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DnD 5e - The Monk Handbook

Disclaimer

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.

Introduction

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.

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

Abilities

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.

Cha: Dump.

Point Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 15
  • Cha: 8
  • Str: 12
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 13
  • Cha: 8

Races

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.

AasimarVGTM: Nothing good for the Monk.

BugbearVGTM: Reach is hard for monks to get, but reach and a small Dexterity increase are the only things that the bugbear has to offer.

Dwarf: The Constitution bonus is nice, but many of the Dwarf's abilities are either useless or redundant for the Monk.

DragonbornPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.

ElfPHB: Good ability bonus, and Perception helps to capitalize on the Monk's excellent Wisdom.

FirbolgVGTM: A Wisdom increase, and some innate spellcasting which can complement your Monk abilities fairly well.

GenasiEEPC: Bonus Cosntitution goes a long way to help the Monk's durability.

Gnome: Nothing good for the Monk.

GoblinVGTM: Fantastic ability increases and abnormally fast for a small character. Nimble Escape will conflict with Martial Arts, but it offers helpful options which normally cost the monk Ki to access as a bonus action.

GoliathVGTM/EEPC: Nothing good for the Monk.

Half-ElfPHB:

Half-Elf: The half-elf's abilities don't do much for the Monk which the variant Human couldn't do better.

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.

HobgoblinVGTM: The Constitution bonus and Saving Face are the only things that the monk can use, and Saving Face is less useful for a class which is all about making lots of attacks.

HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

KenkuVGTM: Fantastic ability increases for a Monk, and the bonus skill proficiencies really help you to serve as a Rogue equivalent. Be sure to pick up Theives' Tools proficiency with your Background.

KoboldVGTM: A Dexterity increase and Pack Tactics make the kobold an excellent monk option. Monks rely on making numerous attacks, and Advantage on all of them will make you considerably more effective.

LizardfolkVGTM: Despite the lack of a Dexterity increase, lizardfolk could make very functional Monks. Natural armor allows you to defer increasing your Wisdom score while you focus on your Dexterity, and the Constitution increase and Hungry Jaws will make you abnormally durable. Bite also has the added benefit of making your unarmed strikes deal abnormally high damage at very low levels.

OrcVGTM: Nothing good for the Monk.

TabaxiVGTM: Perfectly passable, but Kenku get most of the same benefits and slightly better ability increases.

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.

TritonVGTM: Nothing good for the Monk.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGTM: Nothing good for the Monk.

Skills

Background

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.

Feats

Weapons

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.

Armor

Monks need armor even less than Wizards.

Multiclassing