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DnD 5e - The Monk Handbook

Last Updated: March 29th, 2021

TEMPORARY NOTE: RPGBOT is undergoing a massive update for DnD 5e content to accommodate rules changes and new content introduced by Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Please be patient while these changes are made. I maintain this site as a hobby, and I got access to the book on the same day as everyone else and I am rushing to catch up as quickly as I can. Please check "Last Updated" date below the title of each page. If it was updated before November 17th, it has not been updated to include the new content. To see what I still need to complete to catch up with Tasha's, see my To-Do List. To watch for ongoing updates, please follow me on Twitter.


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.
  • 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.

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I 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.


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.

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 daunting. 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.
  • Patient Defense: When your health is low this is a great fall-back 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, 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.

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 Everyting, 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 only works if 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 Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 15
  • Cha: 8
  • Str: 12
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 13
  • Cha: 8


Dexterity bonuses are priority 1. Wisdom bonuses are nice too, and bonuses to Constitution are very helpful. Additional skills are great if you want to play a Scout since the Monk's list of skill choices is so limited and with only the standard 2 skills, the Monk will find it difficult to match the Rogue's skill capabilities. You may also look for ways to make yourself more durable to help keep yourself alive at low levels before you can increase your ability scores.

Note that setting-specific races like the Changeling and the Satyr are addressed in setting-specific sections, below.


Customized Origin: The Aarakocra's ability score increases are already perfect for the Monk, so my advice under the default rules still applies.

Default Rules: Dexterity, Wisdom, and flight. Monks are locked into melee combat, and without a build-in way to fly that's a huge problem whene enemies start flying. The Aarakocra will make an excellent ranged Kensei, but once you're in melee with enemies that can't fly, the Aarakocra is little better than the Wood Elf or any other race with similar ability score increases. The Monk's speed bonus notably applies to all of your natural movement speeds, so the Aarakocra is able to achieve truly incredible fly speeds.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), Darkvision, and two damage resistances. Healing Hands offers minor healing which is helpful on any character, but won't be especally impactful beyond low levels. The biggest draw is the subraces' transformations, which vary by subrace but all provide a short-duration combat buff.

  • Fallen: Necrotic Shroud offers a nice crowd control option, which is helpful because the Monk doesn't have a good way to handle crowds. However, the DC is Charisma-based so many enemies will be able to resist it reliably.
  • Protector: Conveniently solves the problem of flight enough times in a day that you don't need to worry about flying in combat.
  • Scourge: With d8 hit dice, the Monk doesn't have enough hit points to gamble them.

Default Rules:

  • Fallen: Bad ability spread.
  • Protector: The Wisdom increase is not enough.
  • Scourge: Bad ability spread.

Aasimar (DMG Variant)DMG

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, two damage resistances, and some innate spellcasting. Lesser Restoration fills a crucial role in any party, and combined with hit dice and possibly the Quickened Healing Optional Class Feature you can get pretty far without having access to a cleric or a similar healer.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread. You do get a Wisdom increase, damage resistances, and some interesting innate spellcasting, but Way of the Astral Self is the only subrace which won't suffer from the lack of a Dexterity increase.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, one skill. Long-limbed works very well for the Monk, allowing you to easily adopt hit-and-run tactics without going to lengths to get access to reach by other means like using a whip or Way of the Astral Self's arms. Between those capabilities and Surprise Attack, the Bugbear makes an effective high-DPS, sneaky rogue equivalent. Way of Shadow is an obvious choice, but most subclasses will work.

Default Rules: Reach is hard for most monks to get (though it's available with whips thanks to the Dedicated Weapon Optional Class Feature, and Way of the Astral Self gets reach), but reach and a small Dexterity increase are the only things that the bugbear has to offer that specifically cater to the Monk. Surprise attack is a nice damage boost, especially at low levels, but it's little better for the Monk than for any other class.

Custom LineageTCoE

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Custom Lineage.

