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Why Does the Monk Class Work in DnD


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I am sure Gygax and company read the Legends of Charlemagne. However, the paladin class was based on Holger Carlsen, the hero of Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. Incidentally, D&D tro

It was actually quite simple: because I didn't know anything about mystic kung fu.  "Master of Winter/Spring/Summer/Autumn" "Master of the North/South/East/West Wind" didn't suggest anything Chinese t

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 d

Prior to 4e Monks were definitely not a power class.

 

Played one to 16th level in one campaign. She was behind the power curve the whole way. Her best option was whirlwind attack tripping. But even there, you can do the same thing with a Fighter and do it better. And most power-gamers consider fighters an embarrassingly weak class.

 

I did it for the ability to run around the battlefield wherever I wanted to go, and make a nuisance of myself. And nuisance was about it. Until level 15/16 when I finally had enough of the right kind of magic items to make up up the basic deficiencies of the class. Then she graduated to minor threat.

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For myself, the question was never about relative power level. It was about flavor.

 

I seem to remember a 1st Edition Monk doing some pretty amazing things. I might be misremembering or there may have been other rules at play (the DM loved his off-the-wall magazine articles and such).

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The monk from the PHB could do amazing things. Just not much when it came to being a bad ass in a fight. They could fall a long way. A long, long way. I think that speaks volumes about the kind of dungeons Gygax was running back in the day.

 

But I get where you're coming from with the flavour thing. (As I think I said earlier... Or maybe I just side tracked into this Monks aren't all that powerful thing. I can't remember.)

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Another limitation of the 1e monk class is that the starting at level 7 or so, the character had to fight another monk of that level in order to advance. The loser (if he survives) loses enough xp to put him in the middle of the next lower level.

 

Like 1e magic-users, monks were weak at low levels. However, they became quite powerful at higher levels. The main challenge was being able to survive that long.

 

The monk presented in Dragon # 53 (also in Best of Dragon v. 3) made the monk a little more powerful; some say the class became overpowered. However, the character didn't have to fight to gain levels until reaching level 12.

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I remember one of my first AD&D characters to survive to high levels was a monk that switched class to Wizard. I "think" it was 12th level monk walking about as a first level wizard, looking to gain experience without utilising his monk skills. When he got to 12th level wizard, both sets of skills were available. It was an awesome combination...

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The monk from the PHB could do amazing things. Just not much when it came to being a bad ass in a fight. 

 

That was the problem. With Bruce Lee movies and theKung Fu series being so popular, players who created monk characters were expecting to get this:

 

post-1301-0-11203000-1496217081_thumb.png

 

But instead, they got this:

 

post-1301-0-03110200-1496217134_thumb.png

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Interesting. I'm a little surprised by that, I guess, because that kind of attack reeks of the MMORPG-style mechanics that ruined 4e, and I thought 5e had wisely dispensed with that kind of nonsense.

It did. But there are still some odd artifacts and it turns out there are some things that 4e did manage better (at a significant cost to role-playing and variation, sadly). One of those is solo monsters. I wont go as far as saying they don't work in 5e, but they're pretty bloody wonky. More on this below:

 

 

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.

Actually, no - I'm talking about adult dragons and what you list as the solution is what I see as the problem. Which I am happy to agree is a matter of flavour / taste, but I find it a constraint. If you want to battle a big dragon as your monster then you make it work by giving the dragon bunches of minions, special environmental effects. Basically things you add to prevent a PC party's nova abilities making it helpless whilst they wail on it until it's dead.

 

As I covered in my post, 5e aims to achieve its balance by giving characters very powerful abilities but limiting how often they can use them. As we're discussing the monk class the best example would be its Ki points which it gets X number of per day. That works if you're following a set adventure path where you have to make it through four to five encounters per day. But I run a game with a lot of strategic freedom on the part of the players. Maybe they don't want to battle the baron's minions. Maybe they find a way to lure the baron out to the inn where they are staying and fight him there. But if you allow the players to control the number of encounters like this, the game suffers badly because the chief limiting factor has been removed. Additionally, even if you do deplete the resources it still doesn't really work well for solo monsters. There are simply too many ways to overwhelm a single opponent, necessitating the minions scenario you give above. As said, it's not a problem if you are happy with that scenario, but it is objectively a constraint in that true solo monsters don't work well.

