Introduction

Coming to the game from Tasha’s as something of an unarmored DPS paladin, Way of Mercy is one of only two blue-rated Monk subclasses on the site for its incredible utility and versatility. It has some tools to improve the Monk’s core competencies as a Striker, but also gives it some battlefield control and, iconically, healing and Support capabilities. It does still suffer from the MADness that goes with most Monk subclasses, but what you get for being willing to invest in those abilities is pretty great.

The flavor of Way of Mercy is definitely strange. They “…[present] themselves as the faceless bringers of life and death,” which feels really out of place with what a monastic tradition is supposed to be. This I can quote more broadly because it’s from the basic rules, and I really want to because it’s a hilarious moment showing how WOTC really shot themselves in the foot:

“Three traditions of monastic pursuit are common in the monasteries scattered across the multiverse. Most monasteries practice one tradition exclusively, but a few honor the three traditions and instruct each monk according to his or her aptitude and interest. All three traditions rely on the same basic techniques, diverging as the student grows more adept. Thus, a monk need choose a tradition only upon reaching 3rd level.”

So, clearly they didn’t futureproof this section. Regardless, it just feels very strange that there would be a little subsection of a typical monastery devoted to wearing a different flavor of odd clothing and channeling the forces of life and death rather than something more “normal” like elements.

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 Mercy Features

  1. Implements of Mercy: Insight and Medicine are both Wisdom-based, which makes them good skills for the Monk. Unfortunately, Medicine is borderline useless (although check out some of our suggestions to fix that), as its sole written function is made obsolete by the Healer’s Kit. Herbalism Kit does allow you to craft Potions of Healing, though, which is nice.

    You also get a neat mask as a class feature. It doesn’t do anything. You don’t need it to do anything and technically you don’t even need to wear it.

  2. Hand of Healing: Your Martial Arts die plus your Wisdom modifier is roughly equivalent to a 1st-level Cure Wounds. That’s not a ton of healing all at once, but you get a ton of Ki Points per short rest as you gain levels, and the action economy around this is fantastic. This is also a great way to expend your remaining Ki Points whenever you reach a Short Rest.

    Cure Wounds is normally a hard choice in combat because you’re spending your Action to not damage your enemies when Healing Word is available, so the Action Economy makes it hard to justify. But, while you can use Hand of Healing as an Action, there’s almost no reason to do so in combat.

    Generally you’ll use Hand of Healing during combat as part of a Flurry of Blows. When you do this, you spend the Ki Point to use Flurry of Blows, then you can decide to replace one of the unarmed strikes with Hand of Healing. As far as I can tell, you can make this decision at any point so you could make one attack and see the results before deciding if you want to make another attack or heal something.

    Since you can move between attacks, I believe that you can also move between attacking and using Hand of Healing, so you could Attack, use Flurry of Blows to heal an ally, then run over to an enemy and attack them some more.

    In many ways, this is like Healing Word, and until your Ki Pool is fairly large, that’s how you should consider Hand of Healing: a tiny amount of healing, but enough to bring a dying ally back into a fight. As you gain more levels you can afford to use this more often, and Physician’s Touch allows you to quickly remove some problematic status conditions.

  3. Hand of Harm: One Ki point to automatically deal as much damage as an unarmed strike is more efficient than spending a Ki Point to perform a Flurry of Blows which has a chance to miss. This is also necrotic damage, which is much less-commonly resisted than bludgeoning damage (or whatever type your weapon deals).

    Since the damage is “extra damage” added to the attack, the extra damage die is multiplied, much like Divine Smite or Sneak Attack, so the most effective time to use Hand of Harm is when you score a critical hit.

    However, this only works after you hit with an unarmed strike so if you’re using a weapon (spears are my go-to, and I recommend them for nearly every monk) there’s an incentive to fight unarmed even if your Martial Arts die would deal less damage than a weapon. Of course, Flurry of Blows and Martial Arts’ Bonus Action attack only allow unarmed strikes, so there’s always going to be some portion of your attacks where you can apply this.

    Physician’s Touch later improves Hand of Harm to add the Poisoned condition, making it an amazing way to briefly debuff martial enemies without a save.

  4. Physician’s Touch: Hand of Healing adds the effect of Lesser Restoration and can also remove the Stunned condition. If this was an either/or it would be fantastic, but you get to both remove conditions and heal the target.

