Dancing Monk Background

By: Jesse C Cohoon

In this article I’m not seeking to reinvent the wheel. A basic outline of what it takes to create a background but can be found here.

This is my own take on background for D&D 5E, so I’m playing a bit ‘fast and loose’ here with some of the concepts herein. This particular one is a class specific background.

Monks in D&D are typically viewed as people who you have to go out to an exotic location in order to be able to visit their monastery. But what would happen if a sect of monks decided to set up in the middle of a town in the slums to be able to teach spiritual enlightenment to the poorest of the poor?

For as long as you can remember you have been raised by the city monks. But instead of being cloistered as an acolyte in some remote location, these monks have lived side by side with you, teaching you by example what it is to be calm and controlled in the midst of chaos of the ghettos. This basis started as a slow dance class in which you learned how to move with very controlled movements. But as time went on the dance developed into something more so that you learned how to move in such a way as to confuse your enemies and strike with deadly speed and precision. Now it’s your turn to go out and teach others how to use this dance technique to spread the monk ideal of being cool, calm and collected. You are sure that you can show others how to embrace this ideal, and set out to do so.

Real life dance move inspiration might come from various martial arts such as Akido, Muay Thai, Silat, Judo, or capoeira. Actual dance inspiration might come from Tai Chi movements, Salsa, Native American War Dance, and breakdancing, amongst others.

Skill Proficiencies: Perform (Dance)*, Balance

Tool Proficiencies: Musical instruments that don’t require free hands to play**

Language: Streetwise***

Equipment: Loose “street” clothing that allow movement and distraction, Climbing sash+, comfortable simple shoes / sandals, normal starting gold for

* Usually perform uses the Charisma stat, but because this is meant to be that benefits the body and as a means of discipline, for this purpose Dexterity or Wisdom becomes the stat it’s keyed to. Choose which at character creation.
** think things like ankle chimes, the rhythmic tapping of the multiple parts of a 3 section staff together, rattles, castanets, etc.

*** a knowledge of terminology that the people on the streets use. This is different from thief’s cant in that not everyone on the street knows it, but they *do* know streetwise.

+ A sash that doubles as a rope for climbing, this is instead of the climber’s kit.

Feature:

Disruptive Dancing: Those seeking to directly target the Dancing Monk in battle need to succeed a Wisdom save totaling his dance check or be at a disadvantage for all attacks against him. This check is performed each round. Once the target saves, s/he is immune to the disruptive dance for 24 hours, unless the Dancing Monk changes their style. This technique can also be used to bob and weave through an area that has traps to attempt to get through it unscathed, except the Dancing Monk receives an advantage when it comes to avoiding the consequences of a trap.

Alternative Features:

Dao Dancing: By performing the rudimentary movements of the dances that s/he was taught as a student for several minutes, s/he gain the ability to clear his/ her mind. Gain the ability of Augury (no outside entity to ask though)

Directional Dancing: By spending several minutes performing the rudimentary movements of the dances that you were taught as a student, the Dancing Monk can retrace his/ her steps backwards exactly as s/he stepped them for up to 1 minute per level without flaw.

Suggested Characteristics

A successful dancing monk finds a way to keep calm in any situation using the movements of the dance as the touchstone. Dancing Monks are most at home performing their art, whether on the street, fighting monsters, or using their keen reflexes to avoid traps. Yet they know they need to go wherever fate takes them to teach this skill to others.

d12 Personality Traits
1 I am exceedingly calm in any situation because I know my craft will enable me to win the day
2 I am always looking for new students, and will teach them wherever and whenever I can
3 My techniques are flexible; I am always looking for new techniques to incorporate into my style
4 I am a master of my techniques, and I will prove it any way I can
5 My techniques are so complex, I am seeking a single student whom I pass along all I know
6 I am seeking revenge on those that framed my master/ my school / me.
7 My school’s style will be world renown through my efforts
8 Because I turned my back on my teachings, someone got hurt/ killed; I must use my skill to redeem myself
9 Living on the streets is tough; along with the skills the monks taught me, I can face anything.
10 My skills failed me once; I need to sharpen them so it doesn’t happen again
11 The most skilled bear the responsibility of protecting the weaker and unskilled.
12 I love to talk endlessly about the art of the fighting dance

