5E DPR Monk/Sorcerer build: The Shadow Kensei

Gavin O.

Visitor
While monks have access to some strong control options, most notably stunning strike, they tend to suffer in the DPR department, especially at higher levels. The martial arts weapon damage dice scales slowly, and monks have few good options for increasing their damage. This is a build that attempts to work around that. Using the second level Sorcerer spell Shadow Blade, we can create a weapon that deals 2d8 psychic damage on a hit, and, crucially, is a simple weapon, which means it also counts as a monk weapon. RAW, a Kensei monk can choose the shadow blade as one of their Kensei weapons as well, which opens up some specific tricks, like using Sharpen the Blade to make the shadow blade a +3 weapon. This is my attempt at a build based on using Shadow Blade on a monk.

Race: Wood Elf
This will be an Elven Accuracy build, and that limits us to the elf subraces. Since we're going to be using exclusively sorcerer powers that don't require a check, we're free to take a Charisma of 13, which allows us to get 17 Dex and 16 Wis at level 1. 12 Con is the best we can afford, and Str and Int are dumped.


Ability scores: (generated using point buy)
8 Str, 15+2 Dex, 12 Con, 8 Int, 15+1 Wis, 13 Cha

Dexterity is our attacking stat, and a postracial 17 is taken to take advantage of the +1 given by Elven Accuracy. Our AC and our Ki DC are tied to wisdom, so we need that high as well. 13 Charisma is needed to multiclass into Sorcerer, and since we won't be using any spells that require a check, we can leave it there. 12 Con is unfortunately the best we can afford.

Level 1: Sorcerer 1
This is a melee build with low Con that plans to concentrate on spells, so it is absolutely necessary for us to have Constitution save proficiency. Because of that, we're taking sorcerer first. We're not going far enough into Sorcerer to gain the level 6 benefit of our bloodline for a long time, which means our choice is mostly based on which level 1 feature we prefer. I recommend Divine Soul, which gives us Favoured by the gods, as well as access to Cleric spells.

Starting equipment: Light crossbow and 20 bolts, Arcane Focus, Explorer's pack
We're not a monk yet, and we need something to do when we run out of spell slots, so a light crossbow works well with our 16 Dex.

Cantrips: Booming Blade, Guidance, Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation
Booming Blade gives us a weapon attack to use with Quicken Spell later, as well as at level 5 when we don't yet have Extra Attack. Since we don't have an attack-caliber Charisma, the rest of our cantrips are utility options.

Spells: Shield, Sleep.
At this level, we play the same as every other sorcerer: We cast Sleep during a big fight, and otherwise use our hand crossbow to attack. Thankfully, Sleep doesn't care about your ability score, so it doesn't matter that we don't have a +3. We don't have mage armor, because it becomes obsolete next level and we won't be able to retrain it out, so try to save a spell slot for shield, and also try to stay out of the enemy's way.

Level 2: Sorcerer 1/Monk 1
With our 1 level in Sorcerer taken, we're now going to rush to monk 5 to get Extra Attack and Stunning Strike. Our first level in Monk brings our armor class from 13 to 16, and also gives us an extra 1d4 punch every round as a bonus action. As before, we have sleep for the harder fights and Shield in case we get hit. Note that unfortunately, casting Booming Blade does not allow us to follow up with a martial arts attack, since you're not taking the attack action.

Level 4: Sorcerer 1/Monk 3
The monastic tradition we're taking is Kensei, and our first two Kensei weapons will be Longsword and Longbow. These are the most damaging weapons we have access to, and will outperform our martial arts attacks for a while.

Level 5: Sorcerer 1/Monk 4
We get our first ASI at this level, and we're taking Elven Accuracy with +1 Dex, bringing our Dex to 18 and giving us a nice bonus should we happen to be attacking with advantage. This is also the level where Booming Blade scales, and you can use it to help discourage enemies from chasing you. Hit them with a booming blade, then use Step of the Wind to disengage.

Level 8: Sorcerer 3/Monk 5
After getting our fifth level in Monk, we're going to go up to 3 levels in Sorcerer to gain access to Shadow Blade. This spell, which only takes a bonus action to cast, gives us access to the most powerful monk weapon in the game, 2d8 base damage at this level, scales when upcast. We also get Metamagic at this level, which lets us, on subsequent turns, attack twice with the shadow blade and then quicken a booming blade, for a total of 7d8 + 12 damage if all three hits land, plus 2d8 more if they move. We won't have the sorcery points to do this consistently, but it's nice to have when we need it.

Level 10: Sorcerer 4/Monk 6
After we get Shadow Blade, we take one more level of Monk, which gives us another choice of Kensei Weapon (we're choosing the shadow blade). We also get deft strike, but spending a ki point on 1d6 damage isn't that useful unless it's on a crit. We then take a fourth level in Sorcerer for the ASI and bring our Dex to 20.

Level 13: Sorcerer 5/Monk 8
We take a fifth level in Sorcerer to access 3rd level slots. A shadow blade upcast to level 3 gives you a weapon that deals 3d8 damage per hit. On the Monk side, we get Evasion, which will help with our weak Dex save, and we get a third ASI, which we put into Wisdom.

