Pathfinder - The Mast of Many Styles Monk Handbook
Last Updated: November 6, 2018
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- 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.
Style feats are really cool. In fact, they're one of my favorite ways to customize the Monk, both for flavor reasons and for mechanical reasons. Technically the feats are available to anyone willing to invest in Improved Unarmed Strike, but they are by far more appealing to the Monk than to other classes.
Enter the Master of Many Styles. They give up the Monk's signature attack option (Flurry of Blows), but in exchange they get the ability to mix and match style feats in a way that literally no one else can do. This gives you a ton of flexibility, but it also means that you need to look for ways to close the gap in damage output between the Master of Many Styles and the vanilla Monk.
Monk Class Features
Hit Points: d8 hit points is hard for a strictly melee class.
Base Attack Bonus: The Monk's primary offensive option, Flurry of Blows, pretends that the Monk has full BAB, which is usually enough in combat but can be frustrating when qualifying for feats.
Saves: All good saves.
Proficiencies: The Monk is proficient with Monk weapons (which make up a collection of strange, exotic, and often foreign weapons) and a couple of other odds and ends like hand axes, crossbows, and spears. Strangely, the Monk weapons tend to be the best options since they can benefit from Flurry of blows. Monks gain no armor or shield proficiencies, and generally rely on their Monk AC bonus instead.
Skills: The Monk skill list has several excellent options, several of which are difficult for the monk to capitalize on. By splashing a few skills and focusing on the best ones, the Monk can make excellent use of their 4+ skill points.
AC Bonus (Ex): The Monk AC bonus helps to offset the monk's lack of armor. The scaling is fairly negligible, but it still feels good to have. However, your AC will still be awful without additional items and AC improvements.
Unarmed Strike: This is why you generally play a monk: because you want to hit things with your bare hands/feet/etc. The damage dice starts off fairly small, but when you hit d8 at level 4, it begins to outpace whatever weapons you might be two-weapon fighting with. At level 12, your fists are greatswords. You can also deal nonlethal damage without penalty, which is situationally useful. It's important to note that your unarmed strike damage is heavily size-based, so you want to do everything you can to increase your effective size. Get enlarged and throw Impact on an Amulet of Mighty Fists. It's also interesting to note that the damage progression stops at 20th-level, so items like a Monks Belt stop being useful at high levels unless you multiclass.
|This table is taken from the 3.5 rules. They should be the same in Pathfinder, but Pathfinder doesn't provide official rules for monks smaller than small or larger than large. Check with your GM before using this table.|
Master of Many Styles Features
Bonus Feats: Monks have a small set of available bonus feats, and while there are some gems most are uninteresting. Instead, you can take style feats or Elemental Fist (You don't want Elemental Fist because it's awful). But beyond this already fantastic improvement, you get two other benefits:
First, you do not need to meet prerequisites for these bonus feats. Want to skip the middle feat in a style feat chain? You can do that, and I encourage you to do so for styles like Snake Style or Tiger Style where the middle feat is terrible but the final feat might be useful.
Second, you can choose a "wildcard style slot" instead of a permanent feat. If you like to change your active styles frequently, this is a spectacular option. If you pick up the Combat Style Master feat (and you should), you can combine the two mechanics to easily set up one set of styles for use during your turn and a second set of styles for everyone else's turn, allowing you to explicitly switch from a set of offensive styles to a set of defensive styles at will.
Unfortunately, this does mean that you can't select from the Monk's normal list of bonus feats, so you can't get options like Improved Trip without prerequisites.
Fuse Style: Combining two styles allows for some truly incredible combinations, and this capability alone makes the Master of Many Styles an exceptionally tempting option for a 1-level dip into Monk. If you stick to Monk, you can add gradually more and more styles, and thankfully the progression is spaced out in such a way that you have time to pick up more styles between steps so that you can both feel the gradual increase in power and be ready to go when you get to add another simultaneous style to the mix. Don't forget the attack bonus you get at 8th level; it will be an important boost to your attack rolls which you'll need to close the gap in damage output between the Master of Many Styles and other monks.
Perfect Style: 5 styles is dizzyingly powerful, but also problematically complex. It's difficult to track exactly how all of your styles will interact, and sorting out which combinations are worthwhile can easily become a problem.
- Drunken Master: A way to get extra Ki is great for any monk, but the Drunken Master doesn't offer a means to improve your damage output.
- Hungry Ghost Monk: Punishing Kick is fun, and Steal Ki is spectacular, but like the Drunken Master, the Hungry Ghost Monk doesn't offer improvements to your damage output.
- Kata Master: Too MAD.
- Ki Mystic: The Ki Mystic doesn't hinder anything that the Master of Many Styles cares about, but it also doesn't help.
- Monk of the Lotus: Too pacifist.
- Monk of the Sacred Mountain: Without Flurry of Blows to tie your in place, Monk of the Sacred Mountain becomes even less appealing.
- Qinggong: Trade in some of the Monk abilities you don't care about for something awesome.
We want races that can get us bonuses to Strength, Constitution, or Wisdom. Extra vision abilities are always nice. Because the Monk's damage output depends so heavily on their damage die size, being small is a serious problem.
- Dwarf: While they don't get a bonus to Strength, a +2 to both Constitution and Wisdom goes a long way. Their penalty is to the Monk's dump stat, and their low speed is offset by the monk speed bonus. Darkvision is great, and they get a +2 to saves against spells on top of the Monk's already impressive saves. Unfortunately, the favored class bonus is worthless.
- Elf: -2 to con is brutal, and their only helpful bonus is a +2 to dexterity. Many of the Elf's bonuses relate to spellcasting, which monks can't do, and the alternate racial traits are not specifically helpful to the Monk. The favored class bonus provides a wholly unnecessary bonus to the Monk's speed.
- Gnome: Small monks? A -2 to strength is crippling, especially since your damage dice will be smaller, and Enlarge Person won't give you reach.
- Half-Elf: +2 to strength and low-light vision, but that's really all we get here. The Half-Elf's alternate racial traits don't offer anything helpful, and the Half-Elf's alternate racial traits don't help much. The Half-Elf can take the Human favored class bonus for additional Ki, but that doesn't help much.
