Class Primer: Monk

An Introduction to the Monk Class for Players New to Dungeons and Dragons 5e


Have you ever watched old martial arts movies and wished you could run on water, up walls, and catch arrows like the hero? Well, look no further than the Monk class in fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons for all these abilities and more – with the Monk, all your wildest childhood dreams of becoming an action movie star can become reality!

Side note: This guide assumes you have the Player’s Handbook for more detailed information, and is more intended to give you an idea of what this class can do. If you also need help with the process of creating your first character, click here first for my character rolling guide for new players.

Overview: Fists of Fury

The monk excels in close combat situations, but unlike other martial classes such as Fighter they use only simple weapons and wear no armor. Instead, they rely on their reflexes and wits to avoid getting skewered. Monks gain a boost to their Armor Class from their Wisdom score when unarmored, meaning you’re going to need a high score in that ability to be most effective.

In fact, you’re going to need high scores in a few abilities (specifically: Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom) to make this class really shine. This makes sense though – when your body is your weapon, it better be a damn good body when everybody else has magic swords or can fling fireballs. You will be able to use your Dexterity score for both your unarmed strikes and attacks with your monk weapons (any simple melee weapon that lacks the heavy or special properties can be a monk weapon), so at least you don’t need a high strength on top of it all!

To fuel their abilities Monks draw upon an inner reserve of Ki, which represents the magical energy in their own bodies that they have learned to harness through training and discipline. This Ki is used for many of your class abilities as a monk, and lets you do things like catch arrows, gain extra attacks in a turn, stun enemies, and more.

Role in the Party

With your abilities being more focused on mobility and hitting harder, monks tend to be best utilized as a damage dealer. They are a mid-line combatant, not quite able to sustain the same front line presence as a fighter but able to dip in and out of the fight with ease thanks to abilities like Step of the Wind. You can really take advantage of this mobility to strike at weaker enemies and act as an off-tank, protecting weaker party members that find themselves unexpectedly being targeted.

Monks can also be great scouts, with their typically high dexterity score and lack of noisy armor. If you decide to follow the Way of Shadow, this will be further complemented by abilities allowing you to disappear completely in dim light and teleport from one shadow to another.

Looking Ahead: High Level Monks

At higher levels, monks further perfect their body and mind, honing themselves into living weapons. Your melee strikes will become magically empowered, allowing you to bypass physical damage resistance. You’ll also gain a laundry list of crazy abilities, including reduced fall damage and the ability to run on water or vertical surfaces.

You subclass options for monk give you further combat abilities. Way of the Open Hand is for those that want to focus more on unarmed combat, including features that empower unarmed strikes while offering slightly more survivability. The Way of Shadow grants you special abilities tied to fighting in darkness or shadow, lending itself to a less direct approach to combat. Finally, Way of the Four Elements lets you live out your Avatar: the Last Airbender fantasies by granting the ability to cast elemental spells using your Ki.

High level monks become nearly impossible to hinder with magical effects. The Evasion feature makes you very hard to hit with spells like fireball or lightning bolt, halving damage even if you fail the save against such spells and completely negating the damage if you succeed. They are able to end charm or fear effects on themselves with an action, they gain proficiency in all saving throws (if that isn’t enough, you can also spend Ki to re-roll failed saves), and have immunity to poison and disease. All of this makes a high level monk a spell-caster’s worst nightmare.

Most importantly, monks have a pretty high “cool factor”. If you can look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t want to pull that whole running up a wall into a backflip move after seeing The Matrix, I guess we’re just very different people. If that sounds awesome to you, though, Monk just might be the class for you!

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