Survivor Monk (3.5e Optimized Character Build)
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Ah, the monk. When we chose the monk path, we have visions of dancing up castle walls and dispatching the four guardsmen atop the allure with well-placed kicks before smashing open the sally port with a single devastating blow. Yet what we find, as a lowly ECL 1, is often more akin to this:
Your lawful nature compels you to protest that Aragormesh, your half-orc barbarian companion, is cheating at cards. In a drunken rage, he howls a challenge. You strike with awesome speed, connecting with a punch that does 1d6 +3 (Str) for 6 points of damage. Aragormesh blinks, shrugs it off, and brings his masterwork Greataxe down upon your shaven head. The cards are ruined, and your companions spend the rest of the evening arguing about whether an ascetic like yourself would have wanted them to spend money on a funeral.
It didn't have to be that way. But you brought it on yourself. You bought a robe, picked a feat or two that looked nice, and went out into the world, which promptly put you out of your misery. The monk class does not lend itself to this sort of autopilot gaming. But with the right race, the right feats, and most of all, the right tactics, your monk can go from redshirt to reaper:
Aragormesh is cheating you at cards. Without a word or gesture, before he can rage, you strike, moving from his front to his rear (without provoking attacks of opportunity, since he is flat-footed). Attacking a flat-footed opponent from behind, you hit easily. Your Iaijutsu focus check is 17 (+2d6), you expend your focus to use Psionic Fist (+2d6). Just in case, you declared a Stunning Fist Attack as well. But with 5d6+2 damage against Aragormesh's 15 hp, there's no need to role a saving throw for the stunning attack. You and your companions quickly agree on a Viking funeral, and press on to greater adventures.
Player's Handbook Version 3.5
Player's Handbook II (decisive strike variant class feature)
Savage Species (Broodguards)
Unapproachable East (Battle Jumper feat)
Champions of Valor (Fangshields Ranger)
Complete Psionic (Practiced Manifester feat, Zerth Cenobite prestige class, Wild Talent (Novar) feat)
 Game Rule Components
 Race and Templates
Humans are optimal, given this build's insatiable hunger for feats.
On the unusual side, Broodguards (from Savage Species, pg. 141) are an LA +0 modification to the human template. Broodguards have the following score modifers: +2 Dex, +2 Con, -4 Int, -4 Cha. They are immune to hold and charm effects, and gain the monstrous humanoid type, which makes them eligible for the Fangshield Ranger racial substitution level. They may be of any alignment -- and, once per day, they can Rage (as per the Barbarian class). This fulfills a long-standing dream of many monk-loving characters -- getting around the diametrically opposed alignments of the Barbarian and the Monk to achieve the Holy Grail -- a monk who can Rage. Broodguards are created by Yuan-Ti from prisoners, so it is reasonable for a monk (now, presumably, escaped from the Yuan-Ti's clutches) to be of this race.
The progression below uses a Broodguard.
The Children of Tulkas (DnD Bloodline), designed by yours truly, is a great asset to monks (surprise, surprise). In exchange for three bloodline levels, the major bloodline gives eight combat feats over twenty levels, as well as useful skill and ability bonuses (reflecting the character's connection with Tulkas, the strongest and most potent warrior among the Valar, who fought without arms or armor). I humbly hope that players who have always wanted to play a Haruchi-type warrior will give it a look. It certainly allows a character to move at a good clip along the unarmed combat feat trees without too much multiclassing.
If you have a doting DM who will pass the idea of an LA +2 race, the Githzerai make fantastic monks (indeed, it is their favored class). They are psionic (pretty much all monks should be psionic; for the feats, if nothing else). +6 dex, giving +3 AC, +2 wis, giving 1 extra power point, another +1 to AC, +1 DC to stunning attacks, and so on. Githzerai have inertial armor as a 3/day racial ability, meaning that your character can easily role out of bed with the equivalent of plate armor (say, Wis 16 and Dex 16 before modifiers = +4 inertial armor, +6 Dodge bonus, +4 insight bonus = AC 24).
