As a somewhat follow up to this question re. unarmed strike, I'm wondering:

  1. Does Pathfinder significantly fix the monk class (this, and other potential well known class issues)? Specifically *:
    • Multiple Attribute Dependency/lack of synergy between class skills
    • Difficulty in scaling combat effectiveness in magic heavy campaigns
    • Heavy dependence on a relatively limited range of very specific magic items
    • What seem like outright bugs - the lack of proficiency in unarmed strike, the Other transformation at level 20 coming with immunity to some useful spells, and not immunity to things like mind affecting, damage reduction from falling is worse than feather-fall, etc...
    • Generally making it feasible to either fill one of the standard group roles (ie, better compete to be a damage dealer or tank), or be a realiable generalist (ie, make it easier to buff or crowd control or heal).
  2. If it does, is there an online source I can read which will most quickly bring me up to date with what Pathfinder changes/fixes with the monk class, specifically?

. * this list is not exhaustive - others are discussed in Optimizing a D&D 3.5 Monk

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As a side note on the one problem you actually mentioned initially, in Pathfinder all characters are proficient with their unarmed strike/natural weapons. (d20pfsrd.com/equipment---final/weapons) \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 18:14

4 Answers 4


The Real Problems Did Not Get Fixed

But let's talk about these individually.

Multiple Attribute Dependancy

Also known as MAD, this has plagued the poor Monk for ages. Monks need Strength for accuracy and damage, Dexterity and Wisdom for their armor class and two saving throws, Constitution for hit points (to be fair, all characters want this) and their last saving throw, Intelligence for skill points and Charisma to make use of their short list of social skills. This is not a good thing, because there's only so many high or even mid ability score numbers to go around. Pathfinder seemed like it was going to help this when it improved the skill system, consolidating many skills and relieving the reliance on Intelligence, but then it turned right back around and made boosting your ability scores with items more expensive, actually worsening this particular issue.

Anti-Synergistic Class Features

This just straight-up didn't change. Many of the Monk's class features are mutually exclusive with other features, with the use of feats, with the use of skills, or some delightfully awful combination of all three. Additionally, Monk still has problems making use of combat maneuvers (due both to low numbers and the increasing Size rating of stock enemies) and the feats relating to those maneuvers got weaker, cutting off a theoretical avenue of contribution.

More Melee, More Problems

Traditional problems with "mundane" or "melee" classes like Monk, but also like Fighter or Barbarian, were not solved by Pathfinder. They still have problems with enemies of all kinds that fly, burrow, teleport, cast spells, use "lockdown" effects like paralysis or poison, and utilize battlefield control (spiderwebs, choking fogs, etc) among other things. Like all melee classes, the Monk is forced to funnel enormous amounts of cash into meeting the increasing demand for complexity as levels and challenge ratings climb ever-higher. Unlike other melee classes, Monks cannot shore up their "primary" role, because...

Monks have no specialization

And, unlike Rogues or Bards, Monks cannot be made into competent generalists because of the aforementioned anti-synergy and low numbers, forcing them to pour resource after resource into badly mimicking another class's role.

On Monk's defence: the Archetype system

Pathfinder did introduce the Archetype system, a refinement on the idea of Alternate Class Features from 3.5e. Some Monk archetypes, such as Zen Archer and Hungry Ghost, work to alleviate some of these issues. Combinations of archetypes, done intelligently, may make for a playable character whose class still reads 'Monk'. Whether or not such a thing is worth the effort is not easily decided, but the options are available.

