Content of the article: "Things You Should Know About: The Monk Class"
This is part of a series of articles about different topics in D&D and similar RPGs. Specifically, I want to bring some context to terms that have become really common in these kinds of stories, but it feels like we might not know much about in reality (words like paladin, monk, lock-picking, pirate, barbarian, etc). And while I'm at it, I have a number of thoughts about a lot of these topics which I would bring to my players to shape how they view their characters and the setting they're playing in.
Quick shoutout, but a lot of my inspiration for this stuff comes from Gm Word of the Week. It's a podcast I've been listening to for a few years now, and it's full of insightful stuff like this from Fiddleback. And if you want to branch out from that, one of the collaborators on the early episodes of that podcast is The Angry GM, who writes a lot of articles on the subject of playing D&D. I'll probably get my research from other sources, but I already know that a lot of the stuff I bring up will come from these guys, so I figure I'll go ahead and source them (plus, if you aren't already checking their stuff out, they're pretty great even after several years of content).
This time, we're going to talk about the monk class, and what they're all about. Gotta tell you all, this one has been a hell of an effort to put together, from the sheer load of information I wanted to get down (not to mention the number of times I accidentally closed the draft without saving, forcing me to do it all over again). Enjoy.
The Monk in 5e
The 5e PHB has this to say about monks:
Her fists a blur as they deflect an incoming hail of arrows, a half-elf springs over a barricade and throws herself into the massed ranks of hobgoblins on the other side. She whirls among them, knocking their blows aside and sending them reeling, until at last she stands alone.
Taking a deep breath, a human covered in tattoos settles into a battle stance. As the first charging orcs reach him, he exhales and a blast of fire roars from his mouth, engulfing his foes.
Moving with the silence of the night, a black-clad halfling steps into a shadow beneath an arch and emerges from another inky shadow on a balcony a stone’s throw away. She slides her blade free of its cloth-wrapped scabbard and peers through the open window at the tyrant prince, so vulnerable in the grip of sleep.
Whatever their discipline, monks are united in their ability to magically harness the energy that flows in their bodies. Whether channeled as a striking display of combat prowess or a subtler focus of defensive ability and speed, this energy infuses all that a monk does.
The Magic of Ki
Monks make careful study of a magical energy that most monastic traditions call ki. This energy is an element of the magic that suffuses the multiverse—specifically, the element that flows through living bodies. Monks harness this power within themselves to create magical effects and exceed their bodies’ physical capabilities, and some of their special attacks can hinder the flow of ki in their opponents. Using this energy, monks channel uncanny speed and strength into their unarmed strikes. As they gain experience, their martial training and their mastery of ki gives them more power over their bodies and the bodies of their foes.
Training and Asceticism
Small walled cloisters dot the landscapes of the worlds of D&D, tiny refuges from the flow of ordinary life, where time seems to stand still. The monks who live there seek personal perfection through contemplation and rigorous training. Many entered the monastery as children, sent to live there when their parents died, when food couldn’t be found to support them, or in return for some kindness that the monks had performed for their families.
Some monks live entirely apart from the surrounding population, secluded from anything that might impede their spiritual progress. Others are sworn to isolation, emerging only to serve as spies or assassins at the command of their leader, a noble patron, or some other mortal or divine power.
The majority of monks don’t shun their neighbors, making frequent visits to nearby towns or villages and exchanging their service for food and other goods. As versatile warriors, monks often end up protecting their neighbors from monsters or tyrants.
For a monk, becoming an adventurer means leaving a structured, communal lifestyle to become a wanderer. This can be a harsh transition, and monks don’t undertake it lightly. Those who leave their cloisters take their work seriously, approaching their adventures as personal tests of their physical and spiritual growth. As a rule, monks care little for material wealth and are driven by a desire to accomplish a greater mission than merely slaying monsters and plundering their treasure.
Mechanically, monks in this edition have the following traits and abilities:
- Monks have a d8 hit die, which isn't super great for a martial class, but not the worst. They have no armor proficiencies, and proficiency in only simple weapons and shortswords. They also have one proficiency in a musical instrument or artisan's tool set of their choice.
