D&D 5E Tweaking the Monk's progression to help remove the impression of dead levels

How many times have you had serious problems with food & water in your campaigns?

  • Literally every session

  • Multiple times per campaign

  • At least once in every campaign

  • Often, but only in specific campaigns

  • A few times, but only in specific campaigns

  • Rarely

  • Like, once

  • Literally never


Results are only viewable after voting.

Plutancatty

Explorer
DISCLAIMER:
  • The poll is just to see if my assumption about Timeless Body is correct, please don't make it a focal point of discussion.
  • I am not setting out to reshape the Monk into a Fighter or Barbarian.
    • It has different unique selling points, I hope to reinforce these while making it still feel good for players who need to scratch their DPR itch.
  • I want to make the Monk feel less bad in the transition from T2 to T3, (where its damage growth drops off) and remove the feeling (at least my feeling) of levels 13 & 15 being pure ribbon levels.
  • I will try to approach problems from a purely mechanical point of view, since it's the only thing we can actually have black on white. Every DM's approach to encounters and other campaign considerations are not my concern, because I can't know their specifics and I can't control them.
  • I realize that not directly addressing Stunning Blow might be an issue for some people, but I think that's a whole other can of worms TBH. For the purposes of this post, SB is just a drain on Ki points that could be spent on mobility or dodging.

To give a context to the fixes I will propose, I'll outline what I've found to be the biggest (relevant, IMO) complaints about the Monk.
  • Very MAD.
  • Stunning Blow is the best thing you'll ever be doing DPR-wise. This will occupy your bonus action and prevent you from doing cool things like running 120 ft up a wall. It's very hard to decouple players from the idea they should be maximising DPR at all times (I'll include myself in this) -especially if your class is, literally "I'm the guy that punches stuff". So the class suffers in the department of "I'm fast as f***, boi" because people have a hard time accepting they should move/dodge ("Boring") rather that punch ("Yeah, magic number rocks go clickety-clackity! Fun!").
  • The class falls below baseline damage levels at Level 11 (D&D 5E - Buffing monks: with simple changes.) and never recovers, basically flatlining. This is bad for two reasons: you don't get to see any features that increase your offensive output, and feel like you're stagnating; you actually fall behind in a department you had been holding your own in and had every right to believe you'd keep doing well in throughout your whole progression.
  • Their capstone kind of sucks.

To add insult to injury, you get two mid-high level features that do nothing to reinforce any of the above:
Instead of gaining new interesting ways to play your guy that moves really fast and punches people, you get two abilities that clash with that mechanical identity:

you guessed it, Tongue of Sun and Moon (heretoafter ToSaM) and Timeless Body (TB).

ToSaM is basically an always-on 3rd level spell (Tongues) which ignores antimagic. It's kind of neat. It's also been given to a MAD class that prioritizes Wis and has very little if no mechanical incentive to ever speak to anything, ever, which makes it essentially worthless in any scenario you're actually going to roll dice; you're probably better off having a Bard do a charades dance to convince someone of something. In general, I believe players don't choose to play a Monk to fill a Face role, so a ribbon that helps them do that ultimately doesn't fit the class' design. It also comes at a pretty high level, where other classes gain significant bonuses to their combat ability (+1 use of Indomitable, or better Improved Critical). These aren't huge or even large boosts to the characters, but they do make players go "Ooh, a level up, I am stronger now!" which feels good, whereas getting a ribbon and only a ribbon feels... not great, let's say, especially for such a high level. (Yes, 2 of the original Figther subclasses get pure ribbons, but that's at level 7, and all other published Fighter subclasses -and I'm only checking Fighters, but I'm pretty sure this goes for other archetypes as well- get a mechanical boost to combat ability at that level).