If you are willing to spend a few levels in a monster class, good choices abound. This is, perhaps, the easiest way to escort a monk through the early levels: start in a monster class, picking up great BAB, stat bonuses, natural armor, and other goodies, and then add monk levels when you finish. Monks are the perfect fit with monster levels: monsters typically lack armor proficiency, have great mobility, Large size (if you want), great abilities (and there is no class that can make good use of every single ability score as the monk can). It used to be that if you chose a race with a claw attack, you had to waste an ability, since the monk's unarmed strike is basically a natural attack, and they don't stack. I should say they didn't stack, because with the Beast Strike feat (BAB+5 and, naturally, a claw or slam attack) your claw or slam attack damage stacks with your unarmed combat damage. The fit is perfect.
I should mention in the context of monster classes the Saint template (LA +2). This brings some nice ability bonuses and magical stuff with it, but the primary benefit from an optimizing perspective is that it converts your (usually) monstrous humanoid levels into levels of outsider. That brings with it great saves, a ton of skill points (monks need skills) and weapon proficiency (if your race didn't have it to begin with). If you are considering a build with more than a couple monster levels, it's an option well worth considering.
Alertness -- Broodguards receive Alertness as a bonus feat.
Practiced Manifester -- Introduced in Complete Psionic, this feat grants an increase of +4 to a character's manifester level, up to the limit of their character level.
Battle Jumper -- A regional feat from Unapproachable East, it allows any attack in which you drop from 5-15 feet above your opponent to count as a charge and do double damage.
Quick (base speed +10ft., -1 hp per level)
Murky-eyed (roll miss chance for concealment twice)
Shaky (-2 to ranged attacks)
 Spells, Powers, Items
|Item, Spell, or Power||Version||Cost||Result/Notes|
|Monk's Belt||—||13,000 gp||+5 effective monk level for AC and movement bonuses, and unarmed strike damage. If you are willing to trust in a monk's belt, you can forgo Superior Unarmed Strike (which does not stack.) Of, course, magic can be anti-magick'd, and the high damage of the monk's unarmed strike is one of his or her main assets.|
|Skin of the Hero||—||77,500||This psychoactive skin continually grants the wearer a +3 deflection bonus to Armor Class, a +3 resistance bonus on all saving throws, and a +3 enhancement bonus on attack rolls.|
|Boots of Temporal Acceleration||—||43,200 gp||Stop time as a free action for 2 rounds. 1/day.|
|Bracers of Armor||Any||1,000 gp — 64,000 gp||Armor bonus.|
|Amulet of Mighty Fists||Any||6,000 go — 150,000 gp||Greater Magic Fang with Permanency is far cheaper.|
|Gloves of Titan's Grip||Any||14,000 gp||+8 to grapple checks (7 rounds, 3/day)|
|Ring of Divine Power (continuous effect, persistent spell, CL 21, 1/day)||—||42,000 gp||BAB=character level, +21 temporary hp|
|Belt of Giant Strength||Any||16,000 gp — 36,000 gp||Str bonus. Same slot as a monk's belt.|
|Ioun Stone||Orange||8,000 gp||+1 caster (or manifester) level.|
|Ioun Stone||Pale green||30,000 gp||+1 competence bonus on attack rolls, saves, skill checks, and ability checks (including rolls for initiative).|
|Boots of Speed||12,000 gp||As a free action, the wearer can click her boot heels together, enabling her to act as though affected by a haste spell for up to 10 rounds each day. The duration of the haste effect need not be consecutive rounds.|
|Third Eye Conceal||120,000 gp||Same as Mind Blank. Learning Mind Blank via Psionic Fist levels or Psychic Chirurgery is a better option at higher levels.|
|Ring of Godly Vigor (Vigor power, continuous, ML 88)||348,000 gp||+440 hp|
|Power Link (Quori shard)||3,000 gp||2 free power points to augment a power. Stacks with other power link shards. Total points spent can exceed your manifester level. Ten of these is not too many.|
|Ectoplasic Armor (Quori shard)||8,000 gp||+2 armor bonus; up to five shards stack with each other.|
