The monk class in Dungeons and Dragons has a large and interesting selection of subclasses for players to choose from. Each subclass plays in a completely unique way, allowing the player to drastically change how their Monk uses their Ki points, what they can do outside of combat, and how they knock down their enemies.
However, with ten subclasses to choose from, not every one will be a winner. While most Monk subclasses have something to offer, it can be useful to know which ones are less than inspiring.
10 The way of the drunk master is too specialized
Probably the most flavorful subclass, the way of the drunken master unfortunately falls short mechanically. Players looking for a subclass designed for crowd control should check out the Drunken Master. Unfortunately, that’s the only thing the subclass is good at. All of the Drunken Master’s skills revolve around hitting enemies in a large group, moving quickly from enemy to enemy, or otherwise dealing with multiple enemies rather than individuals.
This means that in a campaign that lacks large-scale combat, players often find that their subclass features go unused, which can be frustrating. Unfortunately, even in mass combat campaigns, the Drunken Master takes too long to reach his best traits, meaning he struggles to even meet his basic requirements.
9 The Path of the Four Elements suggests more options than it actually offers
Players looking to give their Monk an elemental flair will likely be drawn to the Way of the Four Elements. The subclass lets the monk use their ki to unleash the elements in their favor. In practice, however, the Way of the Four Elements is incredibly limited. The player’s subclass abilities are listed as elemental disciplines, essentially spells and other abilities that the player spends ki points to use.
Unfortunately only five can be selected from a list of 17 available disciplines. Additionally, many of these disciplines cost a decent amount of Ki points. Overall, the Way of the Four Elements is a poor implementation of a brilliant idea.
8th The way of Kensei is strong but boring
The Way of Kensei is excellent for creating a martial artist and weapon master. It allows the player to upgrade what counts as a Monk weapon to their main class abilities, and provides additional bonuses for using Kensei weapons, weapons said to be specific to the subclass’s many abilities.
While this subclass is certainly a strong option, it suffers from something D&D Fighter class also suffers: It’s boring. There is little to do with this subclass other than hitting monsters with weapons. Sure, these weapons are more effective than normal, but they lack flair, which ultimately drags the subclass down.
7 The path of the Astral Self is much style over substance
The Way of the Astral Self is perhaps the most conspicuous and elegant of all the monk subclasses. Monks who take on this subclass can summon a giant spectral avatar to aid them in battle. This spectral entity takes on an appearance based on what resides within the Monk’s soul, and players are encouraged not only to personalize their astral self, but to let it, in some ways, reflect their character’s true self.
While the subclass has a strong presence and interesting theme, their abilities rely mostly on minor buffs to aid the player in a variety of situations ranging from increasing their unarmed attack range to bonuses for certain skill tests. As later traits grow stronger, at earlier levels the astral self relies heavily on style rather than substance.
6 Way of Mercy is a surprisingly effective support subclass
The Way of Mercy is an outstanding subclass for its uniqueness. While the name sounds peaceful and tranquil, the issues surrounding it bring darkness, with its members often wearing robes and masks to hide their identities. In practice, Monks of the Way of Mercy use their ki to achieve effects similar to the heal wounds and inflict wounds spells along with a paladin’s lay on hands ability.
In an unexpected subclass twist, Monks of the Way of Mercy can be just as effective healers as Clerics or Paladins, as their healing abilities use Ki points, which they will always have in abundance compared to spell slots. In addition, Monks of the Way of Mercy can mix healing and damaging abilities with their Flurry, allowing them to heal and deal damage at the same time.
5 Monks of the Shadow Path Master Stealth
Stealth comes with skillful characters and classes, of course, but Monks looking to take their stealth skills to the next level should choose the path of the shadow. At first glance, the subclass seems simple, but in its simplicity, this subclass excels. The Way of the Shadow offers several useful abilities, including the ability to teleport between shadows and even become invisible.
All of this makes the Shadow’s Way subclass one of the best options for a Monk who wants to hide in plain sight. The subclass’s stealthy traits will win over even the most seasoned D&D Villain turns green with envy.
4 Fight like in Dragon Ball with The Way Of The Sun Soul
If you want to live your dream of shooting fireballs out of your hand while flying through the air in a whirling kick, look no further than the Path of the Sun Soul. This subclass uses Ki for a variety of attacks, from shooting fireballs of varying sizes to replicating the Burning Hands spell. Each of these attacks deals good damage and offers excellent ranged combat options.
The only downside of Sun Soul Monk is that players will likely deplete their ki points fairly quickly. However, the features on offer are so powerful that most enemies don’t last long enough for a Sunsoul Monk to deal with.
3 The path of the open hand is the archetypal kung fu master
The Open Hand Way is the perfect subclass for those who want to feel like a martial arts master. The path of the open hand perfectly captures the idea of the wise martial arts master. Subclass traits include additional benefits to the Monk’s Flurry ability and the use of Ki and Meditation to ensure the Monk stays in combat longer.
The ultimate feature of the open hand path is the shaking palm technique. By spending 3 ki points, the player can smack an opponent, potentially knocking them down to zero hit points in one hit, or otherwise dealing a massive amount of necrotic damage. The best part about this feature is that the Monk can delay activating the damaging effect for a number of days equal to their Monk level, potentially activating this ability weeks after the initial hit.
2 Rise with draconian might thanks to the Way of the Ascending Dragon
Harnessing the power of dragons is an enticing prospect, and the Way of the Rising Dragon is sure to live up to any player’s expectations when choosing this subclass for their monk. From a powerful breath weapon to flight speed, even Frightful Presence is represented and used by Ascendant Dragon monks.
This subclass will leave players little lacking in draconian power. Each of its features is powerful and fits the theme perfectly, making it one of the best Monk subclasses out there.
1 The path of long death shortens the lives of monsters
No other subclass of monks is as powerful as the Way of Long Death. This subclass focuses on harnessing the power of death. This subclass’s initial ability grants players temporary hit points whenever an enemy dies within five feet of them.
From there, the traits only get stronger, granting the ability to trade a ki point to avoid a fatal blow and the ability to deal up to 20d10 necrotic damage by spending enough ki points. This is truly the ultimate subclass of monks.