DnD 5e - The Monk Handbook
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The Monk is the iconic martial-artist, popular among those who prefer to punch things rather than stabbing them or setting them on fire. Monks are excellent Defenders and Strikers, and typically fill a role in party as the Fighter-equivalent. However, the Way of Shadow Monk can instead fill the role of the party's Rogue-equivalent.
Monk Class Features
Hit Points: d8 hit points is hard for a front-line martial class like the Monk, so be sure to boost your AC and hit points wherever possible.
Saves: Strength saves aren't terribly common, but Dexterity saves are great for resisting damaging AOE effects. Eventually Monks pick up Diamong Body, giving them proficiency in all saves.
Proficiencies: No armor, no shields, and not a lot of weapons. You're expected to use "monk weapons", which are defined under the Martial Arts entry. Essentially you'll be using a 1d6 weapon until level 10, then you'll use your bare hands from then on. Monks get the typical 2 skills, and the Monk skill list includes a lot of mediocre options which depend on Abilities which Monks don't generally need.
Unarmored Defense: 20 Dexterity and 20 Wisdom is an eventual goal for every Monk. With both, you have 20 AC, which matches the AC of a character in full plate with a shield.
Martial Arts: Martial Arts is why you play a Monk. It removes the need for Strength, and gives you all the benefits of two-weapon fighting without the need for weapons, feats, or combat styles.
Ki: Some basic, but extremely potent uses for your Ki pool which every Monk will rely upon.
- Flurry of Blows: At low levels this isn't a great option because you won't have a lot of Ki, but as you grow in level it will become less daunting. Keep in mind that Martial Arts already grants you a single extra attack as a Bonus Action, so you're only getting one attack for your Ki point.
- Patient Defense: When your health is low this is a great fall-back option.
- Step of the Wind: Similar to Cunning Action, but with a Ki cost.
Unarmored Movement: Some extra speed is nice for a class so strictly bound to melee, and the ability to run across water and up vertical surfaces really adds to the mystical feel of the Monk.
Monastic Tradition: See "Subclasses - Monastic Traditions", below.
Deflect Missiles: Situational, as it depends on the attack using a weapon attack, and most ranged effects are typically spells. However, when it comes up it's a cool defensive option.
Slow Fall: Situational, but it'll save your life when it comes up.
Extra Attack: Three attacks with Martial Arts, or four with Flurry of Blows.
Stunning Strike: There's no limits on how many times you can do this, so against particularly tough opponents it's perfectly acceptable to spend ki on each of your attacks until you succeed.
Ki-Empowered Strikes: Especially important in games with no magic items. Many enemies have resistance to non-magical weapon attacks.
Evasion: Combined with high Dexterity and the Monk's Reflex saves, you should be able to reliably negate AOE effects.
Stillness of Mind: Situational, but a lot of enemies have Charm and/or Fear effects.
Purity of Body: Disease and Poison can both be debilitating, and become more common as you gain levels.
Tongue of the Sun and Moon: This would be more helpful if Monks were any good at talking to things.
Diamond Soul: Dramatically improves your survivability.
Timeless Body: Almost never matters in-game.
Empty Body: Invisibility is fantastic. Astral Projection is situational, but by this level a safe means to explore the outer planes is very welcome.
Perfect Self: Dramatically improves the Monk's sustainability throughout the day.
Subclasses - Monastic Traditions
- Way of the Four ElementsPHB: Highly
customizable, and many of the options are absolutely fantastic. Monks have
issues with flight, crowds, and enemies resistant to weapon damage. Way of
the Four Elements fixes all of those problems.
- Elemental Attunement: This is mostly flavor and minor trickery. But hey, it's free!
- Fangs of the Fire Snake: Really only helpful if you need fire damage or can't stand adjacent to your target. Spending ki for 1d10 damage is a horrible investment beyond very low level.
- Fist of the Four Thunders: Knocking enemies away from you doesn't help you much, but it's and AOE with decent damage and scales reasonably well.
- Fist of Unbroken Air: Decent range and damage, but since it takes your Action you won't be able to capitalize on knocking the target prone.