|Ectoplasmic Fist (Quori shard)||3,000 gp||+1 die size (unarmed strike).|
|Ring of the Mighty Wallop (CL 1)||2,000 gp||+1 effective size of wearer's bludgeoning weapons (Max C).|
|Ring of the Mighty Wallop, Greater (CL 17, persisted spell, 1/day)||30,600 gp||+4 effective size of wearer's bludgeoning weapons (Max C).|
|Cloak of Shapechange (1/day, CL 20)||108,000 gp||???|
|Manual of Quickness in Action||varies||Inherent bonus to Dexterity.|
|Any item with Natural Weapon Augmentation, Personal (Ghost Touch, continuous effect)||varies||4,000gp|
|Periapt of Wisdom||Any||4,000 gp — 36,000||???|
|Ring of Borrowed Mastery||24,000gp||A homebrew item allowing the character to permanently steal psionic feats from a target.|
|Fanged Ring||Any||5,000gp||Duplicates the Improved Natural Attack feat. Advantages and disadvantages of saving a feat slot this way: same as discussed in the note to the Monk's Belt, above.|
|Epic Headband of the Psion, Lesser || align="left" | || align="left" | 60,000gp || align="left" | A homebrew item granting a continuous Mental Pinnacle spell, granting 75 bonus power points, +4 to Intelligence and Wisdom, and a number of useful Psion powers.|
|Greater Magic Fang + Permanency||Any||??? — 9,100 gp||???|
|Psychic Chirurgery + any Power of a level the monk can use||Any||??? —||???|
|Incarnate + Danger Sense and/or Ubiquitous Vision||Any||??? —||???|
Notes: The Greater Mighty Wallop spell (from Dragon Magic) increases the wearer's effective size when striking with a bludgeoning weapon by (CL/4, max +5), to a maximum of Size C. So while the monk wears the ring, any form he has of size M or larger is treated as size C or its actual size, whatever is larger, for the purpose of determining bludgeoning damage (such as the monk's unarmed strike).
Exceptionally useful powers to acquire via Psychic Chirurgery include Steadfast Perception, which provides immunity to illusions, and Personal Mind Blank, which protects the character from all mind-altering effects and most efforts to divine information about them. Hypercognition and Metafaculty are excellent information-gathering tools for the monk. True Mind Switch can allow the monk to permanently acquire a more robust and agile physical form.
Ectoplasmic Form can be a handy tool for escaping from areas protected by Dimensional Lock. Psionic Contingency is another power that can potentially rescue a disastrous situation by activating a power to transport the monk to safety or to shift the odds in the monk's favor.
 Quori Shards
Quori shards may only be used by Kalashtar PCs or those with a special ability to emulate them (such as a Changeling with the Racial Emulation feat) can use Quori shards (however, you might design a custom item using a Quori shard as the base and enhancing it with the 3rd-level Artificer spell Suppress Requirement (duration 10 min/lvl). When active, this additional power would allow the character to suppress either the racial requirement (Kalashtar) or the requirement of a manifester level. This custom item would be significantly more expensive than the original item (a modified Fist would cost (3rd * 5th CL * 2,000gp *2 (10 min/level to continuous power) = 45,000 + (3,000 (base Fist cost) * 1.5 (combined power on an item) = 4,500gp = 49,500gp), but either the Power Link or Ectoplasmic Fists will still be a bargain.) The maximum number of shards a character may have implanted is equal to their manifester level (again, the Suppress Requirement spell offers a possible work-around.) The implanting process permanently reduces the character's hit points by one (per shard). Up to five Ectoplasmic Armor shards and an unlimited number of Power Link shards stack. The benefits of Ectoplasmic Fists do not stack.
Power Link Quori shards allow the character to augment a power by 2 points (3/day). Multiple shards can be used as a single action, and the points provided by shards are not limited by the character's manifester level.
Ectoplasmic Fist Quori shards increase the damage of the monk's unarmed strike as if he or she were one size category larger.
Ectoplasmic Armor Quori shards give a +2 armor bonus. Up to five armor shards stack, for a bonus of +10.
