In "Hero builders guidebook" a recurring theme is that all monasteries are in human lands only, with the book not even mentioning the idea of other races founding them. This makes it unlikely for any other race to become a monk.

Where does this idea come from? Does it have roots in deeper D&D/Fantasy lore?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I find it useful to know when a question has been crossposted to another platform. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ As purely flavor text, monasteries are a form of population control. So they make the most sense for races that over populate. Not all races have that feel. But a baby elven princes can get left in front of any door her player chooses. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 2:48

3 Answers 3


Monks could only be human prior to D&D 3rd edition.

In the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition Players Handbook, the monk class was exclusive to humans. The other races—dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, halflings, and half-orcs—were forbidden.

The monk was omitted from the AD&D 2nd edition Player's Handbook, so this didn't change much.

Hero Builder's Guidebook was one of the earliest 3e books, released in 2000. As such, it likely drew more heavily on previous D&D traditions than later books, and that reflected a world where practically all monks were humans.

Sword and Fist (2001) gives an official lore explanation, which is that humans are naturally more suited to a monastic life. Other races have difficulty staying in one place for too long (halflings, gnomes) or abandoning connections to their previous lives and tradition (dwarf).

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    \$\begingroup\$ You wouldn't dare ignore all of the flumph monks, would you? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 15:41

It was a D&D thing, but over time became less and less of a thing—and 3rd edition was the inflection point.

Quadratic Wizard’s fine answer explains matters up to 2001’s Sword and Fist. However, it’s notable that D&D—even the third edition thereof—didn’t stop there. Indeed, including the “v.3.5 revised edition” in 2004, the third edition of D&D lasted until 2008, so 2001 was quite early in the edition’s run.

Prior to 3rd edition

Before getting into that, there is an important thing to note regarding the even earlier material that Quadratic Wizard alludes to, and that the 3e materials were derived from. Earlier D&D emphasized that the world was “human centric” in a way that later editions—including the third—did not. It was normal for things to be human-only in those days. Moreover, it was also very common for certain classes to be available only to certain races—and again, human got the most of them. So in this sense, the monk being human-only was, then, not at all the exception, but rather part of an overall trend. This was a D&D-ism that hasn’t really stood the test of time and is not found in later editions, but third edition—particularly as early as 2000 and 2001—was only the beginning for the end of that particular style.

The “v.3.5 revised edition”

Anyway, while the revised Player’s Handbook emphasizes its compatibility with prior products (such as Hero Builder’s Guide and Sword and Fist), the official compatibility/update guide makes clear that anything reprinted in 3.5e material supersedes any prior 3e material. The monk was among the things they reprinted. Thus, anything said in Hero Builder’s Guide and Sword and Fist only applies to the extent it is compatible with the update (if even that much).

The “v.3.5 revised edition” continued to make monks “primarily” human, or human-descended, saying:

Races: Monasteries are found primarily among humans, who have incorporated them into their ever-evolving culture. Thus, many monks are humans, and many are half-orcs and half-elves who live among humans. Elves are capable of single-minded, long-term devotion to an interest, art, or discipline, and some of them leave the forests to become monks. The monk tradition is alien to dwarf and gnome culture, and halflings typically have too mobile a lifestyle to commit themselves to a monastery, so dwarves, gnomes, and halflings very rarely become monks.

The savage humanoids do not have the stable social structure that allows monk training, but the occasional orphaned or abandoned child from some humanoid tribe winds up in a civilized monastery or is adopted by a wandering master. The evil subterranean elves known as the drow have a small but successful monk tradition.

(Player’s Handbook, “v.3.5 revised edition,” 2004, pg. 39-40)

So here we already see significant departure from Hero Builder’s Guide: monks and monasteries may be primarily human, but that explicitly includes half-elves and half-orcs, and in any event, elves and even drow are also noted as not unheard of.

