Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Scions of Thoth

A lot of old schoolers dislike the monk class, most often citing its inappropriateness in non-Asian settings.  This is a sentiment that I disagree with and have argued against previously, because, hey, if you can have a monk kicking tail in America's old west, you can have them anywhere.  Where I do have a problem with the monk, however, is why such a character would be hanging out in a party of ne'er-do-wells, looting tombs, and delving dungeons.

So, really, my objection is not with their appropriateness in a fantasy setting, but as a player character class.  I also have the same misgivings regarding the paladin.

But, dammit, I love the monk class and I've always wanted to be able to play a character like Kwai Chang Caine, or one of my favourite childhood comic book characters, Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu.  So, I keep picking away at the class trying to find just the right fit.

The key, I think, is to forget about the whole 'monastic ascetic' business and put a spin on the class that would rationalize hunting for treasure in dusty old tombs.  So here is my latest incarnation of the monk class, that would be right at home alongside thieves and sorcerers in a sword & sorcery campaign.

The Monk

Monks are adepts of a cabal known as The Scions of Thoth, who are devoted to the acquisition of knowledge; indeed, they hunger for it like a sorcerer lusts for magic.  Using their finely-honed mental and physical talents, they plumb the depths of ancient ruins and dungeons in search of lost lore and artifacts of from ages past.

The libraries of the Scions of Thoth are vast repositories containing moldering tomes and crumbling scrolls recovered by the adepts of the order, often at great personal peril.

Monk Advancement Table


































Keeper of Chronicles
250,000 per
+1 hp per level

Monk Class Abilities

Weapons and Armour Restrictions: Monks may not wear armour or use shields.  They are proficient in the use of staff and sling.

Primary Attribute: Monks with above average Wisdom gain a +5% experience point bonus.

Open Hand Attacks: Monks are masters of unarmed combat and suffer no penalty when so fighting against armed opponents.  Open hand attacks deal 1d6 points of damage at 1st level.  Beginning at 5th level the monk may roll 2d6 and pick the highest roll; at 10th level the monk may roll 3d6 and pick the highest roll.  Furthermore, when making an open hand attack, a roll to hit of ‘20’ will stun the opponent for 1d6 rounds unless a successful Constitution saving throw is made.

Fast Reflexes: At 2nd level, the monk gains a +1 bonus to AC, and an additional +1 bonus every two levels thereafter (i.e. AC 8 at 2nd level, AC 7 at 4th level, AC 6 at 6th level, and so on).

Decipher Script: Beginning at 1st level, a monk is able to read non-magical writing with a successful Intelligence check.

Eidetic Memory: Beginning at 2nd level the monk is able to recall, with perfect clarity, anything he has ever seen, heard, or read.

Ancestral Memory: Beginning at 4th level, the monk is able to access his ancestral memory to gain knowledge of any past event.  This requires a successful Wisdom check modified by the obscurity of the information sought.

Read Body Language: The monk may add his bonus for above average Wisdom to his armour class.

Read Magical Script: Beginning at 7th level, the monk is able to read all magical inscriptions and may also use magical scrolls.

Establish Library: At 10th level, if the monk has acquired a sizeable collection of rare tomes he may establish a library that will become a centre of scholarship, attracting Seekers to serve the character.

Saving Throw Bonus: The monk receives an attribute bonus of +2 when making a save against fear effects.

I took inspiration for this class from several different sources, primarily Mentats and the Bene Gesserit of Frank Herbert's Dune series, but also with a touch of Indiana Jones.  The idea is to have monks serve the role of adventuring sages, whose extraordinary mnemonic skills give them a unique role in an adventuring party rather than just consigning them to little more than second-rate fighters, which is the case with most previous versions of the class.  To further define the niches, I've removed Read Languages and Read Magic from the Thief class.

The most extraordinary and potentially powerful of the monk's abilities is Ancestral Memory, which potentially grants them access to countless generations worth of knowledge.  The most obvious use of this ability is as a form of Legend Lore, allowing them to identify magic items, and recall ancient histories.  But it also allows them to essentially know how to do anything, in theory at least, much like the characters from The Matrix are able to download skills as needed.

As living repositories of knowledge, monks are highly sought after as advisers to monarchs and nobles, and many warlords have been defeated by the advice of a monk who was able to recall the tactics of every battle ever fought.  This power can tempt even the most resolute monk, and there are many who have forsworn their duties to mankind to profit from their training, selling their skills to the highest bidder, or even establishing themselves as rulers in their own right.  Such self-serving monks make excellent villains in a campaign and are worthy adversaries for any adventuring group that may find themselves in competition with one.

For those who choose to provide wisdom and guidance to the rulers of the world, pay heed to this cautionary tale of a monk who overstepped his bounds and took a few too many liberties with the queen, as told by the troubadour troop, Boney M.

And if you want to turn up the volume and shake your booty, go ahead.  You know you want to.


Urikson said...

I really like your version of the monk, it's very thematic and can make a great plot device. When I used monks in non-Asian settings, I usually made them inverted sorcerers. That is, a sorcerer projects his power outward, leaving him physically weak but capable of immense destruction, while the monk projects his power inward, gaining a perfect body but no flashy magic.

Uri K.

Sean Robson said...

Thanks for the feedback Uri; I also like your your take on the monk - it has a very pulpy feel to it reminiscent of the Khitain adepts that were pursuing Conan in The Hour of the Dragon.

Shane Mangus said...

I approve. I really like how you made the class new and interesting without loosing its original intent or flavor. Well done.

Sean Robson said...

Thanks Shane. I was thinking about how European monks in the Middle Ages were responsible for reproducing and distributing many of the manuscripts of the time, and it occurred to me that maybe they could not only be the transcribers of knowledge, but the seekers of it as well.