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 (though stabbing things and setting them on fire is still a possibility for the Monk). Monks are excellent Defenders and Strikers, and typically fill a role in party as a Fighter-equivalent or Rogue-equivalent depending on your subclass and proficiencies. Certain subclasses also introduce healing and Support capabilities, allowing monks to thrive in new roles depending on your build.

The Monk can be difficult to play compared to the Fighter or the Rogue. They are the most MAD class in DnD 5e, needing three high ability scores to function effectively with very little room to ignore any of them, and the Monk isn’t as durable as the Fighter nor as lethal as the Rogue. Monks also lean heavily into using Bonus Actions right from level 1, which can be briefly confusing for new players who are still acclimating to the game’s mechanics. Subclasses can introduce additional complexity to the class, but that complexity also brings a lot of diversity and a lot of fun options.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read my Monk Subclasses Breakdown.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses 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. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Monk Class Features

Optional Class Features are detailed below under Optional 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 Diamond Soul, giving them proficiency in all saves, including death 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 with versatile until level 10 (which means either a quarterstaff or a spear), then you’ll use your bare hands from then on unless you’ve found a magic weapon. 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 and therefore can’t afford to invest in.

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 costly. 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. This is the floor of effectiveness on using a ki point. If a thing you could do with Ki is worse than Flurry of Blows, you should never do that thing.
  • Patient Defense: When your health is low this is a great fallback 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: Monk subclasses are briefly summarized below. See my Monk Subclasses Breakdown for help selecting your subclass.

  • Way of Mercy: Empower your ki to harm and afflict your foes and to heal yourself and your allies.
  • Way of Shadow: Employ stealth and magical abilities to evade, surprise, and ambush your foes.
  • Way of the Astral Self: Use your Ki to conjure a magical set of arms and fight using your ki more than your actual body. (This is the one that’s a Jojo reference.)
  • Way of the Drunken Master: A tricky, durable monk who moves about a lot in combat and who can endure, redirect, and avoid damage.
  • Way of the Four Elements: Turn your Ki into powerful elemental spells and abilities to assail your foes.
  • Way of the Long Death: Exceptionally hard to kill, the Way of Long Death allows you to preserve your own life by taking others’.
  • Way of the Open Hand: The master of martial arts, Way of the Open Hand is simplest and most iconic monk.
  • Way of the Kensei: Master fighting with a weapon.
  • Way of the Sun Soul: Blast your foes with radiant damage fueled by your Ki.

Deflect Missiles: Situational, as it depends on the attack using a weapon attack, and most ranged effects are typically spells unless they’re coming from a humanoid. However, when it comes up it’s a cool defensive option, and the math is really solid. Even a high-level character does little more than the damage die plus their ability modifier in damage, so the 1d10+dex+level will be very reliable.

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 (except running out of Ki), so against particularly tough opponents it’s perfectly acceptable to spend Ki on each of your attacks until you succeed, or to just stun-lock a single foe for the duration of a fight.

Understanding and using Stunning Strike effectively is absolutely crucial to playing the Monk effectively. The Stunned condition robs the creature of turn, prevents them from making opportunity attacks or casting reaction spells like Shield or Counterspell, grants Advantage on attacks to hit them (including any other attacks that you make that turn), causes them to automatically fail Str/Dex saves (ex: Disintegrate), and Stunning Strike lasts until the end of your next turn, so you could spend your whole next turn attacking them with Advantage, not to mention whatever your party can do with a full round to pile on the damage.

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. Notably this also applies to Death Saving Throws. Even though they’re not tied to an ability score, they’re still a saving throw, and accoring to Jeremy Crawford, “If all saves are affected by a thing, death saves are affected.”

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.

Optional Class Features

Introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, Optional Class Features offer ways to add additional features or replace existing ones. These rules are optional, and you should not assume that your DM will allow these features without consulting them first.

Assessments and suggestions for specific Optional Class Features are presented here, but for more information on handling Optional Class Features in general, see my Practical Guide to Optional Class Features.

Dedicated Weapon (Addition): On its own, this does little to expand the Monk’s weapon options since you need to find proficiency elsewhere. You can get more proficiencies from a feat or by multiclassing, but more likely you’re going to get it from your race. Most races won’t get you anything more interesting than a longsword by default, but with the Customizing Your Origin optional rule you can turn a racial weapon proficiency into whatever weapon proficiency you want (there’s some simple/martial nuance, but realistically you’re going to get a martial weapon). If you just want damage, a longsword is your best bet, but consider getting whips for reach or shortbows so that you can do something useful at range (Dedicated Weapon allows weapons with the two-handed trait, unlike Martial Arts).

I recommend allowing Dedicated Weapon on all monks using a subclass which I rate green or lower. It’s not a huge buff, but access to whips can be very impactful and raising the monk’s weapon damage from 1d8 (quarterstaff or spear) to 1d10 means that they’ll be slightly more lethal by skipping straight to their maximum damage die size for their weapon attacks.

Ki-Fueled Attack (Addition): A fantastic buff for subclasses which have Ki-eating abilities which they’ll use during combat, such as the Way of Four Elements spellcasting. This allows you to still attack in the same turn as you use those abilities, thereby boosting your damage output. Many monks will gain little or no benefit from this, but several weaker subclasses benefit significantly.

I recommend allowing Ki-Fueled Attack on all monks using a subclass which I rate orange or lower. These subclasses typically benefit a great deal from this feature, and this buff may be enough to make those subclasses much more viable.

Quickened Healing (Addition): The only case where I expect monks to use this is to spend remaining Ki before taking a Short Rest. Doing so can improve the Monk’s durability, allowing them to compensate for their relatively small hit die compared to the Fighter by healing themselves beyond what their hit dice could provide. This may be enough to justify less stress over your Constitution, but you need to get through combat alive to have a chance to use this.

I recommend allowing Quickened Healing on all monks using a subclass which I rate green or lower. It’s not a huge buff, and in most games the Monk’s hit dice will be sufficient, so I don’t expect this to be used frequently.

Focused Aim (Addition): Inefficient, but sometimes you’re desperate to just make on attack connect. Monks don’t have a big single on-hit effect like Sneak Attack, and this comes online late enough that it’s hard to justify multiclassing to use this. Keep this in your back pocket until you’re desperate.

I recommend allowing Focused Aim on all monks. It’s an extremely inneficient use of Ki compared to nearly anything else that the Monk could do, so having a player spend their Ki to make one attack hit successfully means that they’re giving up a precious resource that they could spend elsewhere doing something more impactful.

Ability Scores

The Monk is the most MAD class in the game. While Dexterity is their primary ability score, they also need both Constitution and Wisdom to function. Fortunately, you have very little use for Strength, Intelligence, or Charisma, so it’s easy to dump three scores.

Way of the Astral Self has a higher reliance on Wisdom due to Astral Arms, so if you’re building an astral self monk reverse Dexterity and Wisdom in the recommendations below.

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, but several monk subclasses already offer options to knock foes prone without resorting to Athletics.

Dex: Dexterity rules the Monk. Almost all monks rely on Dexterity for attacks, so it sets your attacks, damage, and AC, and having good Dexterity will help avoid AOE damage which can quickly cut into your d8 hit points. Evasion helps, but it’s more effective you succeed on the save.

Con: With only d8 hit dice, 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 special abilities. It notably sets the save DC for class features which allow targets to make saving throws, so it’s especially important for subclasses which rely heavily on offensive special abilities.

Cha: Dump. Take a vow of silence if necessary.

Point BuyStandard Array
Str812
Dex1515
Con1414
Int1010
Wis1513
Cha88

Monk Races

Monks are heavily MAD, so ability scores are absolutely crucial. Additional skills are great if you’re replacing a rogue, and additional sources of durability can do a lot to help keep you alive, especially at low levels.

For help selecting a race, see our Monk Races Breakdown.

For a simple monk feel, start with variant human and take a feat like Defensive Duelist or Tough. If you want to be highly skilled, consider races like the Kenku or the Tabaxi. For a durable monk, consider the Dwarf or the Goliath.

Monk Skills

  • 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.

Monk Backgrounds

This section does not address every published background, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don’t cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the options which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. Racial feats are discussed in the Races section, above.

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 so look for tools like Thieves’ Tools.

If you’re having trouble deciding, here are some suggestions:

  • CriminalPHB: Stealth and Thieves’ tools are great for a sneaky 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.
  • HermitPHB: Medicine will help capitalize on your Wisdom, and the Herbalism Kit allows you make magical potions.
  • Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: For a Roguish Monk, Criminal and Urchin are both better choices.
  • UrchinPHB: Your best bet for a Rogue-like Monk.