- Rush of the Gale Spirits: Very situational.
- Shape of the Flowing River: Situational, since you can only use it effectivelywhere you have a large amount of water. However, if you have a lake or something handy you can completely reshape the battlefield.
- Sweeping Cinder Strike: A good AOE with solid damage and good scaling.
- Water Whip: Similar to Fist of Unbroken Air, but it brings enemies into punching distance.
- Clench of the North: Paralysis is an off button for a single enemy. Turn them off, then go punch them a whole bunch.
- Gong of the Summit: Situational, but much more useful in an edition where destroying enemies' gear isn't a financially devastating life choice.
- Eternal Mountain Defense: 1 hour duration for a fantastic defensive option, and you get to omit the material component.
- Flames of the Phoenix: Great damage at long range, but it doesn't scale well.
- Mist Stance: Good escape and infiltration option.
- Ride the Wind: Flight is a defining part of high-level combat. If you're stuck on the ground, you're missing half of the fighting.
- Breath of Winter: Just slightly more damage than Flames of the Phoenix, but without the appeal of fantastic range.
- River of Hungry Flame: Fantastic area control. Keep enemies from running away.
- Wave of Rolling Earth: The name doesn't quite make sense, but Wall of Stone is fantastic.
- Way of the Long DeathSCAG: Exceptionally
tanky, Way of the Long Death makes the Monk very difficult to kill, but lacks
useful offensive or utility options.
- Touch of Death: If you can bring this into play even once or twice a day, it's potentially a huge boost to your hit points. When combats start, look for weak enemies to pick off before engaging enemies who are going to eat through your hit points.
- Hour of Reaping: Great when you're outnumbered, or when your party outnumbers a foe with poor Wisdom saves. Send your enemies running while your party kills them for you.
- Mastery of Death: As long as you have Ki, you have hit points.
- Touch of the Long Death: Very expensive for how much damage you deal. Punching things won't be as fast, but it's cheaper and much more reliable. Save this for single enemies right before you rest.
- Way of the Open HandPHB: The "vanilla"
option for the Monk. Open Hand offers some excellent, well-rounded options that
really help to squeeze the most utility out of the Monk's core abilities.
- Open Hand Technique: This dramatically improves the benefits of spending one of your few Ki points to get an extra attack. Since Monks typically dump Strength (which makes Shove a bad option), the knockdown effect is your best bet for making enemies prone.
- Wholeness of Body: A great option to use between fights, or when you're so critically low on hit points that walking into combat would be suicidal. In-combat healing is rarely a good idea, so try to avoid it as much as you can.
- Tranquility: Considering that Monks lack any social skills, a peaceful approach is rarely the best way for Monks to approach problems.
- Quivering Palm: Kill things every other round for 3 Ki.
- Way of ShadowPHB: Way of Shadow
takes the Monk, a Fighter-equivalent, and makes them into a Rogue-equivalent.
While the flavor is a lot of fun, and some of the mechanics are glashy and
exciting, the Monk lacks built-in abilities to capitalize on stealth and
surprise, so you may often feel like you are emerging from the shadows to
gently tickle an opponent where a Rogue would be emerging to deal a massive
pile of Sneak Attack damage.
- Shadow Arts: Minor Illusion is great
for distractions. Shadow Arts is Way of Shadow's only Ki-consuming
- Darkness: Darkvision doesn't allow you to see inside Darkness, so you don't want to use this during combat. However, it can be nice to escape, to confuse your enemies, and to teleport into when you need to escape.
- Darkvision: With an 8-hour duration, you can afford to have this running all the time.
- Pass Without Trace: If you're sneaking, there is no reason to skip casting this. The bonus is just too good.
- Silence: While Silence isn't mobile like Darkness, it's considerably more useful. Most spells include Verbal Components, so disallowing them can often cripple a spellcaster. It also helps when you need to silently kill a foe. Drop silence, Shadow Step to them, grapple them, and punch them until they fall over. Repeat as necessary until the local population is sufficiently reduced.
