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Pathfinder - The Mast of Many Styles Monk Handbook

Last Updated: November 6, 2018

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Introduction

Style feats are really cool. In fact, they're one of my favorite ways to customize the Monk, both for flavor reasons and for mechanical reasons. Technically the feats are available to anyone willing to invest in Improved Unarmed Strike, but they are by far more appealing to the Monk than to other classes.

Enter the Master of Many Styles. They give up the Monk's signature attack option (Flurry of Blows), but in exchange they get the ability to mix and match style feats in a way that literally no one else can do. This gives you a ton of flexibility, but it also means that you need to look for ways to close the gap in damage output between the Master of Many Styles and the vanilla Monk.

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 improvements.

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. It's important to note that your unarmed strike damage is heavily size-based, so you want to do everything you can to increase your effective size. Get enlarged and throw Impact on an Amulet of Mighty Fists. It's also interesting to note that the damage progression stops at 20th-level, so items like a Monks Belt stop being useful at high levels unless you multiclass.

Brawler/Monk Unarmed Strike Damage by Size and Level
Level Small Medium Large Huge Gargantuan Colossal
1st-3rd 1d4 1d6 1d8 2d6 3d6 4d6
4th-7th 1d6 1d8 2d6 3d6 4d6 6d6
8th-11th 1d8 1d10 2d8 3d8 4d8 6d8
12th-15th 1d10 2d6 3d6 4d6 6d6 8d8
16th-19th 2d6 2d8 3d8 4d8 6d8 8d8
20th 2d8 2d10 4d8 6d8 8d8 12d8
This table is taken from the 3.5 rules. They should be the same in Pathfinder, but Pathfinder doesn't provide official rules for monks smaller than small or larger than large. Check with your GM before using this table.

Master of Many Styles Features

Bonus Feats: Monks have a small set of available bonus feats, and while there are some gems most are uninteresting. Instead, you can take style feats or Elemental Fist (You don't want Elemental Fist because it's awful). But beyond this already fantastic improvement, you get two other benefits:

First, you do not need to meet prerequisites for these bonus feats. Want to skip the middle feat in a style feat chain? You can do that, and I encourage you to do so for styles like Snake Style or Tiger Style where the middle feat is terrible but the final feat might be useful.

Second, you can choose a "wildcard style slot" instead of a permanent feat. If you like to change your active styles frequently, this is a spectacular option. If you pick up the Combat Style Master feat (and you should), you can combine the two mechanics to easily set up one set of styles for use during your turn and a second set of styles for everyone else's turn, allowing you to explicitly switch from a set of offensive styles to a set of defensive styles at will.

Unfortunately, this does mean that you can't select from the Monk's normal list of bonus feats, so you can't get options like Improved Trip without prerequisites.

Fuse Style: Combining two styles allows for some truly incredible combinations, and this capability alone makes the Master of Many Styles an exceptionally tempting option for a 1-level dip into Monk. If you stick to Monk, you can add gradually more and more styles, and thankfully the progression is spaced out in such a way that you have time to pick up more styles between steps so that you can both feel the gradual increase in power and be ready to go when you get to add another simultaneous style to the mix. Don't forget the attack bonus you get at 8th level; it will be an important boost to your attack rolls which you'll need to close the gap in damage output between the Master of Many Styles and other monks.

Perfect Style: 5 styles is dizzyingly powerful, but also problematically complex. It's difficult to track exactly how all of your styles will interact, and sorting out which combinations are worthwhile can easily become a problem.

Compatible Archetypes

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

Style Feats

Unlike conventional monks, the Master of Many Styles is free to collect style feats and mix-and-match them. I've used a different format here than in my general Monk Handbook in order to further elaborate on the benefits of the styles as a whole rather than discussing the individual feats in a vaccuum.

Boar Style

Boar Style emphasizes Intimidate (which monks are bad at) and hitting enemies multiple times (which the Master of Many Styles is bad at).

Crane Style

The Crane style is very defensive, works well right away, and all three of the feats are worthwhile. You need to use Fight Defensively to benefit from the style, but because the style usually doesn't matter during your own turn it's a fantastic candidate for a defensive style which you can activate at the end of your turn using Combat Style Master.