- Aside from the lack of armor proficiencies and fairly weak hit die, many of the class' features seem to encourage the monk to rely on their Dexterity score for defense, and the class offers a number of bonuses to the class when a monk is unarmored. They get a bonus to their AC while unarmored right away. And as they level up, monks gain bonuses while unarmored that make them run faster, and run over water and up walls. And while using the Martial Arts class feature, the monk can use their Dexterity score in the place of Strength for attacks with certain weapons.
- Speaking of which, monks are encouraged to fight either unarmed, or using monk weapons. Monk weapons are defined as shortswords and any simple melee weapon which doesn't have the two-handed or heavy properties (which, at this time, only really excludes the greatclub, but maybe they were planning on new simple weapons in future supplements). This seems to suggest that the monk is already proficient in any monk weapon, and that some weapons that the monk is proficient in (like the shortbow or the light crossbow) are not monk weapons despite their proficiency. While fighting either unarmed or with a monk weapon, the monk can use their Dexterity score in the place of Strength for attack and damage rolls (as mentioned above), they can roll a d4 in the place of the weapons damage dice (which only benefits unarmed strikes at first, but the substitute dice gets bigger as the monk levels up), and they can take an extra unarmed attack as a bonus action.
- Side note, but the rules for the monk also encourage the GM to accept certain "Eastern" weapons as re-skinned simple weapons. For instance, a set of nunchaku, which are two wooden or metal rods connected by a chain or rope, are encouraged to be considered a club. A kama, which is a short blade set perpendicular to a wooden handle, is a re-skinned sickle. And you might consider throwing stars or chakrams to be variants on the dagger.
- Other abilities of the monk are based on their physical and mental training. A monk can, at level three, catch a ranged attack, like an arrow or a sling's bullet, out of the air and use it as a ranged attack of their own. At level four, they reduce the damage they take from long falls. At level 5 they gain an extra attack. At seven they can completely dodge an attack that would deal half damage on a successful save (Evasion), and they can shrug off charm and fear effects with an action.
- Monks also have the ability to manipulate an energy called ki, which they can use for extraordinary and even supernatural effects. At level two, the monk can use ki to take a dodge, disengage, or dash action as a bonus action, or to add two unarmed strikes to their attack (Flurry of Blows). At level five, the monk can perform a Stunning Strike, which disrupts the ki of their opponent and stuns them. At level six, the monk's use of ki makes their fists count as magic weapons for overcoming resistances and immunities. At ten, the monk's mastery of ki makes them immune to poisons and disease. At 13, they can touch the minds of other creatures, making them able to communicate in any language. At 14, their ki gives them proficiency on all saves, and the ability to reroll a failed save. At 15, the monk's ki makes them stop suffering the effects of old age, and makes them no longer need food and water to survive, which I think is pretty incredible. At level 18, the monk can use their ki to become invisible, or even to astral project.
Other Editions of D&D
The monk class has a bit of a storied history in D&D. The class was first introduced in the Blackmoor supplement to the 1974 Basic D&D game, written chiefly by Dave Arneson in 1975. The class was described as a sub-class of the cleric, a spiritual warrior who included elements of the fighter and the thief classes. There is some debate about who actually wrote the monk class into the supplement, as Arneson's notes were notoriously vague and difficult to understand, according to the staff at TSR, and it took the contributions of several team members to distill the concepts he made down to something that felt usable for publication. This concept would later be added as a core class in the Player's Handbook for AD&D in 1978. Unfortunately, the class was criticized as under-powered compared to the other classes of the game, being basically a fighter with a d4 hit die, no armor, and no ability to keep magic items (because of their vows of asceticism), and despite having a number of crazy abilities (proficiency in all weapons in the game, massive unarmed damage attacks at late levels, increased movement speed, a lot of thief abilities like opening locks and moving stealthily, the ability to talk to plants and animals, ability to dodge missile attacks, ability to self-heal, etc.), the class was just not seen as viable by the player base. And its theming as a "far-Eastern wanderer" really didn't fit the generally Euro-centric themes of the game's settings at the time.
