The monk in D&D 3.5 (and, to a lesser extent, in Pathfinder) is generally considered underpowered.

Would adding magic 'weapons' that could add enhancement bonuses and magic weapon effects to a monk's unarmed strikes be sufficient to re-balance them? Would they then be over-balanced?

To be specific I'm thinking of something like hand wraps that are a zero-cost weapon having no mundane effect on combat (the wielder counts as unarmed) but that can be enchanted in the same way and at the same cost as a normal magic weapon.


Thanks to @mxyzplk, I see that Gauntlets would effectively fulfill this effect. Odd that I haven't seen this in any of the discussions on monk optimisation!

Regarding assessing balance, I'll judge this based on how well it addresses the issues in @KRyan's answer in the above-linked question. Obviously if anyone doesn't agree with his analysis then this question is moot, although I would like to see those competing opinions.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This is a pretty delicate topic. If you could lay down some specific guidelines about how you evaluate balance, that would go a long way toward getting constructive answers and avoiding Comment Wars. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Feb 26, 2013 at 0:38

3 Answers 3


Necessary but insufficient

It would help. It would more than help; I have a hard time imagining them being functional without it. The necklace of natural attacks or scorpion kama are generally necessary for Monks. That said, the necklace of natural attacks does exist (as do similar items in Pathfinder), and it’s not nearly enough to make the Monks good.

The Monk’s problems are problems of design: the people who wrote it evidently had no clear idea of what a Monk was or should do. Thus it receives a mish-mash of random abilities that do not synergize (and frequently contradict one another, see Flurry of Blows and Fast Movement).

To “fix” the Monk, one must first come up with a clear vision of what the Monk is supposed to be and do, and then most likely rebuild it from the ground up focused on that vision.

Or simply use one of the many classes that can effectively model one or more possible visions of what a “monk” should do, without any levels in the “Monk” class. The Cleric and Psychic Warrior are both Open Game Content and quite capable of fulfilling most roles you could imagine for the Monk, for instance. I’d argue that it’s entirely reasonable to treat a Barbarian’s Rage as “Zen Focus” and waive the non-lawful requirement (which I’d further argue is dumb to begin with). Such a “Barbarian” multiclassed with Fighter for combat maneuver mastery and perhaps taking Improved Unarmed Strike would make a decent monk. And if you have Tome of Battle, the Swordsage also does an excellent job.


Sure they help.

First of all, the monk isn't designed to be better at a single thing than other classes, so expecting its DPR to match a fighter's is a false expectation and in my opinion the monk being "underpowered" is a problem that exists only in highly optimized games, which is not the sum total of all the game types out there. The linked question is about optimizing and making the monk "brokenly good," which I can't speak to. However, in the various campaigns I've played in since 2000 with various groups in various cities under 3e, 3.5, and Pathfinder, monks have been popular classes at the table and have been considered a fun option not terribly overshadowed by others.

However, it's certainly not the strongest class, and so Paizo's put out some gear and changes to help the monk get better! The amulet of mighty fists is the usual core item to magically buff the monk. They just revised it and lowered its price, as well as gave the monk's ki strike some DR-overcoming power - see "Monkeying Around" on the Paizo blog.

The new body wrap of mighty strikes also directly augments unarmed strikes.

There's been back and forth debate and conflicting rulings (to the point of conflicting verbiage in successive printings of the same weapon in different books) on whether weapons like cesti, gauntlets, rope gauntlets, emei piercers, and/or brass knuckles use a monk's unarmed damage or not. Many are monk weapons and thus by definition may be flurried, ki striked, etc. with, but the damage has been debated. I just say "yes, use your unarmed damage" to all of them. In my pirate campaign the captain is a monk; he has magical gauntlets and also some cold iron brass knuckles he bought that have the knuckles inscribed with "ELFPU" and "NCHER". By letting these weapons leverage unarmed damage, the monk avoids some of his traditional problems with DR and cheaper enhancement means less "flurry of misses."



From the PhB (which system? Both. Well, the CRB from Pathfinder, to be technical): "A monk’s unarmed strike is treated both as a manufactured weapon and a natural weapon for the purpose of spells and effects that enhance or improve either manufactured weapons or natural weapons."

