Monk in 5e DND: Ultimate Character Build Guide

Welcome to the mystical world of the Monk, one of the most enigmatic and spiritually profound classes within Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) 5th Edition (5e). With their ability to harness the energy, or ki, flowing within their bodies, Monks in D&D represent a marriage of the physical and spiritual disciplines, walking the path of mental enlightenment and physical mastery. Often viewed as martial artists with an uncanny ability to call upon mystic energy, Monks are not mere brawlers or even warriors, but rather enlightened beings who see the truth in every aspect of reality and use their insights to defend the realm from those who would disrupt the balance between good and evil.

The Monk class in D&D 5e is known for its calculated physical prowess, exceptional agility, and innate ability to manipulate ki for both offense and defense. Whether it’s delivering lightning-fast strikes, engaging in unarmed combat, or deflecting missiles in mid-air, every Monk’s action reflects their mastery over their body, mind, and the energies that bind the universe together. Monks are also celebrated for their ability to traverse distances at remarkable speed, seemingly defying gravity as they dance across bodies of water or scale vertical walls.

For a player, developing a Monk character in D&D hinges significantly upon their Dexterity and Wisdom scores. Dexterity illuminates the Monk’s athletic prowess, influencing their aptness at combat and physical acumen, while Wisdom underscores their mental discipline, affecting their ability to manipulate ki and their understanding of the world and beyond. Together, these two attributes form the bedrock of a Monk’s martial and mystical capabilities, shaping the journey through the campaign and the narrative that you, the player, will weave.

In this guide, we’ll dive deep into the intricacies of building a Monk character for D&D 5e. Brace yourself for an exploration into the class features that define Monks, the Monastic Traditions that mold their combat and magical style, the races and backgrounds that align with a Monk’s journey, and the strategies for optimizing your Monk’s abilities. Whether you’re a veteran player or a newcomer to the game, this guide promises to provide insights that will help you master the Monk’s path, enrich your role-playing experience, and engage your companions in an unforgettable adventure.

DND 5e Monk Class Features

The Monk class features are an elegant mix of martial abilities and spiritual wisdom, setting up a highly versatile character that can adapt to virtually any situation in the game. With a set of features that not only boosts combat effectiveness but also equips the character with unique skills for non-combat scenarios, Monks are often the surprise element in a party. Let’s take a closer look at these class features to gain a deeper understanding of their potential.

Hit Points

As a Monk, your hit points, a measure of your vitality and ability to withstand damage, will start at 8 plus your Constitution modifier. For every subsequent level, you gain an additional 1d8 (or 5) plus your Constitution modifier, giving you a moderate hit point pool compared to other classes. This makes the Monk a surprisingly resilient character, able to withstand numerous encounters before being downed.

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A Monk’s proficiency list is focused on finesse and physicality, reinforcing the class’s theme of agile combatants. You have proficiency in Strength and Dexterity saving throws, making you resilient to effects that aim to control or harm you physically. Your choice of two skills from Acrobatics, Athletics, History, Insight, Religion, and Stealth further complements your combat and role-play abilities.


Starting equipment for a Monk includes a short sword or any simple weapon, a dungeoneer’s pack or explorer’s pack, and 10 darts. This equipment caters to a Monk’s high Dexterity, offering range and close combat options.

Unarmored Defense

Monks are unique in their reliance on unarmored defense. When not wearing armor or wielding a shield, your Armor Class (AC), a measure of how well your character avoids being hit in combat, is 10 plus your Dexterity modifier plus your Wisdom modifier. This feature turns a Monk’s lack of armor into an advantage, allowing agility and spiritual insight to shield you from harm.

Martial Arts

A cornerstone of a Monk’s abilities, Martial Arts allows you to effectively use unarmed strikes and Monk weapons, which include shortswords and simple melee weapons that don’t have the two-handed or heavy property. The damage of these attacks scales as you level up, starting from a base of 1d4.

Ki and Ki Features

Unlocking at level 2, your Ki is a pool of points you can expend to fuel powerful features like Flurry of Blows, Patient Defense, and Step of the Wind. The number of ki points available increases with your Monk level, allowing you access to more potent options as your inner energy expands.

