Friday, March 17, 2023

My Life As A Gamer: This Is Not Friar Tuck

Of all the classes in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition described in the Player's Handbook, the Monk has always been the obvious outlier.

This is not only not the monk of European Christian monasticism, but also not the contemporary martial arts hero archetype.

You need to cast your mind back to the 1960s and 1970s to find the Monk, to the days when Golden Harvest became an institution in Hong Kong's film scene and Bruce Lee became a hero to boys worldwide. (The proof of the latter can be found in the many stunt performers and martial arts figures working today.)

In particular, a certain familiarity with a series Lee pitched to Hollywood but got robbed of starring in--Kung Fu, starring David Carradine--will help in comprehend the class design decisions for this class, as that was the most accessable media for a Shaolin Monk at the time.

(Remember, this was the time before VHS home rentals and nationwide cable TV- nevermind the Internet. If your local UHF station didn't air Hong Kong films, you had no idea this stuff existed outside of the aforementioned TV series and Lee's Enter The Dragon.)

That's right, the Monk is '70s Hong Kong Movie Shaolin Monk: The Class. (For you younger folks, this is the sort of role that made Jet Li famous.)

With this in mind, a lot of class features now make sense- both the benefits and the restrictions.

The Monk, as a fresh 1st level character, has some of the most punishing Ability Score requirements in the game. (PHB p.30)

He also starts older than most characters for his race (DMG p. 24) and no race permits multi-classing with the Monk. He must be Lawful, so Alignment is restricted to the Good-Neutral-Evil axis.

All of this reflects the Shaolin Temple we see in popular media.

The Monk is known for being a weak class to start, but like the Magic-User and Illusionist can grow into great power if he survives play. No armor or shields, limited weapon choices, no poisons or oil- all seems like a bad start.

What sets the Monk apart early on is their superior movement speed (15 inches) and access to some Thief skills such as Open Lock and Find/Remove Traps; a Monk can substitute for a Thief in terms of practical dungeoneering.

Where the Monk shines is the benefits that accrue over time. Starting at 2nd level, his vulnerability to being Surprised starts to drop and his damage with weapons and unarmed begins to rise while his base Armor Class begins to improve.

Spell-like ability from the Druid and Magic-User lists start arriving at 3rd level, multiple unarmed attacks (already equally or surpassing weapons he can use) at 4th, and so on turn Wimp Lo into Wong Fei Hong by the time he arrives at the Monk's endgame. (PHB pp. 31-32)

In return for this more-than linear power scaling, he has several restrictions. He has a wealth restriction like a Paladin, no attack or damage bonues for high Strength scores, restricted magic item access, no hirelings of his own until 6th level, and--and this is the endgame--heavily contested level advancement after 7th level.

He is also not a tank. He has d4 Hit Dice, and starting with two instead of one is not that great of a benefit. He is a glass cannon, even at high levels, and thus relies on not being hit for protection first and foremost- just like Thieves, Assassins, Magic-Users, and Illusionists.

Like Druids and Assassins, past 7th level he must fight the incumbant and win to advance (and must defeat challengers in turn to hold position until he can challenge further up the ladder).

This entire class structure implies that there is an institutional presence to support this class's existence, and not just because it makes training to level up easier.

How, then, should you play the Monk?

The Monk, regardless of Alignment, is a martial artist with a strong background in philosophy taught alongside the physical and combat training.

He's not looking for glory, but rather enlightenment, and adventuring is a means to an end- to challenge himself through practical experience in the aim of finding what he seeks not from monsters slaim or treasure gained, but by what he had to do to restore the order that those monsters disturbed. The treasure gained is best used to aid in restoring the harmony of the area disruped, when it is not used to fuel his development directly.

In this the Monk is a symbol of Civilization, be it in its highest form (Good) or its lowest (Evil). While they tend to keep themselves as individuals, institutionally they are participants--albeit it at some remove--with the larger world. They can, and often do, find common cause with others of like mind; Good Monks work well with Rangers and Paladins, evil ones with Assassins and Thieves, Neutral ones with Druids (and, to a lesser extent, Bards).

His behavior will be a bit odd compared to other classes--again, refer to the inspirational material; a Shaolin Monk in the Old West is odd compared to the usual Western denizens. His is often a foreign discipline in the campaign (again, befitting the source material), barring the use of Oriental Adventures.

The Monk as a Patron is Abbot of a temple, and thus commands significant influence and power- as Shaolin did historically. In time he may come to define a specific style of Shaolin martial arts (discuss this with the Referee). Conflicts with enemies organizations of similar nature--rival Monk temples, Assassin Guilds, Thieves' Guids, religious authorities (Clerics, Druids, Paladins)--can be had depending on what the Abbot does.

Are you worthy of Shaolin? Test your might and find out.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are banned. Pick a name, and "Unknown" (et. al.) doesn't count.