1.8.14

How I run Monks in Fantasy Settings, or "I punch the Dragon in the Face!"

Why wouldn't you want this guy in your game?
Fei Long of Street Fighter
Ah, the overpowered, out of genre, anachronistic monk. I have no idea how 5th edition (or even 4th edition, for that matter), has treated you, but I assume you are still punching dragons in the face. Monks certainly did in 3rd Ed.

Monks for me present an interesting challenge. They are, for one, a bit "out-of-place" if I am playing in a setting with a strictly European idea of fantasy, so including monks requires me to include either Oriental analogs of some kind in my worlds, or else some rationale for one of my existing cultures to develop the art of fighting with one's body alone. That later requirement suits me better than the former.

Its also a challenge to make sense of their power, especially against certain monsters. In this article, I'll be talking about not only how monks are a challenge to wedge into a D&D game, but even more importantly, some ideas on how to challenge the Monks themselves, especially with respect to their powers.



How I describe a Monk punching hard things

Of course there were monks in the middle ages!

To illustrate, lets discuss Jagra, a nun of Trok, the god of competition, sport, and athleticism. She has some Monk levels to play with, and some glory to gain, so she shacks up with the nearest adventuring party, taking with her little more than the clothes on her back and enough food to cover her own hunger.

After the party figures out she can carry a bit more weight than the half-orc barbarian (with half as much grumbling), they make her the party pack mule. This suits her fine: she wanted to up her weight on her squats. This encumbrance also makes her a fine target for Bandits that would like very much to have that loot.

Being a monk, and in tune with stuff, she senses the moment a crossbow blot has been loosed upon her, and dodges the poisoned projectile (high Armor Class), and shouts to her friends that battle has come. All hell breaks loose, and so do joints, neck vertebrae, and eyeballs as Jagra rabbit punches, triangle chokes, and five finger death punches her foes into tasty meat for the Half Orc (and the Drow masquerading as a High Elf).

Into the dungeon they delve. The picaresque rogue (is there any other kind?) detects traps and disarms them in the front, with the monk, again, in tune with stuff, taking up the rear, sensing the approach of many monsters that would have otherwise had eaten the unattuned-to-stuff adventurers ahead.

One time, they come across a room with a automatic Zombie and Skeleton summoning spell trappy thingy. I, as DM, see no particular problem with Jagra laying a high-fantasy smack down on the skeleton warriors and rotting corpses that search in vain for brains in the Half-Orc.

But presently they near the treasure room. The rouge easily picks the lock to the big iron door before the treasure room, at least until the big iron door turns into a big iron golem. Now the party, and the DM, has a problem.

Surely a big, fantasy metal warhammer might be enough to bust something loose from the Iron Golem, but a tiny, squishy fist? What is the monk going to do, kick the giant robot in the shin? For that matter, what would swords do against such a thing, DR aside?

Angry Fist of Vengeance vs. 2-inch tank plate!

The monk doesn't wait for my answer, leaping into the fray to offer her aid and get big time brag points to bring back to the monastery. She, a 16th level Monk with Ki Strike at +3 rolls and scores 60 damage, overcoming the 50/+3 DR by ten points. How do I represent that? I run the risk of making her out to have super strength if she dents the creature, but a crappy, flat description, or its mutant DMV-staffer brother "You do ten damage, next..." just doesn't happen in big daddy's house!

I quickly apprise the situation. The monk is no ordinary fighter. Not only has she trained in utilizing the most of her body, but she has attuned herself her inner-most warrior to such a degree that her expertise is magical, uninhibited by pathetic reality, which, in the monk's mind, is mere illusion anyhow. Here, I interpret the D&D 3.0 monk to be similar to the Shadowrun Adept, or Mage the Ascension's Akashic Brotherhood, or Sayians in Dragonball Z. So if she gets really mad and screams for ten game sessions....

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAchoo!
No.

The monk instead hits the robot in a weak point in its structure. To be honest, this is the only way that the warhammer wielding Barbarian is doing any damage either. In fact, if she attacks with her full weight (a common martial arts teaching, I hear), then she probably weighs more than the hammer. The hammer's only advantage is that it is harder than her body, presumably. Since Monks are "magical" warriors in my view, who have unlocked yet another strain of magic, different from the Divine favors of the gods (the cleric summons a holy rust monster at this point, by the way) and different from the fireball blasting Sorcerer who is so not blasting fireballs right now (lightning blot, lightning blot, lightning bolt), I can safely assume that her bones are probably as hard as she would like them to be, and thus able to deliver enough force to break some smaller gears (especially those cheap nylon gears on those budget Golems) .

The monk then gets the crazy idea to toss the cleric's rust monster buddy at the Golem, and with one called shot ranged touch attack and a witty line, the golem get magical metal eating flea-monster thing IN THA FACE!

