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Pathfinder - The Unchained Monk Handbook

Last Updated: October 15, 2018

Disclaimer

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.

Temporary Note: Paizo has recently discontinued support of their official SRD. From this point forward SRD links on RPGBOT.net will instead link to d20PFSRD.com. While Archive of Nethys is now Paizo's officially licensed partner for the purposes of serving the Pathfinder SRD, Archive of Nethys is a horribly designed website and it simply doesn't match d20PFSRD's ability to keep pace with published content and d20PFSRD's search functionality.

If you encounter any links which still point to the old SRD, please email me so that I can correct them. I also recently added a page explaining my supported content which you may find helpful. --September 15, 2018

Introduction

Oh, thank whatever pantheon of gods your setting uses. Someone finally fixed the Monk. Since 3.0, the Monk has been the laughingstock of classes. No amount of splat books, errata, archetypes, or alternate class features could make the Monk work. Monks have always faced two problems:

First, they are difficult to play. The Monks biggest class features were incompatible. The class was a front-line class with garbage AC and no hit points. Monks needed high scores in every ability score. Second, Monks couldn't do anything. Their best trick was to punch things, and basically every martial class in the game could do that better. Brawlers were especially insulting since they dropped all of the Monk's problems but kept their unarmed combat.

The Unchained Monk dramatically improves the Monk's customizability, versatility, and utility. A whole host of new options allow Monks to function as a Defender in addition to their existing abilities as a Striker, bringing them at least up to the capabilities of a Fighter.

This guide is for the Unchained Monk. For the vanilla Monk, see my Monk Handbook.

What's New?

The Unchained Monk is the most significantly changed Unchained class. It drops all of the lingering nastiness that monks retained from 3.5 and finally makes the monk simple to build without relying on 2+ archetypes to get a functional vanilla monk.

  • Ki Powers: Ki Powers add a talent-style customization option to Monks, allowing for much more diversity among Monk builds. The list of options includes powers which monks were previously locked into like Slow Fall and Quivering Palm, as well as a handful of exciting new options. Qinggong Monks players may find the mechanic familiar.
  • Style Strikes: Unique strikes to add as rider effects once or twice each time you use Flurry of Blows, adding a lot of interesting options to the Monk's favorite combat option.
  • Flawless Mind: You'll notice that Unchained Monks get low Will saves. This will fix it, but not until 19th level.
  • Updated Numbers: d10 hit points, full BAB, and low Will saves. Altogether, a dramatic improvement that brings the monk on par with the fighter. You can fix bad will saves with Iron Will, while vanilla monks need to fix their hit points with Toughness and have no way to fix their medium BAB.
  • No Archetypes: Any archetype published for the vanilla Monk is not compatible with the Unchained Monk. While the loss of variety is unfortunate, the improvement to the class is so significant that I think it's a fair trade.

Unchained Monk Class Features

Hit Points: Finally! The Monk has normal hit points for a martial character.

Base Attack Bonus: The Monk's primary offensive option, Flurry of Blows, pretended that the Monk had full BAB. Not actually giving Monks full BAB was an absurd and complicated aspect of the class which had no discernable positive effect on the game.

Saves: Good Fortitude and Reflex saves. Vanilla Monks also get good Will saves, so this is a minor setback, but Monks need Wisdom anyway so your Will save should be fine.

Proficiencies: Monks get a really bizzarre collection of exotic weapons, but many of them provide bonuses to combat maneuvers, and the ability to use Flurry of Blows with monk weapons allows you to get the same number of attacks as a TWF build, but with the damage output of a two-handed build.

Skills: No change here. Monks still have garbage skills, which makes it very difficult for them to fill non-combat roles in the party.

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.

Flurry of Blows (Ex): This is the Monk's iconic attack. It follows the same progression as a fighter maximizing the two-weapon fighting feats, but you have no "off-hand" attacks. You don't even need free hands. You can use your feet if your hands are full. You can also alternate freely between weapons and unarmed strikes, and you can substitute disarm, sunder, and trip combat maneuvers for unarmed attacks.

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.

