Ultimate Monk (3.5e Optimized Character Build)/Rebalancing the Ultimate Monk
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The Ultimate Monk Feorn (ECL 20) has sworn to rid the Planes of Existence of Ares, God of chaos, rage, destructive passions, cowardice, and pointless warfare, and following a long, harrowing, graphic, yet oddly repetitive series of adventures, he is facing Ares in personal combat, with the greater Gods of Olympus as witnesses.
Cast of Characters:
Ares, Lesser Divinity (20HD/Barbarian 20/Fighter 20)
Portfolio: Destruction, rage, violence, war, cowardice
Divine Rank: 10
BAB: +67 (+40 base, +20 divine might, -30 Power Attack, +4 charge, +10 divine bonus, -8 size, +31 Str)
AT: +40/+35/+28/+21 (*2, shortspear and spiked shield)
AC: 55 (+10 divine ranks, +7 shield (+5), +7 Dex, +33 (23+10) Natural Armor, +7 Deflection) (-5 divine rage, -4 Reckless Charge)
Hp: 1,560 (1,860 raging, 1,880 with Divine Might, 2,320 with his Ring of Divine Vigor.)
Max DC/# of free portfolio-related actions per round: 20/5
Dmg: 4d6 + 40 (+31 Str (raging) + 5 (magic) + 60 (Power Attack + Leap Attack)
+ 10 (Divine Weapon Specialization))
Str: 24 (72) (+32 (size change) + 10 (rage) + 6 (divine favor))
Con: 22(52) (+10 (rage) +20 Belt of Epic Vigor (Con))
Dex: 19 (29)(+10 Gloves of Epic Dexterity)
Initiative: +27 (but always wins vs. mortals via Supreme Initiative)
Feats (21 ECL + 11 Fighter bonus): Power Attack, Leap Attack, Cleave, Great Cleave, Dire Charge, Endurance, Diehard, Reckless Charge, Improved Overrun, Improved Bull Rush, Shock Trooper, Combat Reflexes, Improved Combat Reflexes [Epic], Reckless Rage, Incite Rage, Terrifying Rage, Ruinous Rage, Thundering Rage, Mighty Rage, Instantaneous Rage, Combat Brute, Improved Sunder, Improved Initiative, Superior Initiative, Weapon Focus (Shortspear), Weapon Specialization (Shortspear), Two-Weapon Fighting, Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, Perfect Two-Weapon Fighting, Improved Grapple, Legendary Wrestler
Divine Abilities (13):
Divine Rage, Alter Size, Irresistible Blows (DC 30), Battlesense, Divine Recall (Acts of violence), Increased Damage Reduction, Wound Enemy, Frightful Presence (DC 27), Supreme Initiative, Avatar, Divine Weapon Focus (Shortspear), Divine Weapon Specialization (Shortspear), Divine Weapon Mastery,
Magic items: +5 shortspear (throwing, nine lives stealer, unholy, anarchic power)(8,000,000gp), Gripsoul,+6 keen longsword (1,856,500 gp), Amulet of Natural Armor +10 (2,000,000gp), Mantle of Epic Spell Resistance (290,000 gp), +5 large shield (25,000gp), +20 Belt of Epic Vigor (Con) (4,000,000gp), +10 Gloves of Epic Dexterity (1,000,000gp), Ring of Godly Vigor (Vigor power, continuous, ML 88) (348,000gp).
Feorn (Monk 6/Psionic Fist 10/Bloodline 2/Warshaper 2)
Race:Kalashtar, Intermediate Fire Elemental Bloodline
Effective Manifester Level: 13th (10 (Psionic Fist) + 1 (Torc of Power Preservation) +2 Bloodline levels) + (1-3 levels via Overchannel feat) Special: Via Power Link Quori Shards, may reduce the cost of any given power by 8 PP 3/day.
Traits: Quick (+10 base speed, -1 AC), Aggressive (+2 Initiative, -1hp/level)
BAB: +53 (+20 base, +30 Str, +5 Magic Fang, +2 charge, +6 insight (Precognition, Offensive), -10 size)
Power points: 151 (71 (base) + 60 (Wis) + 20 (Kalashtar ECL 20) (At start of battle: 64)
Dmg: 64d8 (Unarmed Strike) + 1d6 (fire) + 30 (Str) + 5 (Greater Magic Fang) + 6 (insight)
hp:490 + 7 temporary (Divine Power) -6 (Ectoplasmic shards)
Natural armor: (Dread Linnorm, size C): +30
AC: 53 (+30 natural armor, +10 Armor bonus (Ectoplasmic Shards), +10 Wis, +4 Monk, +2 Dodge, -10 size, -1 Aggressive Trait, -2 charge, -4 Karmic Strike feat)
Feats: Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, Improved Unarmed Strike, Power Attack, Improved Sunder, Wild Talent, Hold the Line, Improved Bull Rush, Deadly Concussion, Combat Brute, Improved Initiative, Quicken Power, Overchannel, Improved Natural Attack (unarmed strike), Combat Expertise, Combat Reflexes.
