Now we get to the class, which shows us, that D&D is not to be intended as a western medieval based game, but a fantasy one, which can include anything you wants, even eastern. Or maybe especially eastern. It’s time for the monk, who isn’t a western one and even not too much of an eastern, but based on a very specific order, which shows us, that the human body is capable of feats we didn’t even thought about. Mostly, because it’s either unrealistic or would hurt as hell without special training.
The monk always had his up and downs from my point of view, and this edition makes no real difference. But let’s see…
This is an overview, so I’ll just categorize each class in certain categories to see how it cuts and give a personal grading. The end-grading won’t count the multiclass-strength in (for obvious reasons) and is more like an overall impression than a mathematical derivation.
Any feature in italic is from a subclass and a abbreviation will say which one (in the monk’s case OH for Open Hand, SH for Shadow and FE for Four Elements). And red features means there is a flaw or a minus in said category.
- 1st level brings a lot of thinks you might want to have, even if the usefulness of each feature depends on your build. But one of them is definitely useful. 2nd level the same, 3rd is as an OH-monk especially cool and you can grab the ability improvement on 4th as well
- 5th level is good for classes which wants the Extra Attack feature, even though Stunning Fist is cheap enough to be useful for some melee-builds, too. As a rouge you get usage of both features. 6th is ignorable for multiclassing into monk, while 7th at least grants you evasion, which can be great of your main-class don’t have it. Afterwards you should rather use monk as a main-class
- 14th level is the part you want to reach at least with a main-class monk. If you aim for higher, you might get disappointed, even though the 17th level feature is always great with these subclasses, they are pretty ki point intensive.
- The capstone is good. Far more practical than most, even if you miss out your most powerful features with that amount of ki points.
- Only the first levels are that interesting about the monk in terms of multiclassing, even if you can aim for 8th for Evasion and another Ability Score Improvement.
- Martial Arts: A kinda better way of two-weapon fighting and gets only stronger with levels. And another reason why you can dump STR.
- Ki: Flurry of Blows. More attacks, more damage.
- Unarmored Movement: Get to the enemy faster, be it on normal footing or later even over water and walls.
- Deflect Missiles: Even though it might not trigger that often or the ki point is too valuable, you can actually throw the stuff back!
- Extra Attack: Extra hurt.
- Stunning Strike: The rest of your attacks will thank you. And your next turn, too.
- Ki-Empowered Strikes: Don’t think you can escape full damage because of some resistance or immunity to normal weapons.
- Empty Body: Make yourself invisible without the worry of ending the effect by attacking. Sounds like a lot of unseen attacks for me.
- Open Hand Technique (OH): Knock prone for more accuracy for the next attack roll. Just a minor bonus here, since you need to flurry there.
- Quivering Palm (OH): Instant death or some damage. Means save and suck (without necrotic resistance/immunity) or die.
- Shadow Step (SH): Use your bonus action for advantage once and to cover a great deal of distance. Downside is the needed dim light or below.
- Cloak of Shadows (SH): And again only usable if the light is at least dim. But at the end only another way to advantage, which you already had.
- Opportunist (SH): The power of teamwork relies on hitting enemies together.
- Elemental Disciplines (FE): Most of them do damage.
- Ki: Your important resource is refilled by a short rest, mostly positive, sometimes you wish you would regain them in less time.
- Stunning Strike: You use it after knowing you hit the target.
- Perfect Self: Let you regain some ki points when having none. Better than nothing, I guess.
- Open Hand Technique (OH): Additional effects for every flurry.
- Quivering Palm (OH): For this effect, it’s not only cheap in ki points, but you can’t miss, since you decide on hit.
- Disciple of the Elements (FE): Become more effective turn-wise by using ki points to enhance your spell-disciplines.
- Ki: Since a lot of uses requires your bonus action, you can’t use it as effectively as you might like.
- Disciple of the Elements (FE): Costs a lot.
- Stunning Strike: A stunned creature is like Christmas for anyone who wants to put damage on that bastard.
- Open Hand Technique (OH): Chance of knocking prone (regardless the size), chance of pushing the enemy into the front or away from the back is practical and no reactions makes reforming a much easier task. Or getting your allies away.
- Shadow Arts (SH): Cover an allies retreat by making darkness, adding extra stealthiness by silence, some support potential.
- Elemental Disciplines (FE): Some of them makes enemy more vulnerable.
