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I am currently looking for a play-by-chat Pathfinder game and am choosing a class. I am choosing between the Oracle and the Monk, both options sound cool. However, the Monk has a reputation of being very weak, capable of nothing.

MinMax boards are down, so I can't check the in-depth guides in Pathfinder tiers that were available there. Googling shows opinions saying something from "Unchained Monk is T3" to "Unchained Monk is just as weak as the original Monk", with not much proof given for any of the points.

So, which tier does Pathfinder Unchained Monk actually belong to?

I expect the answer(s) to analyze the changes from vanilla to Unchained Monk and/or perhaps stating unfixed major problems that make the vanilla Monk so weak, if any. Not just telling "nothing changed" or "T3 now".

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Tier 3-4

The improved BAB of the unchained monk allows them to actually hit with their attacks, and the d10 HD does a little bit to make them less squishy. Full-BAB flurry of blows is actually a decent approach to combat, and the ki powers give the unchained monk some versatility. And flying kick (which is basically the only choice for style strike) gives the monk desperately-needed mobility.

But the ki pool is still very tightly limited per day, with ki powers frequently burning several ki points at a clip. A lot of them are reactive, too, spending points and actions to undo dangerous effects you would really rather not have to begin with, and that most characters seek immunity to where possible, making those powers redundant at high levels.

So the unchained monk ends up being pretty good at one thing (combat), with a little ability outside that. But not really decent at everything, or really great at one thing and ok at the rest. When compared to 6th-level casters, the typical sort of tier-3 class, ki powers don’t really keep up. So you could argue that the unchained monk is towards the top of tier 4, or the bottom of tier 3.

More in-depth analysis

Since a point-by-point analysis was requested, here are more details:

Changes

  • Full-BAB and unchained flurry of blows: This is a pretty big deal. The chained monk has very serious accuracy issues, which this directly addresses. Flurry of blows can actually live up to its name, instead of being a flurry of misses. The full BAB also helps the unchained monk qualify for feats, which is very helpful.

  • d10 HD: On average, +1 hp/level, which isn’t great but it’s definitely an improvement, and a direly-needed one. The unchained monk is still very squishy, but this helps.

  • Monk weapon proficiency: unarmed strikes are, if anything, even more important to the unchained monk than to the chained monk, so this isn’t amazing, but it is nice and there are some options in there that could be thought of more as a tool you could pull out than a proper weapon. The need for magic weapons later in the game makes this difficult to continue to use at higher levels.

  • Ki powers: several of these are pretty good, qinggong power in particular. But Wis+½Level/day is a quite strict limit. Definitely good but not comparable to the 6th-level spellcasting that is the hallmark of a lot of tier-3 classes.

  • Style strike: most of these are meh to garbage, but flying kick is excellent. Every unchained monk ever should always pick flying kick, period. Which is a terrible design, but at least a great option does exist here.

  • Poor Will: why?! This was just so unnecessary. Anyway, while the unchained monk has plenty of reasons to pump Wisdom which mitigates this as an actual weakness, it only exacerbates one of the biggest monk issues.

Unchanged issues

  • MAD: while full BAB and a d10 HD slightly limit how important Strength and Constitution are to an unchained monk, they are not nearly enough, in and of themselves, to obviate these ability scores. Moreover, Wisdom is even more important to an unchained monk than it is to a chained monk, due to the intense need for ki points and the poor Will save. That means that the unchained monk needs great Wisdom, good Strength and Constitution, and decent Dexterity. That is just more ability scores than Pathfinder supports. This remains a massive problem for monks, even once unchained.

  • Random fluff features: they still exist, and they still don’t matter.

  • Traps: the monk has always suffered from a wide variety of trap options presented, things that you can choose and that the books present as valid options, but are actually much worse than other options you could have chosen. The unchained monk is in fact worse in this regard than the chained monk, like the style strikes having one great choice and everything else being, for lack of a better word, wrong, and ki powers being of wildly varying effectiveness.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Only one thing you forgot: some people say that the Monk benefits greatly from archetypes I mentioned in the question. Do they change Monk's tier? \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jul 30 '17 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Baskakov_Dmitriy Oh yeah, forgot about those. I am about to head out on a four-hour drive, which will limit my ability to update my answer in the short-term, but the quick answer is that qinggong monk definitely does somewhat, and zen archer might but I have to double-check. The hungry ghost archetype is another one that has a reputation for substantially adjusting monk power, though I’ll have to check that one too to see if it really changes anything about its tier. Ultimately, though, addressing three archetypes and the unchained variant is... rather much for a single question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 30 '17 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I should, perhaps, ask a separate question about that in ~2 hours so you can answer it after your drive is finished (I assume you are talking about that mandatory driving break every 4 hours that is enforced in some countries). :D \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jul 30 '17 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme I said “meh to garbage.” Some of them are nice; not thrilling, but nice. There isn’t a whole lot of opportunity cost to using a style strike other than that you can’t use a different style strike, so they’re basically free bonuses, but for the most part they’re pretty minor bonuses. Hence meh. Some of them are really minimal bonuses, or require you to do inefficient things, hence garbage. But I’ll admit my verbiage was also informed by the comparison to flying kick—that is not a winning comparison for any of them. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 31 '17 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Being able to move and follow it up with a full attack is paramount. Even at level 5, a monk has 2 (or maybe 3, if the party has a wizard) attacks in a full attack, and 10 feet will generally be enough to get you to the next enemy after you've annihilated the first one. Personally, I find the UMonk's style strikes frustrating as well. The second-strongest one is Elbow Smash (for an extra attack), but it only becomes really viable at very high levels, since Flying Kick into full attack is simply that good. \$\endgroup\$ – Forrestfire Sep 16 '17 at 8:59
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Tier 3 (Mid-to-High)