- Half-Orc: +2 to strength, and Ferocity can be helpful if you want to use Intimidate. Darkvision is fantastic, too. The Half-Orc favored class bonus is garbage, so take the Human favored class bonus for extra Ki.
- Halfling: Small monks are typically terrible, but Halflings might be viable thanks to their racial feats. Emphasizing Fight Defensively (see my Practical Guide to Fighting Defensively) and taking Risky Striker can provide a significant damage boost, though the total number of feats you'll need to succeed may be prohibitive.
- Human: +2 strength and a feat is pretty nice, but most decent Monk feats aren't available at first level. The skill points don't hurt, but they're not doing us any big favors. The Human favored class bonus provides a bonus to the Monk's Ki pool, which is especially helpful if you don't take an archetype which allows you to recharge your Ki.
- Anatomist (combat): Critical hits are not for monks.
- Axe to Grind (combat): You may spend a great deal of time going one-on-one against enemies, and with your multiple attacks this +1 bonus will add up to a lot of points.
- Bloodthirsty (combat): This is just a bad trait.
- Bullied (combat): If you are building your Monk as an area control defender, this may be useful. You'll likely still depend more on reach weapons, but you can threaten the area inside your weapon's reach with unarmed strikes, allowing this to provide a nice attack bonus from time to time.
- Courageous (combat): Fear saving throws are generally pretty gentle.
- Dedicated Defender (combat): Small and situational.
- Deft Dodger (combat): Your saves are fantastic, but more never hurts.
- Dirty Fighter (combat): If you spend a lot of time flanking, this helps a lot.
- Indelible Ire (combat): This is bad.
- Killer (combat): Critical hits are not for monks.
- Martial Performer (combat): This only matters for the Sensei archetype.
- Nature's Mimic (combat): Monks don't make good librarians.
- Reactionary (combat): Initiative bonuses are always good.
- Reckless (combat): You already get Acrobatics.
- Resilient (combat): Your saves are fantastic, but more never hurts.
- Surprise Weapon (combat): Only useful for the Drunken Master archetype.
- Tactician (combat): Reactionary is probably going to get you better results.
- Vigilant Battler (combat): How many things feint?
- Birthmark (Faith): Charm and compulsion effects are powerful, but you would be better served with a general bonus to Will saves.
- Blessed (Faith): This is bad and hard to use.
- Caretaker (Faith): Heal is a decent option for Monks. You have a respectable Wisdom bonus, and most of your skills are unimportant.
- Child of the Temple (Faith): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Devotee of the Green (Faith): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Disdainful Defender (Faith): About half of all spells are divine, so this is a +2 versus half of all spells. Try not to get into fights with other members of your won faith.
- Ease of Faith (Faith): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Fate's Favored (Faith): Luck bonuses are rare, and you don't have a way to create them.
- Focused Disciple (Faith): Identical to Birthmark.
- History of Heresy (Faith): Disdainful defender gives twice the bonus.
- Indomitable Faith (Faith): Your saves are fantastic, but more never hurts.
- Inspired (Faith): Skills aren't particularly important for Monks, but this is still a fantastic trait.
- Martial Manuscript (Faith): Critical hits aren't a big part of what Monks do, but this applies to nearly every attack you will ever make.
- Oathbound (Faith): Because your saves are fantastic, this is very effective.
- Omen (Faith): Monks generally do not make a good face, but there are a few monk abilities/feats which depend on Intimidate.
- Principled (Faith): Emotion effects are incredibly rare, so Birthmark is probably better.
- Prophesied (Faith): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Reincarnated (Faith): Fear effects are generally gentle, but Death effects will really ruin your day.
- Sacred Touch (Faith): You don't have any healing abilities, so this may be a good way to rescue the healer. Hopefully you won't need it.
- Scholar of the Great Beyond (Faith): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Spirit Sense (Faith): A trait which grants Perception as a class skill will serve you much better.
- Air-Touched (magic): bad, and very situational.
- Classically Schooled (magic): Spellcraft is not a good option for Monks.
- Dangerously Curious (magic): Powerful, but not UMD isn't a good option for Monks due to typically low charisma.
- Earth-Touched (magic): bad, and very situational.
- Eldritch Delver (magic): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Flame-Touched (magic): bad, and very situational.
- Greater Purpose (magic): Reincarnated will be better unless you spend a huge amount of time bleeding to death.
- Magical Talent (magic): There really aren't any options which will give you anything meaningful.
- Mathematical Prodigy (magic): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Reluctant Apprentice (magic): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Skeptic (magic): Very situational.
- Storm-Touched (magic): bad, and very situational.
- Unscathed (magic): Monks have several ways to get energy resistance, and more never hurts.
- Water-Touched (magic): bad, and very situational.
- Acrobat (social): Extremely situational.
- Adopted (social): Opens up a lot of options, and don't actually consume a trait slot.
- Ambitious (social): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Beast Bond (social): Aimals are generally not in the Monk's repertoir.
- Bully (social): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Charming (social): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Child of the Streets (social): You could be decent at Sleight of Hand, but Sleight of Hand is a very situational skill.
- Civilized (social): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Criminal (social): Replace the rogue!
- Fast Talker (social): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Friend in Every Town (social): Monks are neither librarians nor faces.
- Grief-Filled (social): Awful.
- Influence (social): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Life of Toil (social): Your saves are fantastic, but more never hurts.
- Mercenary (social): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Orphaned (social): Survival is situational, but with Monk wisdom you could be good at it.
- Poverty-Stricken (social): Identical to orphaned.
- Savage (social): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Seeker (social): Perception is the most rolled skill in the game, and with a high wisdom you can be very good at it.
- Style Sage (social): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Trustworthy (social): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Truth's Agent (social): Monks do not make good librarians.
- Unintentional Linguist (social): Monks generally do not make a good face, but knowing extra languages is nice.
- Unnatural Revenge (social): Monks generally do not make a good face, and the list of potential targets is very small.
- Unpredictable (social): Monks generally do not make a good face.
- Veiled Disciple (social): Birthmark is better.
- Weathered Emissary (social): Linguistics as a class skill gets you almost nothing.
- Worldly (social): Excellent, but you don't have a lot of skills which will cause you problems if you fail.
