As we have another week without Unearthing any Arcana, I can at last return to our discussion of the monk class in D&D. Today I’m looking at AD&D, Second Edition, and like all even-numbered editions, the monk is not a core Player’s Handbook class. I’m not really sure why, except that it was always a dodgy fit and 2e, especially in the DMG and the Complete splatbooks, shows way more Eurocentrism than any edition before or after it. (The other editions are still Eurocentric, they’re just colored with Gygaxian naturalism, American meritocratic ideas, or other media influences to a greater degree.)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three


Complete Priest’s Handbook

This is one of the few Complete splatbooks of the 2e era that I didn’t own, and I always had sort of an odd relationship with it. I’d thumb through it at the store, read its mechanics for building variant clerics for each portfolio, and bounce off, because they are universally worse than just playing a Player’s Handbook cleric… something that people already mostly did not want to do. I’m not here to talk about the cleric today, but 2e’s first iteration of the monk is the Fighting-Monk kit, which modifies the cleric class.

  • In addition to the cleric’s Wis 9+ prerequisite, the Fighting-Monk requires a Dex of 12+. Still the easiest monk to qualify for that we’ve seen so far.
  • There’s a whole complicated rigmarole about how to ditch this kit for another one in the course of play. Unlike 5e’s subclasses, which so resemble kits, some 2e kits explicitly expect that you’ll leave your current kit and take another at some point. This “whole complicated rigmarole” is “don’t use any of this kit’s special abilities for the next three levels. This is just unnecessarily punitive.
  • They receive Tumbling as a bonus nonweapon proficiency, which is a complicated way to say that they can:
    • Spend their action to dodge, improving AC by 4.
    • Gain a +2 bonus to unarmed attack rolls. The paragraph layout makes this unclear, but I have to conclude that this doesn’t cost any part of an action, and is just a passive benefit.
    • Reduce falling damage on falls of 60 feet or less.
  • You have to have the Complete Fighter’s Handbook to know what the hell this means, but Fighting-Monks get bonus weapon proficiency slots that they use to specialize in Punching, Wrestling, or Martial Arts. Each slot spent on specialization improves attacks, damage, and choice of strike. I’m not going to go into detail here, because these rules are so bizarre and odious to me. Let’s stop at “your fixed damage winds up being comparable to the damage output of a d6, and goes up from there.”
    • However, your attacks per round never scale (as a fighter’s do), because P/W/MA Specialization is not like Weapon Specialization, and you have a dire need for a very high Strength and Dexterity, since you won’t have magic weapons or any kind of armor to improve your attacks, damage, or AC.
  • The Fighting-Monk treats all nonweapon proficiencies as in-class, for some reason. I guess it’s a monastic enlightenment thing?
  • So about those hindrances. Did I mention no armor, ever? No armor – ever.
  • The Fighting-Monk also sacrifices some breadth of spellcasting, but it’s worth mentioning that the 2e monk is still a clerical spellcaster – even if a somewhat reduced one.
  • Asceticism means you can’t own more than you can carry on your back. No word on how a bag of holding might alter this limitation.
  • Note the absence of an alignment requirement.

As a spellcasting class, albeit a somewhat constrained one, this monk is way out in left field compared to everything before it. It does manage to feel more like clergy than other monks, for the same reason. Anything that hangs on the mechanics of punching, wrestling, or martial arts in 2e is off to a rocky start, and the rest of the Fighting-Monk’s mechanics are… regrettable. On the other hand, we have several more efforts at a 2e monk to talk about today, so buckle up.


Faiths & Avatars

Man, I was a dedicated collector of Forgotten Realms material in the 2e and 3e eras. Faiths & Avatars covers basically what it says on the tin, and includes a bunch of extra Priest classes. (Quick reminder: in 2e, Priest is a parent class that contains cleric, druid, and monk; F&A adds crusaders, mystics, and shamans. No one’s actual character class is “priest.”) As an aside, the text of this book is particularly small and annoying to read – this was as true when I was a teenager in thick glasses as it is now that one of those descriptors has substantively changed.

