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DnD 3.5 - The Monk Handbook

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which tend to be more consistent than 3.5 handbooks. Because so little of 3.5 is available on the SRD, I will attempt to tag items with a superscript indicating their book of origin. For help identifying sourcebook abbreviations, see my Sourcebook Abbreviations Guide.

  • 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.

It's important to note that I generally omit campaign-setting specific content. I am of the opinion that those options are intended to be limited to campaigns run in those settings, and as such they don't really apply to a generic campaign. Those options also tend to be wildly unbalanced and rarely recieve errata. I also omit the use of "Flaws" since they allow a massive increase in power with essentially no cost to the character.

Introduction

The Monk is one of the greatest challenges of 3.5. With poor AC and hit points, but a combat skillset devoted entirely to melee the Monk is a glass cannon designed to be a placed in a room full of hammers. Flurry of Blows, the Monk's iconic combat ability, often amounts to a flurry of misses due to the Monk's 2/3 BAB. The rest of the Monk's abilities are either situational, unusable, or don't combine with Flurry of Blows, often forcing the Monk to make a single lousy attack.

Despite these massive limitations, monks are popular for class dips on a variety of complex builds, especially for their AC bonus. Thanks to the prolific number of splat books in 3.5, there are enough feats and alternate class features to cobble together a few functional monk builds.

A vanilla Monk is a Defender or Striker, but the Monk can serve as a slightly underwhelming Scout.

Monk Class Features

Hit Points: d8 hit points is hard for a melee-only class, and coupled with the Monk's garbage AC you're going to have a lot of problems.

Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB can usually be overcome with a bit of optimization, but Monks have a lot of trouble hitting, especially at low levels before the penalties for Flurry of Blows go away.

Saves: Every save is good, and with dependency on almost every ability your saves should be excellent.

Proficiencies: Monks get a very small number of weapons, and only a subset of those weapons can be used with Flurry of Blows.

Skills: 4+ skill points is enough to get the important options from the Monk's skill list. The Monk has a few skills for being a Scout and a few for being a Face, but can't really do either.

AC Bonus (Ex): This will never match real armor, but it's a cool ability, and it's one of the many things which make the Monk such a good class dip. If it weren't for Flurry of Blows requiring that you be unarmored, I might recommend that Monks wear armor and ignore this ability.

Flurry of Blows (Ex): The Monk's signature combat tactic. At low levels it's functionally Rapid Shot for melee attacks, but the penalty drops at level 5 and goes away at level 9, at which point Flurry of Blows provides several extra attacks for free. Unfortunately, due to the Monk's low BAB and issues with BAB they tend to have trouble hitting. Flurry of Blows is often referred to as Flurry of Misses, and for good reason. At low levels, consider using a Quarterstaff instead of fighting unarmed because the extra Strength bonus to damage may outweigh the slightly larger damage dice you might get from fighting unarmed.

Unarmed Strike (Ex): Assuming that you can hit, this makes your damage slightly better, but you won't exceed a longsword until level 12 unless you do other stuff like enlarge yourself (see Permanent Spells, below), get a Monk's Belt (see Magic Items, below), or pick up the Superior Unarmed Strike feat (see Feats, below).

Bonus Feats (Ex): Bonus feats are always fantastic, and the ability to ignore the prerequisite is particularly nice for the Monk's 6th-level options

  • 1st
    • Improved Grapple: Because of their 2/3 BAB, Monks have a lot of trouble grappling.
    • Stunning Fist: Stunning enemies robs them of a turn, and makes them extremely vulnerable to attack.
  • 2nd
    • Combat Reflexes: Great for Defenders.
    • Deflect Arrows: Worthless. Hugely situational.
  • 6th
    • Improved Disarm: Situational.
    • Improved Trip: Always a fantastic option. Using Improved Trip in place of a standard opportunity attack is objectively better unless the target is considerably larger and stronger than you.

Evasion (Ex): Fantastic on any character at any level.

