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Monk 5e DnD Class Guide

The Monk is a fan favorite martial arts character in Dungeons & Dragons. Today, we’re looking at what makes them special and how they are able to perform incredible physical feats. Let’s channel our Ki with our detailed guide to DnD Monk 5e.


I’ve seen a lot of odd things on the watch and today was no different. 

During a routine patrol, we heard the alarms and ran into the main square. Some drunk had a crossbow and was waving it around at the crowd. We locked shields and tried to get everyone to safety, and then the strangest thing I’ve ever seen happened. 

An old man walked into the square like nothing was wrong. He ignored the screaming citizens, the man with the crossbow, and our calls to him to get down. He looked like a foreigner in his robes and just calmly walked up to the drunk. 

The drunk fired but the old man grabbed the bolt right out of the air and threw it back at the drunk hitting him in the leg. We took the opportunity to rush the drunk but the old man just kept calmly walking by, like nothing ever happened. 

—From the journal of Captain Vyes 3rd precinct, city watch, 23rd of Hammer, 1384

Read our detailed class guide to DnD 5e’s Monk below.

MORE CLASS GUIDES: ARTIFICER | BARBARIAN | BARD | CLERIC | DRUID | FIGHTER | MONK | PALADIN | RANGER | ROGUE | SORCERER | WARLOCK | WIZARD

Overview of 5e Monk

D&D 5e Monk Class

Monks are mystical fighters that hone their bodies to be the perfect weapons. 

They combine physical prowess with mystical abilities that push their bodies to the limits. Monks are DnD’s response to legendary versions of Shaolin Monks and ninjas. The reality turned myth is represented here with insane abilities.

Do you want to run on water or up a wall? 
How about catching an arrow out of mid-air? 
Punch straight through a wall? 

Then maybe the monk class is the perfect martial class for your next DnD character

Notable Monks in D&D

Leosin Erlanthar

Leosin was a Harpers Monk. He was one of the first to notice the growing actions of the Cult of the Dragon and went to investigate their actions as they were gaining power. He is one of the first characters players will meet in the Hoard of the Dragon Queen DnD module. 

5e Monk Class Features & Abilities

Hit Dice: d8
Primary Ability: Dexterity & Wisdom
Proficiencies: Simple Weapons & Short swords

The Monk is a quick martial artist. They don’t have the armor proficiencies of the fighter or the rage of the barbarian, but they don’t need it. They’re calm collected and can hit multiple times before the enemy even knows what hit them. The Monk doesn’t need any armor because their agility lets them dodge and lets them strike multiple times before the enemy can even respond.

GameCows Ranking System

There are a lot of abilities and class features, and it can get rather confusing. Here at GameCows, we’re going to use a simple ranking system. 

  • GameCows Ranking: 1  
    • This ability or feature is extremely useful and a must-have ability. 
  • GameCows Ranking: 2
    • This ability is ok and generally useful in most situations.
  • GameCows Ranking: 3
    • This ability is only going to be useful in certain situations. You’d only get it or use it if you personally think it’s cool. 

Monks start with no armor proficiencies. That’s okay because they quickly gain impressive unarmored abilities. They’re proficient in simple weapons but most Monks tend to use unarmed attacks or simple weapons.

Martial Arts

The Monk class wouldn’t be complete without its martial arts ability. Monks gain an impressive number of abilities when using unarmed attacks or simple Monk weapons. Basically, one-handed light weapons typically fall in the Monk weapon category. 

D&D 5e Monk Class

When using Monk weapons, the Monk can use their Dexterity modifier instead of strength for determining whether an attack hits and the damage dealt. This means Monks can boost up their Dexterity to have a higher AC and not lose out on any damage. 

In addition to adding Dexterity to unarmed strikes, Monk is the only class that uses dice when determining how much damage is done. Typically an unarmed strike does 1 + Strength Modifier. Monks get 1d4 + Dex Modifier, and as the Monk levels up the die damage increases.  

This extra damage adds up especially considering this next ability. If the Monk is using a Monk weapon to attack, they can attempt an unarmed strike as a bonus action.

Ki

At level 2, the Monk can start using their Ki powers. It works a bit like the magic system. Monks harness the mystical energy of their bodies to perform incredible feats. This energy is represented by Ki points and the Monk can spend Ki points to use special Ki abilities. 

Ki points work like an ability currency. The Monk has a certain amount per rest period and can spend it any way they like on their abilities.

Flurry of Blows

GameCows Ranking: 1

Cost: 1 Ki Point | This used to be a feat in the old systems of DnD. After the Monk takes their action they can immediately make 2 unarmed attacks. 

Patient Defense

GameCows Ranking: 2

Cost: 1 Ki Point | If you’re in trouble and low on health, the best thing to do is not get hit at all, right? When activated the Monk can use Dodge as a bonus action.

Step of the Wind

GameCows Ranking: 3

Cost: 1 Ki Point | If you need to make a speedy getaway, Step of the Wind allows the Monk to Disengage or Dash as a bonus action and doubles the Monk’s jump distance. It’s useful if you’re getting surrounded and need to get some distance between the enemies. 

Unarmored Movement

GameCows Ranking: 3

Monks aren’t really known for clanking around in plate armor. At level 2, if the Monk isn’t wearing any armor and doesn’t have a shield, their base speed is increased by 10ft. When the Monk hits level 9, the ability is improved and gets really cool. The upgraded version of Unarmored Movement lets the Monk run across liquids and up vertical surfaces. That’s freaking sweet. 

Monastic Tradition

The Monk Subclass kicks in at level 3. At level 3, Monks have to choose which monastic discipline they want to pursue.

Deflect Missiles

GameCows Ranking: 1

Also at level 3, Monks get my personal favorite ability. When being targeted by a ranged weapon they can reduce the damage using a d10 + Dec Modifier + Monk Level. 

That’s always useful, but if the damage is reduced to 0, the Monk catches it they can spend 1 Ki point to throw it back at them and make a ranged attack of their own. 

Ability Scores

Like most other classes, the Monk gets 2 new ability scores at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th levels. They can distribute them as they want as long as they don’t go above 20. 

Slow Fall

GameCows Ranking: 3

At level 4, the Monk can reduce fall damage by 5 x Monk Level. It can be handy depending upon the setting, but it’s also kind of funny to land unharmed and see the rest of your party struggling. 

Beginning at 4th level, you can use your reaction when you fall to reduce any falling damage you take by an amount equal to five times your monk level.

Extra Attack

GameCows Ranking: 1

At 5th level, Monks get all-around faster attacks. Instead of 1 attack per action, they get 2 on their turn in combat. 

Stunning Strike

GameCows Ranking: 1

Cost: 1 Ki Point | At 5th level, a Monk can target pressure points in the melee and disrupt the Ki in the body. After hitting an enemy using Stunning Strike, the target has to make a Constitution save or be stunned until the end of the Monk’s next turn. 

Ki-Empowered Strikes

GameCows Ranking: 1

At 6th level, the Monk learns to channel their Ki directly into their fists, and their unarmed strikes count as magical weapons when calculating resistances and immunities. 

Evasion

GameCows Ranking: 2

At 7th level, the Monk’s ability to dodge gets even better. When targeted by a spell that is typically undodgeable, like a Dragon’s Breath attack, the Monk has a chance to dodge it entirely.

A normal character would have to make a Dexterity save to get hit with only ½ damage. If they fail the save they take full damage. The Monk automatically gets ½ damage, but if the save succeeds they take 0 damage. 

Stillness of Mind

GameCows Ranking: 3

Also at 7th level, the Monk can remove the negative status Charmed or Frightened by using their action to calm their mind. 

Purity of Body

GameCows Ranking: 1

At 10th level, the Monk is immune to disease and poison.

Tongue of the Sun and Moon

GameCows Ranking: 3

At level 14, the Monk gets a really useful non-combat ability. By touching the Ki of other creatures, the Monk can understand any spoken language, and any creature that understands a language can understand the Monk. It’s not really useful in combat but is really cool for RP opportunities. 

Diamond Soul

GameCows Ranking: 1

Cost: 0 – 1 Ki Point | This ability gives Monks an extra boost when it comes to saving throws. At level 14, they become proficient in all saving throws and can spend a Ki point to reroll if they don’t like the result. However, they have to accept the second result. 

Timeless Body

GameCows Ranking: 3

This is another fun thematic ability. At level 15, Monks have almost reached the Stereotypical Kung Fu Master stage. Their bodies don’t feel the effects of aging, but they still age and could possibly die of old age, and they no longer need food or water to survive. 

The lack of the effects of aging and dying of old age seem mutually exclusive, but imagine an old Kung Fu master from old martial arts movies. They have long white hair and then when they get in a fight they rip their shirts off and have a six-pack and can flip around the screen. That’s basically how this ability works. 

Empty Body

GameCows Ranking: 1

Cost: 4 or 8 Ki Point | This ability is thematically cool and super useful as well, but it’s expensive. 

When activated, Empty Body has two uses. First, for 4 points the Monk can become invisible for 1 minute and has damage resistance to everything except for force damage. For 8 points, the Monk can cast astral projection without any spell components. 