Monk Feats

This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don’t cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover feats which I think work especially well for the class or which might be tempting but poor choices.

  • ChefTCoE: Monks are already over-reliant on their Bonus Action. The additional durability is excellent, but the treats won’t fit into your action economy. Consider Inspiring Leader instead.
  • CrusherTCoE: The ability to push an enemy 5 feet away from you if you hit them with a bludgeoning attack makes it easy to perform hit-and-run tactics without spending Ki, without using Shove, without the Mobile feat, and without a feature from your subclass which allows you to do so. The Advantage mechanic will be an infrequent benefit, but it will feel really nice when you do get it. Since you can get a Constitution increase, Crusher’s cost is reduced, allowing you to more easily fit it into your build without playing a race that grants you a feat at first level.
  • Defensive DuelistPHB: Works with a dagger or short sword (or a rapier if you’re using Dedicated Weapon), and provides a helpful and consistent boost to the Monk’s problematically low AC. It only works against one attack per turn, and only in melee, but since the Monk is almost entirely locked into melee, that’s still be a meaningful boost to your durability, especially once your Proficiency Bonus scales a bit.
  • 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 so locking yourself into one is a terrible mistake.
  • Fey TouchedTCoE: Access to Fey Step and Hex are tempting, but may be difficult choices without the ability to cast the spells more than once per day. Hex, combined with the Monk’s numerous attacks, can be a powerful damage boost and hampering the target’s ability checks can make it easy to Shove them prone even if your Strength is relatively poor. You can get a Wisdom increase from Fey Touched, too, which makes this less costly than many feats.

    For more advice on Fey Touched, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Fighting InitiateTCoE: There is little here that will be more impactful than increasing your ability scores. Fighting Style (Unarmed Fighting) is tempting, but few monks are actually good enough at grappling to justify it. Blind Fighting can be effective, especially for Way of Shadow monks since they don’t gain the ability to see in darkness. RAW Dueling doesn’t work with unarmed strikes, unfortunately, but it might still be effective for the Kensai if you’re using weapon attacks enough.
  • GunnerTCoE: Thanks to the Dedicated Weapon Optional Class Feature, using a firearm isn’t out of the question, and the Kensei can use firearms in the same way that they would use a longbow. At very high levels the damage gap between the Monk’s Martial Arts die and the Musket is miniscule, but until that point the Musket’s d12 damage die is a nice damage boost, and since you gain the ability to use firearms unimpeded by adjacent enemies, you can use your musket in melee in place of a quartsertstaff or spear. On top of all of those benefits, you also get a Dexterity increase so the cost of the feat is easy to fit into your build
  • GrapplerPHB: Just a terrible feat in general. You don’t need it to grapple successfully. If you do want to grapple successfully, take Fighting Initiate (Unarmed Fighting).
  • 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, so there are very few options here that are worth the feat. Perhaps your best bet is to go for Warlock so that you can get Hex, which combines nicely with the Monk’s numerous attacks and provides up to an hour of boosted damage provided that you can maintain Concentration. But at that point, Fey Touched is a much better choice for the Monk.

    For more advice on Magic Initiate, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Martial AdeptPHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
  • MobilePHB: A fine feat, but redundant with core Monk abilities. You already get a ton of increased movement speed. If you need to avoid opportunity attacks, spend a Ki point to disengange. If you’re worried about difficult terrain, taking Dash with your already enhanced movement speed should give you so much movement that any difficult terrain shouldn’t be a problem except in the most exceptional cases.
  • 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.
  • PiercerTCoE: I frequently advocate monks using spears because it prevents you from becoming locked into bludgeoning damage. However, the attacks made with Martial Arts are bludgeoning damage by default (you may be able to do something different if you have natural weapons), so it’s hard to go all-in on piercing damage.
  • Polearm MasterPHB: Quarterstaffs and spears (spear was added in the 2018 errata) are the only polearms a Monk can use, and half of the feat’s effect is redundant with Martial Arts because they both use your bonus action.
  • ResilientPHB: Monks get Diamond Soul, so this will be redundant.
  • Ritual CasterPHB: Rituals are a fantastic addition to any party, but monks need too many Ability Score Increases to take a feat which doesn’t directly complement their build.
  • SentinelPHB: Great for keeping enemies from escaping you. Shadow Monks might find this especially useful for killing enemies inside the area of Silence.
  • SkilledPHB: If you want additional skills, try to get them from your racial traits. The Monk needs too many Ability Score Increases to give one up for proficiencies which you could get elsewhere.
  • Skill ExpertTCoE: The +1 ability increase reduces the cost to fit this into your build, and the expertise and the additional proficiency can reduce the skill gap between the Monk and the Rogue, allowing you to more effectively serve as your party’s Scout.
  • 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.

