With the disclaimer that I’ve never played a monk in 5th edition, from my experience watching others play them, plus following the general online discourse around them, it seems clear to me that the class has issues.
Despite being a martial class, monks are brittle and struggle to do any serious damage… and that is clearly far from ideal!
While watching this video by D&D Shorts (who maintains the class holds its own in higher levels), some really simple fixes came to mind that are easy to remember and will make monks significantly stronger, while remaining faithful to the class’s design and identity.
Before I start with my three simple buffs for monks, however, there’s an elephant in the room – and that is Stunning Strike. This ability is frustratingly good and was perhaps given to the class to compensate for some of their other shortcomings. Unfortunately it ends up being, if not game-breaking, then encounter-breaking and the source of many DM headaches. The stunned condition is about the least fun you can have in D&D (I’m an advocate for a lesser ‘dazed’ or ‘staggered’ condition to replace it), and repeatedly whaling on a monster until it’s stunned is a tediously effective strategy that I don’t enjoy seeing on the table. Stunning Strike is also so powerful that other potential uses of ki are largely going to fall by the wayside as a result, making playing a monk more boring.
Anyway, let’s looks at some potential monk buffs first, before we look at how to
nerf balance Stunning Strike.
3 Simple Monk Fixes
1. Boost Hit Dice to d10s
This is a bit of no brainer (indeed, I’ve since seen it mentioned by various other folks as an obvious fix). We’re talking about a frontline fighter, so why have they got the same hit dice as melee-shy warlocks or rogues? When we think about monks, or martial artists, from fantasy fiction, they come with plenty of endurance and fighting spirit, so d10 is the minimum hit dice they should have IMHO.
2. Switch Saving Throw from Strength to Wisdom
Another no brainer. Monks’ key stats are Dexterity and Wisdom, and if anyone is going to resist a Jedi mind trick it’s these guys. By switching out Strength for Wisdom saving throws, we’re giving monks arguably the best two saves in the game, and that’s a massive boost to this class. And totally on brand.
3. Make Patient Defense a Reaction Ability
I’d imagine the most irritating thing about playing a monk is that nearly all their core abilities are based around bonus actions (in tandem with ki points). But surely Patient Defense should work like D&D’s other defensive features, such as Uncanny Dodge, Defensive Duellist and shield spell? I.e. by using a reaction.
A sprinkling of Hipster remix magic gives us:
When you are targeted by an attack you can see, you may spend 1 ki point to take the Dodge action using a reaction.
With just a subtle switch of action economy we’re bringing an amazing ability back online, letting players live out their Jackie Chan / Neo from the Matrix fantasies (and use their Flurry of Blows!), and stopping that annoying situation when you take the Dodge action and then the DM chooses to target other players. Now you use Patient Defense when you have already been targeted by an attack, meaning it doesn’t go to waste…
BONUS FIX: Remove Ki Cost to Deflected Missiles
Not a game changer, but I’d also be tempted to remove the ki cost from making a range attack with a successfully deflected / caught missile. This situation doesn’t happen often anyway, given that DMs soon learn to stop targeting monks with ranged attacks (the meta-gaming bastards!), and this little fix allows monks to enjoy their little moment in the sun, perhaps once per combat, without having to spend precious ki.
Back to the Elephant…
Ok, so back to Stunning Strike. It’s a tricky one because without it monks are kinda useless, but it’s so powerful that playing a monk basically becomes all about how many monsters you can stun in a turn.
A few ways you could deal with it, as a DM, would be:
1. One Stunning Strike per creature per turn…
If a creature succeeds its saving throw against being stunned, it is immune to the effects of Stunning Strikes until the start of its next turn.
The most annoying thing about Stunning Strike is that monks can keep doing it to a creature until they fail… it feels anti-D&D that you can force a result this way, but the monks’s Flurry of Blows, used in combination with SS, seems to accidentally enable that. This rule legislates against that.
2. Change Stunned condition
By making stunned condition less punitive, SS would become less of a problem. I had a go here, although not totally happy with the results.
3. The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Are to Stun
Another option to fix Stunning Strike would be to introduce a scaling cost to stun creatures depending on their size. It feels to me that stunning a hill giant should be several times harder than stunning a guard (and not just 15% percentage harder, based on the hill giant’s better Constitution).
