Introduction

Wielding the manifestation of inner will as a weapon in battle are those Monks who follow the Way of the Astral Self. Powered by Wisdom, these Monks are able to push their Attack stat and Stunning Strike DC early on, giving an advantage over other Monks who must push Dexterity first to keep up with the fundamental math of the game while their DC atrophies.

But maybe you’re still undecided, so ask yourself this? Should a master of unarmed martial arts be able to grapple an opponent and wrestle them to the ground? Well most Monks end up dumping Strength and can’t Grapple their way out of a paper bag. Or well, they usually can escape the Grapple with Dex and Acrobatics. But with the Way of the Astral Self, Wisdom is used in place of Strength for Grappling, and anything else you could possibly use Athletics for. Is that portcullis the only thing between your party and freedom? Lift it, with Wisdom.

Perhaps though, you’re not here to be a Monk. Perhaps you’re just perusing multiclass options. Good news, we have a couple suggestions down in that section about leveraging the Wisdom-first way this subclass handles things. Maybe a little Druid, maybe a little Cleric.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

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

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

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

Way of the Astral Self Features

  1. Arms of the Astral Self: The subclass’s signature feature, managing Arms of the Astral Self is the core of Way of the Astral Self’s combat tactics. Turning this on puts you into your preferred combat mode, and while it does consume a precious Ki Point the 10-minute duration can easily carry you through one or two combats if you’re quick. The ability is complex despite a fairly small amount of rules text, so bear with me through the following pile of text.

    When and where to activate Arms of the Astral Self is an important choice. When you activate it, you get an AOE damage effect against targets of your choice within 10 feet. The damage is roughly equivalent to one unarmed strike (double your martial arts die is roughly equal to one die plus your modifier), and with a 10-foot radius you should be able to hit several foes if you move between them.

    It may be worthwhile to spend your Action to Disengage so that you can move without provoking Opportunity Attacks so that you can position yourself in the middle of a group of enemies. But there’s a risk/reward consideration here: your AC and hit points need to be able to hold up to being surrounded by enemies and since you’re using your Bonus Action to activate Arms of the Astral Self you can’t also use it for Patient Defense. You might also try spending your Action to Dodge since Disadvantage on attacks against you will apply to both Opportunity Attacks against you and any other attacks made against you until the start of your next turn.

    Once active, Arms of the Astral Self provides several benefits which should be discussed individually.

    Using Wisdom in place of Strength for Athletics checks helps with grapples, both ones that you start and ones that are forced upon you. You can always use Dexterity (Acrobatics) to escape a grapple (typically the best way for the Monk to do so), but this reduces the need for Acrobatics. Making Athletics viable in combat means that you can use the Grapple+Shove combo to force enemies prone and hold them there without investing Strength.

    The second benefit allows you to make unarmed strikes. Like I said above: “punch ghost”. While this isn’t flashy, it’s arguably the primary reason for this ability to exist. You can’t use weapons with your astral arms, unfortunately, so using your arms during your Attack action will mean slightly less damage than other monks until your Martial Arts die scales.

    The third benefit adds reach for your unarmed strikes. Reach is a huge benefit for the monk because you can fight from outside the reach of many enemies then use your high movement speed to move out of range of their movement. It also helps with targeting multiple foes who might not be conveniently adjacent to you. However, this only applies to your Unarmed Strikes, so you can’t use this reach to Grapple or Shove.

    The final benefit allows you to use Wisdom in place of Strength/Dexterity for your Unarmed Strikes and makes them deal Force damage so you’re no longer crippled by resistance/immunity to bludgeoning damage. If you forgo weapons, raising Wisdom to 20 before switching to Dexterity can be a great idea for the Way of the Astral Self Monk. This also helps to capitalize on Stunning Strike because the DC is Wisdom-based. However, when you run out of Ki and can’t summon your astral arms, you’re going to be in trouble. Manage your Ki very carefully and try to keep a point in reserve in case you’re surprised by combat before your next rest.