Default Rules: The Variant Human's split increases are typically a better fit for the Monk, but the Custom Lineage is absolutely viable. I recommend looking for feats which provide an increase to one of your ability scores so that you can get increases to both Dexterity and Wisdom.


The Draconblood and Ravenite subraces are addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, damage resistance, and the breath weapon offers an effective way to handle crowds which monks often can't replicate.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.


Customized Origin: One +2 increase and a second from your subrace, Darkvision, four weapons, and one tool. Poison Resilience is great, but will be redundant once you become immune to poison at 10th level. Trade the weapons to get options like whips and shortbows, and trade the tool for Thieves' Tools.

  • DuergarSCAG: Another +1 increase, Superior Darkvision, and some interesting innate spellcasting, but you're also stuck with Sunlight Sensitivity. Keep in mind that Enlarge/Reduce's enlarge option only adds a damage bonus for actual weapons, so you don't get more damage with unarmed strikes.
  • HillPHB: Another +1 increase, and the additional hit points will close the gap between the Fighter and the Monk. It's not super exciting, but it works reasonably well.
  • MountainPHB: A second +2 increase, and two armor proficiencies that you can trade for weapons or tools. The second +2 increase is really tempting on a class which is so dependent on Ability Score Increases. Starting with two ability scores at 17 is a great foundation, allowing you to max out Dexterity and Wisdom four levels earlier than most monks.

Default Rules: The Constitution bonus is nice, but many of the Dwarf's abilities are either useless or redundant for the Monk. The Dwarven Fortitude racial feat has a neat side-effect: you can use Ki to Dodge as a bonus action, which still allows you to spend a hit die to heal.

  • DuergarSCAG: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • HillPHB: A bit of Wisdom and the bonus hit points do quite a bit to improve the Monk's durability, but you really need a Dexterity increase.
  • MountainPHB: Bad ability spread.


The Palid Elf subrace is addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), Darkvision, one skill (which you should leave as Perception). The Elf needs to compete with the half-elf's three ability score increases and access to the Elf's subrace traits via variants.

  • DrowPHB: Superior Darkvision is great, but Sunlight Sensitivity is hard and the Innate Spellcasting is Charisma-based which is hard for the Monk. If you just want to be able to cast Darkness, consider Way of Shadow. If you're determined to get the innate spellcating, Half-Elf is a better fit for the Monk.
  • EladrinMToF: Easy teleportation is a huge benefit for a class that's almost always locked into melee. However, the rider effects on the teleportation are Charisma-based so few of them are useful for the Monk.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: Teleportation as often as the regular Eladrin, but you give up the rider effect for four weapon proficiencies. If you plan to use the Dedicated Weapon Optional Class Feature, that's a good trade. Otherwise, I would consider the Shadar-Kai first.
  • High ElfPHB: A wizard cantrip does almost nothing to help the Monk, and using melee cantrips like Booming Blade prevents you from using features like Martial Arts.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: Only in an aquatic campaign, and even then there are better aquatic racial options like the Triton.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Damage resistance, and a once per day teleport. Damage resistance after you teleport is great for the Monk, especially if you're jumping into melee alone.
  • Wood ElfPHB: Perfectly fine, but with perfect ability scores accessible for every race the Wood Elf loses much of its appeal. Mask of the Wild is only situationally useful and 5 ft. better speed hardly matters for the Monk. I would consider the Variant Eladrin first.

Default Rules: Good ability bonuses, and Perception helps to capitalize on the Monk' excellent Wisdom. The Elven Accuracy facial feat is tempting, but monks survive on making numerous attacks rather than putting a bunch of effort behind a single attack.

  • DrowPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • EladrinMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: Bad ability spread.
  • High Elf: A wizard cantrip does almost nothing to help the Monk, and using melee cantrips like Booming Blade prevents you from using features like Martial Arts.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Constitution is nice, and the Monk's move speed bonus will also increase your swim speed. Reasonably effective, even in a land-locked campaign, but any other race with similar ability score increases will be more effective.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Dexterity and Constitution is a good combination for the Monk, and teleportation is great, but the Wood Elf is still a better choice.
  • Wood ElfPHB: Wisdom, access to bows, bonus speed, and Mask of the Wild is very helpful for Shadow Monks during the day.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases. Hidden Step is nice, but Invisibility is available as an innate spell on several races. The nature-themed abilities aren't especially helpful for the Monk.