    Hand of Harm adds the ability to make the target Poisoned with no save. Poisoned is an absolutely fantastic debuff against most enemies (though spellcasters who don’t rely on attack rolls can largely ignore it). If you hit an enemy with an unarmed strike, you can activate Hand of Harm to deal bonus damage and make the target poisoned, then, while they’re at Disadvantage on Ability Checks due to being Poisoned, you can Shove them prone and/or grapple them, then make any remaining attacks at Advantage. If they’re Grappled, they’ll have a hard time escaping (Disadvantage thanks to Poisoned), so you’re likely to keep them on the ground until your next turn when you can drop a full Flurry of Blows on them at Advantage and if they don’t die you can always hit them with Hand of Harm again to keep them Poisoned.

  5. Flurry of Healing and Harm: This dramatically reduces the rate at which you spend Ki to activate Hand of Harm and Hand of Healing. You still need to spend 1 Ki Point to use Flurry of Blows, but after that you can use Hand of Harm/Healing for free. You could heal twice in one turn, heal once and attack (and hopefully use Hand of Harm), or attack once to see what happens, then decide to either heal or attempt another attack.

    The wording around how Hand of Healing works here is somewhat clumsy. It specifies that you can use Hand of Healing with Flurry of Blows and replace both attacks without spending Ki. You could already replace one, but the text is trying to say that you can now replace both attacks, but you still don’t need to spend additional Ki to do so.

    Using Hand of Healing twice during a Flurry of Blows doubles your ability to output healing. Weirdly, this also means that rather than spending an Action to use Hand of Healing outside of combat it’s more efficient to punch the air or attack the darkness, then follow with a Flurry of Blows and punch yourself and your party until everyone feels better. You get twice as much healing per Ki Point by doing this.

  6. Hand of Ultimate Mercy: Have a dead party member? Take a Short Rest to get your Ki Points back if you need to, then punch them back to life. You only need 5 Ki Points to use this and you get 17 per Short or Long Rest at this level so if someone goes down you likely still have a bunch to spend.

    The fact that this only takes an Action is pretty astounding. It’s similar to Revivify, but lacks an expensive cost. You could absolutely use this in combat, and in many cases that’s a good idea. This doesn’t have the specific text around how mortal wounds or missing limbs are handled, but I assume it works like Raise Dead in most respects. The target notably doesn’t need to be willing to return to life, either, which raises some interesting ethical questions.

    The one serious limitation on this is that you can only use it once per Long Rest. But, with a 24-hour window in which it will function after the target’s death, if you need to raise two people you can raise one, take a long rest, and raise the other and still have a ton of time to mess around before you get anywhere near the 24-hour timer. Of course, if you have three dead allies you’ll want to go find a cleric.

Way of Mercy Ability Scores

Str: A dump stat unless you plan on using some form of Grapple/Shove

Dex: Controls attacks and AC since you can’t wear armor if you want most features to work.

Con: We’d love more, but we’re too MAD as it is.

Int: Dump

Wis: This powers some class and subclass features

Cha: Dump

Point BuyStandard Array
Str812
Dex1515
Con1513
Int88
Wis1514
Cha810

Way of Mercy Races

MMoM Bugbear has a fascinating interaction. Ordinarily, you would need to be adjacent to both your target and a party member at some point to be able to attack and flurry Hands of Healing in the same turn. Long Limbs will let you attack something at a short distance, flurry heal your adjacent ally, and carry on without even provoking an opportunity attack if you choose to walk away from something with 5-foot reach.

Way of Mercy Feats

We’re a MAD class and we already have tons of things to do with bonus actions. Nothing much different than other Monks when you finally get around to feats unless you want to do something really dumb. If you don’t plan on doing a ton of damage, you can become sort of SAD by picking up Magic Initiate, grabbing Shillelagh, and using that on your quarterstaff as the first bonus action every fight. Then, on future turns (especially once you hit level 11), you bonk something twice with your Wisdom and heal someone (eventually twice) with Flurry, also using Wisdom. It means if you do ever have to spend a turn not healing someone, your Martial Arts and Hand of Harm will suffer because your unarmed attack is always going to be Dex-based. But it’s certainly an option.

