immediately placed in the top percentile of the population.
Being a Monk requires hard work and discipline - these are reflected by the Strength, Wisdom, and Constitution scores; the martial aspect of the Monk training accounts for the Dexterity requirement.
Having high stats is usually seen as a boon to any character, the Dexterity bonuses for AC, Strength bonuses 'to hit' and damage, and so on. Which leads to the immediate conclusion the Monk is at the top of the PC tree.
While we’re discussing high stats, it's time to bring in the bad news:
- Monks with Strength 17 or 18 will not gain any modifiers ‘to hit’ or damage due to high Strength scores;
- Defensive Adjustment for Dexterity is not applied to the Monk’s Armour Class.
Characters possessing 16 or higher Strength will still gain the increased weight allowance, opening doors, and bending bars/lifting gates; Reaction and Missile bonuses from high Dexterity are also enjoyed, as are the Thieving bonuses from possessing a high Dexterity.
Monks with Constitution of 15 or higher still receive the Bonus Hit Point adjustment. This bonus is a Hit Die bonus, the bonus hit points (either +1 or +2) are applied to the Hit Die.
The Monk possesses two Hit Die at 1st Level. Though the Hit Die is a 4-sided die, having two provides a starting average of 5HP. Any Constitution bonus is applied to each Hit Die, therefore a +1 bonus provides an average of 7HP.
Also, unlike most classes, there is a maximum level limit for the Monk (17th Level - the infamous Grandmaster of Flowers).
The Monk must be Lawful as a base. This represents the discipline of routine and adherence to a strict monastic code of conduct and practice. The Monk trains to be in control of the mind and body, and perseveres to bring both into harmony.
A Lawful Good Monk will also try to bring balance to the world by spreading the word and performing deeds for the good of all.
The Lawful Neutral Monk will perform and behave to the codes of the teaching order, and follow the strict guidelines expecting other Monks to do likewise.
The Lawful Evil Monk will use the rules and regulations to individual benefit, and look for ways to exploit the other Monks; a LE Monk may be the one that would inflict overly harsh penalties to students thought of as not performing, or the one that is learning to be a Monk for purely personal or selfish reasons (avenging a family massacre perhaps).
Keep moving! That’s the rule of the Monk.
At 1st Level, the 15” move equates to 15’ per combat segment; the combat plan will be to weave between enemies and always re-position for attacks.
Whilst there are no Backstabbing abilities or bonuses, the rear AC attack will improve the chance for a successful hit (usually a +2) against most monsters.
On the face of it, 15" Move may not seem like much of a difference: The Monk's 15” vs. 12” for the Leather clad characters, and most party characters with 9”; however the Monk Base Move rate increases every Level.
Keeping in mind, if a standard unplanned encounter begins 10’ to 20’ distance between the party and the encounter, this means the non-Monk Characters will be forced to engage with a charge in order to close the gap to begin combat, wait to receive a charge from the enemy, or use their whole actions for re-positioning.
The 1st Level Monk with 15' move still allows for combat, or attack with a charge for a distance of 22' to 23'.
To stun an opponent, the Monk must score a hit with an Open Hand Attack 5 points higher than required.
Example: If the Monk needs to score a 12 or higher to hit an opponent, the attack will cause a stun upon rolling 17 or higher.
Once stunned the opponent will remained stunned for 1 – 6 (d6) melee rounds, the opponent will be unable to move or attack (removing any Shield and Dexterity modifiers) and granting an additional +4 ‘to hit’ due to being stunned (with the improved chance of stunning the opponent again).
Any attack by the Monk that causes a stun also has a chance to instantly kill an opponent. The base chance is the AC of the opponent, +1% for each level of the Monk over 7th Level. Example: A 9th Level Monk is attacking an opponent with AC5, needing a roll of 11 or higher to hit; the roll is over 16 and the target is stunned the DM rolls the d6 and the opponent is stunned for 4 Rounds. There is also a chance the attack will automatically kill of 5% (for the AC) + 2% (being 9th Level) = 7% chance. The next round, the Monk again qualifies to stun the opponent (now needing 7+ to hit), but the d6 result is 2, which doesn’t increase the stun effect.
The caveat to the stun is that there is a limit to the height and weight of the opponent and the target must be Human, demi-human, or humanoid.
1st Level Max. Height: 6’6” Max. Weight: 300#
Each Level thereafter the Max. Height increases 2” and the Max. Weight increases 50#
The Monk starts with one weapon proficiency, and gains a new proficiency at 3rd Level, then again at 5th, etc.
The weapons closet is made up of an eclectic array of weaponry, with a selection of ranged and melee weapons, and like always, a proficiency in a weapon includes both the melee and ranged attacks (if applicable).
At 1st Level, being proficient in Dagger, Hand Axe, Spear, or Club will provide some versatility as these weapons have close combat and some limited ranged capabilities.
Jo, Bo, and Staff provide some of the best Speed Factor and Space Required values.
The pole arm category is very broad and contain the following weapons: Bill-Guisarme, Fauchard, Fauchard-Fork, Glaive-Guisarme, Guisarme, Guisarme-Voulge, Lucern Hammer, Awl Pike, Ranseur, Spetum, Voulge, which means that being proficient in the pole arm is being proficient with 11 weapons (something that other classes do not have access to).