    For more advice on Spell Sniper, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Tavern BrawlerPHB: Conflicts with Martial Arts, and you won’t have the Strength to make Athletics work.
  • ToughPHB: Monks really need help with hit points, so this is very tempting.
  • Weapon MasterPHB: You get all of the weapon proficiencies that you absolutely need to function, but there is some room for this if you’re using the Dedicated Weapon Optional Class Feature. Four weapons will get you the shortbow, the whip, and two other options like the longsword, and with Dedicated Weapon you can pick a weapon and make it a monk weapon. Use the shortbow if you want to be useful at range. Use the Whip if you want reach and don’t mind using your Martial Arts die. Use the Longsword if you just need more damage (remember that you can use it two-handed to get 1d10 damage with Versatile). This can also get you a +1 to Dexterity, making it a tempting 1st-level feat option for the Custom Lineage and the Variant Human. Of course, you could also play a race that has weapon proficiencies already and replace them using the Customizing Your Origin rules.

Monk 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.

  • 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.

Weapon for Dedicated Weapon

Provided that you’re using the Dedicated Weapon Optional Class Feature, you weapon options are expanded considerably beyond the typical set of monk weapons. However, the limitation on weapon traits means that in a practical sense there is a limited number of truly optimal weapons. You’ll need to find weapon proficiencies somewhere, but between racial traits, feats, and multiclassing, you have plenty of options. Unfortunately you can only have one Dedicated Weapon at a time, but if you can get the proficiencies you can change weapons daily to get whatever suits your needs at the time.

Your first and most obvious choice is a weapon that can exceed the damage of a spear. Since you can’t use weapons with the Two-Handed trait, your best bet is a Versatile (1d10) weapon like the Battle Axe, the Longsword, or the Warhammer. I typically prefer a slashing weapon because your unarmed strikes are probably locked into bludgeoning damage. Going straight to 1d10 damage at level 2 means that you’re getting as much damage as the Monk’s best Martial Arts damage die, which feels pretty good at level 2.

Second you should address the issue of ranged combat. The Monk’s best ranged options are normally crossbows and darts, and those aren’t fantastic options. I recommend getting a shortbow. If nothing else, you can use Extra Attack without worrying about the Loading property or how to draw darts fast enough. If you use the Focused Aim Optional Class Feature, you can trigger Ki-Fueled Attack and make an attack with your shortbow as a Bonus Action. It’s not perfect, but that goes a long way to improve the Monk’s capabilities in ranged combat. Most monks won’t match the Kensei’s capabilities with a bow, but that’s to be expected since the Kensei is supposed to be the best monk at using weapons.

If you have additional proficiencies (most sources of weapon proficiencies will provided three or more), you’ve got some flexibility. I recommend the Whip because it gives you easy access to Reach. The damage die is small, but your Martial Arts die raises it to be in line with similar weapons, so the trade is less harsh. The ability to make hit-and-run attacks while remaining out of enemies reach is a great tactical option for the Monk, especially if you have a durable ally to discourage enemies from chasing you.

If you can fit a feat into your build, Gunner makes firearms a possibility. Making a musket your dedicated weapon gives you a good ranged option that you use within melee reach and also gives you a +1 Dexterity increase so it’s easy to fit into your build despite the Monk’s MAD issues.

Monk Armor

Monks need armor even less than Wizards.

Multiclassing

This section briefly details some obvious and enticing multiclass options, but doesn’t fully explore the broad range of multiclassing combinations. For more on multiclassing, see my Practical Guide to Multiclassing.

  • Barbarian: Barbarians also get Unarmored Defense, but since both set your AC instead of providing a bonus, they don’t work together. Generally you can choose to use whichever provides a higher AC. 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 hard choice. The Kensei and the Drunken Master don’t need Wisdom for much, so if you don’t mind Stunning Strike being unreliable you can take a dip into barbarian and then ignore Wisdom.
  • Fighter: Fighting Style (Unarmed Fighting) is tempting if you want to include grappling in your tactics, though many monks may find that difficult because the class is Dexterity-based. Fighting Style (Dueling) doesn’t apply to unarmed strikes since you’re not using a weapon.
  • 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.

