5E Avatar: The 4-element monk mini-guide
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  1. #1

    Avatar: The 4-element monk mini-guide

    (Wasn't sure how to move a thread from the lifeboat forum to here so I'm just reposting it)

    The World Needs the Avatar, now more than ever: A "Way of the Four Elements" mini-guide

    So, you have decided to go beyond a mere fist and quarterstaff and instead choose to wield the very elements of the world as your weapon!
    What the Subclass looks like on paper:
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    How it feels in game:
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    This is written as a supplement to the very excellent Monk guide by Yunru please refer to that for the main points of the class. I will be using the standard terrible lousy mediocre good great amazing and situational color codes.


    Subclass breakdown:
    Benefits:


    • Flavor: Throwing around ice and fire is without a doubt fun. Probably the biggest draw of the subclass.
    • Utility: Who knows, maybe you will encounter lots of enemies perched on rooftops or balconies, or you will need to freeze a path across a pond and no-one has any ice or water related spells.
    • Range: This is the biggest mechanical strength of the subclass. Monks are normally SoL when faced with enemies who can fly or who are on the other side of a chasm.
    • Area effects: Sometimes you want to take out a whole crowd of goblins at once. Punching them individually might be easier and more likely to kill one or two, reducing the damage they deal back next round, but why get your hands dirty?

    Note: With the Sword Coast Adventurer's guide, the Sun Soul monk can attack at range and with area effects just as well as the 4EM, and without being as reliant on ki points. So there's that.


    Drawbacks:


    • Ki usage: One of the biggest weaknesses of the Monk class is that so many of their class features rely on a very limited number of ki points. Element monks burn that already short candle at both ends. Expect to either be constantly pestering your DM and fellow players about short rest opportunities or be in perpetual "but I might need it later" paranoia paralysis.
    • Lack of Synergy: Many of the powers this subclass grants do not work with with core Monk features, and in most cases directly preclude them. Further, some of them are concentration spells, which can make fighting in melee risky.
    • Limited Choices: Aside from the mandatory not!cantrip, you only get 4 powers over your entire career, 5 if you swap out Elemental Attunement. Choose wisely.



    Overview:
    Originally I rated this subclass mediocre but with the release of the Elemental Evil campaign player's companion and Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide it has dropped to bad. Probably the closest thing to a trap class 5e has. Now don't get me wrong- a 4 Elements Monk isn't useless by any stretch, they can still contribute to an adventuring party in and out of combat, just not as well and not as often as other options.

    As a Monk, most of the time simply stun-punching an opponent is a faster, easier, and more reliable solution to a problem than any of the not!spells in the 4EM's repertoire. Why they didn't just make it a 1/3 spellcaster, I'll never understand. The ratings I give below are compared mostly to other powers within the monk class, and tend to assume opponents that are too distant, too numerous, or otherwise can't simply be hit with regular punches.


    TL;DR:
    Want to be a mystic who can command the elements of nature?
    Be a Druid, Cleric, or Sorcerer.

    Want to be a dexterous and mobile warrior who backs up their martial prowess with magic?
    Be an Eldritch Knight or Bladesinger wizard

    Want to be a monk, but also hit things that are far away?
    Be a Sun Soul
    Last edited by ClockworkNinja; Friday, 27th November, 2015 at 12:34 AM.

  2. #2
    Disciplines:

    Mandatory:

    • Elemental Attunement: You get this automatically. Like Druidcraft or Taumaturgy, its usefulness depends on your imagination. Light fires, create handholds in a sheer stone wall or cliff face (if your DM rules that "earth" includes solid stone and not just dirt), spritz yourself with mist on a hot day, ect. RAW you can trade this out for another power at level 6.

    Usable at level 1:

