Thursday, November 12, 2015

Monk Dissection

[I know I've been writing a lot today. It's been productive for blogging...and not much else. If you missed my earlier loooong post on the origins of the monk, and my initial analysis, you can find it right here; hmmm...maybe I should schedule this one to post later tonight. Nah...]

[pulled some interesting images from Google with that title, BTW]

As I did with druids, sometimes it's easiest to simply deconstruct the whole damn thing (tear it down) in order to (re-)build a better mechanism. Personally, I really like how the druid turned out...that's a character class I wouldn't mind playing (which is something I could've said before). I'm hopeful I can get similar results for the monk.

First, though, the's what a cleric looks like mechanically:

  1. Prime Requisite: Wisdom (better saves with my Holmes house rules).
  2. No required ability scores.
  3. Restricted to humans.
  4. May be any alignment.
  5. Armor: Any + Shield (should be pretty good AC, approaching Holmes max).
  6. Weapons: non-edged (house rule for evil clerics: no restriction).
  7. Hit Dice: 6-sided.
  8. Turn Dead (good clerics only).
  9. Spells (beginning at level 2).
  10. Some magic staffs restricted to clerical use.
  11. Possibility of clerical scrolls (mentioned in the magic section, but in the treasure section states spell scrolls "can only be read by magic-users." House rule needed).
  12. No special abilities like those described in Supplement II (Blackmoor).

I'm pretty sure that's it. Now we'll look at our monk subclass, consider it's theme/concept, and see what needs to be adjusted. Let's do it by the numbers.

1. Prime Requisite: pretty safe to say this remains as wisdom. I'm not a big fan of screwing around too much with prime reqs (requiring multiple high abilities or cutting out a class's XP bonus completely). For a Holmes game, I'd certainly want to keep it simple...the monk earns bonus experience for having a high wisdom score.

2. Required Abilities: Blackmoor originally required wisdom and dexterity of 15 and strength of 12, none of which has much impact on the character. Monk skills are, for the most part, tied to experienced monk has more powers than an inexperienced monk. Wisdom helps speed rate of advancement, but I don't think we need that...monastic orders will probably accept anyone, but poor students (i.e. "unwise ones") will progress at a slower pace. On the other hand, a certain amount of physical skill is needed for their hand-to-hand combat skills, though we won't need it high enough to get bonuses. Call it a minimum of 10 in STR and 11 in DEX.

3. Restricted to Humans: much as I like my Hin Warrior Monks, I'll stand pat.

4. No Alignment Restriction: I like evil and chaotic monks (see the main villain in Iron Monkey). However, I doubt a Chaotic type would have the patience and discipline to progress far. Eh...let it stand for now.

5. Armor: Here's where it gets interesting. It ain't a monk if you're wearing armor. However, Holmes armor class works a little different from other editions, being based on actual armor worn. While I can see a monk toughening their flesh by taking "sand baths" and whatnot, they're still only AC 9. I think that I'd prefer to handle a monk's increased defensive value in the same way Holmes handles magical armor: by subtracting the bonus from an opponent's attack roll. In the case of the monk, we'll go ahead and give him a +1 bonus per two levels (rounded up). Since my classes are only going to go 12 or 13 levels, that's not too crazy. And I like the smaller AC range of Holmes.

6. Weapons: I would neither add nor subtract any weapons from their (alignment dependent) list. Neither would I add the Blackmoor half-point-per-level damage bonus. As for unarmed attacks, there I would do an increased damage progression, though not on the scale of Blackmoor...we are talking about the human body, which is never going to inflict more damage than a well-swung battle axe. Call it D4 for the first three levels, D6 for levels four to six, and D8 thereafter (have you tried punching steel gauge armor?). Likewise, no multiple attacks (yet)...the attack roll takes into account multiple swings and kicks, etc. Level determines your success at landing a (damaging) blow(s), and the damage roll gives you an idea of how effective the blow was. That being said, I'd consider some kind of stunning attack (subtract four points of damage from a successful attack to force the opponent to make a saving throw; only works on man-sized opponents of fewer levels/HD than the monk).

7. Hit Dice: 6-sided dice seems like a good number. Monks with high constitution (and, thus, bonuses) might represent those guys doing "body hardening" exercises, while a lower CON might be a frail, "elderly master" type.

8. Turn Dead: the province of good clerics. The monk's a little too "inward focus" to have this effect on walking corpses.

9. Spells: I am extremely tempted to turn the monk's special abilities into spells. This makes the most sense, mechanically (think about D6 Star Wars and "force powers"), but would necessitate me (*sigh*) doing yet another spell list. It might be worth it. It would certainly be shorter than, and very different from, the standard cleric list.

10. Magic Items: like the druid, I'd probably restrict monks to "those magic items that can be used by everyone." However, unlike Blackmoor, I would probably not restrict the total number of items possessed, unless I was going to do some sort of "poverty vow" thing. Even so, wouldn't they keep found items in the Order as sort of "communal property?" I'll consider that issue.

11. Cleric Scrolls: even if cleric scrolls exist in Holmes, even if monk abilities end up being "spells," they are NOT going to be the kind of thing that gets written down and read off a scroll. Haven't you seen Kung Fu Panda? The scroll is blank!

12. Monkish Abilities: let's take a quick gander at what we've got (besides things mentioned above). Surprise bonus. Some thief abilities. Speak with animals and plants. Feign death. Resistance to ESP. Self-Healing. Immunity to suggestion/hypnosis. Resistance to telepathy (is this different from ESP?). Immunity to Geas/Quest. Quivering palm (death attack). Saving throw to dodge missiles (even magic missiles). Saves reduce half-damage attacks to zero. Even failing saves only results in half damage starting at 8th level. Uber-fast movement based on level.

Hmmm...that's not all that many, all things considered. Let's take a look at what they get in later books. 1E adds immunity to disease and slow spells. Adds charm to the hypnosis resistance. Grants resistance against mind flayers' mental blast. Immunity to poison. No bonuses to AC for DEX or attacks for STR...but Holmes doesn't grant those anyway.

3E adds slow falling, attacks that hit like enchanted weapons (ki attacks), a dimension door ability (!), spell resistance, eternal youth, the ability to speak with all living creatures (hello, C-3P0!), ethereal travel, and a gradual transformation into an ascended-style supernatural being with damage resistance. Ok.

I've got your ki attack right here, sho nuff.

And, hmm...I don't find a monk in either of 4E's two Player Handbooks.

All in all, not that much, and most of it can be easily cut. I can go with only be surprised on a 1 (like my Holmes ranger). Unarmored characters already double their movement. I might allow the "move silent" thief skill for the cleric changing out their armor for silk robes and slippers, but the other skills?  No.

The mental resistances would warrant no more than a saving throw bonus, and maybe I would couple that with the immunity to disease if the monk had the paladin-like poverty vow (there are benefits of giving away your possessions to the poor, Peace Pilgrim!). All the other saving throw bonuses and missile dodging? No. This isn't Kung Fu. Immunity to poison? Have you seen Crouching Tiger?

The speaking with creatures (and plants) is pretty weird...did Remo Williams do this? It seems there might have been some confusion between Franciscan monks and the Shao Lin variety. This gets axed, along with the feather falling (already took away the climbing sheer surfaces, Remo). All the 3E stuff gets cut...if you want to hit a supernatural creature, get a magic weapon.

Meanwhile, the self-healing, feign death, and (possibly) quivering palm can be rolled into a new meditation skill that has multiple effects, depending on level. But is that enough to make a cleric give up their armor, turning, and spell-casting ability? Because it really doesn't look like there's enough here to warrant that "monk spell list" I was thinking about way back in Item #9.

Maybe I do need some sort of "flurry" or "whirlwind attack;" God help me.

All right, getting all this written out helps my thought process. Comments and suggestions are, of course, welcome.
: )

[this will definitely be my last blog post for today]


  1. There were three PHBs for 4th Edition; the third was mostly about psionics, and I think that's where you'd find a monk.

    1. @ Tom:

      Yeah, I read that on-line. Wasn't very interested in checking it out, but maybe I should.

  2. Interesting. I only allow human clerics also (and half orcs I suppose) in my campaign. Monks human only.

    1. @ Darn:

      Yeah, that's my thought. But if I let half-orcs become clerics, don't I need to allow half-elves, too?

    2. Not the way I like it. Orcs are pig men (beast men) who can have shamans and witchdoctors. So half orcs can be clerics. Elves are fairy tale beings who have no awe of the gods (no piety). So half elves are changeling or something similar.

    3. Huh. And here I was just thinking they were ALL godless, and it was just the human (or half-human) element that was allowing them to commune with higher powers.

      Personally, I'd probably use the magic-user or witch (subclass of magic-user) to model witchdoctors and shamans.

  3. Drat you have me rethinking all my classes again an i have re-asked myself the same questions in your series

    I use a late 1st ed proficiency system so monk monks get lots of WP and NWP. I would offer them lots of strange "feat" type choices

    Im also influenced by the kensai and the sohei class in OA - both kind overlap the rolls I want monks to have. My idea of a monk is a martial artist with spiritual devotion to the art lets them do weird stuff. They could be like monks or bandits or temple guardians or wanderers. Different cultures and religions propagate them even in small amounts. They are mostly lightly armoured but some might learn to use armour. Mostly specialize in a single weapon or or exotic weapons or no weapons. I would offer example builds as different sects including a wussy scholar one that still needs to fight off vikings sometimes. One player did a pacifist monk who didn't hurt anyone. I really like your special attack instead of damage system makes them more usable than what i have been running

    I have had the dilemma of abilities vs spells with druid also - have been inspired by your views even if i still choose to do something else. I think if i did druids as a just a cleric variant id just offer different arms, armour and a non healing shape shift instead of turning in a package - i have different alignment druids up to all sorts of trouble in my setting like blood druids and death druids

    I look fwd to more of your classes

    1. Awesome! I'm glad I'm giving you food for thought (means my blog might be worth reading).

      Folks are going to want to tailor this stuff to their own campaigns and own editions anyway. Mine is tailored for Holmes, which I'm a bit enamored with at the moment.
      ; )

  4. Check out Jim Wampler's podcast interview with Tim Kask to hear about the origin of the Monk: