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Why Does the Monk Class Work in DnD


Nolgroth
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I've always felt that the DnD monk, being based on Far Eastern philosophy and traditions clashes with the Western European feel of D&D. So why is it so popular a class? Is it because of the powers associated with it? Does it fill a niche that the other classes don't? Is it because of the prevalence in martial arts action heroes in modern media?

 

The reason I ask these questions is because I am building what amounts to a class system for a game I am planning. I keep looking at the classes that I've built (which are really just archetypes that have Characteristics spreads in them) and I am debating on whether the Asian mystic martial artist has a place in there. I would love to get more opinions than my own internal, conflicting voices. :)

 

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Sill if you want a monk class, I'm sure there is a way to make it more western in feel. The easiest method would be if you are using Elves, and then this becomes an ancient eleven tradition.

I'm not sure why my brain works this way but reading your post immediately made me imagine The Green Hornet as a half-orc and Kato as an elf.

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Sill if you want a monk class, I'm sure there is a way to make it more western in feel. The easiest method would be if you are using Elves, and then this becomes an ancient eleven tradition.

 

 

The honorable arts of sElf Defense?

 

As for the original questions: Yes I'm sure the prevalence of martial arts in modern action-adventure media have a lot to do with the popularity of the Monk class in D&D. No, an "Asian" mystic martial artist likely doesn't belong in your setting - but that does NOT mean a mystic martial artist doesn't fit. Or a non-mystic martial artist, or a non-martial artist mystic. You can link the class to a monastic tradition if that seems to fit, or don't if your setting has no monastic traditions or if you don't see a reason to have such a mandatory link.

 

You can have something like the ancient Greek Pankration. Elves, if you have them, or some pacifist cult, if you have such, might have developed techniques for restraining and subduing opponents without harming them. Abilities unlocked by ascetic practices and/or physical disciplines and/or meditative or yogic exercises might be associated with something like a chivalric order, or passed on in a guru to student / master to apprentice fashion or be closely guarded mysteries of some secret society.

 

I am sure something LIKE a "Monk" in the D&D sense can work even in a pseudo-European quasi-medieval setting, but the real question is - do you want to do the work of creating and balancing such a character type? For the answer to that, I suggest you consider who you are doing the work for. If one or more of your players really wants a "mystic martial artist" that gives a reason to invest in it, if none of them do and you don't plan to use it for any NPCs, maybe you can skip it. Or leave it as an open question to be revisited if the campaign moves in that direction or someone turns up who DOES want that.

 

Lucius Alexander

 

Order of the Palindromedary

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I've always seen it as an "exotic foreign import" thing. Basically, wanderers from a foreign land, or people who studied under them.

 

The roots of the class are obviously related to the impact of Kung Fu in US popular culture in the 70s.

 

Historically, the presence of Eastern fighters in Europe wasn't entirely inconceivable. The Ancient Greeks were in contact with India, and Indian yogis, gurus and Buddhist Monks as least as far back as Alexander the Great. Buddhists seem to have been present in Alexandria during the Ptolemaic era.

 

This contact continued at least sporadically during the Roman period. Furthermore, the Roman and Chinese borders can very close at times. The two civilizations were at least vaguely aware of each other's existence.

 

Christian missionaries travelled eastwards very early on. It is likely that, prior to the rise of Islam, there were more Christians to the east of the Roman Empire than within it. This contributed to the relatively early establishment of Christian populations in India and China, some of which persisted until they were encountered by Europeans much later on.

 

What was possible in one direction was notionally possible in the other. Eastern religions/philosophies, and the martial disciplines associated with them, could, technically, have established a foothold in Europe.

 

The Mongols provide one possible method for this. Mongol successor states existed on the fringes of Europe for centuries. Even now, in Kalmykia, a region within Russia next to the Caspian Sea, Buddhism is the most commonly practiced religion.

 

There's no especial reason why Buddhism couldn't have spread through eastern Europe as a minority religion (like Judaism, for example). In time it could have spread further west. The vicissitudes that it would have endured would have provided plenty of good reasons for the survival and further development of martial traditions.

