Monday, April 18, 2016

AD&D Players Handbook part 18: Monks

Monks: This one might take a while, folks, as there's a lot to discuss.  Monk's get a lot of abilities, y'all.

Gary begins the entry by stating that the class is the hardest to qualify for, and possibly the deadliest.  I'm not sure that either is the case, although I've honestly never seen a high-level monk in action.  I doubt one would be a match for a high-level magic-user, though.  A Strength of 15, Wisdom of 15, Dexterity of 15 and Constitution of 11 are required to qualify for the class.  (In OD&D, monks needed Wisdom 15, Strength 12 and Dexterity 15, so it's harder to qualify for now.)

Here's a nugget that I forgot about: monks don't get an AC bonus from having a high dexterity, and they're not allowed to wear armour either.  In combination with their meagre 1d4 Hit Dice, that makes them super-weak at low levels.  It's no wonder I've never seen a high-level monk, really.  I don't believe that OD&D monks had a restriction on the AC bonus for Dexterity, but I'm also pretty sure that said bonus didn't exist in OD&D, aside from one article in The Dragon.

Alignment-wise, Monks must be lawful, as their various skills require discipline.  The general spread of monk alignment is said to be 50% lawful good, 35% neutral good, and 15% lawful evil.  OD&D monks could be lawful, neutral or chaotic, but as I've discussed before that system represents an entirely different thing than that in AD&D.  AD&D alignment is less about which side of the cosmic struggle you're aligned with, and more about your internal make-up.

As mentioned before, monks can't wear armour.  In terms of weapons they are restricted to the following: bo sticks, clubs, crossbows, daggers, hand axes, javelins, jo sticks, pole arms, spears and staves.  (In OD&D monks could use every weapon on the list, so this is a serious downgrade, albeit a thematically sound one.)  When using any weapon, monks gains a damage bonus equal to half their level (ranging from a +1 bonus at 2nd level to a maximum of +8).  This ability is unchanged from OD&D.

After a certain point, though, monks are more effective when fighting bare-handed.  They begin with 1 attack per round, doing 1d3 damage, but this gradually increases as they advance.  By 9th level they have 2 attacks per round, dealing 3-12 damage.  At their maximum 17th level, a monk gets a whopping 4 attacks per round with each one dealing 8-32 damage.  So yes, while monks start weak as piss, I must acknowledge that they are super-badass at the top level.  (OD&D monks were similar in this regard, albeit a little bit stronger.)

High damage and a lot of attacks is all well and good, but monks get even more on top of that.  Each bare-handed attack they make has a chance to stun their opponent for 1-6 rounds.  If the monk's attack roll exceeds the number required to hit by 5 or more (unmodified by Strength), their target will be stunned.  It gets even better, though, because every stun by a monk also has a chance for an instant kill!  This is based on the target's AC: you begin with the AC number as a base, and modify it upwards for every level the monk has attained beyond 7th.  So if the target has AC -1, and the monk is 12th level, there's a 4% chance for an instant kill.  The chances are low, as they should be, but with the sheer number of attacks per round a monk gets it's a great ability.  (This ability has been seriously nerfed from OD&D, as well: their stun used to last for 3-12 turns, and they got a flat 25% chance for an instant kill!)

Monks use the same saving throw table as Thieves, with a few extra bonuses.  In regards to magical attacks where the target can save to take half-damage, a Monk can save to take no damage at all.  At 9th level, the Monk automatically takes half-damage on a failed save, and no damage on a successful one.  They can also deflect non-magical missiles with save vs. petrification. (In OD&D, Monks used the Cleric saving throw table.  It also seems to me that as worded the rules state that Monks could dodge any type of magical missile, including a magic missile.  Note that magic missile was not an auto-hit spell in OD&D, so it's a fair ruling.  Their ability to take half-damage on a failed save kicked in a level earlier.)

Monks are difficult to surprise.  Their chance to be surprised begins at 33-1/3% (or 2-in-6, like everyone else), drops to 32% at 2nd level, then drops by 2% for every level gained thereafter.  I can't say I like this much, as I'm not a fan of the Monk operating on a different surprise system than everyone else.  Most characters roll a d6, or maybe a d8, but the Monk doesn't match that.  Maybe it works at the table, I wouldn't know, but it seems needlessly fiddly to me.  In OD&D the rule has a similar intent, but the chance starts at 2-in-6, drops to 1-in-6 at 3rd, then 1-in-8 at 5th, and 1-in-10 at 7th.  It's still not ideal, with multiple die types required, but it meshes better with the base surprise rules.

Monks operate exactly as Thieves in the following abilities: open locks, find/remove traps, move silently, hide in shadows, hear noise and climb walls.  So they can practically fulfill all of the thief's basic functions,  and are better in combat.  I suppose the difficulty of qualifying for the class would offset that, but I'm still not a big fan of sub-classes trumping the base class in everything.  (Not that Monks are a sub-class at all, but the point stands.  In OD&D monks operated as halflings or dwarves in the most favourable abilities, so it was even worse there.)

Monks can fall great distances with no damage, so long as they are within some distance of a wall.  The distance able to be fallen safely increases as they gain levels, as does the distance they can be from said wall; by 13th level, they can fall any distance at all with no damage.   (In general, OD&D monks start this ability later, but advance in it quicker.)

It doesn't even end here!  They get more abilities!  It just keeps going and going.

Starting at 3rd level they can speak with animals.  (This was a 4th level ability in OD&D.)

