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The Monk's Martial Arts die starts at d4 and goes up to d10 over 20 levels. In the One D&D Player's Handbook Playtest 6, the designers altered this to start at d6 (one die size larger) and increase to d12 over 20 levels, saying

To keep up with other classes, the Monk’s Unarmed Strikes needed this damage boost…

(Playtest 6 also removed the concept of Monk Weapons—and therefore, of applying the Martial Arts die to attacks with Monk Weapons—while Playtest 8 restored it. This is not relevant to this question.)

The question is, is this damage boost of on average 1 hp per successful attack necessary to, as the designers say, "keep up with other classes"?

There is some ambiguity around their statement since there have been many new official subclasses published since the Player's Handbook. They could mean that the Monk class lagged from the outset, that it hasn't kept up with official subclasses published later, or that it needs this to keep up with changes being playtested for One D&D.

For the purposes of this question, let's just consider the original Player's Handbook, and lets compare the Monk with the Fighter and Rogue—two classes without spell slots (at least in the base class) that primarily do damage through weapon attacks—without considering any subclass special abilities, e.g., no need to calculate DPR for a Champion with Improved Critical, or Quivering Palm damage for an Open Hand Monk. The Monk should be assumed to be using their bonus action to make an additional unarmed attack each round. At 2nd level, you can assume that a Monk starting the combat with full ki points will use Flurry of Blows (two additional unarmed attacks) every turn that they can, while Fighters can be assumed to have all Action Surges available and use them as early in the combat as possible. Rogues should be assumed to be getting Sneak Attack every turn by targeting opponents within 5 feet of allies.

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If you don't use anything fancy, the monk doesn't fall far behind

I'm going to assume nothing fancy. So they all have the same build for every level. At level 1 their weapon and damage without stats (assuming a hit), is as follows:

  • Rogue: 1d6 (Shortbow) + Sneak Attack: 1d6 = 7 DPR
  • Monk: 1d8 (Quarterstaff) + Bonus action: 1d4 (Martial Arts) = 8 DPR
  • Fighter: 2d6 (Greatsword) + Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting = 8.33 DPR

They start with 16 in their main stat, and will all select ASIs to get it to 20 as fast as possible. Their chance to hit will stay at 65% the entire time. This is based on the assumption that, as you level, so does the Monsters you are fighting. The Fighter will briefly have a 70% to hit chance, as they get an extra ASI at level 6. The others catch up at level 8, and then the to hit chance stays at 65%. The remainder of their ASIs doesn't matter.

I'll also simplify to say the fighter doesn't have their action surge, and the monk has enough Ki points for the entire fight. I think this is fair, since it's easy to double the Fighter for a single round if you wanna, and if the Monk doesn't use Ki for anything else, they'll most likely have enough for the average fight in 5e. Also, I don't have to make assumptions about the length of the fight. But if, for instance, your fights typically are 4 rounds, you can multiply the fighter DPR by 1.25.

According to that, the Monk wins early level, and then loses at high level. Below are my number, the percentage in parenteses is comparing the number to the Monk as a baseline.

Lvl Rogue Monk Fighter
1 6.85 (78.74%) 8.70 7.78 (89.43%)
2 6.85 (55.24%) 12.40 7.78 (62.74%)
3 9.30 (75.00%) 12.40 7.78 (62.74%)
4 9.95 (69.34%) 14.35 8.43 (58.75%)
5 12.40 (57.67%) 21.50 16.86 (78.42%)
6 12.40 (57.67%) 21.50 19.50 (90.70%)
7 14.85 (69.07%) 21.50 19.50 (90.70%)
8 15.50 (64.32%) 24.10 18.16 (75.35%)
9 17.95 (74.48%) 24.10 18.16 (75.35%)
10 17.95 (74.48%) 24.10 18.16 (75.35%)
11 20.40 (79.69%) 25.60 27.24 (106.41%)
12 20.40 (79.69%) 25.60 27.24 (106.41%)
13 22.85 (89.26%) 25.60 27.24 (106.41%)
14 22.85 (89.26%) 25.60 27.24 (106.41%)
15 25.30 (98.83%) 25.60 27.24 (106.41%)
16 25.30 (98.83%) 25.60 27.24 (106.41%)
17 27.75 (97.71%) 28.40 27.24 (95.92%)
18 27.75 (97.71%) 28.40 27.24 (95.92%)
19 30.20 (106.34%) 28.40 27.24 (95.92%)
20 30.20 (106.34%) 28.40 36.32 (127.89%)

Disclaimer: This isn't the full story

As you might know there are other factors.

Neither the Fighter nor Rogue used their Bonus Action. This is especially important during the lower levels, and a Two Weapon Fighting, Fighter wouldn't have been behind at level 1.

As for the Rogue, they have relatively consistent access to Advantage. If, for example, the Rogue uses their Cunning Action to hide, or Steady Aim (from Tasha's), the Advantage on their attack increases their DPR about 38% at all stages.

There are also damage increasing feats (which granted are optional rules, but common in play nonetheless). The two big ones being, Great Weapon Master, and Sharpshooter. However, it's difficult for the Monk to use these, and they don't have any comparable alternatives.

Finally, a magic weapon scales much better on a Fighter than a Monk, since half of their attacks have to be unarmed (assuming Flurry of Blows).

In my opinion. This leaves the Monk as a fairly mobile, but inflexible skirmisher. With a single strong, but inconsistent disable in Stunning Strike.

Does the bigger damage die, help them "keep up with other classes"?

Depends on what you mean by "keep up". It increases their damage by 6%-11% depending on level. The Rogue still have a higher damage output if they get consistent advantage (see below). The difference is less than before (of course), but the Rogue is also on the lighter end of the damage spectrum.

The buff is fine, but doesn't make them "Strong". It's one of the less significant changes in the playtest (in my opinion).

Lvl Rogue (with advantage) Monk (with bigger Martial Die) Difference
1 9.46 9.45 0.01
2 9.46 13.85 -4.39
3 12.87 13.85 -0.98
4 13.75 15.80 -2.05
5 17.16 23.00 -5.84
6 17.16 23.00 -5.84
7 20.57 23.00 -2.43
8 21.45 25.60 -4.15
9 24.86 25.60 -0.74
10 24.86 25.60 -0.74
11 28.28 28.40 -0.13
12 28.28 28.40 -0.13
13 31.69 28.40 3.29
14 31.69 28.40 3.29
15 35.10 28.40 6.70
16 35.10 28.40 6.70
17 38.51 31.20 7.31
18 38.51 31.20 7.31
19 41.93 31.20 10.73
20 41.93 31.20 10.73
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are crits factored in here? Most important for the Rogue w/Advantage vs. Monk comparison where it would nearly double the chance of the Rogue critting, and in the process massively increase their damage for that 9.75% of hits, thanks to the doubled sneak attack dice. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4 at 22:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger They are factored in. The crits add less than you'd expect on average. Even for the level 20 rogue (with advantage) it's just 3.75 DPR. \$\endgroup\$
    – The Blest
    Mar 6 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Awesome, thanks. I knew it wasn't going to be +10 damage or anything, but it does make a meaningful difference for all those levels where the classes are within a few points of each other. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 6 at 20:38

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