Monk Fighting Stances | Optional Rules for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition

This entry is part of the Dungeon.Dude Promotional Campaign on Instagram. Together, the Instagram D&D Community helped Dungeon.Dude, a hard-working artist, get over 2,100 followers! Outstanding job, folks!

If you’d like to see the first three, check out:

Playtest Content

The material here is presented for playtesting and to spark your imagination. These game mechanics are in draft form, usable in your campaign but not refined by final game design and editing. They aren’t officially part of the game.

Constructive feedback is welcome and appreciated in either comments or social media. If you can give me a valid reason with examples why something is off, 9/10 I’m likely to make changes to the content and credit you for doing so. Otherwise, feedback without anything to back it up gets ignored (or at most a smile emoji like this 🙂 ) Thanks!

Design Notes

Coming off the huge update I did with the Fighter, I wanted to take a different path with a monk “subclass” and not really create a subclass at all, but instead new rules options for monks. Ironically, in my last post, I commented that I don’t like fiddly bits and here I am now adding fiddly bits. Either way, these are some necessary fiddly bits dang it.

First and foremost, the monk class is, well, kinda boring. At least compared to its flavor. This is supposed to be a class where you get to do all sorts of kung-fu type stuff. Yet, you’re limited to “unarmed strike” and “monk weapons” and, oh yeah, did I mention “unarmed strike.” Yaawwwn. Now, of course, it’s yours and the GM’s job to explain what’s happening while you’re fighting, but wouldn’t it be a lot cooler to do some other type fun stuff during combat?

That’s when I got the idea for fighting stances. Basically, fighting stances are variants on the Martial Arts feature that a monk gains at first level.

Here is what I hope to achieve with these supplemental rules:

  • They have to remain fairly balanced, meaning that, while they give you options, the options are more for flavor and tactics than buffs. That’s going to be the hardest thing to do. But I figure doing some sort of offense for defense or attack for damage trade-off system should work well.
  • The stances will be a little like “weak feats.” And you can learn more as you become a master monk.
  • This will be some expert stuff for advanced players. A new player that walks into a class using these rules might find themselves lost. You’ve been warned.
  • Lots and lots of flavor. Because if I’m going to play a martial artist, by golly, I want it to be badass!

Anyways, this one was a lot of fun to create and a nice break from the other subclasses I’ve been making. When balancing the difference stances detailed below, I considered the original Martial Arts rules block and what the benefits actually were.

  1. First, Martial Arts allows monks to substitute Dexterity for Strength on attack and damage rolls when using unarmed strikes and monk weapons.
  2. In addition, a monk uses a d4 for its unarmed strikes which goes up with its levels (specifically, at the three major tier milestones).
  3. Finally, a monk can use its bonus action to make an unarmed strike.

Knowing this, there are a few things to consider.

First, the Dexterity versus Strength benefit allows the monk to be a little less MAD than it otherwise would be.

Second, the average damage a tier one monk is going to do is probably somewhere between 5.5 (unarmed strikes with a +3 Dex modifier) and 6.5 (quarterstaff or shortsword with a +3 Dex modifier) per attack.

Finally, the monk gets an additional action on each of its turns which allows it to potentially deal another 5.5 damage.

Therefore as long as the stances I create don’t go beyond these limitations (or the tradeoff is similar at least) it should be balanced and flavorful.

Since stances give a monk benefits and drawbacks depending on the stance, I wanted to make sure that once a player picked a stance at the start of their turn, they had to stick with that stance–through thick or thin–until the start of its next turn. Some of the stances off AC penalties and disadvantage on skill checks, therefore, this could be pretty tricky for an inexperienced player.

Okay, on to the stances. First up is the leopard which is designed to stand back and study its opponent. Plus, it can use Int with its attacks. While that’ll probably never come up, I just thought the idea was kinda cool. Also, you lose your bonus attack, but you trade it in for Dash, and while that’s similar to Step of the Wind, you don’t get the jump bonus.

The snake style is all about staying close. When you stay close, you get to make improved critical strikes. Like the leopard, you lose access to your bonus attack for this benefit, but in the long run, the damage you deal comes out to be roughly the same. In addition, you are great at keeping creatures near you by dealing extra damage on attacks of opportunity.

Crane is a defensive style that doesn’t use weapons. Instead, it’s all about dancing around an opponent. And if an opponent should land an attack, the crane is able to side-step the blow a la deflect missiles. This might seem a bit much, but in reality, it might be a little underpowered compared to getting a bonus attack. According to page 284 of the DMG (yep, the Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating table), 1 point of damage dealt is roughly on par with having 3 hit points.