At 4th level they gain a resistance to ESP that increases as they advance.  (This ability started at 6th level in OD&D, and was much more effective.)

At 5th level monks become immune to disease, and can't be affected by haste or slow spells.  (This ability seems to be new to AD&D, and I guess it's a thematic fit with the monk's total body control and discipline.  The immunity to haste could definitely be seen as a drawback rather than a benefit.)

At 6th level they can perfectly simulate death, and can maintain this state for longer periods as they advance.  (This was a 5th level ability in OD&D, and it did not improve with advancement.)

Monks can self-heal once per day starting at 7th level.  This healing begins at 1d4+1, with a further +1 added for every level gained beyond 7th.  (The base die for this in OD&D was 1d6, but otherwise it was the same.)

They can speak with plants starting at 8th level.  (This ability is unchanged from OD&D.)

Beginning at 9th level, monks are 50% resistant to beguiling, charm, hypnosis and suggestion spells.  This resistance increases as the monk advances.  (In OD&D this ability kicked in at 8th level, and was a complete immunity rather than a resistance.)

At 10th level monks function with an Intelligence of 18 in regards to telepathy and mind blast attacks, such as those from a mind flayer.  (This ability was similar in OD&D, but it also granted them an immunity to the quest and geas spells, which it does not do in AD&D.)

Monks gain immunity to all poison at 11th level.  (This ability doesn't exist in OD&D.)

At 12th level they gain immunity to quest and geas spells.  (Okay, I jumped the gun there.  Is there anything these bastards aren't immune to?)

Finally (finally!) there is the Quivering Palm, gained at 13th level.  This ability allows the monk to set up deadly vibrations in the target simply by touching them.  At any point the monk can cause the vibrations to stop, which will kill the victim.  It sounds cool, but the target's HD can't be higher than the monk's, and it can't have more than 200 hit points in any event.  It also doesn't work on undead or creatures only hit by magical weapons.  To be honest, it seems less effective in combat than their stun/auto-kill attack.  It actually sounds like a more effective assassination tool than anything, probably even more effective than a high-level assassin.  It doesn't seem to offer a saving throw, either.  (This is basically the same ability as in OD&D, it's just been clarified here.)

While monks have a raft of special abilities, they also have restriction that hamper their effectiveness, as follows.

Monks can't wear armour, and gain no benefit to AC from a high Dexterity.  What they do get is an AC that improves as they advance in level.  It starts at AC 10, and by level 17 has improved to AC -3, which is not bad but would probably not be a match for other characters of a similar level.

Monks have to give away their treasure to religious institutions, much like paladins.  They can also only possess 2 magic weapons, and 3 magic items of other types.  (I can't find any mention of this restriction in OD&D.)

Monks are able to use any magic weapon on their class list, rings, and miscellaneous items usable by thieves.  They can't use any other items at all, and that includes potions.  (This is exactly as in OD&D.)

Monks don't get any bonuses to hit or damage from a high Strength.  It's all in the technique, I suppose.  (This restriction didn't apply in OD&D either.)

Monks can't have hirelings or henchmen until they reach 6th level.  At 6th they can take on hirelings for a single day, and up to two henchmen (fighters, assassins and thieves only).  They can take on more henchmen as they advance.  (This is pretty much as in OD&D, but there henchmen were restricted to fighters and monks of their own order.)

There is only a limited number of monks in the world above level 7: three level-8 monks, and only one of each level thereafter.  Any monk PC wishing to advance beyond 7th is going to have to find and defeat the relevant monk in single unarmed combat.  Monks will immediately know where to find the one they need to battle, and if they don't go and do so straight away they drop in XP to their previous level.  (This was the same in OD&D, but it started one level earlier, and magic was allowed in the duels.)

Upon winning the duel to become 8th level, a monk gains a number of 1st-level monks as followers.  He can also take the monastery of the monk he defeated as his own, or spend up to 250,000gp to build a new one. (No mention was made of this in OD&D.)

The level titles for monks haven't changed a lot.  The title of Brother is wedged in at 3rd level, which bumps all of the others up by one.  Grand Master is changed to Superior Master, and the word "Grand" is stripped from every title except the very last (Grand Master of Flowers).  AD&D monks advance faster the those in OD&D at lower levels, and more slowly at higher levels.

Well, that's the monk class, and if writing this up has done anything it's given me the urge to play an AD&D monk to high level.  Despite the drawbacks, and the weakness at low levels, they sound super-badass.  It seems they've been de-powered a little from OD&D, which is a good thing.  I doubt I'll ever get to play one, but one of the bonuses of being a DM is that I can just throw one in as an NPC and experience the fun of using those abilities without having to work for it.

NEXT: Multi-Class and Dual-Class


  1. So am I completely out of line for thinking that Monks are only a part of d&d because it was developed in the 70s, during the height of Kung Fu movie popularity in the US?

  2. It was definitely created as a response to the popularity of Hong Kong cinema and associated media in the '70s.

    I never played a monk that legit made it all that far, but I did join a 1st edition campaign a few years back locally that allowed me to start as a sixth level monk.

    It was interesting...I found that I could be effective if I made utmost use of every special ability the PHB accorded my character. I kept a songbird for scouting (speak with animals pissed off the druid player to no end), used the pick locks ability to set snares, functioned as a very effective scout (the mimic death ability came in handy once during a wandering ogre mage encounter) was quite a challenge, though. I remember being very impressed at how different it felt to play a monk "properly." I'd love to get a chance to do it again someday.