  2. Visage of the Astral Self: Situational by design, Visage of the Astral Self costs a Ki Point to activate and can be used separately or in conjunction with Arms of the Astral Self. You won’t need this in every combat, but when you need it you can turn it on without cutting into your action economy any further than you would by activating Arms of the Astral Self.
    • Astral Sight: Darkvision by any means is great, and though the 10-minute duration won’t match permanent Darkvision or the Darkvision spell, neither of those allow you see in magical darkness and neither allow you to see 120 ft. (Superior Darkvision gives 120 ft. range but it’s not a common racial trait). This alone is the most likely reason to activate Visage of the Astral Self.
    • Wisdom of the Spirit: Time to take your magical punch ghost into a social situation? Here you go. Insight is likely the only contribution you’ll be making to conversations since nearly every monk dumps Charisma. Monks are too MAD to invest any serious resources outside of Dex/Con/Wis.
    • Word of the Spirit: Roughly mimics the effects of Message for whispering and Thaumaturgy for shouting. Neat, but not very impactful.
  3. Body of the Astral Self: One good defensive option and one good offensive option. You need to summon both your arms and your visage, so you’ll need to adjust to spending two Ki Points each time you get ready for combat, but the benefits are frequently worth the expense.
    • Deflect Energy: Damage of these types comes up all the time, and the list of affected damage types includes thunder, which is a rarity. The damage reduction won’t match Resistance in most cases, but the amount of damage you prevent will add up quickly. For comparison: The average damage you’ll prevent (1d10+Wis) will exceed the amount of hit points you gain when you gain a level (1d8+Con) unless your Constitution is really high compared to your Wisdom, and retaining a level’s worth of hit points at the cost of Reaction is a great trade. Plus, if you need this once in an encounter you’re going to need it several times.
    • Empowered Arms: A small damage boost, but it will add up reliably, and after applying twice (once on each of your turns, so two turns worth of attacks) it will offset the action cost of activating Arms of the Astral Self instead of using Martial Arts for one turn.
  4. Awakened Astral Self: This is expensive, but remember that it’s 5 Ki Points instead of the 2 which you’ve become accustomed to spending normally thanks to Body of the Astral Self. The effects are excellent, providing both the additional attack and the AC bonus provided by Haste, which are the most important parts of the spell in most cases. With a 10-minute duration and your Ki Points recharging on a Short Rest you could use your Ki for this and literally nothing else and do very well in combat.

    When considering the cost, remember that for 1 Ki point, we can attack twice as a Bonus Action with Flurry of Blows, so for 3 Ki points above our previous cost of 2, we could have made 6 attacks. Instead, we can make an extra attack on every round for ten minutes, and we can still use our Bonus Action for a single standard Martial Arts attack. When looking at it that way, this is basically the same as removing the Ki cost of using Flurry for ten minutes.

    This also stacks with Haste, so if you have somone in your party who can cast Haste on you, you can get up to 6 attacks per turn with Flurry of Blows and enjoy an AC of 24 (+5 Dex, +5 Wis, +2 Awakened Astral Self, +2 Haste) without magic items.

Astral Grapplemancy

Because the Arms of the Astral Self allow us to use Wisdom for Athletics, for all Strength Checks and Strength Saves really, we have better access to Grappling than other Monks. But what is the right way to go about a Grapple attempt? We could always read the Practical Guide to Grapple, and, while that is a great place to start, we can be more Monk specific.

Assuming our arms are already active from a previous turn and we are high enough level for an Extra Attack, we declare the Attack Action. We then replace our first attack to make an opposed Athletics Check to Shove and we choose Target is Prone. We then replace our second attack with another Athletics Check to Grapple. For most classes, we’re out of attacks, but we are Monk and we made the Attack Action on our turn. Flurry of Blows doesn’t care what our Attack Action did, Flurry gonna punch twice regardless, and our target is Prone next to us, so we have Advantage. We may not be the best at grappling, but we’re in the top five at least.

Way of the Astral Self Ability Scores

The Way of the Astral Self builds much like any other Monk. We still want both Dexterity and Wisdom, but we are able to use our first few ASIs on Wisdom over Dexterity thanks to Arms of the Astral Self.

Str: We can dump this, we’re not some hulking Barbarian with a Maul.

Dex: Half of our AC calculation and our Attack stat if Astral Self is down.

Con: We like hit points and not dying.

Int: Dump. Let someone else be the Scholar.

Wis: Half of our AC calculation, our Attack stat when running Astral Self, and sets the DC for a few of our abilities.

Cha: Dump. Let someone else be the Face.

Point BuyStandard Array
Str88
Dex1514
Con1513
Int810
Wis1515
Cha812

Way of the Astral Self Races

For our first two levels, we won’t have access to our Astral Self, which is a point in favor of races with Natural Weapons to give a small boost very early, however that window is very small. Optionally a race like Warforged or Simic Hybrid have a +1 to AC that we could very much use.