Brawler/Monk Unarmed Strike Damage by Size and Level
Level Small Medium Large Huge Gargantuan Colossal
1st-3rd 1d4 1d6 1d8 2d6 3d6 4d6
4th-7th 1d6 1d8 2d6 3d6 4d6 6d6
8th-11th 1d8 1d10 2d8 3d8 4d8 6d8
12th-15th 1d10 2d6 3d6 4d6 6d6 8d8
16th-19th 2d6 2d8 3d8 4d8 6d8 8d8
20th 2d8 2d10 4d8 6d8 8d8 12d8
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.

Bonus Feats: With the addition of the Advanced Player's Guide and Ultimate Combat, the Monk has a lot of great bonus feat options. And the best part: "A monk need not have any of the prerequisites normally required for these feats to select them." This is especially great for the high level style feats, since many of the prerequisites are fairly awful.

  • 1st Level
    • Catch Off-Guard: There isn't a single time when an improvised weapon will deal more damage than a Monk's Unarmed Strike.
    • Combat Reflexes: Attacks of Opportunity let you control the battlefiend, and this combines well with Greater Trip.
    • Deflect Arrows: Very situational.
    • Dodge: The Monk generally has low AC, and an extra point is a big help.
    • Improved Grapple: Essential for any grappler..
    • Scorpion Style: You give up your full attack for a slightly annoying debuff. Oh, and if you miss or they save you're totally hosed.
    • Throw Anything: Monks are not usually ranged characters, and those who are use bows or thrown weapons.
  • 6th Level
    • Gorgon's Fist: Getting this without prerequisites makes it non-functional because Gorgon's Fist only works on enemies already affected by Scorpion Style.
    • Improved Bull Rush: Too situational.
    • Improved Disarm: You can bypass Combat Expertise, but this is still situational.
    • Improved Feint: You are not a Rogue.
    • Improved Trip: Getting this without Combat Expertise is fantastic.
    • Mobility: If you are within reach of something, you should be punching it.
  • 10th Level
    • Improved Critical: Going from 20 to 19-20 isn't a big enough leap to justify a feat.
    • Ki Throw: Very situational.
    • Medusa's Wrath: Skipping Scorpion Style and Gorgon's Fist makes this extremely potent. Lead off a combo with Stunning Fist, and get two free attacks! At level 12 you can make foes staggered for 1d6+1 rounds, allowing you to continue to use this feat without spending additional Ki.
    • Snatch Arrows: Situational and inneffective.
    • Spring Attack: You need to full attack to do damage as monk.
  • 14th Level
    • Binding Throw: This is a hard feat to make work. You need Ki Throw, but if you have both you can easily start a grapple with an opponent you just tripped.
    • Improved Ki Throw: Still very situational, and skipping the prereq doesn't get you anything.

Stunning First (Ex): Another iconic Monk ability, stunning fist gets better as you advance. A stunned creature drops everything held (free disarm!), can't take actions, takes a -2 penalty to AC, and loses its Dexterity bonus to AC (if any). This makes the rest of your iterative attacks much better, and prevents the target from taking attacks of opportunity when you make Combat Maneuver attempts in place of your iterative attacks. At higher levels you can instead make the target fatigued (-2 to CMD due to reduced str and dex), sickened (-2 to saves so you can more reliably apply other affects), staggered (only one action per turn), permanently blinded or deafened (permanently flat-footed or permanently bad at casting spells), and finally paralyzed (lol). The only issue is that it's a fortitude save, which is typically high for monsters.

Evasion (Ex): Always fantastic, Evasion works well with your reasoanbly high dexterity and strong saves.

Fast Movement (Ex): Extra speed lets you get into position to stop moving sooner. Past round 1, hope that you won't need this much speed.

Ki Pool (Su): Damage reduction is the biggest problem for builds which rely on large numbers of attacks with relatively low damage. Ki Pool lets you treat your attacks as magic, silver, cold iron, lawful, and finally adamantine. While very few things have DR/lawful, the others are excellent and cover a broad spectrum of enemies. At low levels, you may need to carry weapons to handle DR silver and DR cold iron, but Ki Pool will handle things at higher levels so long as you have a point in your Ki Pool. You can spend points from your ki pool as a swift to get an extra attack, boost your speed, or boost your AC. When things get serious, these boosts can make or break your monk.

Ki Power: Ki Powers are the Unchained Monk's talent equivalent, and they open up some really fun and exciting options for customizing your Monk.