  • The monk requires Constitution 13+, Wisdom 15+, Intelligence 14+. Intelligence, you say. Hokay. +10% XP with Int and Wis of 16+.
    • Oh, by the way, that Int score does zilch for you otherwise, and you’ll need a good Dex to survive. Good luck getting the dice to generate a monk that could survive 1st
  • Must be some flavor of lawful.
  • Must be human.
  • Must be unarmored, but their AC scales on its own. Starting at 2nd level, anyway. Yeah, you have to make it through 1st level with 10 AC. It eventually drops to AC 2 at 14th level, which is pretty good but not amazing. Oh, and this AC doesn’t apply against unseen attacks – for that, you’re back to AC 10. Sucks to be you.
  • Also, no bracers of armor for you.
  • But monks treat all nonweapon proficiencies as in-class.
  • They cast spells as clerics, with a sort of unusual collection of spell spheres, and only minor access to the all-important sphere of Healing. Numbers and Thought are interesting spheres, but a lot of their spells are either so corner-case that you’d never think to prepare one of these, or not worth the casting because that’s not how people play the game, but you know what, let me save this thought (that’s one of their spells, by the way) for when I write the history of the cleric series.
  • No ability to turn undead.
  • Monks get a special saving throw versus spells to resist detection, scrying, or mind-reading magic or psionic effects, starting at 5th level.
  • At 7th level, they’re always under the effects of free action.
  • Now we get into the martial arts. This is called burying the lede, y’all. The writers have no idea which set of rules for unarmed combat you might be using, and rather than write something specific to this class, there are rules for all three versions (Complete Fighter’s Handbook, Player’s Option: Combat & Tactics, and the Player’s Handbook).
    • I can’t really put off talking about martial arts any longer, can I? Okay, it’s like this.
    • In the PH, make an attack roll, modified by Strength. If this roll succeeds, look up the die result on a table, and that gives you your damage result (0, 1, or 2, plus your Strength modifier) and a percentage chance to stun the target for 1d10 rounds. 25% of this damage is real and 75% is temporary. Wrestling is more complicated and offers cumulative damage, but no stun chance.
    • In the CFH, they add martial arts and ever greater levels of specialization in each type of unarmed combat. Martial arts is for the most part like punching but with slightly better damage and stun chances, but you take brutal penalties to your attack roll for wearing any kind of armor. Specializing in each style adds 1 to your attack roll, 1 to your damage roll, and lets you shift your strike result up or down the chart by a range of 1 point. Also, punching and martial arts specialization grant one extra attack per round, so that’s almost good. You’re basically here for that stun chance. As you continue boosting your specialization, your attack bonus, damage bonus, and shift range on your strike result grow by 1 per slot spent.
    • In PO:CT, they throw all of this business out the window and shift to traditional attack and damage rolls for pummeling (the new punching), but with a bunch of extra rules for knockdowns and six tiers of specialization. The wrestling rules are four pages long, and I’ll have to hope that that’s a sufficient condemnation. There are also overbearing rules, which they could have just called Tackling rules; these take two and a half pages. Finally we come to martial arts. There are four styles, named A, B, C, and D, each with unique features and base damage dice. The various levels of martial arts specialization grant more attacks per round, avert penalties to various actions, and allow attacks of opportunity, among other things.
    • If you’re still with me through all that, God bless you. The long and the short of it is that monks are good at this stuff – as good as the single-classed warrior that the PO:CT rules otherwise privilege highly. Whether or not that’s worth anything depends entirely on which set of rules you’re using. Your DM will probably not thank you for making them learn your unarmed-combat rules, because even the “fast” one is a lot more complicated to resolve than a fighter’s attacks.
  • Monks can use any bludgeoning weapon.