- Suggested Psychic Warrior Powers
 Further Discussion of Useful Spells, Powers, and Items
See also Buffing the Ultimate Monk.
 Nonmagical Items
It is helpful to keep sai on hand, for disarming attacks. A longspear (as a monstrous humanoid, broodguards are proficient with all simple weapons) allows the monk to make attacks of opportunity on opponents closing whilst using his unarmed strike once opponents are adjacent.
A heavy crossbow is useful for ranged engagements.
This build makes use of several optional rules from Unearthed Arcana including the use of traits, the use of flaws, and fractional BAB+ advancement.
Initial scores (32 point buy):
|1st||Monk 1||Improved Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist, Improved Initiative, Battle Jumper, Wild Talent (Novar), Psionic Fist||Monk abilities, Rage 1/day, immune to hold, charm, claws 1d2/1d2, bite 1d3, Decisive strike (variant class feature)|
|2nd||Ranger 1||Track||Animal empathy|
|3rd||Monk 1/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)||Ascetic Hunter, Improved Natural Attack|
|4th||Monk 2/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)||Evasion, +1 Wis|
|5th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)||Still Mind|
|6th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 1||Up the Walls||Inertial Armor|
|7th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 2||Expansion|
|8th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 3||+1 Wis, Hustle|
|9th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 4||Practiced Manifester||Body Adjustment|
|10th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 5||Quicken Power||Psionic Lion's Charge|
|11th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 6||Mental Barrier|
|12th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 7||Superior Unarmed Strike||+1 Wis, Steadfast Perception|
|13th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 8||Energy Adaptation|
|14th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 9||Oak Body|
|15th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 10||Overchannel, Expanded Knowledge (Metamorphosis)||Catapsi|
|16th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 10/Warshaper 1||+1 Wis, immune to critical hits, +1 natural weapon effective size (when transformed)|
|17th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 10/Warshaper 1/Zerth Cenobite 1||Chameleon, Temporal Distillation 1/day|
|18th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 10/Warshaper 2/Zerth Cenobite 1||Unavoidable Strike||+4 Str, +4 Con (when transformed)|
|19th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 10/Warshaper 3/Zerth Cenobite 1||+5 reach natural weapons (when transformed)|
|20th||Monk 3/Ranger 2 (Fangshields substitution level 2)/Psionic Fist 10/Warshaper 4/Zerth Cenobite 1||+1 Wis, fast healing 2 (when transformed)|
The Fangshields level gives the monk the benefit of Improved Natural Feat at ECL 3. The decisive strike variant class feature (which replaces flurry of blows) gives a single attack at -2 dealing double damage, whilst the Battle Jumper feat gives the benefits of charge and double damage when you drop on an opponent from above. These features can lead to colossal damage rolls at relatively low ECL.
Example: The sample build spots an ogre at ECL 4, and has an opportunity to set an ambush from above. Base damage is 2d6 + 4 (1d8 + Improved Natural Attack, Str 14 + rage) + 2d6 (Psionic Fist) *2 (Battle Jumper feat) = 8d6+8. If he could not jump down on the foe, he could hold his psionic focus until he could attack with a full-round action (using decisive strike) and deal the same damage cited above.
 Munchkin-Size Me
This is it. For the giant-sized version, see Ultimate Monk.
 Side Notes
Hit points and AC are not great. The key is to control when and how you are involved in combat.
BAB is so-so, and is best addressed by the intelligent use of attack modifiers like charge (+2), flank attack (+2), and the like. At later levels, Unavoidable Strike lets you resolve an unarmed attack as a touch attack, ignoring armor.
 DM Counters
I love flaws, but allowing them gives 2 extra feats at first level, which goes a long way to making this build possible.
On that same subject, the 3.5E rule provide great mounted combat and archery feats. If you find the type of monk described here is mowing through the ranks of your NPCs, I suggest taking the monk out of his element. He or she will be fast enough that they won't need to ride, but fighting on foot against a skilled rider is a difficult proposition in the 3.5E rules, and the greater speed of the mount, as well as the open terrain on which such combats take place, will tend to restrict the monk's fighting tactics. If that still doesn't work, bring on the Mongol tactics; mounted archers who fire, and flee before the monk can hit them. Turnabout is fair play.
