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Pathfinder - The Monk Handbook

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Introduction

Since the days of 3.0, the Monk has been somewhat of an enigma. An almost strictly combat character with medium Base Attack Bonus progression, d8 hit points, and no armor. Monks in Pathfinder still have the same features, but many of their most glaring issues have been heavily improved upon.

Due to their unique abilities, it can be difficult to identify the monk's role in the party. With their skill list, they can function as a scout, but their combat skills make them a passable defender or striker (See my article on Party Composition).

I have drawn heavily upon Treantmonk's guide to Monks for inspiration and ideas. While his guide only draws upon core content, it is an excellent basis for understanding how a monk should be played, but has several errors and misses some of the monk's abilities. As with Treantmonk's handbook, we will be seeking to answer the question "how can we improve the monk's damage output and combat maneuvers?"

Monk Class Features

Hit Points: d8 hit points is hard for a strictly melee class.

Base Attack Bonus: The Monk's primary offensive option, Flurry of Blows, pretends that the Monk has full BAB, which is usually enough in combat but can be frustrating when qualifying for feats.

Saves: All good saves.

Proficiencies: The Monk is proficient with Monk weapons (which make up a collection of strange, exotic, and often foreign weapons) and a couple of other odds and ends like hand axes, crossbows, and spears. Strangely, the Monk weapons tend to be the best options since they can benefit from Flurry of blows. Monks gain no armor or shield proficiencies, and generally rely on their Monk AC bonus instead.

Skills: The Monk skill list has several excellent options, several of which are difficult for the monk to capitalize on. By splashing a few skills and focusing on the best ones, the Monk can make excellent use of their 4+ skill points.

AC Bonus (Ex): The Monk AC bonus helps to offset the monk's lack of armor. The scaling is fairly negligible, but it still feels good to have. However, your AC will still be awful without additional items and AC imrpovements.

Flurry of Blows (Ex): This is the Monk's iconic attack. It follows the same progression as a fighter maximizing the two-weapon fighting feats, but you have no "off-hand" attacks. You don't even need free hands. You can use your feet if your hands are full. You can also alternate freely between weapons and unarmed strikes, and you can substitute disarm, sunder, and trip combat maneuvers for unarmed attacks.

Unarmed Strike: This is why you generally play a monk: because you want to hit things with your bare hands/feet/etc. The damage dice starts off fairly small, but when you hit d8 at level 4, it begins to outpace whatever weapons you might be two-weapon fighting with. At level 12, your fists are greatswords. You can also deal nonlethal damage without penalty, which is situationally useful.

Bonus Feats: With the addition of the Advanced Player's Guide and Ultimate Combat, the Monk has a lot of great bonus feat options. And the best part: "A monk need not have any of the prerequisites normally required for these feats to select them." This is especially great for the high level style feats, since many of the prerequisites are fairly awful.

Stunning First (Ex): Another iconic Monk ability, stunning fist gets better as you advance. A stunned creature drops everything held (free disarm!), can't take actions, takes a -2 penalty to AC, and loses its Dexterity bonus to AC (if any). This makes the rest of your iterative attacks much better, and prevents the target from taking attacks of opportunity when you make Combat Maneuver attempts in place of your iterative attacks. At higher levels you can instead make the target fatigued (-2 to CMD due to reduced str and dex), sickened (-2 to saves so you can more reliably apply other affects), staggered (only one action per turn), permanently blinded or deafened (permanently flat-footed or permanently bad at casting spells), and finally paralyzed (lol). The only issue is that it's a fortitude save, which is typically high for monsters.

Evasion (Ex): Always fantastic, Evasion works well with your reasoanbly high dexterity and strong saves.

Fast Movement (Ex): Extra speed lets you get into position to stop moving sooner. Past round 1, hope that you won't need this much speed.

Maneuver Training (Ex): Using your class level in place of BAB makes you actually viable for Combat Maneuvers. Combined with good strength and a plethora of weapons which give you bonuses to Combat Maneuvers, you can actually do pretty well.

Still Mind (Ex): Your saves are already great, but a bonus against enchantments and compulsions can save you from some really awful effects.

Ki Pool (Su): Damage reduction is the biggest problem for builds which rely on large numbers of attacks with relatively low damage. Ki Pool lets you treat your attacks as magic, silver, cold iron, lawful, and finally adamantine. While very few things have DR/lawful, the others are excellent and cover a broad spectrum of enemies. At low levels, you may need to carry weapons to handle DR silver and DR cold iron, but Ki Pool will handle things at higher levels so long as you have a point in your Ki Pool. You can spend points from your ki pool as a swift to get an extra attack, boost your speed, or boost your AC. When things get serious, these boosts can make or break your monk.

Slow Fall (Ex): Patently worse than Feather Fall, which is a first level spell, is more effective, and can affect multiple targets.

High Jump (Ex): The bonus is cute, but almost never useful. By spending Ki, you can jump an extra 5 feet in the air. At 5th level Wizards can Fly.

Purity of Body (Ex): Immunity to diseases is nice, but rarely useful. With the exception of Contagion spell, you typically have enough time to have someone cast Remove Disease before disease becomes a problem.

Wholeness of Body (Ex): At the end of the day when you're about to rest, this is a good way to empty your Ki Pool, but I don't think it will see a lot of use if you still have things to fight today.

Improved Evasion (Ex): Always amazing and reliable.

Diamond Body (Su): Lots of high level monsters have poison effects, and it's nice to not worry about them.

Abundant Step (Su): Sometimes your speed can't get you where you need to go, and you can use this a move action. However, keep in mind that you can't take additional actions after using it. Make sure to do something with your other actions before teleporting, even if it's just to Fight Defensively for the AC bonus.