The monk class of Player’s Option: Spells & Magic is a reprint of the F&A monk, in case you’re wondering. What I see here is in line with most of what the descriptive text promises: a jack of all trades, master of none. What it doesn’t do is any of the infiltration that it promises (no stealth or improved perception), and I hope you’re really into shining in rare moments, because your spell list doesn’t want to do you a ton of favors for meat-and-potatoes spells.


Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition

I wouldn’t even have known about this one, but for the efforts of an alert reader. Yeah, I’m drawing on a video game for a 2e class.

  • Must have a Wisdom of 9+ (they’re still clerics), as well as Dexterity and Constitution of 9+. Isn’t it nice to see a class you might actually be able to play without the DM knowing you cheat?
  • Must be some flavor of lawful.
  • They advance as clerics (in XP and HD) and use some clerical magic items.
  • They use thief weapons and pick up Hide in Shadows and Move Silently skills. They can detect traps, but not do anything about them. The thief weapon selection doesn’t suck.
  • Their THAC0 (attack bonus, if you don’t speak 2e) and High Level Abilities work like Fighters.
  • They can deliver a stunning blow.
  • They gain a Quivering Palm attack once per day, starting at 13th level.
  • They can lay on hands to heal damage, exactly like a paladin, starting at 7th level.
    • I’m immensely amused that the video game designers dumped the stinginess of earlier edition monk healing features – they were apparently more aware than D&D’s designers that paltry healing per day is just not satisfying or meaningful to use.
  • Their AC scales downward about like you’d expect, and they have a further AC improvement against missiles.
  • They gain a bonus on all saving throws.
  • They become immune to disease, haste, and slow at 5th level, charm at 9th level, poison at 11th level, and nonmagical weapons at 20th level.
  • They gain a scaling bonus to movement speed.
  • Their unarmed attack damage scales up. A lot. It starts at 1d6, reaching 1d20+4 at 25th level.
  • They gain a scaling Magic Resistance percentage, starting at 14th level.

It’s hard to miss that this is a best-parts version of years of tinkering (BG:EE came out in 2014), at least when it comes to theme. Porting it back into a more “pure” 2e is prohibitive, as it substantially outclasses most anything else in the core game; as far as I see, the only serious issue is surviving long enough to get your AC to improve. I haven’t played BG:EE, so I don’t know how the monk stacks up against other classes in its own environment.


The Scarlet Brotherhood

There is one more official 2e monk writeup out there, in The Scarlet Brotherhood, but as the hour is late and the article already extensive (and covering TSB’s version would greatly expand that), I’ll simply say that it is one of the only versions to draw on Philip Meyers’s monk from Dragon #53, and the presentation of class features visibly presages 3.0 – The Scarlet Brotherhood came out in 1999, and its creative team is well-known to any 3.x or Pathfinder fan.

One striking note here is that this class is specifically for Suel humans of the Scarlet Brotherhood, and they must be lawful evil – suddenly the high-level progression duels make a lot more sense. Overall, and in contrast with everything else in this article, TSB’s version draws deeply from all of OD&D’s and 1e’s monks, even when those mechanics don’t make a ton of sense. In so many ways, this is the only 2e-era through-line successor to earlier monk classes.

Taking all of these versions together, what I see is a clash of ideas around the monk’s nature and how to fit it into D&D settings. Some versions invoke its precursors and reject trying to fit, while others draw in Western contemplative mystics and imagine them as still stranger unarmed warriors. The Scarlet Brotherhood is the thematic success of the bunch, as it folds monks deeply into setting lore and lets interesting ideas sprout out of that – a model that 3.0 Forgotten Realms will make every attempt to duplicate, with what I (spoiler!) regard as mixed results.

  • Love the cover image 🙂

    It appears the over the top Kung Fury is getting a sequel. Can’t wait.

    • MTi

      Wasn’t it an awesome movie? Everything about it is great, the soundtrack, everything. Too bad it is not that long.

      Also, great write up Brandes. Eager to see 3e and beyond, in order to be in more familiar grounds.