Level 17: Sorcerer 5/Monk 12
We're going up to 12 levels in Monk for the level 11 Kensei ability Sharpen the Blade, plus an extra ASI. Sharpen the Blade is the only way to grant a magic weapon bonus to the shadow blade, which means with the use of two bonus action, a level 3 slot, and 3 Ki, we're creating a +3 weapon that deals 3d8+8 damage per hit. We also get another ASI, which we're putting into our Wis to get that to 20.

Level 20: Sorcerer 8/Monk 12
We take our last three levels in Sorcerer for the final ASI (we're taking War Caster) and more sorcery points for Quicken Spell.


It takes two rounds of bonus actions to set up, but once we have everything ready, we're attacking twice with a +14 bonus to hit for 3d8+8 damage per hit using our attack action, then using a quickened booming blade for another 6d8+8. On any of our hits, we can apply stunning strike to force our target to make a DC 18 Con save or be stunned, after which we have advantage and 3 attack rolls from elven accuracy. We can also spend one ki point to use Deft Strike and add an extra 1d8.
 

Gavin O.

Visitor
I like your Idea.
Too bad shadow sould sorcerer eyes in the dark does not work because of concentration restriction.
We don't really have the slots for it either. Shadow Blade only lasts a minute, so we have to recast it every fight, and we also have to recast it if ever we fail a concentration check, which we won't have amazing bonuses to.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
To deal with the number of slots, I'd pair monk up with warlock instead. Both are short rest recharge classes, and warlock 3 you get two castings of Shadow Blade per short rest. As long as you can really push for a short rest every other combat you're fine. And if you go up to warlock 5 then both of those slots are 3rd and your Shadow Blade does 3d8 base.

Until you hit warlock 3, hex is still a nice combo with monk's large number of attacks. (Though, just like shadow blade, you will lose some bonus actions to deal with it.)

Unlike Kensei, a Shadow Blade can't be your Pact weapon RAW. Hexblade doesn't bring much to monk. So that leaves open your patron and pact choices open. For patrons, Fiend gives tHP on dropping a foe, Celestial (XGtE) gives a healing pool. For pacts, Tome gives rituals, Chain give a familiar who can use the help action, plus at 3d you could take the Gift of the Ever-Living Ones invocation and auto-maximize any healing you get.
 

Gavin O.

Visitor
To deal with the number of slots, I'd pair monk up with warlock instead. Both are short rest recharge classes, and warlock 3 you get two castings of Shadow Blade per short rest. As long as you can really push for a short rest every other combat you're fine. And if you go up to warlock 5 then both of those slots are 3rd and your Shadow Blade does 3d8 base.

Until you hit warlock 3, hex is still a nice combo with monk's large number of attacks. (Though, just like shadow blade, you will lose some bonus actions to deal with it.)

Unlike Kensei, a Shadow Blade can't be your Pact weapon RAW. Hexblade doesn't bring much to monk. So that leaves open your patron and pact choices open. For patrons, Fiend gives tHP on dropping a foe, Celestial (XGtE) gives a healing pool. For pacts, Tome gives rituals, Chain give a familiar who can use the help action, plus at 3d you could take the Gift of the Ever-Living Ones invocation and auto-maximize any healing you get.
Constitution save proficiency is extremely important for this build (We're a melee build with 12 Con who's damage comes from a concentration spell), and we don't have an ASI to spare for Resilient Con since we have two primary attributes. The main reason I went Sorc was to start with Con save proficiency.
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Constitution save proficiency is extremely important for this build (We're a melee build with 12 Con who's damage comes from a concentration spell), and we don't have an ASI to spare for Resilient Con since we have two primary attributes. The main reason I went Sorc was to start with Con save proficiency.
Well, part of only having a 12 CON a conscious decision to favor WIS over CON - perhaps not the best call for a melee character in the first place due to HPs and HD healing.

But even with a 12 CON, don't discount the warlock. Going with the numbers that most campaigns have the majority of play (or all play) in the first 2 tiers, the warlock having twice as many slots of 2nd level or higher at 10th as a sorcerer, if the spell is lost they are in a lot better place to recast it (a bonus action).

Heck, at 10th a sorcerer doesn't even have a 2nd level slot to cast it with for about half the encounters every day.

The sorcerer kinda comes online at 13th when sorc 5 is taken, jumping from 3 to 5 slots to cast it with. Then you cover most encounters per day and will bypass the warlock because their extra slot isn't enough to deal with losing concentration more often.

So for rounds per day with Shadow Blade up:
  • Few encounters per day favors the Sorcerer, recommended encounters per day favors the warlock. (No one regularly does above recommended encounters per day).
  • Playing level 1-12 favors the warlock (more slots offset worse Concentration saves), playing level 13-20 favors the sorcerer.
 

Gavin O.

Visitor
Well, part of only having a 12 CON a conscious decision to favor WIS over CON - perhaps not the best call for a melee character in the first place due to HPs and HD healing.