The revised Dungeon Master’s Guide (2004) has random NPC generation tables, for example, that has a chance of yielding aasimar, hill dwarf, high elf, wood elf, drow, half-elf, lightfood halfling, deep halfling, half-elf, half-orc, human, hobgoblin, tiefling, ogre mage, half-celestial, half-dragon, half-fiend, werebear, werewolf, and wererat monks. Already, we have dwarves and halflings that “very rarely become monks,” included in the official random generation tables and accounting for a few monks in every hundred. Maybe that’s still “very rarely,” but it isn’t unheard of. On the other hand, the tables would suggest that human monks are more numerous than monks of all other races combined.

The idea doesn’t really come up very much after that, though. Player’s Handbook II doesn’t mention it (though its sample monks are a human, a half-orc, and an elf), nor do Complete Warrior or Complete Adventurer. Races of Stone notes that dwarves “have a natural tendency towards lawful alignment,” and that monk does a good job of obviating or mitigating that race’s weakness, and while it describes monk as a “tough choice” for a gnome, it blames this on gnomes’ racial Strength penalty. Races of the Dragon even claims that “The hardworking and introspective nature of kobolds lends itself to the disciplined monk,” and the book features an example kobold monk, Molik. Races of the Wild includes special “racial substitution levels” describing a slightly different martial tradition for halfling monks, despite those supposedly only existing “very rarely” according to the Player’s Handbook, and while it claims the path of the monk “seems at odds” with halflings’ skills and proclivities, it disputes that claim.

Races of Destiny—the books about humans and human-adjacent races—discusses monks and humans being a good fit for the class since the human bonus feat is so useful, but doesn’t imply in any way that monks are a particularly human pursuit. Similar descriptions exist for half-elf and half-orc in the same book, though obviously the latter notes that a half-orc’s ability scores are a challenge. It does mention that underfolk monks are exceedingly rare—underfolk are a race found only in that book, and appear to be the morlocks from The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.

In short, while the edition started out with nods to prior D&D’s human-centrism, particularly with the monk class, these became fewer and farther between. If a race was noted to be unlikely to be a monk, it tended to be because they had mechanical features that made them a poor match for the monk class. Occasionally races are noted to favor chaotic alignments, and this made fewer of them likely to be monks, but we can see plenty of counter-examples of that.

4th edition

The fourth edition of the game was a significant departure from prior editions in a lot of ways. Its monk was a psionic class, not found until Player’s Handbook 3. That book does say “Humans are the most common monks,” but it does not make any claim that monks are particularly rare for other races. Notably, it also comments that “Elves are talented monks,” but then note that 4e did weird things with elves (and, frankly, most everything else).

5th edition

With fifth edition, Wizards of the Coast sought to “return to form” after the controversial overhaul of the game in 4e. A whole lot of things that 4e did differently just got quietly ignored—and so the monk is back to being a core class, and has no mention of psionics. It also doesn’t make any mention of any racial preference for or aversion to the monk class—though it does start with descriptions of a half-elf, human, and halfling monk. The only mention of a human-centric vision of monks are the Scarlet Brotherhood from the world of Greyhawk, who are dedicated the supremacy of and eventual world domination by the Suel—a human nation. But then the Scarlet Brotherhood are specifically emphasized to be evil.


Prior to 3rd edition, yes, monks were only humans. Lots of things were like that then. There was no (noted) deeper fantasy lore behind this—D&D was just supposed to be a human-centric game. Gygax believed that this made it easier for (presumed human) players to understand and engage with. Early on in 3rd edition, there is some of this, but it’s weakening. More importantly, it’s mostly just absent from a lot of places—as a core class, monks come up a lot, but any racial correlation is rarely mentioned. Later on in the edition, any suggestion that monks are more often one race over another tends to just stem from the authors’ belief that one race is a good mechanical fit for monk and another is not. (The authors were often wrong about what actually worked well and what didn’t, but that’s a separate issue.) And after that, it became even less of a thing, where 4e makes it sound like an almost coincidental factoid that humans are the most common monks and 5e doesn’t mention it at all.

