Over on the Nerdarchy YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted naturally take a disciplined look at the idea of an all monk party for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Here on the website we take a different approach to this popular video series, exploring my take on the concept of single party composition. Monks in 5E D&D combine extreme mobility and damage dealing power in a very self sufficient class. But it’s a different kind of class we’re focusing on here when it comes to our D&D academia campaign setting, the conceptual frame for this series. Instructors at Monastic Traditions use martial science to provide a way of training students in a results driven atmosphere that brings mind, body and spirit together. So let’s get into it.
How I would run an all monk party for 5E D&D
In 5E D&D monks can focus their exploration of ki on stealth, magical energy, pure physical perfection or a number of other pursuits but however they choose to diversify all monks hone their bodies through rigorous training. Like druids in earlier editions of D&D monks became part of a global society and after attaining 7th level and earning the title of Master, things got tricky. The game stated there’s only three 8th level Master of Dragons monks in the entire world — the White, the Green, or the Red — and one of each level beyond this all with distinctive titles like Master of the West Wind and Master of Autumn culminating in the Grand Master of Flowers. This structure can definitely make a great resource for our D&D academia setting as regards monks.
“Three traditions of monastic pursuit are common in the monasteries scattered across the multiverse. Most monasteries practice one tradition exclusively, but a few honor the three traditions and instruct each monk according to his or her aptitude and interest. All three traditions rely on the same basic techniques, diverging as the student grows more adept. Thus, a monk need choose a tradition only upon reaching 3rd level.”
In D&D academia Monastic Traditions follows the charter school model, operating through public funding with a contract detailing structure and management along with measurable expectations for student achievement. Structuring Monastic Traditions this way adds a measure of worldbuilding into the set up for an all monk party. The school maintains some sort of relationship with governing power in the region, opening the door for incorporating these larger socio-political elements into what could be an isolated and remote monastery. Enrollment is based on a first come, first served circumstance until the school reaches capacity, placing additional students on a wait list and this can be another source of drama to explore — hopeful monks who don’t make the cut might grow envious and lead to all sorts of conflict.
Monks are very self sufficient and focused on mobility and combat prowess throughout their core class progression, making for interesting party composition. Everyone in the all monk party can boast impressive physical abilities. The first few levels of this campaign concept involve a lot of sparring and training. A group of fresh monk students can expect to push themselves to the limit as they discover how to move and fight without weapons or armor, quickly learning how to focus their ki to enhance those efforts. These early levels give the players a chance cut loose in a controlled environment. But a training session gone awry could be the building blocks for later adventures. Perhaps an obstacle course challenge turns disastrously dangerous. Was it a simple mistake, or something more sinister like sabotage (like by those angry students who didn’t make enrollment)?
In addition to combat skills monks choose one type of artisan’s tools or one musical instrument and this provides wonderful contrast for the characters. Balancing all the action and physicality through contemplative moments helps illustrate the balance an all monk party strives for within themselves and as a group. As a huge fan of kung-fu movies I love the idea of blending each character’s tool or musical instrument proficiency with their fighting style and overall philosophy. My favorite of those movies, Mystery of Chess Boxing, sees the hero bullied and demeaned by the other students until he befriends the monastery’s cook and incorporates his chores with his fighting style.
Once the all monk party reaches 3rd level and chooses their Monastic Traditions, their masters would begin expanding the scope of the tasks and lessons they teach. Keeping in mind the path of a monk means personal tests and growth the adventuresome curriculum can take these monks far and wide seeking spiritual answers. The group could be instructed to make a difficult journey to a mist shrouded island to bring back one of the glowing pearls known to be found there. But as a special quest, a Way of the Long Death monk’s master informs them a powerful entity nears the end of its life there, and instructs the student monk to extract its vitality as it dies. In other words use their Touch of Death feature on the creature. As it turns out the creature in question is a gold dragon wyrmling. The dragon is known to Monastic Traditions and is aware its life nears the end. (I know, it’s a wyrmling with a long life ahead but for whatever reason this one is dying.) The dragon agrees to assist in the education of these monks as its final act.
All monk party unleashed
The other side of this particular party composition campaign explores the balance to a life of hard work and unwavering discipline — cutting loose. One of my other favorite aspects of martial arts films is the wuxia concept of martial heroes who travel around addressing wrongs and the idea they all sort of know each other, or at least know of each other through reputation. This makes an awesome contrast for the all monk party.
I can absolutely imagine monk characters — and players — conspiring to sneak away from campus for this purpose. They learn lessons from great heroes of their institution and begin to wonder when they’ll get to become those kinds of people. Going this route I think it’s very worthwhile to prepare in advance some of these wuxia personalities in your world. What are their evocative names, what deeds are they known for, what’s their reputation and distinctive fighting style? Does the all monk party keep their identities secret when they begin getting involved in the wuxia world? Do their masters at school know about these activities?
This series is nearly complete! With three more classes to go we’ll have a strong foundation for an entire 5E D&D campaign setting in a world of academia inspired by single class party composition. For a running recap, here’s the list of 5E D&D class related institutions. I’m looking forward to exploring the next one along with the video from the YouTube channel.
- Bard College carries on a fine tradition of arts and arcane education
- Primal Paths sounds like a private school
- Domains is a seminary
- Circles is a new age school
- Martial Archetypes is a either a military school or a certified training program
- Monastic Traditions maybe a charter school
- Sacred Oaths is definitely a private school
- Ranger Conclaves is a series of correspondence courses (I know they’re called Ranger Archetypes but I think Conclaves sounds cool)
- Roguish Archetypes a trade school for sure. I learned how to pick pockets and now I’m doing great. Thanks, Roguish Archetypes!
- Sorcerous Origins get to attend Arcane Traditions U on a full-ride scholarship
- Otherworldly Patrons is 100% charter school
- Arcane Traditions clearly is the premiere institute for arcane study
- Artificer Specialists is a for profit university that confers certificates and degrees
Any of these individual campaign ideas really makes me want to play or run a campaign with these elements. 5E D&D party composition with all the characters of the same class is more about your group discussing their character choices together than about filling traditional roles. An all monk party can handle quite a bit, with each character being able to handle themselves almost entirely. Oddly in a standard campaign with different classes I tend to view monks poorly because pretty much everything they can do is centered on making only them better in combat, without much in the way of doing stuff to enhance what others can do specifically. But in a group of all monks this is greatly mitigated since everyone is on the same page.
There’s a strong theme of contrast and balance in this party composition. Not only the mechanical contrast I just mentioned but also balance between strict discipline and unruly behavior, higher spiritual goals and earthly concerns and even broad social issues balanced against an austere environment at Monastic Traditions. And at the end of it all this D&D academia setting is beholden to whatever ruling structure they have their charter with, which expects results. And here’s a plot twist for you: why? What does a ruling organization want get from ensuring this school produces powerful self-sufficient warriors without any need for gear? Hmmm…
What do you think? Are you ready to enroll at Monastic Traditions and learn the limits of mortality and then surpass them in your next 5E D&D campaign? What single party composition video or post interests you the most? Let me know in the comments!