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The monk is a character class in Dungeons & Dragons. The monk is an unarmed fighter and specialist in martial arts, whose superhuman ability originates from mastery of internal power or ki.

In some versions of D&D between 1985 and 1991, the monk was known as the mystic.


Power source

A monk's strength comes from mastery of ki, a mysterious life-force energy which suffuses the multiverse.[1] Dedication to physical, mental and spiritual perfect empowers the monk with abilities beyond the power of normal folk.

The true nature of "ki" is elusive. Some monastic orders believe it to be a non-magical internal strength,[2] others understand it to be supernatural, and others consider the control of ki to be fundamentally a similar mental discipline to psionics.[3]

Martial arts

The monk's primary offensive ability is the mastery of martial arts employing the use of ki energy. The monk trains to fight unarmed, and the fists of a true master are more deadly than a sword. They can strike more rapidly, snatch arrows from the air, strike enemies as if their fists were magical weapons, and stun enemies.

Monks who focus on unarmed martial arts can knock opponents prone, kick them some distance away, or disorient them to impede their reflexes. Monks also train in techniques involving the use of simple and easily-available weapons, particularly the quarterstaff.

The ultimate monk technique, called the Quivering Palm, sets up a deadly vibration in an opponent's body that the monk can trigger even days later. Some monks learn a similar ability, known as the Gentle Touch, which can kill, paralyze, control, charm, or even cure its target.[2]

Many sects refer to their martial arts as The Discipline, a concept which also include the non-violent resolution of conflict wherever possible, as well as physical training, philosophy and meditation upon the forces of the multiverse.[2]

Exceptional movement

The monk's physical training and use of ki allows them to move more quickly than normal. Their ground speed increases, and they can jump great distances. They can learn to run across vertical surfaces or even across water, fall more slowly, They can dodge attacks with an instinctive awareness of danger.

Mental and physical toughness

Monks learn to resist and dodge attacks, become immune to mind-affecting magics, and resist the effects of disease and poison.

Other abilities

Among the numerous monastic orders, there are a great variety of unique abilities that monks who focus their ki. Such abilities can vary significantly between orders of monks.

Known monk techniques include the ability to disappear from sight, speak to any person or creature, heal themselves or others by touch, ward themselves against attack, ignore the effects of aging, become one with shadows and move undetected, or master the use of four elements of air, earth, fire and water in combat.

Appearance and personality

Monks do not wear armor. They prefer simple weapons, including the quarterstaff, while many monasteries train in traditional cultural weapons of their order, such as the nunchaku and kama.

Monks typically care little for the acquisition of wealth, and rarely carry much in the way of valuables. Some particularly righteous monks, particularly those followers of Sealtiel and Pistis Sophia, take a vow of poverty which forswears the ownership of any wealth beyond the bare necessities.[4]

Individual monastic orders may have rules dictating their appearance or manner of dress. For example, both male and female monks of the Scarlet Brotherhood traditionally shave their heads, although this practice has fallen out of favor as it impedes their ability to pass undetected when spying.[5] Some wear uncommon clothing such as robes.[2]

Monks are nearly always Lawful in alignment. The path to mastering one's ki requires strict dedication and discipline.

Society and culture


Monks train in isolated walled monasteries, where they are raised from a young age to practice martial arts and spiritual enlightenment. Monasteries vary greatly in their purpose and relationship with neighbouring settlements. Those dedicated to good-aligned philosophies often serve as protectors of the common folk, while a monastery of evil monks may rule with an iron fist.[6]

Some monks establish monasteries in cities, training those applicants who they deem worthy.[6]

Many monks train in other arts, such as musical instruments, calligraphy, blacksmithing or carpentry.[1][7]


Those monks who leave their monastery to become adventurers do so for a variety of reasons: personal journeys of spiritual enlightenment to test their discipline or skills; missions for the monastery which may include spying, assassination or defending the local people; outcast from their monastery for violating its rules or failing the master; or perhaps the lone survivor of a destroyed monastery.

