The DnD 5e Monk Guide (2022)
Published on June 25, 2020, Last modified on May 23rd, 2022
In this post, we will be examining the monk’s class features and how you can optimize your monk through choosing your race, background, ability scores, subclass, and feats.
Soulfire Grand Master - Wizards of the Coast - Johannes Voss
What is this guide?
This guide is meant as a deep dive into the DnD 5e monk. For a quick overview of other 5e classes, check out our Guide to DnD 5e Classes.
The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good that option will be for your monk. This color coding isn’t a hard and fast rule; there are plenty of sub-optimized options out there that will be viable to your party and will be fun to play.
- Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
- Orange is an OK option
- Green is a good option
- Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
- Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized
Did you know?
D&D Beyond can help create your characters by making choices using a step-by-step approach. Full customization and control of your character, none of the flipping through hundreds of pages to reference obscure rules.
D&D 5e Monk Overview
|Level||Proficiency Bonus||Martial Arts||Ki Points||Unarmored Movement||Features|
|1st||+2||1d4||—||—||Unarmored Defense, Martial Arts|
|2nd||+2||1d4||2||+10 ft.||Ki, Unarmored Movement|
|3rd||+2||1d4||3||+10 ft.||Monastic Tradition, Deflect Missiles|
|4th||+2||1d4||4||+10 ft.||Ability Score Improvement, Slow Fall|
|5th||+3||1d6||5||+10 ft.||Extra Attack, Stunning Strike|
|6th||+3||1d6||6||+15 ft.||Ki-Empowered Strikes, Monastic Tradition feature|
|7th||+3||1d6||7||+15 ft.||Evasion, Stillness of Mind|
|8th||+3||1d6||8||+15 ft.||Ability Score Improvement|
|9th||+4||1d6||9||+15 ft.||Unarmored Movement improvement|
|10th||+4||1d6||10||+20 ft.||Purity of Body|
|11th||+4||1d8||11||+20 ft.||Monastic Tradition feature|
|12th||+4||1d8||12||+20 ft.||Ability Score Improvement|
|13th||+5||1d8||13||+20 ft.||Tongue of the Sun and Moon|
|14th||+5||1d8||14||+25 ft.||Diamond Soul|
|15th||+5||1d8||15||+25 ft.||Timeless Body|
|16th||+5||1d8||16||+25 ft.||Ability Score Improvement|
|17th||+6||1d10||17||+25 ft.||Monastic Tradition feature|
|18th||+6||1d10||18||+30 ft.||Empty Body|
|19th||+6||1d10||19||+30 ft.||Ability Score Improvement|
|20th||+6||1d10||20||+30 ft.||Perfect Self|
Monks are a very unique and fun class to play. Some say they are underpowered, but it’s hard to deny that playing a ninja is awesome.
Monks are great support characters as they have the ability to move through combat with relative ease, going where the fighting is thickest or getting out of difficult situations. They also have some really cool out-of-combat features that make them great candidates to be the stealthy infiltrator of the party.
Overall, a monk isn’t going to be the class you choose if you are planning on being the strongest character in the party. They do, however, offer a very unique playstyle and can be an indispensable asset to the party if played correctly.
Monks are a DEX-based class, which makes it easy to ensure your monk is good at what they are supposed to be good at. By focusing primarily on DEX, you can ensure your character:
- Is hard to hit
- Does a fair amount of damage
- Can sneak around like a ninja
Despite being a martial class, they also tend to have fun, varied gameplay because of their Ki features. One Ki feature, Stunning Strike, is particularly potent as it allows you to apply the Stunned condition to opponents, making monk’s one of the more dangerous classes in one-on-one combat.
Monks are a marital class that doesn’t have a lot of hit points or a particularly high AC. This makes them susceptible to getting knocked out when in close quarters combat (which is where they will likely be). They also deal an underwhelming amount of damage compared to other melee characters like fighters, barbarians, and paladins.
Monks have class features that really come in handy at a distance as it allows them to catch projectiles and avoid anything requiring a DEX save quite easily. But in order to be effective in combat, most monks need to get up close.
There are monk archetypes that allow the class to become more deadly at range, but they still won’t be as effective as a ranger or rogue with projectiles.