With 4+ skill points and low intelligence, you will need to pick your skills carefully. Fortuantely, many Monk skills can function with only one rank.
- Acrobatics (Dex): Mobility is important for any melee fighter, and Acrobatics can help you get into position to do work. You may not have the feats to devote to Dodge and Mobility, so Acrobatics can help you move through combat easily.
- Climb (Str): While not particularly useful, putting one rank into Climb could save your life. Combined with the class bonus and your high strength, you can rely on a +8 bonus for much of your career.
- Escape Artist (Dex): I'm not trapped in here with you. You're trapped in here with me. Escape Artist is highly situational, and most of those situations involve getting away from a monk. Add one rank if you can spare on, but certainly don't focus on Escape Artist too much.
- Intimidate (Cha): Intimidate is you're only interesting charisma-based skill, and Charisma is your dump stat. Unless you have very specific ideas how to use it, such as the Enforcer feat, Intimidate is a waste.
- Knowledge (history) (Int): One of the less important knowledge skills, and your intelligence is garbage.
- Knowledge (religion) (Int): One of the best knowledge skills. If no one in the party has it, maximize it. Otherwise, take one rank and hope for lucky rolls.
- Perception (Wis): Your wisdom is great, and this is the most used skill in the game.
- Perform (Cha): Do you look like a bard? Maybe cute in an RP heavy campaign, but otherwise useless.
- Ride (Dex): You can run faster than a horse by level 6 (9 for dwarves), and don't get a mount. I'm not sure why this is even here.
- Sense Motive (Wis): You have good wisdom, and this may be your only way to really contribute to social situations.
- Stealth (Dex): You're not rogue, but your dexterity is decent and you don't have to worry about armor check penalties. If your party needs a scout, you can certainly step up.
- Swim (Str): Basically underwater climb. One rank, then forget about it.
- Combat Style Master: While it's not strictly required for the Master of Many Styles to function, I can't emphasize how immensely helpful this feat is for the archetype. The ability to start every combat in a style means that you can put up a defensive style like Crane Style at the beginning of combat to keep yourself protected while you wait for your first turn, then you can use Combat Style Master to switch your entire mix of styles at will throughout your turn. The most likely scenario is to switch to a set of offensive styles on your turn, then switch to a set of defensive styles at the end of your turn to protect yourself between turns.
- Power Attack: Without Flurry of Blows you really need all the damage you can get. Using a weapon two-handed with Power Attack may be your best bet.
- Vital Strike: Giving up Flurry of Blows means that doing something other than a Full Attack suddenly becomes an interesting option. Monks aren't great at Vital Strike because their damage doesn't scale fast enough to compete with a real weapon and because they only get 2/3 BAB, but it's technically an option. See my Practical Guide to Vital Strike for more.
- Two-Weapon Fighting: Because Master of Many Styles doesn't get Flurry of Blows, Two-Weapon Fighting may be a way to match the conventional Monk's number of attacks. Unfortunately, it's feat-intensive, requires you to buy multiple expensive weapons, and still doesn't work as well as Flurry of Blows.
Unlike conventional monks, the Master of Many Styles is free to collect style feats and mix-and-match them. I've used a different format here than in my general Monk Handbook in order to further elaborate on the benefits of the styles as a whole rather than discussing the individual feats in a vaccuum.
Boar Style emphasizes Intimidate (which monks are bad at) and hitting enemies multiple times (which the Master of Many Styles is bad at).
- Boar Style: Without Flurry of Blows your chances to hit a single enemy multiple times in a round is greatly diminished. The fact that you can only do this once per turn just makes it worse because there's so little incentive to work to trigger the effect.
- Boar Ferocity: Monks are not good at Intimidate.
- Boar Shred: This feat is amusing for exactly one purpose: You can take it at 1st-level, giving you the ability to demoralize foes as a move action. That's not helpful for the Monk, but it's fantastic for a class dip on a build which relies heavily on Intimidate.
The Crane style is very defensive, works well right away, and all three of the feats are worthwhile. You need to use Fight Defensively to benefit from the style, but because the style usually doesn't matter during your own turn it's a fantastic candidate for a defensive style which you can activate at the end of your turn using Combat Style Master.
Because Fight Defensively is central to the style, check out my Practical Guide to Fighting Defensively for more help.
- Crane Style: Reducing the penalty for Fight Defensively by half is potentially worth a feat on its own, especially if you have 3 ranks in Acrobatics to boost the AC bonus. The additional +1 to AC makes this a clearly excellent choice.
- Crane Wing: An extra +4 AC is pretty great, even though it only applies to melee attacks. You'll need to track how close enemies get to hitting you because you lose the AC bonus on a near-miss. You technically don't need this to get the biggest benefits of Crane Style, but it will make Crane Riposte much more reliable due to your increased AC.
- Crane Riposte: Crane Riposte isn't nearly as effective as I would like it to be. You only get the extra attack if you lose your Crane Wing AC bonus or if you use Full Defense and use your one free deflection per turn. Consider picking this up with a wildcard slot if you don't need anything else at the moment, but it's probably not worth a permanent feat.
Djinni style's biggest draw by far is Djinni spin, which is a lot like Whirlwind Attack except that it's only a standard action, it automatically deals damage, and it can deafen people. Unfortunately it's not always useful, you need to take Elemental Fist for the style to function, and you're limited by the daily uses of Elemental Fist. This is a good style to pick up with wildcard slots, but don't spend real feats on anything past the base style feat.
- Djinni Style: Elemental fist isn't spectacular, and the bonus damage won't help much. The bonus to AC against attacks of opportunity is situational at best, but complements Mobility nicely if you plan to run into a group of enemies and trigger Djinni Spin. The Wisdom bonus to damage also applies to Djinni Spin, which is nice. Note that Djinni style also specifies that you must deal electricity damage with Elemental Fist while in Djinni style, which is not a restriction that other genie styles share. Talk to your GM; maybe they'll be kind enough to ignore this.
- Djinni Spirit: The deafening effect is nice, but being deafened generally isn't very problematic. The resistance to electricity is also nice, but can be replaced by a cheap spell. Skip this feat and pick it up with a wildcard slot if you're facing an enemy that deals lightning damage.
