Let's Play...A Low Dexterity Monk
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today we're looking at a low Dexterity monk, continuing in our series looking at how to build unique concepts for characters that fit established archetypes but are not encouraged thanks to class rules.
We had two good choices for the monk (low Wisdom or low Dexterity), and I went with Dexterity because it has wider impacts on the class, as it will affect your monk weapons, unarmed strikes, Armor Class, ability to catch missiles, etc.
We will start by looking at the character concept, and then go into how to build a character with mechanics that will be useful to the party.
I. Character Concept
When you think about a "monk" as an adventurer, your mind probably jumps to a martial arts hero. But as we know by looking around us, this is the minority of all Eastern monks: most are not running on walls, but instead pursuing inner peace and helping the low.
That's the low Dexterity monk: a far more charismatic and studied person who finds peace and shares it with others without as much flashy acrobatics.
And you know, when I looked at the mechanics, I suddenly realized something: you don't actually lose that much with a low Dexterity. And that surprised me immensely because it's so integral to the build, and yet, I didn't find myself missing it. So here's the build.
II. Character Build
First off, you have to realize what you gain by not having a great Dexterity skill. To start, you can always multiclass into cleric or druid, both of which more than cover you for what you lose, but this is not a multiclass build, so we'll be staying purely within the monk class as we build it out.
There are three qualities unique to monks. Monks may use monk weapons, allowing them to use Dexterity with specific melee weapons, most of which don't have the Finesse property. Second, monks get access to Ki Points, allowing them to perform special moves typically not accessible to other classes. And finally, monks can add Wisdom to their Armor Class, which synergizes well with their ki system.
All of these are fine with low Dexterity - not excellent, but fine. A monk with high Strength will be just as good in melee as a Dexterity-based monk: all of the rules on Page 78 of the Player's Handbook apply to either 1) the use of a monk weapon (with no consideration for whether you are using Strength), or 2) you "can" use Dexterity instead of Strength: none of the monk rules require you to use Dexterity with one exception (catching missiles at 3rd level). So when it comes to monk weapons, we don't actually lose anything as long as we're using monk weapons.
Second, our Ki Points are unaffected by this build: since Wisdom is unaffected, we can still use our Ki Points as effectively as a Dexterity-based monk.
And finally, yes, our Armor Class will be lower - much lower - and that's just the way it's going to be. It's a loss, but a few things to consider. First, since you can take the Dodge action as a bonus action by spending 1 Ki Point, you can deal with a low AC better than most people. So that's a plus. The second thing to keep in mind is that since you have decent movement and the potential for 3 attacks as early as 2nd level, you can swoop in, dish out a lot of damage, take out the target, and then boogie out if you need to. And at a point, a person who is not in a position to be attacked doesn't have to worry about a low AC.
So what we "lose" with this build isn't all that much - and that took me by surprise. Sure, your ability to catch missiles goes down by a bit, and your ability to make the most of Evasion at 7th level is lessened, but there are a decent number of combats that won't involve either of those.
But what you gain by not having a high Dexterity is quite high. For starters, you can climb, run, and swim better thanks to a higher Strength stat, which is really nice. You also have room to have more hit points thanks to a higher Constitution stat (which is typically your #3 stat with a monk). You can go heavier into Intelligence or Charisma, fleshing out more of the non-combat side of things, or any combination of these, really - you have a lot of room to move thanks to not devoting a lot of resources into Dexterity.
Another contributing factor to this, though, is just the fact that so many of the monk abilities are static benefits: spend X Ki Points to get a benefit, spend a bonus action to get X ability, or gain immunity to something. This isn't a critique, but it struck me how many of the bonuses don't rely on rolls: you just get a benefit by leveling up.
And this might be why I don't like monk all that much: so much of it is, "Hooray: you can now do this," but you don't get that much better at anything you're rolling for in the game. The difference in damage, for example, between a 1st Level monk and a 20th level monk is not nearly as high as the damage differential of any other martial class, and since so many of the abilities are tied to Ki Points you don't even get to use your special abilities as often as other martial classes get to use their stuff (Sneak Attack for rogues, 3-4 Attacks for fighters, fighting styles for almost every martial class, etc.).
So yes: you're more susceptible to damage, and you aren't maximizing your lower level abilities as a monk. But you're not actually that bad off; you are still doing most of what the class does, just in a different way.
Watching guys like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or Donnie Yen, is just incredible on-screen, and being able to live that out is a lot of fun. I do wish that there were more ways to do the cool martial arts stuff (as Ki Points run out way too quickly), but on the whole it's pretty fun. Maybe someday I'll do a rework of the monk, but it is not this day, :)
In our next post we're going to do it: the low Charisma sorcerer. And boy was this a hard one, as so much of what sorcerers do come down to damage and control, and both of those hurt when you have a weak casting stat.
Until next time,