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I'm a big fan of the Monk class, as a lover of martial arts, martial arts films, and the spectacular stunts the class seems to enable. Still, however, I see too often the class be played like a quick-moving fighter: A decent attacker and defender whose turn consists of "I walk up and attack". Special attacks like disarm and grapple are almost never used at my tables, which disappoints me from a narrative perspective, so I've done some tweaking to give them minor buffs to represent the more control-centric martial arts style that I have experience with. This has generally been enjoyed by the table without much affecting balance. One ability that I absolutely love from the monk is Deflect Arrows, and would love to see a similar ability for melee attacks, in which a monk could deflect a blade and possibly even wrench it out of the attacker's hands in the same movement. To this end, I have written a feat:

Sword Catcher

Prerequisite: Ki class feature

If you have at least one hand free, you may use your reaction to deflect or catch a melee attack which is not a spell attack when you are hit by one. When you do so, the damage you take is reduced by 1d10 + your Dexterity modifier + your monk level (if any).

If you reduce the damage to 0 and the attack was made by a weapon, you may spend 1 ki point to immediately make a Disarm attempt against the attacker, targeting the weapon you just caught, as part of the same reaction.

Worth noting is that you require one free hand to use this ability at all, compared to Deflect Missiles which only requires a free hand to catch and throw back the missile.

On paper, this strikes me as clearly better than Deflect Missiles, due to the fact that melee attacks are generally far more common than ranged attacks. For this reason, I am not trying to compare its balance against Deflect Missiles, but other feats which a Monk might be interested in.

Some campaign specific details, though if this works I will implement it to all of my tables:

I am currently interested in implementing this into a tier 2 Princes of the Apocalypse campaign which will likely end by the end of tier 3. It has one monk, and the party is primarily fighting humanoid, martial enemies with fewer monsters and spellcasters. Combat in this game is usually heavily focused on preparation, positioning, and subverting fortifications rather than pure strength of arms. I am frequently granting homebrew abilities for story reasons, and the monk character will soon be meeting a master who will give the opportunity to learn this technique. This one is particularly powerful for a freebie though, so I am intending on offsetting this fact by making it cost a feat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How set are you on this having to be a feat? i.e. if there was a lower power version that wasn't a feat but was just a free (or cheap) class feature that had the same flavor/thematic would that be an acceptable solution? \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Jun 23, 2021 at 23:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ESCE I'd be interested in hearing the idea for sure. I'm wary of giving too many more free buffs to the Monk specifically since he is pretty well-off compared to his party mates as it stands, but I can keep it in my back pocket until it's his turn for a new boost \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex F
    Jun 23, 2021 at 23:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sounds interesting in general. However, I think that it may compete with Defensive Duelist. Between tier 2 (level 5) and a glance of tier 3 (level 11) the +AC goes from 3 to 4. How interested are you in a comparison to this? \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Jun 23, 2021 at 23:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chepelink In honesty I'm not sure how useful Defensive Duelist is for a monk, due to the limited overlap of Finesse with useful monk weapons. Still, +3/4 AC is nothing to scoff at, and the feats have similar goals, so could be a useful comparison. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex F
    Jun 23, 2021 at 23:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexF Depends on the concept of the monk. I can see a monk with a blade (short sword) on their left hand (a la naruto ninja style) just to deflect attacks and using kicks and punches for attacks. Also, if interested, you can make a monk version of the Defensive Duelist (monk weapon and/or free hand) and would be quite balanced (it's a reskin of an actual feat) \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Jun 24, 2021 at 0:00

2 Answers 2

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It's strong but probably balanced in context of the best feats

D&D, at its core, is fundamentally a game about subtraction and addition where monsters and PC's are competing to see who can make the other side reach 0 first. The key considerations here are that this feat provides free "negative" damage.

As such, this reaction has similarities to three very strong feats which revolve around using reactions to perform some addition/subtraction of hit points.

  1. Sentinel (most similar): allows you to conditionally deal damage as a reaction, with several additional rider effects on opportunity attacks.
  2. Defensive Duelist: allows you to zero out an attack.
  3. Polearm master: allows you to conditionally deal damage as a reaction and as a bonus action.

The main similarities here are that:

  1. This allows damage reduction every turn that exceeds the amount of damage dealt by an opportunity attack.
    • The effective damage is superior to Polearm Master and Sentinel opportunity attacks (which lack the Monk-level bonus) but inferior to Defensive Duelist (which completely negates an attack).
    • This is superior to Defensive Duelist because it can be used on any attack (not just ones which fit within a particular attack roll range).
    • This is arguably inferior to Polearm Master because PM allows you an additional, readily-available bonus action attack. On average two attacks should outperform the damage negation that this class provides (roughly 1 attack plus Monk level)--at least for lower levels.
  2. There is a powerful rider on the effect that costs a finite resource (Ki points).
    • This is inferior to Sentinel, which works on any opportunity attack at no cost and against all kinds of enemies--not just those carrying weapons.
  3. There are specific conditions on this reduction (must be a melee attack, must have a free hand).
    • The conditions here are overall more lenient than the other similar feats.

Ignoring the last point, this feat is very similar in power to Sentinel and Polearm Master. Those are unambiguously some of the best feats in the game, but that's a problem with those feats, not this one. This feat will provide some much needed variety to martial feat selection.

That said, the thing which takes this feat over the top is the fact that it only requires a single free hand. It's undeniably a better feat than Defensive Duelist, and, as it stands, it's simply too easy to use. A good way to balance it out would be by making it require two hands so that there's some additional risk to using it. As a bonus, you get the benefit of some good Captain-America-catching-Thanos'-fist imagery.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Requiring two free hands is a very interesting idea, both for fiction and mechanical sense. It lends viability to the fully open-handed Monk style which really has no benefit (that I'm aware of) in 5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex F
    Oct 25, 2021 at 18:06
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It's Stronger than most feats, but tailored for a class that could need it

Melee attacks are so common that you can expect to get one on any turn in which you're on the front lines. This makes it comparable to getting some amount of temporary HP every turn which need a reaction to be used, with the disarm option on top.

The Inspiring Leader feat (not generally considered underpowered) gives temporary hit points equal to your level + your Charisma modifier that require ten minutes of activity to recharge. It does give them to the whole party but it also costs time to be spent pre-emptively while this feat is always available.

Judging the opportunity cost of the reaction is tricky, because it depends on what other reactions the character might have available. I don't see that many reactions in the Monk class abilities, so my opinion is that the character will likely have it unused.

I think it's worth noting that this feat seems to be fairly exclusive to characters that have invested heavily in the monk class. Other martials will not have the free hand (I assume a two-handed weapon user would not qualify) and casters usually have a high opportunity cost for the reaction (shield, counterspell).

Overall I'd say the feat is more powerful than most feats. Maybe that is a good thing since it's for a class that could use some. I'd like to include some kind of limited resource expenditure for the damage reduction, but a ki point would be too much.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused why you say no resources are expended when it takes up an entire feat and it uses your reaction, meaning neither can be used for anything else. Also, I just wanted to say two things you could address that I think would improve this answer: The fact that Deflect Missiles also doesn't have any cost besides your reaction and the Astral Self Monk's 11th level feature, Deflect Energy. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 25, 2021 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was ambiguous, sorry. I meant respurces in the context of limited use abilities rather than action or build economy. Every feat costs a feat, so that's not a factor I'd consider when comparing to another feat. The reaction is a concrete advantage over temp HP, but it doesn't change my evaluation much. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rad80
    Oct 25, 2021 at 21:05

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