- Djinni Spin: Far better than Whirlwind Attack, Djinni Spin deals automatic damage. Combined with Djinni Spirit, Djinni Spin also deafens targets, but that almost never matters. Pick this up with a wildcard slot when there is a group of enemies that you could hit with the effect, but don't keep it hanging around when you're not actively using it.
Dragon Style is a weird style for several reasons. The style itself offers a minor boost to your damage that's barely worth noting and a handful of bonuses to saves. If you're using Vital Strike you might consider Dragon Style and Dragon Ferocity for the extra Strength damage, but unless your Strength is extremely high they're not worth the feats. The real draw is Dragon Roar, which applies some damage in a cone and makes the targets Shaken. If you have Elemental Fist you can boost the damage, and Djinni Style's boost to Elemental Fist damage should apply. That's tempting, but Efreeti Style can also produce a cone that does the same damage and uses less of your limited daily resources.
While it's not terribly important due to the Master of Many Style's ability to ignore style feat prerequisites, it's interesting to note that Dragon Style is a fork rather than a linear series of feats like other styles.
- Dragon Style: A grab bag of bonuses and buffs, Dragon Style is decent, but not spectacular. The bonus damage to your unarmed strikes sounds great, but even with 30 Strength it's at most 5 more damage per turn.
- Dragon Ferocity: Doubling the damage bonus from Strength may be useful if you're using Vital Strike or something, but I still don't think it's worth the feats. The critical hit mechanic is nice, but without Flurry of Blows it's hard to capitalize on.
- Dragon Roar: The cone's small duration means that you can affect at most 6 targets, but automatic damage is still pretty good. Adding the Shaken condition is also nice, as Shaken can really make an enemy vulnerable. Don't plan to spam this, but it's a cool option on turns when you need to move into combat. Also note that the extra damage from Dragon Style and Dragon Ferocity don't apply because this isn't an attack. If you have Elemental Fist you can add some additional damage, which you can further improve if you're also in Djinni style.
Earth Child Style
Unless you're in a campaign in which giants are a constant antagonist, skip this style.
- Earth Child Style: Unless you fight a huge number of giants, this is useless. If you do fight large numbers of giants, this is a significant benefit both offensively and defensively.
- Earth Child Topple: Unless you fight a huge number of giants, this is useless.
- Earth Child Binder: Situational, even if you're fighting giants exclusively.
Similar to Djinni style in many ways, but Efreeti style adds the ability to apply ongoing fire damage. For the Master of Many Styles, any amount of extra damage is a huge temptation.
- Efreeti Style: Similar to Djinni style, this adds a small amount of damage to your Elemental Fist, which is a fairly limited resource due to the limited uses per day.
- Efreeti Stance: The resistance is nice, and setting things on fire is awesome. Short of an appropriate source of water, the only way to overcome the "on fire" condition is to waste a round in hopes that you will pass the reflex save. Then when they finally do, you can just set them on fire again.
- Efreeti Touch: The cone is small, but setting a bunch of enemies on fire is undeniably effective. The ongoing damage is fairly small, but it is costly to overcome, and racks up faster than you might expect.
Grabbing style is the go-to option for monks who want to grapple. It functions on its own for the most part, but consider adding Snapping
- Grabbing Style: Essential for any grappler. This makes it much easier to grapple two targets at the same time.
- Grabbing Drag: With Swift Grapple, you can make three grapple checks in a turn and damage or move two opponents.
- Grabbing Master: The biggest appeal of Grabbing Style is that you can affect two targets at once without penalty. This provides a tiny bit of extra mobility, but it doesn't function under Grabbing Style's primary use case. Save this for a wildcard slot if you ever need it.
Normally a spectacular option for the Monk, giving up Flurry of Blows makes Jabbing Style considerably less effective. Unless you're built for two-weapon fighting or something, skip Jabbing style. If you are built for two-weapon fighting for some reason, I would pick up Jabbing Master using one of your bonus feats slots and skip Jabbing Dancer, then pick up Jabbing Dancer with a wildcard slot in those rare cases where it matters.
- Jabbing Style: Master of Many Styles doesn't get enough attacks to make this appealing.
- Jabbing Dancer: Fantastic for moving into flanking or getting out of a bad position in combat, but without Flurry of Blows you don't get enough attacks to make this meaningful. Pick it up with a wildcard slot if you think you'll need it.
- Jabbing Master: The damage here is nuts. Your second successful attack adds +2d6 damage, and every further successful attack adds +4d6 damage. But without Two-Weapon Fighting or Flurry of blows you don't have enough attacks to make this meaningful.
Unlike the other genie styles, Janni Style doesn't touch energy damage. Instead, it focuses primarily on charging, but also touches Bull Rush and Trip for some reason. The uses are all situational so I don't recommend investing permanent feat slots in anything past the base Janni Style feat, but unfortunately that means that you'll need to invest skill ranks into Perform (Dance).
Even in the best use cases for the style, there are other feats which work better. Janni Style is worse than Dodge. Janni Temptest is a nice bonus, but the setup is too problematic, and other styles give you free attempts which are more appealing than a bonus which requires you to invest your limited number of attacks in attempting to Bull Rush or Trip. Janni Rush offers the chance to double your base damage on a charge, but Vital Strike does the same thing and doesn't require charging or jumping.
- Janni Style: Dodge is strictly better.
- Janni Tempest: Based on the wording, it's not clear if this bonus applies to free Bull Rush or Trip attempts that you could get from other styles like Pummeling Bully or Tiger Claws. As a GM I would rule that the bonus applies, if only to make these feat the tiniest bit useful.
- Janni Rush: This only doubles the base damage dice, and only on a charge if you jump as part of the charge (so you can't do it while burrowing, climbing, flying, or swimming). Honestly, with Monk speed I think you're better off taking Vital Strike and using a move action beforehand.
Kiring style requires high Intelligence and ranks in Knowledge skills to be useful, and monks are bad at both of those things.
- Kirin Style: A bonus to saving throws against attacks. Not special attacks. Not spells. Not special abilities. Attacks. There's some room to argue that "Attack" in this case constitutes any hostile action (similar to how the spell Invisibility breaks when you "attack"), but it's not clear, so check with your GM. Oh, and a bonus against attacks of opportunity for some reason. On top of how weird the bonuses are, monks are typically terrible at Knowledge skills, so I don't know how you would reliably benefit from the feat.