Because Fight Defensively is central to the style, check out my Practical Guide to Fighting Defensively for more help.

Djinni Style

Djinni style's biggest draw by far is Djinni spin, which is a lot like Whirlwind Attack except that it's only a standard action, it automatically deals damage, and it can deafen people. Unfortunately it's not always useful, you need to take Elemental Fist for the style to function, and you're limited by the daily uses of Elemental Fist. This is a good style to pick up with wildcard slots, but don't spend real feats on anything past the base style feat.

Dragon Style

Dragon Style is a weird style for several reasons. The style itself offers a minor boost to your damage that's barely worth noting and a handful of bonuses to saves. If you're using Vital Strike you might consider Dragon Style and Dragon Ferocity for the extra Strength damage, but unless your Strength is extremely high they're not worth the feats. The real draw is Dragon Roar, which applies some damage in a cone and makes the targets Shaken. If you have Elemental Fist you can boost the damage, and Djinni Style's boost to Elemental Fist damage should apply. That's tempting, but Efreeti Style can also produce a cone that does the same damage and uses less of your limited daily resources.

While it's not terribly important due to the Master of Many Style's ability to ignore style feat prerequisites, it's interesting to note that Dragon Style is a fork rather than a linear series of feats like other styles.

Earth Child Style

Unless you're in a campaign in which giants are a constant antagonist, skip this style.

Efreeti Style

Similar to Djinni style in many ways, but Efreeti style adds the ability to apply ongoing fire damage. For the Master of Many Styles, any amount of extra damage is a huge temptation.

Grabbing Style

Grabbing style is the go-to option for monks who want to grapple. It functions on its own for the most part, but consider adding Snapping

Jabbing Style

Normally a spectacular option for the Monk, giving up Flurry of Blows makes Jabbing Style considerably less effective. Unless you're built for two-weapon fighting or something, skip Jabbing style. If you are built for two-weapon fighting for some reason, I would pick up Jabbing Master using one of your bonus feats slots and skip Jabbing Dancer, then pick up Jabbing Dancer with a wildcard slot in those rare cases where it matters.

Janni Style

Unlike the other genie styles, Janni Style doesn't touch energy damage. Instead, it focuses primarily on charging, but also touches Bull Rush and Trip for some reason. The uses are all situational so I don't recommend investing permanent feat slots in anything past the base Janni Style feat, but unfortunately that means that you'll need to invest skill ranks into Perform (Dance).

Even in the best use cases for the style, there are other feats which work better. Janni Style is worse than Dodge. Janni Temptest is a nice bonus, but the setup is too problematic, and other styles give you free attempts which are more appealing than a bonus which requires you to invest your limited number of attacks in attempting to Bull Rush or Trip. Janni Rush offers the chance to double your base damage on a charge, but Vital Strike does the same thing and doesn't require charging or jumping.

Kirin Style

Kiring style requires high Intelligence and ranks in Knowledge skills to be useful, and monks are bad at both of those things.

Mantis Style

Mantis Style peaks with its first feat. If you want to improve Stunning Fist you should consider Mantis Style, and you can pick up Mantis Wisdom with a wildcard slot, but Mantis Torment is garbage and you should ignore it.

Marid Style

Basically the same as the other elemental genie styles. Marid style deals and resists cold damage, gives you the ability to entangle enemies, and lets you deal damage in a line.

Monkey Style

The only good feat in Monkey Style is Monkey Shine, and it's not good enough to justify the style feat to make it a wildcard option. The best use case I can think of is a Brawler taking a level dip into Master of Many Styles to pick up Monkey Shine without needing to waste a feat on Monkey Moves.

Panther Style

Panther Style is one of my absolute favorites because it runs counter to so much of how combat works in Pathfinder. Highly mobile builds are generally rare exceptions, and drawing attacks of opportunity is generally something you work really hard to avoid. Instead, the Panther Style encourages you to run around drawing attacks of opportunity and punching anything foolish enough to take them.