Id, Craft Magic Arms and Armor: "The weapon, armor, or shield to be enhanced must be a masterwork item that you provide. Its cost is not included in the above cost."

Ultimate Magic (pathfinder only), Masterwork Transformation spell: "Target: one weapon..."

You can, and should, already do this. In 3.5 this requires that the GM rule that a Monk has a Masterwork body (pretty reasonable). In pathfinder this requires a level 2 spell, or GM discretion. I have a player who likes to play monks and this is usually something he puts a fair amount of money in. I have run into issues doing this with less RAW-friendly groups, as reforging one's hands into the Fists of Fire and Thunder can upset people who have got it in their heads somehow that monks don't get magic weapon upgrades. In fact, monks benefit from magic upgrades to their weaponry more than any other class, since they both can gain both natural-weapon-only benefits and manufactured-weapon-only benefits, and can have a great variety of specialized enchantments available pretty much all the time.

In both systems monks can make Unarmed Attacks with "either fist interchangeably... elbows, knees, and feet" (PHB, cf. CRB). Enchanting each of these body parts separately allows an unburdened monk access to what are effectively 8 different magic weapons. Her number of attacks doesn't change, but on each attack she can choose, as normal, which weapon she is employing. This allows monks to make better use of energy damage and bane abilities than most other melee classes. In campaigns where WBL is preserved by GM fiat the monk will never have the cash to do this, but in campaigns where spells and social abilities are allowed to generate their stated wealth without WBL limitations the party wizard should be able to provide the monk with a fairly kitted out set of enchantments around level 9.

Even with all this, however, the monk is still a spell-less melee fighter and so very underpowered. The monk will be much better than a fellow student who for some reason refused magical augmentation, and, in fact, a decent melee build if the game is limited to the Core classes, since the monk's class abilities help somewhat compensate for most non-casters' lack of battlefield mobility (i.e. teleportation), but the monk is still a weak class.


The benefit of doing your enchantments this way is, in order of importance 1) It's cooler. You can have Hands of Justice and Feet of Law. 2) You save a magic item slot. This is a big deal, as that slot can now be used to hold something like a Scarab of Protection or a Necklace of Netted Stars. You can also keep your Amulet of Mighty Fists +5 and use that in place of your enhancement bonus on your body parts, saving room for more special abilities 2) Your enchantments can't be stolen the way external gear can. It's always on your person and you can never permanently loose it without some very high level magic. 3) You can utilize all the defensive portions of the enchantments at once, and choose between the offensive portions as 'not an action' when making your attacks. 4) Technically, you save 300 gp. Actually, if 300 gp matters most of your benefits are moot.

You do not uniquely gain the ability to use weapon enhancements by doing this. You could do that already, via a Necklace of Natural Weapons or a Scorpion Kama, among other options.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The masterwork item bit is a problem in 3.5, though you have a good point about weapon enhancements arguably being “effects” that should be legal on a monk’s unarmed strikes. The point is somewhat moot, since the necklace of natural attacks from Savage Species explicitly allows you to enhance natural weapons (like the unarmed strike) as a weapon, for only a small premium (300 gp, IIRC), which I suggest you mention in your answer. The scorpion kama from Magic Item Compendium can also be upgraded as desired, and its base damage can be your unarmed strike damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 6, 2014 at 14:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ But I disagree with your assertion about the wizard being able to provide eight different highly-enhanced weapons by level 9. At least as many campaigns are substantially below WBL are as above it (sadly), and crafting eight +2-equivalent weapons requires nearly 90% of 9th-level WBL – so unless your campaign is at twice WBL or more, that seems like an unreasonable investment, and I don’t see games with that much money thrown around often. And I don’t see that as being enough to even make the monk a decent melee fighter, as you claim. Especially if the other warriors have that money, too. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 6, 2014 at 14:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Yes the other warriors have that money, but once money is not the limiting factor the monk benefits more. As for why high-optimization games tend to break WBL by massive amounts, ask a separate question. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 6, 2014 at 21:18

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