Monks Suck

Continuing the idea of sucky character classes from C.D.'s last post, I humbly present the Monk.

Monks in D&D suck. They sucked bad in 1st Edition, they sucked bad in 3rd Edition, and even now they suck more than a little. The only edition they didn't suck in was 2nd Edition.

But that's because they weren't there.

I suppose my beef against the Monk class is not so much in its intended function but in the players who choose to try and play it. Never has a class been more rooted in a heightened form of reality than the Monk. Except maybe the Thief/Rogue, but I can't say anything bad about them or they'll steal my coinpurse.

Now see, I've always had this understanding that a monk was a fairly religious fellow who didn't care much for the company of those that didn't share his belief. Or, so I've gleamed from various PBS documentaries. I'm sure things are a little different in real life. But I've yet to encounter a player who understood how to A: Roleplay a monk character, or B: What it is the Monk class actually does.

And I guess can't really blame them. Hell, I just learned that the original Monk class (from the Blackmoor supplement, or so Wikipedia tells me) was based around the protagonist from the men's adventure series The Destroyer. Now, I frigging love those books, but I can't imagine a less monk-ish personality than either Remo or Chuin. In fact a Destroyer RPG would probably kick all kinds of ass, but that's a story for another day.

But those charmingly ultra-violent characters are a good example of how the Monk sucks. The Monk, at its very core, is a martial arts based religious figure who probably doesn't talk much and likely shaves his head and will never have sex, ever. But all anyone hears about that sentence is "martial arts", and immediately this image is conjured in most people's imagination.

And let's not forget that Bruce was able to beat down Chuck Norris. Who doesn't want to kick ass like him?

The problem, of course, is that the Monk class is not an unstoppable fighter. Oddly enough, that's why there is a Fighter class. The Monk, in 1st Edition, is a unique experience, a decent fighter, and still cooler than the Bard, but flawed. The flaw is that almost everyone assumes the Monk should be a solid solo fighter at level 1. This is true; the Monk kicks ass in solo combat.

When was the last time you had one-on-one battles in D&D anyway?

Almost never is an accurate answer. And in crowded situations, the Monk's abilities do not shine. And then the PCs die. All because someone wanted to play Bruce Lee at level 1.

3rd Edition corrected many of the flaws and made the Monk a much more viable player option. 4th Edition did its best to balance the class, or so I've heard (still don't have the doggone 3rd Player's Manual yet...). But in the end, I still feel the Monk has little place at the gaming table.

I've seen a Monk played well...once. But mostly, I'd rather they were shunted off to the side, or were a prestige class. Something earned, perhaps, instead of allowing a 1st level fool to march into a death squad with reckless abandon. Let the PC go off for a few years (or decades) for study, or not. After all, if you can multiclass to magic-user at the drop of a hat, why not bypass all the years of solitude that reality imposes in favor of something more enjoyable?

Of course, maybe I have this all wrong. Sound off in the comments. Do you think Monks suck? Have you seen similar methods of play at your table? Or have I just been spewing nonsense? And would you be willing to pay 29.95$ for a Destroyer RPG? I know I would...


  1. Packofgnolls.blogspot.comFebruary 24, 2011

    Having a separate class for the monk is dumb. He's a fighter. There's no reason a creative player or DM can't reflavor the existing Fighter fluff to make it a monk and have him actually be functional.

  2. 1e monks are OK, I think. They are ok in a fight but you're better off with a fighter if you wanna kick butt in hand to hand. The terrible AC mods for open hand attacks (if you use those) reinforce the idea they should be using weapons, at least against armored foes (they can use polearms and add 1/2 their level to damage! take that!), as my brother pointed out to me recently.

    Also, a guy in my current B/X game used to run monk-only games at conventions and they sound like they were a hoot. He says he did it partly to make people see that monks are viable. He made up a party of like 8 monks and all of them were somewhat different, apparently.

  3. Tequila SunriseFebruary 24, 2011

    4e monks can at the very least pull their own weight, adventure-wise. Which makes them a-okay by me. Our Scales of War party has one, and he's pulled off as many spectacular attacks as any of us have. My only problem with the 4e monk is that unarmored agility is "optional." (Really, it's a no-brainer choice, so just build it right into the class.)