- Shadow Step: Teleportation is great, and Advantage is great, but Monks get by on a large number of low-damage attacks, so Advantage on one attack isn't particularly useful. Giving up your Bonus Action also means less attacks that round.
- Cloak of Shadows: Invisibility is great, especially considering this costs nothing to use. You can Shadow Step into a fight, attack, then teleport away and turn invisible the next round.
- Opportunist: Free attacks are always nice.
- Shadow Arts: Minor Illusion is great for distractions. Shadow Arts is Way of Shadow's only Ki-consuming ability.
- Way of the Sun SoulSCAG: The Sun
Soul Monk tries to bridge the gap between the Monk's melee capacity and the
ranged capacity of a blaster of some sort. The abilities are very sustainable
since most of them don't require Ki to use, but without spending Ki their
damage is pitiful, so you will frequently find yourself burning through your
Ki pool early, then resorting to punching things. I think Way of the Four
Elements (possibly with Magic Initiate for Eldritch Blast) does essentially
the same thing to much greater effect.
- Radiant Sun Bolt: Finally a meaningful ranged option for the Monk! The damage die is admittedly small, but if you spend a Ki point to make the two extra shots you can keep pace with most real spellcasters. The damage is Radiant, which means that it will be very difficult for enemies to resist. Also note that since this is a spell attack made when you use the Attack action, it is affected by the Extra Attacks ability, so you get a second ray when you pick up Extra Attack.
- Searing Arc Strike: A great option when you're facing crowds of enemies, but it can be hard to line up when you're already in melee.
- Searing Sunburst: The base damage isn't great, but it scales reasonably well. Unfortunately because the base damage is so low, you need to spend a ton of Ki to do anything serious.
- Sun Shield: A nice deterrent.
The Monk is all about Dexterity, but if you allow yourself you can easily do a heavily MAD build.
Str: Monks get good Strength saves, which reduces the need for Strength, but a little bit of Strength will help stretch the effectiveness of that proficiency. Athletics is also a nice option if you want to Shove enemies prone.
Dex: Dexterity rules the Monk.
Con: With only 1d8 hit points, Constitution is very important for the Monk.
Int: Generally dump, unless you really need to use knowledge skills.
Wis: Wisdom fuels Monk's AC and many of their abilities.
|Point Buy||Standard Array|
Dexterity bonuses are priority 1. Wisdom bonuses are nice too, and bonuses to Constitution are very helpful.
AarakocraEEPC: Dexterity, Wisdom, and flight. Basically the perfect Monk.
Dwarf: The Constitution bonus is nice, but many of the Dwarf's abilities are either useless or redundant for the Monk.
- DuergarSCAG: Nothing good for the Monk.
- HillPHB: A bit of Wisdom and the bonus hit points do quite a bit to improve the Monk's durability.
- MountainPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.
DragonbornPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.
ElfPHB: Good ability bonus, and Perception helps to capitalize on the Monk's excellent Wisdom.
- Drow: Nothing good for the Monk.
- High Elf: Nothing good for the Monk.
- Wood Elf: Wisdom, access to bows, bonus speed, and Mask of the Wild is very helpful for Shadow Monks during the day.
GenasiEEPC: Bonus Cosntitution goes a long way to help the Monk's durability.
- Air: A bit of Dexterity is always nice.
- Earth: Nothing good for the Monk.
- Fire: Nothing good for the Monk.
- Water: A bit of Wisdom, resistance to a common energy type, and some cool spells.
Gnome: Nothing good for the Monk.
- Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Nothing good for the Monk.
- ForestPHB: A bit of Dexterity isn't enough.
- RockPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.
GoliathEEPC: Nothing good for the Monk.
Half-Elf: The half=elf's abilities don't do much for the Monk which the variant Human couldn't do better.
- AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
- DrowSCAG: The magical options are tempting on a mostly non-magical class, but a full Drow is a better choice.
- High/Moon/SunSCAG: Monks don't have a good way to make use of Wizard cantrips.
- Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
- WoodSCAG: None of the abilities are useful for a Monk.
- VanillaPHB: Monks don't do a lot with skills, so two extra skill choices won't help you much.
Half-OrcPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.
