Posted by : David Guyll June 01, 2013

The removal of Martial Damage Dice, and thereby the monk's Flurry of Blows, marked a downturn for Melissa's enjoyment of the class. I can understand why: while other classes could use an action to attack one monster, the monk bucked trends by being able to at least try to punch more than one monster at a time.  Now? It just punches things in a manner and frequency identical to every other weapon-wielding class.

Oh hi there 3rd Edition monk!
Every time she would complain about how boring it is, or how she feels she is not contributing enough, I would reminisce about the 4th Edition monk, also known as the only monk I have ever liked. Where 3rd Edition's monk could run a bit faster and make two attacks at a penalty if you did not move, this monk actually evoked many of the things that I had come to expect and enjoy from the depiction of the fantasy martial artist in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kung Fu Hustle.

Though my point of view might be blinded by too much awesome.
Though its default mode is punch-with-an-auto-damage-followup (which itself has a variable effect depending on your tradition), there are a variety of disciplines to choose from at the get-go: you can leap insanely far, attack every nearby enemy, throw them on the ground without having to rely on a convoluted and often insurmountable opposed check, hit them into other enemies...the list goes on, and this is just some of the 1st-level stuff; at higher levels it gets even crazier.

I am not saying that the monk needs to be able to do all of this stuff at the start, but she should have some kind of always-on benefit that at least helps differentiate her from other monks. As it is each monk tradition gives you all of one thing you can do, and only once per day at that. Even worse is that aside from three, count 'em, three tradition specific features every monk gets the same thing at the same level.

Were I do redesign the monkand pretty much every other classI would lean heavily towards 4th Edition's approach to classes, giving you exactly what you need to function and letting the player choose the rest. Since all the monk really needs is the ability to function without weapons or armor (but still make weapons a viable choice), this leaves a lot of room for customization.

For starters, why not have Monastic Tradition give you something passive in addition to a ki-fueled daily ability? For example, The Path of Four Storms could give you a boost to your speed that scales as you level. Say, every 4-5 levels, so that there is more incentive to stick with the class and that level 20 has something extra for you, while The Path of Stone's Endurance could let you reduce all damage you take by 1 or 2 points if you do not move during your turn.

As you level up you could pick from a list of generic monk features, and your tradition would give you access to exclusive features (though there might be some conceptual overlap between traditions). Like, maybe at 2nd-level you can opt to have advantage on jump checks. Maybe The Path of the Phoenix lets you spend ki to spend Hit Dice during combat if you are dropped. To make it easier on new players, each tradition could have a list of recommended thematic features, similar to how feats and Specialties work (at least for now, anyway).

Another benefit of this model is that you provide better control for players to determine character complexity, as well as how "magical" they want their monk to be. If they do not want to think about too much stuff they can stick to more passive features. If they want to fire blasts of energy or create hand-shaped impact craters from a distance, then they can pick stuff with ki-costs (since those basically act like more flexible spell slots).

{ 4 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Are you considering homebrewing some of your ideas for passive monk bonuses into your own D&D Campaign? They sound like pretty good additions to me!

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  2. Josh and I had begun work on a kind of 4th Edition hack shortly before the first playtest packet for Next was released.

    There are a lot of things that I would love to see changed in Next, but until I see the final product I am just going to lobby for the changes I want and see how it plays out.

    Depending on what it looks like, if needed I might be able to homebrew up some more customizable classes and magic systems. Otherwise there is always the option of going forward with our own hack.

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  3. I've thought of how I'd do a wuxia game. I'd start with Pathfinder and give every monk or ninja spring attack as a bonus feat. Each archetype is a particular monastery's style, and has it's own history, alignment and grudges against other styles. You can sense people's style with sense motive, but you could bluff to mimic another style. Every player had to have at least one level of monk or ninja, but could multiclass from there.

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  4. In 4th Edition I would make a series of themes that would give you things like encounter-based flight or a deflecting interrupt.

    For 5th Edition, I guess I would do what someone said in an old 3rd Edition Dragon magazine and make a feat that gives you something like short-distance flight and give that to everyone as a bonus feat.

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