Fast Movement (Ex): Great for getting around the battlefield quickly, but you can't use it an Flurry of Blows at the same time.

Still Mind (Ex): Situational, but Enchantment is one of the scariest schools.

Ki Strike (Su): Overcoming DR is one the Monk's biggest issues, and this helps a bit. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot that has DR/lawful, and by the time you can bypass DR/adamantine you've been facing earth elementals and iron golems for a long time.

Slow Fall (Ex): Easily replaced by a 1st-level spell or any number of inexpensive magic items.

Purity of Body (Ex): Disease becomes fairly common at high levels, but the diseases tend to be supernatural or magical.

Wholeness of Body (Ex): This helps with the Monk's lousy hit points, but it's not enough to justify using in combat, so your party's wand of Lesser Vigor is more useful.

Improved Evasion (Ex): Fantastic on any character, especially with the Monk's fantastic saves.

Diamond Body (Ex): Poison becomes very common at high levels, and immunity is nice.

Abundant Step (Su): Amusin, but because you can only use it once per day it's not particularly useful

Diamond Soul (Ex): Spell resistance is great, but remember that it also applies to friendly spells, and it takes a standard action to lower spell resistance.

Quivering Palm (Su): 1/week save or die. Cool and flavorful, but Wizards can do this several times a day and have been doing it for several levels.

Timeless Body (Ex): Very rarely matters within a normal campaign, but the ability to stop adventuring until you reach old age could mean a +3 to your mental ability scores.

Tongue of the Sun and Moon (Ex): Tongues has been around for a very long time, and the Monk rarely has anything useful to say.

Empty Body (Su): Great for infiltration, escape, and for punching ghosts.

Perfect Self: You can no longer be effected by Enlarge Person. The buffs gained from this are nice, but easily overcome by such high level.

Alternate Class Features

  • Decisive StrikePHB2: This looks great at first glance, but it's roughly equivalent to using Flurry of Blows. Essentially you can choose to deal roughly half of your damage output every time or all of your damage output half of the time. Useless for Monk class dips. The biggest draw is that it's better for handling DR. If this worked as a standard action instead of a full round action it would be blue without question.
  • Draconic FistDr: Trade in the utility of Stunning Fist for some extra elemental damage. Works one round at a time.
  • Feign DeathEoE: Considerably better for Rogues. Monks have good enough saves that they can largely resist the listed effects to which they aren't already immune.
  • Holy StrikeCC: Monks have absolutely no way to overcome DR/good, but DR/magic can be overcome with a 1st-level spell. The 1d6 bonus damage is nice, too. Evil Monks can reverse the alignments on this, but Neutral Monks are out of luck.
  • Invisible FistEoE: This is amazing. Sure, it has a 3 round cooldown, but with no daily limit that's a very gentle limitation. This makes Monk/Rogue cross-class builds extremely potent. Because you can use this as an immediate action, you can use it when enemies move into reach, effectively turning this into an abusable dodge mechanic in addition to the obvious offensive potential.
  • Prayerful MeditationCC: Still Mind is very situational, but the vast majority of enemies will oppose you on at least one alignment axis, which may mean that this gives you a +2 bonus on saves against spell and effects from every enemy you face.
  • Soulwarp StrikeCM: Stunning Fist has the same DC, affects roughly the same subset of creatures, and is considerably more debilitating.
  • Spell ReflectionCM: Only useful in extremely caster-heavy campaigns. Relatively few spells use attack rolls, so this won't come up nearly as often as Evasion.
  • Standing JumpDS: Jumping is ridiculous when flight exists.
  • Wall WalkerDS: Even less useful than standing jump.
  • Water StepSW: Walking on water doesn't come up very often, but it's way cooler than Slow Fall.