Default Rules: A Wisdom increase and some innate spellcasting. Hidden Step is nice and the rest is interesting, but lack of a Dexterity increase is difficult and few of the features complement the Monk's capabilities.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), but the vast majority of the Genasi's traits come from the subraces.

  • Air: If you need to breath underwater, go for an aquatic race. Levitate is borderline useless.
  • Earth: Pass Without Trace isn't usable often enough to justify this, and difficult terrain is much less of a problem with the Monk's incredible speed.
  • Fire: Damage resistance, and the innate spellcasting is Constitution-based so it may not be totally useless depending on how you arrange your ability scores.
  • Water: Damage resistance and you can cast Shape Water. That's decent, but unless you're in an aquatic campaign you lose too many of the race's benefits. Even underwater, you can likely find a more effective race option.

Default Rules: Bonus Constitution goes a long way to help the Monk's durability.

  • Air: A bit of Dexterity is always nice, but essentially the only things that matter are the ability score increases and you can do better with numerous other races.
  • Earth: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • Fire: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • Water: A bit of Wisdom, resistance to a common energy type, and some cool spells. A decent combination, especially in an aquatic campaign, but lack of a Dexterity increase is hard.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +2), but the bulk of your notable racial traits come from your subrace.

  • Githyanki: One skill or tool, three weapon proficiencies, and two armor proficiencies that you can trade for more tools. The innate spellcasting is neat, but you're mostly only concerned with Misty Step so in a lot of ways the Githyank is similar to the Variant Eladrin.
  • Githzerai: A good defensive complement to the Monk's other defenses. Charm and fear effects are common, and Shield is a wonderful supplement to your AC at low levels before your AC catches up to other front-line classes.

Default Rules: The Intelligence increase is wasted on the Monk.

  • GithyankiMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • GithzeraiMToF: The Wisdom is nice, but the rest of the Githzerai's traits aren't good enough to make up for the lack of a Dexterity increase.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace offers a +1 increase), Darkvision, and Gnome Cunning.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Superior Darkvision and Stone Camouflage. A good option for a stealthy monk in a subterranean campaign, and you're not stuck with Sunlight Sensitivity like most underdark races.
  • ForestPHB: You're basically here for Minor Illusion. it's a great spell, but it doesn't make you a better monk.
  • RockPHB: Tinker is a novelty, but it's not especially useful.

Default Rules: The Intelligence increase is wasted, but Gnome Cunning is helpful.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • ForestPHB: A bit of Dexterity is very helpful, but I don't think it's enough to make the Forest Gnome a good option. Without increases to Constitution or Wisdom, you're going to be incredibly frail.
  • RockPHB: The Constitution increase isn't enough. Tinker is novel, but not very useful.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision. Nimble Escape is somewhat redundant with what you can do with Ki, but if you're planning to rely on hit-and-run tactics it can save you a lot of Ki. Fury of the Small provides a nice damage bonus.

Default Rules: Fantastic ability increases and abnormally fast for a small character (though with the Monk's increased speed that doesn't matter much). Nimble Escape will compete with Martial Arts for your Bonus Action, but it offers helpful options which normally cost the monk Ki. Fury of The Small is good, too, though it only works once so it won't be a huge improvement to your damage output.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, damage resistance, and one skill. Stone's Endurance can reduce quite a bit of damage, which helps close the durability gap between the Monk and other front-line classes like the Fighter.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.


Customized Origin: Three ability score increases is hard to beat for the Monk, and the abundance of options to replace the standard Half-Elf's two skills means that you have several options to choose from.