- Unarmored Defense: To help you forget the fact, that you can’t wear armor. Normally good enough to come by, but it’ll force you to get your DEX and WIS high, since you lack the hit points to be wide open.
- Ki: Patient Defense is good when fearing multiple incoming attacks, while Step of the Wind brings you the hell out of sticky situations.
- Unarmored Movement: Seriously, it becomes pretty hard to follow a fleeing monk at some point.
- Deflect Missiles: Reduces damage by the cost of a reaction. Often a fair trade-off, since your attacks of opportunity aren’t as hard hitting as the ones other melee classes can provide.
- Slow Fall: Less damage, even if it’s a special case.
- Stunning Strike: A chance to take an enemy out for one round.
- Evasion: Most damage spells are now much less frightening.
- Stillness of Mind: And now nothing is frightening anymore. Or charming. Sad.
- Purity of Body: And there goes the chance to be killed by alcohol. And green dragons might to express their displease by using their claws, teeth, tails and even wings about the whole immunity thing.
- Diamond Soul: And finally, saves in general are pretty… well, save. All proficiency and a re-roll if needed.
- Timeless Body: And age wouldn’t be a problem… at least the magical one, while the normal aging will never be disadvantageous. Except having less time to live.
- Empty Body: You become invisible for a minute without any flaw, resistance to all but force damage? That’s some enhanced survivability.
- Open Hand Technique (OH): All effects can make it easier to escape the engaging situation you got struck to. Use your movement afterwards wisely.
- Wholeness of Body (OH): Self-Heal. Somehow good, but only once every long rest…
- Tranquility (OH): As long you don’t hurt anyone, the enemy will have problems hurting you.
- Shadow Step (SH): A great way to get away, when dark enough.
- Cloak of Shadows (SH): Combine with Shadow Step and no one will be able to follow you when retreating.
- Elemental Disciplines (FE): Few of them have defensive capabilities.
- Armor Proficiency: You’ll miss armor for a long time, unless you got some strong stats in DEX and WIS.
- Tool Proficiency: Better one than none.
- Martial Arts: You don’t need a weapon to be dangerous, so sometimes you can leave or drop it, when necessarily.
- Ki: Step of the Wind provides longer jumps.
- Unarmored Movement: Actually the 9th level improvement is much more interesting in the utility department here.
- Slow Fall: Makes you braver when exploring cliffs and such.
- Stunning Strike: A useful tool in impressing/intimidating someone with low-cost and a fearsome effect.
- Tongue of the Sun and Moon: Talk to anyone who can talk. Practical at least.
- Empty Body: Being invisible without much fail? Solid. Travel per Astral Projection? If you wouldn’t leave your body behind until reaching your destination, this would be a way to let the enemy far behind, but so we can only count in the travel factor.
- Quivering Palm (OH): There are few better arguments than having your ‘business partner’ under that effect and explaining him, he could die within the next few days at any time you want. Unless of course he’ll do to your bidding.
- Shadow Arts (SH): Mostly utility spells.
- Shadow Step (SH): Some huge benefits in sneaking missions.
- Cloak of Shadows (SH): And sneaking into anything at night became that much easier.
- Elemental Disciplines (FE): A handful of them are able to uses utility effects as secondary effects, while a few have them even as primary effects.
Offense: Good (SH) to Great (OH, FE)
Resource Management: Worse (FE) to Bad (OH, SH)
Support: Bad (SH) to Decent (OH, FE)
Utility: Decent (OH) to Good (SH, FE)
Again someone who mainly acts only in combat, even though the overall Ways of Shadow and the Four Elements have enough out-of combat uses to make it better. But the problem of the monk is mainly the fact that when trying to compete with another class, he’ll run quickly out of ki points. Too many uses for them, too less points to spent.
The monk gets so many survivability features, but most of them uses ki points or are too specific. To get the AC high enough to compete with front characters, you need exceptional ability scores. And the fact that spells and monster special actions becomes more unlikely to have effects on you makes up a bit, but this makes the monk someone who wants to skip the enemies front, even though he gets surrounded then… You have to play much smarter than the average front and even more smarter than the rogue, who get a fail save due his Cunning Action.
So my final impression would be: Be careful when playing a monk, this class is difficult to play. If you’re good in reading combat situations and don’t need to land hits every possible turn, you can make most of this class and then it becomes really strong. If you’re just about hitting something, the first few levels will most likely end deadly.