In 1981, Philip Meyers wrote an article that criticized the original monk in Dragon magazine, where he also introduced his unofficial concept for a revised monk class. This version of the monk added some increases to the class' overall power, as well as some class features such as immunity to the Haste and Slow spells, and the ability to use Dimension Door and Astral Projection as spell-like abilities. The major feature addition was to give the monk psionic powers, which are presented as coming from the monk's mental and spiritual training, and allowed the monk to adjust their physical weight, read minds, turn invisible, and manipulate non-living materials, among others.
Next, in 1985, came the Oriental Adventures supplement, which added features to the game that would allow for a "Far-Eastern" style of setting. This supplement included many Eastern classes, such as the samurai and ninja, but it included a re-designed edition of the monk class. The OA monk was similar to the original monk class, but it was given a power boost to reflect the previous comments the class had gotten. They were still fighters that relied on a high Dexterity in the place of armor, who fought with their bare hands or with a specific list of weapons (the list of weapons the monk could now use included daggers, crossbows, spears, and a number of weapons added to that supplement such as the naginata and the shuriken, among others). They had the Missile Deflection ability, and had a base AC that was separate from armor (which the monk couldn't use). The monk's abilities were codified into a system of Martial Arts, which allowed the monk to use a set of unique attacks base on the martial art they used. Lastly, this edition of the monk is the first that mentions ki, a mystical energy that the monk can harness for unique abilities, which the monk in OA uses to reduce the damage of magical attacks. The supplement also gave the monk class strict limits related to their ascetic vows: the monk was only allowed to take a certain percentage of any treasure the party found, and they had a limited list of magic items they could use, and they were not allowed to earn status through titles or their ancestry like other classes could.
In the 1985 Dungeons & Dragons Master Rules set, the mystic class also took a lot of influence from monks. They were described as a monastic people who follow a strict discipline of meditation, seclusion, and mastery of the human body. They lived in cloistered compounds with others of their order. And they used a Martial Arts ability, in which their unarmed attacks counted as magic weapons for the purpose of overcoming a monster's defenses, and could use their martial arts to impose effects like stunning their target or taking multiple attacks in one turn. While the mystic was introduced as an NPC, the book included a description of the rules a GM could use to allow a PC mystic, which mention that a PC mystic cannot recieve experience from the treasure they acquire unless it is later donated to the needy or to their cloister, and that he must repay any debts he incurs or be unable to gain further levels.
2nd edition AD&D did not include the monk class at first, but the cleric class was offered a monk kit that gave bonuses to unarmed combat. The monk was introduced later as a sub-class of the cleric in the 1996 supplements Faiths & Avatars and Player's Options: Spells & Magic. This version of the monk was a "priest" variant of the cleric, who had very little of the features of previous monks, but did retain the unarmored AC bonuses, bonuses to unarmed combat, and gained the ability to cast certain cleric spells.
The monk was presented as a core class again in 3.0. The 3.0 monk still had no armor proficiencies, and had proficiency in certain weapons (club, crossbows, dagger, handaxe, javelin, quarterstaff, shuriken, sling). In addition, the monk was proficient in three monk weapons (kama, nunchaku, siangham), which they could use with the same attack bonuses that they gained with unarmed attacks. They got a bonus to their AC and their movement speed while unarmored. They could use a Flurry of Blows ability, which gave them a second attack (could be used with monk weapons). The 3.0 monk also got many of the features which the 5th edition monk currently has. 3.5 and Pathfinder kept this class design intact, although Pathfinder added a mechanic in that unarmed strikes gained the properties of more powerful magical weapons as the monk leveled up, allowing them to bypass stronger creature defenses as they progressed.
4th edition brought the monk class into the game in the Player's Handbook 3, which listed the monk as a psionic striker class. The general 4th-edition streamlining of most class abilities actually aided the monk class a lot, as the new system made the monk a lot more comparable to the other player classes that you could choose from. The class was designed as a mobile damage-dealer, darting into a fight to hit single enemies and backing away before they could strike back. The class still gave a bonus to unarmored AC. In this edition, monks could use their abilities with weapons equally to their unarmed strikes, and in come cases weapons were a necessary prerequisite to certain abilities. Many of the monk's abilities were attacks with unique features, though some abilities focused on improving the monk's movement and defense. While this class didn't have abilities that were listed as "ki powers", the class was allowed to use a ki focus, which was an object they could focus on to boost their attacks. Ki foci could be a string of prayer beads, a manual of lore or fighting techniques, an object they used as a meditation tool, or a weapon that they practice with regularly. Said focus could be enchanted like a magic weapon, and when the monk fought with it on hand they could use the focus' enchantments to boost their attacks (including their unarmed attacks).