Unlike many other styles, Panther Style really requires you to invest in it for it to work to its full potential. Fortunately, the feats' prerequisites are all easy to meet, and you could easily pick up all three feats by third level. I strongly recommend picking up Dodge and Mobility to keep your AC high while you're intentionally provoking attacks of opportunity. Djinni Style grants an AC bonus similar to Mobility (and it stacks since they're both Dodge bonuses), but unless you actively plan to use Djinni Style you'll probably get more use out of Crane Style.

You are required to use unarmed strikes with Panther Style, which may be a problem if you planned to use a weapon two-handed.

For this style to work, your GM needs to be willing to accommodate you and to avoid metagaming. Obviously your GM will know that making an attack of opportunity against you is a bad idea, but the GM needs to control enemies as though they didn't have that knowledge at the start of a fight. Intelligent enemies might figure it out after one or two attempts to hit you, but enemies with poor Intelligence and/or Wisdom should probably take longer to figure it out.

If you don't trust your GM to play along, this probably isn't the right build for your game. If your GM wants a predefined rule for determining when an enemy might figure out the gimmick, consider making a Bluff check opposed by the target's Sense Motive, and if the target wins they learn to avoid making attacks of opportunity against you. You could even grant a +2 bonus on the Sense Motive check each time the defender falls into your Attack of Opportunity trap so that they're guaranteed to figure it out if they live long enough. Of course, monks are garbage at Bluff, so this mechanic heavily favors your enemies. Discuss it with your GM, and try to come up with something that feels fair to everyone at the table.

Pummeling Style

DR is a show stopper for the Master of Many Styles. With the same per-hit damage as a conventional monk and fewer attacks, any reduction to your damage output is a serious handicap. Applying DR only once in a turn can go a long way to address this issue. However, because you can't rely on your iterative attacks as much as a vanilla monk can rely on the extra Flurry of Blows attacks, the style may not pay off as much as you would like. You're also locked into fighting unarmed, which may be a problem if you're trying to fight using a weapon two-handed.

Pummeling Bully and Pummeling Charge both have situationally useful benefits, so keep them in mind for use with your wildcard slots when those situations arise.

While it's not terribly important due to the Master of Many Style's ability to ignore style feat prerequisites, it's interesting to note that Pummeling Style is a fork rather than a linear series of feats like other styles.

Shaitan Style

Shaitan style is basically the same as Efreeti style, but instead of setting things on fire it deals acid damage and makes them staggered.

Snake Style

Snake Style on its own is a passable way to defend yourself at extremely low levels, but Snake Fang is the real draw of the style. An attack of opportunity every time an enemy attacks and misses you means that a reliable AC suddenly becomes a boost to your damage output. Combine this with Crane Style to make your AC really good and pick up Combat Reflexes so you can make more attacks. Put Fortuitous on your weapon or your Amulet of Mighty Fists and you can get an extra attack once per round (albeit at -5 to hit).

Snapping Turtle Style

Unless you're building as a grappler, skip Snapping Turtle Style. Crane Style will get you more AC, so Snapping Turtle Clutch is the style's only real selling point.

Tiger Style

Tiger Style is a really weird gimmick where you shove enemies away from you, then chase them down on the following round to hit them and push them away again. This combination has numerous points of failure, so the whole setup can fall apart quickly with a bad roll or if your enemy somehow gets out of your reach. Perhaps the biggest draw of the style, at least for the Master of Many Styles, is Tiger Claws for the ability to make two attacks at your highest Base Attack bonus. Tiger Pounce is only situationally useful, so use Combat Style Master and your wildcard slots to pick it up as a free action in those rare moment where it's useful.

Weapons

Many styles lock you into fighting unarmed. If you avoid those styles, I suggest using a single weapon two-handed so you can benefit from the additional Strength and Power Attack damage. Because you don't need to worry about Flurry of Blows, you might even consider getting proficiency in something interesting like an elven curveblade or something.

Armor

Monks can't use armor, so I recommend getting someone in your party to 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

Multiclassing 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. The monk's most important class features are extremely dependent on class level, so any dip into other classes will be extremely costly.