Monks require no special equipment, and often take advantage of this fact of to travel the land disguised as common folk. Monks can operate as spies or assassins, and some monasteries train for this specific purpose.[6]

Some monks first entered their craft in adulthood in service of a personal goal, such as to seek revenge, or to atone for a dark past.[3]


Monks meditate on a personal and spiritual connection to the multiverse that transcends the deities worshiped by most folk. Some monks meditate on the image of a deity as an ideal to emulate.[6] In many lands, it is common for monks of a given monastery to serve a certain deity, or religion, or semi-divine being.[1]


Monks are historically a human tradition. Many monks are humans, half-elves or half-orcs as a result, with some elves dedicating themselves to the art.[6]

Notable monks

For a complete list, see Category:Monks.

  • Ember, the iconic monk in D&D 3rd edition

Publication history

Original D&D

The monk first appeared in Blackmoor (Supplement 2) (1975), described as:

"Monks (Order of Monastic Martial Arts), a sub-class of Clerics which also combines the general attributes of Thief and Fighting-Man."

Monks in this edition required at least Wisdom and Dexterity scores of 15 and a Strength score of 12. Their exceptional abilities include proficiency in all weapons, a chance to stun their opponent fighting unarmed, resistance to being surprised, thief skills (listening, climbing, opening locks, removing traps, moving silently and hiding in shadows), speaking with animals and plants, feigning death, a healing ability, resistance or immunity to many mental effects, the Quivering Palm ability, and increased unarmed damage.

In this edition of the game, 75% of monks are said to be of Lawful alignment, 20% Neutral and 5% Chaotic.

The Grand Master level titles, created by Gary Gygax and inspired by the honor tiles of mahjong, first appeared in this book. Although Arneson is credited as the author of this book, Tim Kask would later much of the monk's original design to Brian Blume.

Basic D&D

The monk class appeared under the name mystic in the Master Set (BECMI){{UnknownBook}}, Dungeon Master's Book, p.17-19,32-33 as an NPC class, owing in part to the cloistered nature of monastic life. The name change is speculated to be to avoid association with real-world religion.

In Dragon #103, published later that year in November 1985, Gary Gygax announced plans to use the name "mystic" for a brand new second subclass of cleric.[8] This class was never created owing to Gygax's departure from TSR.

The mystic later appeared as an optional class in the Rules Cyclopedia (1991), p.29-31. The class resembles the monk depicted in Blackmoor, with a maximum level of 16.

AD&D 1st edition

Monks appeared in the Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.30-31, marking their debut as a core class. The book notes that the monk appears last in the chapter and intentionally out of alphabetical order due to being exceptionally powerful and difficult to qualify for, now requiring at least 15 Strength, Dexterity and Wisdom and 11 Constitution.

The monk in AD&D must now be of a lawful alignment, with 50% of monks said to be Lawful Good, 35% Lawful Neutral, and 15% Lawful Evil. Monks can also gain poison immunity. The monk class now extends to 17th level.

The monk appeared in Oriental Adventures (1e) (1985), p.17-19.

AD&D 2nd edition

Monks did not appear in the AD&D 2e Player's Handbook. This is speculated to be due to it not fitting the setting, and due to TSR's reluctance to use Gygax's creations in that era.

The Fighting-Monk appeared as a Priest kit in PHBR3 The Complete Priest's Handbook (1990), p.100-101. As a priest subclass, this version of the monk retains divine spellcasting. Monk class subsequently appeared in Faiths & Avatars (1996), p.185 and Player's Option: Spells & Magic (1996), p.33-34.

The Monk of the Scarlet Brotherhood class appeared in The Scarlet Brotherhood (1999), p.73-74, most closely resembling the AD&D 1e version of the class.

D&D 3rd edition

The monk appears in the Player's Handbook (3.0) (2000) and Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.40-42 as one of eleven core classes.

Numerous sourcebooks provide additional material for monk characters, including Sword and Fist (2001) and Complete Warrior (2003).

D&D 4th edition

The monk did not appear in D&D 4th edition until Player's Handbook 3 (2010), p.63-79.

In this edition of the game's rules, the monk is a psionic striker, with ki and psionics considered to be ultimately from the same source of mental willpower.

D&D 5th edition

The monk appears as a core class in the D&D 5th edition Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.76-81.

Creative origins

According to TSR employee Tim Kask, the inclusion of the monk in D&D was inspired by fellow employee Brian Blume's love of the TV series Kung Fu:[9]

"[Blume] was a huge Kung Fu fan and he wanted to crawl walls and crap. So that's why they got in there. I do believe that Dave had a sub-order of militant monks in something of his that we may not have included for the sake of brevity."
"I know that Brian was the big push behind monk, because he was running around like a squirrel for several weeks thinking up the monk things and all that, and he was in love with Kung Fu, and he'd come in and talk about last night's episode, and I think he was learning how to play the flute. I wouldn't have put in there."

In the preface to Oriental Adventures (1e) (1985), Gary Gygax credits the monk class' inspiration to Blume and the pulp novel series The Destroyer, first published 1971 and featuring a deadly fictional Korean martial art named Sinanju.[10]

According to ENWorld Q&A with Gary Gygax threads, Gary created the monk level titles appearing in the AD&D Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.31 based on Mahjong.[11] Gary would also take credit for the creation of the monk class. He imagined the typical monk as a wanderer from another land, citing as inspiration a TV series named Kung Fu which ran from 1972 to 1975 and features a Shaolin monk who travels the American Old West.

Quivering Palm

The monk's Quivering Palm ability to cause instant or delayed death relates to an urban legend which claimed that Bruce Lee's death in 1973 was caused by an opponent this technique, known also as the Touch of Death or dim mak.

In 2019, comedian Stephen Colbert related that he heard this rumor as a child. Colbert recalls a schoolmate telling him that Bruce Lee had been murdered by the "Monks of the Quivering Palm".[12] However, a Google search for that exact term brings up only links to Colbert's video, and it is unclear whether the term "quivering palm" pre-dates its 1975 inclusion in Blackmoor, or if Colbert's recollection of the term is influenced by his later childhood hobby of D&D.

Reception and influence

In 2018, former TSR employee Tim Kask criticized the inclusion of the monk class in D&D due to balance and thematic issues:[13][14]

"I wouldn't have put it in there, because I didn't like 'em. I thought it was ridiculous. They levelled up too quickly for the phenomenal powers that they had in hand-to hand sneaky stuff."
"I just don't care for 'em in the game. I don't think that far-eastern hand and stave fighters fit the genre of what we played then. ... I don't think they're a fit for the kind of fantasy that we play, that I play, so I don't like 'em, so I don't use 'em."

The monk inspired the Oathbound class in Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed, a person whose strength comes from dedication to a specific oath.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.76-81.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Rules Cyclopedia (1991), p.29-31.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Player's Handbook 3 (2010), p.63-79.
  4. Book of Exalted Deeds (2003), p.19.
  5. The Scarlet Brotherhood (1999), p.73-74.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.40-42.
  7. Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.154.
  8. The future of the game, Dragon #103 (Nov 1985), p.8.
  9. Curmudgeon in the Cellar LIV, 1m24s and 5m34s
  10. The Best of the Destroyer
  11. "All of the titles for the Monk Class were taken unabashedly from mah jjong, one of my favorite games. As flowers are honors tiles, delicate and beautiful, I thought it fitted well with an Eastern aesthetic martial artist, the object belying his actual prowess." - ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 6, 2004
  12. Stephen Has a Story: Monks of the Quivering Palm, Youtube
  13. Curmudgeon in the Cellar LIV, 5m20s
  14. The Curmudgeon in the Cellar LXI, 7m41s