The Monk is an evocative figure in the DnD fantasy world. A person of mystery, peace, and purpose — yet armed with skills that, in the right circumstances, will leave the seasoned fighters with jaws dropping in awe. Rogues will admire their dexterity and guile, Rangers their stealth and deftness, and Clerics their dedication and devotion to their cause.
And if this is the general picture of the Monk, they, like all classes, have numerous subclasses which allow their adherents to specialize. Some of the paths, or Ways, are based in more healing areas, others relate to more mystical activities, and some to purely defensive skills.
The Monk Class
One of the most popular Ways in the DnD universe is that of the Kensei Monk because the Kensei Monk is all about mastering weapons to such proficiency that they cease to become a tool for being wielded to aid you in combat and are more a natural extension of the Monk itself.
To use a cliche, the Monk becomes at one with the weapon, and the weapon is similarly at one with the wielder. Once this level of mastery is attained, it is worth thinking of the Monk as some surgeon, using weapons with pinpoint precision to the desired effect whilst hammer blows and blunt trauma is administered by their fellow fighters.
The Way of Kensei Subclass
Those following the Way of the Kensei undertake relentless weapon training to the point that the weapon they hold becomes an extension of the body rather than a tool for a task. Originally, this Way was founded on the mastery of sword fighting techniques, but the tradition has long since expanded to incorporate skills with many weapons.
A Kensei Monk sees a weapon like a calligrapher or a painter regarding a pen or brush. Whatever weapon they are using, they regard it as a tool to be used to express the exquisite precision of their art. The mastery that makes a Kensei Monk the ultimate and unparalleled warrior is merely one side effect of intense devotion, practice, and endless study.
The Benefits of Choosing the Way of the Kensei
The benefits of choosing the Way of the Kensei Monk begin at reasonably low levels. Even by 3rd level, you start to diverge for the more mainstream path and specialize as a weapon master.
At the 3rd level, your intense training in martial arts allows you mastery of certain weapons. This path also includes instruction in many art forms, such as calligraphy, drawing, or painting. You immediately have access to the following four traditions.
You can select two weapon types to be your Kensei Weapon, and this will be one close combat weapon and one ranged. The chosen items must be any weapon that falls outside those regarded as heavy or possessing unique properties.
Once selected, you gain proficiency with both weapons (assuming you don’t already have proficiency), becoming your Kensei Weapons. Many of the traditions and skills you will acquire later only work with your Kensei Weapons, so choose ones you will be happy to use as your core weapons.
At levels 6, 11, and 17, you can select another weapon type, close combat or ranged, to add to your list of Kensei Weapons.
When making an unarmed strike as your attack action and holding (not attacking with) a Kensei Weapon, you can simultaneously use it to defend yourself, provided it is a close combat melee weapon.
This defense can parry any incoming blow from your attacker. It confers a +2 AC bonus upon you until the start of the next round, provided that the weapon remains in your hand and you aren’t classed as incapacitated at any point.
You can use a bonus action to make the attack even more potent when using a ranged Kensei weapon. When electing to do so, 1D4 damage is added to the weapon’s normal damage.
Way of the Brush
Not everything that you learn is necessarily about combat. At the 3rd level, you also gain expertise with an artistic medium that requires a brush, something based on calligraphy or painting.
One with the Blade
The next threshold is the 6th level when two more traditions are opened up for you to learn.
Magic Kensei Weapons
By now, your expertise with your chosen Kensei Weapons is such that they count as magical attacks when regarding a target’s resistance and immunity to magical attacks. Such is your proficiency that all episodes count as magic for such purposes.
When you successfully land a blow on a target, you can opt to spend 1 point of Ki, the magical energy force from which monks draw much of their strength causes extra damage. If you choose this, add a die roll equal to your Martial Arts skill and apply that to the damage dealt. You may use this feature only once per turn.
Sharpen the Blade
The next threshold in the training development of the Kensei Monk comes at the 11th level when you learn the tradition of Sharpening the Blade. If you choose to do this as a bonus, you may expend 3 points of Ki to grant anyone Kensei Weapon you touch a bonus to attack and damage rolls when you attack with it.
This bonus lasts one minute and does not affect magical weapons with bonuses to attack and/or damage rolls. (i.e. you can make a normal weapon attack as if it has a magical bonus, but you can’t make an already magical weapon act as if it was more powerful.)
The last point of the long and arduous learning curve comes at the 17th level when your mastery of weapons grants you the most extraordinary accuracy. If you should miss with an attack roll using a Kensei Weapon on your turn, you are permitted to reroll it. But you may only use this feature once on each turn.
Playing as a Kensei Monk
Whilst the Monk in older versions of DnD was an unarmed specialist, the Kensai sub-class changed the class’s orientation somewhat. It now combines special weapon attacks with unarmed skills, but if you want to head into the thick of combat, there are probably better classes to consider.
Some of the other Monk subclasses offer more opportunities for exciting roleplaying, and other courses offer more potent combat skills. The one area where it does come into its own is if you want to be a skilled ranged weapon user, then there are few classes to offer the skills that this does.