Preamble: Monks have a contradictory design (in my opinion). Their features and flavor make you want to jump into the frontline of combat and masterfully face off against foes like in Kung Fu movies and all. But in practicality, you will be destroyed if you are engaged against more than 1 enemy at a time since monks have low AC and HP compared to any front liners and ironically even some casters (for example Clerics). So I tried to make a subclass to address some problems I have with the Monk core design.
- They just use Flurry of Blows and Stunning Strike all the time, so I tried to encourage using Patient defense as well to make the monk more survivable, without feeling that it would sacrifice their damage output, or that they are waisting Ki points on a minor defensive boost that only lasts 1 round with their limited pool of ki.
- Gave some options that can be used freely for a limited amount of times per long or short rest, so you don't drain all ki points in the first round and then become a "bard without spells" for the rest of the combat, making the "frontline" playstyle more reliable like the Barbarian's rage that typically lasts for the entire combat.
- The low AC and HP without any way of improving your survivability, when most of the Base class features of the Monk encourage you to go into melee against enemies, and then not allowing you to use heavy or two-handed weapons, and not giving options to increase damage, like Rage, smite, Spells, etc, makes you Less effective in damage than other classes, even casters, and also less survivable than they are, making you feel underwhelming in combat when you have a Paladin or a Barbarian by your side and they are dishing enormous amounts of damage and surviving hoards of attackers by having a High AC or resistance to their attacks, and you have neither.
- Monk really doesn't have a decent role in the party. They are good-ish at stealth, but the Rogue and Ranger can outshine them at that. They are considered "skirmishers", but they put themselves at more risk than casters because their features force them to go into melee range and within the Enemy area, they aren't good front liners for all the above-mentioned, and they don't have social or support capabilities, since all their features are combat or exploration focused.
- I don't think the "high" mobility really resolves this problem as much as people often tell, since you still either need to pick the mobile feat or spend a ki point to disengage, or your mobility really won't be of any use if you just walk to the enemy and stand there. And then you use your bonus action to use the step of the wind feature, so you won't benefit from the Martial arts or Flurry of blows features that are your source of extra damage, meaning you will be doing less damage when you try to fulfill "your role" as a Skirmisher, making you subpar even trying to do the role you were supposed to excel at.
This is the V8 of this subclass and I want some feedback, I've tried to not be too generous with it, and built-in lots of drawbacks, or limited uses into the features, but I still, want to make the monk more capable of dishing damage and Tanking it like other front liners that use heavy weapons and heavy armor without having to spend all their ki points in a few turns and then become underwhelming after. With that in mind, this is a Subclass designed to make the monk become a Frontliner, and I hope to make it comparable to a Barbarian or a Paladin, without also overshadowing them. So here it is:
The monks who follow the Way of the Iron Body are masters of physical endurance and resilience. They train to harden their bodies, turning their flesh and bones into a living fortress that can withstand even the strongest blows. In battle, these monks stand firm against their enemies, trading blows in a relentless contest of strength and endurance. They are unyielding, unbreakable, and fierce in their determination to protect their allies and overcome their foes.
Iron Body Technique
When you choose this tradition at 3rd level, you learn how to harness your ki to improve your defenses. You can use your ki to dodge attacks with ease or reduce damage with your iron will. You also learn how to use your defensive skills as part of your offensive arsenal. Whenever you use the Patient Defense feature or take the Dodge action, you gain the following benefits until the start of your next turn:
- If you use the Dodge action, it counts as if you have taken the Attack action on your turn, for the purposes of allowing you to benefit from the Extra Attack and the Martial Arts features. You also can instead of using the Extra Attack feature use the Dodge action after attacking in your turn.
- Once per Round, you can choose to reduce one instance of damage by your Constitution Modifier, and if the attacker is within 5ft of you, it makes a Constitution saving throw, against your Ki save DC, or receives the amount of damage reduced in Force Damage, with no action or reaction required.
As dodging and defending yourself is part of the base training of this tradition, you can use the Patient Defense Feature without spending Ki points a number of times equal to your Monk Level per short rest.
Iron Shirt Stance
At 3rd level, you learn how to use your ki to fortify your body when you are not wearing armor with a stance that grants you enhanced strength and durability for a short time. As a bonus action on your turn, you can enter the Iron Shirt Stance, only if you haven't moved yet. This stance lasts for 1 minute, or until you move willingly or are knocked unconscious. While in this stance, you gain the following benefits:
- You have advantage on Strength and Constitution saving throws.
