A Feat Full of Tricks – Redesigning Monks and Monk Tricks

To continue with the “Feat Full of Tricks” series, here’s one of the difficult ones – Monks. Barbarians and Rangers, Clerics, Fighters and Wizards, and Rogues were straightforward, but Monks, well…

Monk Tricks are kind of difficult, mostly because Monks – starting with first edition – have never really fit into the Dungeons and Dragons game very well. Their role is a lot less clear than that of most other characters – and if fighting without weapons and armor is as effective as fighting with weapons and armor, why were weapons and armor ever invented? Just as bothersomely, Monks needed to be able to adventure on equal terms with everyone else – so you couldn’t make advancement all that difficult until you got to “name” levels where it didn’t matter quite so much.

First edition handled first that little problem by making it extremely difficult to qualify to be a Monk – and thus most people simply could not learn to fight unarmed effectively. Monks were the exception that proved the rule.

That still left Monks without a really clear role in the party. Tanks/Fighters hit things and kept the enemy off the Artillery/Magic-Users, the Artillery/Magic-Users blew stuff up if the Tanks/Fighters didn’t get diverted and could keep them safe long enough, and Clerics/Infantry and Support helped out and kept everyone else going. When Thieves/Commando Squads were added in they could sneak in and use unconventional warfare to obtain special objectives.

Monks basically got tossed in as “Scouts”. They got high movement speed and a few special movement powers for troublesome terrain, the ability to communicate with all kinds of things, the ability to inflict decent damage with minimal weaponry, resistance to a lot of the “take out that annoyance” powers and effects, missile deflection, and were hard to hit even without heavy armor – even if they weren’t allowed to carry that much gear. Of course, if they did get hit… they were kind of fragile. Worse, a lot of parties didn’t do much of any scouting.

Fortunately, a high-level first (or even second) edition Monk was actually pretty powerful – often outshining the fighters quite readily and making them a desirable character type anyway.

Still, the class was pretty much a patchwork, with a bunch of unrelated powers all shoved in under a vague heading of “martial arts stuff” – even where that made very little sense. The grab bag did have one good feature – even at lower levels a clever player could usually think of some way to contribute – but it didn’t really have much organization. Moreover, as a variant class, and just in case they’d been made TOO powerful (a very common problem given that there was no actual system for designing classes at the time) Monks were gratuitously all organized as an order that only had a limited number of high-level slots open – giving them both a hard AND a soft level cap.

For awhile the First Edition Oriental Adventures book gave Monks a great deal more flexibility by allowing them to use that books design-your-own-martial-art system and giving them bonuses that enhanced it – but that line of development dead-ended. That was too bad – it worked quite well – but early Dungeons and Dragons had a lot of dead ends.

When 3.0 and 3.5 came along… they made things even messier. Since Monk’s were a “Core Class” they no longer had notable entry prerequisites and gaining Monk levels is exactly like gaining any other kind of levels – so their somewhat-random list of abilities got tweaked again.

It still lacks unity, and synergy, and all the other classes got even more new toys than Monks did. I don’t normally have much use for the Tier System – it isn’t really applicable to Eclipse – but there’s a REASON why standard Monks are down on Tier Five.

These days Monks…

  • Are fast and agile – able to dodge attacks that allow reflex saves, run around very quickly, reduce the damage from falls, and bounce around like superballs.
  • Are immune to diseases and poisons, can heal themselves a bit, and stop taking ability score penalties for aging.
  • Can Dimension Door, become briefly Ethereal, and get a very limited Death Touch
  • Can talk to any living creature. This may or may not include plants, which – generally being mindless under the current rules – may or may not have anything to say anyway.
  • Eventually become Outsiders, gaining resistance to some spells and some Damage Reduction.
  • Get some martial-arts themed Bonus Feats.
  • Get a bonus of up to (5 + Wis Mod) to their Armor Class when unarmored and unencumbered.
  • Get to hit their targets quickly, accurately, and for a fair amount of damage with their fists or with a modest selection of weapons when unarmored and unencumbered. At higher levels they can inflict various conditions too (at least in Pathfinder) and boost their fists with magic.
  • Get Spell Resistance

This is why no one using Eclipse ever seems to build a “standard monk”. We’ve had LOTS of martial artists, and unarmed combatants, and more-or-less Rangers and Paladins and Fighters and Rogues and Clerics – but not Monks.

So there’s our first problem. What do we need to get to build an effective “Monk” in Eclipse? Not the convoluted monstrosity of an example that’s in the book to show you how to duplicate the original build precisely (mostly so that you can trade things out), but a sensible Eclipse variant?

Obviously enough we can leave out some of the current ability list; a Monk doesn’t actually need resistance to aging (even fictional martial artists usually seem to age), or the quasi-spell-like Dimension Door, Etherealness, and Death Touch. You certainly don’t need to become an Outsider, although we’ll be keeping some damage reduction.

First up you take…

The Sun Source. The martial arts as commonly practiced are mere reflections in cracked and tarnished mirrors of the true masteries. Buy any one unarmed martial art, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect: It only works if the user is Unarmored and Unencumbered, the more skilled the user becomes the more often he or she will be targeted by other martial artists, and focuses enormous amounts of C’hi. Great practitioners of the Sun Source are easily sensed by other martial artists, are subject ot C’hi draining and blocking tricks and substances, and must practice many odd little self-disciplines to maintain their power.

This leaves a lot of choices up to the user – but it can easily cover hitting things really really well, boosting their armor class by up to +12, getting an impressive level of damage reduction, and picking up a selection of other boosts.

It can also get pretty silly. Like anything else that’s been Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect, the game master should probably keep an eye on this. If you want to trim things back a bit… trim it back to “specialized” only, and thus reduce things to double effect.

This doesn’t have any actual cost. As an Eclipse combatant, you were going to be taking a Martial Art anyway.

Next take some Innate Enchantment / “C’hi Powers”. Specialized for Half Cost: only works if the user is unarmored and unencumbered, radiates great amounts of C’hi (6 CP). This covers up to 11,500 GP worth of Innate Enchantment (the actual total is 11,370 GP). Note that Relieve Illness and Relieve poison don’t exactly provide Immunity to disease and poison – but they do make our Monk quite resistant to such things, which is probably more fun. If you really want to go for immunity, buy some upgrades later.

  • A pair of Healing Belts (Magic Item Compendium, 1500 GP Item Duplication, x.7 Personal Only = 1050 GP). These let the user heal himself or herself for 2d8/3d8/4d8 damage for 1/2/3 charges, and each incidence has 6 charges/day. That should be plenty.
  • Lesser Restoration (SRD, Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use, Use-Activated, x .7 Personal Only x .8 (only usable four times a day) = 1120 GP
  • Light Foot (Speedster List, +30 circumstance bonus ground movement speed a +10 circumstance bonus on jump checks, and DR 10 versus Falling Damage [only] for 1d6+2 rounds, Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
  • Personal Haste (The Practical Enchanter, +30′ Move, +1 Attack at full BAB when making a Full Attack. Spell Level One times Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .8 (bonus attack is only usable with unarmed combat = 1600 GP)
  • Relieve Illness (Hedge Magi spell list, +4 Enhancement on saves versus Disease, -2 on the attribute damage taken, Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use, Use-Activated, x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
  • Relieve Poison (Hedge Magi spell list, +4 Enhancement on saves versus Poisons, -2 on the attribute damage taken, Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use, Use-Activated, x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
  • Speak with Animals (SRD, Spell Level One times Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated = 2000 GP)
  • Thousand Pound Stance (New, Transmutation, Level One, Target gains a +8 versus Bull Rush, Grapple, Trip, Overrun, being lifted or thrown, or similar situations, for one minute. Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP). Note that this changes the -4 Penalty for Light Foot to a +4 Bonus.

Yes, that’s pretty grossly efficient. Stacking up a bunch of continuous first level spell boosts usually is, and Personal Haste and Light Foot are among the better first level spells – but once you’re faster than the rest of the party, you’re usually fast enough and getting an extra “unarmed” attack is fairly typical for first level spells like Beast Claws. . It’s nice, but the fact is that most characters stick with the party, and all that speed is mostly irrelevant.