Perfect Self

GameCows Ranking: 1

This ability lets the Monk worry less about their Ki points. When they roll for initiative and have 0 Ki points, they automatically regain 4. This lets the Monk go all-out in combat and if they get ambushed, shortly afterward they’ll still have a bit of energy left to continue fighting indefinitely. 

Monk 5e Subclasses

The Monk Subclasses come as Monastic Traditions. Each Monk takes a specific philosophy and directs how the Monk’s abilities grow. 

Player’s Handbook

  • Way of the Open Hand
  • Way of the Shadow
  • Way of the Four Elements
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09/23/2022 08:30 pm GMT

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

  • Way of the Astral Self
  • Way of Mercy
Tasha's Cauldron of Everything (D&D 5e)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Wizards RPG Team (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

  • Way of the Drunken Master
  • Way of the Kensei
  • Way of the Sun Soul
Xanathar's Guide to Everything (D&D 5e)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Wizards RPG Team (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons

  • Way of the Ascendant Dragon
Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons
  • Hardcover Book
  • Wizards RPG Team (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Monastic Traditions allow the Monk to develop into several different paths. The defining feature of the Monk’s attacks is the quick hits that they can dish out. Each subclass does it in a different way, and some completely break the mold. 

Probably the most popular Monastic Tradition is the Drunken Master where players can stumble in and out of combat while dishing out damage. 

Way of the Sun Soul alters the Monk entirely. It turns them into a range damage dealer but removes a lot of the standard Monk abilities as compensation. 

Way of the Shadow attempts to turn the Monk into a sneaky Rogue character, but you don’t get any of the sneak attack advantages.

There are even Monastic Traditions that channel the Ki powers for healing, like the Way of Mercy. 

Best Races for Monk Class 5e

Dwarf: The Dwarves Constitution gives a nice health bonus. They don’t have any other natural abilities that work well with the Monk.

Elf: Elves make excellent Monks. All elves get a +2 bonus to their Dex. Which is incredibly useful for the Monk to dish out some damage. Wood Elves also get a +1 bonus to Wisdom which makes Wood Elves some of the best Monks if you’re looking to max out the stats. 

Halfling: Good things come in small packages. Halflings get a +2 bonus, and their Lucky ability lets them re-roll 1’s. That’s super useful with their multiple hits. 

Human: Humans are great at everything. They don’t have too many specialized abilities, but they can fill any role. 

Dragonborn: The Dragonborn Race actually doesn’t have a lot of natural abilities for Monks. They get a bonus to strength, but the majority of the Monk abilities use Dex. Not really recommended if you’re looking purely at stats, but if you want a martial artist that spits acid, that would be cool. 

Gnome: Forest Gnomes only get a +1 Dex bonus, but it’s one of the few races that are considered small-sized characters which makes it fun to play even if there are no bonuses. 

Half-Elf: Half-Elves are similar to humans. They’re good at everything but excel at nothing. They make fine monks, but they don’t have any bonuses specific to the Monk. 

Half-Orc: Although the Strength bonus isn’t really useful, the Half-Orcs Constitution bonus doesn’t help. They’ll also have a bit of longevity in a fight with their Relentless Endurance and can deal out even more damage with the Savage attack ability. It’s probably not what most people imagine, but an angry Half-Orc Monk is going to be a beast on the battlefield. 

Tiefling: The Tiefling doens’t have a lot of synergies with the Monk class.

Playing as a Monk in 5e

Monks are fantastic melee fighters in 5e. Most of the Subclasses align with that goal, but there are also viable spellcaster-type builds. Most likely, the role of the Monk in your campaign is going to be a tank or damage dealer. 

The most important Ability Score is Dexterity for the Monk. They have the ability to get into the middle of the fight and hit everything in range multiple times before anyone else even gets a chance to move. Flurry of Blows will be super helpful in damage dealing by giving another attack especially when the Monk hits level 5 and gets an extra melee attack anyway.

The Monk is also incredibly gifted at dodging damage, making them excellent tanks. They can dance around their opponents, snatch missiles out of the air and throw them back, and they can engage enemies and disengage them easily. These skills let them dance around the battlefield, forcing enemies to engage them in combat. The Monk can tie them up in melee range while the squishier spellcasters can fire from safety. 

If you’re a fan of martial arts movies, you can clearly see the inspiration here. If you want to live out your fantasy of being a magical martial artist, the Monk is the perfect class. They’re excellent at melee range, have mystical magic-like abilities that use a simple point system, and there’s a variety of Monastic Traditions to customize your character.

We hope you enjoyed this Monk 5e Guide, why not check out our Barbarian 5e Guide or our full DnD Races List.

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