After the decapitated Golem falls to the floor, the party looks on at the treasure room behind: a mountain of gold wipes away the last scraps of human decency and charity as they dream of attractive servants of their sexual preference fawning over them, asking only to serve their every whim. Thankfully, the Drow is immune to the human decency damage: he lost it all when he strangled his brother with his own umbilical cord en vitro. They cash in their treasure, and Jagra pens the tale of her glorious battle with the Golem. Her jealous fellow nuns swear vengeance immortal upon her for her initiative.

How I challenge the Monk


Even more important than needing to understand how a Monk would hurt something with its mere fists is presenting interesting, but conquerable, challenges to the Monk. For me, challenging a Player means countering, denying, or circumventing their usual tactics and pushing them to dream up  a new course of action. With that assumption, I will tell you what comes to mind when I approach each of the Monks unique abilities (at least the ones that I think need special thought to circumvent).

Neo got Monk Levels...

The Monks Rising AC

While it does not say it explicitly in the 3rd ed book, I would say that a Monk loses this bonus not only if they become immobilized, but also if they lose their total focus on the matter at hand. I'm not saying they need to roll concentration mind you, but I figure a spell like Confusion would take away at least the monks Wisdom bonus (since it essentially takes away their Wisdom). Non magical enemies might also remove both the class bonus and wisdom bonus if they immobilize the monk somehow (tentacles, tanglefoot, maybe even  a net at lower levels).

I was just inspired to create a new spell, actually. Its not just for monks, but it does something that takes away their favorable attacks, wisdom bonus to AC, class bonus to AC, and gives their special abilities an arcane spell failure.

The Emperor's Armor
Illusion
Level: Brd 3, Clr 4, Sor/Wiz4
Components: V, S, F
Casting Time: 1 Action/ 10 Minutes
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft/2 levels)
Duration: 1 round/level
Saving Throw: Will
Spell Resistance: Yes

You point your finger and an illusion of a set of bulky, clank set of armor suddenly appears on your intended target. The caster can make the armor look as ornate or practical as he wishes, but the effect is the same: the illusion feels so heavy and impedes movement so greatly that the target is now encumbered with a heavy load. Also, if the target is a wizard, sorcerer, monk, or would be otherwise gain an arcane spell failure for wearing heavy armor, they gain that penalty. A will save dispells the Illusion.

A caster can fool someone into putting on this illusory armor if they are clever. The caster can preform this spell, and place the armor on someone, or can even cast the spell and place the armor in a chest, wardrobe, etc. The illusion lasts for 10 minutes, however, so they must be quick.

Arcane Focus: A toy soldier crafted of lead or pewter, with a ruby set in its chest

A new course of action for the monk might be to take cover and try ranged attacks, or next time try getting the wizard first.

Flurry of Blows and Stunning Attack

Here, its not so much the attack bonus that worries me, nor is it the dice (since a 20th level, a monk's punch could still do 1 point of base damage!). Its the status effect and the critical threats: with up to 6 d20s dropping a round (not counting haste or speed enhancing equipment), its likely that a monk will get that critical.

Thus, to circumvent this, one could wear Fortified Armor, or be an ooze, construct or undead. Also, attacking the Monk at range, especially if the monk is immobilized as above, is useful. In this case, the monks new course of action would be to not do a flurry of blows or stun attacks but instead try power attacks to beat this foe.

Evasion/Improved Evasion

The monk has all good saves, which makes a certain sense, but the monks best save is still Reflex, due to evasion. For most monks, either Fort of Will will be their weakest, and I would say most likely it will be their Fort Save. Poison will work for a while, but Fort save spells have a chance, too. Also, using spells or armors that cause damage when you attack someone will make Evasion less effective

Deflect Arrows

Once at this level, range weapons become less useful. However, as the Deflect Arrows feat says: giant rocks and magic missile don't count. Also, I would say that a whip or tentacle so deflected gets to make its usual grapple or trip attempts. Also, immobilizing the monk or making her flat footed will make the monk consider attending to arrows in a different way (perhaps by taking cover). Finally, keep in mind that you can only deflect one arrow per round, so that the monk might have to take cover if there is a cloud of arrows heading their way (unless they are epic level and can deflect more things)

Fast Movement 

Again, encumbering or immobilizing the monk is useful here, since if they are wearing any armor it will cut their movement down.

Just think of the Monk at this levle as a much slower one of these.


However, I would also say that some terrain would require dexterity checks to run on . Consider a 20th level monk running. They would be traveling at (90 ft /round * 4 (run multiplier) * 10 rounds/ minute * 60 minutes/ hour)/ 5280 ft/mile = 41 miles per hour. I live on a gravel road, and going straight at 40 is fine, but those curves can get you. Also, running across caltrops would still hurt and possibly trip the monk. Anything you can do against speedsters in your Mutants and Masterminds game is sufficient with a fast monk.

*REALLY MEAN TRICK TO USE*

Here's a mean trick I thought of. A mean old mage challenges a monk to a race, even going so far as to offer to cast the spell Expeditious Retreat on the monk to give him "a fair chance". Of course, between the monk and the finish line is a force wall, which if the monk took the spell, they would be laying into the wall at 82 miles per hour.