Best Races for Monk
- Chromatic: Monks typically struggle with survivability in melee, so a free passive elemental resistance + an activated immunity can go a long way to help them stay up. This, combined with the extra burst damage from the Breath Weapon makes the chromatic dragonborn a solid choice for a monk.
- Hill: WIS and hit points, but no DEX unfortunately.
- Mountain: STR doesn’t do anything for monks since they use DEX for attack and damage rolls instead.
- Aereni Wood: Perfect ASI array and very synergistic passive race features.
- Pallid: Monks are interested in both DEX and WIS, which this subrace provides. The free spells are decent options to help with utility.
- Shadar Kai: DEX and CON are both great ability scores for monks. The bonus resistance and the teleportation ability will help with battlefield mobility and survivability.
- Mark of Finding: Monks will love that extra hunter’s mark damage but the subrace lack the all-important DEX bonus and monks can't cast the other spells of the mark.
- Mark of Passage: Mark of Passage builds on the monk’s maneuverability by giving them a free casting of misty step and synergizes with the need for DEX.
- Standard: Standard humans are pretty great for monks since they look for DEX, CON, and WIS when creating a character.
- Variant: You can increase your DEX, WIS, and CON scores as you see fit. Also, having a feat at 1st-level is really powerful, especially because monks usually want to take ASI over feats when they level up.
- Bloodline of Dispater: Only +1 DEX, but decent for sneaking.
- Bloodline of Glasya: Only +1 DEX, but decent for sneaking.
- Variant – Feral: +2 DEX is exactly what a monk is looking for, though INT is useless.
- Variant – Winged: Flight is amazing, though monks fight up close so it will only be useful for utility.
- Air: Air genasi do get some DEX, but levitate will only be useful to use on your enemies or out of combat because monks need to be in melee range.
- Water: The water genasi provides CON and WIS, but without DEX the monk will be at a serious disadvantage.
- Githzerai: WIS is important for monks, and the githzerai comes with WIS and some solid defensive options. The issue is that DEX is even more important, and that’s sorely missed here.
- Dhampir: Extra movement can help monk's navigate the battlefield. Monks are typically pretty multi-ability dependent, so they may not have a lot of ASIs for their CON after they pump their DEX and WIS. Regardless, the Vampiric Bite will be a solid feature to enable self-healing.
- Hexblood: A free bit of utility from disguise self and the Eerie Token effects. The best feature here is definitely hex, which can result in a ton of extra damage because of the monk's multitude of attacks.
- Wildhunt Shifter: Perfect ASI spread for monks, though nothing offered by the wildhunt shifter in terms of subrace features is of much interest.
Ability Score Increases (ASI) at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level.
Monks rely on multiple abilities, meaning you need to dump some stats. The best thing to do is to focus on DEX, WIS, and then CON, in that order.
STR: Take some STR if you’d like to shove or grapple enemies, both of which can be quite good for monks.
DEX: Monks use DEX for everything. Attack rolls and damage rolls are calculated using DEX, and monks also want decent AC due to their average hit points. Deflect Missiles is also affected by DEX and helps to keep you alive.
CON: Don’t ignore CON. Letting your hit points fall behind as you level up because of a low CON score is a surefire way to be very vulnerable at higher levels.
INT: You probably need to dump INT to ensure a decent amount of DEX, WIS, and CON.
WIS: Unarmored Defense lets WIS contribute more to AC. Some of your ki abilities also rely on WIS.
CHA: You probably need to dump CHA to ensure a decent amount of DEX, WIS, and CON.
Monk Class Progression
Hit Points: A d8 hit dice is pretty deadly considering that monks engage in melee combat. Luckily they sport a sizeable AC due to Unarmored Defense.
Saves: DEX saves happen all the time and monks will be great at succeeding at those. STR saves are typically less important but do come up more often than something like an INT save.
Weapon/Armour Proficiencies: Monks don’t get any options for armor or shields, but they don’t really want them anyway due to Unarmored Defense. Many of the monk weapons aren’t great either but being able to use DEX instead of STR bonuses should help some.
Skills: Only two skills and the list to choose from is pretty subpar.