TB makes you immune to the effects of old age (which are specified literally nowhere -thus making it a non-mechanic-) and immune to magical aging (which, 1. afaik, is an effect exclusively inflicted by Ghosts; 2. would bring a character to die of old age at a certain point, if not for the fact that the only reference ever made to a character's maximum age is in each race's description with the rather vague "usually live up to x years", which makes it uncomfortable for DMs to determine whether a PC should be dead because of their age). It also makes you no longer require food or water, which is cute, when it comes up, which is rarely.

To quickly reiterate:
  • You're disincentivised from spending actions or resources on mobility because it comes at the cost of DPR.
  • Your actual DPR stops growing when you should be getting more and more powerful.
  • Two levels that could help solve these problems are dedicated to:
    • a feature of questionable social/utility power to a class that is mostly played as a Striker.
    • a very situationalluy useful feature attached to some other absolutely useless "feature" (TB does rather bother me, I must admit).

My proposed solutions are, by and large, to allow the Monk to seriously break the action economy, but only for their class features. These features are to be added onto ToSaM and TB to make their levels not dead.
  • One level would give 1 extra bonus action, useable when ki points are spent, to use an ability with a Ki cost of 1 that you haven't used yet this turn.
  • One would do one of the following:
    • The ability to cast either Command or Suggestion a certain amount of times for free, using Wisdom (which gives ToSaM a little more oopmf, if you want to lean into the feature harder, which isn't a great option IMO, but at least makes me think I'm gaining something).
    • Buff Deflect Missiles by allowing it to be used even when you've already expended your reaction by spending 1 Ki (and making the throw-back free in all cases).
  • Giving even more bonus actions (only one of the original three the Monk gets) and reactions (any reaction) for free as the capstone.
  • Potentially shuffling around some features by a few levels and adding an extra ASI at level 10 (or 14, which might be a bit late).
    • In this case, one of the first two features would not be implemented.
Thoughts?
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

ad_hoc

(he/they)
Regarding an always on Tongues - in the games I have played Tongues is very good. It is very good to be able to communicate with other creatures to avoid fights, gain allies, etc.

It is high level but that is also when you will be encountering creatures with weird languages. Not every party will have someone who can cast Tongues.

Also in the games I play everyone engages in social interaction and makes checks when appropriate. If the party is having a conversation then they all make a group check. The Bard might be likeable but if the NPC gets turned off by the rest of the characters they aren't going to deal.

Playing a game where only 1 character talks and rolls for things ends up with situations like this where an otherwise fine ability feels bad. People have said the same thing about the draconic monk's ability too.
 

Did anyone else think there was a server error at first, because of the extreme difference between the thread title "Tweaking the Monk's progression to help remove the impression of dead levels" and the poll title "How many times have you had serious problems with food & water in your campaigns?". Then the post itself seems to mostly deal with damage output.

AFAICT, there are three very different discussions going on here:
Monk damage output
Flavor vs mechanical benefits of class abilities
Resource management in RPGs

All good discussions, to be sure. But for better or worse you've literally hit every aspect of GNS theory in one fell swoop. I'm actually a big fan of GNS theory, although I know it's often seen as gauche these days. But here's one of the big thing you can take away from it: you cannot solve problems in one arm of GNS by attacking another. That is to say, you cannot solve a damage output (gamism) problem by going after what you identify as a "cute", "non-mechnic" feature (narrativism), and you will gain no quantitative insight by polling about food and water (simulationism).

It seems like there's a lot of good design insight going on here, but it's contradicted by the thread name and poll. Unfortunately, those are the first things you are exposed to when you read the thread.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
DISCLAIMER:
  • The poll is just to see if my assumption about Timeless Body is correct, please don't make it a focal point of discussion.
  • I am not setting out to reshape the Monk into a Fighter or Barbarian.
    • It has different unique selling points, I hope to reinforce these while making it still feel good for players who need to scratch their DPR itch.
  • I want to make the Monk feel less bad in the transition from T2 to T3, (where its damage growth drops off) and remove the feeling (at least my feeling) of levels 13 & 15 being pure ribbon levels.
  • I will try to approach problems from a purely mechanical point of view, since it's the only thing we can actually have black on white. Every DM's approach to encounters and other campaign considerations are not my concern, because I can't know their specifics and I can't control them.
  • I realize that not directly addressing Stunning Blow might be an issue for some people, but I think that's a whole other can of worms TBH. For the purposes of this post, SB is just a drain on Ki points that could be spent on mobility or dodging.