  • Simic Hybrid: Our first adaptation can be whichever would work for the campaign, swimming in an aquatic or seafaring campaign, climbing in a dungeon crawl, and the gliding adaptation can be used for interesting tricks since our Athletics is Wisdom based so we can jump with ghost power to give us an unusual trick of jumping and gliding. For our second adaptation, Acid Spit is a novelty, but Grappling Appendages or Carapace could both benefit our abilities. Mentioned above, Athletics is Wisdom for us and that gives us a reason to try Grappling which we can do as a Bonus Action with the grapple arms, and that would be useful if we didn’t already have the ability to use Martial Arts to make an attack as a Bonus action to make up for a Grapple attempt replacing one of our attacks. Carapace on the other hand is +1 AC and that’s just really good to have as a Monk.
  • Warforged: Decent protections from Constructed Resilience and +1 AC. Just solid for not getting killed.
  • Duergar: If your size goes up, the number of targets you can fit within 10 feet of you goes up and Duergar have access to Enlarge/Reduce.
  • Fizban’s Dragonborn Variants: While we have respectable damage from our attacks, being able to pepper in a Breath Weapon in place of one attack is great, and because this is still the Attack Action we can still use Flurry of Blows even if the only thing we do with our Attack Action is a breath weapon.
  • Shifter: A Wildhunt Shifter has Advantage on Wisdom checks while shifted, but read Arms of the Astral Self very carefully. Using our Wisdom modifier in place of our Strength modifier does not turn a Strength check into a Wisdom check.
  • Dhampir: You know why this is on this list. Ok, but seriously, we start with an extra 5 move speed before we add Monk speed, and we get a ridiculous spider climbing ability. What keeps Dhampir green though is that the bite attack cannot be used as an Unarmed Attack.

Way of the Astral Self Feats

  • Skill Expert: We can use this to bump our Wisdom and get Expertise in Athletics, which would let us try to Grapple, something that Monks should be good at, but don’t typically have the Strength they would need to build for that.
  • Telekinetic: While it might seem odd, and we have a lot of other options for our Bonus Action, thematically calling the Mage Hand an extension of your Astral Self is just plain cool and Mage Hand has plenty of utility you can bring to the team.
  • Tavern Brawler: In theory, starting a grapple as a bonus action would be great for a lot of grapple builds, but we have a better way to get a grapple started and the rest of this feat does nothing for us.
  • Crossbow Expert: No really, sometimes enemies won’t be within 10 feet for ghost punching but will also be outside of the 20 feet range of Throwing Darts, and nothing prevents us from ghost punching while holding a Light Crossbow because of Dedicated Weapon. If we’re some sort of race with a free Martial Weapon proficiency we could even have a Hand Crossbow to get that Bonus Action attack. It’s kind of a low priority because we’re likely pumping Wisdom first, but we don’t have to build that way, using Wisdom for our ghost punching is an option, not a requirement.

Way of the Astral Self Weapons

  • Eldritch Claw Tattoo: Not really a weapon, but because we can’t use weapons with our punch ghost this is the closest thing to a +1 weapon for unarmed strikes and the Eldritch Maul power is sorta like an extra use of punch ghost once a day with slightly longer range.
  • Crossbow, Light: If it’s our dedicated weapon, holding it won’t interfere with using the Arms of the Astral Self so we can remain armed against long range combatants.
  • Shortbow: While a Light Crossbow has a d8 right out of the gate, we don’t need a feat to have Extra Attack function with a Shortbow.
  • Darts and Slings: The primary issue with Darts is the 20 foot short range and the 60 foot maximum range. Slings do a little better, reaching to 30 feet before having Disadvantage, but we can already use a Shortbow instead.

Multiclassing

As far as multiclassing, we have to weigh having less Ki points for each non-Monk level we take against any benefits from the multiclass. Our Astral Self is going to cost us 1-2 Ki per fight for most of our career, which limits the benefits of our Wisdom primary Sunning Strike DCs if we cut our Ki pool too short.

  • Astral 8/Cleric X: For example, we could leave the class at eighth level with our 8 Ki and 20 Wisdom and start taking Cleric levels, being some kind of SAD Melee Cleric. Eight Ki is plenty to always keep some around to activate Wisdom attacks in every fight and maybe attempt a Stun every now and then.
  • Astral 8/Moon Druid 12: Similar to the Cleric above, leaving at 8 leaves us enough Ki to have Astral Arms in most fights if we want, but unlike Cleric, Druids have the right to Bear Arms.
  • Astral 18/Stars Druid 2: Circle of Stars Druid gives laser attacks that run off of Wisdom.

