The other day, I met Jeff for lunch. Mostly, we discussed game drama and future gaming plans.
One topic of conversation, however, was our mutual dissatisfaction with the monk character class as it is portrayed in D&D.
As I see it, the monk has a split personality. On the one hand, he’s a martial artist. On the other, he’s into this self-perfection thing. Both of these are valid paths, and they aren’t mutually exclusive… but there is a lot built in to assuming that they are inextricably linked.
Jeff’s view was rather different than mine – focusing on a comparison between the monk and other martial classes, but I’ll let him explain it himself if he wants.
There are other issues I have with the monk:
Flavor issues: The monk seems to be based on some assumptions about setting. This isn’t an issue that is unique to the monk (the paladin, for instance, has it as well), but the monk’s setting assumptions don’t obviously fit neatly within the standard D&D setting.
Mechanics issues: The monk’s unarmed damage progression has long struck me as awkward. It makes unarmed attacks superior to armed attacks. It doesn’t make sense in conjunction with natural weapons. I’d like to see a mechanic that looked more like the rogue’s sneak attack or the soulknife’s psychic strike.
Metaphysical issues: The monk has a bunch of supernatural abilities, some of which have the word “ki” in them. Are these related to the ninja’s ki abilities? Are they psionic in nature? What’s the deal here?
Alignment issues: Martial artists have to be lawful?
Weapons issues: In addition to the fact that it is generally ineffective for monks to use weapons (barring things like using a kama to trip or shuiriken for a ranged attack or a magic weapon for it’s special abilities), a good chunk of a monk’s weapon proficiencies are for exotic weapons. This seems sort of inelegant. A monk can use a kama but not a short sword (or even a sickle)? Nunchaku… but not a mace? Without a really good reason, I don’t buy it.
How might I change things?
I’d seriously consider either splitting the class in two (one class focused on martial arts and another on meditation and self-perfection), or I’d reduce the emphasis on martial arts and note that monks often multiclass as fighters or something. The more I think about it, the more I lean toward the first of these options. I’d make it easy enough to multiclass between the two and approximate the current monk.