skip to main content


DnD 5e - The Monk Handbook

Last Updated: March 17th, 2020

TEMPORARY NOTE: RPGBOT is undergoing a massive update for DnD 5e content to accomodate 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. Monks are excellent Defenders and Strikers, and typically fill a role in party as the Fighter-equivalent. However, the Way of Shadow Monk can instead fill the role of the party's Rogue-equivalent.

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

Monk 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 Body, giving them proficiency in all 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, then you'll use your bare hands from then on. 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.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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 Shadow: Employ stealth and magical abilities to evade, surprise, and ambush your foes.
  • 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. 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.

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.

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.


The Monk is all about Dexterity, but if you allow yourself you can easily do a heavily MAD build.

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.

Dex: Dexterity rules the Monk.

Con: With only 1d8 hit points, 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 abilities.

Cha: Dump.

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.

AarakocraEEPC: Dexterity, Wisdom, and flight. Basically the perfect Monk.

AasimarVGTM: Nothing good for the Monk.

  • Fallen: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • Protector: The small Wisdom bonus is not enough to make this worthwhile.
  • Scourge: Nothing good for the Monk.

BugbearVGTM: Reach is hard for monks to get, 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 no better for the Monk than for any other class.

DragonbornPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.

Dwarf: 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.
  • MountainPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.

ElfPHB: Good ability bonus, and Perception helps to capitalize on the Monk's 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.
  • High Elf: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Constitution is nice, and the Monk's move speed bonus will also increase your swim speed.
  • 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.

FirbolgVGTM: A Wisdom increase, and some innate spellcasting which can complement your Monk abilities fairly well.

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

  • Air: A bit of Dexterity is always nice.
  • 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.


  • GithyankiMToF: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • 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.

Gnome: Nothing good for the Monk.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Nothing good for the Monk.
  • ForestPHB: A bit of Dexterity isn't enough.
  • RockPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.

GoblinVGTM: Fantastic ability increases and abnormally fast for a small character. Nimble Escape will conflict with Martial Arts, but it offers helpful options which normally cost the monk Ki to access as a bonus action.

GoliathVGTM/EEPC: Nothing good for the Monk.

Half-Elf: The half-elf's abilities don't do much for the Monk which the variant Human couldn't do better.

  • AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
  • DrowSCAG: The magical options are tempting on a mostly non-magical class, but a full Drow is a better choice.
  • High/Moon/SunSCAG: Monks don't have a good way to make use of Wizard cantrips.
  • Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifies that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
  • WoodSCAG: None of the abilities are useful for a Monk.
  • VanillaPHB: Monks don't do a lot with skills, so two extra skill choices won't help you much.

Half-OrcPHB: Nothing good for the Monk.

HalflingPHB: 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.
  • StoutPHB: The Constitution bonus is nice, but Stout Resilience is redundant for the Monk.

HobgoblinVGTM: 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.

HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • 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: You still get crucial bonuses to your Dexterity and Cosntitution or Wisdom, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1. Depending on your Monastic Tradition, some feats can be very helpful.

KenkuVGTM: 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.

KoboldVGTM: 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.

LizardfolkVGTM: Despite the lack of a Dexterity increase, lizardfolk could make very functional Monks. Natural armor allows you to defer increasing your Wisdom score while you focus on your Dexterity, and the Constitution increase and Hungry Jaws will make you abnormally durable. Bite also has the added benefit of making your unarmed strikes deal abnormally high damage at very low levels, though it won't match the damage dealt by a spear or a quarterstaff used two-handed.

LocathahLR: +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.

OrcVGTM: Nothing good for the Monk.

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

Tiefling: Vanilla Tieflings aren't great as Monks simply due to their ability scores, but look at Feral. Darkvision and Fire resistance are both great, and the bonus spells can be very helpful, especially Hellish Rebuke.

  • 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 Shadow Hand 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.

TortleTP: 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 20 Dexterity and 20 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.

TritonVGTM: Nothing good for the Monk.

VerdanAcInc: Bad ability spread.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGTM: 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.

ChangelingERLW: Bad ability spread.

GoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

HobgoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcERLW: Bad ability spread.

KalashtarERLW: 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.

ShifterERLW: 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.

WarforgedERLW: 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.

  • Mark of Warding: Bad ability spread

Dragonmarked ElfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

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

Dragonmarked GnomeERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 good for the Monk.

Dragonmarked HumanERLW: Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

  • 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

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

GoblinGGTR: See above under the general Races section.

LoxodonGGTR: 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.

MinotaurGGTR: Terrible ability scores for the Monk.

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

VedalkenGGTR: A Wisdom increase and Tireless 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.

LeoninMOoT: Bad ability spread.

MinotaurMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

SatyrMOoT: 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.

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

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • StandardPHB: See above.

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

  • 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 Elf: See above.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GenasiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

HalflingEGtW: Wildemount halflings share the core traits of core halflings, but Wildemount adds a new halflings subrace. See above for information on core halflings traits.

  • Lotusden: Dexterity and Wisdom. The Innate spellcasting is neat, too, but it's definitely secondary to the ability score increases.

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.

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

  • CriminalPHB: Stealth and Thieve's 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.

  • AlertPHB: Going first isn't terribly important for anyone but Rogues.
  • AthletePHB: Awful.
  • ChargerPHB: With the Monk's Unarmored Speed, charging is considerably less helpful. Monks depend on multiple small attacks rather than single large ones, so a round in which you charge is a largely wasted round.
  • Defensive DuelistPHB: Works with a short sword, but Monks get a lot of options which use their reaciton already.
  • Dungeon DelverPHB: Monks get neighter Investigation nor Perception.
  • 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.
  • GrapplerPHB: Just a terrible feat in general. You don't need it to grapple successfully.
  • HealerPHB: Buy healing potions.
  • Keen MindPHB: Awful.
  • LinguistPHB: Use magic.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ritual CasterPHB: Monks don't get a lot from rituals. Leave this to your allies.
  • Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
  • SentinelPHB: Great for keeping enemies from escaping you. Shadow Monks might find this especially useful for killing enemies inside the area of Silence.
  • SkilledPHB: Monks aren't great at skills. If you want to be a skill-monkey, start with a level of Rogue before switching into Monk.
  • 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.
  • Tavern BrawlerPHB: You can use Grapple in place of a weapon attack, so you can probably use Martial Arts to grapple as a Bonus Action and get the same effect.
  • ToughPHB: Monks really need help with hit points, so this is very tempting.
  • Weapon MasterPHB: You get all of the weapon proficiencies that you need to function, and remember that Martial Arts only works with the weapons with which Monks are already proficient.


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.


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. According to Sage Advice, you use whichever you get first. 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 waste of a level.
  • 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.

Example Build - Human Monk (Open Hand)

Spear is the best monk weapon. Change my mind.

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.