To give a context to the fixes I will propose, I'll outline what I've found to be the biggest (relevant, IMO) complaints about the Monk.
  • Very MAD.
  • Stunning Blow is the best thing you'll ever be doing DPR-wise. This will occupy your bonus action and prevent you from doing cool things like running 120 ft up a wall. It's very hard to decouple players from the idea they should be maximising DPR at all times (I'll include myself in this) -especially if your class is, literally "I'm the guy that punches stuff". So the class suffers in the department of "I'm fast as f***, boi" because people have a hard time accepting they should move/dodge ("Boring") rather that punch ("Yeah, magic number rocks go clickety-clackity! Fun!").
  • The class falls below baseline damage levels at Level 11 (D&D 5E - Buffing monks: with simple changes.) and never recovers, basically flatlining. This is bad for two reasons: you don't get to see any features that increase your offensive output, and feel like you're stagnating; you actually fall behind in a department you had been holding your own in and had every right to believe you'd keep doing well in throughout your whole progression.
  • Their capstone kind of sucks.

To add insult to injury, you get two mid-high level features that do nothing to reinforce any of the above:
Instead of gaining new interesting ways to play your guy that moves really fast and punches people, you get two abilities that clash with that mechanical identity:

you guessed it, Tongue of Sun and Moon (heretoafter ToSaM) and Timeless Body (TB).

ToSaM is basically an always-on 3rd level spell (Tongues) which ignores antimagic. It's kind of neat. It's also been given to a MAD class that prioritizes Wis and has very little if no mechanical incentive to ever speak to anything, ever, which makes it essentially worthless in any scenario you're actually going to roll dice; you're probably better off having a Bard do a charades dance to convince someone of something. In general, I believe players don't choose to play a Monk to fill a Face role, so a ribbon that helps them do that ultimately doesn't fit the class' design. It also comes at a pretty high level, where other classes gain significant bonuses to their combat ability (+1 use of Indomitable, or better Improved Critical). These aren't huge or even large boosts to the characters, but they do make players go "Ooh, a level up, I am stronger now!" which feels good, whereas getting a ribbon and only a ribbon feels... not great, let's say, especially for such a high level. (Yes, 2 of the original Figther subclasses get pure ribbons, but that's at level 7, and all other published Fighter subclasses -and I'm only checking Fighters, but I'm pretty sure this goes for other archetypes as well- get a mechanical boost to combat ability at that level).

TB makes you immune to the effects of old age (which are specified literally nowhere -thus making it a non-mechanic-) and immune to magical aging (which, 1. afaik, is an effect exclusively inflicted by Ghosts; 2. would bring a character to die of old age at a certain point, if not for the fact that the only reference ever made to a character's maximum age is in each race's description with the rather vague "usually live up to x years", which makes it uncomfortable for DMs to determine whether a PC should be dead because of their age). It also makes you no longer require food or water, which is cute, when it comes up, which is rarely.

To quickly reiterate:
  • You're disincentivised from spending actions or resources on mobility because it comes at the cost of DPR.
  • Your actual DPR stops growing when you should be getting more and more powerful.
  • Two levels that could help solve these problems are dedicated to:
    • a feature of questionable social/utility power to a class that is mostly played as a Striker.
    • a very situationalluy useful feature attached to some other absolutely useless "feature" (TB does rather bother me, I must admit).

