I'm making my own Monk class and subclasses for fun with the following mechanical modifications:

  1. Unarmored Defense (10 + Dex + Wis) will be replaced with Armored Defense with a magically bonded light armor (12 + Dex + 1/2 Wis) only while wearing it. Also, Unarmored Movement would only be usable while wearing the armor, not the other way around (and still thinking about reducing it a bit).

  2. No shield or armor outside his own magic bonded armor, and no weapons proficiency. Just unarmed martial arts attacks. While wearing the armor, the monk would be able to add his proficiency bonus to the unarmed martial arts attacks damage.

  3. The monk gains a number of extra Ki points equal to his proficiency bonus.

Would it be over-powered or gamebreaking to make half-flavour half-gameplay changes like these? (I'm not looking for feedback about flavor or personal tastes, just the balance question.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ My main question when I see new classes/features: Why are you doing this? What aspect of the current options doesn't fit your needs mechanically or thematically? What are you trying to gain? \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Mar 13 '18 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @goodguy5 The reason has to do with the general theme of the personal setting I'm humbly and joyfully building, where among other differences, fantasy martial arts have a little more presence and importance. \$\endgroup\$ – Truzt Danier Mar 13 '18 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ To help focus, is your goal to give the monk better armor options? More monk-themed attack options? I think what GoodGuy5 is asking is what your goals are in making changes and not what changes you want to make. It helps us to focus on solutions for problems rather than assessing answers without understanding the background that created them. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 13 '18 at 17:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I'm making my own Monk class and subclasses for fun with the following mechanical modifications" It's unclear to me which of those 3 points are modifications to existing Monk feature and which are standalone subclass features. Hence I'm voting to close until that is clarified \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Nov 3 '19 at 20:52

Adding profiency to your damage roles is not even remotely balanced***. Your to-hit chance between unarmed vs weapon attacks is the same, so to compare balance for #2 between regular monk and your homebrew all we need to compare is average damage. We can assume hit rate is 100% for the sake of comparison because of this, but of course the damage values I will post here are not real world ones, and are only accurate relative to each other. So for example, at level 1 with a quarterstaff, we hit with the quarterstaff once and hit with our unarmed once, dealing 1d8 + (whichever ability mod) for the first and 1d4 + (whichever ability mod) for the second. With your homebrew, we would instead hit for 1d4 + 2 + (whichever ability mod) for the first attack and 1d4 + 2 + (whichever ability mod) again for the second attack. As you can see, for the sake of comparison we can remove the ability mods because they remain constant, which I will do so in the following formulas.

level 1 with quarterstaff:

1d8 + 1d4 = 7 average damage

level 1 with proficiency added to dmg rolls:

1d4 + 2 + 1d4 + 2 = 9 average damage

This homebrew increases our average damage by 3 at level 1. If our ability mod was +3, we'd have 13 average damage vs 15 average damage in these two cases.

level 1 with quarterstaff (using flurry of blows):

1d8 + 1d4 + 1d4 = 9.5 average damage

level 1 with proficiency added to dmg rolls (using flurry of blows):

1d4 + 2 + 1d4 + 2 + 1d4 + 2 = 13.5 average damage

An even bigger increase. If our ability mod was +3, we'd be at 18.5 damage vs 22.5 damage, which is almost a 25% increase. What happens at higher levels?

level 5 with quarterstaff:

1d8 + 1d6 + 1d6 = 11.5 average damage

level 5 with proficiency added to dmg rolls:

1d6 + 3 + 1d6 + 3 + 1d6 + 3 = 19.5 average damage

An even bigger increase. Originally I was musing that #2 has no disadvantage anymore at level 5, but it turns out that it's not so. Much later, at level 11, our martial arts attacks are as big or bigger than any monk weapon's base attacks, so the weapon stats no longer matter and #2 becomes strict upside. But hey, TIL that monks have access to 1d8 weapons! This DPS discrepancy will grow as the proficiency bonus increases.