The unchained monk is significantly more powerful than the core monk. Unlike the core monk, the unchained monk deals among the highest damage, possesses considerable mobility, and has the ability to overcome obstacles that other martials would struggle with thanks to being able to bypass hardness/DR and full-attack while moving. They also possess several abilities with surprising amounts of utility for a martial.

Aside from extreme damage at high levels, unchained monks lack the gamechanging abilities one would expect from Tier 1 or Tier 2 classes. However, they are easily above the curve of the strongest martials thanks to their ability to easily overcome obstacles that even a Tier 4 martial might struggle with. Thus, I firmly place them in Tier 3.

From personal experience, unchained monks tend to dominate combats. I run a level 18 campaign, and the unchained monk not only deals the highest damage in the party, but also they don't suffer as hard as other martials at this high level.

Improvements over the Core Monk

The following changes place the unchained monk above the core monk as well as above other martials.

  1. The unchained monk has a full base attack bonus. This means an unchained monk's attack bonuses are higher and on par with other martials. The unchain monk can also take staple feats like Power Attack and Weapon Focus at 1st level, and can learn combat feats at the same rate as other martials.

  2. Flurry of blows no longer penalizes your attack rolls. The class feature was reworked into bonus attacks gained at 1st and 11th level. Not only are the bonus attacks made at your highest BAB, but also flurry of blows no longer penalizes your other attacks.

  3. The unchained monk can move and full-attack attack. The 5th level style strike class feature adds a number of special abilities a monk can apply to flurry of blow attacks, including disabling an opponent from 5-foot stepping away and bypassing damage reduction. One of the style strikes is Flying Kick, which allows the unchained monk to move up to an opponent during a flurry of blows. This adds a tremendous amount of mobility to the class and fixes one of issues of the core monk having problems using flurry of blows against distant or mobile opponents.

  4. Ki Powers are more powerful and allow you to customize your monk. The unchained monk gains talents called ki powers that add some powerful effects, such as temporary flight (Wind Jump) and pseudo-Spring Attack on flurry of blows (Ki Hurricane). There's also a ki power that lets you pick an ability from the qinggong monk archetype. This is a huge boon to building your ideal monk.

  5. The unchained monk is better at using weapons. The monk is now proficient with all monk weapons. Flurry of blows now allows you to add 1-1/2 your Strength modifier to damage rolls with two-handed weapons. This means it's totally doable to make a high damage monk that uses weapons. Many of the exotic monk weapons have special abilities like reach, trip, and grapple.

Concerns

Many players had concerns about some changes regarding the unchained monk. However, none of the "nerfs" hinder the class from being stronger than the core monk, as I explain below.

  1. Unchained monk has a lower Will save. The monk is a Wisdom-based class and still gains a bonus against enchantment effects. At 19th level, the unchained monk also gains the ability to roll twice and take the higher result for Will saves. So while this is a nerf, it's not as big of a deal as most would complain.

  2. Flurry of Blows gives less bonus attacks. This is only true for high levels. Both monks have the same number of attacks for most levels. Any difference is inconsequential due to the core monk having significantly lower attack bonuses. So while a 20th level core monk will have 7 attacks (as opposed to the unchained monk's 6 attacks), the extra attack will only have a +3 bonus. As a result, the unchained monk's flurry of blows is still much more powerful.

  3. Unchained monk is more reliant on ki points. Many core monk abilities were converted over to ki powers that cost ki. Many ki powers do cost a significant amount of ki. However, due to intentional power creep with the core monk's ki pool, the game now has many options that reduce ki costs and allow you to regain ki points. Ki mat and rings of ki mastery are great examples. The ki costs are more manageable than one could think.

Personal Experience

From personal experience, I allowed the monk in my 5-year campaign to switch to an unchained monk. Highly skeptical of the changes, the player created a unchained version of his character and had them do several death match-style test battles to see which one was better. The unchained version won by a landslide. His character is now among the strongest in the party. Flying kick was a huge boon and made the character more manageable and fun during large scale combats.

In Pathfinder Society, the unchained monk has gained a reputation for being among the strongest martial classes. One Game master described them as "a blender" and remarked "set your monk to puree!" while the monk initiated a flurry of blows.