Great dragon style is built for Strength monks, pure and simple. Instead of a bonus attack, they deal +2 extra damage. This isn’t so hot before you pick up Flurry of Blows at 2nd level, but ends up working out to be roughly the same as having that bonus attack later on. In addition, dragons are set up to be expert grapplers. Mathematically speaking, the 10 minimum power similar to the rogue’s reliable talent feature actually isn’t as good as having advantage if the target is particularly strong or fast.

Tiger is a crit fisher. It gives up its bonus attack to make shove attacks that can knock a creature prone. Then, it gets extra damage when it hits with criticals while the target is down.

Monkey is great at defense but not so hot at paying attention to what’s going on around it. But it’s there to distract creatures while the party gets in place.

Wolf is a team player, too, effectively getting pack tactics and the prone power.

Raven is also somewhat of a team player and great at tanking thanks to its “combat mimicry” feature.

Finally, there’s the mantis; it’s the “barbarian” of the group. It attacks recklessly, giving up AC for damage bonuses and letting creatures hit it in order to retaliate.

monk-fighting-style

Combat Options

The option in this section provides alternative ways to handle combat. The main risk of adding some of these rules is slowing down play.

Monk Fighting Stances

With this optional rule, when you take on levels in the Monk class, you adopt fighting stances which you can switch to change your combat dynamic. While you are in a particular fighting stance, the fighting stance’s features and drawbacks replace those normally offered by the Martial Arts feature.

Learning Fighting Stances

You learn the balanced stance at first level as well as two more fighting stances of your choice which are detailed below. You learn one additional fighting stance of your choice at 5th, 11th, and 17th level. Each time you learn a new fighting stance, you can also replace one fighting stance you know with a different one. You can not replace the balanced stance.

Starting Stance and Changing Stance in Combat

When you roll initiative, you automatically assume the balanced stance. At the start of each of your turns, you can switch to another fighting stance that you know. The benefits and drawbacks of your chosen fighting style replace your monk Martial Arts feature until the start of your next turn, if you are incapacitated, or if you die. At the start of your next turn, you can choose another fighting stance or continue using the same one.

Fighting Stances

The fighting stances are presented in alphabetical order.

Balanced Stance. This is your default stance.

While in the balanced fighting stance, your Martial Arts feature offers the normal benefits and drawbacks detailed in the PHB.

Clever Leopard Stance. The leopard uses its superior intellect to engage its opponents, standing back and observing, always looking for the right moment to strike.

While you are in this stance, you gain the following benefits and drawbacks while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield. These benefits and drawbacks replace those normally offered by your monk Martial Arts feature:

  • You can use Dexterity or Intelligence instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes and monk weapons.
  • You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapons. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
  • When you use the Ready action in order to use your reaction to make an attack with your unarmed strike or monk weapon (regardless of the triggering event), you make your attack roll with advantage.
  • You can take the Dash action as a bonus action on each of your turns.

Constricting Snake Stance. The snake fighter is a close combatant, utilizing fast attacks that target an opponent’s weak points such as the eyes, groin, and joints.

While you are in this stance, you gain the following benefits and drawbacks while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield. These benefits and drawbacks replace those normally offered by your monk Martial Arts feature:

  • You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes and monk weapons.
  • You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapons. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
  • If you do not move more than 5 feet on your turn, your unarmed strike and monk weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 19-20.
  • If you use your reaction to make an attack of opportunity when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach, you gain a +2 bonus to your attack rolls made with your unarmed strike or monk weapons against that creature.

Dancing Crane Stance. The crane fighter is a dancer, using their entire form to bewilder and deftly move around their opponents. Cranes prefer not to use weapons.

While you are in this stance, you gain the following benefits and drawbacks while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield. These benefits and drawbacks replace those normally offered by your monk Martial Arts feature:

  • You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes and monk weapons.
  • You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
  • When you use the Attack action with an unarmed strike on your turn, you can take the Disengage action as a bonus action.
  • You can use your reaction to deflect a weapon when you are hit by a melee weapon attack. When you do so, the damage you take from the attack is reduced by your monk die + your Dexterity modifier.

Great Dragon Stance. The dragon attacks with blows intended to dispatch and kill. It is a powerful fighting stance, reserved only for the most aggressive warriors.

