In this article, we go through not only how to build your Dwarf Monk but how to play him!
In the early days of DnD, things were pretty simple. Elves were rangers, Magic-Users (as the catch-all term was) were Human, Halflings were Thieves and Dwarves were at their best suited and booted in industrial-strength plate armour hitting opponents with an axe. But as the game evolved it became less rigid and more logical (and remember, even fantasy games have to be driven by consistency and logic) regarding what races suited which classes.
The number of player races expanded, the number of classes grew, rules evolved to include multi-class characters and even distinctly non-magical professions started to gain access to spells at the higher levels. And today, the options and combinations available to players are so wide and wonderful, the actual building of the character has become very serious business indeed.
The DnD campaigns of today are full of such rich, varied and downright weird combinations that it would make the heads spin of those pioneering players of the early days of the game. You find Orc Spell-casters and Elven Barbarians, Kobold Clerics, Minotaur Rogues and more besides. And perhaps one of the most interesting and often overlooked of these “fringe” combinations is the Dwarven Monk.
Building your Dwarf Monk
Having decided to build yourself a Dwarven Monk player character, there are a few things that you need to consider to get the best out of it.
- Hill or Mountain – The first choice that you need to make is exactly what type of Dwarf sub-race you wish to be, Hill or Mountain. The Hill Dwarf’s additional hit points are great as the Monk has d8 hit points and their AC scales very slowly, and also reducing your need to increase Constitution is also very useful. But the Mountain Dwarf gets two +2 increases, which is a real advantage. Similar to the Barbarian, you can start with 17 in Dexterity and Wisdom, then raise both to 18 at level 4, giving you an AC of 18 and setting you mathematically ahead of every other monk in the game for at least 8+ levels.
- Pros and Cons(titution) – Similar to Rogues, getting the Monks constitution up as high as possible is an early goal. They only get 1-8 Hit Points per level, so the difference between 3-14 Constitution with zero bonus HP and 18 Constitution with +4 bonus HP is enormous. On average, it’s almost half their HP gain per level. Starting with high Constitution is just that important and will make up for the other failings in the class at lower levels.
- Feats – Choosing the right feats for any class is more to do with the personality of the character that you want to play rather than statistically best options (remember this is role-playing not roll playing). Although Monks are dexterous, nimble, quick-witted combatants, I see the Dwarf Monk less as the jumping around, rolling on the floor, leaping small buildings sort of guy and more the solid, defensive stalwart, holding its ground and beating back opponents, sort of an elegant, defensive tank-philosopher! With this in mind, choose feats such as Crusher to increase Constitution, Mobile, so that you are not around when the enemy tries to land a killer blow and Sentinel to act as that solid defensive wall to free up the rest of the party to reform and prepare spells and missiles.
- Axe Attack – Hand axes, as a simple weapon rather than the heavy or two-handed varieties, qualify as valid monk weapons. And as we all know, dwarves stereotypically favour axes as their weapon of choice. Arm yourself with one to keep in touch with your Dwarven heritage.
- Don’t Multi-class – Monks are notoriously hard to multi-class, and you certainly don’t want to lose out on magical attacks when you get to the mid-level campaigns, which is when a Monk really should start making themselves known. You can add religiosity to your RP without multi-classing with a little thought and effort. Work this out as part of your backstory and the DM will probably absorb and expand on the details, thus adding just one more dimension to your DnD campaign.
- (Sub-) Class Warfare – Perhaps the biggest effect on the type of Monk you are going to be is which sub-class or Tradition you choose. Although all Monks share common abilities and features, Tradition is the icing on the cake. You can choose Shadow and become a Ninja type skulking and scurrying, The Four Elements, if you are looking to be a “Last Airbender” type, Long Death ramps up the Tank element and you can even opt for Drunken Master which blends the fun of a Jackie Chan movie with some very cool skills.
- Defence or Offence – As I said above, my feeling on the Dwarf Monk is more Thermopylae than Charge of The Heavy Brigade but that is just my preference. For a more supporting role, choose the Mercy tradition and pick up lots of healing skills. The Monk, if not the Dwarf, naturally lends itself to the fast-moving, whirlwind style of attack and so just shift the emphasis to speed and strength when choosing feats and abilities and you can be first to the fit, a blur in combat, you can be a leaf on the wind. But if you want to choose that option, perhaps I can interest you in building a Half-Orc Monk instead?
Playing The Dwarf Monk
- Scout and About – When not in combat, you’re the silent loner that skulks off to scout ahead. Unlike other scouts, you have a larger pool of healing HP in case you get in trouble and for just a few Ki points, you can dash, disengage, run on water and shimmy up vertical surfaces to get to safety.
- What Has Gone Before – One of the most interesting things about all of these strange race/class combos is the backstories that you have to develop to justify the character’s current place in the world. And with the class of Monk not being the most obvious fit for a community based on hard work and simple pleasures rather than high-mindedness and quiet reflection, you can build some interesting threads as to how the son of a coal miner ended up taking the vows. You don’t have to go into too much detail but work with the DM to outline a story and perhaps they will weave aspects of your story through the campaign trail. It’s what I would do.
Like all character builds, the devil is in the detail, that is, it is not perhaps the race and class that you chose which is the biggest influence on the way that you play the game, but some of the feats and sub-set choices that you opt for.
And as always, remember that role-playing is about inhabiting an interesting alter-ego not just maxing up for the sake of creating the strongest or most durable character. To extract the most fun out of playing DnD, I would suggest that it is the interesting combinations rather than the obvious choices which will deliver the most fun, the oddest situations, the most challenging encounters and the weirdest interactions, and a Dwarven Monk certainly offers you all of that and more.