... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Monk: Thief or Fighter?

One of the topics raised in the comments on monks was whether the fighting-monk was appropriate. Another, lesser, objection was to the issue of monks having thief skills, since that doesn't seem to fit either the Eastern or Western image of monks. A couple thief skills might make a little sense, if you really elaborate on the idea of a fighting-monk practicing movement and awareness skills (stealth, climbing, hear noise.) But sleight of hand is a little more of a stretch, and removing traps doesn't fit at all.

But the monk as a subclass of thief isn't that bad of an idea, in my opinion. You could use the normal thief progression, drop the un-monklike thief skills, and add a few other skills to create a mundane monk. Mystical abilities would be acquired through play rather than as a property of the class, as I suggested before. It would make a good alternative.

On the other hand, the monk as weapons and unarmed combat master seems to me a bit useless, because you could just re-skin the fighter. A fighter can be a gladiator, a knight, or a yeoman archer, so why not a fighting monk as well? If need be, you could make it a fighter subclass, similar to the way I suggested handling the paladin: in exchange for meeting a minimum score requirement, lowering the chances of bonus XP, and following a certain regimen, an otherwise ordinary fighter can be trained as a fighting monk.


  1. The two best ways to go with the monk are either to make him a unarmed combat version of the fighting man or to make him a "martial magic-user," which is to say, a class with magical abilities specifically geared toward melee combat effectiveness. Of the two, I like the second idea better, but the first would be much easier to implement.

  2. ...and then I rather like where you're going with the thief subclass because there is no place in D&D right now for a trustworthy climber/bomb disposal expert. If you want those skills you can only get them in a criminal package, which I know a lot of players have tried to work around, and the whole "rogue thing seems to be a response to it, but what if there were some socially-approved source for men-who-could-get-you-on-the=other-side-of-that-lock?

    I nominate Thai funerary architect-acrobats. They have the thief's physical skills, they belong to a religious order, and they understand how stuff is built and therefore how to take it apart. Alas, the only historical source I've ever seen for them is a footnote to a caption plate in the Ayutthaya museum.

  3. ...the Thai guys being a basis for your monk-thief, BTW, in case that wasn't clear. Perhaps they know Muay Thai but it's secondary to their acrobatic skills.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Here's the Monk option from Weird West:

    Shaolin Monk – Fighting is +2. Unarmed attacks use d6. Requires: Magic 1. Can only make unarmed attacks.

    In D&D terms they fight as if they're 2 levels higher, and must have exceptional (13+) Wisdom. This would be an add-on you could give another class... so Thief OR Fighter. :)

  6. If clerics model militant priests aren't' monks as typically depicted just a tad redundant?

    The Monk class as written in several sources make fun ninja-assassin by just re-describing them ever so slightly.

  7. I think monks are messy but worth saving. (They can fit well enough into a D&D setting, though, whether hailing from far Cathay or from a hidden western mystical order unknown to history.) I thought hard about whether they should be thieves when doing my AD&D house rules.

    I ended up deciding the monk was a subclass of cleric, with spellcasting but no turning. HD d8, 10 max, but no level limit per se. Dex bonuses improve AC. Movement and open-hand damage toned down (15" d4+1 at 1st level; 24" d12+20 at 20th level: one attack). Open-hand attacks harness mystic forces to strike as if metal/silver/+1/+2/+3 weapons at levels 1/5/10/15/20. Thief abilities are stealthy ones only, not open locks or remove traps. Monks can break boards instead (1" at 1st to 7" at 19th level). Special abilities are available via spell use, and require only concentration by the monk to cast. The monk must meditate or pray to prepare the spell slots, but casts spells as required rather than memorising them.* Spells are a subset of Mystic spells, mostly personal effect only.**

    * Standard for clerics in my game. There is a chance of delay or failure.
    ** Mystics are another clerical subclass with spells that more or less replace psionics.

    This is untested as my players haven't wanted to play a monk (or mystic) yet. I considered some Jackie Chan style acrobatics and fast climbing as well, but hadn't done more than make a note of this.


  8. @JDJarvis: the cleric only models one, highly idiosyncratic, kind of militant priest: I'd have room for monks as clerics in my game, and potentially also spirit mediums, trance warriors, dervishes/mujahideen and Aztec priests, all mechanically very different from D&D's weirdo Ogier/Peter Cushing.

    @Talysman: I'm really intrigued by this "reskinning the fighter" idea: are you talking about minimal mechanical changes? What would be the critical difference between this unarmed warrior and the rest? Would he always go unarmed/unarmored, and from a story/world perspective, why?

  9. weatherman's comment was marked as spam, so I un-spammed it.

    @richard: here, I'm talking about zero mechanical changes: he's just a fighter. For a mechanical approach, see my Four Monks post that came after this one.