 

 

 

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.

Yes - the above, essentially. Smaug the Magnificent, the Black Knight that guards the ford, the deadly (monk ;) ) assassin. Solos are a popular archetype but they don't fare well in D&D 5e. Spence is right about Legendary Resistance. I had semi-forgotten about that as it's been a while since I've run 5e. So for example, an Ancient White Dragon gets Legendary Resistance 3/day. Meaning it can choose to pass any three saving throws. This helps. But there are still a lot of abilities out there that let you shut down a solo opponent quite easily. In 4e - critically flawed though it was if you were more of a role-player than a roll-player, it didn't need a lot of fudges to make solos work, imo.

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Why would monks work? Because productive labor is either or both of;

- regarded by the order's founder or head as being either important to spiritual development or an ethical imperative, or

- necessary because the monks are so numerous and/or alms so sparse that they cannot live by begging.

 

 

Lucius Alexander

 

Alms for the palindromedaries!

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The first time I saw the Monk class  was in the Blackmoor book back in the old days.  For some reason we always envisioned them as the Friar Tuck type. 

 

It wasn't until years later that we made the Far East connection. 

 

Weird right?

Not at all weird!  I thought the same thing when I first saw the monk class in the 1st edition Player's Handbook.  The OP is correct that oriental mystic martial artists don't really fit in western-style fantasy.  There are monks in western culture, but they're not martial artists - they're guys in robes who live in a monastery with the top of their head shaved and spend their lives making copies of holy books by hand.  And there are martial artists in western culture, but they're not monks - they're masters of various forms of combat, armed and unarmed - but mostly armed.

 

But so what?  Monks were "popular' in D&D because they were there.  There were SCADS of things in D&D that didn't fit in western-style fantasy.  D&D has *never* made much sense at all, which is why I don't play it anymore.  Let's see, off the top of my head:

 

Psionics

Dinosaurs and other pre-historic creatures

Science-fiction-y "fungus" monsters with weird names like "ascomoid" and "phytomid"

Feeble attempts at "hard physics" rules - like the zero-gravity on the Astral Plane

Dozens of spells based in modern technology and science - Duo-dimension, Time Stop, Clone, etc.  Spell-equivalents of flashlights, telephones, anti-gravity carts,etc.

Infravision & Ultravision - as if historical fantasy ever concerned itself with the physics of light frequencies

Monsters that were essentially just math tricks you could do with the dice, like the Tween

"Magic" items that are more at home in the steampunk genre.

The redefinition of words like "paladin", "necromancy", etc.

Formalized spelling that make real distinctions - e.g. demon vs daemon.

EDIT: I remembered the other sci-fi monster I was trying to think of before: the "Cifal", which was an acronym for "Colonial Insect-Formed Artificial Life".  Yeah, sure, a perfect monster for a FANTASY game.  Conan and Bilbo and Fafhrd and Merlin and Perseus fought cifals all the time!

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Yeah but how can you read the names of the Monk powers and level titles and not see the Mystic Kung Fu inspiration?

It was actually quite simple: because I didn't know anything about mystic kung fu.  "Master of Winter/Spring/Summer/Autumn" "Master of the North/South/East/West Wind" didn't suggest anything Chinese to me.  The seasons and the winds exist in Europe, too.  There was not a single Chinese word or any hint of a connection to any Asian culture anywhere in the description of the class.  On a separate page was a table of weapons available to various classes, which mentioned "bo sticks" and "jo sticks", but no one - No.  One. - had any inkling what those were, and there was not even a shadow of a hint of a half-hearted thought about maybe making an attempt to define them in the book.  And in the weapons table, they didn't seem to be particularly good weapons anyway, so no one ever used them.

