Monk, What is Your Martial Code?

Monks are not just warriors trained to fight with their fists. They command mystic powers over the body and mind as well. These spiritual disciplines are honed through diligent practice which in turn develop from a martial code. Examining the code your monk follows can enrich your roleplaying. And a unique code makes for a unique monk.


Many martial codes include a combination of self-control, honor, courage, sincerity, loyalty, and compassion. Working out how your monk practices one or more of these tenets in his pursuit of martial excellence provides you with hooks for roleplaying and perhaps seeds for your DM for future encounters.
  • Self-control points to a physical mastery of the monk’s own body. It may also relate to the inner spirit as well. A monk might display humility, for example, by always taking time to be courtesy and helpful to the elderly or making sure his guests’ needs are always met before his own.
  • Honor likely means the monk always doing what she knows is right, whether it benefits her or not. Honor may also mean displaying integrity, perhaps by refusing to lie and being forthright in his dealings with others.
  • Courage could mean being brave in the face of physical danger and opponents. It might also be displayed through not wavering on the monk’s own convictions, despite the pressure others might try to use to get the monk to change.
  • Sincerity may be displayed through straight talk or using action more often than words. Harmony may also be part of sincerity, with the monk refusing to show annoyance or anger. A monk may also be polite even to his enemies.
  • Compassion may drive the monk to feed those in need or take in orphans and train them as future monks. Benevolence may flow from the monastery with a portion of food set aside for the poor and needy.
Work with your DM to work one or more of these beliefs into your monk’s adventures. Here are some possibilities:
  • Facing opponents from a rival monastery is a good way to highlight your monk’s code, especially if her foes fight without honor. Perhaps they are beating up the locals or threatening the monk trying to goad her into starting a fight.
  • In addition to jousting and archery contests, a DM could introduce sparring matches. Unarmed fighters square off in a test of skill and determination. What will your monk do if he sees his opponent cheat but the judges don’t catch the cheater?
  • When your fellow adventurers are at a tavern or visiting a temple, perhaps your monk is out training. He might run up and down snowy hills in his bare feet, pluck fast moving fish from a swift stream, leap across rocks while blocking arrows, and more.
  • Perhaps your monk is challenged by a rival, but not to a fight. They may need to break a specific brick in a stack with bare hands, try to snatch a prize before the opponent can, or perform specific moves with grace, poise, speed, and power.
  • A display of inner power might instead be gauged through a tea ceremony, creating origami, or through creating a painting. Any ceremony or art that requires precision and skill could become a challenge for a monk. Perhaps they want to impress a king or that pesky rival wants to prove who is truly the greatest warrior once and for all.
  • If you and your DM agree a more serious test might be the destruction of the monk’s monastery and the injury or death of most of his fellow warriors while he is away. How does the monk respond? Does he seek revenge? Does he try to establish peace? Does he have what it takes to forge a new tradition from the ashes of the old?
Thinking through the code that defines and drives your monk can heighten your roleplaying and provide your DM with encounter and adventure ideas. No monk is all fists all the time. Taking the time to explore a tenet or two from a martial code may help improve your monk and reveal a bit of the training and discipline that drives her to strive for perfection.
 
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Charles Dunwoody

Comments

Sabathius42

Adventurer
My tangent on the Monk comes from my reskin of a Monk to reflect a martially capable "native" warrior. Each of the monk abilities were reskinned to represent an aspect of an animal the monk emulated. +X to the move speed represented Swiftness of the Raptor (Chult) etc etc.

Ki points were reskinned to be the result of communing with nature, so the monk had to spend an hour contemplating and regrounding themselves to relink to the primal powers they were tapping into.

Worked perfectly to have a non-eastern themed Monk, a non spellcasting primal character, and a viable non armored melee character.
 
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Zaukrie

Adventurer
the monk I just rolled up and was going to play with came from no monastery and had no brothers and sisters. He just grew up in a place where commoners could not touch weapons, and learned to fight with his body instead.......how he learned might be a bit of a mystery in my mind still, admittedly. I think there is room in the game for such a monk type.
 

Zaukrie

Adventurer
My tangent on the Monk comes from my reskin of a Monk to reflect a martially capable "native" warrior. Each of the monk abilities were returned to represent an aspect of an animal the monk emulated. +X to the move speed represented Swiftness of the Raptor (Chult) etc etc.

Ki points were reskinned to be the result of communing with nature, so the monk had to spend an hour contemplating and regrounding themselves to relink to the primal powers they were tapping into.

Worked perfectly to have a non-eastern themed Monk, a non spellcasting primal character, and a viable non armored melee character.
That's another good example (see above this) of a non-traditional path.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker
The two monks I've written up (I played the first) were one who was firmly asked to leave his cloister and one who was trained one-on-one, and one whose mentor was murdered. Neither of those would have had any particular ties to a monastery, and I probably would have played at least the first as figuring out his way as we went along (except the campaign came to an abrupt end).
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
He just grew up in a place where commoners could not touch weapons, and learned to fight with his body instead......
Just because there's no monastery or family doesn't mean there isn't a retired monk who lives in the village or just outside it as a hermit and saw promise in a young man. Very Obi-wan/Luke vibe.

Personally I would find, without a mentor/monastery learning to fight like a monk has to in order to be able to punch golems and not break their hand seems... more implausible.
 

Zaukrie

Adventurer
Just because there's no monastery or family doesn't mean there isn't a retired monk who lives in the village or just outside it as a hermit and saw promise in a young man. Very Obi-wan/Luke vibe.

Personally I would find, without a mentor/monastery learning to fight like a monk has to in order to be able to punch golems and not break their hand seems... more implausible.
that could be the explanation. My point was.....not all monks have to come from the same origin story, ,which kind of seems to be the default.
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
Steel isnt strong boy, Flesh is stronger - Look around you boy, that is strength, that is power; the Strength and Power of Flesh.
What is steel compared to the hand that weilds it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this boy - contemplate that on the tree of woe.
 
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Gammadoodler

Explorer
Just because there's no monastery or family doesn't mean there isn't a retired monk who lives in the village or just outside it as a hermit and saw promise in a young man. Very Obi-wan/Luke vibe.

Personally I would find, without a mentor/monastery learning to fight like a monk has to in order to be able to punch golems and not break their hand seems... more implausible.
Finding plausibility in D&D is a fools errand. To get to "Wait. He can punch golems without breaking his hand??".. you have to get past.. "oh yeah.. Golems are things that exist"
 

SMHWorlds

Explorer
the monk I just rolled up and was going to play with came from no monastery and had no brothers and sisters. He just grew up in a place where commoners could not touch weapons, and learned to fight with his body instead.......how he learned might be a bit of a mystery in my mind still, admittedly. I think there is room in the game for such a monk type.
That is a great origin. Applying the idea of a code to this type of monk, what might their street code be? I think that would be an interesting reflection of the more traditional honor codes.
 

SMHWorlds

Explorer
One of my earliest characters for 5E was a Monk with the criminal background. I think his code could be summed up as:

Be Discreet
Always Have an Escape Plan
Don't Snitch
Don't Go Looking for (Too Much) Trouble
Take on People Your Own Size

Over time Zed was becoming more traditional and more contemplative, but he brought that criminal background into his monk training. Monks are full of fun rp.
 

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