Size doesn’t seem to matter much in 5e, but I’ve always argued that it should, so I’d rule that the ki point cost for attempting stunning strike is:
1 ki point – medium or smaller creature
2 ki points – large creature
3 ki points – huge creature
4 ki points – gargantuan creature
A Stunning Buff…
With one hand I taketh away, but another I giveth. I would rule that whenever a (5th level or higher) monk scores a critical hit, the target must save vs. Stunning Strike or be stunned (no ki points required).
This should introduce plenty of epic moments into your D&D adventures, but these moments will be determined by the dice, not by a player hammering the odds into submission.
One very obvious solution for fixing monks is to simply give them more ki, but on my tables, at least, short rests are taken between nearly every combat, and combats typically only last 3-4 rounds, so I am a bit reluctant to play with that balance for now. (By giving monks a chance to use Deflected Missiles and Stunning Strikes with no ki cost, I’m reducing the tax on the limited resource anyhow).
What I might advocate is spending an action to regain some or all of your ki in combat (if so I would rule that you would get them back at the start of your next turn, not the end of the current one [so you couldn’t use Patient Defense while recharging]). This effectively ensures that you have ki for every encounter, and even gives you a strategic decision to make during a longer boss or horde fight.
Overall, while my suggestions haven’t fixed the fact that monks don’t deal much damage (there are plenty of other classes that do that, and I feel the monk isn’t supposed to specialise in damage dealing), with three simple changes we’ve dramatically improved the monk’s defensive capabilities, allowing them to live long enough to be the versatile and mobile melee combatants they are supposed to be.
More Monk-eying Around
In a recent post I stat-ed out the rather sexy meteor hammer weapon, as wielded by Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill, and created a new feat to go with it.
While the feat introduces more competition for that precious bonus action, I think one could make an interesting build around doing damage from 10 feet away and maximising getting opportunity attacks.
The monks definitely feel like a divisive class in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, so I’d be interested to hear about your thoughts and experiences either as a player or a DM.
Some interesting changes there. I must admit I have the feeling that unless somebody wants to be using this class on a non-epic fantasy environment, it feels like this is a class for DMs to have available for NPC use. I always felt like the BM fighter had more “monk” manoeuvers than the actual monk class.
I like what you do with the stunning strike, but I feel like you are taking away the trick from the one-trick pony if you do that. I admit if feels awkward how they can keep trying to stun an opponent, but in reality, fighting barehanded, you would want to close in and every strike to end the fight (as in, if this fight goes longer, they have cutting/stabbing stuff and I don’t, so we need to end this as soon as possible). I like the size per ki ratio, it is simple and straightforward. But then again, some very sizeable monsters could have painful spots that a good monk would know where to hit. And some very much smaller opponents with thick armour could be really difficult to stun. So this one I would leave to the DM to rule on a case per case basis.
I definitely agree with the saving throws. I would even let Monks decide what to use (their physical or mental highest stat, depending on the phy/mental nature of the attack) given how underpowered they could be.
Interesting point about Battle Masters. Your comment made me think maybe monks should be able to perform certain BM maneuvers for the cost of a ki point… but not sure many maneuvers would be preferable to Stunning Strike, Flurry of Blows, or Patience Defense (assuming you don’t give them the superiority dice damage).
I would say, if you still feel the monk is underpowered after my changes, then the best solution would be to give ALL monks ‘Open Hand Technique’ from Way of the Open Hand, and then let them choose a different tradition.
(If they want to play Way of the Open Hand, then you’ll have to come up with something extra for them…).
Interesting ideas here. I’ve had some similar thoughts in the past few years. The “simple” fix I offered the only player who wanted to play a monk in my three campaigns was “(1) You get extra Ki equal to your Wisdom bonus. (2) Patient Defense and Step of the Wind don’t cost ki. But, (3) Stunning Strike costs 1 extra ki, cumulative, per attempt in the same round.”
I like your idea on Patient Defense too (still 1 ki, but used as a Reaction). It is different from Uncanny Dodge, BM Parry, and Defensive Duelist, without necessarily becoming the Shield spell. [Hey! Maybe *that’s* your solution for the Shield spell! No AC bonus, just Disadvantage on attacks against you, used *before* the attacks and then continuing until your turn!]
Also like making Deflect Missiles free; keep the cost to defend an ally or hurl it back.
Stunning Strike costing more for larger? Neutral on this one. Stunning Strike for free on a Crit? Love it! I’d say just only allow one attempt per creature per turn (as you suggested), and the free attempt on a crit, and you’re good.
I also really like the switch of Proficient saves to WIS and DEX. STR is weird; yours totally makes sense.
