D&D 5E The Monk - What is the monk to you and why?

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
Cultural factors play a big part in what we are capable of doing and cultures are complex and not easily changed. For instance in the United States we have difficulties getting people to train in STEM disciplines, despite the fact that those skills are in high demand. In many cases people will choose careers that are just as demanding, require just as much dedication, and are less in demand. The cultural mindset to produce monks is just different than the cultural mindset necessary to produce fighters.
Thank you, that's exactly right.
 

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Sadrik

First Post
Campbell said:
Cultural factors play a big part in what we are capable of doing and cultures are complex and not easily changed. For instance in the United States we have difficulties getting people to train in STEM disciplines, despite the fact that those skills are in high demand. In many cases people will choose careers that are just as demanding, require just as much dedication, and are less in demand. The cultural mindset to produce monks is just different than the cultural mindset necessary to produce fighters.

Thank you, that's exactly right.

So in a fantasy world, such as greyhawk, where does that concept fit in? So should we generate little ecosystems where there is a cultural mindset to create monks?

I am certainly not saying that monks should not exist. The concept is fertile, however, I think the niche it represents is one that is better embodied in other areas of the game. For instance, I think that there should be an Oriental adventures or kara-tur adventures or rokugan adventures. I certainly would rather have the standard classes adapted to fit the mold of that culture rather than have to warp standard classes to fit the mold or worse, create all new "oriental" classes for that culture. This should be strictly the area of backgrounds.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
So in a fantasy world, such as greyhawk, where does that concept fit in? So should we generate little ecosystems where there is a cultural mindset to create monks?

I am certainly not saying that monks should not exist. The concept is fertile, however, I think the niche it represents is one that is better embodied in other areas of the game. For instance, I think that there should be an Oriental adventures or kara-tur adventures or rokugan adventures. I certainly would rather have the standard classes adapted to fit the mold of that culture rather than have to warp standard classes to fit the mold or worse, create all new "oriental" classes for that culture. This should be strictly the area of backgrounds.
I think you can have a monk stripped of any known cultural background pretty easily in D&D. The important thing to deliver is the sense of foreignness, that this guy doesn't do things the same way most of the rest of us do. The stripped down monk is "the guy who fights, but not like the other guys". They fight with big weapons, he fights with his body and weird weapons nobody recognizes. They fight with rage and fierce determination, he fights with restraint and focus. All that's required is to attach them somewhere different than most of the rest of your fantasy world. Maybe the art initially started with the elves, when they were enslaved by giant overseers. Maybe halflings are its main practitioners, to appear nonthreatening to those who distrust their constant wanderings.
 

Salamandyr

Adventurer
  • Cultural factors play a big part in what we are capable of doing and cultures are complex and not easily changed. For instance in the United States we have difficulties getting people to train in STEM disciplines, despite the fact that those skills are in high demand. In many cases people will choose careers that are just as demanding, require just as much dedication, and are less in demand. The cultural mindset to produce monks is just different than the cultural mindset necessary to produce fighters.
  • Not every knight is a fighter. Most are just people with some weapons and armor training. Not every mystic is a monk. Most are contemplatives with some self defense training. Character classes are used for the more bad-ass members of a profession. Those who would be willing to strike out on their own, seek out monsters, and take their stuff.

Basically if you stop and think about how people really make decisions and develop skills it works for the most part.

As I pointed out a long time ago in this thread, every culture has a monk archetype. Because the monk archetype is really just the "boy goes off to secluded place or hermit master. to learn secret ways that make him superior at something, usually kicking butt and taking names, to everyone around him". It could be a shaolin temple, Sparta, Chiron's mountain academy, Heidelberg, Malta, the mountain fastnesses of the Assassins, et cetera. I'm sure if I looked at it, I could find Native American legends that match that format. Odin's quest for wisdom tracks with that same storyline.

And the real monks fought hand to hand as a last resort, just like the ancient Greeks, and medieval knights and European warrior monks. Because fighting hand to hand puts you at a colossal disadvantage against someone with a weapon. Shao Lin monks trained with all sorts of weapons and wore armor. They also learned techniques to fight armed men while unarmed, because "s**t happens", but then, so did everyone else (you can find some in the Leichtenauer fechtbooks).

Like I keep saying, a guy who can beat up armed men with impunity even though he's unarmed is able to do so because he's a better fighter, not because he's a monk.
 

Mallus

Legend
Like I keep saying, a guy who can beat up armed men with impunity even though he's unarmed is able to do so because he's a better fighter, not because he's a monk.
Just using level is certainly one way to model a martial artist monk. But it has significant gameplay implications, ie you can't play a monk starting at 1st level. That's a pretty big drawback.

Also, thinking about this... why is "monk" tied to a specific culture any more than, say, "druid'?
 

Salamandyr

Adventurer
Just using level is certainly one way to model a martial artist monk. But it has significant gameplay implications, ie you can't play a monk starting at 1st level. That's a pretty big drawback.

Also, thinking about this... why is "monk" tied to a specific culture any more than, say, "druid'?

Well, you shouldn't be able to play a monk from first level. All that cool stuff Jet Li does isn't first level monk stuff, it's high level fighter stuff.*

*Just to note...again, that this is all largely academic. The monk's in 5e. It's not going away, and presuming it falls under the "warrior" category, it will be able to stand toe to toe with a fighter, in the fullness of a fighter's power (read: full armor and favored weapon) with nothing more than a bathrobe and a colored belt. Que sera sera.