*** edit: I did not realize this was replacing a subclass, lol. I guess it might be balanced, then, at level 3 forwards when other subclasses get their effects. I'll leave all this math here anyway, but it's worth noting in addition to not getting anything until level 3, monk subclasses like Way of the Open Hand usually grant abilities or conditional bonuses. Way of the Open Hand lets you do a thing when you use flurry of blows. Your subclass gives the player a pile of properties (some drawback, but most advantageous) that are always passively on. This is interesting as a break from tradition, but it makes it hard to balance. How much passive always-on damage is worth being able to have Way of the Open Hand's effect on flurry of blows? Who knows? I don't know.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Small point of information: flurry of blows isn't available until 2nd level (whether or not you have ki points immediately). \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Mar 13 '18 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for thinking about it and giving me a hand with my own thoughts. It's still not finished, and balance, even when roleplay is more important to us, is capital. Maybe you could give it a look when I finish and release it. Thanks again, mate. \$\endgroup\$ – Truzt Danier Mar 13 '18 at 20:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gandalfmeansme oh I didn't know that! I suppose none of these numbers change at level 2 though \$\endgroup\$ – K. M Mar 13 '18 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TruztDanier yeah, I sure could. I should also add that I think we can do better than #2 for flavour as well, since at least I personally don't find it as interesting as the other effects you listed or the effects other monk subclasses grant. Your character hits harder, but it doesn't really tie in to their armour or anything else. Not to disparage your ideas: I don't have any alternatives in mind myself. \$\endgroup\$ – K. M Mar 13 '18 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see what you mean. I hope the whole document with lore and flavour explanatory text about the origin of those armours (which is really the main focus where the mechanics came from) would make it a little more clear, interesting and fun to roleplay with. For sure I know it won't be something for everybody's taste. Thanks again, K.M! \$\endgroup\$ – Truzt Danier Mar 13 '18 at 20:57

No, this is not balanced (probably)

It's hard to tell for sure without having access to the full class.

But, based off what you've provided, I don't think it is a balanced option compared to the base Monk.

Let's look at the base Monk's natural qualities:

  • Generally doesn't need gear (armor/weapons), so is always ready to fight.
    • quarterstaves are free
  • high mobility
  • moderate damage that is scaled to the tiers of the game
  • mild CC options (stunning fist, way of the open hand subclass, etc)

I don't understand the mechanical "point" of the armor. Based on just AC values, the armor only benefits monks that have a Wisdom of 15 or less. Then it actively hinders Monks with 20 Wisdom, so that the max armor is only 19. Then you give this monk a penalty of requiring this armor to be remotely effective, taking away another of the base monk's strengths of not needing a bunch of gear to be good (no punching powers and his AC drops by 2-4).

Losing out on weapons means no reliable way to deal specific damage types; no slashing, no piercing, no ranged weapons, etc. Adding the proficiency bonus to damage looks like you're just evening out the damage potential at level 1, but you're actually skewing the Monk's damage output for the rest of the game (as KM's math shows clearly). Additionally, the fact that you only get the bonus when you're wearing your special MacGuffin armor is both mechanically and thematically confusing.

Finally, the bonus ki points. At early levels, you're giving a bump to the ki reserve for no "cost". At later levels, most monk's have more Ki than they know what to do with, so an extra 5 or 6 isn't going to help all that much, especially since their capstone ability at level 20 gives them ki when they're out at the start of a battle. Honestly? This feature is probably fine, but the base monk works without it.

If it were me trying to do this, I would just flavor the wisdom bonus to AC as a "mystical soul armor"? Your armor is different based on your Wisdom.
+1 Wis = Leather
+2 Wis = Studded Leather
+3 Wis = Chain Shirt
+4 Wis = Breast Plate
+5 Wis = HalfPlate / Chainmail
(and you still get your dex bonus)

If you're really set on an "armored" Monk, I suggest something like the following subclass.

Let's start with what a Monk subclass usually gets.

