Is there a fair way to give a character monk an advantage in the monk's combat to advance a level in AD&D 1st edition? What has worked for you?


A Fair Competitive Advantage would be some inherently, built-in advantage like more hit points than the opponent. Or it could be an unarmed combat choice of skills per attack. But it does not allow a magic item which would violate the Lawful code of the Monk's combat.


  • Unearthed Arcana (UA) describes Vanquishing as non-lethal combat on p109.
  • Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) describes Pummeling Grappling Overbearing on p72-73. It states,

"Monks: Even if grappled, pummeled, or overborne, monks are able to conduct open hand combat normally until stunned or unconscious."

  • The Player's Handbook (PB) pages 30 to 32 PHB says
    • strictures 6)

    "The monk must find and defeat in single combat, hand-to-hand, without weapons or magic items..." "The loser of these combats loses enough experience points to place him or her at the lowest number possible to attain the level just below the new level."

    • stunning

    "the monk has a chance to stun, or even kill, an opponent. An opponent is stunned by a monk for 1-6 (d6) melee rounds if the score of the monk's 'to hit' die score exceeds the minimum number required by 5 or more."

Combat table

The combat tables show a 15% to 25% chance of stunning from levels 8 through 17. By level 9, a monk attacks twice per round or more. A monk could stun and then attack the stunned opponent up to 12 times at level 9 . This means the winner is effectively decided by the first one to stun.


Things I thought of as a Fair Competitive Advantage so far are:

  1. The character has a 16 CON, but the NPC has <= 14 CON. The character would get 2 extra HP per level. But any NPC that made it through 2 or more combats would likely have a 16 CON anyway.
  2. Module X2 Castle Amber has encounters that reward a chance for permanent +d4 hit points or a permanent bless ( +1 hit +1 damage +1 save ). This is not enough to overcome an unlucky stun or 2 stuns.
  3. Some combination of pummel, grapple, overbear and monk hand to hand. Does a monk get multiple pummel, grapple, overbear attacks per round as the monk advances levels? For example, do you overbear once and then attack hand-to-hand the rest of the combat?
  4. Oriental Adventures (OA) The book contains differentiated martial arts styles, damage and AC. This question is about advantages or style differences not in the OA. It's fine if that is the best solution, just wanted to know about other alternatives too.
  5. Is there some ability, module, monster, or encounter that provides a permanent Save vs Paralyzation when stunned instead of automatic stun?
  6. Can a monk self-heal (Special Ability E) while stunned?
  7. Something else you have used.


Without an advantage, the monks have the same probability of hit points, same AC, same to-hit, and same damage. The winner is a coin toss, effectively doubling the experience needed for a monk to advance beyond level 8. What have you tried that allowed you to advance a monk through the higher levels?


2 Answers 2


This rule feels like a hangover from specific circumstances in the original D&D campaign rather than a general principle that should apply to all campaigns. So I would consider these kinds of level advancement rules to be something that is set by the DM as part of the campaign as they see fit. Limiting the number of particular NPCs seems very restrictive for a DM who might well wish to choose other models with more (or fewer) characters in a given organisation.

I am also very cautious about any rule that allows XP to be lost, because XP gain is one of the driving forces of the game.

So my solution is just to avoid this rule!

  • \$\begingroup\$ There is a difference between level advancement combat for Monks versus Druids, Thieves, and Assassins. Druids can use any of their spells, weapons, and magic items. Thieves and Assassins can use those plus henchmen and guild members. Those three types of combat depend much more on player skill. Hopefully a player would learn from their character's losing those types. Monk's leveling combat, with all variables equal, is just luck. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2021 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Awarded the bounty to the only answer. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14, 2021 at 15:02

There are some Advantages Within Normal Rules

A monk with greater strength, dexterity, height, and weight has an advantage in DMG grappling and overbearing over their opponent. This is enough of a difference to build an NPC at the right level of challenge, using DMG unarmed combat and Monk hand to hand combat mixed together within the normal rules. Mixing DMG unarmed combat and Monk hand to hand combat provides enough variation to depend on player skill and avoid a coin toss decision.