- Kirin Strike: Oh good, now you're dependent on Intelligence for damage on top of the other 4 abilities you need just to remain upright. Making this a swift action is just cruel considering how much you need to invest to do more than the minimum damage with it.
- Kirin Path: Taking 10 on knowledge checks to identify creatures is nice, and you can do it "even when using Kirin Style", which is great because that's the only time that you would want to do it. You can dance around your enemies a bit when they move up to you, but to get any real use out of this you need a particularly high intelligence.
Mantis Style peaks with its first feat. If you want to improve Stunning Fist you should consider Mantis Style, and you can pick up Mantis Wisdom with a wildcard slot, but Mantis Torment is garbage and you should ignore it.
- Mantis Style: Stunning fist is very effective, but its biggest problem is the DC. This helps quite a bit.
- Mantis Wisdom: The first half of the benefits of this feat is very odd. It encourages multiclassing as a Monk, and allows you to remove Stunning Fist effects. I'm not sure why you would do either of those things. The only real draw is the +2 to stunning fist attacks, which is nice because missing wastes the attempt. Pick this up with a wildcard slot on turns where you plan to use Stunning Fist.
- Mantis Torment: So instead of becoming Stunned, which robs them of their entire turn, forces them to drop their weapons, and makes them flat-footed with an extra -2 to AC, the enemy is dazzled (-1 to attacks), staggered (one action), and then Fatigued a turn later. This actually makes Stunning Fist worse. You could arguably hit them again to make them Exhausted, but at that point you've spent four Stunning Fist attempts to apply a status condition that's less harmful than Stunned.
Basically the same as the other elemental genie styles. Marid style deals and resists cold damage, gives you the ability to entangle enemies, and lets you deal damage in a line.
- Marid Style: Similar to Djinni style, this adds a small amount of damage to your Elemental Fist, which is a fairly limited resource due to the limited uses per day. You get the option to increase your reach when using Elemental Fist to deal cold damage, but Elemental Fist applies to a single attack at a time, so you'll likely only use that option on turns when you move or if you're using Vital Strike.
- Marid Spirit: The ice resistance is nice, but the Entangle effect is the real draw. Entangled lowers AC and CMD, and keeps people in place for additional punching.
- Marid Coldsnap: Lines are one of the least useful AOEs, but the Entangled effect and automatic damage is nice. I would reserve this for one of your wildcard slots when enemies happen to form a convenient line.
The only good feat in Monkey Style is Monkey Shine, and it's not good enough to justify the style feat to make it a wildcard option. The best use case I can think of is a Brawler taking a level dip into Master of Many Styles to pick up Monkey Shine without needing to waste a feat on Monkey Moves.
- Monkey Style: If you spend a lot of time prone, you are a very bad monk.
- Monkey Moves: This allows you to move in a lot of ways that you generally won't want to move, and makes you slightly better at climbing.
- Monkey Shine: Without the normal number of attacks from Flurry of Blows, the Master of Many Styles can't easily capitalize on this before enemies move away.
Panther Style is one of my absolute favorites because it runs counter to so much of how combat works in Pathfinder. Highly mobile builds are generally rare exceptions, and drawing attacks of opportunity is generally something you work really hard to avoid. Instead, the Panther Style encourages you to run around drawing attacks of opportunity and punching anything foolish enough to take them.
Unlike many other styles, Panther Style really requires you to invest in it for it to work to its full potential. Fortunately, the feats' prerequisites are all easy to meet, and you could easily pick up all three feats by third level. I strongly recommend picking up Dodge and Mobility to keep your AC high while you're intentionally provoking attacks of opportunity. Djinni Style grants an AC bonus similar to Mobility (and it stacks since they're both Dodge bonuses), but unless you actively plan to use Djinni Style you'll probably get more use out of Crane Style.
You are required to use unarmed strikes with Panther Style, which may be a problem if you planned to use a weapon two-handed.
For this style to work, your GM needs to be willing to accommodate you and to avoid metagaming. Obviously your GM will know that making an attack of opportunity against you is a bad idea, but the GM needs to control enemies as though they didn't have that knowledge at the start of a fight. Intelligent enemies might figure it out after one or two attempts to hit you, but enemies with poor Intelligence and/or Wisdom should probably take longer to figure it out.
If you don't trust your GM to play along, this probably isn't the right build for your game. If your GM wants a predefined rule for determining when an enemy might figure out the gimmick, consider making a Bluff check opposed by the target's Sense Motive, and if the target wins they learn to avoid making attacks of opportunity against you. You could even grant a +2 bonus on the Sense Motive check each time the defender falls into your Attack of Opportunity trap so that they're guaranteed to figure it out if they live long enough. Of course, monks are garbage at Bluff, so this mechanic heavily favors your enemies. Discuss it with your GM, and try to come up with something that feels fair to everyone at the table.
- Panther Style: Without Flurry of Blows to lock you in place, mobility is much more appealing for the Master of Many Styles than it is for the vanilla Monk.
- Panther Claw: Run through mobs of enemies at crazy Monk speed and punch the snot out of everything dumb enough to try to stop you. You probably want Mobility, or you're going to eat a lot of damage trying to draw these attacks.
- Panther Parry: This really improves the reliability of Panther Claw. You have the potential to kill, stun, trip, or otherwise disable the target before they attack you, and you apply a -2 penalty to their attack if they're still able to attack you.
DR is a show stopper for the Master of Many Styles. With the same per-hit damage as a conventional monk and fewer attacks, any reduction to your damage output is a serious handicap. Applying DR only once in a turn can go a long way to address this issue. However, because you can't rely on your iterative attacks as much as a vanilla monk can rely on the extra Flurry of Blows attacks, the style may not pay off as much as you would like. You're also locked into fighting unarmed, which may be a problem if you're trying to fight using a weapon two-handed.
Pummeling Bully and Pummeling Charge both have situationally useful benefits, so keep them in mind for use with your wildcard slots when those situations arise.
While it's not terribly important due to the Master of Many Style's ability to ignore style feat prerequisites, it's interesting to note that Pummeling Style is a fork rather than a linear series of feats like other styles.