- Acrobatics (DEX): Sadly Acrobatics is quite an underutilized skill. Many situations use Athletics instead or there is already a rule in place such as for jumping distance. Some DMs like to be more lenient and let you use Acrobatics for skill checks if you ask.
- Athletics (STR): Good for grapples and moving around difficult environments, especially if you don’t completely neglect STR.
- History (INT): Can be nice if you enjoy lore and roleplaying, but you will make your DM work extra hard! Unfortunately your INT score won’t be high enough to take advantage of this skill.
- Insight (WIS): Monks typically have a good WIS score to take advantage of Insight. It’s a pity that this isn’t Perception though, since Perception is just better most of the time.
- Religion (INT): Same as History but sometimes more useful if your campaign includes gods. Unfortunately your INT score won’t be high enough to take advantage of this skill.
- Stealth (DEX): Since Monks have high DEX and don’t wear any noisy heavy armor they are a great option for sneaking around or scouting. Although if you have a Rogue in the party your usefulness in that regard becomes next to zero.
Unarmored Defense: Once you hit 20 in both DEX and WIS you’ll manage to get 20 AC. Not too shabby for a character without armor but that won’t be until level 19 if you don’t take any feats.
Martial Arts: This is the key feature that makes the monk actually work as a class. Most importantly, STR can be dumped in favor of DEX and an extra attack as a bonus action helps keep damage more consistent with other classes.
Ki: Ki features some fantastic options for combat that can use your bonus action to maximize action economy.
- Flurry of Blows: You can either do Flurry of Blows for a total of three attacks or the extra attack from Martial Arts for two, not both. Still, Flurry of Blows is a solid way to get in more damage.
- Patient Defense: The Dodge action is a great way to avoid taking damage.
- Step of the Wind: Step of the Wind grants some good in-combat mobility options.
Unarmored Movement: Increased speed is another reason to leave armor for your party members. Walking on water and vertical surfaces is also situationally useful.
Deflect Missles: Super cool if you manage to catch the missile and hurl it back at your foe. Obviously Deflect Missiles won’t work with spells, so its usefulness is limited.
Monastic Tradition: At 3rd level, monks get to choose their Monastic Tradition.
Way of Shadow
As the name implies, Way of Shadow allows the monk to assume more of a stealth role. In that respect, this subclass is a ton of fun. Unfortunately, rogues can do most of it better.
- 3rd level
- Shadow Arts:
- Darkness: Great to confuse, avoid, or escape.
- : Darkvision comes in handy so often, plus this spell lasts for 8 hours.
- Minor Illusion: You get this amazing cantrip for free. So much utility!
- Pass Without Trace: Makes sneaking for your whole party so much easier.
- Silence: Your anti-magic ability since verbal components are a part of many spells.
- 6th level
- Shadow Step: Teleportation! Sadly it only works in dim light or darkness and advantage on a single attack won’t do all that much considering you have Flurry of Blows.
- 11th level
- : Free invisibility but also limited to dim light and darkness.
- 17th level
- : It’s like an opportunity attack that doesn’t require the enemy to be moving past you. Helps you pile on more damage per round.
Way of the Drunken Master
Surprisingly, Way of the Drunken Master excels at mobility and is a great option if you like to move around the battlefield.
- 3rd level
- Bonus Proficiencies: Performance isn’t a skill that one usually hopes to be proficient in, but perhaps it does make sense flavor-wise given the drunken nature of this subclass. The brewer’s supplies proficiency also falls into this category.
- Drunken Technique: Somehow in your drunken stupor you can combine Flurry of Blows with the Disengage action and heightened mobility. Great for weaving in and out of combat.
- 6th level
- Tipsy Sway:
- Leap to Your Feet: Only really good if you get knocked prone and need to hightail it out of there. Otherwise, after being knocked prone half your movement should usually suffice.
- Redirect Attack: This feature feels awesome to use, but only comes in handy when you’re near more than one enemy. Even still, it’s really effective at increasing damage output per turn.
- 11th level
- Drunkard’s Luck: Negating disadvantage on a saving throw could potentially save your skin. The same could be true to a lesser extent for ability checks and attack rolls.