Example Build - The Striking Panther

Eventually they'll learn to stop swinging at me, but by then they'll all be dead.

This build works primarily by combining Panther Style and Snake Style to intentionally draw attacks However, mixing in other styles (Crane Style, Pummeling Style, etc.) as you gain levels makes the build gradually more effective and reliable.

Our ideal scenario looks like this: You move, drawing an attack of opportunity. You interrupt your opponent with Panther Parry to hit them. They then take their attack at a -2 penalty against your AC +4 (Mobility), and when they miss, you take an attack of opportunity against them. If you haven't used your immediate action for the round, you can spend it to get another free attack with Snake Fang. That's up to three free attacks at your full base attack bonus, and if you moved 10 feet before drawing attacks of opportunity, all of them are sneak attacks. Now do that for every enemy on the field in one turn (minus the second free attack made as an immediate action because you only get one per round).

For our favored class bonus, I recommend getting additional hit points. This is a Defender/Striker build, so you're filling in for a fighter or a similar character. You can afford to leave the skills to other party members, but you need to make up the gap created by your d8 hit points.

Fatal Flaws

This build has two serious flaws: First, the build is chained to the potential drawbacks of Panther Style (see the section on panther Style, above). If your GM isn't willing to be accommodating with Panther Style, the whole build falls apart.

Second, the build is limited by the Monk's relatively small amount of damage dealt with a single unarmed strike. You'll want to pick up ways to deal extra damage with each attack like permanently enhancing your unarmed strikes and an amulet of mighty fists loaded with things like Flaming and Shocking.

Abilities

Your specific ability spread doesn't differ from a conventional monk. You'll want enough Dexterity to make Snake Fang and Combat Reflexes really effective, and you'll want at least 14 Wisdom for Panther Style so you can use it more than once per round.

Race

Your choice of race matters very little to the build. Human gets you an extra feat at level 1, which is helpful but not essential. Half-Elf can get you proficiency in an exotic weapon as an alternate racial trait. Halfling is a tempting option because the bonuses for small size may outweigh the reduction in damage by keeping you alive and making your attacks more accurate.

Skills

Your skills don't matter much, but I recommend taking at least three ranks in Acrobatics to improve Fight Defensively so that you can capitalize on Crane Style.

Traits

Bullied and any other trait. The majority of our attacks will be attacks of opportunity which you're forced to make unarmed, so Bullied will get a lot of mileage.

Levels

Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1 - Monk 1
  • Feat - Snake Style
  • Bonus Feat - Snake Fang
  • Fuse Style (2 Styles)
  • Stunning Fist
  • Unarmed strike

At this level we're all about Snake Style. Put yourself on the front lines and draw fire. Ideally you want an enemy to miss you so that you get to make two attacks against them. Since Panther Style hasn't made its way into your build yet, use a two-handed weapon to maximize your damage output. A Sansetsukon is my go-to for monks, but if you're a half-elf you might have something better.

We're intentionally skipping Snake Widewind. It's not essential to the build since we can use our bonus feats to go straight to Snake Fang.

2 - Monk 2
  • Bonus Feat - Panther Style
  • Evasion

At this level you don't want to use Panther Style too much. It's risky to provoke attacks of opportunity before you've picked up options to boost your AC. The best plan is to try to use Snake Fang's immediate action attack, which will preclude your swift action when your turn comes back around, then use Panther Style if you didn't get to use Snake Fang.

3 - Monk 3
  • Feat - Combat Reflexes
  • Fast Movement
  • Maneuver Training
  • Still Mind

Combat Reflexes makes Snake Fang considerably more effective because we can make more than one free attack in a given round. If your AC is decent, now is the time to start putting yourself into groups of enemies.

At this level we also hit 3 ranks in Acrobatics. If you're using a weapon with the Blocking property like a tonfa or a 9-section whip you can now use Fight Defensively to get a total +4 to AC, though the -4 to attacks may be too much to overcome at this level.

4 - Monk 4
  • Ki Pool (magic)
  • Slow Fall 20 ft.