Unarmored Movement

Building on a Monk’s agility, Unarmored Movement grants additional speed when not wearing armor or a shield, with the bonus increasing as you level up. Reach level 9, and you’ll even gain the ability to move across vertical surfaces and liquids!

Monastic Traditions

At level 3, you commit to a Monastic Tradition. This choice significantly influences your Monk’s abilities and the way you play your character, with options ranging from the elemental-style Four Elements to the shadowy arts of the Way of Shadow.

Deflect Missiles

As an exercise of focus and extreme reflexes, Deflect Missiles allows you to mitigate or even negate damage from ranged weapon attacks. This feature showcases a Monk’s remarkable speed and precision, and can decisively turn the tide in battles.

Ability Score Improvement

Like other classes, Monks gain Ability Score Improvements at levels 4, 8, 12, 16 and 19. These can be used to increase your Dexterity and Wisdom, essential for your combat effectiveness, or bolster other abilities as needed.

Other Class Features

Monks also seek mastery over their body and mind through features like Slow Fall (reduce falling damage), Extra Attack (attack twice when you take the Attack action), and Evasion (avoid area effects), all adding layers of tactical depth and highlight the Monk’s unique capabilities even further.

Choosing a Monastic Tradition

At the core of your journey in mastering the Monk’s path lies the choice of a Monastic Tradition. This decision emerges triumphantly at Level 3, signaling an epoch in your character’s journey. It represents not just an advancement in your martial and mystical prowess, but also a deepening of your spiritual affinity, shaping your character’s evolution and the manner in which they interact with the game’s universe. Essentially, choosing a monastic tradition molds your character’s approach to solving problems, engaging in combat, and tapping into their ki reservoir, making it one of the most influential decisions in your character’s formation.

Choosing a tradition, however, isn’t as simple as it sounds. With multiple traditions offering unique sets of skills and abilities with distinctive play styles, the decision can often feel overwhelming. But worry not, for our comprehensive breakdown of all the monastic traditions aims to guide you through the process. From discussing established traditions to introducing you to the homebrew and unofficial traditions, this guide presents a detailed overview of the individual traditions with their strengths, specialties, and everything you need to make the perfect choice for your monk.

Astral Self

Starting with the Astral Self, Monks following this tradition spend their hours in prayer and trance-like meditation, extending their perception beyond the corporeal and into an astral dimension. By focusing intently on their spiritual self, they can manifest aspects of their astral form into the mortal realm, creating mighty, spectral arms or even transforming entirely into a spectral avatar. This Monastic Tradition, introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, is ideal for players seeking to play a monk with a heavier focus on energy attacks and combat versatility.

Ascendant Dragon

The Ascendant Dragon tradition hails from the Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. It pays homage to the powerful and majestic creatures that are the dragons, emulating their formidable presence and abilities. Monks of the Ascendant Dragon can channel their inner dragon to emit elemental breath, reinforce their unarmed strikes with draconic energy, and even grow wings for limited flight, making this tradition a fantastic choice for players who wish to embody the might of a dragon in their monk.

Drunken Master

The Drunken Master tradition turns a monk’s every stumble into a calculated step and transforms fumbles into deadly strikes. This tradition, featured in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, is for monks who want to confound their enemies by incorporating unpredictable sways and stumbles into their martial art forms, making their movements hard to track, and their style, challenging to counter. It’s an excellent choice for players seeking an unconventional and fun combat style.

Four Elements

Taking a cue from natural forces, the Way of the Four Elements allows a monk to weave elemental powers into their martial and mystical arts. By harnessing the ki within, monks of this tradition can manipulate fire, water, air, and earth – casting spells and creating elemental phenomena. If you’re inspired by the idea of controlling elements or incorporating ranged elemental attacks into your combat repertoire, the Way of the Four Elements, available in the Player’s Handbook, might be your path.


The Way of the Kensei, detailed in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, is for monks who strive to achieve perfection through the mastery of weapons. Emphasizing weapon skills, a Kensei monk sees their weapon as an extension of themselves and can use their ki to augment their martial capabilities, making their strikes deadlier. This tradition is perfect for players aiming for a weapon-focused monk.