  • Abundant Step (Su): Sometimes your speed can't get you where you need to go, and you can use this a move action. However, keep in mind that you can't take additional actions after using it. Make sure to do something with your other actions before teleporting, even if it's just to Fight Defensively for the AC bonus.
  • Cobra Breath (Su): Very situational.
  • Diamond Body (Su): The vanilla Monk's version is passive, and doesn't eat your Ki. At high levels a lot of enemies use poison, which can make the orginal Diamond Body very useful. Instead of this, buy a pile of antitoxins.
  • Diamond Mind (Su): Situational, and fear effects tend to be fairly gentle.
  • Diamond Resilience (Ex): DR can be fantastic for low-AC melee characters like Monks, and the scaling is decent.
  • Diamond Soul (Ex): Spellcasters are very scary, but Monks already have among the best saves in the game, so you shouldn't need to worry about them too much.
  • Elemental Fury (Su): Not always useful depending on your enemies' resistances, but with the Monks crazy number of attacks it's easy to get quite a bit of damage out of this.
  • Elemental Burst (Su): Decent damage in a cone.
  • Empty Body (Su): Punch ghosts and walk through walls.
  • Feather Balance (Ex): Very situational.
  • Formless Mastery (Ex): Only works against enemies in a stance from a style feat. Go grab every Bestiary volume and count how many of those there are. There are none. Then count how many NPC monks you've ever fought. Probably single digits unless you've played a "far east" style game.
  • Furious Defense (Ex): Formless Mastery is strictly better. You can use both together, but spending 3 Ki to boost your AC for one round seems a bit expensive.
  • High Jump (Ex): Jumping is silly in a game where flying is so easily accessible. Potions of Jump cost 50 gp.
  • Insightful Wisdom (Su): This allows you to give your allies a reroll on save-or-die rolls. Everyone needs this.
  • Ki Blocker (Su): Too situational.
  • Ki Guardian (Su): This is hard to use because it requires your allies to remain adjacent to you, but it's great against traps and ambushes.
  • Ki Hurricane (Ex): You might use this once. You'll immediately realize that it eats half of your daily Ki pool, then never use it again. If you really need to move during your attacks, pick up the Flying Kick Style Strike.
  • Ki Metabolism (Su): Very situational.
  • Ki Mount (Su): This is basically copy+pasted from the Sohei Monk. Ki Mount allows you to take any random mundane mount and turn it into an effective option for a few hours. If your horse dies, go grab another and feed it a Ki point and you're back in business.
  • Ki Range (Su): Only useful for thrown weapon builds.
  • Ki Visions (Su): Interesting, but if you need divination magic go find a Cleric.
  • Ki Volley (Su): Situational.
  • Light Steps (Ex): Too situational.
  • One Touch (Su): You shouldn't need to depend on this, but it can be a great way to disable difficult enemies using Stunning Fist.
  • Qinggong Power (Su): The Qinggong Monk was one of the biggest power boosts which Monks saw prior to the Unchained Monk. Many of the Qinggong Monk's powers are fantastic, adding them to the Unchained Monk's list of available Ki Powers adds a huge number of additional options. See my Monk Archetypes Breakdown for help choosing Qinggong powers. You can select this option moret han once, so in theory you could rely solely on Qinggong powers.
  • Quivering Palm (Su): Miles better than the original version solely because you can do it more than once per day.
  • Slow Fall (Su): Buy a Ring of Feather Falling if you're thise worried about gravity.
  • Sudden Speed (Su): Seriously? You're not fast enough already? This is only useful if you make frequent use of the Flying Kick Style Strike to move around during your Flurry of Blows.
  • Water Sprint (Su): Too situational.
  • Wind Jump (Su): This is fun, but it prevents you from full attacking mid-flight. Get a Broom of Flying instead.
  • Wholeness of Body (Ex): At the end of the day when you're about to rest, this is a good way to empty your Ki Pool, but I don't think it will see a lot of use if you still have things to fight today.

Still Mind (Ex): Your saves are already great, but a bonus against enchantments and compulsions can save you from some really awful effects. This is especially helpful since the Unchained Monk has low Will saves.

Purity of Body (Ex): Immunity to diseases is nice, but rarely useful. With the exception of Contagion spell, you typically have enough time to have someone cast Remove Disease before disease becomes a problem.