Monks in Historical Context
Like the history of the class in D&D, real-world monks have a fairly complex history which spans multiple cultures and has developed in several different ways. At it's core, the definition of a monk is a person who practices an ascetic lifestyle for spiritual purposes, and who lives in some form of isolation to facilitate this lifestyle. Monks often live in a monastery, an isolated compound or building that is designed to facilitate their needs while they pursue that monastic lifestyle. But there are many examples of religious hermits as well, who live apart from society in pursuit of a greater spiritual truth (the Hermit background may apply strongly for a lot of monk characters). It's worth mentioning that, across history, monks were not limited to men, and in fact examples exist of female, or coed monastic communities.
You probably know that the bulk of the monk class will be based on Eastern warrior monks, but before we get there let's talk about monasteries in Europe. Christian monasteries in the West were initially inspired by the stories in scripture of many figures who would retreat into the desert for a time in pursuit of clarity for their faith. Jesus made such a retreat, as well as such figures as the prophet Elijah, and John the Baptist. According to some historians, the earliest example of the Christian ascetic monk would be Paul of Thebes, who fled into the desert around 250 CE after his brother attempted to kill him for his inheritance. Paul was found near the end of his life by Anthony the Great, who received a vision in a dream of the hermit. Meeting Paul, Anthony heard his story, in which Paul claimed that God had provided for him in his isolation: a spring had welled up nearby when he was thirsty, he had found fruits when he was hungry, and a passing raven had brought him fresh bread to eat.
Anthony engaged in a similar hermetic lifestyle, and later in life (at the age of 35) he traveled into the deserts of Egypt and settled into an abandoned Roman fort near the Dayr al-Maymūn mountain, locking himself away from the world for 20 years. He was visited by religious pilgrims who were motivated by his example, and in the year 305 CE Anthony opened the gates to his home and instructed a group of disciples in his plan for a Christian monastic lifestyle.
Christian monks generally lived within an enclosed compound, in which they maintained a rigid lifestyle according to their faith, which often included simple meals, regular prayers and religious services, and studies of both religious texts and academic subjects. These compounds provided for most of their needs within their own community, growing their own crops, producing clothing and constructing buildings, and even brewing their own beer and wine (one of the more popular tidbits about monks). Often these monks would trade surplus goods that they had made to nearby communities in exchange for money which could be spent on the upkeep of the monastery in times of need.
Christian monasteries were valuable during the Dark Ages for their academic pursuits. In a time when writing and literacy reached an all-time low, these monasteries were crucial for the preservation of old-world academic and spiritual texts. In a time before printing, these monasteries often would copy texts by hand, which would allow them to be distributed later during the Renaissance. A number of academic studies have also been thanks to the work of Christian monks: Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, and William of Ockham, who wrote prolifically on the subject of logic and rational thought, were both monks. It's important to remember that, apart from their spiritual focus, monasteries also encouraged the growth of the mind, and many monks are in fact quite learned.
While many monasteries have been devoted to the Hindu faith in the Middle East, nowadays Buddhism is most popularly-known for its monastic traditions. And to get into that, we need to briefly talk about the foundations of Buddhism. As a disclaimer, this is a very broad take on both Theravada and Zen Buddhism, and I am not trying to generalize or misrepresent either faiths. It is quite possible that I have not taken aspects of either faith into account here, and there are of course many who are more knowledgeable about these practices an myself.