But even with a 12 CON, don't discount the warlock. Going with the numbers that most campaigns have the majority of play (or all play) in the first 2 tiers, the warlock having twice as many slots of 2nd level or higher at 10th as a sorcerer, if the spell is lost they are in a lot better place to recast it (a bonus action).

Heck, at 10th a sorcerer doesn't even have a 2nd level slot to cast it with for about half the encounters every day.

The sorcerer kinda comes online at 13th when sorc 5 is taken, jumping from 3 to 5 slots to cast it with. Then you cover most encounters per day and will bypass the warlock because their extra slot isn't enough to deal with losing concentration more often.

So for rounds per day with Shadow Blade up:
  • Few encounters per day favors the Sorcerer, recommended encounters per day favors the warlock. (No one regularly does above recommended encounters per day).
  • Playing level 1-12 favors the warlock (more slots offset worse Concentration saves), playing level 13-20 favors the sorcerer.
Do you think I should start with a better Con and live with a lower Wisdom? Might be worth looking into, since I could use mage armor to pad my AC.

My plan for lower levels is to use Flexible Casting to create more slots. Second level slots cost 3 points, and we don't really have any other big things to use them for, since we're so starved for bonus actions already. So at level 10 (with 4 levels in Sorc), we can make 1 slot from our natural points and a second one by burning two 1st-level slots, which gives us 5 total. That's less than a warlock with two short rests, but will at least be able to keep our blade up for most fights.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Do you think I should start with a better Con and live with a lower Wisdom? Might be worth looking into, since I could use mage armor to pad my AC.

My plan for lower levels is to use Flexible Casting to create more slots. Second level slots cost 3 points, and we don't really have any other big things to use them for, since we're so starved for bonus actions already. So at level 10 (with 4 levels in Sorc), we can make 1 slot from our natural points and a second one by burning two 1st-level slots, which gives us 5 total. That's less than a warlock with two short rests, but will at least be able to keep our blade up for most fights.
I was overlooking that the WIS was boosting your AC - since you pointed it out I'd keep it the way you have it and save the slot you'd use for mage armor to cast Shield / Absorb Elements - another good way to keep your saves.

Changing direction for a moment, I tried playing a touch with if Bladesinger could work better than Sorcerer since INT and CHR are equally non-useful for a Monk. Bladesinger would add both AC and Concentration and is on the same short-reset recharge as your Ki points. But the bonus action economy sucks (one to start bladesinging, one to cast Shadow Blade, plus all your Monk abilities). Plus without increasing INT, proficiency in CON is still better. So that's a non-starter.
 

UngeheuerLich

Adventurer
What about dragon sorcerer?

Dump wisdom, live with AC 18. Don´t rely on stunning strike.

Maybe:

Str 10
Dex 15+2
Con 14
Int 8
Wis 12+1
Cha 13

So, you are prepared for multiclass, elven accuracy.
You have permanent mage armor with dragon sorcerer armor and you even get some hp extra.
I´d go with bronze, silver or gold dragon.

So you start sorcerer with dragon scales, AC 16 + shield. You can use 1/2 short swords and a longbow.
I´d take booming blade and be done.
I might take level 4 of sorcerer before monk and then level 5 monk. shadow blade and draconic armor will be kensai enough. Then monk all the way to level 6. Booming blade is still an option if you want to disengage with extra speed. At level 11 you conclude with sorcerer 5 to get level 3 spells and then you are good.
 

Gavin O.

Visitor
What about dragon sorcerer?

Dump wisdom, live with AC 18. Don´t rely on stunning strike.

Maybe:

Str 10
Dex 15+2
Con 14
Int 8
Wis 12+1
Cha 13

So, you are prepared for multiclass, elven accuracy.
You have permanent mage armor with dragon sorcerer armor and you even get some hp extra.
I´d go with bronze, silver or gold dragon.

So you start sorcerer with dragon scales, AC 16 + shield. You can use 1/2 short swords and a longbow.
I´d take booming blade and be done.
I might take level 4 of sorcerer before monk and then level 5 monk. shadow blade and draconic armor will be kensai enough. Then monk all the way to level 6. Booming blade is still an option if you want to disengage with extra speed. At level 11 you conclude with sorcerer 5 to get level 3 spells and then you are good.
Most of the monk abilities (specifically, the martial arts damage dice, the ability to attack with Dex, and the free bonus action punch, don't work while you have a shield equipped, so you're capped at AC 16. I don't think that's good enough.

(Edit: Realized this wasn't what you meant, and 18 AC comes from 20 Dex. My bad.)
 
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UngeheuerLich

Adventurer
Most of the monk abilities (specifically, the martial arts damage dice, the ability to attack with Dex, and the free bonus action punch, don't work while you have a shield equipped, so you're capped at AC 16. I don't think that's good enough.

(Edit: Realized this wasn't what you meant, and 18 AC comes from 20 Dex. My bad.)
Reading my post it was a bit misleading though.
 

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