- 17th level
- Intoxicated Frenzy: Combined with Drunken Technique you’re in for a wild ride. Your party members will stare in awe as you sprint around the battlefield punching anything that moves.
Way of the Four Elements
Perhaps the most versatile and unique Monastic Tradition, allowing you to cast spells. Unfortunately using the elemental disciplines is quite expensive in terms of ki points, meaning more often than not you'll still end up using Flurry of Blows.
- Elemental Attunement: Not as useful as Minor Illusion or Prestidigitation, but you get this automatically.
- : The damage isn’t great, but 10 feet of range and fire damage could come in handy.
- : Thunderwave is a fairly good spell for a melee character who is pretty squishy, since it has a chance to push them away.
- : Knocking an enemy prone won’t help you directly since you already attacked for the turn, but it can set up some nice damage for your Rogue’s Sneak Attack.
- Rush of the Gale Spirits: If you want to push enemies, use Fist of the Four Thunders because it does damage as well.
- Shape of the Flowing River: If you are near water or ice, Shape of the Flowing River is amazing. If you are literally anywhere else, it sucks.
- Sweeping Cinder Strike: Burning Hands isn’t usually the best spell, but as a Monk you’ll take what you can get.
- Water Whip: Another way to move your enemies and knock them prone.
- 6th level
- Clench of the North Wind: Hold Person can turn the tide of a fight by taking out the scariest humanoid opponent.
- Gong of the Summit: Destroying armor and weapons your opponents have is pretty funny, since you will then proceed to show them that fists are better anyways.
- 11th level
- Flames of the Phoenix: Fireball is always awesome. At higher levels you will have to spend quite a few ki points for the damage to remain significant, making this expensive.
- Mist Stance: Enhances your ability to get in and out of places you shouldn’t be.
- Ride the Wind: Flight is usually a massive combat advantage, but most of the Monk’s abilities are only useful when in melee distance.
- 17th level
- : If you took Flames of the Phoenix, you already have a solid AoE option. If not, this is worth considering.
- Eternal Mountain Defense: Coupled with a good AC, Eternal Mountain Defense will make your Monk capable of tanking quite well.
- River of Hungry Flame: Wall spells are strong. They let you split up the fight, escape, or prevent escape.
- Wave of Rolling Earth: Same as River of Hungry Flame. You can also use this to make a bridge or ramp.
Way of the Kensei
Way of the Kensei offers an interesting take on the 5e monk class, but access to more weapons doesn't make the subclass particularly good. It's cool, but your fists will do just fine.
- 3rd level
- : There are some good options, but very few.
- Longsword: Same as battleaxe.
- Warhammer: Same as battleaxe.
- : Poor damage, but the damage die does scale with your level and it gives you reach.
- : Better than crossbows since they don’t have the loading property.
- Crossbows: The problem with crossbows is that they have the loading property, which can only be mitigated by the Crossbow Mastery feat. Monks are better off taking other feats or using ASI instead.
- : Monks critically need the bonus AC that Agile Parry grants. Remember that you must make an unarmed strike as one of your attacks to use this.
- : Necessary to make your ranged attacks viable, it takes up your bonus action but the damage applies to both strikes. Also, if you are in ranged distance, you likely don’t need to make that extra unarmed strike.
- : Useless.
- 6th level
- One with the Blade:
- Magic Kensei Weapons: Similar to the class feature Ki-Empowered Strikes. Really great if your weapon isn’t magical.
- Deft Strike: By the time you reach 6th level, you will have access to a lot of Ki points that can recharge on a short rest. This is a great way to sneak extra damage in when you need it.
- 11th level
- : Sharpen the Blade is fantastic if you want to mainly stick with your weapon as a source of damage. Otherwise, save your ki for Flurry of Blows.
- 17th level
- : More reliable damage output with your Kensei weapon of choice.
Way of the Long Death
Way of the Long Death assumes a more robust role for the monk. Take this Monastic Tradition if you want to be similar to a tank character.
- 3rd level
- : Temporary hit points keep you in the fight and are especially good at early levels when your AC and regular hit points are still quite low. The fact that you can use this every time a creature near you is hit to 0 hit points is very powerful.
- 6th level
- : Very similar to the Fear spell. Great for crowd control and getting out of a sticky situation.