  • Aquatic Half-ElfSCAG: Only in an aquatic campaign.
  • Drow Half-ElfSCAG: The innate spellcasting is neat, but it's Charisma-based. If you just want Darkness, play Way of Shadow.
  • High Half-ElfSCAG: Wizard cantrips won't help the Monk. Utility options will work fine, but they don't improve your capabilities as a monk.
  • Standard Half-ElfPHB: Two skills does a lot to close the skill gap between the Monk and the Rogue, allowing you to more easily function as a Scout.
  • Wood Half-ElfSCAG: The weapon proficiencies are tempting, but given the choice I think the standard half-elf's skill proficiencies will be more impactful.

Default Rules: The half-elf's ability score increases are nice, but the Variant Human gets the same flexible increases, so the choice between the two comes down to the half-elf variant you choose compared to a feat for the Variant Human.

  • Aquatic Half-ElfSCAG: Only in an aquatic campaign, and in that case the Sea Elf is a better choice.
  • Drow Half-ElfSCAG: The magical options are tempting on a mostly non-magical class, but the spellcasting is Charisma-based, which is a hard choice.
  • High Half-ElfSCAG: Monks don't have a good use for wizard cantrips, and using cantrips like Booming Blade actively works against the Monk's class features.
  • Standard Half-ElfPHB: Two skills can help fill in gaps if you're trying to serve as your party's Scout, but at that point go Variant Human and take either Skilled or Skill Prodigy.
  • Wood Half-ElfSCAG: The only tempting option is the weapon proficiencies, but at that point go for Variant Human and take Weapon Master.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, one skill. Relentless Endurance is great for a front-line character, especially with Monk's relatively frailty. Brutal Critical is neat, but depends heavily on the size of your damage die. It can work for the Kensei since you're likely using somethin with a d10 damage die, and it might work if you're using Dedicated Weapon with a longsword or something, but you'll still be using your relatively small damage die for your Bonus Action attacks for most of your career so the benefits may not be as impactful as you'd like.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Lucky, and Brave. Lucky is great since the Monk makes so many attacks per turn.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: The ability to communicate telepathically is great for a sneaky monk.
  • LightfootPHB: Naturally Stealthy is hard to use without the ability to hide effectively in combat. You could assemble a build by dipping into the Rogue for Cunning Action, but for a single-class monk the Lightfoot Halfling doesn't do much to help you.
  • StoutPHB: Poison Resilience is redundant once you become immune to poison at level 10, so your subrace trait is effectively negated for just over half of the level range.

Default Rules: Good Dexterity, and Lucky is fantastic when you make as many attack rolls as a Monk does.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: Ghostwise isn't an especially interesting choice for a monk, but the ability score increases are perfect.
  • LightfootPHB: Naturally Stealthy is tempting, but the Charisma bonus is totally wasted unless you put in some effort to build Face skills into your character, which will come at great expense to your capabilities in combat.
  • StoutPHB: The Constitution bonus is nice, but Stout Resilience is redundant for the Monk.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, two weapons, and armor that you can trade for a tool. Saving Face is the Hobgoblin's distinguishing feature, and it's a great way to recover from a failed saving throw but I wouldn't waste it on an attack roll.

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


Customized Origin:

  • Standard: With perfect ability scores on the table for every race, there is no reason to play the Standard Human.
  • Variant: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Variant Human.

Default Rules:

  • Vanilla: Monks have at least minor features which depend on every ability, so if anyone was going to use the vanilla Human, it's the Monk.
  • Variant: Two +1 increases, one skill, and a feat. Feats are very useful for the Monk, but it's hard to fit them into your build because the Monk needs so many Ability Score Increases. Getting a feat from your race makes that much easier, and with the abundance of feat which provide a +1 increase you can even manage +1 to each of the Monk's important ability scores.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills. Expert Forgery and Mimicry are novel but likely not impactful, and numerous other races can match the increases and skills.

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


Customized Origin: While only getting a single increase is definitely a challenge, Pack Tactics is still absolutely incredible for the Monk and easily offsets the lack of a second increase.