Style Strike: Style Strikes add some versatility and utility to the Monk's Flurry of Blows, allowing you to add some helpful bonus effects to one or two of your attacks every time you flurry. You get 5 choices over time, which is perfect because 5 of the options are worthwhile. If you use the Enforcer feat, Elbow Smash becomes a good 6th option, and if you skip Improved Trip for whatever reason Leg Sweep becomes a good 7th.

  • Defensive Spin: AC is one of the Monk's biggest problems, and +4 is a considerable bonus. It only applies to the target of the attack, so look for other options when facing multiple foes.
  • Elbow Smash: An extra attack is great, but it's nonlethal damage. If you plan to use the Enforcer feat, this could be an option.
  • Flying Kick: The ability to move and full attack in the same turn is a powerful and extremely potent ability. This won't get you very far at low levels, but as your fast movement bonus increases your range on the battlefiend will increase sharply.
  • Foot Stomp: Unless you pick up Improved Trip (and you really should), Monks don't have a lot of options to prevent enemies from moving out of the Monk's reach. This addresses that issue very nicely, and if the target wants to move away they waste their Standard Action just to get an attempt to do so. The action economy on this is spectacular.
  • Hammerblow: Nothing fancy: just a big a pile of damage. Sometimes that's all you need. Captain Kirk would approve.
  • Head-Butt: Staggering an enemy is a good trick, but Stunning Fist can already do that, and you don't take a -8 penalty to hit with it when you're not fighting a humanoid.
  • Knockback Kick: Basically Bull Rush with double the movement distance. Too situational.
  • Leg Sweep: This is very similar to Improve Trip, but there some key differences. With Leg Sweep you attack first, then get the trip attempt if you hit. With Improved Trip you trip first, but only get a free attack with Great Trip, which will require Combat Expertise. Leg Sweep can only be used once or twice per round, while Improved Trip can be used in place of any of your attacks. Improved Trip provides a bonus to trip attacks, and can be used for attacks of opportunity, while Leg Sweep must be used as part of Flurry of Blows. Oh, and you can use a weapon with Improved Trip to get a bonus to your CMB. I think it's fair to say that Improved Trip is a little bit better.
  • Shattering Punch: Overcoming DR is a big problem for Monks because they get by on a flurry of low-damage attacks. Overcoming DR on one of those attacks is a nice gurantee, but your damage output will still be very low unless you can completely overcome the target's DR.
  • Spin Kick: This is a great option against foes with lots of Dexterity or a dodge bonus to AC. Unfortunately that's not a lot of foes. It's also helpful to use this with your weakest iterative attacks, which will have the most trouble hitting normally.

Improved Evasion (Ex): Always amazing and reliable.

Tongue of the Sun and Moon (Ex): You can talk to anything, but you're not particularly good at it with no Diplomacy and lousy charisma.

Timeless Body (Ex): Stay young and pretty until you die of old age. Leave a pretty corpse.

Flawless Mind: A reroll on Will saves will absolutely compensate for the Unchained Monk's low Will saves.

Perfect Self: Suddenly you can't use Enlarge Person. The DR is cute, and you become immune to things like Dominate Person, but things which require you to be a humanoid have generally been abandoned for several levels. I would argue that this ability actually makes you worse since you can't benefit from Enlarge Person.

Abilities

Monks are primarily a striker, and their damage comes from their Strength, so Strength needs to be their biggest ability.

Str: As a melee character, strength is the monk's most important ability. It contributes to your melee attacks and damage, shuriken damage, and combat maneuvers.

Dex: Crucial for the monk's relatively low AC, and contributes to several monk skills. Reflex saves are also a good point to focus on since you get Evasion.

Con: Monks are combat characters with d8 hit points, so Constitution is crucial. Fortitude saves are also important for combat characters.

Int: Dump to 8. Intelligence doesn't help Monks much, but the extra ability points are rarely worth the loss of a second skill point.

Wis: A lot of the Monk's iconic abilities depend on Wisdom. However, these abilities are still secondary to the Monk's primary function of hitting things and dealing damage.