- Pummeling Style: An excellent choice for most monks, but not essential for the Master of Many Styles because you don't have Flurry of Blows.
- Pummeling Bully: You only need to hit once, and this is much easier to get than Improved Trip, but I would keep this as an option for your wildcard slots.
- Pummeling Charge: Making a full attack on a charge is almost always better than making a single attack. But most turns don't involve a charge, so pick this up with a wildcard slot when you need it and dump it when you don't.
Shaitan style is basically the same as Efreeti style, but instead of setting things on fire it deals acid damage and makes them staggered.
- Shaitan Style: Similar to Djinni style, this adds a small amount of damage to your Elemental Fist, which is a fairly limited resource due to the limited uses per day. If you miss you still deal the acid damage, which is pretty nice for your iterative attacks.
- Shaitan Skin: The acid resistance is decent, and Staggerred is a pretty good status condition.
- Shaitan Earthblast: Columns are a great AOE shape, and this has the best range of the genie styles. Automatic unarmed strike damage is great, and staggering groups of enemies can really turn a battle in your favor.
Snake Style on its own is a passable way to defend yourself at extremely low levels, but Snake Fang is the real draw of the style. An attack of opportunity every time an enemy attacks and misses you means that a reliable AC suddenly becomes a boost to your damage output. Combine this with Crane Style to make your AC really good and pick up Combat Reflexes so you can make more attacks. Put Fortuitous on your weapon or your Amulet of Mighty Fists and you can get an extra attack once per round (albeit at -5 to hit).
- Snake Style: And suddenly Sense Motive is your AC. At first level, with one rank, 14 wisdom, and Snake Style, you can have a +8 to Sense Motive, which likely beats your AC bonus. This is an immediate action, so you can only do it once per round, which means you still want to invest in your AC for iterative attacks and multiple enemies. As you grow in level, your Sense Motive bonus will likely outpace your AC if only because you get guaranteed skill ranks every level.
- Snake Sidewind: Only take this if you're building to emphasize critical hits, which you shouldn't do because it's a terrible idea. Conveniently, you can pick up Snake Fang as a bonus feat and totally skip Snake Sidewind.
- Snake Fang: A free attack when your enemy misses is good enough to justify taking Combat Reflexes and standing in crowds of enemies to draw fire. Because you also use your immediate action to use Snake Style to replace your AC, you may need to decide between defending yourself or relying on your AC and potentially hitting your opponent an extra time.
Snapping Turtle Style
Unless you're building as a grappler, skip Snapping Turtle Style. Crane Style will get you more AC, so Snapping Turtle Clutch is the style's only real selling point.
- Snapping Turtle Style: Dodge is strictly better, but this contributes to the Monk's flat-footed AC, which is generally terrible.
- Snapping Turtle Clutch: Literally the only reason to take this is for the free grapple attempts.
- Snapping Turtle Shell: An extra +1 to AC still isn't much, but it applies to your AC/touch AC/flat-footed AC, which is nice. -4 to critical hit confirmations against you won't matter much, but it certainly feels comforting.
Tiger Style is a really weird gimmick where you shove enemies away from you, then chase them down on the following round to hit them and push them away again. This combination has numerous points of failure, so the whole setup can fall apart quickly with a bad roll or if your enemy somehow gets out of your reach. Perhaps the biggest draw of the style, at least for the Master of Many Styles, is Tiger Claws for the ability to make two attacks at your highest Base Attack bonus. Tiger Pounce is only situationally useful, so use Combat Style Master and your wildcard slots to pick it up as a free action in those rare moment where it's useful.
- Tiger Style: Slashing damage is only occasionally helpful, the CMD bonus is situational, critical hits aren't something that Monks can really rely on, and even in the case of a critical hit the bleed damage doesn't last long enough to be meaningful.
- Tiger Claws: Because you don't get Flurry of Blows, this may be a passable replacement. At any given level, two attacks at your highest BAB is likely more effective than the two or three you'll get with normal iterative attacks. You also get to bull rush your enemy away from you, which can seriously hinder enemies which rely on making a full attack, then follow up with Tiger Pounce on your next turn.
- Tiger Pounce: You get to move as a swift action, which is great, but it can only be toward an enemy you hit on this turn or your previous turn. The most likely scenario is that you're chasing a fleeing foe or that you're closing with an enemy which you pushed away with Tiger Claws.
Many styles lock you into fighting unarmed. If you avoid those styles, I suggest using a single weapon two-handed so you can benefit from the additional Strength and Power Attack damage. Because you don't need to worry about Flurry of Blows, you might even consider getting proficiency in something interesting like an elven curveblade or something.
Monks can't use armor, so I recommend getting someone in your party to cast Mage Armor on you. With hours/level duration even a low level wizard can cover you for the full adventuring day. If your pet Wizard is stingy with his spell slots, drop 1000 gold pieces to buy him a Pearl of Power 1 so you can both share Mage Armor from one slot. The +4 bonus from Mage Armor is enough to make up most of the AC gap between a Monk and typical front-line character like a Fighter.
- Blade of the Sword-Saint (75,350 gp): 18-20 threat range and you can use it two-handed. I'm not sure if it's worth the cost because Ki Intensifying isn't very good, but sometimes you just really want to double-down on the far-east feel of a monk swinging a katana.
- Brawling (+1): Add your enhancement bonus to all of your combat maneuvers. Conveniently, unarmed strikes are light bludgeoning weapons so you could put this on an Amulet of Mighty Fists if you wanted to do so.
- Furyborn (+2): The best case scenario for this weapon ability is for a monk to put it on an amulet of mighty fists. You need to be attacking with the same weapon a large number of times to make the ability work, and monks are the best way to do that. Unfortunately, it's not clear if the maximum bonus of +5 is +5 in total with other enhancement bonuses (like your +5 unarmed strikes) or if it's +5 just from Furyborn. If it's the latter, the appeal of attacking with a +10 enhancement bonus is hard to ignore. Of course, you still face the issue that you should be killing enemies too quickly for this to ramp up, in which case you're sinking a bunch of money into an ability that rarely matters.
- Ki Focus (+1): If you insist on using weapons, you need to have this.
