December 13, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] Monk: Monastic Traditions

Unearthing the Arcana is a column for me to study the design and thought process of the latest Unearthed Arcana rules put out by Wizards of the Coast. This column aims for me to point out some observations I've made on the rules, imagine its impact at the table and raise discussions of how it would be used or played if it becomes official.

Graduating from the fighters' school in last week's Unearthing the Arcana, it is time to meditate and learn about the new monastic traditions for this week's Unearthed Arcana with 2 new Monastic Traditions. I have often seen Monks being complained as one of the classes with some of the less attractive sub-classes compared to other classes, so let's see if these new Monastic Traditions could make Monks great again. Although, I have to say that I was a little surprised that we are only getting 2 new Monastic Traditions.

With study and practice, let's look into the Path of the Kensei and the Path of Tranquility to see if there is any enlightenment to be found from them.

Way of the Kensei

  • It was quite surprising to see the Kensei being made into a Monastic Tradition when I would expect to see it as a Martial Archetype as it has been for previous editions. Still if done right, the concept of the Kensei can fit right into the building blocks of the Monk class and give make it a little more attractive from the Fighter players to try out the Monk instead.
  • Path of the Kensei: I'm not sure what is the reason for the distinction between Monk weapons and Kensei weapons, on the surface it looks perfectly fine to make the martial weapons that the Kensei picks for his proficiencies to be considered as Monk weapons, since they share the same benefits of the Monk's Martial Arts feature. The versatility to use the Kensei weapon to attack or to defend for the +2 AC bonus is a nice touch. The wording on the pummel ability might need better rewording, as by written it doesn't mention the range of the weapon, meaning it could be used for polearms or ranged weapons.  
  • One with the Blade let's the Monk's base feature Ki-Empowered Strike apply to their weapons, but it is the Precise Strike ability that seems interesting. I couldn't find any other class feature (not just the Monk) that let's it double the proficiency bonus to an attack, so this could be a huge boon to this Tradition. Instead of only allowing for one use per rest, I would have liked it to spent Ki points instead, as that is almost never used by this Tradition.
  • Sharpen the Blade is also another solid feature to give the Kensei, it's simple but does quite a lot. I wouldn't mind if the Ki point cost was a little higher depending on how much bonus is given, perhaps something similar to the Way of the Four Element's Elemental Disciplines, since it lasts for 1 minute.
  • Unerring Accuracy stands as one of the better 17th Tradition features compared to the other Monastic Traditions go, and the flexibility to select which attack to re-roll is appreciated.  
  • As it is right now, the basic flavors delivered through the mechanics of these features have not much to complain about, but the mechanics themselves feel like they could be fleshed out a little more. I would have liked to see more usage of Ki points in some of the features, and also wondered if there are any goodies for players who decide to go for a ranged Kensei build. 

Way of Tranquility

  • An 8 hour long Sanctuary spell that doesn't require a material component that can be cast again after 1 minute. Either I would put a Ki cost to Path of Tranquility or let it only be regained with a Long Rest. Even having the Way of the Open Hand's Tranquility feature at 3rd level instead of 11th level is already a considerably improvement from the other Monastic Traditions. 
  • Healing Hands works also exactly as the Paladin's Lay on Hands, except that the Monk gets a healing pool multiplier of 10, compared to the Paladin's 5. This significantly makes the Monk a better healer than the Paladin, though it might done this way to offset the Monk's lack of spellcasting abilities. I'm not quite sure why one would replace one of its Flurry of Blows Unarmed Strikes with this feature, unless it is properly worded that it can be used on the Monk or someone else. 
  • Emissary of Peace seems like an interesting way to make a social character out of the Monk, though the wording for the advantage might be a little too specific. Turning someone from Indifferent to Friendly might do a better trick.
  • Being able to Douse the Flames of War without spending any resources on the part of the Monk, despite the limitations of it not working and ending still seems a little too handy for my taste. I would have preferred something like a more enhanced version of the Calm Emotion spell that is more rigid and structured in its application, at a cost (since the Monk is probably not going to be spending a lot of Ki points anyway).
  • Anger of a Gentle Soul could deliver up to 68 additional damage alone at 17th with Flurry of Blows (assuming all of them hit) on the next round, or up to 80 damage at 20th level. I'm not sure if there is any other class that can match that amount of damage with class features alone, ironically making this sub-class the most damage dealing of them all. It's triggering point of seeing a creature (note not only allies) reduced to 0 hit points could be prone to abuse too. 
  • Outside of features like Douse the Flames of War and Path of Tranquility, I've never really liked the idea of this concept, which reminds me of the Disciple of Peace from the Book of Exalted Deed in 3.5 Edition. It could make the DM's job harder to plan their encounters when peace is always a very viable option that could end any sense of conflict, unless that is the sort of direction that the campaign was designed for. 

While I can say that I'm pretty stoked to see the Way of the Kensei within the design framework of the Monk class, I feel like it could use more bite to make feel more than a straight-up Fighter in a Monk's clothing. I'm struggling to like the Way of Tranquility both in flavor and mechanics, but would still like to hear how excited (if they are) about the latter Monastic Tradition.

Next up on the line would most probably be the Paladin, and we could see the designers going with similarly flavored Oaths that they did for the Cleric. Until then, see you in the next Unearthing the Arcana. 

Last Updated: 13/12/16

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