Substitution Levels

  • Halfling MonkRoD: Dropping the monk's hit die one step is just cruel. Monks are already extremely flimsy, so it's just one more insult to a class which really doesn't need it. On top of this, you've still got the issue of being small.
    • 1st level: Finding this option really perplexed me. Conceptually, skirmish on a monk is amazing. So much of the Monk makes sense with skirmish, but the scaling on this is absolutely garbage. A 20th-level halfling monk gets as much skirmish as a 7th-level scout. On top of all of that, the tricks to optimize skirmish have a ton of overlap with the tricks to make the Monk mobile while still using a full attack. So once you add all of those tricks, Flurry of Blows becomes the better option.
    • 3nd level: Weapon Finesse is a good feat for a lot of builds. For halfling characters consider a Monk dip, this make a second level very tempting. For dedicated Monks, see my assessment of Weapon Finesse below.
    • 6th level:
  • Planar MonkPH: Planar Monk levels open up a few cool abilities, and access to Knowledge (The Planes).
    • 5th level: Immunity to non-magical diseases won't cover much, and with the Monk's saves they're not really an issue. However, 5 points of energy resistance isn't much better. If you don't need anything specific, go for fire.
    • 13th level: Slightly better spell resistance, but considerably less versatile.
    • 16th level: Considerably more enemies are weak to Cold Iron than to Adamantine.

Unearthed Arcana

Content from Unearthed Arcana is generally considered optional variant rules. Many of these options are poorly balanced, so be sure to consult your DM before selecting any such options.

  • Combat Styles: Combat styles are a great concept, but most of them are hampered by requiring you to take a really lousy feat to get a tiny bonus from the 6th-level ability.
    • Cobra Strike: Spring Attack is a really bad option for Monks because they only get one attack instead of their whole Flurry of Blows. If you're going for the Halfling Monk racial substitution levels this could be helpful since Spring Attack works so well with Skirmish, but remember that if you take the level 2 substitution level it will break your Cobra Strike progression so you won't get Mobility or any of the 6th-level stuff.
    • Denying Stance: All of the feats are taken from the default options available to Monks, and you can do better with Improved Trip than with Improved Disarm.
    • Hand and Foot: All of the feats are taken from the default options available to Monks, and you can do better with Combat Reflexes than Deflect Arrows. The bonuses to resist special attacks aren't enough to justify this.
    • Invisible Eye: Combat Reflexes earlier than normal is helpful for dipping Monk, and Lightning Reflexes and Blind Fight aren't terrible. The 6th-level ability makes Combat Expertise a bit more attractive, but you need to take Agile to qualify for it.
    • Overwhelming Attack: This could be a good option if you plan to go for Shock Trooper and Leap Attack.
    • Passive Way: This is a fantastic Trip build option, but I wouldn't use it past a 2 level class dip.
    • Sleeping Tiger: only useful for a class dip if you want Weapon Finesse.
    • Undying Way: Awful. All of the feats are bad, and the 6th-level ability is mediocre.
  • Variant Monk: DR is tempting when your AC is terrible, but dropping the Monk's AC further may only make the issue worse.

Abilities

Monks are extremely MAD, needing 4 abilities. They have 1 or two dump stats, but that isn't enough to make their abilities easy to balance.

Str: The Monk's primary duty is punching things, so Strength is your top priority. You don't necessarily need to start with 18 because Monks don't really use two-handed weapons, so the difference between 16 and 18 is still only a +1.

Dex: Essential for the Monk's garbage AC, and helpful for Reflex saves. Picking up Shadow Blade will cost you three feats, but if your Dexterity is high enough the bonus damage can be well worth it.

Con: You need hit points. d8 isn't going to cut it by itself.

Int: 4 skill ranks gets you everything a Monk needs from their skill list, so 10 is plenty. If you're a Human or don't mind givin up a skill, dump to 8.

Wis: Essential for the Monk's garbage AC, and the DC of Stunning Fist.

Cha: Worthless for Monks.

Races

Being small is crippling, and penalties to any physical ability score is a major setback for such a MAD class.

Dwarf: The bonus to Constitution is fantastic, and the penalty to Charisma doesn't matter. 20 foot speed doesn't matter once you get Fast Movement, and the Dwarf's other racial abilities make you very durable.

Elf: The penalty to constitution is horrible, and the bonus to Dexterity doesn't do nearly enough to fix it.

Gnome: Small, and none of the Gnome abilities add anything interesting to the Monk.

Half-Elf: Awful.

Half-Orc: The bonus to Strength is nice despite penalties to both Intelligence and Charisma. Darkvision is also nice.

Halfling: Small, and a penalty to Strength. The halfling monk substitution levels make the halfling useful for class dips and Dexterity-based monk builds. Still, the difference in damage due to your size is significant, especially as you add extra ttacks,

Human: No ability bonus, but the extra skill rank makes it easier to dump intelligence, and a bonus feat can do a lot of great things for the Monk.

Skills

  • Balance (Dex): Too situational.
  • Climb (Str): Too situational.
  • Concentration (Con): Monks don't cast spells.
  • Diplomacy (Cha): Charisma is the Monk's only dump stat.
  • Escape Artist (Dex): Too situational.
  • Hide (Dex): Nice for stealth, but without Trapfinding the Monk isn't much of a Scout.
  • Jump (Str): Too situational.
  • Knowledge (arcana) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
  • Knowledge (religion) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
  • Listen (Wis): Fantastic, but not quite as important as Spot.
  • Move Silently (Dex): Nice for stealth, but without Trapfinding the Monk isn't much of a Scout.
  • Sense Motive (Wis): Helpful, especially if your party's Face doesn't get Sense Motive as a class skill.
  • Spot (Wis): Arguably the most important skill in the game.
  • Swim (Str): Too situational.
  • Tumble (Dex): The Monk really doesn't need to move around in combat.

Feats

  • Ascetic HunterCAd: Monk and Ranger really don't make sense together, and this feat doesn't help.
  • Ascetic KnightCAd: A cool concept, but Paladins don't really get anything from Monks that they couldn't get elsewhere.
  • Ascetic MageCAd: A very interesting option. The ability to add Charisma to AC instead of Wisdom is great for a Sorcerer, but burning spells slots for so little damage is a terrible idea.
  • Ascetic RogueCAd: A rogue with a couple levels in Monk is a cool concept, and arguably works better than the Ninja. If you want to be primarily a Rogue, you may do better with Ability Focus, but if you're primarily a Monk you can dip into Rogue for one level and pick up Craven for a huge pile of Sneak Attack damage.
  • Ascetic StalkerCS: This is a much better feat for the Ninja than it is for the Monk.
  • Ability FocusMM: Adding +2 to the DC of Stunning Fist can make it considerably more reliable.
  • Brutal StrikePHB2: The short description of the feat is incorrect; Brutal Strike only allows you to sicken targets.
  • Combat ExpertisePHB: Giving up attack bonus is hard for a Monk, but the bonus to AC is fantastic.
    • Improved DisarmPHB: Very situational.
    • Improved FeintPHB: Worthless without Sneak Attack.
    • Improved TripPHB: Great for slowing down enemies and making them more vulnerable to your attacks.
      • Defensive Throw: Requires a pile of feats, and only works against your Dodge target.
    • Whirlwind AttackPHB: Requires a ton of feats, and with Flurry of Blows you will frequently be able to attack the same number of enemies.
  • Combat ReflexesPHB: Helpful for Defender builds, but useful in any case where your enemies are moving around a lot.
  • CravenCoR: Once you have a level in Rogue (or anything else that grants Sneak Attack), this becomes a fantastic boost to your damage output.
  • DodgePHB: Garbage.
    • MobilityPHB: Too situational.
      • Spring AttackPHB: Not particularly useful compared to Flurry of Blows.
  • Fiery FistPHB2: If you want this, take the Draconic Fist ACF instead of Stunning Fist. The damage is better and you can use multiple energy types.
    • Fiery Ki DefensePHB2: The damage is terrible.
    • Ki BlastPHB2: If you're close enough to use this, you're close enough to charge or throw a javelin.
  • Fists of IronCW: One stunning fist use for 1d6 damage. Absolute garbage.
  • Improved InitiativePHB: Going first doesn't help the Monk, and going late may allow enemies to move into melee so that you can use Flurry of Blows.
  • Improved ToughnessCW: More hit points are great for a Monk.
  • Improved Unarmed StrikePHB
    • Deflect ArrowsPHB: Very situational.
      • Snatch ArrowsPHB: Situational and bad.
    • Improved Grapple: Monks are surprisingly poor at grappling because of their poor BAB.
    • Stunning FistPHB: Somewhat difficult to use reliably, but if you hit and manage to stun the target it's extremely powerful.
      • Axiomatic StrikeCW: Enemies generally tend to be split on a good/evil axis, and 2d6 damage isn't as helpful as stunning.
      • Paralyzing FistsDotU: RAW this feat is completely nonfunctional without Rapid Stunning, but if you manage to double-stun a target they are coup de grace bait for a round or two.
      • Rapid StunningCW: Tempting, but if you don't manage to stun on your first attack in a round you lose a lot of the benefit. This is require to make Paralyzing Fists work.
    • Versatile Unarmed StrikePHB2: Allows you to bypass some types of DR without needing a weapon.
  • Improved Natural Weapon (Unarmed Strike)MM: Treat your unarmed strikes as if you were one size larger. Increasing your effective size is the best way to increase your damage output.
  • Intuitive AttackPHB: Basically Weapon Finesse for Wisdom. Intriguing, but Monks still need Strength for damage.
  • Mage SlayerCAr: Great in caster-heavy campaigns, but generally not great.
  • Martial StudyToB: Many martial maneuvers work well for the Monk, and they made great options in turns in which you need to move and can't use Flurry of Blows.
    • Falling Sun AttackToB: You can only get a handful of strikes unless you dip into an Inititator class, so this won't help you much.
    • Martial StanceToB: Many Martial Stances offer great options for Monks.
      • Shadow BladeToB: Only works with Shadow Blade weapons, but Unarmed Strikes are on the list, and because Monks need a lot of Dexterity to boost their lousy AC this can be quite a bit of extra damage.
  • Pain TouchCW: If you really like Stunning Fist, this really adds to the utility. Nauseated largely robs enemies of their turn, allowing you to take them out of combat for two rounds at a time. However, if you have someone in the party who benefits from the target being flat-footed (rogues, etc.) you may find that Stunned is a more effective option.
  • Pharaoh's FistSS: Stun whole groups of enemies. A great way to handle multiple foes, but hard to bring into play.
  • Power AttackPHB: Taking penalties to attack rolls is hard for Monks, but the damage bonus is pretty great.
    • CleavePHB: Very situational.
    • Flying AttackCW: Amusing, and combines well with Leap Attack, but not particularly effective.
    • Improved Bull Rush: Very situational.
    • Improved Overrun: Very situational.
    • Improved Trample: Very situational.
  • Rattlesnake StrikeSS: Poison is hard because the DC is typically very low, but this DC scales with your level, and should remain reasonably high. 1d3 Constitution damage won't end a fight, but a few attempts might considerably weaken a tough foe.
  • Roundabout KickCW: With only a 20 threat range this will almost never pay off.
  • Sanctify Ki StrikeBoED: The Holy Strike ACF is considerably better. The Charisma requirement is prohibitively high since Charisma is your only dump state.
    • Fist of the HeavensBoED: Better than Ability Focus, though less versatile.
    • Holy Ki StrikeBoED: It doesn't stack with Sanctify Ki Strike, but it probably stacks with the Holy Strike ACF, which would give you a total of +3d6 damage against evil creatures. Fantastic if you can find a way to get around the Charisma requirement.
  • Sanctify Natural AttackBoED: Sanctify Ki Strike does the same thing, and opens up two good feats.
  • Snap KickToB: Essentially Rapid Shot for unarmed strikes. This gets you an extra attack, but the -2 penalty makes it even harder to hit with Flurry of Blows. I would wait to pick this up until you've picked up some things to improve your probability of hitting, especially permanent Magic Fang.
  • Stand StillEPH: If you need to be a Defender, but can't get Improved Trip for some reason, Stand Still is the way to go.
  • Superior Unarmed StrikeToB: This adds roughly 2 damage to your unarmed strikes unless you are both Large and very high level. Once you're both above 10th level and are permanently large, this could be a meaningful damage boost.
  • Touch of Golden IceBoED: Applies a ravage on all of your unarmed strikes. Despite the low DC, this is a 1200gp poison for free on every single attack. Even if you're just hoping for really bad rolls, 1d6 dexterity damage can be a huge problem for a lot of enemies. Remember that each dose of poison works independently, so the target has to save against each hit separately. However, many enemies types are immune to poison, especially at higher levels.
  • Travel DevotionCC: Only works for one minute per day, but the ability to move at the Monk's ridiculous speed as a swift action can be fantastic when you need to move in and use Flurry of Blows.
  • Vile StrikeBoVD: One damage for a feat. Garbage.
  • Water Splitting StonePHB2: This is a great way to mitigate DR while using Flurry of Blows, especially at high levels where DR becomes common.
  • Weapon FinessePHB: You need Strength for damage as much as you need it for attacks. Unless you're also taking Shadow Blade your Dexterity shouldn't be so much better than your Strength that this is a good option.
  • Weakening TouchCW: Interesting, but -6 to strength will only be a minor handicap to most enemies.
  • Weapon FocusPHB: Not very exciting, but a +1 to attacks helps a lot when you make so many attacks.
    • Sense WeaknessDr: Most enemies will have around 5 DR, so this will allow you to ignore the DR of most enemies without needing to carry and use a whole bunch of crappy weapons.
  • Zen ArcheryCW: A very cool concept, but generally not for Monks.