- Ki Intensifying (+2): Basically Ki Focus but you get to add half of your enhancement bonus to relevant special abilities. If you plan to put a bunch of money into an enhancement bonus this might work, but I would wait until you have a ton of spare money before you even consider this ability. Enhancing your Wisdom will do much more for you for much less money.
- Wounding (+2): Because the bleed stacks with itself, Wounding works best when you make a huge number of attacks with a single weapon, which is where monks specialize. Unfortunately, most of the time you'll get more damage out of abilities like Flaming because bleed damage takes so long to deal significant of damage. This could be great against enemies with huge pools of hit points, but even against those foes you'll do more damage hitting them more on successive rounds.
- Wyroot (1,000/2,000/4,000): An easily-overlooked method for recovering Ki. Attacking a helpless target is an automatic critical hit, so you can use this to farm Ki from unconscious enemies. If you deal nonlethal damage you can beat the same target repeatedly to fully restore your Ki pool, then fill the weapon to recharge later. I would only get the first tier of the effect unless you're high level and built to emphasize critical hits..
- Protection: You need all the AC you can get.
- Cure Light Wounds: You can't use it, so buddy up to someone who can. Your hit points will go up and down very sharply on a normal day, so this will see a lot of use.
- Mage Armor: You can't use it, so buddy up to someone who can. It has a one-hour duration, which should last through several fights if you have time to cast it ahead of time. It provides as much AC as Bracers of Armor +4, which cost 16000gp. That's more than 23 wands worth of GP. If you go through 1 wand per level (I don't know how you would manage to do that) you will still save money.
- Amulet of Mighty Fists: This allows you to add special weapon abilities to your unarmed strikes. Notably, it doesn't require a +1 enhancement bonus like a weapon does, so you can go straight to the fun stuff. The Impact enhancement is tempting since it lets you use a larger damage scale, but Paizo has ruled that unarmed strikes count as light weapons and Impact can't be placed on light weapons. Instead, consider options like shocking, speed (oh look more attacks), or holy.
- Belt of Physical Perfection: Get one early, and upgrade it often.
- Bracers of Armor: A wand of Mage Armor provides as much AC as +4 bands, and for the same cost you can guy a huge box of wands, and get the AC bonus at much lower level.
- Cloak of Resistance: Too crucial to forego.
- Deliquescent Gloves: For just 8,000 gp you can add +1d6 acid damage to attacks made with your hands. You'll need to use your hands for unarmed strikes to get the damage, but if you're not using a weapon that's probably not a problem. These cost as much as a +2 weapon, so wait to get these until your Amulet of Mighty Fists is already +2-equivalent.
- Ioun Stone (Dusty Rose): At only 5000gp, a Dusty Rose Ioun Stone provides a cheaper boost to AC than upgrading your Ring of Protection from +1 to +2. The bonus is an insight bonus, which makes it easy to stack because insight bonuses to AC are extremely rare.
- Headband of inspired wisdom: Get one for the extra AC, ki pool, and boost to your saves, but your belt is more important.
- Monk's Belt: Your belt of Physical Perfection will be considerably more effective.
- Monk's Robe: Similar to the Monk's Belt, but you pretend to be 5 levels higher instead of 4 and it takes your mostly useless robe slot.
- Longarm Bracers: Functionally similar to the Lunge feat, but they only work 3 times per day and they don't impose a penalty on attack rolls for your unarmed strikes. Lunge is too situational to justify a feat in my opinion, so these are a fantastic option for covering those rare situations when you need some extra reach.
- Quickrunner's Shirt: Though it only functions once per day, the Quickrunner's Shirt solves the Monk's biggest problem: the need to move and make a full attack in the same turn. Talk to your GM about allowing better versions which allow you to use the ability more than once per day.
- Enlarge Person: Large size brings a nice Strength bonus, reach, a considerable increase in the Monk's unarmed strike damage, and a size bonus to CMB/CMD.
- Magic Fang: For roughly 3000gp (2500 for permanent magic fang, 450 for an NPC spellcaster casting Permanency, and probably 90gp for that same spellcaster to actually cast Magic Fang) you can have permanent +1 to attack and damage. When your party members are upgrading to +1 weapons, this is a great low-cost option until you can afford +5 Greater Magic Fang.
- Magic Fang, Greater: Assuming that you can find someone with Caster Level 20, permanent +5 to your unarmed strikes costs just 8550gp (7500 for permanent greater magic fang, 1000 for permanency by that same caster or 450 for someone else to do it, plus 600 to actually cast greater magic fang at CL 20), only a hair more than a +2 weapon. So while your buddies are waving their +2 longswords around, you're caving in monsters' faces with your +5 fists of fury.
Multiclassing and Prestige Classes
Monks benefit very little from multiclassing, but other classes can benefit greatly from a dip into Monk for one or two levels. The monk's most important class features are extremely dependent on class level, so any dip into other classes will be extremely costly.
- Brawler: A single level gets you Brawler's Flurry, which may be enough to replace Flurry of Blows.
- Unchained Rogue: One level gets you Weapon Finesse for free. Three levels gets you Dexterity to damage instead of Strength for one weapon. Unarmed Strike is an option, though you may want to stick to an actual weapon since you're giving up three levels worth of unarmed strike progression.
Example Build - The Striking Panther
Eventually they'll learn to stop swinging at me, but by then they'll all be dead.
This build works primarily by combining Panther Style and Snake Style to intentionally draw attacks However, mixing in other styles (Crane Style, Pummeling Style, etc.) as you gain levels makes the build gradually more effective and reliable.
Our ideal scenario looks like this: You move, drawing an attack of opportunity. You interrupt your opponent with Panther Parry to hit them. They then take their attack at a -2 penalty against your AC +4 (Mobility), and when they miss, you take an attack of opportunity against them. If you haven't used your immediate action for the round, you can spend it to get another free attack with Snake Fang. That's up to three free attacks at your full base attack bonus, and if you moved 10 feet before drawing attacks of opportunity, all of them are sneak attacks. Now do that for every enemy on the field in one turn (minus the second free attack made as an immediate action because you only get one per round).
For our favored class bonus, I recommend getting additional hit points. This is a Defender/Striker build, so you're filling in for a fighter or a similar character. You can afford to leave the skills to other party members, but you need to make up the gap created by your d8 hit points.