Long Death

Monks of the Long Death, detailed in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, show a fascination for the mystery of death, studying its thresholds and mechanics in their pursuit of enlightenment. They are able to use their ki to manipulate the energy of life and death, draining life force to heal themselves or terrifying their foes. For those interested in exploring the thin line between life and death and using fear as a weapon, the Way of the Long Death could be the choice.


The Way of Mercy is a path of compassion, healing, and surprisingly, pain. Monks of this tradition believe in restoring the balance between life and death and often find themselves in the role of caregivers or executioners. They have mastered the art of healing using ki and can also inflict pain to end suffering or defeat enemies. This tradition, found in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, suits players looking to add elements of healing or harm in their toolkit.

Open Hand

The Way of the Open Hand represents the quintessential monk, those who prioritize perfecting their martial arts above all. These monks see their bodies as their most formidable weapon and their physical strikes as pure extensions of their will. This tradition, from the Player’s Handbook, is an excellent starting point for any new player due to its focus on reinforcing the core monk abilities.


The Way of the Shadow caters to those who want to tread on the edge of light and darkness, utilizing stealth, illusion, and subterfuge. Shadow monks can manipulate darkness and shadows through their ki, becoming ideal spies, infiltrators, and assassins. It’s an exciting choice for players who intend to indulge in stealth and enjoy playing in the shadows.

Sun Soul

Finally, the Way of the Sun Soul, found in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, is a tradition of monks who harness the power of light and can mold their ki into radiant energy. They can project beams of destructive light or encase themselves in a radiant aura, standing as a beacon in the darkest of times. This path is a delight for players who want their monks to incorporate radiant energy and ranged magical attacks into their martial abilities.

Homebrew and Unofficial Traditions

Lastly, do not be afraid to explore homebrew and unofficial traditions. Personalizing your monk’s journey with homebrew ideas can mark a unique shift in your character’s arc and overall campaign narrative, adding a fresh element to the gameplay. Always ensure to discuss any homebrew or unofficial content with your Dungeon Master before introducing it into your game.

Race and Background Selection

Choosing the right race and background for your Monk is a significant step in character creation, as these choices provide a foundation for your character’s narrative, skills, and abilities. The race you select contributes unique racial traits and bonuses to your character’s stats, potentially supplementing your Monk’s capabilities. Meanwhile, the background you decide on embellishes your character’s backstory and grants additional skills, tools, and role-playing components, which can complement your Monk’s abilities and personal narrative.

Best Races for Monks

When choosing a race for your Monk, consider the races that offer bonuses to Dexterity and Wisdom – the primary abilities for Monks. Humans, with their +1 to all ability scores, are a great choice for almost any class, including Monks. The versatility of their Ability Score Improvement can contribute greatly to a Monk’s agility, wisdom, and resilience.

Elves, particularly Wood Elves, are excellent picks for Monk characters. With their +2 Dexterity and +1 Wisdom (for Wood Elves), they inherently align with a Monk’s most important ability scores. In addition, their racial trait of Trance (reducing sleep time) and Mask of the Wild (natural stealth) brings additional benefits.

Halflings are another prime choice, specifically the Lightfoot Halfling with a Dexterity bonus of +2 and the ability to hide even when only obscured slightly. Their small stature and nimble nature align well with a Monk’s reliance on agility and speed.

Backgrounds that Complement Monk Abilities

Your character’s background can supplement your roleplaying experience and even your abilities. Background options like the Hermit or the Acolyte can play well into a Monk’s backstory of solitude or service in a monastery. These backgrounds also grant proficiency in the Medicine and Insight skills, which are based on Wisdom and therefore benefit from a Monk’s high Wisdom score.

The Sage background can also be an interesting choice, offering abilities that can play into the Monk’s pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment, while the Outlander background offers survival skills that can match a Monk’s often nomadic lifestyle.