Cha: Dump to 7. Completely useless on a Monk.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy Elite Arrray
  • Str:17
  • Dex:13
  • Con:14
  • Int:8
  • Wis:16
  • Cha:7
  • Str:17
  • Dex:13
  • Con:14
  • Int:8
  • Wis:14
  • Cha:7
  • Str:15
  • Dex:13
  • Con:12
  • Int:10
  • Wis:14
  • Cha:8

Races

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 favored class bonus 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.
  • 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.

Traits

  • 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.

Skills

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.

Feats

For the most part, the Unchained Monk's feats look just like those for a standard Monk. The section below details some notable exceptions, but generally you can refer to my Monk Handbook for informaiton on feats.

General Feats
  • Power Attack: Absolutely essential on the Unchained Monk. Flurry of Blows no longer penalizes your attacks, and you have full BAB so you get the same damage bonuses as a Fighter. This is especially amazing if you're using a monk weapon two-handed since you still get the extra attacks but also get 50% more damage bonus from your Strength and from Power Attack.
  • Vital Strike: I wanted to badly for Vital Strike to be a meaningful way for the Unchain Monk to use a Standard Action. Unfortunately, the damage output still doesn't come close to what a weapon weilder can do. Instead, try to find ways to directly solve your movement problem.

Weapons

While you will most likely be fighting unarmed, monk weapons offer you a lot of really fantastic options, including bonuses to combat maneuvers. Monks who aren't specialized with weapons should still carry a couple to bypass DR until Ki Pool covers the bases, and for bonuses on CMB checks.

Monks can use a single weapon for flurry of blows, which removes the need for double weapons or two-weapon fighting. This also increases the importance of damage enhancements on your weapon because you get a large number of low-damage attacks. If you plan to use weapons, be sure to pick up some damage enhancements.