Some DM might get frustrated with players who use the rules to repeatedly attack from behind, avoid shields and Dex bonuses, and do as much damage as a Greatsword-wielding barbarian with punches and kicks. But these things are not abuses, but rather are in the spirit of the martial-arts-master archetype. There is a heavy price to be paid for them, as this build shows. If you know and enforce the rules for Iaijutsu Focus, charging, tumbling, and the use of psionic feats (don't forget the requirement that the character expend their psionic focus to use feats like Quicken Power and Psionic Fist!) the build should be balanced relative to other classes.
As the tactics recommended for this build require intelligent but hair-raising risk taking, the DM should make it clear that if the player gets in over his head and provokes an attack of opportunity from the ogre he is flanking, the DM will not bail him out.
 Ten Steps to Your Broken Monk
1. Get Unearthed Arcana, and using your best wheedling voice along with a high-quality baked-goods bribe, encourage your DM to adopt the following rules variants: fractional BAB (fair, and should be in the core rules), action points (helps everybody, but especially the monk, who has some rolls he must make,) traits and flaws (pretty balanced, but gamable), and class defense (the brass ring, but entirely a matter of taste; best suggested after one of those arguments over whether a character would have been wearing their armor or not.)
2. Get Oriental Adventures. This is an obvious move, but even if you have access to the martial arts (and ancestor) feats via other sources, you need access to the styles (you can get some hefty game bonuses be mastering certain sets of feats), the prestige classes (the Bear Warrior monk is gloriously broken), and the Iaijutsu Focus skill.
3. Make your character psionic, whether by choosing a psionic race, class, or the Wild Talent feat. The psionic feats are impossible to pass up, and coupled with the monk's extreme mobility, once you have Speed of Thought and Up the Walls you need never role against a shield bonus again. The Fist of Zukoen prestige class is great for avoiding those upper monk levels with their underwhelming class benefits ("Wow, I'm immune to poisons. When do I get immunity to axes?") A couple levels of Psychic Warrior nets not only your choice of great psionic buffs -- Expansion, Burst, Precognition (Offensive) -- but two bonus combat feats -- and feats are oxygen to the monk.
4. Buff your Initiative. Iaijutsu Focus, Psionic Fist, Flying Kick -- they all add up to an awesome first-strike capability against flat-footed opponents. Many players waste their time buffing the monk's AC, but in truth, careful defense is a losing strategy in a game that will always be tilted in favor of bold action. Your BAB is mediocre -- don't give your opponents the luxury of readying their shields and getting in combat stance. Win initiative, tumble through their ranks (or just run around them) and kick them in the back of the head. A dead enemy is the best protection of all.
5. Don't get hung up on Str and Con. Sure, they're great to have. But for the monk, every ability score is important. Dexterity, duh. Wisdom, for AC, skills, and the psionic abilities and skill checks that will be part of your game (see point #3). Intelligence, because you will always have more skills than points to spend on them: Balance, Tumble, Jump, Iaijutsu Focus, Spot, Concentration, Hide, Move Silently, and one could go on. Charisma, as so often, is the kid with glasses by the punchbowl, but even so, you need a 13+ to get the Mighty Works Mastery feats to eventually strike as one size category larger, it is the base skill for Iaijutsu Focus, and hey, getting along with people is nice, especially as a character with stealth skills who fights without weapons or armor is the ideal urban infiltrator/spy.
6. Multiclass until your teeth hurt. Most players get this. Try and focus on classes that give you feats and abilities you need at the first level. Many classes have a basket of goodies at the entry point, then a slow progression; love them, leave them, and get back to your monk and monk prestige classes. There are exceptions (Bear Warrior) but mostly the rule works.