My proposed solutions are, by and large, to allow the Monk to seriously break the action economy, but only for their class features. These features are to be added onto ToSaM and TB to make their levels not dead.
  • One level would give 1 extra bonus action, useable when ki points are spent, to use an ability with a Ki cost of 1 that you haven't used yet this turn.
  • One would do one of the following:
    • The ability to cast either Command or Suggestion a certain amount of times for free, using Wisdom (which gives ToSaM a little more oopmf, if you want to lean into the feature harder, which isn't a great option IMO, but at least makes me think I'm gaining something).
    • Buff Deflect Missiles by allowing it to be used even when you've already expended your reaction by spending 1 Ki (and making the throw-back free in all cases).
  • Giving even more bonus actions (only one of the original three the Monk gets) and reactions (any reaction) for free as the capstone.
  • Potentially shuffling around some features by a few levels and adding an extra ASI at level 10 (or 14, which might be a bit late).
    • In this case, one of the first two features would not be implemented.
Thoughts?
Overall, if you want a DPR-focused monk, there's a few things to keep in mind:

While good DPR is, well, good. It's important the monk class isn't a viable DPR-based character. Why? Because if it was viable as a DPR, it'd be the best one there is. Monks solve many of the utility problems of many other martials. They can move well enough that distance hardly matters beyond round 1 and their defenses against effects that uniquely target martials like Frightened and Charmed are more easily countered.

So you always want Monks, at least without drastic changes to their defensive and mobility options, to underperform damage-wise.

Next, be wary of adding too many buttons to the monk. Sure, they might not seem as complex as a wizard, but they have the most class features in the game and people forget that by level 13, there's alot going on in terms of story, magic items, character development, and inter-party tactics that adding too much at once could be dangerous.

Not to mention, levels 13+ are when the level up pacing picks up again, so you won't be as stuck with TotS&M as long as you'll be stuck with evasion. TotS&M is a breather level, at least to some. Yet it's still something.

Ask yourself the question: does someone playing a level 13 monk use their monk to the best of their ability? That means when an opportunity arises to use their Slow Fall, Step of the Wind, or Unarmored Movement's wall/water walk ability, they use it. As well as their subclass features.

If not, they may not quite have the hang of the monk class yet. Especially if they're missing out on opportunities to make use of their no-ki utility features.

In fact, funny story: I remember I had a monk player almost die from fall damage...that they forgot they could reduce with slow fall. And they forgot they could easily walk back up with their unarmored movement.
 

Plutancatty

Explorer
Also in the games I play everyone engages in social interaction and makes checks when appropriate. If the party is having a conversation then they all make a group check. The Bard might be likeable but if the NPC gets turned off by the rest of the characters they aren't going to deal.
That's actually a pretty good idea, I might steal that for future sessions :). However, I still think it's a disappointing feature for most players (not saying it's necessarily bad, but, again, I think most monk players think they're playing a fighting character and don't much count social features when determining if their class feels good to play).

Overall, if you want a DPR-focused monk, there's a few things to keep in mind:

While good DPR is, well, good. It's important the monk class isn't a viable DPR-based character. Why? Because if it was viable as a DPR, it'd be the best one there is. Monks solve many of the utility problems of many other martials. They can move well enough that distance hardly matters beyond round 1 and their defenses against effects that uniquely target martials like Frightened and Charmed are more easily countered.

So you always want Monks, at least without drastic changes to their defensive and mobility options, to underperform damage-wise.
Agree. I'm not saying the monk needs to be a top tier DPR class, because it's mobility is crazy and its defenses are very good (and both are undervalued). I am saying it feels bad to think you're a damage dealer and then having to consistently use resources to stay on par with a rogue (), while also being unable to use your mobility/defensive class features. It also feels bad to get features that don't fit the perceived play style of the class you've chosen (ToSaM, again, not bad) or straight up bad (TB, which I'm still going to keep treating as trash unless given a good reason not to), no matter how strong the features you gain in other levels are.
These features don't need to be strong, since indeed, 13&15 sandwich Diamond Soul, which is straight up awesome. They do need to be something, imo. It could be trivial, but it needs to make the player feel like they're getting stronger.
In fact, if you look at my proposals, the additions to those levels don't directly increases the maximum DPR currently available to the Monk: you get to use your defensive and offensive features together, which actually increases the possibility that a player plays a Monk "as they should": a kiter/dodge tank, while still letting them play it as they want to: the guy that punches a lot (this is an assumption I'm making and possibly a branding problem or just a "problem" of the simplicity of player's perceptions).
Ask yourself the question: does someone playing a level 13 monk use their monk to the best of their ability? That means when an opportunity arises to use their Slow Fall, Step of the Wind, or Unarmored Movement's wall/water walk ability, they use it. As well as their subclass features.