Way of Mercy Weapons

If you’re not a bugbear but your race gives you a weapon proficiency and you’re using the Dedicated Weapon optional class feature, having yours be a whip fixes the only problem with a whip (low damage) while also letting you do the same Reach shenanigans I described above for the Bugbear.

Way of Mercy Armor

Please don’t.

Multiclassing

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

A level of Druid would also let you do the Shillelagh shenanigans I talked about above while getting you nice bonus things like Absorb Elements and Healing Word in case someone’s out of reach of even your massive move speed. A second level could get you Circle of Stars which would get you some additional nice spells and the ability to go into Dragon form to get Reliable Talent on Wisdom checks.

I’m going to sigh heavily here, but a level in Peace Cleric is also a fantastic choice if you wanted to be the SAD thing I discussed. Emboldening Bond will neatly make up for the fact that your Dex will be 4 points short of where it should be by giving you an average of +2.5 to hit and it scales with proficiency bonus so you’ll still get the full progression of uses per day. This would also get you Bless and Guidance, two of the best support spells in the game.

Example Build – Stuck Halfway

Halfway between cultures and halfway between the forces of life and death, this build takes a half-wood elf and modifies it heavily with Tasha’s rules to make something capable of putting out great damage and healing using this subclass.

Abilities

As described above.

BaseIncreased
Str88
Dex1517
Con1516
Int88
Wis1516
Cha88

Race

Half-wood elf. We take the Elven Weapon Training replacement, then further modify that by trading the longsword proficiency for whip proficiency and trading the shortbow proficiency for Thieves’ Tools since our high Dex and Wisdom mean we’re likely the Scout for the party.

Background

Acolyte makes good sense as a being trained in a monastery, so we take that and trade the skill proficiencies for Perception and Survival to take advantage of the high Wisdom. If your DM is going to give you a hard time about spending 52gp at character creation as a monk though, take Haunted One, make the same skill trades, and sell the free kit to fund your equipment.

Skills and Tools

From the class we get Acrobatics and Stealth, Perception and Survival from the Background, and Thieves’ Tools proficiency from the race. At level 3 we’ll pick up Insight, Medicine, and the Herbalism kit, nicely rounding out the uses of our high Wisdom. For the flavor tool we get from being a monk, choose leatherworker’s tools so you can fashion yourself a mask.

Feats

The hybrid feat you take at 4th level is going to be very dependent on your table. If your table allows flanking or has some other way of getting easy access to advantage like a Wolf Totem Barbarian, take Elven Accuracy. If you did that, you’re going to be way ahead of the attack roll curve for the rest of the game, so then levels 8 and 12 increase Wisdom to cap, followed by Gift of the Metallic Dragon at 16 for more capacity to protect your party, and finally cap Dex at 19. If you don’t have an easy way to get advantage, take Slasher instead, shift the dex increase down to level 8 and everything else one step later.

This example build will assume you don’t have an easy source of advantage because flanking is an optional rule (though more of my groups have used it than not).

Levels

LevelFeat(s) and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
1Unarmored Defense

Martial Arts
At this level we’re basically just a monk, but one that can use a longbow. Seeing as longbow DPR is 5 whereas a quarterstaff bonk and martial arts bonus action is only 8, and seeing as we only have 11 hitpoints and an AC of 16, we should stay away from melee for now.
2Ki

Dedicated Weapon

Unarmored Movement
We now pick our whip as a dedicated weapon, allowing us to attack with it and trigger Flurry of Blows if we want to do a bunch of damage in a turn. We only get 2 ki per short rest at this level, so think carefully about where you want to spend them. Remember that we have reach if we’re only attacking with the whip in a turn, so we don’t need to get into range unless we want the burst damage. With this also being the level you get faster, we’ll be able to kite most enemies if you want to go that route.
3Implements of Mercy

Hand of Healing

Hand of Harm

Deflect Missiles
Implements of Mercy is nice to make healing potions in downtime and give us some extra skills to use our high wisdom.

Hand of Healing is the big thing here though. Getting to spend a ki point to Healing Word and punch somebody is really good. Like I said above, we should never do this as an Action and just always use it as part of Flurry.

If you instead really want something to die right now, you could attack, flurry, and drop a Hand of Harm for an average of 22 damage. That burns through 2 of our 3 ki per rest in one turn, but it’s a lot of damage at this level.