  • level 3: an augment to Flurry of Blows; or another way to spend ki
  • level 6: a way to avoid/redirect damage from themselves
  • level 11: a general benefit to your combat abilities
  • level 17: a new way to disable/harm/kill enemies

But since you want to focus on this armor, I'm going to switch the level 3 and 6 standards, so that they get the defensive option when the subclass is selected.

Monk of the Soul Shield

Level 3: Soul Shield You gain access to the Shield spell. Casting Shield in this way costs 2 ki points.
Level 6: Open Hand You gain the Open Hand Technique from the Way of the Open Hand
Level 11: Patient Technique When a creature misses you with an attack, you gain advantage on attacks against that creature until the end of your next turn.
Level 17: Proficient Strikes As a part of the Attack Action, you can spend a ki point in order to gain a bonus to damage done during that attack action equal to your proficiency bonus.

This is an outline. When attempting to create custom classes, you should really investigate the reason that you're doing it and ask yourself: "Could I just reskin another class?" Want to make a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde character? How about a gnome barbarian where your "potion" is rage? Want a Paladin-type character that doesn't believe in a God? How about an Eldritch Knight that fights for the oppressed and saves orphanages and etc.

(PS - I like that subclass more than I thought I would)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate that you've taken the time. The thing is that I didn't extended myself with detailed context, background, nor even went beyond two single points, on purpose. I didn't explained what comes at any level beyond an inferred level 2, (few of your suggestions are already in), nor the mechanics further. I also didn't pointed to the fact that flavor and roleplay are over optimization in this particular matter, and the MacStuff (didn't catch the reference) is a fundamental part of the particular "lore".I appreciate your kindness and you being honest with not liking it, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Truzt Danier Mar 13 '18 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TruztDanier It's perfectly fine and understandable to pursue flavor over mechanics. We've all done it. I'm down with the concept of an armored martial class. I'm just pointing out that you're swaying the balance of power for the monk here for little-to-no reason, when all you have to do is give them "Magic armor" equal to their wisdom modifier, which is basically how they already are. And as for "MacGuffin": rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/666/what-is-a-macguffin, sorry for using a reference that went over your head. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Mar 14 '18 at 3:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @goodguy5 Much appreciated! And I also like some of the points you kindly made, they'll be useful to me and a thing to think about. Thank you all, guys. \$\endgroup\$ – Truzt Danier Mar 14 '18 at 13:54

The biggest problem I see, right off the top, is #2. A subclass should never remove something the main class grants. Since Monk Weapons and weapon proficiencies are part of the Monk class (and acquired at 1st level), your subclass (at 2nd+ level) should never override them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's more of a full rework on class and subclasses, where #2 would only speak abut main class. I don't call it monk either, it's just some base features and Ki oriented martial artist. Thank you for taking the time ^^ \$\endgroup\$ – Truzt Danier Mar 13 '18 at 15:36

This all seems reasonable and balanced to me. My only comment would be that you note that "While wearing the armor, the monk would be able to add his proficiency bonus to the unarmed martial arts attacks." Monks normally add their proficiency bonus to such attacks, regardless of what they are wearing. Does that comment mean that you would be removing the proficiency bonus from unarmed martial arts attacks made when not wearing the special armor?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for having a look and commenting! It was my fault, I wanted to say that the "monk" adds his proficiency bonus to the damage of the martial arts attacks while wearing the armor, not just to the attack roll. How do you feel about that? Unbalanced? Thanks again. \$\endgroup\$ – Truzt Danier Mar 13 '18 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's pretty powerful. D&D 5e is stingy with being able to add damage. But is that's the main thing he gets, in comparison with all the things that are given to Monks of the Open Hand, Shadow, or Elements, then that's probably OK. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Mar 13 '18 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see your point and thought about it before. Is the main thing he gets through base class features, I even took away Stunning Strike from him as it is a very powerful asset from regular monks, and other tweaks to fill the needed feeling but with balance in mind. Thanks again, Phil. \$\endgroup\$ – Truzt Danier Mar 13 '18 at 18:05

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