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Nerd Watching: How to be a Monk in Five Minutes a Day

Written by Nicholas - Published on May 22, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

The big news in the gaming world this week comes from WotC. The last hold out from the 3.5 PHB has finally arrived, in playtest format anyway.  That’s right, D&D Insider subscribers have been able to enjoy the playtest version of the monk. I must say that personally the class is full of surprises. I was expecting a new ki powersource and monks to be controllers. I thought they would use sweeping attacks, forced movement throws and inflict status effects. While they do all of those things, they are also so much more. I’m not going to tease you non-insiders anymore, time to give you the summary versions of the class.

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Monks are strikers. Nothing too shocking there, a class that traditionally breaks faces with fists works quite well in the controller roles. The monk power source is psionic. I’ll pause so you can gasp.

That’s right, monks are psionicists now. When I first read that I was already mentally preparing a fire to burn to the heretics who completely wrecked monks. Unfortunately it started raining in my brain and ruined the whole angry mob, so I was forced to learn more about the thing that had enraged me so. It seems that psionics is being rethought a bit. Just because monks are psionic doesn’t mean they are going to be mentally bending spoons. Psionics essentially means an internal power source mastered through physical and pychological discipline. Sounds like the good old monks to me. Indeed, monks are much as you remember them…

Image by WOTC – D&D Insider


Old monks served many masters. They were front line combatants but lacked some of the damage output and hitpoints of their melee peers. That is still true. Monks are strikers, so they are light on hitpoints. They also lack a quarry or sneak attack ability and don’t deal the raw damage of a sorcerer or barbarian. Old monks also had used a minimum of equipment. Another aspect that WotC has perserved. Just like the old monk, the new monk gets bonuses for wearing no armor and fights only with his fists and a few monk weapons, such as the quarter staff.

Where the new monk is different is really enhanced versions of his old abilities. The old monk had a fair bit of special powers and unique attacks, like quivering palm. Now that every class has a suite of powers to go along with it, that isn’t very special anymore. The new monk maintains some of that old feel through its versatility. The new monk lacks the damage output of most strikers but he also leans a  strong controller, as well as maintaining a high number of defensive abilities. Like the old monk, he’s hard to pin down in just one role. Where the new monk has really been juiced up is his mobility. Old monk offered up some straight speed boosts and safe-falling. With the new monk, nearly every attack power he has is a “full discipline” attack. A full discipline attack is an attack that offers a powered up move action which can be taken before or after the attack. The boost to your move might be extra speed, shifting, swapping places or making great leaps. In this way the monk can leap across the battlefield and deliver a flying kick at the end of it! Or a monk could shift into the middle of a group of enemies and deliver a whirlwind of blows! Both of these are at-will powers!

It is also worth pointing out that monks get an at-will level 10 utility power that allows for unlimited wall-crawling and limited ceiling running! If that doesn’t excite you then you and I have very different priorities in life. Psionic or not, the old monk is still in there and he is more kung-fu than ever.


One of the best things about monks going psionic is that is a strong indicator that the PHB3 is going to have a whole set of  psionic classes. The possibilities have got me intrigued, how are psionics going to play into the new role system? Will we have seeing defenders who throw up force fields to protect themselves and block enemies from moving? How about a controller who tosses around minions with telekinesis. Psionic leaders could alter the physical makeup of their allies. It also wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see a second psionic striker wielding mind blades. Psionics has always been a very wide world in D&D, which often causes it problems. I think being forced to pin down psionicists into different roles could actually be a great help.

What do you think about the new monks? How about psionics? Do you love or loathe the spoon-benders who wil be coming in the PHB3.

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



21 Responses to “Nerd Watching: How to be a Monk in Five Minutes a Day”
  1. GroovyTaxi says:

    I hated psionics in 3rd Edition, so now I have one more reason to hate 4th Ed! =D

  2. Yax says:

    Seems like the psionics concept changed quite a bit.

  3. Wolf-Shifter Druid says:


  4. Tourq says:

    And yet another class that I want to play. Really, they should have a ‘master class’ that changes classes at my whim so that I can play want I want, when I want. :)

  5. Siliaris says:

    I like the idea and always liked psionics – i much preferred power points to set spells.

    I’m sure monks will work well, but if anything I feel that psionics are too clinical for them.
    It does not encompass the spiritual aspects that thouroughly.

  6. AV says:

    I want to see a utility-based psionic class. yes, a class that’s based on utility-powers type of things. one that’s just there to be useful, and bend the batlefield in the team’s favor, rather then another fighting class. it always made sense to me that psionics should be that way.

  7. Nicholas says:

    @AV: I think that there is room in the controller role for something like that. It sounds like a really cool idea!

  8. gull2112 says:

    Being an Insider subscriber I have already playtested the monk a little bit. It is great! When I first played Star Wars Saga edition I immediately thought “this is how D&D should play.” I also thought that it would be ideal for monks since it is all about special attacks. When 4E came out I said “where’s the Monk?” Well here it is and it doth rock!