Interesting side note: You notice we never hear anybody talk about this in reverse? Europe, as one of the most bloodsoaked corners of a very bloody planet, has developed a variation of just about every kind of fighting art there is to be imagined. Over its history, so has China. But some Eastern cultures are very insular. As far as I can tell, Asia never saw anything analogous to the rapier, until the Portuguese showed up in Japan. When fighting one, the closest analogue to the rapier isn't a sword, it's the spear. If the Asian swordsman realizes that, he has a good chance of winning. But if he treats the rapier fighter the way he would another swordsman (say he assumes it works like a jian, or dao, or katana--yes, mixing cultures here), he's a dead man.

Depending on the Asian culture you're emulating, European martial arts would be more unfamiliar to them, than Asian martial arts would be to Europeans.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
I think the major point is "There are no armies of monks." In my own estimation, I doubt that more than 1 NPC in a hundred has an actual PC class.

In practice, rather than in theory, how many of the NPC's that the PC's meet are actually of NPC class? In my case, my guess is over 30%, and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm on the low end.

I used to give that sort of stock answer out of the 1e DMG answer too back in say the early 90's. But I jumped into a FR campaign and initially got shocked by the fact that in the FR there are whole armies of 4th level, 5th level, and even 6th level fighters. Average people are assumed to not be 1st level in any of the FR's published materials. You'll hardly ever fight an entry for a 0th level fighter and 1st level fighters are probably in the minority. Now, I never did quite accept the FR's standard that the average barman is a retired 10th level fighter, but it did make me stop and question my unreflected upon assumptions.

One thing that I realized on reflection was that even though I had this theory that everyone out there was largely 0th level fighters (commoners in 3e terms), I didn't put it into practice. In practice, the majority of NPCs were classed and leveled because I needed them to be somewhat minimally competent. The world just made more sense if there was a slightly better background level of competence that kept average people from being eaten by wolves and kept average orcs raiders somewhat in check. And when I consider that, I realized not even Gygax was actually following his own implied demographics. His world was chock full of leveled individuals of often quite high level meant to be foils and rivals of the PC's. Even his urban wandering encounter table in the 1e DMG churns out 10th level characters quite regularly. The Village of Hommlet is likewise people with many more classed and leveled individuals than your 1% estimation would predict, with the actual most full practical implementation of Gygaxian demographics yielding 5-10% of persons of PC class or equivalent with several being quite capable.

I think we can easily presume that had their been a monastery in the area, more than 1% of the population would have been monks of at least 1st level.

As for why care, beyond the world building interest of demographics, I've actually had the question of how many NPCs can be trained to PC class come up in game. If players become Lords with land and subjects in their own right, then they'll eventually probably see the need of levies and corvee, and if levies then militia, and if militia then standing armies for the purposes of protecting their vassals and serfs particularly when bad things happen while they are off on some deed of errantry. Indeed, I've seen it progress in game as far as establishing military academies for the training of officers. And you'll find that they take a very keen interest in these questions for perfectly understandable reasons, and as a DM, I am of the sort that - having never considered the question before that point - also wants to apply to the PC's neighbors that same systematic approach so that rather than hand waving what the militia or army of Baron Bad of Overhill or the Mufti of Fooville is like, I can derive it from what I've stated or established about his desmanse in the interest of impartiality.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Also, thinking about this... why is "monk" tied to a specific culture any more than, say, "druid'?

It's not. But as I noted in an earlier post, I'm not a fan of the 'Druid' implementation either. I would prefer not to have an Ainu Shaman or a Vodoo Witch Doctor or any other animist priest concept statted as a 'Druid'. Likewise, I would prefer not to need a separate base class for Celtic Druids, Ainu Shamans, Vodoo Witch Doctors, Greek Witches, Finnish Bards, North American Shamans, or anything remotely inspired by any sort of animist priest or magic user or any similar such thing. I would prefer instead to have a flexible and powerful base class from which, if you wanted, you could make a 'Druidic' character but wouldn't constrain you from making anything else you could imagine either from fiction or within the conceit of the particular setting.

In short, the Druid has many of the same problems as the 'Monk' and for many of the same reasons.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
The part that has to change is moving the monk to the space between warrior classes and trickster and priest classes. Monks feel like characters who take the harder internal part rather than the easier external path (fighters and rogues) with relies on tools and weapons. They are akin to rangers who use an internal source to make up for not relying on the tool (rangers using specific foe training AKA favored enemy).

1st level monks are all those mooks in the monastery who get beat up by the arrogant "bad student". I'd have no problem with a level 1 monk beating up goblins, kobolds, and humaniod commoners with their fists and some simple weapons. But fighting an orc or a level 1 fighter would require an advantage, really good stats, or burning through all their resources (ki in 5e).

As for quantity, I'd see monks being common in areas with few resources for arms and armor and/or cultures which stress self perfection and self understanding.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
In practice, rather than in theory, how many of the NPC's that the PC's meet are actually of NPC class? In my case, my guess is over 30%, and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm on the low end.
In my own pre-4e games, I would say that the majority of non-hostile NPCs meet are of a PC class, as the PCs are usually seeking them out for some particular reason that usually requires the NPC to have some personal power. But if I can get away with it, I prefer to use NPC classes because they're way easier to stat out! I don't have too much trouble seeing 3rd or 4th level commoners or experts be prevalent, especially in areas where there might be orc raiders or occasional trouble from the unsanctified graveyard, certainly justifying spending that feat on a Martial Weapon proficiency to go along with Skill Focus: Profession (farmer).
 

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