Ultimate Monk (3.5e Optimized Character Build)/FAQ
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1. How can an unarmed striker be a Blade Dancer?
The requirements of the Blade Dancer prestige class are that the character be proficient with a sword -- not that he or she use one.
2. Normally size-boosting abilities don't stack. How does a Nezumi monk end up hitting as if he were six sizes larger than he is?
The transformation into a bear is a shapeshifting ability, not a size enhancement. The brown and dire bears are Large as a natural feature of their nature -- they are not magically enlarged. The Empty Hand Mastery ability does not make the character larger at all, it simply gives the character a larger damage dice, calculated as if he or she were larger. Ditto the "Improved Natural Attacks" feat. The Expansion power is the only true enlarging effect.
3. What is the point of this build?
I would like to think it shows one way to get epic-level power without being a Christmas-tree character. It is a rebuttal to those who say the monk is underpowered, and an example of how to buff him via multiclassing. Finally, it is a somewhat whimsical experiment in creating a build that can do almost anything with their body -- without magic items or spells.
4. Your damage dice are calculated as if you will be charging all the time, yet still performing multiple attacks. No way!
What distinguishes the martial artist of eastern myth from your average sellsword is the ability to do things that are physically impossible -- I simulate this "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" fighting style not only with high levels of Jump and Tumble, but with feats and powers like Psionic Lion's Charge (full attacks with charge), Psionic charge (turn while charging), Up the Walls. Practically speaking, the character can charge in almost any circumstance and make his full number of attacks.
Psionic Lion's Charge is a wonderful power, but if you find it easier to have a "built-in" ability to charge and make full attacks, chose a variant whose monster class includes the Pounce racial ability (like the Black Spirit Tiger) or take the epic feat Dire Charge.
In order to charge, attack, and move again (something which, helpful collaborators have pointed out, the Spring Attack feat does not allow) use Hustle (with or without Quicken Power) which provides an extra move action. You can then charge (1 full round action) then move away (one move action).
If a player doesn't want to be dependent on the Psionic Lion's Charge ability, I recommend the Black Spirit Tiger variant 3.5E progression. The tiger's "Pounce" ability allows it to make a full attack at the conclusion of a charge (at ECL 4).
The build's high move means the player can map out fancy footwork and still have plenty of move left over. Perpetual charging is not a class feature, however, and is not be applicable in all cases. Like the statistics for the dire bear form, I include it because it reflects the character's attributes when arrayed for battle.
5. Will you respond to questions or critique on this talk page?
6. Here's a question re the 3.0E progression: it says in the Player's Handbook that Monks have special rules that make it difficult for them to multiclass. Since you multiclass so much, doesn't your whole build fall through?
Fortunately, this build uses OA rules, which allow monks to multiclass freely. None of the 3.5E leave the monk class and come back to it; a build that did could make use of the feats, including the various "ascetic" feats, which allow the monk to multiclass.
7. Where does 16th-(Empty Hand Mastery) and 18th-(Foot and Fist Mastery) and 21st-(Frenzy 3/day) and 25th-(Ki Frenzy 3/day) come from? There are no more feat slots available for those levels?
I'm not sure I understand the question. Ki frenzy is a class ability, not a feat-based ability. Empty Hand Mastery is not a feat, but rather a benefit the character obtains after meeting certain feat and skills prerequisites. ECLs 18 and 21 should both have feat slots.
8. At 13th level you get a xp penalty for multiclassing even if you are human.
I didn't really understand the xp penalties for multiclassing when I wrote the 3.0E progression. I may revise it at some point. The 3.5E progression should be free of this (and many other) problems.
9. The conventional wisdom is that monks are really weak, especially at the lower levels. These are some of the things I hear:
- a) Monk strikes do only 1d6 of damage at the first level.
- There are a number of ways to get around that limitation. One is to Flurry, when your total damage potential is 2d6 and (Str mod * 2), which is perfectly respectable. To get around the -2 to hit, the Reckless Charge feat is very helpful. Remember that a DC 15 Tumble Check lets you Tumble through the ranks of your opponents, seeking flanking bonuses.
- An alternate route is to take Two-Weapon Fighting and use your unarmed strike as your off-hand attack. This has a number of advantage over Flurry of Blows. The off-hand attack takes no penalties for being off-hand, while the primary, as in Flurry, is at -2. Since you do not have to have a hand free to make an unarmed strike, you can use a weapon two-handed as your primary attack. An elven monk, for example, could combine a longsword wielded two-handed with his or her unarmed strike (Flurry of blows cannot be used when attack with weapons which are not special monk weapons; this is two-weapon fighting, not Flurry.) Str damage for the two-weapon strike is 1 1/2 the modifier. In sum, then, such a character's full attack would do 1d6 + 1d8 + 2 1/2 times the character's strength modifier.
- If you see your character as a heavy hitter first and foremost, you can take Power Attack (via the Overwhelming Offense monk fighting style) and Flying Kick. Your charges will then do 1d6 + 1d12 at ECL 1. Soon you will be grabbing Ectoplasmic Fists, the Superior Unarmed Strike feat, Mighty Wallop buffs, and so on, and that 1d6 base damage will be a distant memory.
- b)Monks have inferior BAB. So even if you have a high-damage strike, you can't hit anything with it.
- This is definitely a challenge at the lower levels. It's one of the disadvantages of the monk class, no two ways about it. The four main mitigation strategies I advocate at low ECL are:
- Buff initiative. Winning initiative helps you in several ways. You can charge. You can take advantage of the enemy's flat-footed status to avoid AC bonuses and achieve flanking bonuses. And you can use your superior mobility to avoid fights on even terms, catching up with your foe later, as needed, with a prepared ambush.
- Charge. Charging is risky when you have 8 hit points. But it can pay off handsomely. With Reckless Offense and a single target of appropriate CR, you can in many cases attack and kill your opponent while they are flat-footed, avoiding any consequences from your low hit points or penalties to AC.
- Grapple. Grappling allows you to do unarmed strike damage with touch attacks, if you can win the ensuing grapple check. Say a low-level warforged monk with Improved Grapple (Monk 2, Str 14, masterwork gauntlets, power crystal (Grip of Iron)) is faced with a well-armored paladin of slaughter (full plate +1/heavy shield +1, AC 22, touch 10). His chance of hitting his opponent with a charge attack (+1 BAB, +2 charge, +2 Str, +1 masterwork) is only 20% (17-20). But if he activates Grip of Iron, using his power points from the Wild Talent feat, and ends his charge with a grapple attack, he will succeed 80% of the time (5-20). He must then win the grapple check, for which he enjoys a hefty modifier (BAB +1, Str +2, Improved Grapple +4, Grip of Iron +4). If his opponent is of the same level and has the same strength score (BAB +2, Str +2) the monk will win the check about 58% of time. If he wins the check, he does unarmed strike damage.
- The example monk's chances of both hitting with the touch attack and winning the grapple check are 46%; better than double the 20% of hitting with a straight-up attack (even a strong (16 Str), raging (+4 Str), barbarian (2nd) with a masterwork greataxe (+1) who is charging (+2) would hit the paladin above only 45% of the time.) (Other classes can use this work-around, but since their unarmed strikes rarely do significant damage, it is most useful to the monk, who does not have to sacrifice his or her primary attack.) Having grappled the paladin, the monk enjoys other benefits; the foe has most likely lost the use of their primary weapon, and will likely waste an attack trying to break out of the grapple (an attempt which will fail more than half the time.)
- At mid- to high levels, this problem rapidly becomes trivial. A permanent Divine Power effect via an item gives you a maximum BAB bonus (equal to your total class levels). Feats like Unavoidable, and weapon features like brilliant energy (which can be placed on your natural weapons (or items effecting your natural weapons) via artificer's infusions (see the Natural Weapon Augmentation infusions in the Eberron campaign setting)) allow you to bypass armor. Psionic powers can both boost your actions directly (see Precognition, Offensive) and via Str bonuses.
- c)The monk's unarmed strike is a one-note song; it doesn't work against insubstantial creatures, or invisible creatures, or flying creatures.
- The monk's strike can work against all of those foes. Using the artificer magic described above, the monk can place the ghost touch weapon special ability on his natural weapons (the cost is only 4,000gp for a permanent effect). Monks with levels in the Drunken Master prestige class can throw improvised weapons which do unarmed strike damage. An item with the Blood Claw spell effect (from Savage Species) allows the monk to throw his or her natural weapons themselves.
- Listen is one the monk's basic skills, so they are likely to know an invisible creature is present (DC 20 check). At that point, there are any number of psionic powers which will uncover the invisible foe's location. My personal favorite is Feelsense, from Eberron, which also negates concealment (side-stepping the effects of the build's "Murky-eyed" flaw.)
- Flying creatures out of range of the monk's natural weapons can be dealt with in any number of ways. One could use Metamorphosis and take on a flying form. There is Psionic Fly. If the enemy is forcing the fight, one could seek cover and force them to come down. More creatively, one could teleport or dimension door to a point above them, and then make a grappling attack on them while in free fall. The latter is rather showy, and perhaps risky, but the Ultimate Monk's particular mixes of fighting and exceptional abilities makes surprising tactics like these possible.
- d)The monk has a mediocre AC, a fatal flaw in a fighting build.
- Most of the other complaints about the monk have a good bit of truth to them, but this one is pure myth. The monk gets AC bonuses for Wis as well as Dex, plus monk bonuses. Once the monk reaches a level where he or she can get an armor bonus via magic or psionics (such as 5 Quori armor shards: cost 40,000gp, armor bonus +10) they have the best AC in the game. Metamorphosis forms bring with them natural armor bonuses. Shifters, Warforged, and the various monster classes have their own. A single level of Fist of the Forest (from Complete Champion) adds the Con bonus to AC (and in many Metamorphosis forms Con pushes 40).
- At very low levels, a human monk has an AC slightly inferior to a heavily armored fighter. But the lack of mobility of a heavily armored fighter makes such a comparison problematic. A monk with a base move of 40 or 50 feet per round will run circles around someone in plate armor, who moves at half that speed.
- e)Monks have low hit points.
- This is true, and it is part of the trade-off for the exceptional power that awaits the monk at higher levels. It's important to the monk to keep combats short (ideally, one half-round -- his action) and when facing tough foes, to strike and evade, strike and evade. Later on the Psychic Warrior power Vigor grants 5 hp per point invested, a great insurance policy. (At manifester level 6 with Overchannel, Talented, and a few Power Link Quori shards, you can net a hundred extra hit points which will last for 20 minutes or so.)
- f)This sounds nice, but all I know is, when I play monks, I die.
- Hey, playing monks is an art. Monks are not tanks, or controllers, or skill monkeys, or casters. They are more like fighter jets than tanks, and more like guerrilla warriors than controllers. To play them successfully, you have to try things you wouldn't try with a fighter or a druid.
- To take some of the pressure off, try a single level of something else to get you started. In exchange for slowing your monk progression by one level, you can address most of the weaknesses of the monk at low levels. For example:
- Warforged, Fighter 1 (Warforged fighter substitution level). Feats: Psiforged, Improved Initiative, Able Learner (Flaws: Shaky, Murky-eyed. Traits: Quick, Aggressive.) Warforged Component (Power Crystal, 200gp) Powers: Inertial Armor. Class ability: Battle Hardened (takes the place of fighter bonus feat: +3 initiative, +3 fear saves).
- With this build, you embark on your monk career with 11 + Con hp (12 at 1st -1 Quick Trait), AC 15 (10 +2 (Warforged) +4 Inertial Armor -1 Aggressive Trait) + Dex (and soon + Wis), BAB +1, Move 40 feet (Quick trait). Initiative +7 (Improved Initiative, Battle Hardened) + Dex. You are proficient with martial weapons, so you can chose a reach weapon and get your attacks of opportunity.
- It's not hard to work around the monk's limitations if you keep an open mind. The things to remember are: a) monk have an exponential power curve, like spellcasters (i.e., they trade a measure of vulnerability at the early levels for great power later on) and, b) Monks are different and they require a different set of strategies and tactics to be successful. If you bear these point in mind, you'll find monk characters both powerful and fun to play.S1Q3T3 12:36, 8 February 2009 (MST)