    • Shape the Flowing River: Full of flavor, but utility depends on imaginative uses. Obviously very useful in a seagoing campaign, not so much in a desert (or maybe. Is this your only water barrel? It would be a shame if something were to happen to it). You should discuss with your DM weather or not the phase can't shape the ice to trap a creature prevents you from forming a wall of ice around them or just stops you from encasing them.
    • Sweeping Cinder Strike: Short range and low damage, especially compared to Fire Snake.
    • Water Whip: Was amazing as a bonus action, but has been errata'd to be a standard action as of 6/10/15. Knockdown was more useful when you could still attack on the same turn. Overall the effect fills the monks lack of ranged attacks fairly well by bringing down fliers, arresting fleeing enemies, and anything else who refuses to stay in punching range. Find a high balcony (perhaps made with "Shape the Flowing River") pull ground enemies up to you and watch them fall.
    • Fangs of the Fire Snake: Competes with Water Whip over best choice for your first Discipline and as of errata may be your best combat ability at this level. Warning: The brightest flame burns shortest. This discipline drains Ki FAST. A lvl 6 monk can spend up to their entire Ki reserve in a single round using this and FoB.
    • Fist of Four Thunders: As a melee combatant, you mostly want to be up in an enemies face, not a few feet away from them. If you need to avoid an opportunity attack, you already have Step of the Wind and stunning strike at your disposal.
    • Fist of Unbroken Air: Similar to Water Whip, but it takes a standard action and pushes instead of pulling. See previous entry for why pushing is bad. Obviously better if your DM builds rooms with lots of environmental hazards.
    • Rush of the Gale Spirits: Useful as a gust of wind, which is to say not very and not often.



    Usable at 6th level:

    • Clench of the North Wind: Somewhat redundant with water whip + attack with stunning strike IMO, but makes up for it by being an ongoing effect and facilitating auto-crits.
    • Gong of the Summit: Useful to have when a horde overwhelms even your many attacks. Also useful on ceilings above foes, floors below them, and walls next to unbreakable doors.

    Usable at 11th level:

    • [̶c̶o̶l̶o̶r̶=̶b̶l̶u̶e̶]̶E̶t̶e̶r̶n̶a̶l̶ M̶o̶u̶n̶t̶a̶i̶n̶ ̶D̶e̶f̶e̶n̶s̶e̶[̶/̶c̶o̶l̶o̶r̶]̶:̶ ̶M̶o̶n̶k̶s̶ ̶t̶e̶n̶d̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶b̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶b̶i̶t̶ ̶f̶r̶a̶g̶i̶l̶e̶,̶̶e̶s̶p̶e̶c̶i̶a̶l̶l̶y̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶e̶a̶r̶l̶y̶ ̶l̶e̶v̶e̶l̶s̶.̶ ̶W̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶n̶i̶c̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶g̶e̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶e̶a̶r̶l̶i̶e̶r̶,̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶b̶e̶t̶t̶e̶r̶̶ l̶a̶t̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶n̶ ̶n̶e̶v̶e̶r̶.̶ ̶
      Nevermind, errata'd to be lvl 17 as of 6/10/15


    • Flames of the Phoenix: More damage than Gong of the Summit, if you skipped that at level 6, consider this instead. I recommend one or the other, definitely not both.
    • Mist Stance: Only uses I can think of are scouting and emergency escape from a bad fight. There are better ways of scouting and if a fight is going badly, you probably won't have enough Ki left to use this.
    • Ride the Wind: For all those places Step of the wind still can't take you. Concentration effect, so mid-air wulin-style fights will be risky, lucky you have slow fall. Excelent combo with water whip.

    Usable at level 17:

    • Breath of Winter: Damage galore over a huge area. Kobold-cicles anyone?
    • Post-errata Eternal Mountain Defense: Protection against melee attacks? That would have been really useful about a dozen levels ago. Anything still attacking with only nonmagical weapons should not be a threat to the party at this level. And it's a concentration spell as well, so any hit could make it fail.
    • Wave of Rolling Earth: Can be useful, but not spectacular. Bonus points for "Cask of Amontillado" jokes.
    • River of Hungry Flame: Powerful ongoing damage and battlefield control. Did you want your ork original recipe or extra crispy?
    Last edited by ClockworkNinja; Monday, 30th November, 2015 at 02:35 AM.

  3. #3
    Reserved just in case
    Last edited by ClockworkNinja; Friday, 27th November, 2015 at 12:38 AM.

  4. #4
    I think to round out this build, taking 5 levels in Rune Scribe would be ideal. Give you a variety of utility abilities that the monk lacks and also enhances your combat abilities. Overall it just meshes well.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Coyote81 View Post
    I think to round out this build, taking 5 levels in Rune Scribe would be ideal. Give you a variety of utility abilities that the monk lacks and also enhances your combat abilities. Overall it just meshes well.
    The Rune Scribe looks to me like an example of how the 4EM could have been done better. While you are not technically wrong, multiclassing into Rune Scribe raises a few issues:

    1) Rune scribe and Prestige classes in general are still in the playtest stage and DMs are not guaranteed to allow it as an option.

    2) Even if they do, it requires in-game materials (finding a rune, finding a rune-scribe to learn from) that also require DM participation. How you arrange this can be good or bad "My character is on a quest to find [ITEM]!" -versus- "Hey DM, give me a [ITEM] in our next dungeon so I can complete this optimized build I read online."

    3) The 13 INT and Arcana proficiency requirement for Rune Scribes is difficult as monks are already MAD as it is.

    4) Taking levels in a class other than monk reduces your already limited Ki pool, as well as stopping other feature progressions like unarmed damage and move speed bonus.

    5) Plenty of other character classes (and other monk subclasses) would benefit just as much from the Rune Scribe prestige class as the 4EM, if not more. Why build a house on sand when there is stone right over there?

    6) Most of all, this really sums up the main problem of the 4 Elements monk: the best "Elemental Monk" is a character with levels in something other than 4 Elements monk.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by ClockworkNinja View Post
    The Rune Scribe looks to me like an example of how the 4EM could have been done better. While you are not technically wrong, multiclassing into Rune Scribe raises a few issues:

    1) Rune scribe and Prestige classes in general are still in the playtest stage and DMs are not guaranteed to allow it as an option.

    2) Even if they do, it requires in-game materials (finding a rune, finding a rune-scribe to learn from) that also require DM participation. How you arrange this can be good or bad "My character is on a quest to find [ITEM]!" -versus- "Hey DM, give me a [ITEM] in our next dungeon so I can complete this optimized build I read online."

    3) The 13 INT and Arcana proficiency requirement for Rune Scribes is difficult as monks are already MAD as it is.

    4) Taking levels in a class other than monk reduces your already limited Ki pool, as well as stopping other feature progressions like unarmed damage and move speed bonus.

    5) Plenty of other character classes (and other monk subclasses) would benefit just as much from the Rune Scribe prestige class as the 4EM, if not more. Why build a house on sand when there is stone right over there?

    6) Most of all, this really sums up the main problem of the 4 Elements monk: the best "Elemental Monk" is a character with levels in something other than 4 Elements monk.
    I was recommending it thematically, we can all agree that their is no optimized elemental monk because the archtype itself if flawed and needs work. However needing 13int to go with your Dex/Wis requirements isn't that bad at all, still leave room for a decent Con. Getting Arcana proficiency is super easy in 5th, and I'm sure any decent DM would let you earn the arcane proficiency via training from the same ruenscribe you'll use to understand the item. (Or at least I would) Yes it does require an in-game item, but that is easily worked out with your DM, especially since they take up one of your attunement spots for magic items. I don't see how they would refuse you, the rune scribe is far from over the top, and honestly very interesting and thematic prestige class. However I know there are a lot of DMs that will take the stand of just not allowing it to prevent future issues which is a little short-sighter imo, but hey to each his own.

    I do believe the monk could really use the utility rune scribe provides though, especially the elemental monk.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Coyote81 View Post
    I was recommending it thematically, we can all agree that their is no optimized elemental monk because the archtype itself if flawed and needs work. However needing 13int to go with your Dex/Wis requirements isn't that bad at all, still leave room for a decent Con. Getting Arcana proficiency is super easy in 5th, and I'm sure any decent DM would let you earn the arcane proficiency via training from the same ruenscribe you'll use to understand the item. (Or at least I would) Yes it does require an in-game item, but that is easily worked out with your DM, especially since they take up one of your attunement spots for magic items. I don't see how they would refuse you, the rune scribe is far from over the top, and honestly very interesting and thematic prestige class. However I know there are a lot of DMs that will take the stand of just not allowing it to prevent future issues which is a little short-sighter imo, but hey to each his own.

    I do believe the monk could really use the utility rune scribe provides though, especially the elemental monk.

    All fair points. Sorry if I snapped at you a bit there. I adored the monk in 4e and going over the flaws of this particular incarnation in detail always leaves me a little bitter. Enough at least that I interpreted your initial suggestion as "hey here's another class that does "elemental warrior" better than the 4 Elements Monk!"

    I had honestly forgotten that the rune scribe PC even existed, as none of my current games allow playtest material. It is a really interesting option, both thematically and mechanical, so thanks for the reminder.

  8. #8
    Never played it or seen it in play... but I guess in actualy play it is way better than it looks on paper...
    eldritch knight and some spells that are rated poorly have often saved our day.
    The main offender I guess is the stunning strike, which to be honest is terribly broken, because you can use it so often that it must stick at some point.
    Limiting it to 1/round per opponent in some form seems to make elemental monk discipines more usesful.

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