 

This is speculative history, but it's not entirely impossible within a "fantasy Europe".

 

In a more generic fantasy world? Up to you.

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One reason the monk class works in DnD is that no-one really expects a carefully crafted, coherent world that closely reflects this one. It's very much: everything and the kitchen sink in design philosophy.

 

As several other people have said: there's no reason that the monk concept, that of a monastic type who is learned in some very specific fighting styles, has to be in a pseudo-Asian setting. Or even monastic.  I'm currently playing a monk in a Pathfinder game who is a bare knuckle brawler called Pancho (Punch -o) who's never seen the inside of a monastery. His true vocation is drinking and his equivalent of a monastery is a brewery.

 

For myself I'd say the main appeal in DnD (and it's variations) is that monks can do things most other classes can't. Mostly things to do with wushu crazy jumping and such forth. Obviously Hero system allows for this to be done differently depending on how you design your "classes."

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Old-school D&D monks were pretty underpowered. They were not popular with most of the groups I played in. I only started liking the class in recent years.

 

Many players feel monks are out of place in a western fantasy, but coming up with an explanation for how they fit in is not too difficult. One of my settings mixed western and eastern traditions, so karate and judo developed alongside western fencing.

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These are all really good responses folks. I appreciate you taking the time to respond and I need to consider all of your responses, both collectively and separately. 

 

Right now, I am tending towards "non-mystic" martial arts like the Blademaster from Wheel of Time. There are certainly some eastern influences there, especially in the Heron marked blade design, but the setting is pretty firmly Western European in feel. And that is but one example. Fencing, wrestling, boxing and staff fighting are all other examples of the martial arts I am leaning towards. I have a small inclination towards an unarmed Krav Maga style art, that dispenses with the fortune cookie wisdom and focuses on practical, utilitarian maneuvers. So the "Monk" is likely out but there will be some sort of systematic unarmed combat.

 

When I get back to Ulum, then there will be more mystical martial arts. But that's another post for another day.

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I've always seen it as an "exotic foreign import" thing.

This is also probably part of the appeal. Some players will always want to play something that seems off beat or exotic.

 

Lucius Alexander

 

Like wanting to ride a palindromedary

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I've always felt that the DnD monk, being based on Far Eastern philosophy and traditions clashes with the Western European feel of D&D. So why is it so popular a class? Is it because of the powers associated with it? Does it fill a niche that the other classes don't? Is it because of the prevalence in martial arts action heroes in modern media?

 

It's popular because a lot of immature players think "ninjas are cool" and have no regard whatsoever for general atmosphere or whether their personal power trip makes my setting all loopy. Also, in most versions of D&D the monk class is easily exploited to create game-breaking combos like stun-locking a dragon round after round.

 

Why yes, I am harsh and judgemental and wildly opionated. Why do you ask? :)

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Knasser2 I resemble that remark? Ninja ARE cool anyone who disagrees gets a throwing star to the back! (Please note I'm kidding besides ninjas area cool)

 

All your throwing stars to the back accomplish is help me achieve my dreams of being a stegosaurus! :P

 

papier_mache_stegosaurus_1995_by_lonesom

 

I guess I'm okay with oriental settings having them. It's just a bugbear of mine when they show up in Medieval European settings. It's so typical of D&D's "Kitchen Sink" approach. Generally I'm very careful about what I allow in my setting. For example, I've reigned in D&D's profusion of little people. Halflings and dwarves and gnomes and whatever else. I just have dwarves. (Well there are gnomes but they're only in the Fey realm) A good meal requires a caerful balance of well chosen ingredients. It is not made better by just adding everything. I also think "Chi" can be easily re-flavoured to have less Wushu flavour if desired. A warrior who has a pact with some deity or is possessed by a demon. The D&D monk just feels like one of those hodge-podge damn-all-sense things D&D is famous for.

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My D&D favourite character of recent times was a half-orc monk. I think the addition of other races provides for an injection of mysticism etc.