  • Shane

    It’s interesting to consider that D&D’s on-again off-again relationship with the monk throughout the editions is reflected in how difficult it is to think of a famous – or at least particularly notable – character of the monk class in D&D lore.
    To be fair, D&D has always had a harder time than most media properties with leveraging famous characters, since the game is necessarily focused around the PCs, but we still get some via the novels and other fiction. That’s why we have Elminster and Raistlin as iconic wizards, Drizzt Do’Urden as the iconic ranger (or maybe the iconic drow), and for fighters we have…Damodar? (*runs for cover*) But try to think of a famous monk in D&D, and there’s virtually nothing to go on, notwithstanding 3E’s Iconics line of characters and their monk, Ember.
    I would venture that the best example if Danica, the leading lady of R. A. Salvatore’s Cleric Quintet novels (who later moonlighted in a few of the Drizzt books), as she was an unarmed warrior with mystic powers that she got from meditation and careful study of the ancient texts of a particular martial arts master. Ironically enough, in the 2E Heroes Lorebook, she was a fighter.

  • Syd Andrews

    First, my opinion of the most clever/amusing comment in the article: “one of those descriptors has substantively changed”. As a middle-aged gamer that has been gaming for over 35 years, I know this all too well.

    Second, my groan of “well, technically, yes, but…” to something in the article: “like all even-numbered editions, the monk is not a core Player’s Handbook class”. The term “core class” isn’t a universally defined term and so I’d “argue” that the word “core” should be removed from the statement.

    But anyway, as always, great stuff here. I was particularly enamored with the Monk class in my early days of D&D (meaning the early-to-mid 80’s). I had the 1e PHB and my friend had given me a photocopy of the Monk write-up from Dragon Magazine. And when 2e came out (though I still don’t think that it felt that new/different from 1e), I still felt that the Monk was an “awesome” class and always wanted to play one, even to the point of having Monk NPCs populate pretty much every adventure I ran.

    Now I enjoyed a lot of the Players Options series. I liked the Character Points system (even though many in my play group didn’t really understand how they worked, including the DMs). But I do know that it caused a lot of imbalance. Overall, though, I think that the Monk, as a class, was always somewhat out of place. Thematically, it didn’t fully fit in the common Euro-centric medieval fantasy setting that was most of D&D. I did actually play in a D&D campaign where a Monk and Samurai were in the party alongside a Dwarf Fighter and a Pagan Witch. This was a 3.5 campaign, so I’ll save any stories to share for when you get to the 3.x Monk class.

    • I think you’ll find it tough to argue that the monk is found in the Player’s Handbook of 2e or the Player’s Handbook (1) of 4e, or that it came out in OD&D earlier than the product named Supplement II. I take “core” to mean “released in the first major product if each edition.” 🙂

      It would indeed be easy to bring a 1e monk rules block forward into 2e, though I strongly recommend switching their HD to d8s as every published 2e monk does.

      We’ll see how long of a wait the 3.x article is. I’ve started reading up for it, at least! But UA breakdowns are a harsh mistress. 😉

    • Syd Andrews

      I wouldn’t argue about the presence or absence of the Monk class in those (or other books). I was just bringing attention to the idea of a “core” class. And given your meaning of “core”, then your statement is correct. Not that I was saying it was incorrect in the first place. As I mentioned, I would have only removed the word “core” so that your statement would be “like all even-numbered editions, the monk is not a Player’s Handbook class.”

      I really only brought it up because I believe that in 3.x, the idea of a “core” class was specifically named to mean a class that a player could take at 1st level. This was to distinguish it from a prestige class, which had all kinds of requirements to achieve over the first 6-10 levels to qualify to take levels in that class.

      And I’ve also played in groups where the idea of the “core” class was simply “the class on which the character concept is based”. So any class “concept” is the “core class”.

      But all of this is moot anyway.