Example Build – Yes, This IS A Jojo’s Reference

I’m going to level with you, the best Monk is still less impressive than most middle of the road builds. We’re somewhat hamstrung by our Ki pool being so shallow and the costs being somewhat high for some mediocre effects. But that’s not important. We’re here because we want cool Astral Arms that can punch dudes from slightly farther away. We’re here to have fun. You expected the most optimized DPR build with tons of math to back it up, but it was me, DIO!

Playstyle and Tactics

At lower levels, we’re going to mostly rely on our Monk weapon to do some reasonable damage. When we take the subclass at third level, we have the option to stand at 10 feet with 1d4+Wis damage or close to 5 feet for 1d8+Dex damage if we’re using Quarterstaff or Spear. Having that kind of flexibility is great. As we level up and prioritize Wisdom, the Astral Arms will get stronger, being 1d6 at fifth level.

The main reason we do use Wisdom over Dexterity in this build is that our Athletics becomes a Wisdom skill, allowing us the option to Grapple. Should we go into every combat and expect to start wrestling monsters to the ground? No, we should be expecting to evaluate the combat and if we need to grapple a target then we have the option where other Monk subclasses just can’t even try. When we’re not grappling, we’ve still got another advantage over the other subclasses by having Force damage fists, a very reliable damage type.

Abilities

We’re going to use point buy to get three 15s, and then from Dhampir we take three +1s to have three 16s at the start.

Point BuyIncreased
Str88
Dex1516
Con1516
Int88
Wis1516
Cha88

Race

No, we didn’t just pick Dhampir because memes. Dhampir has a couple of nice racial features we like. First off, we get 35 feet base move before Monk speed is added, and all of that also contributes to our Climb speed. But we don’t just have regular Climb, Dhampir have Spider Climb, allowing us to traverse any surface.

On top of that we have a strange Bite attack. Unlike many natural weapons, these cannot make unarmed attacks, and they use Constitution for attack rolls and damage. It does count as a simple melee weapon lacking the Heavy or Two Handed Property so they are a Monk Weapon by default, though there is some debate on whether or not being a Monk weapon allows us to use Dexterity with the bite because Martial Arts states “use Dexterity instead of Strength.” We would still get to have an increased damage die from Martial Arts when biting.

Background

Round out Skills or Tools at your preference.

Skills and Tools

Dhampir gives us any two skills, so we take Insight and Perception, while Monk gives us another two, where we take Athletics and Stealth. From our Background, Survival and Sleight of Hand would be fine choices since our mixture of Stealth and Climb Speed are great for infiltration tasks.

Feats

At Fourth level, we’ll be putting our ASI into Wisdom, because math.

At Eighth, we’ll be taking Skill Expert so we can have Athletics Expertise. This works well with our Astral Arms giving us Wisdom to Athletics. We’ll also gain Proficiency in Investigation for improved scouting. Our Hybrid stat point goes into Wisdom.

At Twelfth we take Observant to improve our Passive Perception and Investigation. Put the Hybrid stat into Wisdom, raising it to 20.

At Sixteenth and Nineteenth levels we grab Dexterity ASIs to bring both our Dexterity and AC to 20.

Levels

LevelFeats and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
1Unarmoured Defense
Martial Arts (1d4)
As we start our Monkhood, we don’t have much at first level, but our AC is 16, which is about the most a starting character would have in either Breastplate or Chain Mail.

Starting out, picking up a quarterstaff or a spear and using it two-handed will give us a d8 to work with while we get through these early levels. We’ll also want to have a Shortbow on hand because doing something against long ranged flying targets is better than doing nothing. Far too many melees just forget to have any backup weapons.
2Unarmoured Movement (10ft)
Ki
Alright, we get extra speed, which applies to our climb speed, and we have a Ki pool now which will always equal our Monk level.

At this level we struggle a bit like most melee in early levels.
3Deflect Missiles
Way of the Astral Self
Arms of the Astral Self
Now we have our Astral Arms and we can finally use Wisdom as our attack stat. That doesn’t matter right away as our Wis and Dex are equal, but they won’t remain that way for long.
4ASI: Wis +2 (16->18)
Slow Fall
Like I said, Wis and Dex won’t remain equal for long. We’re taking Wis ASI here for a few reasons.

First off, we want to keep on the math curve for now. We could in all honesty take the Skill Expert and Observant feats at fourth and eighth then take the ASI at twelvth, but then we’re behind on math for eight levels instead of only four.

Secondly, there’s far less feat support for Monk’s traditional unarmed fighting style than for anything else, so we don’t have many good options to take instead.

