Thursday, March 8, 2018

Holmes & Cook: Monk

The last subclass that I have to muse about in my Holmes & Cook thought experiment is the monk. Holmes categorizes the monk as a subclass of the cleric. Given my reasoning behind using the Turning mechanism to re-skin the druid, this leads me down the path of trying to marry the mechanic with the concept of “monk.”

This is where I will be departing quite radically from the traditional view of the monk as wuxia in D&D. When one uses the word monk, there are two archetypes that stand above all others: Shaolin and Benedictine. Understandably, D&D opted for the former because the latter, being a non-martial contemplative, doesn’t really fit with the whole dungeon delving schtick of Dungeons and Dragons. While it isn’t a perfect fit, at least a Shaolin is trained to fight.

Given my own proclivities, however, and the concept of the cleric being so heavily influenced by Christian archetypes in earlier versions of D&D such as Holmes, I have a hard time seeing a Shaolin monk as a subclass of the Christian-influenced cleric. Indeed, when AD&D was published, the monk was completely divorced from the cleric class. My friends and I always classified it as a subclass of the thief. Thus, I am much more inclined to lean toward a fantasy version of the Benedictine.

The first thing to decide is what effect a western-style monk might have access to. If one breaks down the Benedictine Rule to its fundamentals they are work and pray. The first deals with the mundane while the second asks for the miraculous. One thing I know that monks are praying for all the time is health. Therefore, I am going to explore the possibility of healing as the basis of a monk' s Turning mechanic.

In Cook there are six healing-type spells: Cure Light Wounds, Cure Disease, Remove Curse, Cure Serious Wounds, Neutralize Poison and Raise Dead. Since tying healing to Turning is going to be quite powerful, I am willing to eliminate Raise Dead with the justification that a monk’s Turning ability only works on the living. This leaves us with five special effects.

Both Holmes and Cook have eight target types in their Turn Tables. Thus, there needs to be an additional three healing effects. Since Cure Light Wounds uses a d8, the three other categories can use small die types: d2, d4 and d6.

Thus the Turning categories of the monk might look like this:

  • Cure 1d2 hp
  • Cure 1d4 hp
  • Cure 1d6 hp
  • Cure 1d8 hp
  • Cure Disease
  • Remove Curse
  • Cure 2d8
  • Neutralize Poison

Once per encounter, a monk could attempt to effect 2d6 targets with a Turn. A success means affecting all targets with the effect. A ’T’ means an automatic success and a ‘D’ means a maximum effect.

As I stated before, this is quite powerful, much more so than being able to Turn undead. Thus, a monk would have to give up some other mechanic(s) to balance out the class. There are two that are obviously available: combat ability and spell-casting.

Thus, we have four options:

  1. Monks fight as Magic-users (no armor, limited weapons)
  2. Monks cast as fighters (no spell casting)
  3. Monks fight as thieves (leather armor and limited weapons) AND cast as fighters
  4. Monks fight as Magic-users AND cast as fighters

I think Option 4 would make this class largely unplayable. Basically, the class would be a heal-bot that could offer nothing much else during an adventure, especially during combat. Option 1 would blur the line between magic-user and cleric in an interesting way, but I think it would be too powerful. This leaves us with deciding on the fighting ability of the monk: fight like a cleric or like a thief.

I am sore tempted to go with Option 2 for playability reasons. With no spells, the monk becomes a glorified medic. Limiting their ability to jump into combat in a meaningful way would make me think twice about playing it, whereas being a legitimate second-line fighter that allows clerics to freely use utility spells without worrying about healing sounds like a lot of fun.



  1. Making the monk a second rank fighter does rather blur the line between monk and cleric.

    What about allowing the monk to be a second tier healer but have some bard like abilities to make others *better* or more effective. Monks classically being chaps who work together in brotherhood.

  2. I could see monks having the ability to turn devil's and demons, abbyssal types instead of undead. Also, being able to neutralize poison (such as from snake bites). I could see purify as well.
    It's so hard to think of western monks as separate from Clerics! When I think of fantasy Carmelites, I think of them purifying water, removing disease and such, but I need to divorce borther-and-sisterhoods from monks. Our local monks-in-the-woods are, if I remember correctly, Dominican; they seem more like druids...eschewing people for nature in their works. Oh, it's so hard to figure all of this out! :)

  3. Or you could tone down the turn ability ... make it apply to just one target at a time.

  4. When I consider what an adventurous, medieval (Christian) monk might resemble, my mind generally goes to Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood legend. Tuck is plenty fight-worthy (in the Robin Hood tales), though he doesn't wear armor and is usually drawn in a manner resembling a Franciscan.

    Of course, you're kind of using the Franciscans as your basis for the druid subclass.

    Looking at the monkish paradigm, such brotherhoods (and sisterhoods) seem more inward seeking than clerics (who are more of the preacher/evangelist type). Might adventuring monks use their turning ability to do so sort of "inward channeling?" Healing their own wounds, boosting their own abilities, removing fear effects, resisting poison, etc?

    1. Yeah, that sounds exactly right! I can totally get behind that. I've never thought so much about monks and cleric classes before! There's a lot to think about. And Desert Scribe had a good idea with turning being one on target; I imagine a scale of success, be it resistance or healing or remove fear, restore sanity... there's a lot of things, resist elements too! That could make a monk pretty useful, if she can be the only one to enter certain areas or take a breath weapon attack.

  5. I was gonna cite Friar Tuck as a model for the class also. And I would also throw in Brother Cadfael and William of Baskerville. Tuck, Cadfael and William are all adventurous monks of a sort. And they give good credence that a western cloistered monk would be able to fight at least as a Thief (Tuck can hold his own and Cadfael fought in the crusades). Their adventures also indicate that they might possess some thief skills. Certainly move silently, hide in shadows and hear noise. Maybe also the high level ability to cast (divine) spell from scrolls as a nod to their studies and contemplation. Where the Druid drops the fighting for turning and spells, the monk drops the spells for healing via turn mechanic, lesser fighting and some thief skills.

  6. I highly suggest the Adventurer Conqueror King Player's Guide for it's section on creating new classes. It is a strictly B/X derived game, so I think it would help you greatly in creating a balanced Monk with a little of this and that.

    I used it to create a Durulz (the Ducks from Runequest) class for my B/X games, and it worked out pretty well.

    1. I've been using the Player's Guide since it came out. There are several native classes available in my Lost Colonies campaign that came directly out of this system. I consider it one of the best gaming purchases I've made in the last several years.