Without Flurry of Blows, your Ki Pool is much less useful. Expect to use it for Qinggong abilities if you use it at all.

This is the first level where we can use Qinggong Monk to trade abilities. Drop Slow Fall for Barkskin. Barkskin is one of the most useful AC buffs in the game, and it's a much better use of your Ki than the 1-round AC buff. Even at this low level you have enough Ki to keep Barkskin running throughout your entire adventuring day.

5 - Monk 5
  • Feat - Panther Claw
  • High Jump
  • Purity of Body

Panther claw allows our attacks from Panther Style to keep up with out attacks from Snake Fang. That means that your typical turn will nearly always include using your move action to walk around and provoke attacks of opportunity. By this level you have +10 ft. move speed, so you can cover quite a few squares with a move action. If you need to remain in place to prevent enemies from getting close to your squishy friends, you can always take a nice walk before returning to the square in which you started.

Consider trading High Jump for a Qinggong ability like Ki Stand, but at this level you have few worthwhile Qinggong options.

6 - Monk 6
  • Bonus Feat - Wildcard Slot
  • Slow Fall 30 ft.

This level brings our first Wildcard Slot. Generally that's going to be filled by Panther Parry, but since we have the prerequisites for Panther Parry the Wildcard Slot is objectively better than permanently picking the feat.

With Snake Fang and Panther Parry both running, you're now able to fulfill the core function of the build. Use Panther Parry to hit enemies and handicap their attacks of opportunity, then when they miss hit them with the attack from Snake Fang.

By this level you have enough gold that getting permanent +5 unarmed strikes is affordable. Because this build depends so heavily on unarmed strikes, this is an absolutely fantastic investment. +5 damage is already good, but consider picking up an amulet of mighty fists with something to improve your damage further.

7 - Monk 7
  • Feat - Dodge
  • Ki pool (cold iron/silver)
  • Wholeness of Body

We've got lots of options at this point. If you're hitting reliably (and you should with +5 unarmed strikes) you might consider Power Attack instead of a style feat. You might even consider a class dip at this level. Brawler, Fighter, and Rogue all offer some excellent options. More style feats seems like the obvious way to go because we're using Master of Many Styles, but don't limit yourself to style feats.

But this is a build guide, so I'm going to give you a fixed choice. We get to add an additional simultaneous style at 8th level thanks to Fuse Style, so another style feat makes sense. Since we're spending a lot of time drawing attacks, I think working toward Crane Style makes the most sense. Unfortunately that means we'll need to pick up Dodge and wait a while. Enjoy that +1 Dodge bonus to AC while you're running around drawing attacks. Barkskin also improves at this level, so your AC jumps nicely.

8 - Monk 8
  • Fuse Style (3 Styles)
  • Slow fall 40 ft.

If you didn't pick up a third style feat, this level is very boring. You get your first iterative attack at this level, but since you need to spend your move action walking around don't expect to use it. Walking out of a threatened space then walking back in can get you 2 to 3 attacks at your full BAB, which is obviously more effective than one attack at BAB -5.

9 - Monk 9
  • Feat - Crane Style
  • Improved Evasion

With Crane Style, 3 ranks in Acrobatics, and a blocking weapon, you can Fight Defensively for -2 to attacks and a total +5 to AC. That's a pretty great trade. If you want to do so for some reason, you can use your Wildcard slot to drop Panther Parry to pick up Crane Wing for another +4 Dodge bonus to AC against melee attacks. That will make you really hard to hit, which will make Snake Fang really effective.

10 - Monk 10
  • Bonus Feat - Wildcard Slot
  • Ki pool (lawful)
  • Slow Fall 50 ft.

With two wildcard slots, you can run both Panther Parry and Crane Wing at the same time so you're both dangerous and hard to hit.

11+

Beyond 10th level things get even more flexible. You have all of the gimmicks that the build really cares about, so you're totally free to experiment. Remember that you're dependent on taking a move action, so anything that takes a full round action doesn't work. Fighter seems like a great option for the feats, but levels of ninja or rogue might work if you can reliably deliver sneak attack damage (try using Catch Off-Guard or stunning enemies).