Other Abilities:

  • Immunity/Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Major, Epic, Specialized and Corrupted/only protects innate enchantments in the C’hi powers package, 9 CP). This turns the Monk’s abilities into Extraordinary Abilities, preventing them from being readily dispelled or countered – even if this costs more than the basic ability set.
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial/only covers first level effects at caster level one), Specialized/only to cover the “C’hi Powers” package (1 CP).
  • Celerity/Additional Movement Mode (Flight), Specialized and Corrupted/only to keep the user from taking damage from falls and extend their ability to jump (double the distance, with no upper limit) (4 CP)
  • C’hi Strike/Augmented Attack/+3d6 (+10) Damage to overcome Damage Reduction and Hardness Only, Corrupted/only with unarmed combat (6 CP).
    • There. Now we can dispense with all that “Treat as Magic/Silver/Adamantine/Etc nonsense – and the user can still get Imbuement and add some more useful stuff to his or her unarmed attacks.
  • Improved Fortune (the Evasion variant): The user takes no effect on a successful reflex save and only half effect on a failure (12 CP).
  • Improved Spell/Power Resistance (12 CP). This is actually pretty questionable – you have to lower it to receive buffs, and you have good saves anyway – but a fair number of people in caster-heavy games see it as one of the few prizes Monks get.

That’s most of the actual powers that you need to be a “Monk” for a mere 50 CP. Now a full “Monk” build will have some excellent saves, good hit dice (or some other method of boosting their hit points), a fair number of skill points, a full BAB (Specialized / only for Unarmed Combat – which takes care of the other attack in a “flurry of blows”), and a few other goodies – but even with some saves and BAB, you ought to be able to afford most of that stuff by level five or so. If we put the resistance to aging, the quasi-spell-like Dimension Door, Etherealness, and Death Touch, the ability to inflict conditions with their unarmed attacks (“Trick”), and becoming an Outsider back in… we’re still looking at a ten level class at best. And we’ve improved on a number of things. Admittedly there’s some cheese in there – but not a lot and most builds contain at least a little cheese.

That certainly explains why Monks are down on Tier 5 doesn’t it?

Of course an Eclipse Monk will have another ten levels worth of abilities to come up with, which should improve things quite a bit.

So what should “Monk Tricks” involve?

The Limitations are the hard part with a “Tricks” package. “Tricks” need to play to archetypes while still working with a wide variety of more specific character conceptions. The limitations on them need to push the user into an archetypical role, act as plot hooks that involve the user in the setting, be flavorful, and be an actual inconvenience that doesn’t overlap with their archetypes built-in restrictions, since otherwise they’re not limitations at all.

Monk Tricks Limitations:

Pick two; if a Monk fails to live up to their chosen limitations, he or she will loose access to their Monks Tricks until they have lived up to their limitations for at least a week.

  • Monks see combat as a last resort. It is best to solve conflicts peacefully, if you must fight it is best to use nonlethal techniques, injuries are better than deaths, and – if you must kill – you must kill as few of your opponents as possible.
  • Monks are ascetic warrior-philosophers. As such, they must spend at least one skill point per level on practical working-class skills with religious elements. Things like gardening or farming, making baskets or pots, carpentry, perform (religious music), or child care are all appropriate.
  • Monks are deeply involved in the “Martial Arts World”. No matter how obscure they are, their names, styles, general abilities, and appearance are all widely recognized among other martial artists and they will have a terrible time keeping their movements and objectives secret. Martial Arts based opponents and enemies will find them easily.
  • Monks accumulate students and would-be students, bumbling servants, hangers-on, and various dependents and offspring (who keep needing rescue or fall in love with an enemy or some such). This entourage may wander in and out of their lives, but will invariably need a lot of time, rescuing, teaching, and looking-after.
  • Monks must perform various rituals and observe various taboos to maintain their power. This may include exotic diets, meditations and exercise, only using items which have been properly sanctified or bonded to their power by some weird (and likely expensive) ritual,
  • Monks must spend at least 10% of whatever treasure they obtain on noncombative projects – schools for their styles, building temples, funding irrigation systems, maintaining a network of subversive agents, or whatever.
  • Opponents who recognize a Monk’s style (a DC 18 skill check using Intelligence with their own Martial Arts skill level) gain a +3 bonus to their martial arts attacks and damage against the Monk in question.