- 11th level
- Mastery of Death: Makes you near unkillable as long as you have ki points left to burn.
- 17th level
- Touch of the Long Death: Good as a burst of damage if you know you won’t be needing any more ki points and choose to spend a fair few. If you don’t have many ki points left or want to save them, just use your fists.
Way of the Open Hand
Way of the Open Hand is what would be considered the classic approach to the monk class. It allows for the typical playstyle of the class but can't really do anything special.
- 3rd level
- : Adds a little spice to your Flurry of Blows. Knocking enemies prone, pushing them away, or blocking their reactions are all useful options to both you and your party.
- 6th level
- : It’s great to be able to heal yourself without your party members having to waste their spell slots or other resources. Scales fairly well.
- 11th level
- Tranquility: Tranquility is hardly, if ever, useful. Sometimes you really don’t want to be hit, but at that point you’ve likely already attacked and therefore the effect of Tranquility has already ended.
- 17th level
- Quivering Palm: Instant killing is insanely good, especially since it only costs 3 ki so you can do it multiple times. Even on a failed save 10d10 damage is quite a lot.
Way of the Sun Soul
Way of the Sun Soul is relatively unexciting, and the damage largely depends on how much ki you are willing to part with. If you're willing to live with these downsides, the Way of the Sun Soul monk is viable as a hybrid melee and ranged character.
- 3rd level
- : Ranged attack with a relatively weak damage die unless you spend ki.
- 6th level
- : Casting Burning Hands as a bonus action can add lots of damage. Probably best used in combination with your ranged attack (Radiant Sun Bolt) so that you can catch as many enemies as possible in the cone.
- 11th level
- : Again, weak damage die unless you spend a HEFTY amount of ki points.
- 17th level
- Sun Shield: If your enemies want to focus on you Sun Shield will make them pay for it.
Slow Fall: This isn’t useful that often, but you’ll be happy to have it when it does.
Extra Attack: At 5th level you’ll become a punching machine! Your choice of Martial Arts (three attacks) or Flurry of Blows (four attacks).
Stunning Strike: Only one ki point to attempt to stun your opponent is a bargain.
Ki-Empowered Strikes: Resistance to nonmagical attacks and damage is an annoying problem when you want to rely on your fists. Ki-Empowered Strikes solves this problem.
Evasion: Absolutely amazing ability that can drastically improve survivability when things like fireball and Breath Weapons are being thrown around.
Stillness of Mind: Getting out of a debilitating condition can be crucial to your party’s success.
Purity of Body: Depending on your campaign, Disease and Poison can be a constant threat.
Tongue of the Sun and Moon: While this may be good for raw communication, any speech-based ability check will be tough since your CHA is likely very low.
Diamond Soul: Saving throws no longer scare you. Proficiency and the ability to reroll in ALL saving throws is insane.
Timeless Body: Timeless Body is impossible to give a rank to. Depending on your campaign it’s either the most important class feature or a waste of space.
Empty Body: Greater invisibility, without concentration, for one minute at the cost of 4 ki points. This is amazing by itself, but granting resistance to all damage except force is simply stunning. This ability will be used every combat when able. Also, the ability to cast astral projection for 8 ki points is an interesting benefit. It may not come up all that much, but it’s a nice-to-have bonus of this already amazing ability.
Perfect Self: Makes using up your ki points without knowing what is coming next way less of a gamble.
Best Feats for Monk
- Alert: Being up higher in the initiative order isn't a big deal for monks.
- Defensive Duelist: This feat isn't terrible if your build already includes a finesse weapon. Your other option for reactions is catching missiles, so it works. However, it does lock you into using shortswords or choosing the Way of the Kensei.
- Eldritch Adept: Since most monks cannot cast spells, they’re unable to pick this feat. While Way of the Four Elements monks can cast spells, we don’t think any noteworthy invocations would make it worth it over other feats.
- Fey Touched: Misty step is an amazing spell for a monk, allowing them to traverse the battlefield with ease or get out of dodge if they're hurt. The ASI will obviously go to WIS. The 1st-level spell will more often than not be hunter's mark because it will add a d6 onto every one of your insane amount of melee attacks. Hunter's mark also doesn't really need any upcasting to increase the benefits, nor does it matter if you have a bad spellcasting modifier.