Weapons

  • club: A quarterstaff is essentially the same, and you can use a quarterstaff with flurry of blows.
  • crossbow, light: With good strength, a Monk should be throwing things.
  • crossbow, heavy: Awful.
  • dagger: Carry one or two for utility, but they're not a good weapon option.
  • handaxe: There are similar options which work better for Monks.
  • javelin: The Monk's best option for ranged weapons. Decent range, and they apply your Strength bonus to damage.
  • kama: Your unarmed strike damage will quickly eclipse the kama, and though you can use the kama to trip things it doesn't give you a bonus to do so. However, the kama adds the option of slashing damage. Can be used with Flurry of Blows.
  • nunchaku: The only appeal is the +2 to disarm checks. Can be used with Flurry of Blows.
  • quarterstaff: A good option at very low levels because you can use it to attack two-handed while using Flurry of Blows.
  • sai: A better bonus to disarm than Nunchaku, and can be used with Flurry of Blows.
  • shuriken: They don't apply Strength to damage, but they can be used with Flurry of Blows.
  • siangham: Adds the option of piercing damage, and can be used with Flurry of Blows.
  • sling: Javelins are better.

Armor

You can't wear armor, so don't worry about it. Instead, see Wands, below.

It's interesting to note that AC Bonus specifies that you can't wear a shield, but Flurry of Blows doesn't, instead simply using the term "unarmored". I think the RAI interpretation is that you can't use Flurry of Blows with a shield, but it's a bit unclear. Check with your DM to be sure. If you can get away with a shield, then a very inexpensive shield may be a useful option.