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Alignment Considerations

Monks are disciplined and dedicated to their orders, making law-abiding alignments like Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, or Lawful Evil a common choice. However, D&D is about creativity and stepping away from the norm can lead to exciting and unexpected narratives. A Chaotic Monk, perhaps one who interprets their teachings in unconventional ways, can be a unique and surprising character to play.

Ability Score Optimization

Optimizing your Monk’s ability scores is crucial to maximizing your effectiveness in combat and making the most of your class features. As mentioned before, Dexterity and Wisdom are paramount for a Monk, influencing your Armor Class, attack and damage rolls, and various Monk abilities. However, other ability scores also have their roles and can round off your character nicely.

Importance of Dexterity and Wisdom

Dexterity impacts a Monk’s combat capabilities – attack and damage rolls, initiative, and AC (thanks to Unarmored Defense). A higher Dexterity means more accurate and damaging strikes, a higher initiative in combat, and a more formidable defense.

Wisdom influences a Monk’s ki, a resource that Monks use for special abilities such as Flurry of Blows or Stunning Strike. The higher your Wisdom, the higher the difficulty Class (DC) for your ki abilities, making it harder for enemies to resist them. Wisdom also contributes to your AC, your Perception skill (allowing you to spot hidden enemies), and several other beneficial skills.

Constitution for Health

While Dexterity and Wisdom are your primary ability scores, don’t forget Constitution. As a Monk, you’re a front-line fighter, and your hit points matter. A higher Constitution score increases your hit points, helping you survive the brunt of damage in fights. It also determines how well you withstand effects that require Constitution saving throws, such as poison or harsh weather.

Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma Considerations

Strength might not be essential due to the Monk’s ability to use Dexterity for attack and damage rolls, but it can be beneficial if you plan on grappling or shoving enemies. Intelligence and Charisma likely won’t directly impact your combat capabilities as a Monk, but consider whether they fit into your role-playing and backstory. For example, a high Intelligence can represent a studious Monk, while a high Charisma can depict a Monk who’s a natural leader or a source of inspiration.

Using Ability Score Improvement Feature

The Ability Score Improvement feature at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19 lets you increase your ability scores, with an option to increase one ability score by two or two ability scores by one. Prioritize raising your Dexterity and Wisdom to 20, but once these are maxed out, consider increasing your Constitution for more health, or perhaps increasing Strength, Intelligence, or Charisma depending on your character’s role in the group and personal story.

Feats and Multiclassing

Venturous D&D players often consider feats and multiclassing to add an extra layer of complexity and customization to their Monk characters. Feats are special abilities that provide new capabilities or improve existing ones, breaking the confines of class features and ability score increases. Multiclassing, on the other hand, involves adopting levels from other classes, melding aspects of the Monk with another class to create a uniquely versatile character.

Some feats particularly synergize well with the Monk’s abilities, enhancing their core strengths or covering for their weaknesses. Similarly, several classes can mesh well with the Monk’s capabilities when multiclassed, creating a character with a blend of abilities that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In the landscape of feats, some stand out as particularly beneficial for Monks. Firstly, the Mobile feat enhances the Monk’s speed and maneuverability, allowing them to dart in and out of combat with less risk of opportunity attacks. The Alert feat bolsters initiative and prevents Monks from being surprised, complementing their heightened awareness derived from their spiritual focus. Lastly, the Tough feat can be valuable for Monks as well due to their average hit dice, providing an effective health boost.

All of these feats either further accentuate the Monk’s strengths or cover for their potential weaknesses, making them valuable options depending on the Monk character’s unique needs and the campaign setting.

Multiclassing Options and Considerations

When considering multiclassing options for a Monk, the key aspect to look out for is synergies with the Monk’s primary attributes, Dexterity and Wisdom. Classes such as Ranger, Rogue, or even Cleric can be intriguing options, as they directly utilize these attributes. However, it’s fundamental to remember that multiclassing is often a trade-off, causing later access to higher-level class features.

Take, for instance, the Rogue class which shares similar primary attributes with Monks and offers Sneak Attack damage, boosting the Monk’s damage output. The Cleric class, particularly the War domain, can bring Wisdom-based spellcasting and martial weapon proficiency to the Monk coverage. Multiclassing with Ranger grants access to some spellcasting, favoured enemy, and natural exploration advantages.

