Monday, August 20, 2012

Holmes & Cook: The Monk

I have been contemplating the Holmsian suggestion that the monk is a subclass of cleric. Given that the early iterations of the cleric class were psuedo-Christian, this strongly suggests that when Holmes mentions the monk, he is thinking of the western (Christian) monastic tradition rather than the Eastern (Asian) monastic tradition which eventually formed the basis of the D&D monk class.

The question then becomes what mechanics present in Holmes & Cook can be used to present a class that is similar to the cleric, but sufficiently different as to be a subclass while having at least a passing resemblance to the Christian monastic tradition. It is here that I have to give credit to Talysman and his work on what he calls the Cleric-without-spells. He divorces the class from Vancian magic by embracing the one mechanic that truly belongs to the cleric — Turning. It is from here that I will begin.

If one actually spends time at a monastery or reading the services that monks do on a daily basis, it becomes obvious that the primary vocation is not only prayer, but prayer for other people. This suggests that a Holmesian monk class should buff other characters through the Turning mechanic.

Thus, a monk would have a floating bonus that she can attempt to attach to any number of characters (for playability, this would include the monk herself). This bonus depends upon the monk's level:

  • 1st-3rd = +1
  • 4th-6th = +2
  • 7th-9th = +3
  • 10th+ = +4

The number of characters that the monk can attempt to affect and the chance of success is based upon the Turn Undead Table, where the Skeleton category of undead is one character and each progressive category increases that number by one. For example, a 1st level monk can affect one character on a 7 or more, two on a 9 or more, or three on an 11 or more. This bonus then lasts for 2d6 rounds. A ‘T’ indicates an automatic success and a ‘D’ indicates that the bonus will last for the maximum 12 rounds.

Here is a tentative list for the bonus categories a monk can choose:

  • To Hit Melee
  • To Hit Ranged
  • Damage
  • Armor Class
  • Saving Throw
  • Initiative

Any one category may only be attempted once per combat.

In addition, the monk can perform minor healing. Once per combat per character, the monk can heal their bonus in hit points. For example, a 7th level monk can heal a character for 3hp.

With the exception of spell casting, the monk functions as a cleric.


  1. What about letting them cast Bless? Say once a day per level.

    1. If you read my blog long enough, you'll probably be able to guess that I really like tactical choice in combat (it is one of the reasons that I won't let go of the Weapon vs. AC table even though I've never been completely successful). Bless would cover most of the possible bonuses above, but it would saddle the monk to Vancian magic without the implicit tactical choice Vancian magic offers (which spells to prepare).

      Sans the tactics of which spells to prepare, this iteration of the Turning mechanic is the only way I could figure to give the monk unique tactical choices — which bonus and how many people vs. chance of success.

  2. If the class turned out underpowered in practice, I'd add some minor and restricted magic spell casting based on monks' role as preservers of learning - the Vance/D&D assumption being that the current spell canon is just a remnant of the learning of a previous age.

  3. Innovative approach, and certainly in keeping with your penchant for tactical options ;)

    Would the monk have any special abilities related to ancient lore, translation, scholarly knowledge, or perhaps forgery?

    1. Not explicitly (at least no more than any other class). I am not a big fan of skills (especially since skill don't exist for any class other than Thief), but I do allow certain classes to be privy of certain kinds of info or abilities if it appropriate during game play.