This build has two serious flaws: First, the build is chained to the potential drawbacks of Panther Style (see the section on panther Style, above). If your GM isn't willing to be accommodating with Panther Style, the whole build falls apart.
Second, the build is limited by the Monk's relatively small amount of damage dealt with a single unarmed strike. You'll want to pick up ways to deal extra damage with each attack like permanently enhancing your unarmed strikes and an amulet of mighty fists loaded with things like Flaming and Shocking.
Your specific ability spread doesn't differ from a conventional monk. You'll want enough Dexterity to make Snake Fang and Combat Reflexes really effective, and you'll want at least 14 Wisdom for Panther Style so you can use it more than once per round.
Your choice of race matters very little to the build. Human gets you an extra feat at level 1, which is helpful but not essential. Half-Elf can get you proficiency in an exotic weapon as an alternate racial trait. Halfling is a tempting option because the bonuses for small size may outweigh the reduction in damage by keeping you alive and making your attacks more accurate.
Your skills don't matter much, but I recommend taking at least three ranks in Acrobatics to improve Fight Defensively so that you can capitalize on Crane Style.
Bullied and any other trait. The majority of our attacks will be attacks of opportunity which you're forced to make unarmed, so Bullied will get a lot of mileage.
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
|1 - Monk 1|| || |
At this level we're all about Snake Style. Put yourself on the front lines and draw fire. Ideally you want an enemy to miss you so that you get to make two attacks against them. Since Panther Style hasn't made its way into your build yet, use a two-handed weapon to maximize your damage output. A Sansetsukon is my go-to for monks, but if you're a half-elf you might have something better.
We're intentionally skipping Snake Widewind. It's not essential to the build since we can use our bonus feats to go straight to Snake Fang.
|2 - Monk 2|| || |
At this level you don't want to use Panther Style too much. It's risky to provoke attacks of opportunity before you've picked up options to boost your AC. The best plan is to try to use Snake Fang's immediate action attack, which will preclude your swift action when your turn comes back around, then use Panther Style if you didn't get to use Snake Fang.
|3 - Monk 3|| || |
Combat Reflexes makes Snake Fang considerably more effective because we can make more than one free attack in a given round. If your AC is decent, now is the time to start putting yourself into groups of enemies.
At this level we also hit 3 ranks in Acrobatics. If you're using a weapon with the Blocking property like a tonfa or a 9-section whip you can now use Fight Defensively to get a total +4 to AC, though the -4 to attacks may be too much to overcome at this level.
|4 - Monk 4|| || |
Without Flurry of Blows, your Ki Pool is much less useful. Expect to use it for Qinggong abilities if you use it at all.
This is the first level where we can use Qinggong Monk to trade abilities. Drop Slow Fall for Barkskin. Barkskin is one of the most useful AC buffs in the game, and it's a much better use of your Ki than the 1-round AC buff. Even at this low level you have enough Ki to keep Barkskin running throughout your entire adventuring day.
|5 - Monk 5|| || |
Panther claw allows our attacks from Panther Style to keep up with out attacks from Snake Fang. That means that your typical turn will nearly always include using your move action to walk around and provoke attacks of opportunity. By this level you have +10 ft. move speed, so you can cover quite a few squares with a move action. If you need to remain in place to prevent enemies from getting close to your squishy friends, you can always take a nice walk before returning to the square in which you started.
Consider trading High Jump for a Qinggong ability like Ki Stand, but at this level you have few worthwhile Qinggong options.
|6 - Monk 6|| || |
This level brings our first Wildcard Slot. Generally that's going to be filled by Panther Parry, but since we have the prerequisites for Panther Parry the Wildcard Slot is objectively better than permanently picking the feat.
With Snake Fang and Panther Parry both running, you're now able to fulfill the core function of the build. Use Panther Parry to hit enemies and handicap their attacks of opportunity, then when they miss hit them with the attack from Snake Fang.
By this level you have enough gold that getting permanent +5 unarmed strikes is affordable. Because this build depends so heavily on unarmed strikes, this is an absolutely fantastic investment. +5 damage is already good, but consider picking up an amulet of mighty fists with something to improve your damage further.
|7 - Monk 7|| || |
We've got lots of options at this point. If you're hitting reliably (and you should with +5 unarmed strikes) you might consider Power Attack instead of a style feat. You might even consider a class dip at this level. Brawler, Fighter, and Rogue all offer some excellent options. More style feats seems like the obvious way to go because we're using Master of Many Styles, but don't limit yourself to style feats.
But this is a build guide, so I'm going to give you a fixed choice. We get to add an additional simultaneous style at 8th level thanks to Fuse Style, so another style feat makes sense. Since we're spending a lot of time drawing attacks, I think working toward Crane Style makes the most sense. Unfortunately that means we'll need to pick up Dodge and wait a while. Enjoy that +1 Dodge bonus to AC while you're running around drawing attacks. Barkskin also improves at this level, so your AC jumps nicely.
|8 - Monk 8|| || |
If you didn't pick up a third style feat, this level is very boring. You get your first iterative attack at this level, but since you need to spend your move action walking around don't expect to use it. Walking out of a threatened space then walking back in can get you 2 to 3 attacks at your full BAB, which is obviously more effective than one attack at BAB -5.
|9 - Monk 9|| || |
With Crane Style, 3 ranks in Acrobatics, and a blocking weapon, you can Fight Defensively for -2 to attacks and a total +5 to AC. That's a pretty great trade. If you want to do so for some reason, you can use your Wildcard slot to drop Panther Parry to pick up Crane Wing for another +4 Dodge bonus to AC against melee attacks. That will make you really hard to hit, which will make Snake Fang really effective.
|10 - Monk 10|| || |
With two wildcard slots, you can run both Panther Parry and Crane Wing at the same time so you're both dangerous and hard to hit.
Beyond 10th level things get even more flexible. You have all of the gimmicks that the build really cares about, so you're totally free to experiment. Remember that you're dependent on taking a move action, so anything that takes a full round action doesn't work. Fighter seems like a great option for the feats, but levels of ninja or rogue might work if you can reliably deliver sneak attack damage (try using Catch Off-Guard or stunning enemies).