According to mythology, the first buddha (or "enlightened one") was Siddhartha Gautama, who had been a prince in ancient India in roughly the 5th to 4th century BCE. Siddhartha has lived his early life enclosed within his father's palace, and his father had made an effort to isolate his son from the troubles of the world. When he was a young man, curious about the world, Siddhartha snuck out his father's palace with a servant, to see the city he had lived in. In his journey, according to the story, Siddhartha experienced the suffering of the people: he witnessed an old man, a sick man whose body was failing him, and a funeral procession for a man who had died. These sights of human suffering, which the young prince had not known of before, shocked him, and he felt the need to leave his old life behind in pursuit of clarity. His forth sight on this trip was an ascetic monk, a man who lived on the edge of the city, who denied himself food and water in pursuit of a heightened spiritual connection. Siddhartha left the palace and his inheritance behind to join the ascetics, and stayed there for many years following their lifestyle of denial of the material world. After some time of self-starvation, Siddhartha proposed the "middle path", in which one would reject worldly urges and desires, but still maintain one's health and connection to the world around them.
Buddhist monasticism was a popular way for Buddhists to maintain this self-controlled lifestyle, keeping the monks distant from the temptations of the world. However, Buddha Gautama encouraged his followers not to reject the world around them in their pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. It is a common practice for monks to leave their monastery and travel to others in the world. On such travels, Buddhist monks often rely on charity from the communities they travel through, for food and shelter. And like Christian monasteries, Buddhist monasteries often maintained a relationship with nearby villages and towns. But monks are encouraged to think of their own monastery as home, and not to stray too long from that location. Buddhist monks eat only in the mornings, are forbidden the use of money, and are not allowed to ask for anything from their local community (although they often make "almsrounds" through these communities, and giving to such a passing monk is considered a charitable act). Many monastic practices limit their monks to possessing four items (a razor, a needle, a water strainer, and a wooden bowl for begging). Buddhist monks also eschew their sexual urges, and take vows of chastity.
While we have been talking primarily about Theravada Buddhism, which is Indian in origin, Buddhism spread to China as early as the 5th century CE. Buddhism combined with Confucian and Taoist principles and developed into a subgroup known as Chan Buddhism, which was translated in Japan into zen Buddhism. While incorporating many Theravada Buddhist practices into Chinese culture, that culture also introduced a focus on the arts, and on physical development, to the faith. Chan Buddhist monks were encouraged to develop various art forms, such as calligraphy, painting, and flower arrangement. And Taoist physical exercises, along with the philosphy of qigong (the manipulation of chi, or life energy) were incorporated as a part of a monk's spiritual development (on top of yoga, which had been a common physical and spiritual exercise in Theravada Buddhism). The result is a community of monks who developed themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually at the same time.
Warrior Monks and Martial Arts
If we're going to talk about monks practicing martial arts, let's talk about what that means. A martial art, by definition, is really any codified system of combat techniques. Thus, while we nowadays think of martial arts as a thing from countries like China, Japan, and Korea, we also can include European fencing styles, Greco-Roman wrestling, and the military doctrines of Sparta as other examples. And in many of these martial arts, the techniques are combined with doctrines about the warrior's lifestyle, which made them stronger fighters. The reason that we now think of Eastern martial arts when we hear the term is primarily because, over time, martial arts died off in the West. As I mention in my article about the fighter class, as military technology advanced it became the realm of only the wealthy to really train in combat styles (consider the medieval knight as an example, who would train to use newer styles of heavy armor, horseback-mounted combat, and the use of various weapons). For most of the Western world, combat became something you would only need to use under extreme cases, and thus people stopped focusing on intense training. However, in the East, such martial arts became enmeshed with Taoist and Confucian philosophies, and even after warfare became less prevalent the martial arts were maintained as a way of developing one's philosophical and spiritual health, as well as physical health.
While there are a number of examples where codified warrior societies combined with the rigid monastic lifestyle, the one we think of most often nowadays is the Shaolin Monastery, a zen Buddhist temple in the Song Mountains of China. According to the more common stories (which are controversial according to some historians), the monastery incorporated martial arts into their practice according to the Indian Buddhist monk Bodidharma, who came to the monastery in the 5th century. Bodidharma is accredited with teaching the Shaolin monks a series of physical exercises as a form of spiritual development similar to yoga, and these exercises would later be developed into what is known as Shaolin Kung Fu. The fighting style incorporates a number of combat strikes, grappling techniques, and take-downs as a way to develop one's physical body, and the combat style was typically used in combat sports among the monks for this purpose. However, the Shaolin Monastery has been attacked many times in history, and in those moments the monks were able to use the combat forms they had trained in defense of the monastery.
A word about Chi
You probably have noticed, but ki, the energy that fuels a D&D monk's abilities, is remarkably similar to the word chi, or qi (the word originates in Chinese, so the English spelling is frankly arbitrary at this point). Chi is a sort of life force according to old Chinese philosophy, a belief that was incorporated in many ancient Chinese medicinal practices, philosophies, and martial arts. In particular, Taoism, Confucianism, and zen Buddhism are known for referring to chi in their teachings. Martial arts styles like Qigong and Tai Chi try to control the flow of a person's chi through their body using a series of yoga-like postures (which are often practiced in slow motion, but could be sped up to serve as a combat style in some cases). These martial arts forms visualize the flow of chi as a way to add power to someone's strikes, and they use chi as a way of visualizing a person's center of balance. While the application of a person's chi in martial arts isn't known for being incredibly magical, chi-based practices include "Iron Body" and "Iron Fist" training in qigong, which allows the students of these techniques to withstand heavy blows to their body and punch through solid objects thanks to years of development and practice.
References for Monks
According to TSR employees Tim Kask and Brian Blume, the monk class for D&D was directly inspired by the character Remo Williams in the Destroyer series of novels. In the books, Williams is a police officer who is trained to be an elite assassin for a top-secret government organization founded by president John F Kennedy. As part of his training, Williams learns martial arts from the monk Chiung, himself a master martial artist. Much of Williams’ action scenes revolve around unarmed combat, and his training under Chiung is used heavily throughout the books.
For examples of a martial artist character, you can look as the collected works of Chinese martial artists and actors Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Bruce Lee. All three men are prolific actors in both Chinese and American films, well known for performing all of their own stunts and fight choreography. While there are a lot of films that these men are credited for, notable ones for this case include Drunken Master (Jackie Chan), Shaolin (Jackie Chan), Fearless (Jet Li), Tai Chi Master (Jet Li), Fist of Fury (Bruce Lee), Enter the Dragon (Bruce Lee), and The Forbidden Kingdom (Jet Li and Jackie Chan).
While it is definitely an Americanized version of the martial arts movie genre, the 1984 movie The Karate Kid does a great job of showing martial arts education. You get some classic scenes of protagonist Daniel LaRusso learning from his teacher Mr Miyagi, both in combat and in his lifestyle.
While it was initially panned for a number of reasons, the Netflix series Iron Fist is a place you can draw from for inspiration on monastic lifestyles, martial arts, and in particular the use of chi in martial arts. The protagonist Danny Rands uses chi as a super power, channeling it into his fist with his strikes to make them more powerful, and using chi as a healing force later in the series. While the results in the show are arguably over the top for a D&D story, the show can certainly get you thinking about what a young man raised by monks would think about, and how ki would be a part part of that worldview.
Lastly, but certainly not least, I recommend using Aang, from Avatar: The Last Airbender, as inspiration for a monk. Arguably, the benders i. the show are difficult to discuss in D&D terms (sone argue they’re sorcerers, not monks). But the Air Nomads, who Aang is the last of, we’re definitely a monastic culture. They espoused detachment from the world for spiritual purposes, and Aang carries the lessonsthey taught with him throughout the story. Near the end, he even has to grapple with his mission of defeating the Fire Lord, because killing another human being would be a violation of the code his monastic order had lived by.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Questions for a Monk Character
If you are building a monk character, or if you're a GM with a player rolling a monk, you may want to consider these questions:
- The fundamental feature of a monk is that they lived at some point in a monastery, which was central to their life. What was your monk's monastery like? Where was it located? Was it a large compound with many buildings, or a single building with limited space? Were there many other monks in the monastery, or a close-knit group that you could count on your hands? How far was your monastery from the nearest town? Did they produce everything they needed in the monastery, or did they trade with nearby communities for certain supplies?
- Monasteries are led by a master or an abbot/abbess. What was your character's master like? Were they harsh, leading their flock with strict discipline and commitment to a rigid code? Were they peaceful, never critical of your monk's actions and always nurturing to their spiritual self? Were they brutal, always setting almost-impossible standard for their monks to meet if they were to stay in the monastery? Were they cold and distant, always focused on something beyond the monastery or the people they led? Describe this master's appearance, their role in the monastery, and their routines and habits.
- Describe the daily routine your monk led when they were in the monastery. What time did they wake up each morning? What jobs did they have to perform for the monastery? When did they devote time for spiritual reflection, and how was this time spent? What about time for your monk's physical or mental training? Did your monk study specific texts? Did they have a regular exercise regimen? How integral was combat to the monastery's teachings? Where did your monk sleep? Did monks have single rooms, or did they live in communal spaces? Was your monk allowed to keep any personal belongings in the monastery, either coming from the monastery or mementos from beforehand? Or was everything, from the clothes on their back to the tools they used, communally shared?
- Monks often train in a variety of crafts, which are used to maintain the well-being of the monastery. What roles was your monk assigned to? Growing food in a small plot of farmland? Constructing buildings and maintaining them over time? Brewing wine? Knitting clothing from cloth? Who trained your monk in these crafts? Did your monk enjoy the work they did, or did they wish to do something different with their time?
- Monks are often asked to leave parts of the world behind them, as they pursue a higher place of being. Did your monastery forbid certain practices? Was your monk not allowed to eat rich foods, or consume alcohol? Was sex forbidden within the monastery? Were monks at your monastery required to take a vow of poverty or silence? What was the stated purpose of these restrictions, and did your monk believe in them?
- Monasteries often focus on symbols as tools to develop one's self. Many study and imitate the behaviors of a certain animal, or focus on the life and teachings of a person who was important to the monastery's history. Does your monk have such an icon for themselves? How does this symbol or figure shape how they conduct themselves in their daily life? How does your monk carry this symbol with them as they travel? Do they have a carved statuette of the animal they imitate? Do they stitch the symbol into their clothing?
- Many monks use a chant, a mantra, or a sound that they utter during meditation, to help them focus. For instance the "ohm" mantra uttered by Buddhists supposedly is the sound of the vibrations of the universe. Does your monk have a mantra? What does it sound like? Is it a single sound held over a long period of time, or a string of words repeated over and over? What does this mantra mean in the context of your monastery's teachings?
- How did your character become tied to the monastery? Were they abandoned there as an infant? Were they rescued at a young age by a wandering monk, who took them to the monastery for shelter? Did they come to the monastery by choice later in life? Did they experience a personal crisis that led them to seek spiritual or physical development? What drew them to this monastery? Reputation? Was it because it was nearby at the time? Did somebody introduce your character to the monastery? Did they have to prove themselves before the master would admit them? What tests did they have to pass to earn this admission? What did your character have to let go of, or leave behind, to join the monastery?
- While monks live a rigid lifestyle, it is natural for some to have a moment of weakness and rebel against the monastery. Did you monk ever try to violate the rules of their monastery? Did they shirk their responsibilities in the compound? Did they try to keep something that was personal to them, after their master had instructed them to let it go? Did your monk every try to leave the monastery, even if only for a short time? Ultimately, what was the result of this act of rebellion, and how did your monk feel when it was done?
- Why did your monk leave the monastery? Are they in a pilgrimage that is customary for monks in that monastery? Did they decide that they had business which they needed to attend to elsewhere? Were they called to embark on a mission by the monastery? Was the monastery destroyed by attackers or by a natural disaster? Did something happen internally, such as a traitor within the community or a change in leadership which your monk felt betrayed the ways of the monastery?
- Monks attempt to reach a state of enlightenment. Has your monk experienced a heightened state of existence through their lifestyle, even for a moment? What did it feel like when they did? Did they feel a connection with the collective life of the cosmos? Did they feel an all-encompassing knowledge of the world and its virtues. Did they feel separated from their physical being, becoming one with the energy of the universe? Did the gods have a presence in this state of theirs?
- I home brewed a judo monk subclass for 5E. What do you think?
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