Magic Items

Weapons

  • Ki FocusPHB (+1): This would be great if it also allowed the weapon to use your unarmed strike damage, but as written it's not very useful.
  • Scorpion KamaMIC: A +1 kama which uses your unarmed strike damage. You can use a cheaper mundane or magical kama for special attacks, or you can use your unarmed strikes to hit things, and you can magically enhance your hands, so this doesn't really offer anything useful except the ability to attach weapon crystals.

Rings

  • CounterspellsDMG: Not an especially exciting option, the Ring of Counterspells is frequently overlooked. Monks can get a lot from permanent spells, but the problem with permanent spells is that if they are dispelled they're gone forever and you lose all of that gold you spent. Enter the ring of counterspells, which you can fill with three spells. I recommend Dispel Magic, Greater Dispel Nagic, and either a second greater dispel magic or Reaving Dispel depending on your level. Suddenly you're protected against your biggest counter.
  • FangedDM: Improved Natural Weapon (Unarmed Strike) on a ring. See the Feats section, above. It's interesting to note that sincer unarmed strikes technically aren't a natural weapon, Improved Natural Weapon (Unarmed Strike) should be an invalid feat. However, this ring seems to indicate that it's allowed.
  • Force ShieldDMG: The description specifies that the shield effect is encumbrance-free, so your DM may allow you to use this without interrupting your Monk AC bonus. If that's the case, this can be a helpful way to get some more AC once your cheaper options have been enhanced quite a bit.
  • Adamantine TouchMIC: If you give up Ki Strike (Adamantine) this is a cheap way to replace it.
  • ProtectionDMG: With such poor AC, Monks need all of the help they can get.

Wands

  • Mage ArmorPHB: With no ability to wear armor, a wand of Mage Armor is a fantastically economical option. I don't recommend the eternal version because 2 hours may not be enough to get you through a day, but 50 charges should last long enough for you to upgrade to Greater Mage Armor.
  • Mage Armor, GreaterPHB: As a third level spell, the minimum caster level is 5 so you get 5 hours per charge. Get an eternal wand and you're covered for 10 hours a day for just over 10,000gp. That's somewhere between the cost of +3 and +4 armor or bracers of armor, and you're getting +6 instead.
  • Magic FangPHB: 750gp gets you 50 hours of +1 hands, which may be enough to get you by until you can afford to permanently enhance your hands. Of course, you still need a caster who can use it, but Magic Fang is on nearly every full caster's spell list.

Wondrous Items

  • Amulet of Natural ArmorMIC: The AC boost is great, but Periapt of Wisdom does more for the Monk.
  • Amulet of Mighty FistsMIC: This is a trap. See Greater Magic Fang under Permanent Spells, below. For less than the price of a +2 amulet you can make your hands permanently +5.
  • Armbands of MightMIC: Fantastic if you want to use Power Attack and/or special attacks like Trip.
  • Belt of BattleMIC: A fantastic way to get some extra actions. Use on charge to get a move action, then move into place to make a Flurry of Blows.
  • Belt of StrengthMIC: The bonus to hit and damage are crucial.
  • Bracers of ArmorDMG: A trap for people who don't like wands. A wand of mage armor will do much better for much less gold.
  • Cloak of ResistanceDMG: Vest of Resistance is identical and takes up a much less useful slot.
  • Gauntlets of StrengthDMG: Great for the Strength bonus, but it's usually better to get a belt so that you can get Gloves of Dexterity.
  • Gloves of DexterityDMG: Great for your AC, and the boost to Reflex saves is always nice with Evasion.
  • Monk's BeltMIC: Tempting, but the effects total to +1 to AC and a tiny bit of unarmed strike damage. Leave this for Clerics and Druids.
  • Necklace of Natural WeaponsSS: Throw some elemental enhancements on this. You don't need to make it +1 before applying enhancements, so you can use permanent greater Magic Fang to get +5 hands, and add caustic/flaming/shocking to the amulet for piles of energy damage.
  • Periapt of WisdomDMG: Essential for many Monk abilities, including the AC bonus. However, the Necklace of Natural Weapons is probably a better choice. Ask your DM if he'll let you move this to your head slot.
  • Rags of Restraint of WisdomMIC: A very cheap healing mechanic exclusive to Monks and Ninjas, but wands of Lesser Vigor are very cheap, and someone in your party should know how to use one.
  • Rapidstrike BracersMIC: +2 to your attacks with Flurry of Blows, but only 3/day.
  • Vest of ResistanceMIC: Same cost as a cloak, and takes up the largely useless "torso" slot.