    Of course, I don't expect a D&D monk to act like a real monk just like I don't expect a cleric to act like a real priest. Maybe I have low expectations, but c'mon, this is a game about spelunking with a bunch of racial and societal misfits in order to kill horrible monsters and then take their stuff! :)

    I can't speak to 1e, but yeah, 3e monks blow chunks. I've seen them in action, and they deserve all the derision they get on 'net forums. It doesn't help that all the random bizarre abilities never appealed to me.

  4. Can't argue there! I've had players use the B/X rules and create all kinds of mish-mash classes and races, all with just a little tweaking. To me therein lies the real beauty of the earlier systems: Infinite modding.

    Heck, why not use a cleric as a base and shave his head, give him a little attack bonus or a special maneuver, knock off a few spells, and call it done? It couldn't possibly be as broken as the official Monk class...

  5. Exactly, a Monk can, probably, do better in 1e with a weapon, but it seems I get stuck with players who really, really want to play as Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal with pointy ears. :P

    Huh, a party of monks? That actually sounds interesting. I don't know how you'd manage to differentiate in their abilities enough to make the game varied and as compelling as a full mixed party game, but it does sound intriguing. And if they worked perhaps there is hope for this class after all!

  6. I have always thought that monks were horribly misplaced in D&D. A mistake that missed the eye of the editor. I have never used them.

  7. CDGallant_KingFebruary 25, 2011

    An error that kept slipping through for what, 30 years? Man, editors suck. I think that's a post for next week...

  8. The editor was obsessed with Kung Fu the TV series, and he had seniority so he couldn't get fired, so it just kept happening. Now he works for WotC, and is editing 5e... it's 100% monks and clerics, with scaled card based encounters, and you have to play it on a computer, and you can't use dice, because cards are more lucrative... so as you can see everything wrong with D&D is this guys fault.

  9. CDGallant_KingFebruary 25, 2011

    Don't scare me like that.

  10. JsalvatoriMarch 02, 2011

    I've never played a monk - but if you read the horribly written but still very entertaining Higwayman series by R.A.Salvatore, you can see the potential for monks.... Picture playing a "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" guy who can step from tree-top to tree-top, slide down the trunk and kick you in the head at the same time. That's pretty cool.

  11. Joe NelsonMarch 02, 2011

    I'll have to get my hands on the 4e Monk to see for myself. I figure, with all the damn balancing they've done they'd better fix one of the most broken classes.

    I think my problem with the earlier Monks is that they are based so much in reality and lack unique flavor. It's really a bring your own interpretation of a martial arts-y type. Clerics at least have unique deities to follow. Monks...they're blank. And that leads a lot of people into assuming they must be Bruce Lee without the hair. :P

  12. Joe NelsonMarch 02, 2011

    Hmm...seems a reasonable conclusion to me!

  13. Joe NelsonMarch 02, 2011

    Ah, yes, that may very well be cool, but it seems that (in earlier editions at least) anyone trying that without some heavy house-ruling would find themselves dead very quickly. ;)

    Actually, irony of ironies, I just finished the first in Salvatore's Cleric Quintet and it featured a monk. She wasn't exceptionally powerful, though had some bitching martial arts skills. She was probably the single best example of a 1e Monk I could hope for, and it didn't help to change my perspective on the class.

  14. james MILLERMay 21, 2011

    I have had a few monk centric games and a few that mixed various schools disciplines like a mystic/fighter school that competed with a psionic/monk school that went great in AD&D We also almost always run around with a Monk in virtually every campaign without any real issue. Basically, that PC plays to his strengths, stealth, speed, and Role Playing. Personally I love Monks as a concept though I have a hard time sticking wiht the pure monk for along time. In a game they are great to balance out the fighters and casters. Also, my campaigns rarely feature a rogue and the monk usually takes his place. I tell you I have seen some amazingly choreographed fight scenes played out by luck of the die and a set of brass balls, that just made the game. Alternately we have had a Monk played as rash, clumsy, and jump first think never kind of character that was just really fun. Helps you understand why he left the monastery too.

  15. I'm in a campaign based on 3.5 & Oriental Adventures (loosely). We have a ninja, 2 ronin, a wu-jen and a shaman. And my monk. My monk has wound up being the diplomat; the one who tries to talk out situations. I walk up calmly, hoping to kick loose with combat reflexes; but the DM never gives me the chance. Monks aren't fighters,  they aren't priests. They're low-powered rogues; a sort of bard without the music but with martial arts to compensate. I play him every other week, and this is his Saturday. Very much looking forward to it.