Monk Magic Items

Common Magic Items

  • Staff of Adornment/Birdcalls/FlowersXGtE: Works as a quarterstaff, and it can overcome damage resistances to non-magical attacks. The actual magic stuff is amusing, but probably not important. You could use a Moon-Touched Sword instead, but two-handing a staff deals more damage.

Uncommon Magic Items

  • Boots of ElvenkindDMG: Helpful on any stealthy character, though not effective as a Cloak of Elvenkind. Combine with a Cloak of Elvenkind for maximum effect.
  • Broom of FlyingDMG: Easily overlooked, but one of the best ways to get flight for any character. It doesn’t require attunement, and has a fly speed of 50 feet, though many medium characters will exceed the 200 pound limit to reduce the speed to 30 feet, but even then 30 feet fly speed with no duration cap and requiring no action after speaking the command word is absolutely incredible. The only drawback is that you’re using the item’s speed rather than giving yourself a fly speed, so things that improve your speed won’t make the broom move faster, and you can’t Dash with the broom. Even so, I honestly can’t justify why this is only Uncommon considering how exceptionally good it is.
  • Cloak of ElvenkindDMG: Essential on any stealthy character. Creatures attempting to detect you suffer Disadvantage, and you gain Advantage on Stealth checks to avoid being seen, so you get two layers of protection against creatures detecting you.
  • Cloak of ProtectionDMG: Good on any character, but it requires Attunement and it’s not very interesting.
  • Eldritch Claw TattooTCoE: While monks already get to treat their unarmed strikes as magic weapons, they have few options to add additional effects to their unarmed strikes which other martial characters can get from magic weapons. The +1 to attacks and damage is a significant boost to damage output, and the Eldritch Maul property allows you to temporarily engage enemies while remaining outside of melee reach.
  • Eyes of the EagleDMG: Perception is the most frequently rolled skill in the game, and you are likely the person in the party who is best at it (provided that you got proficiency from your race or your background). Advantage provides a great deal of insurance and protection against ambushes and other surprises.
  • Gloves of ThieveryDMG: Easily replaced by the Enhance Ability spell, but still helpful for stealthy characters.
  • Goggles of NightDMG: Crucial for races which don’t get Darkvision, especially if your party can’t cast the Darkvision spell for you.
  • Lantern of RevealingDMG: An excellent counter to invisibile enemies for a class without a built-in way to handle them.
  • Stone of Good LuckDMG: Excellent on literally any character, but if you just want better defense a Cloak of Protection may be more effective. Stone of Good Luck shines if you’re heavily reliant on skills and ability checks.
  • Weapon, +1DMG: A +1 spear or a +1 quarterstaff will yield significanly improved damage output for most monks. Sure, it won’t apply to your Bonus Action attacks, but it’s still helpful.
  • Winged BootsDMG: Monks can easily exceed the Broom of Flying’s 50-foot speed, so matching your land speed can make you an exceptionally fast flying. That trade in speed may be enough to make the Winged Boots more appealing than the Broom of Flying.

Rare Magic Items

  • Amulet of HealthDMG: Setting your Constitution to 19 means that you don’t need to put Ability Score Increases into it unless you’re really certain that you want 20 Constitution. Less ASI’s into Constitution means that you can focus on increasing your Dexterity and your Wisdom to 20, which is a massive benefit for a class as MAD as the Monk.
  • Armor of ResistanceDMG: Excellent, but unpredictable in most games since you can’t perfectly predict what sort of damage you’ll face. Fire is a safe choice.
  • Belt of Giant Strength (Hill)DMG: Maybe useful if you want to grapple, but otherwise Strength does very little for the Monk.
  • Bracers of DefenseDMG: As much AC as a shield, though given the choice you might prefer a Cloak or Ring of Protection.
  • Cloak of DisplacementDMG: Among the best defensive items in the game. Taking damage from any source (spells, etc.) suppresses the effect temporarily, so make a point to kill anything that can damage you without an attack roll.
  • Periapt of Proof Against PoisonDMG: Poison damage is very common across the full level range, so immunity to it is a significant improvement in your durability.
  • Ring of EvasionDMG: A great way to mitigate damage from AOE spells and things like breath weapons which can often be problems from front-line martial characters, especially if you’re not build around Dexterity.
  • Ring of ProtectionDMG: Cloak of Protection is lower rarity and has the same effect.
  • Ring of ResistanceDMG: A fine item in a vaccuum, but a Ring of Spell Storing full of Absorb Elements will be much more effective.
  • Ring of Spell StoringDMG: Fill it with Absorb Elements and Shield, and recharge it whenever possible and this is a spectacular defensive asset.
  • Shadowfell Brand TattooDMG: A Cloak of Elvenkind will technically be better at keeping you hidden because it also imposes Disadvantage on Perception checks to notice you, but this is still great. Shadowy Defense provides an effect similar to the Rogue’s Uncanny Dodge, allowing you mitigate a big pile of damage (a spell, a critical hit, etc.) once per day.
  • Weapon, +2DMG: Mathematically spectacular. It’s difficult to beat the math here.
  • Wings of FlyingDMG: Broom of Flying is much better, lower rarity, and doesn’t require attunement.