 

As it happens the order he belonged to was an obscure sect of Gruumsh, a lawful good one, that promulgated an alternate history of the races. In olden times, according to this sect, there were no humans and the elves and orcs were equally civilised. Corellion and Gruumsh decided to end the constant warfare between their children by merging them into one race (humans). Corellion cheated though and only merged half of his elves and then persuaded the humans that orcs were evil. Gruumsh was devastated and plucked out an eye, the one that did not see the trick.

 

Over centuries the orcs and their god were brutalised and came to reflect the propaganda. This sect keeps the story alive, seeking ways to redeem their race and bring them back to civilised ways. There is a schism as to whether the elves should be forgiven or punished for millennia of hurt.

 

Their biggest piece of evidence is the existence of both half elves and half orcs. How could that be unless humans were not already half and half....

 

:-)

 

This sect were mystics, forswore metal weapons and communed with an ancient version of their god, the current version being too far removed from their iconography....

 

Doc

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My D&D favourite character of recent times was a half-orc monk. I think the addition of other races provides for an injection of mysticism etc.

 

As it happens the order he belonged to was an obscure sect of Gruumsh, a lawful good one, that promulgated an alternate history of the races. In olden times, according to this sect, there were no humans and the elves and orcs were equally civilised. Corellion and Gruumsh decided to end the constant warfare between their children by merging them into one race (humans). Corellion cheated though and only merged half of his elves and then persuaded the humans that orcs were evil. Gruumsh was devastated and plucked out an eye, the one that did not see the trick.

 

Over centuries the orcs and their god were brutalised and came to reflect the propaganda. This sect keeps the story alive, seeking ways to redeem their race and bring them back to civilised ways. There is a schism as to whether the elves should be forgiven or punished for millennia of hurt.

 

Their biggest piece of evidence is the existence of both half elves and half orcs. How could that be unless humans were not already half and half....

 

:-)

 

This sect were mystics, forswore metal weapons and communed with an ancient version of their god, the current version being too far removed from their iconography....

 

Doc

 

Very elegant. I like the touch of half-elves and half-orcs proving it. :)

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Also, in most versions of D&D the monk class is easily exploited to create game-breaking combos like stun-locking a dragon round after round.

"Stun-locking" sounds like a 4e thing. How was that achieved in the first three editions of (A)D&D?

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"Stun-locking" sounds like a 4e thing. How was that achieved in the first three editions of (A)D&D?

 

5e thing, actually. 5e quite heavily assumes a standard 4-5 encounters per day and presents resource management as one of the challenges of the game. Most classes can "nova" quite effectively, by which I mean they each have some very powerful effects. The balance to that power being their finite uses per day. This works somewhat when the encounters per day are those of the design assumptions. It makes it a little bit of a game of "we could win any combat we choose, but how can we get through this without using everything up / which combat should we choose to win". The approach works very badly for GMs who are open to players being very strategic and picking their battles because the players can go nova at their own pace and it becomes very difficult to challenge them. One might think you can just up the difficulty of your "end boss" but in practice that just makes the combat very swingy with a lot of uncertainty as to which way it will go because to withstand the nova'ing PCs, opposition must be substantially more powerful and in D&D power in defence increases in lock-step with power in offence. Which brings us back around to the monk as a great example of this. The monk has a Stun power. It costs one Ki point to use and lets you stun an opponent for a round if they fail a saving throw. Combine it with things like Extra Attacks to make chance of failing low and abilities like Step of the Wind and the ability to run along walls and ceilings and a monk's increased movement speed... the effect on solo monsters is devastating. The dragon will sit there looking dopey whilst everyone else takes it apart. Ki is a finite resource so the theory in 5e is that the player wont play this way because hey - they'll burn up all their special power. But it requires a very specific style of play to work.

 

I don't recall specifics of brokeness in 1-3, I'm afraid. I just have vague recollections of unarmed people burying everything under a tonne of unstoppable attacks but I can't attack power names or numbers to it by this point, I'm afraid.