However, these benefits must be weighed against the delay in achieving the powerful later-level Monk features.

Equipment and Magic Items

Monks in D&D 5e are unique in that their fighting style doesn’t heavily rely on weapons or armors as they mostly fight unarmored and with simple weapons or unarmed. However, the correct choice of equipment and magic items can still greatly enhance a Monk’s combat prowess and survivability.

Certain weapons, equipment, and magical trinkets offer abilities or bonuses that can augment a Monk’s natural abilities or confer new ones, adding a new dimension to the Monk’s combat tactics and role-playing capabilities.

Weapons and Monk Weapons

Traditionally, Monks specialize in unarmed strikes and simple melee weapons without the two-handed or heavy properties, known as Monk Weapons. Despite the emphasis on unarmed combat, certain weapons like the short sword or certain types of staffs can be quite effective in the hands of a Monk, offering more versatility in damage types that can be useful against particular enemies.

Specialized Equipment for Monks

While Monks do not typically utilize armors, they make ample use of other types of equipment. Items that augment mobility, such as Boots of Speed or the Winged Boots, can be particularly helpful. Similarly, items that improve survivability or resilience, such as the Periapt of Wound Closure that stabilizes the wearer when they are dying, or the Amulet of Health that increases the Constitution score, can substantially benefit Monks.

Magic Items Beneficial for Monks

Magic Items can greatly enhance the Monk’s capabilities. Items like the Bracers of Defense increase AC while unarmored and unarmed, enhancing the Monk’s defense. Others, like the Insignia of Claws, add a bonus to hit and damage rolls with unarmed attacks, thus boosting the Monk’s offense. Rings of Protection confer a bonus to AC and Saving Throws, enhancing both offense and defense. Ultimately, the selection of magical items should align with the Monks’ combat style and role in the party.

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Role-playing and Tactics

While every adventurer brings their unique flavor to an adventuring party, the Monk’s abilities add an exceptional dynamic due to their physical combat proficiency blending with their spiritual and mental prowess. Their abilities to enhance the party dynamics stretch from being swift damage dealers and precise control figures in battle, to insightful negotiators or subtle infiltrators outside of combat based on their understanding of physical and mystical realities.

The Monk’s utilitarian nature gets accentuated by their ability to manipulate ki, offering varied capabilities that can shift the tide in most situations if employed creatively. It’s pivotal to understand your Monk’s full potential and harness it effectively, both in the heat of combat and during role-playing scenarios, to fully manifest the essence of your character.

Monk’s Role in a Party

In the structure of an adventuring party, Monks often act as the agile striker or controller. Their speed and mobility combined with the ability to output a flurry of blows make them efficient harbingers of damage. Furthermore, their ability to stun enemies or deflect projectiles can provide significant crowd control in battle scenarios, often proving to be a game-changer. Monks focus on single-target, high-damage attacks which makes them the perfect character for taking down enemy spellcasters and high priority targets. Due to their high speed and ability to avoid opportunity attacks, Monks are the perfect hit-and-run characters.

Tactical Combat Considerations

As a Monk, you have a plethora of combat tactics at your disposal. You can use your Flurry of Blows to deal devastating damage or make use of Stunning Strike to incapacitate crucial enemies. Remember, mobility is your key advantage. Utilize your increased movement speed and abilities like Step of the Wind to navigate the battlefield and strike where it hurts the most. Your ability to deflect missiles can also turn the tide, effectively nullifying the advantages that ranged attackers may have.

Role-Playing Tips for Monks

Playing a Monk isn’t just about optimizing your combat abilities; it’s also about embodying a character chose the path of spiritual enlightenment. How was your character’s monastic tradition shaped? Was there a defining moment that led them to pursue the life of a Monk? Explore these questions in your role-playing scenarios. Use your Monk’s background and storyline to bring depth to your character, interact with NPCs and make the game engaging for yourself and your fellow players.

Sample DND 5e Monk Builds

Here’s some sample 5e Monk Builds you can use if your DM allows it!

