If you've ever seen a martial arts movie, you know the appeal of playing a Monk in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns.
The Monk is a skilled combatant who can move around the battlefield like wind, inflicting multiple attacks on foes and darting back out before anyone knows what hit them.
Unlike other classes that rely on armor and/or weapons to be useful in physical combat, the Monk turns their own fists and body into their weapons of choice so they can never be caught off guard.
To pull off these incredible feats of combat prowess, the Monk relies on several class features that work together. This is great for keeping you—the player—engaged, but it can be complicated for newbies.
Not sure how to begin with one of these nimble warriors? Here are several tips to help you get started with the Monk class in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition without messing up your character.
This article is part of a series of D&D class guides for beginners. If you're interested in other classes, check them out as well:
- D&D 5e Barbarian Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Bard Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Cleric Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Druid Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Fighter Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Monk Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Paladin Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Ranger Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Rogue Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Sorcerer Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Warlock Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Wizard Guide for Beginners
Tip 1: Understand Martial Arts
Previous editions of D&D required Monks to have several high Ability Scores in order to function properly, which meant a surprisingly tough time at lower levels (even for veterans of the game).
In D&D 5e, that isn't true anymore! Monks now have a class feature called Martial Arts, which allows them to use Dexterity instead of Strength for most Attack rolls, so you don't have to split your stats.
Martial Arts also boosts the Monk's unarmed damage and allows the Monk to use Bonus Actions to make unarmed strikes. All of this is available starting at 1st Level.
It's important to note that these Martial Arts features are always active, but only under two conditions: the Monk isn't wearing armor and the Monk is wielding a weapon designated as a Monk weapon.
If you're ever stuck for what to do with your Bonus Action, it's rarely a bad idea to just make another unarmed strike. Those little jabs can add up quite a bit over the course of an encounter.
Tip 2: Don't Be Stingy With Ki Points
At 2nd Level, Monks get access to one of their core class features called Ki, which represents the mystical energy they've learned to harness and can use to enhance their physical and mental capabilities.
Every day, the Monk has a certain number of Ki Points they can expend to do all kinds of incredible things. These Ki Points are replenished during both Short Rests and Long Rests.
Since Ki Points are refreshed several times per day, don't be afraid to use them! They're one of the main things that make Monks powerful, and being too conservative will hamper your potential.
At 2nd Level, Monks start with three different Ki abilities:
- Flurry of Blows grants two unarmed strikes instead of the usual one unarmed strike during your Bonus Action. This increases to three unarmed strikes at 5th Level.
- Patient Defense allows you to use your Bonus Action as a Dodge action, which puts all attackers at Disadvantage if you can see them, and you get Advantage on Dexterity Saving Throws.
- Step of the Wind allows you to use your Bonus Action as either a Dash action (double movement speed) or a Disengage action (move without triggering opportunity attacks).
Note: For Monks, Dash doesn't just double your base movement but also the bonus movement provided by the Unarmored Movement class feature at 2nd Level. In all, that's a staggering 80 feet of movement!
Tip 3: Stunning Strike Is Incredibly Powerful
When Monks reach 5th Level, they get access to one of the most powerful crowd control abilities in the game.
After you've hit a target with a melee attack, you can spend a Ki Point to perform a Stunning Strike, which forces a Constitution Saving Throw. If they fail, they're stunned until the end of your next turn.
While stunned, the target can't do anything—no attacks, no movements, no spellcasting, and all attacks against them have Advantage.
In other words, a successful Stunning Strike will make the target extremely vulnerable and open to serious damage!
Use Stunning Strike liberally, especially against enemies that have a low Constitution Saving Throw. You can use it multiple times per round, and even against the same target multiple rounds in a row.
If you have enough Ki Points, you can effectively lock down a powerful monster on your own with little more than Stunning Strike.
Tip 4: Choose Your Monastic Tradition Wisely
At 3rd Level, Monks choose a Monastic Tradition to follow, which grants a handful of new abilities to play with. Most of these new abilities add flavor to how the Monk uses their Ki Points.
There are three Monastic Traditions in the D&D Player's Handbook, and those are the ones we recommend for new players.
Way of the Open Hand enhances all of the Monk's physical attacks. Notably, when you hit a target with Flurry of Blows, you can force it to be knocked prone, pushed back, or unable to take Reactions.
Later on, Way of the Open Hand also provides you with other abilities like healing yourself (Wholeness of Body), protecting yourself from attacks (Tranquility), or instantly killing a target (Quivering Palm).
Way of the Shadow is for Monks who want to embrace their inner ninjas. This Monastic Tradition allows you to cast spells like Darkness and Pass Without a Trace to shroud yourself and your party in shadows.
The best feature of this Monastic Tradition is Shadow Step, which allows you to teleport around the battlefield as long as you can find spots with dim light or shadows.
Way of Four Elements is for Monks who want to use powerful spell-like abilities. This Monastic Tradition grants access to various Elemental Disciplines, which let you cast Elemental Spells and gain other benefits.
For example, Clench of the North Wind is a 6th Level discipline that lets you cast Hold Person for 3 Ki Points, while River of Hungry Flame is a 17th Level discipline that lets you cast Wall of Fire for 5 Ki Points.
Some disciplines aren't spells, such as Water Whip, which costs 2 Ki Points and lets you push or pull a target using a whip of water. Another is Elemental Attunement, which lets you control nearby elemental forces to cause various effects (like lighting a campfire).
It's the most complex of the core Monastic Traditions, but the payoff is worthwhile as it offers tons of versatility to the Monk.