Diamond Soul (Ex): Spell resistance which effectively makes 50% of spells and spell-like abilities not affect you, assuming the caster is the same level as you.

Quivering Palm (Su): This is notably worse than most wizard save-or-die spells, but it's still a once per day death effect with a reasonable DC.

Timeless Body (Ex): Stay young and pretty until you die of old age. Leave a pretty corpse.

Tongue of the Sun and Moon (Ex): You can talk to anything, but you're not particularly good at it with no Diplomacy and lousy charisma.

Empty Body (Su): Punch ghosts and walk through walls.

Perfect Self: Suddenly you can't use Enlarge Person. The DR is cute, and you become immune to things like Dominate Person, but things which require you to be a humanoid have generally been abandoned for several levels. I would argue that this ability actually makes you worse since you can't benefit from Enlarge Person.

Abilities

Monks are primarily a striker, and their damage comes from their Strength, so Strength needs to be their biggest ability.

Str: As a melee character, strength is the monk's most important ability. It contributes to your melee attacks and damage, shuriken damage, and combat maneuvers.

Dex: Crucial for the monk's relatively low AC, and contributes to several monk skills. Reflex saves are also a good point to focus on since you get Evasion.

Con: Monks are combat characters with d8 hit points, so Constitution is crucial. Fortitude saves are also important for combat characters.

Int: Dump to 8. Intelligence doesn't help Monks much, but the extra ability points are rarely worth the loss of a second skill point.

Wis: A lot of the Monk's iconic abilities depend on Wisdom. However, these abilities are still secondary to the Monk's primary function of hitting things and dealing damage.

Cha: Dump to 7. Completely useless on a Monk.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy Elite Arrray
  • Str:17
  • Dex:13
  • Con:14
  • Int:8
  • Wis:16
  • Cha:7
  • Str:17
  • Dex:13
  • Con:14
  • Int:8
  • Wis:14
  • Cha:7
  • Str:15
  • Dex:13
  • Con:12
  • Int:10
  • Wis:14
  • Cha:8

Races

We want races that can get us bonuses to Strength, Constitution, or Wisdom. Extra vision abilities are always nice. Because the Monk's damage output depends so heavily on their damage die size, being small is a serious problem.

Traits

Skills

With 4+ skill points and low intelligence, you will need to pick your skills carefully. Fortuantely, many Monk skills can function with only one rank.

Feats

General Feats
Style Feats

Your best bet will often be to pick one or two styles and stick to it. If you take Combat Style Master, you can switch styles as a free action, which allows you to spend your turn in an offensive style, then switch to a defensive style when you are done attacking.

Weapons

While you will most likely be fighting unarmed, monk weapons offer you a lot of really fantastic options, including bonuses to combat maneuvers. Monks who aren't specialized with weapons should still carry a couple to bypass DR and for bonuses on CMB checks. Monks can bypass lawful, adamantine, and magic DR with Ki Strike, so be sure to carry Cold Iron and Silver weapons.

Monks can use a single weapon for flurry of blows, which removes the need for double weapons or two-weapon fighting. This also increases the importance of damage enhancements on your weapon because you get a large number of low-damage attacks. If you plan to use weapons, be sure to pick up some damage enhancements.

I recommend carrying a sansetsukon as your primary weapon due to the high damage and critical threat range, but be prepared to drop it once you get Ki Strike if you need to bypass DR/magic, or abandon it completely once you can get enhancement bonuses on your fists reliably. The sansetsukon can also be used to disarm, but when you stop using it as your primary weapon replace it with something lighter like a double-chicken saber (for the slashing damage). Also carry a double-chained kama for tripping and for reach. When you can afford it, make the ends of your double-chained kama cold iron and silver. Piercing damage isn't as important, but carry a Lungchuan Tamo or two just to be safe.

Armor

Monks can't use armor, so I recommend getting someone in your party tyo cast Mage Armor on you. With hours/level duration even a low level wizard can cover you for the full adventuring day. If your pet Wizard is stingy with his spell slots, drop 1000 gold pieces to buy him a Pearl of Power 1 so you can both share Mage Armor from one slot. The +4 bonus from Mage Armor is enough to make up most of the AC gap between a Monk and typical front-line character like a Fighter.

Magic Items

Weapons

Rings

Wands

Wondrous Items

Permanent Spells

Multi-Classing and Prestige Classes

Monks benefit very little from multiclassing, but other classes can benefit greatly from a dip into Monk for one or two levels.

Monk FAQ

The Monk is cause for a lot of speculation, experimentation, rules lawyering, and incorrect interpretation. Here are some of the biggest issues and questions Monks encounter.

Can Monks enchant their unarmed strikes?

This question arises from the wording of the Monk's Unarmed Strike ability:

"A monk's unarmed strike is treated as both a manufactured weapon and a natural weapon for the purpose of spells and effects that enhance or improve either manufactured weapons or natural weapons."

The easy mistake to make is to assume that Monk's unarmed strikes can be enchanted because magical enhancements are an effect that enhances or improves manufactured weapons. However, we must also look at the requirements for enchanting a weapon. For a weapon to be enchanted, it must be either Masterwork quality, or already Magically enchanted.

The next logical error is based on the Ki Strike ability.

"At 4th level, ki strike allows his unarmed attacks to be treated as magic weapons for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction."

A lot of people miss the second half of the sentence. Instead of enchanting the unarmed strikes, have a caster use Permanency to make a Greater Magic Fang effect permanent. Also note that the Amulet of Mighty Fists does not require a +1 enhancement bonus before it takes on other effects, so you can just load it up with cool effects light Flaming and Holy.

What happens to Monks in antimagic fields?

Not much. Extraordinary abilities functional normally inside of antimagic fields (see Special Abilities on the SRD). Ki Pool will cease functioning, as will any abilities which depend on Ki.