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Monk Subclasses 5e

Monks are martial artists to the core, but each Monk follows a different path. Each Monk chooses which path or Way that they focus and meditate on to guide their martial prowess and growth. If you’re a fan of old martial arts movies, you’ll recognize a lot of the tropes that the Ways of the Monk tend to follow.

Today, we’re looking at the Ways or Subclasses for the 5e Monk and ranking them by our favorites. 

Table of Contents

Here is our ranked list of Monk Subclasses in 5e DnD:

  • #10 – Way of the Sun Soul
  • #9 – Way of the Kensei
  • #8 – Way of the Four Elements
  • #7 – Way of the Ascendant Dragon
  • #6 – Way of the Open Hand
  • #5 – Way of the Astral Self
  • #4 – Way of the Long Death
  • #3 – Way of Shadow
  • #2 – Way of Mercy
  • #1 – Way of the Drunken Master

#10. Way of the Sun Soul

The Way of the Sun Soul subclass can be found in Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

Monks that follow that Way of the Sun Soul gain their strength through the power of the sun and jolly cooperation… wait, wrong game. They gain abilities that are empowered by radiant energies that they can channel into their strikes making them one of the few Monk subclasses that have an inherent ranged attack. 

Way of the Sun Soul Subclass Feature

The primary ability of the Way of the Sun Soul is their Radiant Sun Bolt. It’s a ranged spell that they’re able to deal radiant damage with instead of using their melee attack. They can empower it with Ki to cast the ability twice in a single turn. The damage is weak but grows as they level up. They have additional abilities, but Radiant Sun Bolt is going to be your bread and butter. 

Pros of the Way of the Sun Soul Subclass

Way of the Sun Soul is one of the few Monk Subclasses that give a ranged attack option right from the beginning. It’s a nice ability that doesn’t need spell charges or Ki, and can basically be spammed like a cantrip. 

Cons of the Way of the Sun Soul Subclass 

The downside is that Radiant Sun Bolt isn’t that great damage-wise. It can be empowered using Ki points to cast it twice, but you’ll quickly find yourself running out of Ki points early on. Although other classes aren’t handed a ranged attack there are a lot of other viable options for ranged attacks. Way of the Sun Soul has a lot of cool ideas, but they just never seem to pan out. 

#9. Way of the Kensei

The Way of the Kensei subclass can be found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

Way of the Kensei Monks are the weapons masters of the Monk class. They train with one melee weapon and one ranged weapon to the exclusion of all else and they become a deadly extension of their body. 

Way of the Kensei Subclass Feature

The way of the Kensei gives the Monk access to weapon proficiencies outside of their class and they gain various bonuses with them.

Agile Parry is probably one of the better features that let them make an unarmed strike and then gain +2 AC when holding their Kensei weapon.

They’ll also eventually be able to imbue their weapons with magical energy so that they’ll always have a magical weapon on hand just in case they encounter a creature that needs a magical weapon to break through their defenses. 

Pros of the Way of the Kensei Subclass

Way of the Kensei lets players focus on a specific weapon type and gives proficiencies not normally available to the player. In addition, those specific weapons are more effective in their hands than they would be for other players. 

Cons of the Way of the Kensei Subclass 

It’s not a bad class, but unless you’re going for a specific weapon proficiency, other subclasses offer a lot better damage bonuses and abilities. It’s also not the most exciting subclass. The abilities are all utilitarian and add a bonus here or there, but there’s nothing flashy or show-stopping. 

#8. Way of the Four Elements

The Way of the Four Elements subclass can be found in the Player’s Handbook.

The Way of the Four Elements Monks meditate and draw their energies from the elements themselves. This gives the Monk access to the standard melee abilities as well as elemental spells. 

Way of the Four Elements Subclass Feature

Four Elements Monks gain elemental spells depending on their Monk level. Instead of spell slots, they use Ki points to cast their spells. They gain elemental spells of a specific discipline that they can swap after they gain a level. 

Pros of the Way of the Four Elements Subclass

The Four Elements Monk gains access to quite a few different powerful spells. It’s much more versatile than the Way of the Sun and can do a fair bit more damage than them as well. 

Cons of the Way of the Four Elements Subclass 

If you look at optimization, there are really only a few spells that are actually useful to the Monk, and they burn through their valuable Ki points to cast.

Casting a spell also takes the Monk’s action which means they can’t use all of their melee or powerful fighting skills in the same turn. It’s a combination of spellcasting and melee, but they’ll only be able to use one or the other.

#7. Way of the Ascendant Dragon

The  Way of the Ascendant Dragon subclass can be found in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons.

In martial arts movies there are a lot of martial arts styled after specific animals; the way of the tiger, praying mantis, etc. Of course in DnD, they have to take that to the next level and you get the Way of the Ascendant Dragon. The Monk studies and meditates on the abilities of Dragons and focuses their abilities to emulate those of dragons. 

Way of the Ascendant Dragon Subclass Feature

The Monk’s generic abilities are augmented by their Draconic Ki. They’re able to use a form of the Dragon Breath attack and they gain access to limited flight. The Monk also gains some generally useful abilities to reroll persuasion checks. They’re one of the better crowd control Monks. 

Pros of the Way of the Ascendant Dragon Subclass

The Draconic breath ability won’t do too much damage at lower levels, but it will grow with the Monk and become increasingly useful. This is one of the better abilities for crowd control and attacking mobs of enemies. 

The other major boon of the Ascendant Dragon is the ability to imbue their attacks with the element of their draconic Ki. This is incredibly useful when fighting creatures that have resistance to bludgeoning and allows the Monk to specifically target elemental weaknesses early on. 

In a dragon-heavy campaign, the Ascendant Dragon is also probably the most fun to play when it comes to RP. 

Cons of the Way of the Ascendant Dragon Subclass

The only thing I can really point to as a con is the lack of focused damage. They have excellent crowd control abilities, but they’ll need to rely on standard Monk abilities when targeting single strong enemies. 

#6. Way of the Open Hand

The Way of the Open Hand subclass can be found in the Player’s Handbook.

Way of the Open Hand is an excellent choice for beginners to the Monk Class. Their abilities all synergize with the Monk Class without doing anything too off the wall. If you’ve never played a Monk or are just unsure about the class, Way of the Open Hand is probably the best choice. 

Way of the Open Hand Subclass Feature

Way of the Open Hand gives players new ways to spend their Ki points. The Open Hand Technique lets the Monk control the field by burning Ki points to knock enemies down, push them away, or take their reactions. Their best feature however is the Quivering Palm ability. If you’ve seen Kill Bill it’s very similar to the Five Finger Death Punch. 

Pros of the Way of the Open Hand Subclass

Way of the Open Hand is a great all-around class that improves all the general Monk Abilities. Flurry of Blows lets the Monk control the battlefield. They also have a useful healing ability that lets them heal themselves during combat.

The showstopper ability is the Quivering Palm. Enemies will either die or take a big chunk of damage based on their Constitution save. With a cost of only 3 Ki points, it’s well worth the price for an instant kill. 

Cons of the Way of the Open Hand Subclass 

There are not too many Cons to the Open Hand. It focuses heavily on Flurry of Blows for their abilities, and you won’t actually get to use Quivering Palm until level 17.

They’re always going to be useful in a party and they’re not weak, but they’re also not going to be the most effective character. They’re firmly placed as a jack of all trades, which is why they’re so good for beginners. 

#5. Way of the Astral Self

The Way of the Astral Self subclass can be found in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.

Astral Self Monks believe that their true form isn’t physical at all but part of the astral plane. They channel their astral self and allow it to manifest in the physical world for short bursts of time, but they gain additional abilities as their astral self eventually manifests fully and turns them into a force to be reckoned with. 

Way of the Astral Self Subclass Feature

The Arms of the Astral Self allows the monk to manifest extra spirit arms that can be used for unarmed strikes with additional range, and it can be combined with Visage of the Self to fully engulf their bodies in astral energy.

Awakened Astral Self is the ultimate ability that lets them fully engulf their bodies in energy and gives additional limbs for attack and AC. 

Pros of the Way of the Astral Self Subclass

Astral Self makes everything about the Monk better. It focuses more on Wisdom over Dexterity, but it’s an easy-to-use subclass for advanced beginners to intermediate players. They’re able to gain attacks at range and control the field by hitting targets at range. 

Cons of the Way of the Astral Self Subclass 

The subclass is highly dependent on Ki, so players will need to understand and be able to balance their Flurry of Blows abilities with the Astral buffs provided by the subclass. The final Awakened form costs 5 Ki, but it’s worth it. The only issue is during long drawn-out fights they might find themselves rapidly running out of Ki, but that downside isn’t exclusive to the Astral Self subclass. 

#4. Way of the Long Death

The Way of the Long Death subclass can be found in Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.

Monks that follow the Way of the Long Death have become obsessed with death and the moment life leaves the body. To that end, they experiment on creatures to study to moment life leaves the body. They’re one of the more horrifying subclasses and are like a martial version of a necromancer. 

Way of the Long Death Subclass Feature

When fighting and bringing an enemy to 0 hit points, the Way of the Long Death Monk steals a bit of their life force and can gain temporary hit points. They’re also horrifying to look at due to their dark abilities and can force enemies around them to make a save or become frightened. 

Their knowledge of death is so extensive that they can simply ignore it by spending Ki points. When dropped to 0 hp, they automatically spend a Ki to drop to 1 instead. 

Perhaps their most terrifying ability is Touch of the Long Death. They can dump up to 10 ki points into a creature and deal 2d10 necrotic per ki point (half damage with a save). This can be absolutely devastating to deal 20-200 damage with an average of about 110. 

Pros of the Way of the Long Death Subclass

Way of the Long Death is a simple subclass and it has incredible RP potential. All of the abilities are extremely useful and they really don’t need to focus too much on their Ki Points.

All you need to do is save a few points in case you die and then focus on killing blows to gain extra hit points. If you’re in a pinch, you can dump all of your points into Touch of the Long Death to deal a ton of damage, even if enemies make their save. 

Cons of the Way of the Long Death Subclass 

They’re great tanks, but in a long-term fight, they don’t have the damage potential of other subclasses and classes. Touch of the Long Death is powerful, but really only has one shot of big damage. Then the Long Death Monk is back to soaking up hits and trying to gain temporary hit points. 

#3. Way of Shadow

The Way of Shadow subclass can be found in the  Player’s Handbook.

In keeping with martial art movie tropes, the Way of the Shadow Monk would be the Ninja. They’re like a combination of Rogue and Monk, but without the backstab attack. They do have some of the best stealth abilities in the game, though. 

Way of Shadow Subclass Feature

My favorite ability is the Shadow Monk’s ability to step into a shadow and walk out of a completely different shadow up to 60ft away. They can also simply turn invisible in low light and get Opportunity Attacks when stepping out of the shadow. 

Pros of the Way of Shadow Subclass

The Shadow Monk is my favorite stealth build. They can sneak in anywhere completely unseen. Honestly, it’s not a bad idea to multiclass just for the backstab attack. 

Cons of the Way of Shadow Subclass 

They just don’t have the damage potential of the Rogue. They get an extra Opportunity Attack at level 17, but it just doesn’t scale in comparison to the Rogue’s Backstab.

#2. Way of Mercy

The Way of Mercy subclass can be found in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.

The Monks that follow the Way of Mercy believe in bringing aid to those in need. Whether it’s the mercy of healing or the mercy of death is up to the Monk. They are equally adept at healing flesh as well as destroying it. 

Way of Mercy Subclass Feature

Most of the Way of Mercy Monk’s abilities have a dual purpose. They can either be used to add heal hit points to a target or deal necrotic damage to the target. It’s a perfect balance of damage and healing that makes them one of the top-tier Monk Subclasses. 

Pros of the Way of Mercy Subclass

Their Hand of Harm or Mercy ability is always useful in battle and their Flurry of Blows gets the same buff. If you don’t have a healer in the party, the Way of Mercy is probably one of the best mixes of Healer & Damage Dealer in 5e. 

Cons of the Way of Mercy Subclass 

Because they fill a multipurpose role (healing/damage), there are other classes that will deal more damage and other classes that do more healing. That’s still ok though because even though they’re not the best, they’re still pretty dang good at doing both. 

#1. Way of the Drunken Master

The Way of the Drunken Master subclass can be found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

The Way of the Drunken Master subclass is the reason players choose the Monk class in the first place. They’re able to bounce around the battlefield freely engaging and disengaging with their enemies and hitting them with Flurry of Blows. If that’s not enough, their top-tier ability Intoxicating Frenzy adds up to 3 additional attacks if you’re surrounded by multiple enemies. 

Way of the Drunken Master Subclass Feature

The Drunken Master Monk gets the most use of their Flurry of Blows. They can disengage freely after use and move up to 10 ft away and at higher levels, they can deal more blows than any other Monk when surrounded. 

They also have the special ability to simply remove a Disadvantage roll by burning Ki points. It’s everything you want and expect from the Monk Class and is definitely one of my favorites.

My absolute favorite ability is when the Monk is being attacked and the attack misses, they can spend a Ki point to redirect the attack into another enemy. 

Pros of the Way of the Drunken MasterSubclass

They’re one of the best classes from both a thematic and utility perspective. They’re able to make incredible hit-and-run attacks and weave throughout the battlefield dishing out damage and disappearing. For me, this is the quintessential Monk class.

Cons of the Way of the Drunken Master Subclass 

I’m sure there are cons to the Way of the Drunken Master, but I absolutely love the class. 

Check out some of our other guides including Monk 5e Class Guide, DnD Musical Instruments, and Cure Wounds 5e.

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12/06/2022 09:30 am GMT