D&D 5E 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.


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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

Charles Dunwoody


Lord of the Hidden Layer
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.
Some 3e book - maybe DMG 2, but I only have copied pages with no title - has a half-dozen "Alternative Paladin Oaths". One was inspired by Barbarians; one was inspired by Organized Crime. Any of them could be modified for a Monk's code.

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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.


Freedom - on one should be shackled in what they can do by the rulers
Defend the defenseless - protect those that don't have the means to protect themselves
Hide Your Power - the rulers don't want us to have any power, when we do, don't let them see it
Fight Tyranny - I guess this one goes w/o having to say much, given the above


Lord of the Hidden Layer
If ever 5e Dark Sun is released, I expect to see a lot of Monks in play. Unlike the typical (Stone and Bone Age) weapons, your hands and feet do not break on an unlucky roll.

As with lawful stupid paladins, I am bored with always-lawful-raised-in-a-monastery-code-following monks. 40 years is enough. Even more than the paladin it's a an archetype that was of it's time (the 1970s). It would be more useful to have an article on how to create a monk who isn't Bruce Lee or David Carradine - something more relevant to today's younger players.


I wrote such an article many years ago for dragon Magazine..."Bonds of Brotherhood". It was written for 2nd Edtion, but it still has some relevance I believe. If you can find it, it might give you some ideas to avoid this stereotype.


Last monk I played was High Elven monk. In out of the Abbyss

He was a high guard of Evereska.

RPed him as a warrior monk, a zealos fighter for the elven cause.
Sacrificed Con and Wis a little so I could start with 14 Int.
Mostly preached Art of War by Sun Tzu in any conversation involving strategy.

Used longsword as monk weapon.

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