Still Mind

Not much can circumvent this (that I can think of right now), but at higher levels, not much is needed. Spell resistance is more of a problem. Also does not count for illusions.

Slow Fall

If you are tired of Monks using this ability to check what's at the bottom of your evil pit, I suggest having some regular, non toxic mold grow on the side of the pit (assuming its damp in there). This would require at least a dexterity or athletics check. Also, slow fall maybe useful, unless there is something falling above you (dragons, rocks, other things) that might hurt you if you get there first. I would say a monk is probably falling at their monk speed at 18th level.

Purity of Body/Diamond Body

Monks with this ability may drink concoctions with impunity, knowing that dirty water will not make them sick and there is no poison, magical or otherwise, that can hurt them. However, this says nothing about acids, or weird creatures that may possess them through this drink. Fae Blood and Wine would still work, in my opinion, as well as vampire bites and lycanthropy. Also, someone trying to assassinate a powerful monk might summon a tiny water elemental to go into the monk's drink, and reek havoc on the internal organs (all attacks would automatically hit for critical damage). A monk so caught might be able to save himself with either a Fort save or a constitution check to force himself to vomit the creature.

Wholeness of Body

Tough cookie, this one is. I would use negative levels to great effect here. If the monk is healing a little after every battle, then you might try sending a swarm (or one of those insect plague type spells) at them early in the dungeon.

Leap of the Clouds

Walls mean nothing to the Monk? Don't forget stabby things on ramparts. This ability may also be the only way the entire party gets out of deep pit, oubliette, or other place where jumping good is key, especially if the monk has some rope.

Ki Strike

Anti-magic fields work against this, as well as monks traveling over 70 ft in a round and Wholeness of Body. Beholders might be good for monks. Other than that, this is actually an ability that helps the monk keep up with all the +20 Swords of Awesome the fighter is carrying.

Abundant Step 

Ah, the Monk-Port. Dimension Door implies that you are moving through the Astral Plane on a straight line, so perhaps force walls and Astral Plane baddies can still get to you. Keep in mind that the monk uses this ability, they can't act again in the round (although it would be cool if a monk did a flying kick, dimension door combo. I would say they get one attack at their highest bonus, an will need a concentration check)

Diamond Soul

In this case, you would use the usual tactics to get around spell resistance. For one, just because the monk is not effected by spells does not mean that the monk's enemies are not effected, so enemy buffs are useful here. If you absolutely must get a spell on the monk, try spell penetration feats. Also, monks can voluntarily lower their spell resistance to get a spell placed on them, so if you trick them...

Quivering Palm (sounds sexual...)

This isn't that bad, in my opinion, and is actually a pretty cool ability. If I had a baddy that I wanted to live and they were struck with this though, I might say that another monk can "undo" the vibration with their own strike. Also, I figure turning to stone, or going incorporeal might take the evil vibes away, depending on the power of the monk (maybe the caster rolls spell craft at a DC = Monks level + Monks wisdom?)

Timeless Body 

Meh, not sacred of this much. I would say ray of enfeeblement might not work on them again, but negative levels and polymorph would. If they are relying on their good looks to stay forever, maybe try some illusion spells. So long as the monk can't see the illusion, their will save does not apply.

Tongue of the Sun and Moon

This is actually one of the Monks most plot destroying abilities, since it can mean the monk gets information not otherwise meant for them, and information can ruin suspense, surprise, and other things. I assume a monk would use this ability best to spy while unseen. To protect sensitive information, and maybe require the monk take just a bit more risk, you might have secret information exchanged through letters and code (its Tongue, not Eyeballs, of the Sun and Moon). Hand signals probably will be Greek to a monk too, unless they know them. On the other hand, your Monk might be a good way to introduce the higher level party to a conspiracy.

Empty Body

At this point, you are already dealing with mages and fighters that can do this and more. Same tactics, like force walls, ethereal creatures, and dual plane spells can apply here. Let this power also be an opportunity for the Monk to encounter new, ethereal plot hooks, like passing by the ghost of a sad boy, that is actually a horrible demil-ich that wants to eat the party. (The monk is 19th level at this point! He can handle it...)

I'm Sexy and I know it.

Perfect Self

This ability, in my opinion, suddenly opens many new doors for new challenges for the Monk. I would say that, like many outsiders, their alignment becomes a physical matter. Since they can be effected by spells like Detect Evil, Good Aligned 20th level monks can also be effected by Unholy weapons, and Lawful monks by Chaos spells. Outsiders might take more interest in the monk, especially other 20th level monks (think the Jet Li movie called "The One") Their damage reduction is "too little, too late" in my opinion, unless you need them to not kill some otherwise weak creature. In that case, make sure that you involve powerful creatures watching over your high powered heroes to make sure they don't pick on the little guys (like you would do for any class at this point in the game).

I hope you find these pointers useful, in achieving more zen in your Monk-y games.
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