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


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, and you can probably use Dexterity for the attack made with Hungry Jaws. The natural armor is high enough that you can match the AC provided by having 16 Wisdom, so theoretically you could build around Dex/Con and disregard Wisdom almost entirely. That's hard for most monk subclasses, but the Kensei and the Drunken Master don't rely on save DCs beyond Stunning Strike so there's at least two ways to build a low-Wisdom monk without crippling yourself.

Default Rules: Despite the lack of a Dexterity increase, the Lizardfolk could make a functional Monk. Natural armor at 13+Dex will match the Monk's Unarmored Defense with the ability scores which you should expect at level 1 and beyond (+2 from Dex, +3 from Wis), so it's not much of a solution. The Constitution increase and Hungry Jaws will make you slightly more durable, and your DM may allow to use Dexterity with Hungry Jaws rather than Strength. To summarize: the Lizardfolk doesn't solve any big problems for the Monk, but it can work if you can get past the lack of a Dexterity increase.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills. The natural armor isn't fantastic, so expect to ignore it, but Leviathan Will provides a long list of condition resistances.

Default Rules: +1 Dexterity is helpful, but Strength is useless for the Monk and the Locathah's Natural Armor isn't good enough to reduce your reliance on Wisdom. Leviathan Will and the additional skills are great additions, too.


Note that errata has corrected the multiple versions of the Orc to all provide the same traits. The Intelligence decrease has been removed, and the Primal Intuition now allows selecting two skills from a list. The Orc of Exandria entry from Explorer's Guide to Wildemount omits the Powerful Build trait, but it's not clear if that was an intentional change.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and two skills. Aggressive does almost nothing for the Monk. You already get excellent speed, and you can spend Ki to Dash as a Bonus Action.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and two skills. You can use your claws with Martial Arts to deal slashing damage, but Feline Agility will rarely matter. Since the monk is already so fast.

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


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and damage resistance. Most subraces/variants will give you innate spellcasting, but the spellcasting is Charisma-based so it's a hard choice for the Monk.

  • AsmodeusPHB/MToF: Hellish Rebuke is at least mildly useful because the target will at least take half damage, but you're basically taking this for Darkness. If you want Darkness that badly, consider Way of Shadow.
  • BaalzebulMToF: Mostly offensive spells.
  • DispaterMToF: Situational utility options. I'm not sure that they make sense on the Monk.
  • FiernaMToF: Too reliant on save DC.
  • GlasyaMToF: An interesting choice for a sneaky monk, this adds some illusion options which can go a long way before your spellcasting ability modifier matters.
  • LevistusMToF: Armor of Agathys will never provide more than 5 temporary hp so it won't last long enough to be impactful. Still, it might be better than Hellish Rebuke on the Asmodeus Tiefling.
  • MammonMToF: All very situational options.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Mage hand is the only part worth having.
  • ZarielMToF: Too dependent on save DC and the smite spells eat your Bonus Action.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: The Customizing Your Origin optional rules make the Feral variant obsolete. All it does is rearrange your ability score increases.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Too reliant on save DC.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Hellish Rebuke will be a more effective choice for the Monk.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Basically equivalent to the Aarakocra, but you trade 20 feet of speed for Darkvision and resistance to fire damage. I think that's a good trade since you're already going to be so fast. Remember that the Monk's bonus speed adds to all of your natural movement speeds.

Default Rules: Vanilla Tieflings aren't great as Monks simply due to their ability scores, but the Feral variant may be enough. Darkvision and Fire resistance are both great, and the innate spellcasting can be very helpful.

  • AsmodeusPHB / MToF: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • BaalzebulMToF: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • DispaterMToF: Feral is better.
  • FiernaMToF: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • GlasyaMToF: Potentially an interesting combination with Way of Shadow Monk, but Feral is probably still better.
  • LevistusMToF: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • MammonMToF: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • ZarielMToF: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: The Intelligence increase is wasted on a Monk, but the Dexterity is nice. According to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, the Feral Variant is compatible with other variants, so if your DM allows it you may be able to use this in conjunction with another useful subrace.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Nothing good for the Monk except flight. Great if you can combine this with Feral, but otherwise skip it.