Deflect Missiles is also present.
4Slasher (Dex)

Slow Fall
Slasher is the rude present we deliver when we whip something scary from 10 feet away and then run 30 more feet to something much less scary that you can Flurry down in one turn. We’re still no Defender by any means, but we can absolutely help our battlefield controller by making something less mobile.

If you’re instead taking Elven Accuracy at this level, absolutely heal when needed, but try to save a ki point or two for when you crit. At next level we get Extra Attack which, combined with Flurry and Elven Accuracy, gives us a 46% chance to crit on a given turn. When you do, apply Hand of Harm for double damage dice.

Slow Fall is also present.
5Extra Attack

Stunning Strike

Martial Arts die d4 -> d6
This is a big level for us, bigger even than most martials. Not only do we get Extra Attack, but our damage die goes up a step, which we can conceivably roll five times in a turn.

Stunning Strike is incredible in a fight against something you don’t expect to have great Con saves. The fact that Stunned provides Advantage to attackers is almost good enough for me to recommend Elven Accuracy anyway, but, since Con saves are statistically the highest starting at CR 2 and continuing for the rest of the game, it’s a hard sell to base an entire build off of it.
6Ki-Empowered Strikes

Physician’s Touch
Our hands will enjoy being magical weapons going forward.

The real boon here is Physician’s Touch. We talked about it at length above and covered it pretty well, so I’ll just remind you that we can whip the big scary thing at range to apply the Slasher debuff, walk 30 feet, whip something once and Flurry it once for damage, then walk another 15 feet to our wounded party member and heal them and remove Stunned on them all in one turn. Physician’s Touch is notably one of the only ways in 5e to remove the Stunned condition.
7Evasion

Stillness of Mind
Neither of these contribute to our tactics, but they’re nice defenses.
8Dex 18 -> 20Cap Dex for the best possible attack rolls and an AC matching full plate.
9Unarmored Movement ImprovementRemember Prince of Persia: Two Thrones where you could wall run for 20 feet before jumping off and grabbing a crossbar with your whipsword and flying forward? Yeah. We can do that now.
10Purity of BodyNow we’re immune to the disease we’ve been able to cure ourselves of with an action since 6th level anyway.
11Flurry of Healing and Harm

Martial Arts die d6 -> d8
Whew what another great level. Spend one ki point to unstun/stand up from dying two people in one turn. Or be more efficient with your Ki when you’re doing Hand of Harm for damage. We can still only do that ability once per turn, but now we can afford to be a little more liberal in our usage of Stunning Strike to aim to give ourselves advantage before we do.
12Wisdom 16 -> 18Up that AC. Also the DC of our Stunning Strike and our bonus for Hands of Healing and Harm.

Those put together let us stay safe and put out the hurt when we’re spoilin for a fight.
13Tongue of the Sun and MoonThe all important question when we hit level 13 as a Monk.
14Diamond SoulThis is one of the best defensive features in the game. Remember that both halves of the ability don’t specify what kinds of saves, which means they apply to Death Saves too. Hang out near a Paladin with a Charisma of 18 and we can’t fail on anything but a 1.
15Timeless BodySimilarly to level 13, this doesn’t affect a character at all except in rare cases when someone is trying to siege us all by ourselves.
16Wisdom 18 -> 20We cap our Wisdom. We now match a character in full plate with a shield and your Stunning Strike DC is as high as a full caster’s spells are without magic items. You also have 16 ki points per rest by now so you should probably just try to stun things every round.
17Hand of Ultimate Mercy

Martial Arts die d8 -> d10
This is like that scene from Dr. Strange except in reverse where we punch the soul back into people.
18Empty BodySince this isn’t the spell Invisibility but the condition, it won’t break on attacks. We can’t use this every fight with it costing 4 ki, but we can probably use it every other fight and still have all the ki we need to do the rest of our tricks. 
19Gift of the Metallic DragonFinally, a reaction that helps our party instead of just us. It can also help us, but that’s not really the point of the build. We also get a free Cure Wounds in case you’ve lost all your d4s but have a d8 laying around.
20Perfect SelfSay, you know what costs 4 ki? Empty Body. If a fight starts you weren’t prepared for, just go invisible and be a d10-damage and move-speed-penalty dispensing annoyance.