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d12 Ideals
1 ;Equity: I make sure everyone follows by the same set of rules; I will intervene to “level the playing field” if I feel things are unfair (Lawful)
2 Justice: I want to make sure that the law is upheld whenever possible, they are there for a reason (Lawful)
3 Tradition. These dances, these fighting moves, this knowledge of the past must never be forgotten, for they teach us who we are and where we come from. (Lawful)
4 Charity. I am going to give all I can in order to make the streets a better place for those who have to live there. (Good)
5 Kindness. I try to give a kind word or gesture to everyone I meet, even if in the moment they do not deserve it (Good)
6 Ethics Hard Work is its own reward; doing a good job doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get rewarded for it (Good)
7 People. I enjoy giving a good dance performance for others to enjoy. (Neutral)
8 Knowledge. I want to learn as much as I can in order to better myself. (Neutral)
9 People. People are a means to an end; I will use them and lose them. (Evil)
10 Things. Growing up on the streets was hard; therefore I will take from others every chance I get. (Evil)
11 Aspiration. I want to make sure no one ever has a rotten childhood as I had; I will do what I must to improve the situation for those living there. (Any)
12 Honesty. Dancing Contests should reflect the dancer’s soul; it should come from within and reveal who we really are or tell something important about their background. (Any)

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d6 Bond
1 The people on the street (or the dancing monks) are my brothers and sisters, I will do anything to protect/ help them.
2 My teacher died while protecting me. I will follow his example in protecting others to the death
3 A family member (mother, father, brother, sister) or close friend died in the streets because I wasn’t skilled enough. That can’t be allowed to happen again.
4 The only thing that keeps me grounded in reality is knowing there are others that practice the same art as I do. This community is my life.
5 I am determined to win out over my rival(s) who made ribald jokes me publicly humiliated me.
6 I am adventuring to show my students that my school of dance can withstand the world’s dangers.

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d8 Flaws
1 I flaunt my abilities, even when doing so is foolhardy, dangerous, or will cost me more in the long run
2 I’ll betray a friend to help those on the streets; I’ve done so in the past without regret.
3 I often get lost in the movements of the dance, so much so it’s become harder and harder to stop, so much so I prefer the comfort of the dance to that of the realities of life.
4 I boast about my abilities, but when it comes down to it, I’m not as practiced as I would have others believe. My boasting once cost me greatly; I still have the (physical/ mental) scars to prove it.
5 I will use my abilities to get ahead, even if others around me must pay the consequences.
6 Despite my best efforts, I tend to put my foot in my mouth
7 I use whatever group or troupe I’m with as cover for the thefts and assassinations I’m paid to carry out
8 I am unlearned; the streets are all I know. . The streets are all I want/ to know

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d6 Interesting Places To find a Dancing Monk
1 In a bardic (or other type of impromptu) competition to showcase his performance
2 In a boxing ring/ (mixed martial arts) fighting competition, or bar fight, using his moves to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”
3 Teaching a Tai Chi (or other dance/ movement) class to the city youth
4 In jail / prison for performing without a license
5 As a part of the city guard helping to quell a riot with his moves
6 In another temple, showing his moves to a different sect of monks

If you want to make up names for the dancing monk schools in your world, a table to give you a starting point can be found here

Try to incorporate this background into your game and let me know in the comments how it turned out!

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  • I think you’ll find that 5e’s Backgrounds do not offer ANY combat-affecting features. Background features should affect social, investigative, or exploration scenes, preferably without requiring a die roll to exercise.

    • Lots of good ideas here! I really like the idea of a streewise language and would love to see a full article just on alternative languages that are like Druidic and Thieves’ Cant.

      If you wanted to move from fast and loose – to something that follows the 5e background design guidelines… I think a quick rework of the feature to be something related to something social that is handy in urban environments would be great. This background offers a different take on aspects of the Urchin and Entertainer.

      First things that comes to mind would be:

      1) the ability to find a place to hide/train/sleep in the city.
      2) using performance (dance) to gain some social benefit

    • I’m actually going for people who are poorer than poor. Even with as much as we have in today’s society, there are still people who have literally nowhere to go. Basically the idea of someone living in a garbage heap because they have no shelter, or a shelter made of found things they pieced together, not to mention it seems far too similar to the bard’s “by popular demand” feature for me, which is why I avoided it.

      Also social interaction(s) rely on charisma, which I was specifically wishing to avoid the need for.

  • Colin McLaughlin
    • Looking through it the way of the fan, I quite agree!

  • Thank you everyone for your comments! I try to use them as ways to improve my writing and getting you content that you can use for your games.

    • Good stuff. Keep the idea factory running though.

  • crimfan

    Cool idea, though as Brandes said you should be careful about adding combat-related features to a background.

    I think the monk can get out of the Kung Fu ghetto by having it be other things, one interesting one being a dancer who’s taken things to a substantially different place than just art. I’d probably want to swap out Wisdom for Charisma in that case, and definitely want to switch out a number of fairly irrelevant abilities such as the one that lets monks know all languages, but still, it’s an interesting way to represent a mystic warrior built on special movements.

    • Even though perform is generally a charisma based thing, because the purpose of doing so is for the purpose of improving one’s mind and body which is why I shifted it to wisdom or dexterity respectively.

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