HalflingPHB: Good Dexterity, and Lucky is fantastic when you make as many attack rolls as a Monk does. Unfortunately, neither subrace is particularly great for the Monk.
- Lightfoot: Naturally Stealthy is tempting, but the Charisma bonus is totally wasted unless you put in some effort to build Face skills into your character.
- Stout: The Constitution bonus is nice, but Stout Resilience is redundant for the Monk.
HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.
- Vanilla: Monks have at least minor features which depend on every ability, so if anyone was going to use the vanilla Human, it's the Monk.
- Variant: You still get crucial bonuses to your Dexterity and Cosntitution or Wisdom, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1. Depending on your Monastic Tradition, some feats can be very helpful.
Tiefling: Vanilla Tieflings aren't great as Monks simply due to their ability scores, but look at Feral. Darkvision and Fire resistance are both great, and the bonus spells can be very helpful, especially Hellish Rebuke.
- FeralSCAG: The Intelligence is wasted on a Monk, but the Dexterity is nice.
- Devil's TongueSCAG: Nothing good for the Monk.
- HellfireSCAG: Nothing good for the Monk.
- VanillaPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.
- WingedSCAG: Nothing good for the Monk except flight.
- Acrobatics (Dex): Situational.
- Athletics (Str): Monks don't need a lot of Strength, so they rarely have good enough Strength to back up Athletics. However, if you have a little bit you can make excellent use of both Grapple and Shove.
- History (Int): Situationally useful depending on the style of your campaign.
- Insight (Wis): The closest thing you get to a Face skill.
- Religion (Int): One of the best knowledge skills, but Monks don't need Intelligence so you probably won't be good with it.
- Stealth (Dex): With such a high dependence on Dexterity, Stealth is an obvious option.
Monks have high enough Dexterity that with the right skills they can function as Scouts, and with high Wisdom they're also good at Insight and Perception. With no Intelligence or Charisma, stay far away from Face skills and Knowledge skills, and Languages are basically worthless.
- AcolytePHB: Insight is the only useful bit.
- CharlatanPHB: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- City WatchSCAG: Insight is the only useful bit.
- Clan CrafterSCAG: Insight is the only useful bit.
- Cloistered ScholarSCAG: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- CourtierSCAG: Insight is the only useful bit.
- CriminalPHB: Stealth and Thieve's tools are great for a sneaky Monk.
- EntertainerPHB: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- Faction AgentSCAG: A good way to pick up both Insight and Perception, but the rest is useless.
- Far TravelerSCAG: A good way to pick up both Insight and Perception, but the rest is useless.
- Folk HeroPHB: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- Guild ArtisanPHB: Insight is the only useful bit.
- HermitPHB: Medicine will help capitalize on your Wisdom, and the Herbalism Kit allows you make magical potions.
- InheritorSCAG: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- Knight of the OrderSCAG: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- Mercenary VeteranSCAG: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- NoblePHB: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- OutlanderPHB: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- SagePHB: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- SailorPHB: Perception is the only useful bit.
- SoldierPHB: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: For a Roguish Monk, Criminal and Urchin are both better choices.
- UrchinPHB: Your best bet for a Rogue-like Monk.
- Uthgardt Tribe MemberSCAG: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- Waterdavian NobleSCAG: Nothing useful for the Monk.
- AlertPHB: Going first isn't terribly important for anyone but Rogues.
- AthletePHB: Awful.
- ChargerPHB: With the Monk's Unarmored Speed, charging is considerably less helpful. Monks depend on multiple small attacks rather than single large ones, so a round in which you charge is a largely wasted round.
- Defensive DuelistPHB: Works with a short sword, but Monks get a lot of options which use their reaciton already.
- Dungeon DelverPHB: Monks get neighter Investigation nor Perception.
- DurablePHB: This can go a long way to improve your survivability.
- Elemental AdeptPHB: None of the Monastic traditions focus on dealing elemental damage. Four Elements is the closest, but you need to be able to use all of the elements to find enough useful ability choices from those available.
- GrapplerPHB: if you have Athletics and can use it reliably, you can use Athletics to Shove your enemy prone and get Advantage without the use of a feat.