So you should only consider this “fact” true if you are the DM and you think it makes the game more interesting to do so. If you are not the DM, you should check with them, because a lot of DMs of 3rd edition aren’t going to implement the world that way—a lot of DMs of 3rd edition are likely to be unaware that anything ever suggested they should, since it only gets mentioned a few times.

  • \$\begingroup\$ While this answer provides a wealth of useful information, answers that don't stand alone tend to undermine the effectiveness of our voting system. Would it be possible to copy the relevant information from Quadratic Wizard's answer into this one? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 21:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe: Or a one-sentence summary of it, like "as Quadratic Wizard’s answer explains, the Monk class was restricted to humans before 3e, and the Hero Builder's Guidebook was a pretty early 3e book, probably influenced by older lore and thinking". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 22:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes Yeah, that'd work. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 9:37

You might as well ask why all monks have shaved heads.

The monk class is a blatant stereotype of Chinese martial arts like Shaolin Kung Fu. This was a popular trope in western media of the 70-90s. Kung Fu, Jackie Chan movies, and others captured the public imagination and people wanted to play "Kung fu monk" characters in their DnD, so the game gave them the option for the sake of mass appeal and rule of cool.

The monks have all the trappings of the stereotypical "Kung Fu monk" because that's what they're trying to appeal to. You don't have orc monks because that's not really what people imagine when they think of the trope. It would be like playing a "Heart of Darkness" inspired campaign, with an "Imperial explorer" character, who doesn't have a British accent and luxurious mustache. Sure, seasoned players will say yeah, why not break conventions and be original. But a lot of new players don't want original, they just want to act out their favorite popular tropes. This is partly because of the marketing strategy from WotC - people who already are interested in DnD don't need marketing, they'll buy the books anyway. But around the year 2000, WotC was really interested in transforming DnD from a "nerd game" into something mainstream, so they were trying to get people on board who are not interested in DnD, by basically saying "look it's just like your favorite movie/series/comic/cartoon". Hence you get pandering to the tropes of the time.

Because someone will complain that I'm oversimplifying, note the fact that the so called "monk" appears to have very little interest in theology, cooking, brewing, medicine, prayer which you would expect if you're thinking of a Medieval European monk. It's a class built around meditating yourself into a Kung Fu master.

FWIW, there is no race restriction on the 3e monk. It's a WIS class and benefits from races with WIS bonus. Githzerai are a very alien race, famous for being mostly monks. Generally monstrous races that can't use weapons/armor and want to leverage natural weapons/armor like claws and carapaces are popular with monk players. The settings tend to be weird about it, but DnD is notorious for how players often just disregard established settings and use their homebrew world, so I wouldn't read too much into what the book says.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, the monk is basically a wuxia/xianxia character, and most such characters in media up until that point were human. But can that by itself really explain why monks are specifically called out as almost always being human, since many other classes - without this strong human bias - are also are largely based on characters that are human? The barbarian is mainly based on Conan, viking berserkers, and other human antecedents, but they seem well-represented among orcs and half-orcs. The paladin mainly is based on, well, the Paladins of Roland (human again). \$\endgroup\$
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 6:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Really, only the rogue (obviously based on Bilbo Baggins) and maybe the wizard (conceptually based on the technically-not-human-and-named-an-elf Gandalf) seem to be based on non-human archetypes. But the ranger? Based on the human Aragorn. The druids? Based on the human...um...druids. The fighter? Based on a bunch of (almost all human) warrior types. But none of these classes get called out as being almost all human to the same extent. \$\endgroup\$
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 6:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please cite at least some source for your claims. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 14:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jessica we do have small but existing citation guidelines \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 3:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not an academic journal so you don't need citations for "surprising" or non-obvious claims to get your answer published (posted and not deleted by moderators). (e.g. the fact that Monk is based on human media is clear, but that justifying human-only D&D lore is not.) As @candied_orange said, citing sources will be more convincing to the people voting on your answer. The recommendation to cite sources is assuming that you want to convince other humans, and/or to get (more) upvotes and avoid/reduce downvotes, especially after someone raises some valid questions about the argument you make \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 9:46

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