While you are in this stance, you gain the following benefits and drawbacks while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield. These benefits and drawbacks replace those normally offered by your monk Martial Arts feature:

  • You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapons. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
  • You gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls made with your unarmed strike and monk weapon attacks.
  • If you use your Attack action to make a grapple, when you roll your Strength (Athletics) check, you can treat a d20 roll of 9 or lower as a 10. You may only use this benefit if you are proficient in the Athletics skill.

Fierce Tiger Stance. The fierce tiger is a quick and powerful fighter, striking hard and fast.

While you are in this stance, you gain the following benefits and drawbacks while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield. These benefits and drawbacks replace those normally offered by your monk Martial Arts feature:

  • You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes and monk weapons.
  • You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapons. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
  • Once on each of your turns, if you move at least 20 feet straight towards a creature you can use your bonus action to shove the creature.
  • When you use the Attack action against a creature that is prone and score a critical hit with an unarmed strike or monk weapon on your turn, you can roll your martial arts die one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.

Laughing Monkey Stance. Those who fight in the style of the monkey are fast, cheeky opponents, and masters of the quarterstaff.

While you are in this stance, you gain the following benefits and drawbacks while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield. These benefits and drawbacks replace those normally offered by your monk Martial Arts feature:

  • You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes and monk weapons.
  • You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapon. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
  • When you use the Attack action with a quarterstaff on your turn or use the Dodge action, you can make one additional attack with your quarterstaff as a bonus action. You do not add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack unless that modifier is negative.
  • When you take the Dodge action, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.
  • You have advantage on Stealth (Acrobatics) checks.
  • You have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks.

Proud Wolf Stance. The wolf sticks to its pack, gaining power from its allies.

While you are in this stance, you gain the following benefits and drawbacks while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield. These benefits and drawbacks replace those normally offered by your monk Martial Arts feature:

  • You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes and monk weapons.
  • You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapon. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
  • When one of your allies attacks a hostile creature within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to make an unarmed strike or monk weapon attack against that creature.
  • When you use your Attack action with an unarmed strike or a monk weapon on your turn, instead of dealing damage you can attempt to knock the target prone. The target must make a Strength saving throw against a DC of 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength modifier or fall prone in its space.

Sly Raven Stance. The raven watches its opponent carefully. Then, much to its opponent’s surprise, the raven learns its moves.

  • You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes and monk weapons.
  • You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapon. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
  • When you use the Help action to aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 feet of you, you can make one unarmed strike as a bonus action.
  • When you take damage from a creature that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to adjust your defenses. Once you do, the creature has disavantage on its attacks against you until you take damage from the creature again or you change your fighting stance.

Thrashing Mantis Stance. The mantis attacks violently without regard to itself, attacking to defend, hitting and smashing hardly and firmly.

While you are in this stance, you gain the following benefits and drawbacks while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield. These benefits and drawbacks replace those normally offered by your monk Martial Arts feature:

  • You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes and monk weapons.
  • You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapon. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
  • You gain 2 temporary hit points for each level you have in this class. You lose these temporary hit points if you change your fighting stance.
  • Before you use the Attack action with an unarmed strike or monk weapon attack on your turn, you can choose to take a -2 penalty to your AC which lasts until the start of your next turn. If the attack hits, you add +5 to the attack’s damage.
  • When you take damage from a creature that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to take make an unarmed strike or monk weapon attack against that creature.
  • You can’t switch to this fighting stance again until you finish a short or long rest.

 

Like it? Share it!

I love making stuff like this, and the best way for me to keep going is to get more people to see it! So SHARE SHARE SHARE simply by clicking one of those social media buttons below.

And if you aren’t already, see the development of these classes and join in on the fun games and contests by following me on Instagram.

See you soon!

Next: Paladin Oath of Termination

Art by Paizo Publishing.

3 thoughts on “Monk Fighting Stances | Optional Rules for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition

  1. Monks are my favorite class and this is awesome 😀
    One slight comment, on the Constricting Snake Stance, that +2 to attack rolls feels weird… I had the idea that in 5E the benefits to attack rolls tend to be advantage, instead of bonuses. Isn’t that the case? Is there any reason for that change?
    Anyway, awesome work.

    1. Adv would be two overpowered so it works similar to fighting style bonuses a la fighters 😄

      And thanks!

  2. Thanks for the info. I run two monks, a female tabaxi and a male tortle. I was looking to start my tabaxi in blind fighting. The tortle carries a staff who specializes in unarmed strike. The tabaxi she has a Elven sword but that’s only because it’s cursed and I got stuck with it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.