- HealerPHB: Buy healing potions.
- Keen MindPHB: Awful.
- LinguistPHB: Use magic.
- LuckyPHB: Good on anyone.
- Mage SlayerPHB: Too situational.
- Magic InitiatePHB: Monks need to be using the Attack action so that they can use Martial Arts and/or Flurry of Blows.
- Martial AdeptPHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
- MobilePHB: Too situational, and most Monks won't do a lot of hit and run.
- Mounted CombatPHB: It's hard to play a mounted character without a special mount ability of some kind.
- ObservantPHB: You have enough Wisdom to back up Perception.
- Polearm MasterPHB: Quarterstaff is the only polearm a Monk can use, and half of the feat's effect is redundant with Martial Arts.
- ResilientPHB: Monks get Diamong Soul.
- Ritual CasterPHB: Monks don't get a lot from rituals. Leave this to your allies.
- Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
- SentinelPHB: Great for keeping enemies from escaping you. Shadow Monks might find this especially useful for killing enemies inside the area of Silence.
- SkilledPHB: Monks aren't great at skills. If you want to be a skill-monkey, start with a level of Rogue before switching into Monk.
- SkulkerPHB: Sniping is for Rogues.
- Spell SniperPHB: Sun Soul Monks might briefly consider this, but this is a terrible choice. Sun Soul Monks get exactly one ray effect, and punching things is the better choice most of the time. Leave this for Warlocks.
- Tavern BrawlerPHB: You can use Grapple in place of a weapon attack, so you can probably use Martial Arts to grapple as a Bonus Action and get the same effect.
- ToughPHB: Monks really need help with hit points, so this is very tempting.
- Weapon MasterPHB: You get all of the weapon proficiencies that you need to function, and remember that Martial Arts only works with the weapons with which Monks are already proficient.
Monk weapons deal their base damage or your Martial Arts damage, whichever is greater, which makes weapons a very good choice for Monks. The best base damage you can get from a Monk weapon is 1d8 (with Versatile), which will match your Martial Arts damage until level 17. Monks use Dexterity with any Monk weapon, so the biggest differences between weapons are damage type and possibly a range increment. Martial Arts doesn't specify that it only applies to melee attacks or weapons, so you can use Dexterity with things like Javelins to apply your Martial Arts damage to thrown weapons.
- Dart: Javelins are strictly better.
- Javelin: Similar to the spear. No Versatile so the damage isn't as good, but much better range.
- Handaxe: The Monk's best source of slashing damage, and it can be thrown. However, since it won't do as much damage as a spear, stick to your spear or quarterstaff unless your foe is specifically weaker to slashing damage than piercing or bludgeoning damage. For flavor, call it a kama.
- Quarterstaff: Versatile allows the quarterstaff to match the Monk's unarmed damage until 17th-level, but since it's the same damage type as unarmed strikes, and can't be thrown, it's not as good as the spear. Still, 2nd-place is pretty good. For flavor, call it a bo staff or a three-sectioned staff.
- Short Sword: Short swords are a trap. See Javelin or Spear.
- Spear: The Monk's gold standard. You can get 1d8 damage with Versatile, which is the absolute best a Monk can get until their unarmed strikes hit 1d10 at 17th-level. Plus, it deals piercing damage and you can throw it!
- Unarmed: You're going to use Unarmed Strikes no matter what since Martial Arts' and Flurry of Blows' extra attacks both require you to use unarmed strikes. Since weapon damage will exceed your unarmed damage until level 17, you only want to use your unarmed strikes for these bonus attacks.
Monks need armor even less than Wizards.
- Barbarian: Barbarians also get Unarmored Defense, but since both set your AC instead of providing a bonus, they don't work together. According to Sage Advice, you use whichever you get first. For some Monks, using Constitution for AC could be a great way to cut down MAD, but generally you want Wisdom for other Monk abilities so a Barbarian dip is a waste of a level.
- Rogue: Shadow Monks get quite a bit from a Rogue dip. A single level, especially if its your first level, allows the Shadow Monk to very easily play the party's Rogue-equivalent.