Question Keith #6: Monk Versus Armor!

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Q:  The only problem I’m having is how to make my campaign’s final boss feasible. My idea revolves around an evil monk who confronts the PCs in the final room of a temple. My problem is I wanted him to be a hand to hand fighter, but just found out that most of my PCs have armor. Any  ideas on how to keep my bosses style while making it believable that he can fight these characters and not be overpowered.

A: There’s a few different ways to approach this. First: Don’t think of a monk as a man who’s learned martial arts you or I could learn. D&D is a magical world, and monks are part of that. A high level monk can literally shatter a stone golem with his fists; from day one, monk’s unarmed attacks gain the ability to penetrate damage reduction and to be counted as magical weapons as they go up in level. But how is this possible? How can someone punch a statue with a fist and have the statue break? Option one: the monk isn’t striking the statue with his fist. He’s striking it with his chi, and the chi is channeled through his fist. Imagine that he is suffused and surrounded by a magical force, and THAT is what he strikes with. It LOOKS like he’s smacking the guy in plate with his bare hand, which should break his hand – but instead the guy feels the blow like a warhammer hit him and staggers back with a dent in his armor. Essentially, the monk is as magical as a wizard or cleric – but instead of summoning fire or healing wounds, his magic is that he can shatter a stone wall by hitting it with his open hand. It SHOULD seem miraculous, because it is.
Option two is about finding weaknesses. No armor is inpenetrable. Look at a real suit of plate armor and you’ll see that it’s full of gaps and weak points. The more realistic monk simply finds those weak points. Describe the attack as him striking in the space between helmet and breastplate to smash the throat, or catching the paladin in the gap where the armor doesn’t protect the armpit. If you’ve read A Game Of Thrones, consider the fight where the sellsword Bronn defends Tyrion in the Vale – a lightly armored fighter taking on a heavily armored knight.
Short form: The monk is mechanically capable of defeating an armored opponent, or for that matter a skeleton, iron golem, or ooze; you just need to decide if that’s because he skill is so remarkable and precise as to find the weakness in the armor, or because he is himself a magical force. Beyond this, description is paramount. The mechanics of the game determine that a X level monk has a Y% chance to hit a fighter in full plate. It’s up to you as DM to describe how he does that – and to make that battle come alive for your players.

3 thoughts on “Question Keith #6: Monk Versus Armor!”

  1. Another option I would look into is using other actions other than just auto attack. You could try trip attempts and leave them prone or disarm. As a monk, maybe he uses some knuckle weapons that have the brilliant energy magical property so your monk ignores their armor in either case. It is not only how you describe it, but how you create it.

  2. d6 monk attacks against knights:
    Here are some other thoughts:
    First remember that all the mechanics are abstractions for what is really happening in the game world. Loss of HP may translate to wearing down the opponent as much as actually dealing damage. Here are some thoughts for how a Monk might deal with knights in shining armor. I’m using D&D 4e terms but the idea should translate to what ever system.
    1. The monk grabs his opponent a grapples them. Then he throws them into another ally. Melee, Moderate damage, the monk slides an adjacent enemy 5 squares adjacent to another enemy, both are knocked prone.

    2. The monk throws an enemy then follows after them at lightening speed and hits. Melee, push 5 squares then moves adjacent, knocks prone and deals low damage.

    3. The monk punches the armor hard enough to dent it and leave internal organs hemorrhaging. Melee, high damage, low on-going damage.

    4. The monk hits hard enough to damage the armor or tears parts off. Melee, Moderate damage, target takes a -2 to AC and Ref. for the rest of the encounter.

    5. The monk redirects an attack to an enemies ally. Triggered Imediate response, Attacked with a melee attack. The attacking creature is slide adjacent to an ally also adjacent to the monk. The attack is directed towards the attacking creatures, ally.

    6. The monk hits the enemy in the head hard enough to stagger. Melee, -4 to attacks until the start of the Monk’s next turn. Enemy grants combat advantage.

  3. Excellent answer. I’ve found myself in similar straits in the past and usually realized my problem was a lack of imagination. The joy of fiction, especially fantasy is that there is always an explanation for everything if you’re creative enough! Often times the mechanics take these explanations into account in the first place though isn’t always made explicit.

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