Customized Origin: You may be able to get away with a Strength-based build as a tortle, but the 17 AC will fall behind once other monks hit level 8 and get a second ability score increase.

Default Rules: Monks are nearly always built on Dexterity and Wisdom, but tortles may be the only race with the ability to overlook Dexterity on a Monk. A monk with enough Dexterity and Wisdom will eventually beat the Tortle's natural armor, but at low levels before you've picked up ability score increases tortles have an advantage.


Customized Origin: Three +1 increases, Darkvision, damage resistance, and some innate spellcasting. Almost certainly the Monk's best aquatic options, but it's good enough that it works on land, too.

Default Rules: Nothing good for the Monk.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and one skill. Black-blood healing is reasonably effective with the Monk's d8 hit dice, so you can stretch your natural healing a little further. Telepathic Insight provides a powerful defense against saves which can often take you out of a fight entirely.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and poison immunity 10 levels earlier than other monks. Magic Resistance is a very powerful defense on top of the Monk's other various resistances and immunities. The innate spellcasting is borderline useless.

Default Rules: Nothing good for the Monk.

Setting-specific races are address below. Not every setting allows every race, and while most races presented in the core rules and in content for the Forgotten Realms can be used in other settings, races specific to settings like Ravnica aren't typically allowed in other settings. Talk to your DM about what races are allowed in your game.

Races of Eberron

BugbearERLW: See above under the general Races section.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills. Shapechanger is the only unique trait on the Changeling, and it's not especially useful for the Monk.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

GoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

HobgoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcERLW: See above under the general Races section.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 resistances. The Kalasthar's mental defenses are excellent, making them a great choice in a campaign which features foes like mind flayers. Their telepathy notable doesn't require creatures to share a language, though that doesn't somehow make you a good Face for the party.

Default Rules: The Wisdom increase is great, and the Kalashtar gains defenses against some stuff which the Monk typically doesn't have an answer to, but it's still a hard proposition without a Dexterity increase.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), Darkvision, one skill, and Shifting. Shifting is activated as a Bonus Action so it can conflict with Martial Arts, but the benefits are frequently worth what you give up.

  • Beasthide: The additional durability is very helpful for the Monk.
  • Longtooth: The additional attack is Strength-based and conflicts with Martial Arts.
  • Swiftstride: Interesting if you enjoy hit-and-run tactics, but there are better and easier ways to accomplish that.
  • Wildhunt: Too situational.

Default Rules: Darkvision is great, but the Monk is heavily reliant on their Bonus Action for things like Martial Arts, so Shifting is a difficult proposition when the benefits do so little for the Monk.

  • Beasthide: Bad ability spread.
  • Longtooth: The bite is redundant with Martial Arts, and since the attack is Strength-based you'll do more damage with Martial Arts.
  • Swiftstride: The Dexterity increase is fine, but the Shifting Feature is pointless for the monk.
  • Wildhunt: Great ability score increases, but the shifting feature is nearly useless for the Monk.


Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Warforged. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: Constitution and a flexible increase work great, and the bonus AC will allow you to reach an AC of 21 totally unequipped. The Warforged's resistances and immunities may overlap with some monk class features, but not so much that it makes the race less viable.


While the design intent for Dragonmarks was that they would offer some innate spellcasting for everyone, every dragonmark includes an expanded spell list which is arguably a more significant benefit than most of the provided racial traits. Because the expanded spell options are such an important part of the dragonmarks, if you're not playing a spellcaster you're giving up a huge part of your racial traits, which makes it exceptionally difficult to justify playing a dragonmark character who can't cast spells.