  • bo staff: Basically a quarterstaff with the blocking property. d6 damage, 20x2 crit.
  • brass knuckles: Just like unarmed strike, but less damage and enchantable.
  • butterfly sword: Basically a fancy version of a dagger that you can't throw. d4 damage, 19-20x2 crit.
  • cestus: Allows bludgeoning or piercing damage, which adds some nice versatility. d4 damage, 19-20x2 crit.
  • dan bong: Despite doing 1d3 bludgeoning damage, the Dan Bong is fantastic. It adds an incredibly rare +2 bonus to grapple checks, has the blocking property, and can be thrown. Also it has 19-20x2 crit for some reason. It doesn't actually have the Grapple property, so you can't apply other weapon bonuses (masterwork/enhancement) to your grapple checks by using a dan bong. However, since you're not using it to grapple, you can use your unarmed strike damage when grappling.
  • double chained kama: The double property doesn't really matter, but reach does. The double-chained kama also has the Trip property, which means you can use it to trip, drop one end to prevent yourself from being tripped back, then pick up the dropped end as a free action by pulling the chain. The description mentions using it to disarm, but the table doesn't list the disarm property, and normal Kamas don't have disarm. Keep in mind that because this is a double weapon, each end of the weapon can be a different material and can be enchanted seperately.
  • double chicken saber: A short sword with Disarm. 1d6 slashing damage and 19-20 crit. A solid choice, though not very exciting.
  • emei piercer: The wording is confusing. Despite the d3 damage, the description says that emei piercers turn unarmed strikes into piercing damage. General consensus in rules discussions seems to be that the weapon overrides unarmed strike damage, but is otherwise treated as an unarmed strike. If you just need a source of piercing damage, there are better options.
  • fighting fan: Leave these for ninjas. Poison is not your thing, and neither is feinting.
  • jutte: 1d6 bludgeoning damage and disarm. Not awful, but you will be better served getting a weapon with a different damage type so that you don't have to carry a pile of weapons.
  • kama: 1d6 slashing damage and trip. One of the best options in the core rulebook. It's light, which doesn't do much for monks.
  • kusarigama: Similar to the double-chained kama, but the kusarigama trades some of the off-hand weapon damage for the grapple property. The Grapple property gives you a +2 to grapple, and you can add weapon enhancement bonuses to your grapple checks, but you use the weapon's damage when grappling in place of your unarmed strike damage.
  • kyoketsu shoge: The description doesn't appear to match the stats: it says that you can swing the ring around, but the stats don't say that you can deal bludgeoning damage. For what it does, the Kusarigama and double-chained kama are better options, but the sword can do slashing or piercing damage, which covers both of your missing damage types.
  • lungchuan tamo: 1d4 damage, piercing or slashing damage, and throwable. This is a very versatile option if you don't plan to use combat maneuvers.
  • monk's spade: 1d6 damage of any type. The table is a bit misleading, though; the two ends do different types of damage. This seems like a solid option, but it's two-handed, which limits your options in a fight, and it doesn't give you bonuses to combat maneuvers.
  • nine-ring broadsword: The monk's battleaxe. Solid 1d8 slashing damage, and x3 crit, but nothing for combat maneuvers.
  • nine-section whip: 1d8 bludgeoning damage, 19-20x2 crit, blocking, distracting, and trip. Blocking and trip on one item is great, but the damage isn't spectacular because it's bludgeoning. Still, this would be a great item at low levels before your unarmed strike damage exceeds 1d8. You can hold it in one hand to take advantage of the blocking property while still fighting unarmed, which is great for Crane Style monks.
  • nunchaku: 1d6 bludgeoning damage and disarm. Not awful, but there are better options.
  • quarterstaff: Bo Staff is strictly better.
  • rope dart: 1d4 piercing damage, blocking, distracting, and throwable.
  • sai: Less damage than the nunchaku, but also provides a +2 bonus when sundering weapons. Sundering isn't a particularly popular option, so the nunchaku is probably a better weapon.
  • sansetsukon: 1d10 bludgeoning damage is pretty great, and meets your unarmed strike damage until level 12. 19-20x2 crit is great, and blocking and disarm are great on one weapon. The damage is good enough that, even at high levels where your unarmed strikes exceed 1d10 damage, the Sansetsukon may be a viable option. The ability to attack with a two-handed weapon with as many attacks as two-weapon fighting builds means that the additional damage from Strength (not to mention Power Attack if you take it) could easily close the gap in damage output. However, you still need to overcome the RAW numerical advantage provided by permanent +5 unarmed strikes, which will be difficult to do.
  • seven-branched sword: 1d10 slashing damage with x3 crit is pretty good, and it has disarm. You can also do an almost-trip to make targets flat-footed for a round, which is a weird situationally useful trick.
  • shang gou: 1d4 slashing damage, but it can be used for disarm or trip, which adds some excellent versatility.
  • shuriken: Because they are drawn as a free action like ammunition, shuriken can be used with Flurry of Blows. However, they are destroyed when used, which makes it difficult to justify enchanting them. Carry a few mundane shuriken for the rare case where you can't just run up and punch things.
  • siangham: 1d6 piercing damage. There are options which deal the same damage and have special properties.
  • tiger fork: 1d8 piercing damage, and it can be set against charges. Basically a bad trident.
  • tonfa: 1d6 bludgeoning damage and blocking. Nine-section whip is strictly better unless you need a light weapon for some weird reason.
  • tri-point double-edged sword: "sword" is somewhat of a minsomer; this thing is more of a polearm. 1d10 slashing damage, x3 crit, and reach. Despite being in the "monk" weapon group, but lacks the Monk property, so you can't use it with Flurry of Blows.
  • unarmed strike: Tried and true. Your damage scales with level, you can't be disarmed, and you technically don't need your hands free to fight unarmed.
  • urumi: 1d8 slashing damage an impressive 18-20x2 critical. Distracting won't get you much because Monks generally don't feint. Despite being in the "monk" weapon group, but lacks the Monk property, so you can't use it with Flurry of Blows.
  • wushu dart: 1d3 piercing damage and throwable. There are many more interesting options.

I recommend carrying a sansetsukon as your primary weapon due to the high damage and critical threat range, but be prepared to drop it once you get Ki Strike if you need to bypass DR/magic, or abandon it completely once you can get enhancement bonuses on your fists reliably. The sansetsukon can also be used to disarm, but when you stop using it as your primary weapon replace it with something lighter like a double-chicken saber (for the slashing damage). Also carry a double-chained kama for tripping and for reach. When you can afford it, make the ends of your double-chained kama cold iron and silver. Piercing damage isn't as important, but carry a Lungchuan Tamo or two just to be safe.

Armor

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.

Magic Items

Weapons

  • 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..

Rings

  • Protection: You need all the AC you can get.

Wands

  • 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.

Wondrous Items

  • 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.

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.

  • 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.

Permanent Spells

  • 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.