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"Stun-locking" sounds like a 4e thing. How was that achieved in the first three editions of (A)D&D?

 

 

5e thing, actually. The dragon will sit there looking dopey whilst everyone else takes it apart. Ki is a finite resource so the theory in 5e is that the player wont play this way because hey - they'll burn up all their special power. But it requires a very specific style of play to work.

 

I don't recall specifics of brokeness in 1-3, I'm afraid. I just have vague recollections of unarmed people burying everything under a tonne of unstoppable attacks but I can't attack power names or numbers to it by this point, I'm afraid.

 

Well to be fair, this would only happen to a Young Dragon or Wyrmling.  Adult and older usually have Legendary Resistance which means they upon failing a saving throw they can choose to make it instead.   That plus their not so insignificant capabilities including Legendary Actions, Lair Actions and Regional Actions make them a handful.  They are not creatures, they are highly intelligent beings.   Not to mention they are rarely without servants, minions and agents. 

 

You don't attack a Dragon. You attack an organization. 

 

I am not a big D&D fan these days.  Play a setting/game type 30+ years and it gets pretty old especially when it really doesn't change.  But a D&D Dragon is not the lone beasty by itself in the hills.  It is an old cunning genius residing in a fortress lair with a powerful array of minions and leveled agents. 

 

Now you could be talking about Young Dragons or Wyrmlings.  But they are dumb, dime a dozen and most are due to die off anyway.  Except for XP they will never really have much worth taking in the over-reaching campaign sense. 

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I have yet to play D&D 5. I was happy with 4 and saw no reason to upgrade. That said, I did download the basic rules and bought the Starter set. I love starter sets and that one was not terribly bad. 

 

This project, however, is using classes only as a springboard for quick character creation. I intend to use it (hopefully) to entice new blood into the Hero System by showing them that it is not all about number crunching and when it is, there is usually a vested interest in crunching those numbers. That takes the mystique and fear away, or at least I hope it will. From there, character customization is freeform.

 

I decided not to go with the mystical monk, but I did create an Operative class which is part spy and part assassin. I am kind of picturing a cross between a Mossad agent and a League of Shadows assassin. All the kick-ass with half the mysticism. This also gives me, or a potential player, the option of delving into a mystic side of their organization. I am nearly done with the whole Race, Culture, Class package part of the project. Almost ready to move on to the adventure plotting and mapping parts. 

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But a D&D Dragon is not the lone beasty by itself in the hills.  It is an old cunning genius residing in a fortress lair with a powerful array of minions and leveled agents.

Maybe that's what a D&D dragon has become, but in the days of OD&D and 1st ed. AD&D, the prototype for the Ancient Red Dragon was Smaug, and he sat upon his treasure horde all alone, and didn't need a powerful array of minions and leveled agents to be an unholy terror to an entire region of the (campaign) world. Don't let the fact that he had an Achilles Heel type weakness detract from the challenge he alone represented.

 

It wasn't until players routinely bragged about their 30th level characters and dragons became Just Another Monster in the MM that there was a need to turn them into the equivalent of supervillain organizations just to make them a challenge again.

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Maybe that's what a D&D dragon has become, but in the days of OD&D and 1st ed. AD&D, the prototype for the Ancient Red Dragon was Smaug, and he sat upon his treasure horde all alone, and didn't need a powerful array of minions and leveled agents to be an unholy terror to an entire region of the (campaign) world. Don't let the fact that he had an Achilles Heel type weakness detract from the challenge he alone represented.

 

It wasn't until players routinely bragged about their 30th level characters and dragons became Just Another Monster in the MM that there was a need to turn them into the equivalent of supervillain organizations just to make them a challenge again.

 

Come now.  After the first session they will only be 29th level :nya:

 

But pretty much spot on.  And one of the reasons I lost interest in most D&D.  On occasion with the right GM or the right players I'll play a game.  Handled with a bit of reason the 5th Ed rules are actually not bad.  But.........

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