This archetype is kind of the counterpart to the Kensei. While the Kensei focuses on offense through weapons, the Defender focuses on defense through shields.

I'll try to explain the reasoning behind the features and where they come from, but most of them were heavily inspired by the Kensei Monk.

In terms of visualization, I imagine a Defender Monk fighting like Captain America. Notice how in this clip he uses the shield to attack and block, but also uses a bunch of unarmed strikes and dodges. I think this fits perfectly with the Monk class.

A different approach would be to reflavour the shield as a greatshield, so you would fight like Mash.

I tried my best to keep things balanced, but since I don't have that much experience with D&D I probably wasn't able to. Please let me know what should be changed to balance it.

Way of the Defender

Path of the Defender

When you choose this tradition at 3rd level, your special martial arts training leads you to master the use of shields. This path also includes instruction in the deft strokes of calligraphy or painting. You gain the following benefits.

Shield Mastery. You gain proficiency with shields if you don't already have it. Wielding a shield no longer prohibits the use of your Unarmored Defense, Martial Arts and Unarmored Movement features. You no longer require 1 action to don or doff a shield. A shield is a monk weapon for you and its damage type is bludgeoning.

Agile Defense. When a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you is attacked, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield.

Way of the Brush. You gain proficiency with your choice of calligrapher's supplies or painter's supplies.

This is directly taken from the Kensei.

Instead of Kensei Weapons you get Shield Mastery and the +2 AC bonus from Agile Parry is gained through the wielding of a shield. Notice how since the shield is now a monk weapon, you can attack with it, and its damage die equals your Martial Arts die.

Agile Defense is taken from the Fighter's Protection fighting style - notice how unlike Protection, this feature doesn't require you to see the attacker. Since this archetype is focused on defense, I thought it fit better like this, in order to represent how aware of the battlefield and his allies the Monk is. Take an archer firing arrows while hiding in a brush as an example. This way, you can protect your allies even though you don't see the archer - you still see the arrows flying from above, so it makes sense that you would be able to react, I think.

One with the Shield

At 6th level, you extend your ki into your shield, granting you the following benefits.

Magic Shield. Your attacks with your shield count as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage.

Deft Defense. When the target of your Agile Defense is hit, you can spend 1 ki point to increase that target's AC by the bonus AC of your shield. This bonus lasts until the end of the current turn, including against the triggering attack.

Again, heavily taken from the Kensei. Magic Shield is exactly the same as Magic Kensei Weapons.

Deft Strike is replaced with Deft Defense. Instead of spending 1 ki point to deal extra damage, you can spend 1 ki point to better protect your allies. This functions similarly to the Shield spell, but instead of lasting until your next turn, lasts until the end of the current turn. Basically, it allows you to protect an ally from being hit by multiple attacks from the same enemy. As for RPing, think of it as you jumping into your ally's side to protect them from attacks. Once the current turn ends (i.e. the enemy stopped attacking your ally), you return to your own position.

Strengthen the Shield

At 11th level, you gain the ability to augment your shield further with your ki. As a bonus action, you can expend up to 2 ki points to grant a shield you touch a bonus to AC while you are wielding it. The bonus equals the number of ki points you spent. For every ki point you spent, the distance at which you can use Agile Defense increases by 5 feet. This bonus lasts for 1 minute or until you use this feature again. This feature has no effect on a magic shield that already has a bonus to AC.

Very similar to Kensei's Sharpen the Blade, only instead of bonus to offense, you get bonus to defense.

The amount of ki points you can spend goes down from 3 to 2, because AC is usually a stronger stat than attack. The extra range on your Agile Defense also allows for better protection of the backline casters. Of course, the bonus to AC from this feature also affects Deft Defense.

Unerring Defense

At 17th level, your mastery of the shield grants you extraordinary defense reflexes. In combat, you get a special reaction that you can take once on every allied creature's turn, except your turn. You can use this special reaction only to use Agile Defense, and you can't use it on the same turn that you take your normal reaction.