7. Buff your base speed. Speed is one of the most underappreciated statistics in a statistics-obsessed game. But you have been buffing your initiative (as per #4), you have mad tumbling skills (#5), and Up the Walls (#3) so attacks of opportunity are not a problem for you. You act first and when you do, you will be able to strike from places your opponents' never imagined -- or, you will vanish completely from sight and strike later from ambush. Speed is crucial for the sky-high Jump and Balance bonuses that give your character a kung fu movie vibe.
8. Oh, the humanity. Some players blow off the idea of playing a human character, but of the ECL 0 races in 3.5E, the human is arguably the best monk race. You need that extra feat. Extra skill points are nice. You can chose the monk as your favored class, speeding your advancement, as the monk must multiclass unevenly (see #6). You gain access to wicked ancestor feats. What you give up is the opportunity to optimize your stats with race adjustments, or to play a psionic race and avoid the Wild Talent feat. But the Wild Talent feat is a Fist of Zukoen requirement anyway, and as to the former, the monk is perhaps the only class in which all ability scores are important. Raising one -- even Str -- at the expense of another is not going to make or break your monk.
9. Focus on damage and attack bonuses, and let multiple attacks come. Flurrying at early levels, as most monk-friendly players have discovered, is a great way to strike three times a round and miss every time. (If you go all out with Two-Weapon Fighting, ki frenzy, and monk flurry, with a Nezumi or Vanara's tailspikes thrown in, you can be a ECL 2 character with five attacks per round. With a BAB +1 and a cumulative -8 penalty to each attack, this build is not recommended, unless you plan to make a career out of beating up unconscious people really fast.) Eventually, it will be a devastating advantage. In the meantime, you want your attacks to count. There are many, many ways to do this. Reckless Charge gives a +4 bonus to attack, at 1st level (we don't care about to -4 to AC because we fully intend to kill with our first strike.) Empty Hand Mastery, from OA, allows the monk to strike as if he were one size category larger while the Psychic Warrior power Expansion (available at 1st level, see #6) actually makes him bigger. Flying Kick provides +1d12 charging, Powerful Charge adds +1d8 for M-sized characters, and Psionic Charge and Up the Walls will ensure it is the rare opponent who will be safe from your charge attack (and when it becomes painful to give up your multiple attacks to charge, you will have the 2nd-level Psychic Warrior power of Psionic Lion's Charge, and you won't have to). Psionic Fist give +2d6, which will eventually be negligible, but is nothing to sneeze at at first level, and can be used an unlimited number of times per day (take Psionic Meditation to get your focus back with a move action, and you can use it every round).
10. Think differently. The monk can do things no other class can do. Just one example: an enemy that is no longer flat-footed can change their facing once for free. But the monk with a base 60ft move (or more) can, by Tumbling at half-speed, flank their foe, allow them to change facing, then move again and position themselves in the rear, and then strike.
Of course, at early levels, if you stand there and trade blow for blow with a barbarian or a samurai, you're going to lose. If you didn't, those classes would be wholly pointless. Use your mobility, fight dirty, and be gone before the other side unsheathes its swords -- if they live to draw them.
1. Your example wouldn't work on a higher-level barbarian, with Uncanny Defense and Instantaneous Rage.
Of course not. But by the time the barbarian has uncanny defense, the monk will have enough hit points to strike again if his first attack misses. And by the time the barbarian can instantly rage, the monk will have a whole array of new and devastating offensive abilities (see my Ultimate Monk.)
2. How can you deliver a monk with reduced hit points and armor class, and call it survivable? Are you just being contrary?
No, I recognize these as serious deficiencies. As the build progresses, they will be addressed. But the two things a monk must have are a high initiative bonus and a high-damage attack. These are what he needs to survive. In 4E parlance, the monk is not a "controller" to be set between an enemy and the party's soft center. Nor does he belong in the center. He belongs behind the backs of the enemy's soft center, making use of his speed and mobility. For that to work he needs the initiative bonus and a killing finish. If the enemy can take 20 points of damage, making the stunning save, and turn around and whomp the monk, he was too tough for a stand up fight at ECL 1 anyway.
3. It says in the Player's Handbook that monks can't multiclass. Ouch.
Core rules, yes, once you leave monk you may never return. OA rules, however, allow for monks to multiclass freely.