Basic Abilities:

  • The Adamant Will. A Monk’s inner discipline and regular regime of mind and body training allows them to easily reject external influences and even conceal their thoughts from attempts to probe them.
  • Hand of Shadows, Specialized for reduced cost/only to allow enhanced movement at no cost. The user may run over water, fight without penalty while balancing on a slack, swinging, rope or on burning bamboo posts, dash along walls to avoid opponents, turn in midair while leaping, and gets a +10 Competence bonus on Balance, Jump and Tumble.
  • Hyloka, Specialized for Double Effect/personal only. Monks can resist extremes of heat and cold, delay the effects of poisons, place themselves in deep trances, and more.

Advanced Abilities:

Most Monks will invest a third Feat-Equivalent on Basic Witchcraft – picking up another four basic abilities.

  • Dreamfaring/Wraith Fist, Specialized/only to allow the user to detect, communicate with, and hit (rather like Ghost Touch weapons) creatures in adjacent dimensions.
  • Elfshot/Pressure Point Mastery, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect as per “Bestow Curse”, requires a successful melee attack check, does not work on creatures that lack a normal life force to disrupt or who’s anatomy is utterly strange (most aberrations, slimes and oozes, etc).
    • It’s not uncommon for a Monk to take “Opportunist”, so that this can be coupled with normal attacks – which neatly covers all those weird “nerve strikes” and the multitude of effects that they could supposedly cause.
  • Witchsight. Monks can easily hone their senses to superhuman acuity, fighting blindfolded, detecting poison by the slightest of scents, and so on.
  • Witchfire/C’hi Strike, Specialized and Corrupted/only to imbue their unarmed attacks with magical energy; with a standard action and 2 Power the user may add the equivalent of +2 worth of enhancements to his or her unarmed attacks for the next one minute. This does not have to include a basic enhancement bonus, but if it doesn’t the strikes will not count as “magic”.

Their remaining two advanced abilities vary a lot.

  • Daoist Masters usually take Brewing and Longevity – making them masters of herbal alchemy and giving them several centuries of extra lifespan.
  • Dedicated Martial Artists usually take Bones of Earth and Leaping Fire – allowing them to toughen themselves, move more quickly, and heal themselves more, even if the “haste” effect of Leaping fire will not stack with their C’hi based personal haste power.
  • Sohei usually take Light of Truth and Warding – allowing them to protect their charges, see hidden threats, detect deceptions, and try to drive off creatures of darkness.
  • Priestly Monks run towards the Inner Fire (giving them minor clerical spellcasting) and Dismissal – allowing them to attempt to break spells and banish evil spirits.
  • Serpent Masters: use Venomed Touch and The Umbral Form – allowing them to slip into well guarded locations and inflict deadly venoms with the slightest of touches.
  • Scholar Monks: While they’re fairly rare among adventurers, Scholar-Monks use Spirit of the Sage (giving them impressive flashes of brilliance) and Divination to obtain information. (Many or most will later master The Inner Fire as well, giving them some arcane talents).

Pact: Being highly self-reliant, many Monks have the Tithe pact – but many others take on Missions for their orders or teachers, take on Vows or Duties, or even Isolate themselves – often retreating to meditate on mountain peaks or some such.

Monk Tricks don’t really cover the basics of Martial Arts – but they DO let a decent martial artist emulate the wire work and weird once-off powers that you find in Wuxia movies.

The basic setup is pretty much the same for all of the “Tricks” packages; buy Witchcraft I and II (gaining a little bit of Power and three basic abilities to spend it on), 3d6 extra Power as Mana, and three Advanced Witchcraft Powers, all Specialized and Corrupted for reduced cost – taking a 36 character point package down to 12 points. With a Pact to reduce the cost by six points (and the efficiency of Witchcraft) you get a very effective power package that only costs six character points or one bonus feat – at least if you don’t count the drawbacks and the pact as a cost.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.