We also get Slow Fall. Spend reaction while falling to take Monk level times five less damage. Not dying is great.
5Extra Attack
Stunning Strike
Martial Arts (1d6)
More punching, harder punching.

We get the standard extra attack at fifth level common to most martial classes, but we also get Stunning Strike.

Stunning Strike is one of the nicer things with Astral Self, since making attacks with Wisdom allows us to keep the DC up for Stunning Strike.

That said, we have to beat AC, then beat the enemy saving throw, and spend a point of Ki. We’ll want to be specific with this and look for threatening foes that might fail a Constitution check, like a Wizard or something.
6Ki Empowered Strikes
Visage of the Astral Self
Unarmoured Movement (15ft)
Our unarmed attacks count as magic to beat resistances.

We now have the second part of our Astral Self. This is mostly a utility upgrade. Advantage on Intimidation and Insight is okay and Super Whispering and Shouting is comical but also has useful applications. Astral Sight however, is the Devil’s Sight Invocation, and not figuratively but literally word for word the same functionality.

This can allow us some team synergy if we’re working alongside a Ball of Darkness Warlock.
7Evasion
Stillness of Mind
Evasion is great, changing Dexterity saves to half on fail and none on save.
Stillness of Mind is okay, changing fears and charms into “lose one action” instead of whatever the normal effect was.
8Feat: Skill Expert
Investigation Proficiency
Athletics Expertise
+1 Wisdom
Here at eighth, we take the Skill Expert feat so we can take better advantage of using Wisdom for Grappling and Shoving by gaining Expertise in Athletics.
9Unarmoured Movement
Wall Running
This isn’t really important to us as we already have a climb speed so we could already move around on walls just fine. We might still find some use for the water running part.
10Purity of Body
Unarmoured Movement (20ft)
Immunity to Disease and Poison. Not a bad defensive boost.
11Body of the Astral Self
Martial Arts (1d8)
We get a couple new abilities here for our Astral parts. At this level if we activate both the Arms and Visage, we gain the Body as well for no additional cost, giving us a bit more damage and some energy resistance.

At this level, our Ki pool is 11 between short rests. Assuming we have 3 fights between short rests and have the worst timing so we can’t fit two fights inside 10 minutes, if we budget 6 Ki to our astral form, we have 5 to spend on Flurry of Blows or Stunning Strike across three fights. That’s not great and we have to be strategic about how we spend the Ki or improve our time management skills.
12ASI: Feat
Observant
+1 Wisdom
We take Observant to improve our scouting capabilities and push our Wisdom to 20.

This helps us catch back up with the one point we’ve been behind on math while also raising our Stunning Strike DC another point.
13Tongue of the Sun and MoonSpeak and understand in all languages. It’s permanent Tongues. It’s ok, and not useless, but casters have been able to do this for the brief times it would be helpful since fifth level.
14Diamond SoulProficiency in every save. We like this. Getting a second chance to save at the cost of 1 Ki. We’re ok with this too. Also, not that I would recommend burning extra Ki, but there’s not really a limit to how many times you can retry on the same save.
15Timeless Body
16ASI: Dexterity +2 (16->18)More AC is nice.
17Awakened Astral SelfWe can now use the full power of our Final Form. At the cost of 5 Ki when activating all the parts together, we gain +2 AC and a second Extra Attack. From a cost analysis, if we fight for six rounds in the next ten minutes, we already make back the extra 3 Ki that we could have spent using Flurry of Blows.

Going back to our budget, now we have 17 Ki per rest, if we spent 5 Ki turning this on in three fights, while that leaves us with only 2 Ki, we can just not Flurry anymore and still find something to Stunning Strike.
18Empty BodySpend 4 Ki, become invisible for a minute. Not invisible as the spell, the invisible condition. In addition we have resistance to everything but Force damage during this time.

We would have to weigh our budget very carefully, but this is one of the best survival tools available. If we’re fighting something that lacks Blindsight, True Sight, or other similar traits we have Advantage on all attacks and attacks against us have Disadvantage and we have Resistance.

Also for 8 Ki we can cast Astral Projection. Nice to have if we need that, but not really gonna use it that much.
19ASI: Dexterity +2 (18->20)Our base AC is 20 now between Dexterity and Wisdom, and 22 when Awakened.
20Perfect SelfThis is kinda neat, but we’d either need to go off our budget or get into an extra fight for this to do anything for us. It’s just unfortunate that we need 5 Ki to use our best ability.