  16. We played the 1E Monk as a sort of Bloodguard character (from Stephen R Donaldson's "Thomas Covenant series).  The only change we ever used was to give it a +1 to hit point roll starting at Level 2 (it is supposed to be a combat class, after all...).  It worked well in that context.

  17. MightyBrodinJuly 25, 2012

     That is untrue. Sure a fighter gets the massive load of feats but feats alone cannot make up for the loss of several great class features that would be gone were it not for the monk. fighters don't become faster and strike harder naturally as they progress through levels, nor do they gain a boon to their ability to not be hit simply by being as wise as they are. I agree that a fighter, with the proper feat set, could learn and be quite proficient in unarmed combat, but this is precisely the real-life-equivalent difference between a street brawler and a practiced martial artists.

    Move of what I have seen from your "arguments" is comparisons to how other people have played monk classes, and what other people have expected out of it, but the fact is that any intelligent player can use any class to be useful and important in any role they may need to fit, and that any 'bad experiences' are simply user error. In this case I say do not blame the class, blame the incompetence of whatever player made you so bitter toward one of the best combat classes in the game.

    If you can find no reason to enjoy the monk class, you obviously haven't seen the power of the drunken master prestige. (This is meant not as an accusatory statement, but as a comic relief. I do not like to end my replies with any thoughts that I am upset toward the topic because I don't believe someone can truly be upset over something they read that had no real affect on the wellness of their life. So please know that I am not disgruntled, I am merely stating my own point on why the class is useful.)

  18. I see the matter is the person who plays monk and not the class itself. I'm playing a monk, 3.5 version. With the right feats, i pull out 2d6 of damage per fist. At level 20 i'll pull 4d8. My armor class is equal to a heavy geared melee with shield (lv. 5, 19 AC) thanks to class level and dex/ wis bonuses.
    I cannot say i can compete with a caster class in regard of versatility, still my high ST have almost never failed against a spell. This to say that i'm not the uber PC around there, still a valid member. The feats. yet to be taken will complete the "self help" part.

    Using bare hands, as i find this tipology more powerful, i overcame the problem of "low" damage asking my DM for Brass Knuckles. Something that doesn't count for being "armed". (i'm not native speaker, sounds so odd to say armed.)

    Secondarily, monk is good for fighting. And i mean grapples and stuff. I neer thought of this in the first levels, i must admit it, still when i realized i have a +4 to every dice-roll for doing so, i started grappling every humanoid NPC. What should i say? Go for a flurry of blows always, after 2 attack actions try a stunning fist. Whether it hits or misses, try grapple after, since you are unarmed. Choke the opponent. Profit.
    Oh, i'm considering a fight against a NPC of +3 levels than my character.

    On the social side, you are free to invent the damned religion. But not only, monks can also be godless, and only dedicated to a certain way of life. Just make up a solid background with no contradictions, and you can play a monk with a mostly free will. Of course the interesting part of role-playing a monk is to say "i can't do this thing because my order doesn't allows it". I mean, if you role-play a monk you can't expect to play it like a completely free from bonds.

  19. I personally love playing a monk. That being said, it is very easy to not be played correctly. The majority of a monks usefulness is out of combat, like rogues and bards. However, they are able to hold their own if they need. The book of exalted deeds can add some more flavor to the class, and gives ideas on how to properly roleplay them as well as several other classes (I would highly recommend picking it up).one of my favourite characters I have ever played was a minotaur monk, and I roleplayed him as the enforcer of law and order. Any lawbreaking he witnessed was responded to immediately (if you've played mass effect, think of the justicar).

  20. I'm adding to this a bit late I see, but having played (and loved playing) a monk in 4e (as well as numerous other classes) I have only 1 suggestion for making it a fun and functional class. Don't think you are Bruce Lee. You are a cog in the machine of your group just like any other character. Put out your damage, use your inherent bits of control, and exploit your movement to avoid taking hits, but most importantly don't think "you are the group". Its an easy mistake to make with a char that can do good damage and can have high defenses.

  21. I am late to the discussion, I know.
    Before I fo too far, just know that I have my own 1e monk version as does a good friend of mine that we usually played. Also, in my 1 e campaign monks get =1 h.p./die for their own hit points.
    The real problem with monks is - people don't know what they are for.


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