Training advantages

  • Dual class Fighter to 8th level then monk. This gives d10 hit points plus Fighter constitution bonus instead of d4 hitpoints, and a better to hit than a 12th level monk. PHB page 33
  • Dual class Cavalier to 8th level then monk. This gives the same hitpoint and to hit bonuses as a Fighter plus 2d10 added to strength, dexterity, constitution per level. UA page 15
  • Proficiency in Alertness - This reduces being surprised. Wilderness Guide page 13.
  • Proficiency in Blind Fighting - Only -2 to hit in total darkness instead of -4. Wilderness Guide page 13

Unarmed Combat

Choose either the DMG or the UA method of unarmed combat.

DMG unarmed combat Overbearing. DMG page 73

An unarmored Monk has over 100% chance to hit. The amount of Overbearing and Grappling damage depends on Strength, Dexterity, and mostly height and weight difference.

  • Each 10% weight difference adds 10% to the damage roll.
  • Charging to Attack while Overbearing increases damage roll 15% and means the charger gets initiative in that round.
  • An Overbearing modified damage roll over 100 does 4HP, stuns for a round, and knocks opponent prone. This gives a 20% (+4) attack for the next round. A Monk does not get the strength bonus damage.
  • A Monk does not get the strength bonus damage. But max grappling is 8HP damage.
  • A working technique was to overbear the first round. Then +4 to hit advantage for a round while the opponent stands. Monks can still fight while overborne or grappled, but the attacker gets +4 while opponent is prone. Once the opponent stands, overbear again.

Unearthed Arcana UA unarmed combat UA pages 107 - 108

  • The to hit rolls for UA pummeling, grappling, and overbearing are the same as a Monk's normal to hit roll.
  • "Monk's do not suffer any initiative penalty when pummeling and may make either pummeling or open hand attacks." page 107
  • Pummeling does 1 to 2 points of damge and has a 2% per strength point chance of stunning for 1 to 10 segments. This means UA stuns can be up to 36% likely to occur, but only last up to one round.
  • Successful grappling does no damage. A grappled person is -2 to hit and +2 to be hit.
  • Successful overbearing does not damage but knocks the target prone. An prone person is -2 to hit and +4 to be hit.


  • Module X2 Castle Amber has encounters that reward a chance for permanent +d4 hit points or a permanent bless ( +1 hit +1 damage +1 save ) Module X2 Castle Amber

Monk Abilities PHB 30 to 32

These are open to interpretation and both Monk's could use these techniques.

  • A monk could self-heal (Special Ability E) while stunned due to the Monk's mental discipline.
  • A monk could speak with Animals ( Special Ability A ) to have a swarm of insects or flock of birds interfere with the opponents vision or movements. "There is a possibility that the animal will do some service." PHB page 46
  • A monk could speak with Plants ( Special Ability F ) to have vines entangle the opponent. PHB page 49


  • Grim provides Protection from Evil 10ft Monster Manual 2 MM2 Page 72
  • Tween provides an extra roll on every roll, always taking the more advantageous roll. Fiend Folio FF Page 91
  • Aleax if you can defeat it, you serve your god for a year and a day then are granted an extra reward. Fiend Folio FF page 11

Magic items with permanent effect on single use

  • potion miscibility can cause a permanent effect. DMG page 119
  • Deck of Many Things DMG page 142
  • Manual of Bodily Health DMG page 149
  • Manual of Gainful Exercise DMG page 149
  • Manual of Quickness of Action DMG page 149

Spells with permanent effect

  • A wish can increase strength, dexterity, or constitution. PHB page 94

Not feasible in the normal rules

But maybe there is some ancient magic, runes, or portals in rare situations ...

A magic user cannot cast permanency on another person PHB page 91.

  • protection from evil
  • ultra vision
  • infravision

These spells cannot be made permanent through normal use of the permanency spell. PHB page 91.

  • armor, barkskin, phantom armor, stoneskin spell
  • bless, aid, prayer
  • mirror image
  • fear or remove fear

These magic items cannot be made permanent through normal use of the permanency spell.

  • Scroll of Protection from Paralyzation

Stun or paralyze

These could be used as the prime components for a potion or scroll of Protection from Paralyzation.

  • Doppleganger is immune to the Monk's stun. Undead and Golems are not alive so they are immune to the Monk's stun. DMG page 71.
  • Ghouls paralyze Monster Manual page 43
  • Stunjelly paralyzes Fiend Folio page 84
  • Red Slaad stuns Fiend Folio Page 80

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