Permanent Spells

  • Enlarge PersonPHB: Absolutely essential despite the penalty to your AC. Large size gets you a bunch of additional unarmed strike damage, reach, and improves your checks with things like Trip and Grapple.
  • Greater Magic FangPHB: Because Monks can't actually enhance their hands, permanent Natural Weapon is the best that a Monk can hope for. 8650gp can get you a permanent +5 to attacks/damage, assuming that your DM allows you to hire a 20th-level caster to help enhance your hands (550 for permanency from 11th-level caster + 7500 for xp cost + 600 for a 20th-level cast to cast Greater Magic Fang). If you can't afford 8650gp, pick up a wand of Magic Fang for 820gp until you can. If your DM won't allow you to hire a 20th-level caster (very reasonable), have a caster in your party keep Greater Magic Fang prepared for you every day, and buy them a Pearl of Power to help replace the spell slot.

Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

Despite its shortcomings, the Monk still offers a lot of great abilities and bonus feats at low levels, making it a great choice for a one or two level class dip. For this reason, people typically dip into Monk instead of dipping into other classes and returning to Monk. If you plan to remain primarily as a Monk, it is a good idea to multiclass after level 11 when you get Greater Flurry.

  • NinjaCAd: Ascetic Stalker requires two levels of Ninja to do anything interesting. Ghost Step is a great way to become invisible and either move safely through combat or get an advantage over an enemy. Sudden Strike allows you to qualify for Craven, which can add up to a big pile of damage when combined with Flurry of Blows. The addition of Trapfinding helps the Monk to serve as a Scout, but without Search or Disable Device you will still have issues handling traps.
  • PaladinPHB: Much like the Sorcerer, Paladin makes the Monk more MAD than you can handle. The Paladin's low level abilities are very tempting, especially Divine Grace, but the Paladin gets a lot more from the Monk than the Monk gets from the Paladin.
  • RangerPHB: The Monk and the Ranger share nothing in common, their combat styles don't mesh, and their class bonus feats don't work together. Your best bet might be a Zen Archery build, but even that is a bit of a stretch.
  • RoguePHB: Likely a better choice than Ninja with Ascetic Stalker, you can use Ascetic Rogue with only one level of Rogue. A second level gets you Evasion, which you can trade in for a Rogue ACF because Monks already get it, or your can keep it and get Invisible Fist. Like the Ninja, the Rogue adds Trapfinding and opens up Craven to add a flat bonus to Sneak Attack damage. Because Rogues get real Sneak Attack instead of Sudden Strike, the Rogue can make the Monk a very scary flanker.
  • SorcererPHB: Despite Ascetic Mage, the Sorcerer offers very little which improves the Monk. Sorcerer makes the Monk even more MAD, and the ability to burn spell slots has a very poor payoff.
  • SwordsageToB: One level saves you the two feats you need to get Shadow Blade, the effect of Weapon Focus with Unarmed Strike (Tale Discipline Focus in Shadow Hand), and it a pile of maneuvers to use (focus on swift action options). Two levels get you access to the Swordsage's version of AC Bonus, which allows the use of light armor (potentially useful, but a wand of Greater Mage Armor will be better long term). Some people might argue that the Swordsage's AC Bonus stacks with the Monk's, but I think adding your Wisdom as a Dodge bonus to AC twice pretty clearly violates the "no two bonuses from the same source to the same thing" rule. TL;DR: Dip one level of swordsage to save yourself two feats if you want Shadow Blade.

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 becaused 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.