Pole arms have the best Armor adjustment vs Base AC less than 4, Spears and Hand Axes are also quite capable against the better armor types.
Javelins and Crossbows are dedicated missile weapons and as such mean the Monk will need to remain at Range (see Move above), again, let us note: Missile Attack bonuses due to high Dexterity still apply when using Missile weapons.
For the 1st Level Monk, the Spear or Hand axe are the better options.
The Monk uses the Cleric combat tables and improves in combat prowess faster than the Thief and Magic-user classes (and sub-classes). Starting with a THAC0 20, the value drops to THAC0 18 at 4th Level, then THAC0 16 at 7th Level, etc, to the maximum THAC0 value of 10 at 17th Level.
The Monk gains a bonus damage of + ½ HP per Level when using a weapon. Whether the Monk applies +1 HP per 2 Levels of Experience or inflicts the + ½ HP each attack is up to the ways and means of the DM (if using the ½ HP it might useful to have a number of tokens to represent the parts of Damage), and the required mechanics ought to be worked out before starting play.
Open Hand Attacks
Ultimately, the Monk is famously known for the Open Hand Attack.
The Monk differs from the other classes with regard to the Unarmed combat element as the other classes use a percentile-based chart with few modifiers and the attacks are always after the opponent with a weapon, all of this means that two opponents resorting to bare knuckles are mostly evenly matched regardless of Level.
The Monk, is always treated as being armed even if unarmed.
Even though the attacks are labelled Open Hand Attacks, the attacks can come from any part of the body. As the Open Hand Attack is considered a weapon, the attack also has an Armour Class adjustment modifier and against Base AC10 attacks with a +4 modifier!
Finally, the damage inflicted is considered lethal damage, as opposed to the non-lethal attacks from other unarmed characters. Of course, the Monk can choose to inflict non-lethal damage as per the usual weapon rules.
At 1st Level, the number of Unarmed Attacks is 1 per round, and inflicts 1 – 3 Damage; the number of attacks reflects an attack routine which improves as the Monk gains levels; unlike other weapons the Monk using Open Hand Attacks, does not benefit with ‘Using two weapons’ rule or use Strength adjustments 'to hit' and damage. (Though, to be clear, two hand axes/daggers, or hand axe and dagger is still allowed with the usual ‘Using two weapons’ rule and is modified by the Reaction adjustment from any Dexterity bonus).
While the Open Hand Attack does not appear as an overly powerful weapon, the nil Space Required and Speed Factor of 1 makes it the fastest weapon in the game.
What does this mean and how can the player benefit? A Tie result for Initiative compares the Speed Factor (SF) of the weapons involved and this means the Open Hand goes before almost all opponents, even an opponent armed with a dagger (SF2) and vs the dagger will have an additional opportunity to strike (an additional two attacks against SF3+ weapons – which is every other weapon in the closet). This means a Master (Level 6 Monk) - normally making 3 attacks over 2 rounds - has an additional 2 attacks every round when facing an opponent of SF3+ in tied-initiative.
The Monk is able to use the Open Hand Attack as a charge and (as mentioned) the attack is modified as any other attack with regard to charging into combat; this charging attack may simulate those big jump kicks or flying side-kicks.
Dodge and Deflect
The Monk has the ability to Dodge/Deflect missiles of a 'natural sort' (arrows, bolts, thrown weapons, Manticore Spikes, etc.). To do this the attack must first hit, then the Monk immediately attempts to Dodge/Deflect by rolling a saving throw vs. Petrification (Monk Levels 1 to 4 save vs. Petrification 12+).
The Dodge/Deflect is an ability that is always in effect, furthermore, this Save roll is modified by the Reaction Bonus from Dexterity (Example: Dexterity 18, 9+ save roll for success at 1st Level). The Successful save will mean the attack inflicts no damage.
Note: This is not limited to only one missile or even one attack, a swarm of arrows heading for the Monk may be negated as the Monk expertly Dodges and Deflects the arrows.
Against Magic based missiles that offer a saving throw, the result is either full damage or no damage. Example: A Fireball spell is cast against the party, the Monk rolls vs. Spells and if successful suffers no damage from the attack. Again, many of these spells have a Reaction Adjustment modifier (Fireball, Lightning Bolt, etc.). At higher Levels (9th Level and higher), even a failed save will result in ½ Damage.
Once the Monk character reaches 4th Level the Monk can start to avoid damage due to falling from heights.
- At 4th level, as long as the Monk is 1' of the wall, the Monk can fall up to 20' height with no damage.
- At 6th Level, the Monk needs to be within 4' of the wall and fall up to 30'.
- Finally, at 13th Level, the Monk can fall any distance as long the character is 8' of the wall.
There are a limited number of Monks from 8th Level and up. The Monk, once reaching 8th Level needs to face off against one of the current 8th Level Monks in order to keep the status.
The character, once reaching 8th, keeps the XP and abilities in the interim, but the Monk MUST challenge one of the current Monks and defeat him/her.
For the DM, when the Monk character is nearing the levels for the challenges, this is a known variable and the DM needs to make it a part of the adventure/campaign.