Let's talk about Monks (a mini-guide)

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Let's talk about Monks (a mini-guide)

Postby MrLicorice » Fri Aug 05, 2022 7:27 pm

There hasn't been much discussion about the monk since 1.43 and the release of specializations, so I guess I will start the thread. This will double-up as a mini-guide on the monk class (from a player who has never finished AofC module but who has restarted the game countless times to experiment with various builds and class combinations)

My evaluation of the class is based on playtesting on the Archmage difficulty (gold to level-up turned off).

Monk vs. Fighter
Fighter is the best frontline class in the game, so it makes sense to use the class as the baseline for comparison. One of the fighter's strengths is its customization. It is like a PC computer: you choose exactly how to build the character thanks to large amount of feats. there are no presets, no special abilities, no bells and whistles. The fighter is a blank sheet and you paint it as you wish. You only pay for what you want. The monk is like a Mac computer: it comes as a pre-built package with a lot of features, but very little you can customize. Since you are paying for all these features, the question is: do you need all that stuff you are paying for? In case of the monk, fortunately, the answer is "yes, mostly". A built-in magic resistance, evasion %, extra mobility and even some light cc (stunning fist), those are all great things for a frontliner. The cost? Medium BAB (this can be mitigated by flurry of blows and later by a certain item you can purchase) and lower HP pool (the game drowns you in extra HP items). So the monk compare nicely with the fighter. At least on survivability and mobility side. the monk will reliably walk to the enemy mage line and deliver its payload while surviving the onslaught.

But what about damage potential? The fighter can dual-wield vorpal-skewer-barbed scythes and land 8-10 attacks per round with 150-200 damage each. Can the monk come anywhere close to this? The answer is: not if you play the monk as intended. I will discuss a build with high damage potential later. For now, assume that your fighter will out damage your monk by a lot, 80% of the time. Addendum: the monk has a built-in penetration (against damage reduction) in its kit, so against enemies with damage reduction and immunity to critical hits (a lot of enemies then), the monk will match or even surpass the fighter.

So why pick a monk when you can just pick a 2nd fighter? good question. You shouldn't... probably? Here are some reasons to pick a monk as your second frontliner instead of picking a 2nd fighter (or a barbarian, I guess)
- You do not want to bring a cleric/bishop: The monk has access to detect evil and religion traits, therefore she is a good substitute to a cleric if you do not want to miss out on some dialogue.
- You want to take-up the challenge to turn the monk into the strongest class in the game.
- You just like monks.


I will now share my appreciation of each specialization, and some build ideas.

Way of the Candle: [2/10] Weak. For the energy shield to be useful, you need to get hit a lot. This is bad. As a monk, your goal is not to get hit. Your HP pool is low, and if you play your cards right, your AC is high. Also you do not have damage reduction. Energy shield makes more sense on a barbarian. Besides, the damage potential of energy shield is fairly low, and is conditional to getting hit, so it won't proc too often (if it does, your monk is probably dead). compare this to Way of the Heavens, which translates into +5-10 damage to EACH attack that you make, and as a monk you make a lot of attacks. I suppose the energy shield comes with a mild elemental damage reduction... meh.

Way of the Heavens: [9/10] This is what you have been waiting for. Dexterity to damage means you can dump Strength and focus only on 3 stats (Dex, Wis and Con). this is the best specialization and will let you build the strongest monk archetype out there (in my opinion). Here is how: Start with a Mantis, pump Dex to 20 and Wis to 18. Keep pushing Dex as you level-up. With some equipment (ex. bracers of AC, amulet of natural armor) and a select few feats (ex. dodge, racial bonus to AC, two-weapon defense) your AC will skyrocket and you can easily reach the 40's. You are a contender for highest AC in the game. That's for defense. Now offense: forget unarmed strikes. It's a trap (light weapons >> unarmed strikes for Dex monks, more on this later). Purchase the dual-wield feat line as soon as you can, and for extra punch (you must be willing to spend a lot of gold down the line on crafting for this to become OP) grab Axes weapon proficiency. Why??? The hand axe is a light slashing weapon with a x3 critical multiplier. It can be made into a skewer-vorpal-barbed killing machine. Now, hold 4 of these, get haste (grab some boots or ask your mage), wade-in behind enemy lines, and go to town. Of course, you will never have the resources to craft 4 light axes, so likely you will hold 1-2 crafted vorpal axes along with a bunch of keen light swords (kukri/daggers) that you will pick-up while adventuring (there is an early game dagger with an improved crit range which is excellent for keen upgrade).