If not, they may not quite have the hang of the monk class yet. Especially if they're missing out on opportunities to make use of their no-ki utility features.

In fact, funny story: I remember I had a monk player almost die from fall damage...that they forgot they could reduce with slow fall. And they forgot they could easily walk back up with their unarmored movement.
As far as this goes, I'm going to be very dismissive and just say that's not my problem. After all, there are simpler classes to play if you don't think you'll be able to keep up with a lot of features, and high-mastery classes need to be a thing so you can appeal to a wider player base. And maybe the one guy that likes intricate PCs just got tired of playing casters. This is also not to mention players can get help from their DMs or other players if needed.

It seems like there's a lot of good design insight going on here, but it's contradicted by the thread name and poll. Unfortunately, those are the first things you are exposed to when you read the thread.
Well thank you. I'll admit, the post's structure is a bit all over the place, but I had limited time as I was wrinting it and some things came to mind while I was already basically done (like the idea of adding a poll to make a point about TB).

AFAICT, there are three very different discussions going on here:
Monk damage output
Flavor vs mechanical benefits of class abilities
Resource management in RPGs

All good discussions, to be sure. But for better or worse you've literally hit every aspect of GNS theory in one fell swoop. I'm actually a big fan of GNS theory, although I know it's often seen as gauche these days. But here's one of the big thing you can take away from it: you cannot solve problems in one arm of GNS by attacking another. That is to say, you cannot solve a damage output (gamism) problem by going after what you identify as a "cute", "non-mechnic" feature (narrativism), and you will gain no quantitative insight by polling about food and water (simulationism).
The way I see it, it's all actually one big discussion on how good the class feels:
  • My assumption is: players play a monk thinking they're either a martial or something closer to a rogue (which is more accurate IMO)
    • The Martial Monk players just want to punch stuff, and think dashing is only good for getting stuck in and then punching stuff even more.
    • The Rogue Monk players want to play more of a skirmisher, but can't really do it as effectively as a Rogue
      • The Rogue gets damage & utility. Its utility is more out of combat than in combat, so they usually don't need to choose which is going to apply and are happy doing their go-to move most of the time in both cases.
      • The Monk's utility is in combat, and it comes at the cost of keeping up damage-wise. The automatic response to entering combat is usually "I want to kill this as fast as possible" -especially if you're playing a character that can't control enemies to take pressure off party members. This makes the Monk eschew their utility in favor of doing damage, and they suffer for it (both in terms of damage taken and feeling good to play, because more than half the things you should be doing are locked away behind the BA cost, and you're not going to use them outside of combat most of the time, so you feel like you have "bad" features -they aren't, but the opportunity cost is usually too high for players to use them).
  • In either case, getting features that don't help their role, which is by a large margin mostly in combat (since, again, their utility is in combat vs the Rogue's out-of-combat), feels bad.
  • I'm not attacking the right these features have to exist. I am saying, in rather the opposite manner as you've put it, that you can't put in narrative or simulationist features at the cost of gamism features. At least, that's my reasoning for ToSaM & TB.
    • You're probably right about the poll part, but honestly the fact TB is a standalone feature just frustrates me so much I don't think straight and wanted to insert something to justify my spite in some manner.
This was all written one-shot, I haven't gone over it, but if I re-read it later I might fix possible logical inconsistencies. Feel free to point any out in the meanwhile and give any other thoughts on the matter :).
 
Last edited:



Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top