 

Kids today have no idea how poorly-written the 1st edition of D&D was.  And they need to get off my lawn, too.

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It was actually quite simple: because I didn't know anything about mystic kung fu.  

 

Huh. I guess I was exposed to martial arts pretty early and had some basic information. I knew what Bo Staff is, though honestly I did not know what a Jo Stick is. For that matter, I still don't. I'm guessing something more like an Escrima stick or billy club. The monk class was "cool" to me though I never did get around to playing one. Fighter/Magic-User was so much more fun. These days, I am much more picky than I was before. 

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I was 14 when AD&D 1e came out and I recognized the obvious asian influence of the Monk class. I don't think I had any more exposure to the source culture than anyone else at that time, so I'm a little mystified by those who didn't get it. I don't recall any of us thinking of Friar Tuck; we all thought of Kwai Chang Caine.

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I was 14 when AD&D 1e came out and I recognized the obvious asian influence of the Monk class. I don't think I had any more exposure to the source culture than anyone else at that time, so I'm a little mystified by those who didn't get it. I don't recall any of us thinking of Friar Tuck; we all thought of Kwai Chang Caine.

 

Oh, it isn't really that much of a stretch if you think back to when these actually started.   Not AD&D but D&D, specifically the supplement Blackmoor in 1975.  Cable wasn't really available "everywhere" and even if you had cable you had at best 20-25 channels.   This is relevant because until the 80's I had never seen a "martial arts" movie and had only heard of Bruce Lee in magazines.  When the little black and white book Blackmoor introduced the Monk as a subclass of the Cleric we didn't have much more than that to go on. Where I lived the TV stations didn't even show Kung Fu on TV.  I missed Battlestar Galactica till years later too :no:

 

But it was only the fact that I ran across D&D at an old wargaming shop before my Dad retired from the Army and we all moved back, that I even knew what a RPG was and had a copy. It wasn't until I joined the Navy in 81 that I actually got exposed to Asian Cinema and the often confused 70-80's martial arts action shows.  Since I was a apprentice at the time (being a seaman or airman in the Navy was synonymous to dead broke in the 80's) I took advantage of the MWR at the time.  The rec center on base had hobby rooms you could reserve, a cheap restaurant and a two screen theater. We used to go there and reserve a room where we played wargames, D&D and Champions all weekend long only taking breaks to eat and watch movies.  On Sat and Sun from 9am to 6pm they had free action theater where they showed end to end Martial Arts flicks and so on.   In the evenings they showed movies like Philadelphia Experiment, Top Gun, Flash Gordon and so on for $1 fo the night.

 

By the time I saw Enter the Dragon or Master of the Flying Guillotine, the Monk was firmly a Friar like the Robin Hood Tuck with cooler abilities.

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It was actually quite simple: because I didn't know anything about mystic kung fu.  "Master of Winter/Spring/Summer/Autumn" "Master of the North/South/East/West Wind" didn't suggest anything Chinese to me.  The seasons and the winds exist in Europe, too.  There was not a single Chinese word or any hint of a connection to any Asian culture anywhere in the description of the class.  On a separate page was a table of weapons available to various classes, which mentioned "bo sticks" and "jo sticks", but no one - No.  One. - had any inkling what those were, and there was not even a shadow of a hint of a half-hearted thought about maybe making an attempt to define them in the book.  And in the weapons table, they didn't seem to be particularly good weapons anyway, so no one ever used them.

 

Kids today have no idea how poorly-written the 1st edition of D&D was.  And they need to get off my lawn, too.

 

Yep, every word .....

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I can only imagine how confusing the Monk's powers must have seemed given how incongruent they were with Christian monastic traditions. Just as Paladins must seem very odd to anyone who has never heard of Lancelot or Galahad, or Rangers to those who never read Lord of the Rings. The vast cultural reach of the game shows just how historically/culturally/sociologically literate Gygax and his gang were.

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