Way of the Oasis: [8/10] This is the best specialization for a strength monk. Half-Giants are not known for their high AC. Having mirror image gives you some much needed survivability. Speaking of half-giant monk: this is the specialization if you insist on playing an unarmed monk. Your role is not to deliver massive damage to your enemies (an enlarged unarmed half-giant monk certainly has a huge base damage, but nothing remotely close to your scythe wielding fighter). No, the role of this monk is to lockdown enemy mages and pummel them to death. You want to invest in the grapple feat line. You will need to ask your mage to cast true seeing on you if you are dealing with mages with mirror image though. Go Half-Giant for two reason: bigger size means more unarmed damage and bigger size means better grappling. Enough said.

Way of the Pillar: [3/10] but has the potential to be an 8/10. Perhaps @BlueSalamander will hear my plight and make the proposed change, but right now this does not work. Way of the Pillar is the specialization for stunning fist monk. The main feature is that it works on enemies that are immune to critical hits. The big problem is that most enemies immune to crits are also immune to stun (ex. elementals, constructs, slimes). I have tested and stunning fist does not work on these enemies. So we are left with a specialization that is meant to make stunning fist works on more enemies, but it just does not work that way. An easy fix is to allow stunning fist to work on enemies immune to stun as well. Now we would be talking! If this ever happens, Way of the pillar would become viable (not OP, because you still have limited uses in each fight and that saving throw is far from easy to beat). In that case I would recommend a race that can start with 20 in Wisdom (Argossian human with 18/13/12/6/20/10 stat spread is a good place to start) and then either increase strength (for a more reliable hitter) or wisdom (for going all in on the stunning fist) or a bit of both when you level-up. You would of course take all the stunning fist feats (extra stunning fist -> spiritual stunning fist -> the rest). You absolutely need 13 Dex to grab mobility feat. This is needed in combination with wade-in at level 9 to do what needs to be done with this build: walk toward an enemy, hit stunning fist, hit them repeatedly until they are stunned, then press "cancel" (or else you will waste the remaining stunning fist uses), move to the next enemy, hit stunning fist (if you still have uses), rinse and repeat. You want to be moving around the battlefiled on the first turn of battle and stunning as many different enemies as possible, while your damage dealers pick off the rest of the opposition. The specialization also gives extra damage and some extra HPs, cherry on the sunday.

Way of the seer: [7.5/10] This is a viable alternative to Way of the Oasis for your grappler strength monk. Mirror Image (and magic concealment) is the one thing getting in the way between your monk's arms and that pesky mage. With true seeing? no problem. Of course, the specialization is blank in a fight that does not feature mages. But those are easier fights, so it does not matter, right? Of course, a spell caster can cast true seeing on your monk turn 1, so you may be asking: why pay for a specialization when a common spell can do the same thing? Yes, true, but... you just wasted a precious mage turn casting true seeing, when you could be throwing an acid fog or an empowered ice storm or something. This is the real value of Way of the Seer: action efficiency. It saves you a powerful mage turn in those fights where casting an early big spell can make the difference between winning and losing. You are not buying a monk with true seeing, you are buying tempo for your casters. Oh, and your monk gets +1 to hit, which sweetens the deal for those fights where true seeing is not needed.

That's for specializations. Overall, it is a good time to be a monk, I hope way of the pillar gets the boost it deserves, it would lead to a fun build.

Dex monk, and why unarmed is a trap
Take a level 11 mantis monk. Unarmed, with a flurry of blow and haste, you are making 8 attacks (5 main hand + 3 off hands). With 4 light weapons, and with two-weapon fighting, you are making 11 attacks (5 main hand + 6 off hand). This is because haste adds one attack for EACH manufactured weapon that you wield. If you are making unarmed attacks with your off hands, tough luck, you do not get extra attacks from haste. To me this does not make sense, you can swing faster when holding a dagger but not when clenching your fist. But them are the rules. For a monk unarmed strikes have more base damage than manufactured weapons (2d6 at lvl 11 vs. 1d4-1d6 for most light weapons). But a light weapon can be crafted to easily out-damage unarmed strikes) - So bottom line: with light weapons your monk is making more attacks than an unarmed monk, and each one of those attacks is doing more damage.

Perhaps haste should work on off-hand attacks when a character has the multiattack feat. Just a thought.

Hope this makes sense, it is my first guide in this game (or in any game really), and it only reflects my current imperfect understanding of the game mechanics. There are more knowledgeable players out there.
Griffon (CR 4)
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Let's talk about Monks (a mini-guide)


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