Welcome to another installment of the Play with Class series where we will give you solid steps to run each class for the world’s greatest roleplaying game! This week we’re taking on one of the great polarizing classes: the monk.
Monks are a class that everyone seems to love or hate. There is no question that monks are one of the most overpowered classes in 5th edition, but running them to perfection can be quite tedious. I’m not going to lie to you, reader, monks are my least favorite class. Despite that however, I will give you all the tips and tricks to run these karate kids as efficiently as possible. I would not recommend new players start with monks, but this article will break down what to do if the spirit moves you.
Role of the Monk
Monks are very direct in their intentions: they exist to deal a bunch of damage and deal it fast. Monks are the champions of pure DPS (damage per second), and there is no way around that. Monks cannot wear armor, which makes them subpar tanks. They don’t have any access to utility magic, so they don’t bring much to the table outside of combat. You live to bring the pain, and honestly, that’s all you need to focus on because you do it so well. In combat, you run in, get the punches, and repeat.
Reasons to Play a Monk
- You get to subdue your foes with awesome martial arts. No weapons required!
- You don’t have to worry about keeping track of equipment because you don’t need any.
- You get so many passive bonuses. You will become the fastest and most resistant and most bulletproof character in your party without doing anything.
Combat Crash Course
As mentioned above, combat tactics for you are pretty straight forward. Reach your foes, hit them as many times as you can, and if you have the opportunity, get out of the way so you can do it all again next round.
Spending Ki Points
The only tricky thing about monk strategy is managing your ki points. Your ki points are a resource you can use to transform your standard “one extra hit” with a bonus action into something more extraordinary. As you level, you will quickly gain more ki points than you will ever need, so make sure to spend them often and early! You get your ki points back on a short rest, so you should spend a ki point every single round of combat. If you can’t spend a ki point to get two extra strikes with Flurry of Blows, you should be using it to take the Dodge action with Patient Defense. If you are too far from the action, you should spend a ki point for Step of the Wind. There is no reason not to burn through those points quickly (remember, most combats last only three rounds)! When you get to higher levels, spamming your ki points to make Stunning Strikes is your key to victory (beware that your GM will become justifiably exasperated).
Don’t Forget Your Passive Abilities!
Monks collect a smorgasbord of passive abilities as they level. I’m referring to things like Deflect Missiles, Slow Fall, Evasion, Purity of Body, and so on. These are all abilities that give you an advantage when something happens to you. Keep a big ol’ highlighted or bulleted list of these abilities handy. Know what you can do, so you can survive and not be that guy who says, “Oh wait, that won’t affect me,” after your GM has spent time adding up 20d6 damage. Know these abilities inside and out—do whatever you have to do to remember them.
There is not much to worry about when leveling as a monk since your base abilities make you incredibly powerful right from the get-go and scale beautifully all on their own. But here are a few things to keep in mind for a more well-rounded gaming experience.
Choose Your Subclass Wisely
There are some real stinkers out there for Monastic Traditions. Subclasses that sound cool may not be the best choice in terms of power or scaling. Ensure that the subclass you pick doesn’t fight with your core abilities for your action economy or ki points.
Find Ways to Be Creative
It is really easy with monks to have the same backstory: I grew up in a far-away monastery and decided to leave and see the world. Challenge yourself and come up with a new spin! Work on the backstory of your monastery and what its purpose is. Do you have a connection to a divine entity? If not, what is the code you live by? Is there a better reason you left the monastery than “just because”? Investing some time in your story and motivations will help you stay interesting alongside the rest of your party.
If you want some really flavorful choices to shake up the traditional monk origin story, here are a few things to check out:
- Take a look at some of the weird background options like Fey Hostage or Soul Channeler (see Deep Magic).
- Research magic items that would work well for your character and talk to your GM about them. Monks are at their best when they don’t wear armor, and they have a minimal selection of weapons they can use. These limitations can make rewarding monks with magical treasure very difficult. If you find specific types of magic items that would work great with your character, let your GM know! Or if you change GMs often, make sure to keep your ears out whenever items like this come up and stake your claim when it comes time to divide the treasure among the party.