Conclusion

Overall, the unchained monk is among the strongest martial classes in the game, and you can expect a significant increase in damage, mobility, and utility compared to the core monk.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've moved the comments that were here to chat since they were flagged as no longer needed. You can continue to reference them from that chat log for the time being until the system cleans it up in a couple of weeks. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 30 '17 at 18:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Will they disappear then? O_o I thought, they will be stored forever. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jul 31 '17 at 7:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Baskakov_Dmitriy A room has to have at least 15 messages from at least 2 users to be deemed "worth keeping" by the system. If it's not "worth keeping" it's deleted after one week; if it is worth keeping, instead it's frozen after 2 weeks (but never deleted). The deletion here is a soft deletion; mods can still access the room contents. (That's from the chat FAQ) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 31 '17 at 9:07
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I was looking into this as well and after reading a crap ton of forum posts and ~ 100 hours of play testing I put the UCmonk at the top tier of martial classes and maybe THE top of martial melee classes, due to flying kick. Seriously this one ability which is a class feature!!! This abilities power and importance can not be over stated. Its ease of use, granting of mobility, and given ability to grant full attack virtually every round! All other melee martials have to have a spell which is a limited use resource, or need a long complicated feat chain and in some cases equipment to pull this off. UCmonks, as stated, get it at level 5 and can use it once per round and at lev 14 twice! Couple that with the base change to full BAB and the incredible changes to flurry and no other melee martial can keep up with the damage (sans a well built Paladin using smite but they can only do that so many times to a limited number of targets but the kicker is you don't have to use things like that to sustain high damage).

Where UCMs CAN fall down is they have no built in "to hit" bonuses like other martials i.e. Barbarians rage, fighters weapon training, rangers favored enemy, paladins smite, etc.
This can't be over come with the base class abilities but can be mitigated with fixes at relatively early levs with a relatively low gold investment in permanent buffs (enlarge person, Magic Fang, Greater) or UCmonk specific archetypes (looking at you invested reagent!) All that said a lack of built in attack bonus is NOT the end of the of the world, in fact it is hardly noticed because of how flurry works now. Yes other classes may have a higher to hit on their first attack but they (in general) only get ONE attack at their highest BAB. While UCMs , with flurry, get 2-3 and with a little luck and/or planning by level 10 UCMs can get up to SIX on a fairly regular basis at their highest BAB before they even get to their iterative attacks, amazing!(Set your monk to puree indeed!)

Defensively (counting saves and AC, and ability to avoid damage ie evasion and greater evasion) they are still at least as good as any martial class with the possible exception of paladins and even pallys can't touch UCmonks touch AC, and they don't get evasion. With new options fighters can come close but have to use class resources that UCM don't plus they still don't get evasion. If you take barkskin as a ki power (and really it should be your first) you jump to the top of the heap very quickly. UCM saves will still be among the best in the game, with class features (ie still mind and flawless mind) and especially due to being a WIS based class the low base will save will hardly be noticed and if you still feel the need there are always will save traits and iron will.

Just adding this all up gets UCM to at least a low to mid tier four before you even touch most of your other class features. Again amazing!

Skill wise they are not overly impressive due to only 4 skill points per lev and int being a low priority if not a dump stat. Despite this they have some very useful class skills: Perception, acrobatics, sense motive, stealth, and knowledge religion. Four if not all five of these have good if not great out of combat utility (though knowledge religion may lag a bit due to low int) they can fill spy/unseen infiltrator, scout, and adviser ("HEY I NOTICED THIS! or That dude was hiding something -") roles very well. UCMs are skill wise, no rogue, Bard, or wizard but they are not a fighter, paladin, or cleric by any means.

How high up the tiers the UCM goes from here is really up to how you build and how much ki you have and/or can regenerate.

Can you build a crappy UCM that is only tier five? Yes, but you have to try.

Can you be a solid tier 3 with the right build?

If we go by the definition of tier 3 as being *-Specialists that are capable of doing one important thing very well while still being useful when that one thing is inappropriate, and generalists capable of doing many things, but not as well as classes that specialize in that area. Classes occasionally have a mechanical ability that can immediately resolve an encounter, but this is a rare exception.-*I believe so, absolutely!

Will it be top tier three? Well that again depends on your build, but also the campaign, your play style, and what you think is more important, a top tier combatant with SOME non combat utility or overall general utility with bursts of martial awesomeness. If your definition is the former then yes with only Magus giving you a run for your money.

As a note: Assuming you agree, UCmonk is the only non full caster capable of breaking into tier 3 territory, as generally accepted. (Arguments have been made for paladins being tier 3, meh.) All others in the tier are able to cast up to level six spells and are full casters (ie their caster level is the same as their character level). Think on that a moment and let it sink in.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, I love the enthusiasm and I think you’re right in quite a lot of points. Flying kick is that important. I think you underestimate what spells can do, in comparison, but that’s fine. But more important is tone and style—this answer is quite difficult to read, and in particular calling people who disagree “brain damaged” is extremely rude and not ok—here, or really in general. Please edit your answer to use a more professional, authoritative tone, that will be easier to read and avoid potentially-insulting excess. In any event, welcome to the site and thank you for trying to help others. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 16 '17 at 11:51

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