Colossal(++) Dread Linnorm
Str: 44 (70)(+6 Divine Power + 16 ability burn + 4 warshaper)
Con: 31 (50) (+15 ability burn, +4 warshaper)
Dex: 8 (10) (+4 Gloves of Dex, -2 Oak Body)
Int: 18 (6) (+4 Animal Affinity, -16 ability burn))
Wis: 24 (30)
Cha: 12 (1) (+4 Animal Affinity, -15 ability burn) )
Psychic Warrior Powers manifested on himself prior to the battle:
Animal Affinity (-8 PP) (+4 Cha, +4 Int)
Psychofeedback (2) (-26 PP): +13 Str, +13 Con, -16 Cha, -10 Int)
Precognition, Offensive (-16 PP): +6 attack
Claws of Energy (-7 PP): +1d6 fire damage
Expansion (+2, duration) (-9 PP)
Offensive Prescience +6 insight bonus to dmg (-16PP)
Oak body (-9 PP)
Magic items: Greater Magic Fang (permanent) +5 (9,100gp), Danger Sense, 6-point enhancement, made Incarnate (permanent) (10,000gp), Bracers of Striking Truth (As a True Strike Spell, CL 1, 3/day) (12,000 gp), Ubiquitous Vision made Incarnate, Gloves of Dexterity (+4)(16,000gp), Periapt of Wisdom +6 (36,000gp), Torc of Power Preservation (-1 PP cost to manifest powers) (36,000gp), potion of curing critical wounds (drunk, to heal dmg from use of Overchannel feat in invoking the powers above), Monk's Belt (13,000gp), Third Eye Conceal (120,000gp), NPC cast Psychic Chirurgery (imparting knowledge of Metamorphosis) (33,000gp), Boots of Temporal Acceleration (43,000gp), Ring of Divine Power (continuous effect, Cl 7) (140,000gp),Cloak of Shapechange (1/day, Ml 20) ( 108,000gp). Ring of the Mighty Wallop (continuous effect, CL 16th) (96,000gp), Ectoplasmic Fist (4,000gp), Ectoplasmic Armor Shards (5) (5 * 8,000gp = 40,000gp), Power Link Quori Shards (3 uses/day) (4) (3,000gp * 4 = 12,000gp).
Value of items: 756,200gp
Prior to round one: both combatants chose to charge (Ares will also make a Leap Attack with automatic success by taking ten on the check). Feorn knows he can't expect either to beat Ares to the punch or for the God of War to miss him, so he expends an action point to gain the benefit of Karmic Strike (-4 AC penalty, attack of opportunity when hit in combat), and activates his Bracers of Truth in Striking, gaining the benefit of True Strike one his next melee attack.
Ares also invokes Divine Power (War 4) as a spell-like ability, giving him a +6 bonus to Str, a BAB of +60, and 20 temporary hit points. Confident he will have no problems hitting Feorn, he takes +30 on Power Attack.
Round one: Ares wins initiative via use of his Supreme Initiative divine ability (as a free action). He alters his size to Colossal as a free action (via Alter Size, 3 portfolio free actions remaining in the round). His charge causes him to enter a square threatened by Feorn, provoking an attack of opportunity (due to Feorn's Hold the Line feat).
Feorn, Ares having charged into a square threatened by him, gets an attack of opportunity (via his Hold the Line feat). He uses it for a Sunder attack on Ares' spear. He rolls 14 (Ares' opposed roll is a 10), doing 64d8 +1d6+ 30 (Str) + 5 magic = 437, doubled for an attack on an object (Oak Body power) = 874 points. The spear is destroyed, and equal damage is taken by Ares (-25 for Ares' DR 25/epic) (849hp) (via the Deadly Concussion feat) and Feorn receives a follow-up attack (via Combat Brute): 8 (306 damage) + 45 (Hostile Empathic Transfer as a Quickened Power (Ares saves for half) - 25DR). Total damage to Ares following his attack: 1,200hp.
Ares, not for nothing the god of mindless destruction, draws the Gripsoul (a free action) and attacks: 13 ( 4d6 + 25 Str + 6 magic + 60 (Power Attack) = 105hp. Feorn makes his massive damage save.
Feorn sunders the Gripsoul. Attack (dmg): 11 (Ares' opposed roll is 12; his BAB is -5 for his second attack) (854), follow-up 10 (289). Total damage to Ares: 2,343hp.
Ares, at -3hp hit points, has had enough. Both his primary and his back-up weapon have been shattered. Another hit might very will kill him. Fortunately, Ares, a cowardly god as well as a violent one, can abandon the field via Teleport Without Error as a free (portfolio) action (cowardice). The battered, cringing form of Ares vanishes from sight (less than 3 seconds after the fight began), and the Gods of Olympus acclaim their new colleague.
Epilogue: Moments later
Herald of the God of War [rushing up to Feorn]: Sir, you have [consults self-updating scroll] 1974 unanswered spell requests, 93 requests for Aid, 47 urgent requests for Miracles, . . .