I wouldn’t even bother with the d10 HD upgrade. Patient Defense only when needed, plus two of the best three saves is enough upgrade.
Other ideas – (1) Flurry of Blows can be done whether you take the Attack action or not. (2) the monk has no additional Ki, but (similar to the BM capstone) can never have less than his WIS bonus in Ki at the end of a fight. (Meaning “Fight ends. Monk pauses a moment, recenters, and restores to WIS ki.” So they have some ki for actions before the next fight, if they need them.) (3) Adding a new power, which also costs ki: Stoneskin Kata. For 1 ki and a Bonus Action, you gain WIS bonus damage reduction until the beginning of your next turn.
I’m thought about giving Monks – all monks – Battlemaster maneuvers and dice to spend on them. I thought about ki instead, but there are so many sinks for ki already.
Your three House Rules make a lot of sense as well to me, although you’re obviously being a fair bit more generous than me. If I was tweaking your system I’d probably make the Wisdom based ki recharge on a long rest only, and only offer Patient Defense for free (as a bonus action), not Step of the Wind (you’re rather treading on rogues’s feet there!).
Good idea re: SS, or you could reverse engineer that and offer advantage to those who have already resisted once.
Your other ideas. 1) Fine by me! 2) Maybe as an action for mid combat recharge, or 1 or 10 minute meditation, for when a post-combat short rest is not possible. I haven’t got a feeling for how much ki is enough for monks… you and others seem to be keen to hand out a fair bit more, but Battle Masters get less superiority dice than monks (from 5th level on) and superiority dice are probably no more powerful than ki points (depending which maneuvers you select). 3) Love it… now you can do that and Patient Defense for serious tanking (but at a cost).
When you look through the BM maneuvers, monk abilities often offer better end results anyway. Give them Open Hand Technique, as I suggested in another comment, and they have Pushing Attack and Trip Attack as well… after that you’re only really missing Disarming Attack, but since in 5e you can just bend down and pick up your weapon, without even provoking an opportunity attack, it’s not so useful.
One of my DMs has a rule that anyone can attempt a BM maneuver at any time, just making their attack at disadvantage (and no extra damage).
Really i think monks need a ground up rework but thats far harder to do.
SS defo needs to be regulated 1 per monster per turn but ive also considered disadvantage on creatures youve already failed to stun for your next turn.
Rules i like for ki management include starting with 2 ki points at level 1 but you dont get more until level 3 at which point you go up every by 1 ki every 2 levels. (3k at lvl 3 4k at lvl5 etc)
30 minutes of uninterrupted travel regenerates 1 ki
You can use a bonus action to “dig deep” turning your life energy into ki take 1d12 of damage to regenerate 1 ki
House rules for general use which make martial classes more fun but specifically make monks more interesting
1. POWER ATTACKS for melee only. This is specifically for classes with more than 1 atk per turn. Before rolling your atk die announce you would be making a power attack and specify how many attacks worth of damage you want to do. Then attack once but do the damage of 2 or more attacks depending on class.
A monk could make 4 unarmed strikes at the cost of 1 ki ORRRR 1 attack with his full force at the cost of 1 ki. If you miss you do 0 damage that turn but theres a chance to crit and do 8x your damage in one punch
2. Silencing blow. An unarmed strike to the mouth stops spells with vocal components being cast for 1 turn Roll strength against Con or Dex against Con for Monks
3. Tripping. An unarmed strike to the legs to knock your opponent prone Push is a strength check but tripping someone to make them prone is a dex check. Now if you wish to grapple as a monk you can do it with advantage
4. Wallrunning. Every class can potentially wallrun with acrobatics checks increasing your jump height if near a wall and avoiding opportunity attacks
5. Tavern Brawler is stupid. If you can use it as a club its a club. If its like something your proficient with youre proficient with it. DM homebrews any damage dice if theres uncertainty on the fly. A metal chain wrapped round your arm can be unarmed strike+1
I think the save system is too consistent to kill it here. I also would prefer to up the defenses rather than the HP.
Here are my quick fixes: 1. Step of the Wind is free. 2. Patient Defense is free if you make an unarmed strike on your turn. 3. You get Lay on Hands like the Paladin at level 1. 4. Stillness of Mind occurs at the start of your turn. 5. When everyone else gets their 11th level damage boost you get a second bonus action.
That only fixes part of the Stunning Strike issue, but I think the real fix is to add options as the Monk is build like a half-caster who forgot to select their spells.