    SILIARIS > I agree with you whole heartedly, but I take comfort in knowing that this is only the beta version and has only one variety of build; WotC says many more are coming. This has been true of every other class, so we can assume it is true here. I believe strongly that a more spiritual version of the monk will come into being.

    Finally, although I don’t care for flaming, I agree with groovytaxi that psionics psucks. At least the way it has always worked in the past. I am confident this time they will get it right.

  9. Yax says:

    @Tourq: I feel the same way. So much fun to be had. So little time.

  10. Nicholas says:

    @Tourq, @Yax: At any given moment I have at least half a dozen characters that I want to make. Of course, most of the time I’m the DM (and I don’t like DMPCs if I can avoid it).

  11. Yax says:

    DMPCs are just as good an idea as putting a Menthos in a Diet Coke bottle. Might be entertaining for a fleeting moment but chances are you’ll regret what you did.

  12. gull2112 says:

    What is the difference between a DMPC and an NPC? An NPC is a character run by the DM and a DMPC is a character run by the DM?

    I have a DMPC in my campaign and the only real problem that has come up is that as we get to be higher level I can’t run both the encounter and a character, so when we get into combat I pass the DMPC off to a player. I find the DMPC to be a useful device for nudging the party in a certain direction, although, just as any player finds, it can be quite difficult to lead the rest of the party around by the nose. Please note that I use this “advantage” very rarely. It just gives me another tool. I’ve used it a few times when the solution to a quandary seemed pretty obvious when I designed it, but it utterly stymied my players, so my simple minded Paladin said, “Gee, why don’t we just …” It works and nobody complains.

  13. Nicholas says:

    @gull2112: A DMPC is an NPC who travels around with the party and is equal in power with the rest of the group. Basically the DM is also playing a player’s role. I’m glad that it works as a plot device for your group. My group would completely hate that, they don’t like being lead around and I don’t mind having to think on my feet. The only time we ever have DMPCs is in a smaller group to fill a critical role.

  14. gull2112 says:

    @Nicholas: I agree totally. I have to play my character very subtly and he is their just to fill out the party. As you surmise with your group, it is with my group, they definitley wouldn’t tolerate it if my Pally acted as much more than a meat shield. It works since they don’t mind deividing xp with the guy who stands in front of the big solo and just gets beat upon. But yeah, I have to play a balancing act. At under 5th level it worked fine, but I am guessing that when the party nears Paragon level Darius will leave the party and perhaps we will pick up a fifth player.

  15. Labareda says:

    I think 4e allows for DMPC’s / NPC’s in a way that earlier editions never did. As Gull says you just hand off the DMPC to a PC in combat encounters. They always play support roles in other encounters.

    The players have a bunch of powers to use from the DMPC and can go ahead and use them. I don’t think they should replace a player but they can bulk a group up to 5 (the default) and save me having to rejig an encounter. It works for players that are absent as well. They just go all silent and moody but still join in on the fights.

    Oh and as for monks, they are spiritual; centred breath sounds very meditation = buddhist .

  16. ObiJon says:

    Even though this is a little off-topic…

    I have seen DMPC’s swing both ways. One DM I played under used DMPC’s as glory hogs; the PC’s were like also-rans in his own personal self-service fan-fiction. Another DM used them reasonably well as a way to interact with the PC’s regularly in role-play situations; he was often the bard or thief when we didn’t have one.

    Personally, it’s too much for me to run monsters and a good-guy at the same time. Maybe once in awhile if an encounter calls for it, but not constantly. I like how battle in 4e runs, and I get excited when my PC’s fall (not die, exactly.)

  17. Labareda says:

    I get players too run everyone on their side. Its mostly mechanical/strategic. No substitutes but it keeps number balanced and for me that is important.

  18. Monahan says:

    I wanted to share this…

    Sure quarterstaffs are 2-handed weapons. But the implement Staff can be wielded in one hand AND can act as a quarterstaff. But why would a monk want a primarily Wizard Implement? The Level 2 Defensive Staff. It acts like an extra Neck slot item, giving +1F/R/W. Add Parry Bracers for a +4 when using Total Defense and you have someone who is hard to hit.

  19. LeBryce says:

    I think that what they’re doing with psionics in 4e is going to mesh very well with the fluff of the monk. Beyond that, I’d like to point out that part of the (apperent or stated?) design philosophy of 4e is that pretty much every class can be completely reflavoured as an at-will. :P My ranger is in no way tied to nature. He’s a predominately urban investigator for hire, and dueling master, whose focus on taking out single opponents has lead him to be able to hyperfocus on one target, dealing more damage with each hit against that target. The other ranger in the group is a classic nature loving follower of…that one goddess with the M name that that drow guy was so fond of…whatever their names are. :D

    Anyway, I’m really looking forward to playing a monk.
    Possibly a bard/monk hybrid, just because.

  20. Dylan Danger says:

    Holy Crap! I played a monk in 3.5, DM quit shortly after so lvl didn’t get too high. I thought it was so freaking powerful in 3.5 I would just never die… Quivering Palm? Seriously XD But now WITH Psionics… this is MADNESS!!


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