To most people, the monk is simply a fighting character whose whole body serves as a weapon. But a well-played monk also adds a touch of the exotic and the mysterious to a campaign. In addition, the monk is among the most versatile characters in the game and can fill a variety of roles in an adventuring party.
The Pros and Cons of a Monk
The monk's wide range of abilities makes her an effective combatant against all sorts of foes.
When you choose a monk, you get effective fighting ability plus an array of useful talents -- some of which are quite handy for moving around and avoiding damage. Below are several assets you have going for you when you play a monk.
The monk's many advantages come at a price. Here are a few of the disadvantages you should keep in mind if you're considering a monk character.
Playing a Classy Monk
Great monks usually use the following techniques. So if you're playing one of these characters, try to build your strategy around these concepts.
Despite your lawful nature, you're very flexible, so you can fill many different roles in a party. You can fight well enough to stand in the front line and carry the battle to the enemy, and your speed makes you a natural for rescuing allies who have gotten into trouble. You can cover a lot of ground in a hurry, and you have access to stealth and perception skills that allow you to excel as a scout, a rear guard, or a lookout. You can also choose interaction skills that let you serve as party spokesperson, and you can rely on your speed and excellent saving throws to get you out of trouble should negotiations go awry. Your ability to switch roles as needed makes you an invaluable addition to any party.
As a monk, you know that getting carried away with your many abilities is a great way to get killed. You're a capable fighter, but you lack the stamina to serve for long as your party's main combat force. Your superior speed can prove handy, but you can literally outrun your allies and find yourself facing death long before your friends can catch up and rescue you. And the fact that you lack a rogue's talent for locating and disarming traps limits your ability to scout ahead in a dungeon.
Flurry with Care
Your flurry of blows ability is flashy and fun, but the extra attacks it provides come at the expense of accuracy. In addition, since you need a full attack action to use a flurry, you can't do it on the move, and your speed is among your chief assets. So save your flurries for opponents you know you can hit. Otherwise, try to keep moving in a fight.
Don't Hoard Your Resources
At higher levels, you have more Stunning Fist attempts per day than you will probably ever use. Look for feat choices that allow you to use your Stunning Fist attempts in alternative ways. If you don't have (or don't want) such feats, don't hesitate to use your Stunning Fist regularly in combat. Even against monsters with high Fortitude saves (like giants or dragons), a natural "1" is an automatic failure -- and keeping a high-level creature from doing anything during its round can turn a tough battle into a win very quickly.
Your speed is a great asset, so use it whenever your absence won't leave your party in the lurch -- or you out on a limb. Avoid going toe-to-toe with formidable opponents when you can; instead, use your speed to seek out dangerous but vulnerable foes, such as enemy spellcasters. A few ranks in the Tumble skill can enable you to move right through the enemy's front line and wreak havoc from the rear. When facing physically dangerous foes, use your speed to pin them down quickly, then hold your position until a slower, better-armored ally can take over. If you have some maneuvering space, consider moving in, attacking, and then breaking off the fight temporarily. The Tumble skill or the Spring Attack feat is useful for this kind of tactic.
Keep Help Close at Hand
Try to avoid situations that might force you to face danger alone. You might want to serve as the party's scout, but don't range so far ahead that your friends can't mount a rescue in a round or two. In a battle, consider which other characters can best serve as your allies and stick close to them.
The Party's Main Warrior: You and the character with the best combat ability can help each other a lot. Working together with a fighter lets you flank your foes, which just might give you enough of an edge to try a flurry of blows. Likewise, the fighter is your best hope if you find yourself locked in melee with a foe that's too tough for you. On the other hand, your perception skills (such as Spot and Listen) are likely better than any fighter's, and a timely warning from you can prevent disaster from befalling this most important ally.
The Party's Stealth Person: If you're not the party's scout, your great speed and fighting prowess make you the obvious person to come to that character's rescue when misfortune strikes (and it often does).
The Party's Arcane Spellcaster: This character is weaker and more vulnerable than you in physical combat, so be prepared to come to her aid when trouble arises. If she faces an unexpected threat, you might be the only character who can get free to deal with the situation.
The Party's Divine Spellcaster: Get friendly and stay friendly with your party's cleric, druid, or paladin. This character's healing spells can stave off death, especially when you've been heavily damaged.
Some Key Equipment
A monk can literally get along without any equipment at all -- at least some of the time. Nevertheless, the right gear can help immensely. Below are some essential pieces to pack.
About the Author
Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies, and he served as the sage of Dragon Magazine for eighteen years. Skip is a codesigner of the D&D 3rd edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.
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