Dragonmarked DwarfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Warding: Mage Armor may be the only thing here that we care about, and if you have 16 Wisdom even that isn't useful.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Warding: Bad ability spread.
Dragonmarked ElfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Shadow: A good option for a stealthy monk.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Shadow: Definitely a possibility, but a wood elf way of shadow monk could achieve the same capabilities more effectively.
Dragonmarked GnomeERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Scribing: Nothing useful for the Monk.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Scribing: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked Half-ElfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace some of your normal racial traits, as described in the entry for each Dragonmark.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Detection: The skill bonuses are okay, but the only thing that we really care about in the innate spellcasting is See Invisibility.
  • Mark of Storm: Everything you get is very situational, and the innate spellcasting is bad.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Detection: While the ability scores work, the innate spellcasting isn't useful enough and monks have no way to gain access to spellcasting.
  • Mark of Storm: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked Half-OrcERLW

Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: A lot of Wisdom-based stuff, but I don't know if it's enough. Hunter's Mark is the big appeal here, and at one hour per casting it's simply not enough, especially if you lose Concentration.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Finding: Lacking a Dexterity increase is hard for the Monk, and Hunter's Mark once per day isn't enough to justify this as an option.
Dragonmarked HalflingERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Healing: The Halfling's core traits are a good fit for the monk, but the subraces often don't fit well. Mark of Healing offers some limited healing options which go beyond hit point restoration and can help you stand in for a cleric.
  • Mark of Hospitality: The benefits are too situational.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Healing: While the ability scores work, the innate spellcasting isn't useful enough and monks have no way to gain access to spellcasting.
  • Mark of Hospitality: Nothing useful for the Monk.
Dragonmarked HumanERLW

Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your normal racial traits.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: Nothing useful for the Monk.
  • Mark of Making: Nothing useful for the Monk. Magic Weapon looks tempting, but at low levels when it matters most you probably don't have proficiency with Constitution saves, and you can't cast Magic Weapon on your unarmed strikes.
  • Mark of Passage: Basically just a worse version of the Eladrin.
  • Mark of Sentinel: Bonuses with two Wisdom-based skills, Shield once per day, and you can trade places with allies to protect them from attacks. That's a good package on a front-line monk playing their party's Defender.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: While the ability scores work, the innate spellcasting isn't useful enough and monks have no way to gain access to spellcasting.
  • Mark of Making: Bad ability spread, and while you can cast Magic Weapon on a spear or quarterstaff, you can't cast it on your unarmed strikes.
  • Mark of Passage: The ability scores are great, but the innate spellcasting is redundant with Abundant Step and you'll never benefit from the expanded spell list.
  • Mark of Sentinel: Thematically this works very well, but without access to the expanded spell list you're missing many of the benefits and without a Dexterity increase you'll suffer in combat.

Races of Ravnica


Customized Origin: Even with rearranged ability scores, the Centaur's traits are too dependent on Strength.

Default Rules: Strength is borderline useless for the Monk, and Charge is redundant with Martial Arts.

GoblinGGTR: See above under the general Races section.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and resistance to charm and fear effects, but that's all that the monk can use in any meaningful way. The natural armor looks tempting at first glance, but Unarmored Defense will be much more effective.

Default Rules: Constitution and Wisdom is helpful for a Monk, but you'll lag offensively until you pick up some Ability Score Increases to boost your Dexterity.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and one skill. Goring Rush is redundant with Step of the Wind, and since Hammering Horns is Strength-based it's borderline useless for the Monk.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Simic HybridGGTR

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Simic Hybrid. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: Fantastic and versatile, and Animal Enhancement can provide useful options to fill gaps in the Monk's skillset.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, and one tool. The bonus with the skill can be very helpful if it still applies if you go beyond the normal list of skills, and Vedalken provides protection from a huge number of saving throws thanks to Vedalken Dispassion.

Default Rules: Vedalken Dispassion are the only interesting parts of the Vedalken.

Races of Theros

CentaurMOoT: See above under the Races of Ravnica section.

HumanMOoT: See above under the general Races section.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Daunting Roar provides a nice crowd control effect, and the DC is Constitution-based so it should be reasonably effective for many monks.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

MinotaurMOoT: See above under the Ravnica Races section.


Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills, one instrument, and magic resistance. The Satyr is a better fit thank the Yuan-Ti Pureblood since they don't have redundant poison immunity and they get additional skills.

Default Rules: Dexterity and magic resistance.

TritonMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

AasimarEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

BugbearEGtW: See above under the general Races section.


Wildemount presents two new Dragonborn variants, each replacing the standard Dragonborn's ability score increases and damage resistance.

Customized Origin:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Nothing useful for the Monk.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Darkvision and Vengeful Assault are more consistently useful than one damage resistance.

Default Rules:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Bad ability spread.


Wildemount elves share the core traits of PHB elves, but Wildemount adds two new subraces. See above for more information on other elf subraces.

Customized Origin:

  • Pallid ElfEGtW: Decent skill bonuses, but the innate spellcasting can be difficult. Sleep doesn't allow a saving throw, but because you get it at level 3 the 3d8 hit points makes it borderline unusable. Invisibility is great, but that likely isn't enough to make the Pallid Elf a go-to option.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

Default Rules:

  • Pallid Elf: The Wood Elf is a better fit due to their racial traits beyond their ability score increases, but the Pallid Elf is absolutely viable, and the innate spellcasting offers some interesting options.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GenasiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.


Wildemount halflings share the core traits of PHB halflings, but Wildemount adds a new subrace. See above for information on other halfling subraces.

Customized Origin:

  • LotusdenEGtW: The spellcasting is Wisdom-based, so it's reasonably effective for most monks. On top of the Halfling's excellent base racial traits, the Lotusden Halfling is a surprising but certainly effective option.

Default Rules:

  • Lotusden: Dexterity and Wisdom. The Innate spellcasting is neat, too, and since it's Wisdom-based it should be reasonable effective.

HobgoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoliathEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

KenkuEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcEGtW: See above, under "Races of Eberron". Wildemount uses the updated Orc racial traits rather than the original traits published in Volo's Guide to Monsters.

TabaxiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

TortleEGtW: See above under the general Races section.


  • 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.


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.


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 short sword, but Monks get a lot of options which use their reaction already. So it may be difficult to use this frequently.
  • 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 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.

Beyond that there are few interest options, but you can only use one at a time so three is probably more than you'll ever need.


Monks need armor even less than Wizards.


This section briefly details so 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.

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 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.


We will assume the point buy abilities suggested above.

Base Increased
Str 9 10
Dex 15 16
Con 13 14
Int 11 12
Wis 15 16
Cha 8 9


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.


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.


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.


Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
  • 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 and AC of 16, matching a fighter in heavy armor. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 spar more frequently, but your unarmed strike damage also increases to 1d6 at this level so the damage gap is shrinking.

Stunning Strike introduces another costly way to turn your Ki into better attacks. Stunning a creature robs them of their turn, and they fail Strength and Dexterity saving throws, and you get Advantage on attacks against them. If you can stun an enemy on your first attack, they're at Disadvantage when you follow up with Flurry of Blows to hit them with Open Hand Technique and knock them prone or push them away. Unfortunately they can still move, so they can stand on their own turn even if they don't take any actions.

  • 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 pule 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Unarmored Movement Improvement

The 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.

  • Purity of Body

Poison is really common, and immunity to it helps to stretch your d8 hit points.

  • Tranquility

Tranquility 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.

  • Ability Score Improvement (Wisdom 16 -> 18)

Improve your DCs and your AC.

  • Tongue of the Sun and Moon

The ability to speak with everything is neat, but with dumped Charisma I don't know how much good it will do.

  • 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.

  • Timeless Body

Timeless Body doesn't matter much, but there are a handful of effects that can kill you by magically aging you.

  • Ability Score Improvement (Wisdom 18 -> 20)

With maximized Wisdom, your AC now sits at 20, matching a character in full plate with a shield.

  • Quivering Palm

Quivering 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.

  • Empty Body

Remember that this is invisible as the condition, no 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.

  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 14 -> 16)

At this level a Constitution increase comes with a big pile of extra hit points.

  • Perfect Self

At 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.