- Fighting Initiate: Most monks can probably benefit from a few of these, especially Way of the Kensei monks who can use a wider array of weapons. The unarmed Fighting Style does increase damage, but at that point you could just use a weapon like a quarterstaff.
- Great Weapon Master: Monks absolutely cannot use this feat without losing out on the entirety of their Martial Arts features. They also can’t equip Heavy weapons outside of taking the Weapon Master feat, but it’s still not worth it. Kensei monks cannot pick Heavy weapons for their kensei weapon, making it a useless option as well.
- Lucky: Lucky is a feat that is useful to any character but martials can make especially good use of it. Monks won't need to spend their rerolls on saving throws as often because of Evasion and Diamond Soul. This means you'll have more to spend making sure your attacks land.
- Mage Slayer: A good option to hose magic users, but doesn't do anything otherwise. Very campaign dependent.
- Magic Initiate: In a similar vein to barbarians, monks don’t benefit as much from this feat, but that doesn’t make it useless. The most significant benefit is picking up hex for an extra 1d6 for all of your attacks or shillelagh for those using weapons.
- Metamagic Adept: Monks cannot gain spellcasting or Pact Magic, so they can’t pick this feat up. They do gain the ability to cast some spells through Way of the Four Elements, but it’s not traditional spellcasting as required by this feat.
- Mobile: Many people like Mobile on a monk, but monks already have great movement speed and have Step of the Wind to Disengage safely. However, Mobile adds even more movement and helps you save ki points to move anywhere you want during battle.
- Polearm Master: While this feat may be flavorful for quarterstaff-wielding monks, the features aren’t particularly optimized for the monk class. This is because monks usually want to keep their bonus attack for unarmed strikes to trigger specific class abilities. Way of the Kinsei monks will want to pick this up if they plan on using polearms as weapons but cannot use a glaive or halberd because they have are heavy weapons.
- Sentinel: If you want to keep your enemies locked down and reduce their mobility, Sentinel comes in handy. Usually characters will Sentinel can get focused on in combat, which the monk's mediocre hit die might struggle with.
- Shadow Touched: This feat is primarily dependent on playstyle. Since monks can’t ever upcast these spells, they turn into one-trick ponies. Way of Shadow can get a little more flexibility out of this, but it’s not a must-have.
- Sharpshooter: Most monks can ignore this feat, but those who pick up the Way of the Kensei can benefit from this, as they must choose a ranged weapon for one of their kensei weapons.
- Shield Master: Monks lose their Unarmored Defense if they equip a shield, making them (and this feat) terrible for them.
- Skill Expert: Being so multi-ability dependent (MAD) makes utility feats difficult to rationalize for monks. That said, Skill Expert allows you to pump either DEX or WIS, while also picking up an expertise in a vital skill, like Stealth or Perception. If you want to have a more well rounded monk out of combat, this isn't the worst pickup.
- Skulker: The only monk subclass made for a stealthy playstyle is the Way of Shadow. While they can’t use ranged weapons, they can still benefit from the feat for ultimate stealth. Way of the Kensei monks can also use ranged weapons, but they aren’t always looking for a sneaky playstyle.
- Slasher: Monks can use this pretty well, just like fighters. However, I think Kensei monks will find the most use out of it.
- Telekinetic: Monks don’t get a lot out of this feat. None of the subclasses really benefit from mage hand, and monks already have a use for their bonus actions. The WIS ASI is decent, but there are better feats out there that also provide this.
- Tough: Because you need to focus on DEX and WIS, CON often takes a backseat. Tough can bring your hit points up to a reasonable level.
- War Caster: Monks can’t cast spells without spending Ki points, so there’s no point in picking up this feat.
Sources Used in This Guide
- Basic Rules
- Eberron: Rising from the Last War
- Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
- Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
- Fizban's Treasury of Dragon
- Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica
- Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
- Mythic Odyessys of Theros
- Player's Handbook
- Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
- Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
- Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- The Tortle Package
- The Wild Beyond The Witchlight
- Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft
- Volo's Guide to Monsters
- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything