Thoughts on the Pathfinder Monk

With Pathfinder Unchained on the way, I’m looking forward to seeing the new rules options and the improvements to some of the classes that are commonly considered problematic (particularly the rogue, monk and summoner). My only dilemma with regards to the new book is whether to go PDF or hardcover!

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the ‘normal’ monk. I’ve been running Rise of the Runelords at home for a couple of years now. The player characters are now 15th level and about to start the final chapter. The original party consisted of a sorcerer, a ranger, and a monk. The party currently also includes a ninja.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might also know that this campaign is my first as a game master. No doubt I’ve made some mistakes along the way, but I’ve learnt a great deal about what works and what doesn’t in terms of running a Pathfinder game.

When we started the campaign, we built the player characters with ‘heroic’ ability scores – even the sorcerer had a base strength of 14. This made it quite easy for players to build very strong characters, which I felt was a good thing since there were only three players and they lacked a healer of any sort. As we played through the adventure path, the combination of only 3 PCs with item creation feats led to a high wealth, high magic party.

While this was not really a problem for the players since all three of them were equally powerful, it started to become problematic for me as GM because the encounters in the AP were too easy, despite the fact that they were written for a part of four. Around that time I started reading up about building challenging encounters and discovered that I wasn’t alone, and so I started modifying encounters so they would last more than one or two rounds.

What I found interesting in my reading was seeing all the complaints about the monk, when the main reason I had to modify encounters was because of the monk in the party. He had focused on Strength as his primary stat, meaning he rarely missed enemies, and as such, did a large amount of damage in any round that he was able to flurry. He did less damage per hit than the ranger with his greatsword, but generally their damage per round was comparable.

Then there is the monk’s armour. Even though he doesn’t actually wear armour, his high Wisdom score and decent Dexterity meant that he was all but unhittable, except by bosses and very lucky minions. At higher levels, the Scorpion Style feats allowed him to counterattack every time an attack missed him. Which, as I’ve mentioned, was often. Add in the monk’s insane speed and I had a monk closing the distance to enemies in a round or two and dispatching them in the following round when he could unleash a flurry.

I do think some of the monk’s abilities are kind of weird, like the ability to speak to animals, and I know the monk in my game has very good stats, allowing him to be really good at what he does – that is, pummelling things to death. It’s a running joke at our table that the monk is the master of overkill, as often he’ll only be able to unleash a flurry on an enemy who has already been beaten down by other party members, resulting in impressive negative hit point scores.

My point here is simply that with the right build and some good stats, the normal monk is not that bad. It may not suit everyone as is, but it suits what this player wants to do perfectly. I don’t like to ban options outright – the gunslinger is the only thing specifically banned at my table (love the idea, hate the gun mechanics). Instead I have used this as an opportunity to create all sorts of crazy and potentially deadly encounters.

If you have had positive experiences with often complained about classes like the monk, feel free to share in the comments!

Featured image: Pathfinder monk by TimKings-Lynne on DeviantArt

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Pathfinder Monk

  • April 17, 2015 at 2:44 am

    I actually played a monk through (most) of Kingmaker myself. We had very generous point-buy and there was ample wealth available – so my experience with the monk in that game was favorable too. That said, I also found that it is important to have pretty good system mastery to get the most out of the monk – it is not a class suited for a “dumb fighter” type of play; you should react to the situation at hand and use your superior speed and access to battlefield control (stun, trip, disarm, etc) to give your party the edge.

    Personally I’m particularly fond of the disarm maneuver; it does a lot of heavy lifting in encounters for me.

    As a GM the biggest challenge with monks is that they have such well-rounded defenses. Especially a monk that places emphasis on being nigh impossible to hit is, well, nigh impossible to hit (with anything). Here I find using game mechanics (and numbers) to your advantage can help leverage a level playing field. For example, I don’t hesitate to add several low CR extras to an encounter that are expendable, but can provide various bonuses (flanking, aid), can soak up AOOs, and can act as a flesh-wall between the power-mad PCs and the vulnerable bad guy.

    • April 18, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      I do enjoy adding minions to a fight, even if they just end up slowing down the PCs for a round or two so the boss can cast some of his impressive spells!

  • April 18, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    I played a monk up to about 15th level over the last couple years. We did *not* have a generous GM in terms of starting stats, but I still enjoyed it. I focused on grappling a lot, and managed some pretty amazing stuff, but I was certainly not impossible to hit, and had a lot of trouble with many things. My party was full of ranged and magic, so I also spent a lot of time stuck on the front line, which isn’t a great place for a monk… I may have wrestled a zombie dragon into submission, but when the king of the giants takes three +22 swings at you (level 9 or so?), even a monk is going to have trouble dodging all of those…
    Our GM also never really went easy on us. We had a party of 4 getting max HP at each level up, and we still all died at least once. Our wizard was disintegrated in a pillar of fire, the fighter was torn in half by a tyrannosaur, and I was killed by the aforementioned King of the Storval giants. I forget now what killed the sorcerer, but it was in a dungeon. I think only my monk was actually resurrected, and even I had a backup built after that.
    Totally going off the rails here; my point was mostly that I found him strong in some areas and weak in others. Not as good in combat as I expected, but brilliant in a utility role during all the non-combat stuff. If I’d been able to keep him in minor combat instead of always ending up toe to the with the biggest baddest thing around, I might have felt more overpowered. As it was, I felt strong but occasionally useless…

    • April 20, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Those all sound like legitimate deaths for adventurers! Our monk sometimes finds himself with nothing to do, particularly when there are flying or distant enemies, as he has no ranged capabilities. I suppose everyone has to have a weakness somewhere though 🙂

      • April 20, 2015 at 4:52 pm

        I was also our party’s best bet at disarming traps, and at one point disarmed a bear trap on a lengthy chain. Since I was a monk and barely carried anything, I had plenty of encumbrance to spare, so I took it with me.
        That was my solution to enemies I couldn’t reach. I’d throw that at them, then drag them down and grapple them. It was pretty reliant on my particular skill set, but for me it worked, and it meant I could almost always at least be interfering with somebody. I certainly never had to stand around bored. Grin. Once the high jumping kicked in, that helped too, as I could usually position myself for a more direct grapple. I spent a fair bit of time hanging off opponents, and dragging them down.


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