D&D has come up on the forums, and rather than continue babbling about it in a thread that was designed to babble about it, I figured I'd do something productive and write another blog post about it. This time, we'll be covering something that I'm always a little sad to see, both because of ill-informed players and wasted potential. Every time I see this mentioned, a little piece of me dies inside.

That's right. We're talking about the monk.

Let's get one thing straight before we go any further. Monk is not properly valued by either end of the gamer spectrum. Casual tabletopers and story geeks who convince themselves that powergaming is evil think that monk is a great class and are blind to its -MYRIAD- flaws, while powergamers and munchkins give it a bad rap based solely on hearsay without really looking into making it work. However, that's understandable. Not only is monk bad in 3.5e, but it's got a history of being even worse.

AD&D monk was given a few minor buffs to allow unarmed and unarmored combat to be a thing on some level. This is not to say that it was a -functional- thing. Monks did not receive fighter proficiency bonuses, fighter hit points, or fighter attack speed. Worse yet, they were forced to be not lawful (like 3.x) but neutral. In AD&D, being true neutral meant that you would switch sides halfway through a war to maintain balance. Since this required betraying people you knew and were emotionally involved in in order to fight for a cause that might even have wanted you dead and perpetuate the unmitigated slaughter of open war, it made roleplaying a monk pretty difficult unless you wanted to play someone who was patently insane.

Come 3.5e, the alignment restrictions were lessened a bit. Lawful for regimented training, whatever. Plus, they added all of those nifty abilities! Like punching fast, and those punches rolling big dice, and moving fast, and having a bunch of cinematic stuff like gripping on a wall to reduce falling damage. Combined with immunity to poisons, spell resistance, a self-heal, an instant kill, and the ability to talk to animals, that meant that you were playing the best class ever, right?!

...No. No you weren't.

In fact, you were playing a class that had no synergy or internal logic at all. In order to use flurry of blows, you had to stand still and use a full attack. This meant that your landspeed was worth nothing. Meanwhile, flurry of blows was a melee class feature (with some exceptions made for shurikens), and the monk's AC was one of the lowest in the game without having immense Dex and Wis. You got no help from your hit dice, which were similar to a cleric's, and for some unholy reason you gained no uncanny dodge from class levels. Theoretically you were a great scout and good at moving around, provided you didn't encounter a trap or a locked door, because unlike the rogue you did not get any way to circumvent these problems quietly or safely. So...combat class.

Indeed, the class practically required you to play with rolled stats, and get -good- rolls, on top of that. The only way a monk could function with its 5/6 necessary stats was to get multiple 18's, and you couldn't deal with more than two scores below a 12. Without those high scores, the monk suffered badly in durability or damage. A cleric, druid, or wizard could get by on having one good stat and a few mediocre ones. A fighter or barbarian only needed two stats to function. The monk, along with the paladin, required FIVE stats to be at or above the 12-14 level in order to be properly functional at their job.

This phenomenon is something called multiple attribute dependency, abbreviated quite appropriately to "MAD." In order to be good at their job, a monk has to have high Str for melee attacks and damage, high Dex for AC and skill checks, high Con to take a hit, high Int for the skill points to use their assortment of class skills, and high Wis for AC and class features. In a pinch you can drop Int and not be a skillmonkey, but you can't afford a penalty there. Monks even got diplomacy, giving plenty of justification to keep from having a Cha penalty! Paladins are in a very similar boat, and it's one of the main reasons these two classes often feel underpowered when compared to a balanced, well-designed class.

But monks do get tons of class abilities:
- At 2nd level, they get evasion, which is one of their only valuable abilities. No complaints here. What about the rest?
- At 3rd, they get still mind, which provides the exact same bonus as a minor racial feature that all elves get.
- At 5th level, they get immunity to disease at the exact same time that clerics and druids get a spell to do that multiple times a day (and the magical version works on magical diseases, unlike the monk version).
- At 7th level, once a day, they can cure themselves for less than a cleric can heal them.
- At 9th level, they get improved evasion, which is largely useless due to their high reflex saves.
- At 11th level, they get immunity to poison about five levels after they stop fighting monsters that normally use poison.
- At 12th level, they gain a low-level wizard spell that they can use once per day with nerfed distance.
- At 13th level, they finally get another useful ability. Spell resistance is great. Too bad all drow PCs (every group seems to have one of those) got this thirteen levels ago.
- At 15th level, they get quivering palm, which is a "save or die" touch spell that can be cast once per day.

Oh, wait. I'm sorry. I meant once per -WEEK-.

A monk gets tons of abilities, but almost all of them are too little, too late. Several of their neat tricks are watered-down versions of spells that the casters in the party have been spamming for several levels by the time the monk gets them, and they do it better besides. The class demands high stats across the board, rather than simply benefiting from them like most classes. The internal ability synergy is wonky, if not entirely absent. And, in general, a full round of flurried strikes is less damaging than a couple of idle power attacks from a fighter, who has been swinging around a 2d6+20 sword since level 5.

-Enough Numbers-

This is a sad state of affairs for the poor monk, who speaks to the Jet Li aspirant in all of us. Monks have thematic appeal to a large subculture of geeks, and that's not a "you guys" thing. That's an "us guys" thing. I've wanted to make a good martial artist character for almost every system I've ever played. Nia, my old orc monk who killed and ate her opponents, begged for a spotlight that simply wasn't possible in the fractured and flawed 3.5e way of doing things. Pointless gimmicky abilities or no, I had no motivation to play a character that wouldn't function without rolls that would turn a cleric or a duskblade into a god.

Fortunately, the class has been in a perpetual state of "throw them a bone" from the dev teams of the newer systems. In Pathinder, monks gained tons of abilities and even static buffs to stats. It did nothing to alleviate their stat dependency, but it did give them plenty of boosts to their limited-use abilities. A quivering palm that could be used once a day, rather than once a week? That's an upgrade! Not as good as the casters who can spam-cast it at range for almost a full minute, but still better than it was.

In 4e, they were turned into the go-to damage characters if you wanted AoE and crowd control. And now, in 5e, monks are front-loaded damage machines who can manifest magical abilities, gain the benefits of being a shadowdancer, or just toss their enemies around like ragdolls. Most importantly, 4e and 5e fixed the monk's reliance on five bloody stats just to be decent. Three stats instead of six is much more acceptable. With a little bit of developer attention and a complete redesign, monks are no longer MAD, and I can finally play Nia.