Very Rare Magic Items

  • Absorbing TattooTCoE: Good, but too high rarity to devote to a single damage type. Get a Ring of Spell Storing and fill it with Absorb Elements.
  • Animated ShieldDMG: This appears to work without affecting your class features, but Braces of Defense are one raritys lower, work persistently, and provide the same benefit.
  • Belt of Giant Strength (Frost, Stone, Fire)DMG: Much like a +X weapon, it’s hard to beat the math here. For a Strength-based character, raising your Strength above 20 is a massive benefit, and going up as high as 25 is spectacular. Add a +X weapon on top of that, and you hit so reliably that you almost can’t miss with your attacks.
  • Manual of Bodily HealthDMG: Permanent Constitution bonus and raises your cap by 2. Unless you’re using a magic item that fixes your Constitution as a specific score, this is excellent.
  • Manual of Quickness of ActionDMG: It’s difficult to find an item more broadly effective for the Monk.
  • Staff of Thunder and LightningDMG: Effectively a +2 quarterstaff with some active abilities. Lightning Strike and Thunderclap provide area damage options which the Monk typically can’t replicate (though Way of the Four Elements and Way of the Sun Soul are exceptions), so this is a great go-to option on nearly any monk. It’s more complicated than a +3 quarterstaff, but if you can make good use of the active abilities it’s worth the loss of a +1 bonus to attack and damage.
  • Tome of UnderstandingDMG: Permanent Wisdom bonus and raises your cap by 2. Manual of Quickness of Action is more important for the majority of monks, but this is is a very close second.
  • Weapon, +3DMG: Mathematically spectacular. It’s difficult to beat the math here.

Legendary Magic Items

  • Blood Fury TattooTCoE: The first ability provides a great damage boost which also heals you, and since it’s “extra damage” the damage is multiplied on a critical hit. The second ability provides a way to counterattack using your Reaction, and with Advantage on that attack it’s an easy and reliable boost to your damage output.
  • Cloak of InvisibilityDMG: Invisibility is extremely powerful in 5e. Note that this is just the invisible condition, not the spell spell Invisibility, so you can still attack or whatever while invisible. Unless you’re playing a Defender and actively trying to draw attacks away from your allies, this is absolutely amazing.
  • Ioun Stone (Mastery)DMG: Proficiency Bonuses apply to a lot of things and a +1 bonus goes a long way. Attacks, saves (remember that you’re proficienct with all of them), skills, etc. all benefit.
  • Ring of InvisibilityDMG: Cloak of Invisibility and Ring of Invisibility are very similar, but there is some important nuance to understand. Ring of Invisibility can make you indefinitely invisible, allowing you to do anything except attack and cast spells without breaking your invisibility. Use a breath weapon, activate items (as long as doing so doesn’t make you cast a spell), steal things, use the Help action, pick locks, disarm traps, take long rests, etc. can all be done while totally invisible without limit. However, the second you roll initiative the Cloak of Invisibility becomes more powerful because its invisibility isn’t broken by you attacking or casting spells.
  • Ring of Spell TurningDMG: Given the choice, I would much rather haqve a Mantle of Spell Resistance simply because the Ring of Spell Turning doesn’t provide any protection against area effect spells. Otherwise, this is a really fun item, and if it provided Advantage on saves against area of effect spells it would shoot straight up to blue.
  • Ring of Three WishesDMG: Use this to do one of the things that risks permanently removing the ability to cast Wish, such as granting 10 creatures permanent resistance to once damage type. If you lose the ability to cast Wish, pass this off to another ally who will never be able to cast Wish by any other means. Repeat until the last charge is used.

    For more help with Wish, see my Practical Guide to Wish.

  • Scarab of ProtectionDMG: An upgrade from the Mantle of Spell Resistance, the Scarab of Protection adds a limited benefit against necromancy and undead creatures, and doesn’t take up your cloak slot, leaving you free to take items like a Cloak of Protection or Cloak of Invisibility instead.

Example Monk Build – Human Monk (Open Hand)

Tatu Searis the Human Way of the Open Hand Monk

The bald-headed human wears little clothing, and carries even less. No armor weighs them down, no blade hangs at their hip. Garbed in loose-fitting, comfortable yet functional clothes, they carry a simple quarterstaff, its haft smooth from years of constant use. Despite their unassuming, undecorated appearance and lack of obvious weaponry, you can’t help but notice the grace with which they move, the fluidity with which they sweep that staff through the air, and the coiled muscles beneath the simple garb.

— Boxed text provided by dScryb (affiliate link)

This is a “Staple Build”. This build is simple, and relies on options from the SRD and the Basic Rules wherever possible. If you need a functional build with nothing fancy or complicated, this is a great place to start.

The Open Hand Monk is a solid striker with a nice mix of melee capabilities.

Abilities

We will assume the point buy abilities suggested above.

 BaseIncreased
Str910
Dex1516
Con1314
Int1112
Wis1516
Cha89

Race

Human is by far the simplest race. The base human is a tempting option for classes which rely on multiple abilities, and no class is more reliant on multiple ability scores than the Monk. So: This will be the only staple build where we employ the human.

Skills and Tools

We’ll take Insight and Stealth. Insight will help us be useful in social situations, and Stealth helps us to serve as a scout. If you get a redundant proficiency from your background, get Perception to capitalize on your Wisdom. You might also consider getting Athletics proficiency so that you can be better at grappling.

Background

None of the backgrounds included in the Basic Rules work especially well for the Monk, unfortunately. Criminal is probably our best option. Deception isn’t a great skill for a Monk, but Stealth and Thieves’ Tools lets us stand in for a Rogue very nicely. Acolyte is passable, but with poor Charisma I don’t know what we would do with two languages.

Feats

Monks are one of the few martial classes where feats aren’t a universally good idea. The Monk needs three high ability scores, so other than Variant Human there isn’t usually a good time to take a feat. Once you have maxed out your Dexterity and Wisdom, it may be more beneficial to take Tough than a Constitution increase, but if you stick to increasing your ability scores you’ll do just fine.

Levels

LevelFeat(s) and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
1– Unarmored Defense
– Martial Arts
For your starting gear, take a simple weapon (a spear, specifically), either pack, and 10 darts. That’s not a lot of gear, and weirdly doesn’t include clothing. Unless your background comes with clothes, you may start without pants or shoes.

The Monk is really solid at 1st level. Unarmored Defense with the ability scores we selected gives you an AC of 16, matching a fighter in heavy armor (ignoring the possibility of a shield). Martial Arts gives you two attacks per turn, and with a spear in hand your damage output is very solid. It’s important to understand how useful a spear is, especially at this level. You can use it two-handed and perform unarmed strikes by kicking people or something, so you get one attack that deals 1d8+3 and your extra Martial Arts attack deals 1d4+3.
2– Ki
– Unarmored Movement
After spending a level being a martial artist, we now get Ki and we start to really feel like a monk. Flurry of Blows will probably eat most of your Ki Points, but don’t blow through it too quickly. You only have 2 points, and while they recharge on a short rest, you probably can’t afford to use them every round.
3– Monastic Tradition: Way of the Open Hand
– Open Hand Technique
– Deflect Missiles
Open Hand Technique offers some fun tactical options. Pushing enemies 15 feet away is an easy way to escape a grapple, and preventing an enemy from taking reactions means that you rarely need to take the Disengage action. The option to knock enemies prone is the most tempting option, but remember that Flurry of Blows takes place after you complete your Attack action, so you probably won’t benefit from knocking the target prone unless you’re already grappling it to prevent it from standing.
4– Ability Score Improvement (Dexterity 16 -> 18)
– Slow Fall
With up to three attacks per turn, a Dexterity increase gets a lot of mileage. Monks are notably the only class which gets a new class feature at 4th level, which is neat but doesn’t really change anything.
5– Extra Attack
– Stunning Strike
Extra Attack brings you to 3 attacks nearly every turn, and with 5 Ki points to spend between short rests you can afford to perform a Flurry of Blows frequently. Extra Attack also means that you get to use the better damage die from your spear more frequently, but your unarmed strike damage also increases to 1d6 at this level so the damage gap is shrinking.

Stunning Strike is crucial to playing the Monk effectively. Stunning a creature robs them of their turn, they fail Strength and Dexterity saving throws, and you get Advantage on attacks against them until the end of your next turn.

If you can stun an enemy on your first attack, you can follow up with Flurry of Blows to hit them with Open Hand Technique and knock them prone or push them away, and you make all of those attacks at Advantage. Unfortunately they can still move, so they can stand on their own turn even if they don’t take any actions, but even if they stumble away you still have until the end of your next turn to attack them with Advantage. Pile on the attacks.
6– Ki-Empowered Strikes
– Wholeness of Body
By this level enemies with resistance to weapon damage from non-magical attacks are increasingly common, and since unarmed strikes aren’t a weapon they can’t benefit from spells like Magic Weapon.

Wholeness of Body isn’t terribly exciting, but it’s a big pile of healing as an action so you can use it in combat in a pinch. If you’re in a really rough spot, use Wholeness of Body and spend a Ki Point to Dodge as a bonus action.
7– Evasion
– Stillness of Mind
As a front-line melee character you’re going to be targeted by AOE damage effects. Evasion helps to mitigate the damage, which is great since you don’t have the Fighter’s d10 hit points.

Stillness of Mind is better than you might except. A huge number of effects make a creature charmed, including many that don’t seem like charm effects, and this allows you to easily escape those effects.
8– Ability Score Improvement (Dexterity 18 -> 20)Maximizing your Dexterity brings your AC to 18, matching a fighter in full plate armor, and with up to four attacks per turn your damage output is considerably higher.
9– Unarmored Movement ImprovementThe improved version of Unarmored Movement allows you to move up vertical surfaces like walls, and across the surface of water. You want to end your turn on solid ground, but between the Monk’s increased speed, Step of the Wind, and Dash, you can run 135 ft. straight up a wall in one turn.
10– Purity of BodyPoison is common across the whole level range, and immunity to it helps to stretch your d8 hit points.
11– TranquilityTranquility gives you the option of being a pacifist. The save DC won’t match a spellcaster’s, but it should be good enough to protect you sometimes. Keep in mind that once you attack you’re done playing a pacifist for the day, so on some days you may need to wake up and immediately choose violence.
12– Ability Score Improvement (Wisdom 16 -> 18)Improve your DCs and your AC.
13– Tongue of the Sun and MoonThe ability to speak with everything is neat, but with dumped Charisma I don’t know how much good it will do.
14– Diamond Soul Between Diamond Soul, Evasion, Still Mind, and good ability scores, you’re exceptionally difficult to hurt. Enemies’ best bet is to attack you, but with 19 AC you’re reasonably hard to hit. You have 14 Ki points at this level, so don’t hesitate to use Diamond Soul to re-roll a saving throw.
15– Timeless BodyTimeless Body doesn’t matter much, but there are a handful of effects that can kill you by magically aging you.
16– Ability Score Improvement (Wisdom 18 -> 20)With maximized Wisdom, your AC now sits at 20, matching a character in full plate with a shield.
17– Quivering PalmQuivering Palm is a save-or-die effect, plain and simple. 3 Ki points is a lot, but it’s well worth the cost. Even if the target succeeds on the save, it’s still an average of 55 damage, which is enough to be a serious problem for a creature that has already taken a lot of damage.
18– Empty BodyRemember that this is invisible as the condition, not as the invisibility spell. You’re free to attack as much as you like, generally doing so with Advantage since enemies usually won’t be able to see you.
19– Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 14 -> 16)At this level a Constitution increase comes with a big pile of extra hit points.
20– Perfect SelfAt this level you have 20 Ki Points, so you’re probably spending a Ki Point every turn. Perfect Self helps if you get surprised by an encounter before you’ve had a chance to rest and recharge.