1. The Silent Shadow

  • Class/Levels: Monk 10 (Way of the Shadow)
  • Race: Wood Elf
  • Background: Criminal (Spy)
  • Key Stats: Maximize Dexterity first, then Wisdom, and Constitution after.
  • Key Skills: Stealth, Perception, Acrobatics
  • Key Feats: Alert, Mobile
  • Key Roleplay Aspects: As a shadow monk, use stealth and deception to infiltrate heavily guarded places, gather information, or eliminate targets swiftly and silently.

2. The Enlightened Fist

  • Class/Levels: Monk 10 (Way of the Open Hand)
  • Race: Hill Dwarf
  • Background: Hermit
  • Key Stats: Prioritize Wisdom, then Dexterity, and Constitution.
  • Key Skills: Insight, Medicine, Religion
  • Key Feats: Tough, Sentinel
  • Key Roleplay Aspects: Balance combat with wisdom and pacifism, using non-lethal force when possible.

3. The Elemental Warrior

  • Class/Levels: Monk 10 (Way of the Four Elements)
  • Race: Fire Genasi
  • Background: Outlander
  • Key Stats: Focus on Dexterity first, then Wisdom, and Constitution after.
  • Key Skills: Survival, Nature, Athletics
  • Key Feats: Elemental Adept (Fire), Mobile
  • Key Roleplay Aspects: Embrace your elemental heritage and monk training to live in harmony with nature while harnessing its power against your foes.

5e Monk Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Hope these help!

Q: Can a Monk use weapons?

  • A: Yes, Monks are proficient with short swords and any simple melee weapons. They can also use certain weapons as monk weapons, allowing the monk to use their Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls.

Q: Can Monks use magic?

  • A: Monks have access to “Ki”, an energy that gives them several supernatural-like abilities that can seem like magic. Certain monk subclasses like the Way of the Shadow and Way of the Four Elements also offer spellcasting.

Q: What races work best for a Monk?

  • A: The best races for a Monk are those that give a bonus to Dexterity or Wisdom. Races like Wood Elf, Hill Dwarf, Air Genasi, or Human can work well. Ultimately, the choice of race should align with the player’s playstyle and game narrative.

Q: How does a Monk’s Unarmored Defense work?

  • A: While not wearing armor or wielding a shield, a Monk’s Armor Class (AC) is 10 + their Dexterity modifier + their Wisdom modifier. This allows the Monk to rely on agility and intuition for defense rather than traditional armor.
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Q: Is Multiclassing good for a Monk?

  • A: Multiclassing can be beneficial, but it can also delay access to certain key monk features. Consider your character’s development and role in the party before deciding to multiclass.

Conclusion: 5e Monk in DND

Creating a Monk character in D&D 5e offers not just an engaging gaming experience, it also provides a creative avenue for players to delve into a rich character-building process. Balancing the Monk’s physical prowess for combat with the spiritual depth of their monastic tradition can lead to truly memorable role-playing experiences. Remember that the rules are just guidelines, and don’t be afraid to step outside of them to adhere to the individual character and narrative you want represent. May your journey as a Monk in D&D 5e be intriguing, fun, and full of moments that truly embody the profound mastery of a dedicated spiritual warrior.

Isaac Hanson

LitRPG Author Isaac Hanson

Isaac Hanson is the wizard behind the curtain when it comes to understanding and dissecting the complex magic systems of Dungeons & Dragons. With a background in mathematics and a love for all things arcane, Isaac has dedicated himself to exploring the mechanics of spellcasting, magical items, and mystical lore. (And rogues. But who doesn't love a thief!) At LitRPG Reads, Isaac's articles delve into the nuances of magical classes, spell optimization, magical theory, and much more when he's interested in the topic. His analytical approach brings a scientific edge to the fantastical world of D&D, helping players maximize their magical prowess and understand the underlying principles of their favorite spells. Outside of his writing, Isaac is an avid gamer, both on the tabletop and online. He's also a member of various magic-themed communities and enjoys experimenting with homebrew magical systems. His mantra: "Magic is not just fantasy; it's a science waiting to be understood."

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