I’ve never played as a monk in Dungeons & Dragons, but I’ve always wanted to. You know how when you climb really high in a hotel and lean over the balcony and think “I wonder what would happen if I jumped”? Or how, when you’re cooking and the hob gets really hot, and you think, if I pressed that really fast, I would true does it hurt’? It’s kind of a self-destructive compulsion that makes me want to play as a monk. And in the OneD&D Unearthed Arcana Playtest 6 for the 2024 Player’s Handbook (it’s less fun to type all that every time than to read), there’s even less reason to try it.
I know why monks are attractive to some people: they are very annoying to DMs. They are a mix between Fighters and Rogues, and while I personally would rather play either Fighter or Rogue alone, Monks have unique advantages. Monks aren’t battering rams like barbarians or paladins, but they move too much and hit hard enough that you can’t afford to leave them alone, and they’re loaded with a bunch of resistances, while type additions can add more resistances at the top. I understand. But I don’t get it either.
One of the things that keeps me from playing as a monk is that he walks like a damaging class, talks like a damaging class, but isn’t a damaging class. I know he does other things, but he carries himself like a strong man and I’m always mad when he can’t back it up. The latest Playtest tries to solve this problem… sort of.
In the current version of the rules, before the Playtest, Monks can roll a d4 (which levels up to a d10) instead of their normal damage dice for Unarmed Strike or their Monk weapon. In Playtest, these dice change to d6 and go up to d12, meaning monks are more powerful. However, there is a significant catch that I’m not sure makes sense – you can’t use it for weapons, only for unarmed strikes. The fact that a lot of monks use Unarmed Strike means that this is probably down to fair trade rather than nerves, but the point was that monks are underpowered. Keeping the same with a different method does not help.
Unarmed Strike is now non-magical as well, dealing only force damage or the three standard damage types (piercing, slashing, and slashing). Considering stronger enemies tend to resist non-magical attacks or even have some immunity, monks take a lot of L’s here. Weapon mastery allows even simple weapons. Also, Stunning Strike is once per turn now, but since everyone hates it, I don’t think we’ll see any complaints. If anything, people will want to do more to get rid of it. To me, that’s the only good thing Monk has going for it, and it’s in their nature to be annoying, so I’m less desperate for them to remove it. Then again, if the entire class was taken over, I wouldn’t be opposed to that either.
There are some balance improvements, but I don’t think they’re worth it. Ki is now a martial discipline and allows you to relax and strike, while empowered strikes (which lose the Ki- prefix) deal force damage. Many features have also changed. Perfect Self (now known as Perfect Discipline) dropped to level 15 from level 20, making way for Defy Death (which lets you roll four martial arts dice in exchange for four points of discipline (yes, Ki), to restore that amount of HP Meanwhile, level 13 introduces Defect Energy, a Deflect Missiles-style defense against all ranged attacks, including spells, replacing the unpopular sun and moon language.
I thought we might see a big transition to Monk, given that these playtests weren’t shy about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, safe in the knowledge that the baby could be picked back up, dusted off, and thrown back in the bath , if the changes prove unpopular. Instead, the Monk redesign seems compromised from the start, mixed with misunderstandings about what Monks can do, what they should do, and why people play them. I’m still tempted to leave them in eventually, if only to see if the stove is really that hot.
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