[Meanwhile, somewhere in Elysium]Ares: Now this -- this -- is a Mai Thai. The key is fresh lime. Don't pick it, just squeeze it right there on the tree. It's the little things.
Herald of the God of War: 17 high-priest-protocol urgent distress calls, four open Gates . . .
Is the Ultimate Monk Overpowered?
Certainly, the Ultimate Monk is powerful. The amount of damage you can generate with twenty levels of monk, Colossal size, Beast Strike + Claws of the Beast (or even without Claws of the Beast), and Improved Natural Attack is simply phenomenal. An ECL 20 character with level-appropriate magic dispatching an Intermediate God with 4 Epic magic items (in less than half a round) attests to that.
At the same time, phenomenally powerful player characters are nothing new to the D&D game. A psychic warrior or an Epic Druid or an arcane spellcaster could emulate much of what the Ultimate Monk does.
Furthermore, the Ultimate Monk comes by his power honestly; he acquires it slowly, over many levels, at the cost of reduced hit points, mediocre armor class, and a so-so BAB. In this, he is much like the arcane spellcaster, but he will never achieve the near-limitless flexibility accorded to the arcane spellcaster by the nature of spellcasting. A punch, however powerful, is never going to do all the things a wish can do.
But the Ultimate Monk may be radically overpowered for the campaign you are running. Especially compared to other fighting classes -- Fighters, Barbarians, Paladins and Rangers -- it is easy to see how the monk could run away with the game. How do you handle it?
There are three general approaches. The first is encounter structure. There are many suggestions on the main page as to how to challenge the monk by placing him in situations where he cannot use his abilities to their fullest effect. This is the strategy you should start with, until you have some first-hand experience with the build and can determine whether it is indeed disruptive to your adventures, and in what way.
The second approach is blanket rule changes: no more Beast Strike, no more Expanded Knowledge, no more Quicken Power. You can weaken any build in a hurry this way. But it raises almost as many problems as it solves. What will you do when the players find a different way to exploit the same opportunity left by the game mechanic? Say you ban Metamorphosis outright. Will that be the end of the issue? Not hardly. Now that your players know how to inflict literally Godlike levels of punishment, monks will get arcane spellcasters to Polymorph them; or they will craft a Mantle of Metamorphosis; or they will find another way (if it were the author, he would hire an NPC spellcaster to summon a Behemoth Gorilla and do a three-way mind switch.) You end up having to move the goal posts again and again, fighting the creativity of your players.
The final approach is the one recommended here; alter the powers and effects to make the power more manageable but still significant; give something for what you take in a way that makes looking for another work-around in the rules seems less of an imperative.
Example: Changes to the Ultimate Monk's Unarmed Strike
Instead of Metamorphosis (a 4th-level Psion/Wilder power) offer Animal Soul (a 5th-level Psychic Warrior power).
Level: Psychic Warrior 5, Psion/Wilder 7
Description: This works just like the Metamorphosis power, with the following changes: you do not actually take on the form of the creature. Your size and natural attacks do not change. You are limited to creatures of the type "Animal" or "Magical Beast." If the creature in question is Large or larger, you have the benefit of the Powerful Build quality while the effect lasts.
Now the players get most of the benefits of Metamorphosis, but can change their effective size by only +1 (not +2 or +3). The players gain because they can use the power anywhere, in any environment -- cramped ceilings no object -- and they no longer have to expend a feat on Expanded Knowledge, since the power is now on their list. Everybody gains from a roleplaying perspective -- martial artist get to emulate the power, speed, endurance and attack modes of animal archtypes (which is completely in line with cinematic kung fu) but are no longer transforming themselves into 36-foot dinosaurs (which is not). In that same vein:
Instead of Expansion, offer Ki Strength:
Level: Psychic Warrior 1, size M or smaller
Note:Does not stack with any effects which change the subject's size.
Description: You can channel you Ki to perform feats that belie your modest size. Effect are as per the Expansion power, except as follows: your size does not change, but your unarmed strike, grapple, and similar abilities are as if you were one (or two) sizes larger.
Instead of Claws of the Beast and Beast Strike, offer:
Heavy Light Blow
Level: Psychic Warrior 1
Requirement: Take the Channel Ki feat (which has identical prerequisites as compared to Beast Strike).
Description: Damage is added to your unarmed strike as per the Claws of the Beast table. Activation, duration, and point cost are the same, but the effect is only visible as a faint aura of force around your fists.
With these changes, you have eliminated Colossal and Colossal+ forms with their 30-60 foot reaches, flight, and natural attacks. Players will still be able to do 100+ damage in a single strike, but it will be significantly harder and take a lot longer. The ECL 20 monk will no longer be defeating warrior gods in single combat. At the same time, you have made it easier, not harder, for the players to emulate the great feats of legendary martial artists, and you've made the remaining powers more accessible in a wider variety of situations. Hopefully, this is a model that can be applied to any of the many areas besides damage rolls in which the power of Ultimate Monk's ki may be too great for the human frailty of the puny gamer.