      I do look forward to the 3.x article, as I have some great memories of the Pacifist Monk and the Witch of the White Hand that were in an adventuring group together. The Monk was going around knocking people out left and right (literally) with non-lethal damage, and the Witch was oath-bound to never let a living creature suffer from wounds, so he would heal anyone, even the enemy, if they were dying on the battle field (in negative hit points). The rest of the group had a tough time with that…

  • Mikey Kromhout

    Well to be fair to the fighting monk could, depending on the type of priest, have access to the cestus. This would give you access to potential magical weapon (though rare as any non-PHB weapon tends to be). In addition it gives you other options since in the Complete Fighters Handbook it gives a specific example using the cestus along with punching specialization, two weapon fighting, and perhaps weapon specialization. Punching is actually one of the odd but potentially nasty optimization routes in 2e and one of the only ways of getting extra attacks with non-warrior classes (since non-warriors can specialize in one unarmed style that can get you an extra attack while you use the 1d4 cestus). Add in the +2 for tumbling and your punches are decently accurate too.

    Also note that this is one of those weird thing where the game books themselves are not clear which you should choose to use when it comes to the exact benefits of punching specialization between the priest book and the fighter book. Either you have to take the rules in the priest book to be an explicit exception to the rules they used in the fighter book (which also shows up in combat and tactics) or it is essentially a typo or mistake that they did not list the extra attack in the priest book.

    The ability to take any NWP could be potentially powerful depending on what books you are allowed to pull from.

    The BG2 is a fun hodge podge of the 1e and 3e monks. As with the 1e monk it is very weak in BG1 and very strong as weapon classes go in late BG2. By the end of BG1 you start feeling pretty decent (so about 8th level though weapon use is not so great). Just so you know that the original BG2 monk is slightly different than the one in the enhanced edition but only very slightly (for instance they have kits in that one and their magic fist bonuses actually apply to accuracy and damage and not just pierce immunity). They also get extra attacks up to 4 late in the game. This is sadly offset to the immunity to haste which hurts once imp haste is a thing.

    Oddly 2e is the only edition thus far where the monk is unable to acquire an evasion type ability automatically or by choice.

    Good luck with the 3e article these have been very fun. Just in case you are not that familiar with it you probably will want to mention its worst flaw which is how the class is designed to be mobile but is offense is based around full attacks which prevent you from using that mobility (the full attack action is the worst thing ever foisted on weapon using classes in D&D EVER). This is a flaw that somehow lasts all the way into Pathfinder (though who knows in all the 1,000,000 different varieties of choices they give one or more of them may have fixed the problem for that one type of monk or at least gave you an alternative).

    As an additional idea if you have not considered it I would recommend the Tome of Battle class of the swordsage in that article as well. It is known in many message boards as WotC’s “fixed” monk class. It does share some class space with the monk but plays very differently. It also leads somewhat into what will become the 4e monk.

  • Mikey Kromhout

    It will be interesting to see the 3e monk and how it fights itself (stunning attacks want more attacks which the class gives but then in order to use the class given mobility you need to give up making those attacks full attacks are the ultimate bane of weapon users and a major reason why they are really hurt in 3e).

    Also probably should mention the swordsage from Tome of Battle as it is a later monk type class that at least on message boards is seen as a monk replacement.

    Oddly there are a couple minor differences between the enhanced edition and the original game of BG2 (for instance EE gives you attack and damage bonus from the magic fists while the original did not).

    One other interesting bit is that punching rules were different in AD&D depending on the book and only the priest book one did not give an extra attack in specialization in punching. As far as optimization goes punching is a really good route in AD&D 2e since you could work it with punching spec, cestus, cestus specialization, tumbling, two weapon fighting, etc and you could do most of it with any class (except cestus specialization). Doing that gives you extra attacks, extra accuracy, and damage. Using the cestus allowed for a standard damage die and potential magic weapons (though of course more rare than say the long sword) and depending on which priest you chose to use before picking up fighting monk you could potentially use the cestus (which requires no prof by the way so it is free in that regard). Also being able to use any NWP is actually potent if you dumpster dive enough into books.