Finally, this feature was adapted from Cavalier's Vigilant Defender. Instead of being able to do multiple opportunity attacks, you are able to do multiple Agile Defense (and consequently, Deft Defense as well).

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    – Akixkisu
    Mar 11, 2020 at 18:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu I was looking for other people's opinion on this archetype: is it balanced? If not, is it too strong or too weak? What would you change? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tirafesi
    Mar 11, 2020 at 21:38
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1 Answer 1


Possibly Underpowered

As an FYI, whenever I do these reviews, I try to break your thing to pieces by being as power gamey as possible. I had some difficulty doing that with this, which is a good thing, but play testing is advisable to confirm results as well as to confirm if it's fun to play.

Shield Mastery, Agile Defense, Way of the Brush

Fairly boilerplate, you get to use shields and smack people with said shield. You may want to clarify that the monk can only wield 1 shield at a time. Also, you should specify what type of action is required for the Monk to Don or Doff the shield.

First check is to determine what that'll do to your AC. As a monk, you're typically in the lower AC range. Assuming a 16 in both Dex and Wis, you've a base AC of 16, this will bump it up to 18, which is pretty respectable.

However, as you stated the Kensei can also do that. The Kensei can also improve their attack's damage die and deal more ranged damage. To compensate, you've given the Monk access to the 1st level Fighter Fighting Style Feature via Agile Defense, which uses their Reaction. You've also given them the ability to quickly don or doff the shield.

The Kensei features are always useful in combat, while the Defender's options are more situational. I'm not sure the situational boons are equal to the always useful Kensei features.

Given this is a 3rd level feature, I think you may want to consider buffing it. Keep the elements you describe above and maybe add the benefits from the Defense feature (+1 AC bonus while wearing armor, but reskin to be a +1 bonus while wielding a shield). This monk specializes in defense, so their AC shouldn't equal the Kensei's it should exceed it.

Magic Shield & Deft Defense

Magic shield is pretty much a 1:1, but I think Deft Defense is going to have the same problem that Agile Defense does, as written it's too situational.

You might consider buffing it to allow it to function as it does, but to also now allow the Monk to use their Reaction impose Disadvantage on attacks that target them directly. This would be akin to a Light Cleric's Warding Flare, but a bit stronger as it's not reliant on vision and the Monk can do it much more in a day.

Given that Rogues get features like Uncanny Dodge at 5th level, this improvement doesn't seem like it'd be out of line for a 6th level class feature.

Strengthen the Shield

This is the first time where we see a chance for the Defender to make their signature ability less situational. I don't think you need to limit the AC bonus threshold as the Monk is still expending a resource via ki points to make the effect occur, furthermore, the AC increase isn't for everyone. It's for the Monk and whomever is within range to benefit from the Monk expending their Reaction to protect.

Unerring Defense

As this is written, you do have not given the Defender the defense equivalent of the Cavalier feature because it's limited just to allies' turns as opposed to 'every creature's turn'. I think you should consider editing to make it match that criteria.

As the Agile Defense and Deft Defense features are written and even as I've proposed revisions, the bonuses are limited in their duration, lasting at most a single turn. Compare to effects like the Shield spell, which lasts until the caster's turn. As such, even with the boons from this feature this archetype will struggle against multiple attackers and attackers making multiple attacks.

As written, the archetype feels a bit weak and too situational. I've proposed edits that might eliminate some of the situational issues and tried to buff things. I would consider playtesting this a bit, though, with some common situations including, but not limited to:

  • Minion swarms
  • Legendary monsters
  • Player parties comprised of distance attackers
  • Player parties comprised of a mix of melee and distance

You should probably limit your tests to the level thresholds when monks receive their archetype features.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Could the downvotes please provide comments. I'm not sure if you're seeing something I don't. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12, 2020 at 12:23

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