- You can add your Constitution or Strength modifier to the damage roll of your unarmed strikes.
- You can add your Constitution modifier to your AC while in this stance. This bonus ends when you move or when the stance ends.
You can use the Iron Shirt Stance a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier per long rest, Once you have used this feature that number of times, you can spend 1 ki point to use it again.
At 6th level, you learn how to use your reaction to deflect or reduce damage from melee attacks. You can also spend ki to disarm or knock prone your foes when you block their strikes. When you are hit by a melee weapon attack, you can use your reaction to roll your Martial Arts die and activate Defensive Flurry. You gain a number of Defensive Flurry uses equal to the die roll until the start of your next turn.
Each Defensive Flurry use reduces the damage by an amount equal to your Dexterity modifier plus one roll of your Martial Arts die. You can apply Defensive Flurry multiple times against one creature’s attacks, but only once per attack.
Additionally, if you reduce the damage to 0 with Defensive Flurry, you can choose one of the following effects:
- Spend 1 ki point to force the attacker to make a Strength saving throw against your Ki save DC or drop its weapon. If it fails by 5 or more and the weapon is nonmagical, it takes a -1 penalty to attack rolls. If this penalty reaches -2, the weapon breaks.
- Spend 1 ki point to force the attacker to make a Strength saving throw against your Ki save DC or fall prone. It also takes force damage equal to your Defensive Flurry roll.
You can use Defensive Flurry a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus per short rest. You can spend 1 ki point to use it again after reaching this limit.
For example, If you are being attacked by a Bandit Captain and one Bandit, and you rolled a 4 on your Martial art die, you will have 4 uses of Defensive Flurry until the start of your next turn, so if all three attacks of the Bandit Captain hits, you can apply the Defensive Flurry feature to his three attacks, and then when the Bandit attacks you can apply your forth and last use of the Defensive Flurry on his attack as well.
At 11th level, you learn how to create a ki barrier around yourself that harms anyone who tries to harm you. You can also use your ki to cast spells that retaliate against your enemies with forceful blasts. As an action, you can spend 2 Ki points to cast the Armor of Agathys spell on yourself without requiring any material components. The spell does Force damage instead of Cold damage. You can spend additional Ki points to cast the spell at a higher level, spending 1 additional Ki point for each level above the first.
Additionally, when you use the Deflect Missiles feature and successfully reduce the damage to 0, you can spend 2 Ki points to cast the Hellish Rebuke spell as part of that same reaction, dealing Force damage instead of Fire damage. The spell uses your Ki save DC. You can spend additional Ki points to cast the spell at a higher level, spending 1 additional Ki point for each level above the first.
Finally, while under the Iron Body Technique feature effects, you also gain the benefit of the true strike cantrip once per turn, without requiring concentration.
At 17th level, you master the defensive techniques of the Iron Body tradition. You can maintain your iron body technique for longer periods of time, and apply your defensive flurry against any damage type. You can also use your ki to protect others from Area of Effect damages.
- When you use the Iron Body Technique feature, you keep their effects for 1 minute, not requiring to use the Dodge action or the Patient Defense feature on the following turns to reactivate it, unless you are unconscious, incapacitated or your speed is reduced to 0.
- The Deflect Missiles and Defensive Flurry now can be used against all sources of damage.
- You can use your action to spend 3 ki points and cast Stoneskin on yourself without requiring material components.
- When the Evasion class feature reduces damage from a Spell or another area effect to zero, and you can see the source of the area effect, you can use your reaction to spend one available use of Defensive Flurry, if you have any, to cast Hellish Rebuke as a 9th level spell using only 3 Ki points against the attacker if it is in reach of the spell. In doing so, you grant the benefits of the Evasion feature to any creatures you choose inside the area of effect, as you protect them from the damage by masterfully controlling the flow of Ki in the ambient and within yourself to redirect and unleash all harmful effects at the aggressor with concentrated power.
This subclass is published also on D&D Beyond: Way of the Iron Body
I hope to receive some constructive feedback and opinions on how to better balance the features to reach the goal of making a Monk decent front liner, without making other Tank characters feel less effective, so tell me if this is too much or not, I'm doing lots of rewriting on this subclass and I'm open to criticism and opinions.