Monk changes very often

With that in mind, a word to the wise - Pathfinder gets errata often, and Monk has been the subject of many heated debates and quick rules changes, such as the brief-lived errata to Flurry of Blows. This does not have to affect your table, but if you're participating in a sanctioned table (like in Pathfinder Society) or if your group cares about such things your Monk may find the rules shifting out rapidly from underneath him. Caveat emptor.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Worth adding to Anti-Synergistic Class Features: It actually got worse, because they get only full BAB when they flurry, which makes moving and attacking even worse than it used to be. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bobson
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 13:31
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The upcoming Brawler is also a surprisingly good candidate. It is the first time I played an unarmed character that actually felt dangerous - I even used one as a single Boss NPC and almost caused a TPK \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 13:48

Not only does it not, it doesn’t even try

The Pathfinder Monk does not see any significant improvements. It’s still lacking full BAB (though it does get full BAB for Flurry and combat maneuvers), the combat maneuver feats that it gets as bonus feats are weaker than they used to be, and absolutely nothing was done about the lack of meaningful, useful, and consistent class features.

The Pathfinder Monk still exhibits a serious case of Multiple Ability Dependency, which is even worse in Pathfinder than it is in 3.5 due to the fact that all physical-ability-enhancing items are now stuck on the same item-slot and you cannot get more than one without paying extra. The Monk still has a smorgasbord of random, limited niche features which not only fail to synergize, but in fact frequently are mutually exclusive (e.g. Fast Movement and Flurry).

Finally, it’s worth noting that spellcasters are arguably even stronger, relatively speaking, than they were in 3.5. While Pathfinder nerfed a handful of spells, there are still plenty of overly-powerful ones at every spell level, and all spellcasters received new class features – some of which are quite potent. Meanwhile, the few good melee options have largely been nerfed hard, or simply not replicated if from a supplement. Paizo’s claims to have improved the balance of the system are untrue.

The best “fix” of the Monk remains the Swordsage from Tome of Battle.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I believe the 3rd paragraph is relevant when you look at the fact it's showing how these problems have an even greater power discrepancy in PF than they did in 3.5. Hence while (in his opinion) PF did not fix the monks problems they've actually exacerbated them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben-Jamin
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 15:04

Regular Monk, not so much, but Monk Unchained does quite well indeed.

The contradiction with ability scores isn't so bad, Charisma can be dumped and even Int can be dumped with 2-3 kill points per level you can just about get by. The need to give prominence to three ability scores of Strength, Dexterity and Wisdom don't differ much from most combat classes though Wisdom gives much more back.

Ki Pool with Ki Powers means Monk can keep up better than others, things like being able to select the ones you want much earlier, being able to go Ethereal and limited teleport give considerably more options than a regular fighter.

the real trick is to not bother with Unarmed Strike except as a backup but go straight to using a weapon two handed. Something like the Temple Sword. Flurry of Blows gives you and extra attack at full BAB, it is NOT two-weapon-fighting. You get twice as many attacks on a full-attack so you might as well make each as powerful as possible. Get a weapon that is lead-lined for +2 damage, get it Masterwork much cheaper, add 1.5x strength damage. Also with Resize Weapon combined with Effortless Lace you can upgrade that 1d8 medium Temple Sword to a 2d6 Large Temple Sword now wielded two-handed.

Take Cornugon Stun as soon as you can and don't worry about having to punch or kick them to have the Stunning "Fist" effect. More of a Stunning "chop". Now having a major "debuff" ability like this makes Monks a lot like Casters, they don't have the versatility but Stun denying them an action, disarming them and leaving them open to sneak-attacks is very good.

Skurikens are another great item in the game as they are ammunition you don't need quickdraw to draw them. This is great when you consider the ranged Magical Weapon Qualities can be applied to ammunition in groups of 50, that means for a fraction of that price you can get a one-off magical weapon quality you may only ever need to use once. Combine with how you add strength to damage and you have a pretty nice close quarters ranged option.

Magic heavy campaigns work both ways, they can give you magic items that help you.

And at Level 5 the problem of being unable to move and get in a full attack is solved by the style-feat Flying Kick as you get a melee attack which can get free movement even with that melee attack being part of a full attack.

Monks are vulnerable to spells as most PCs are, even Wizards. What the party depends on is good cooperation to cover each other's weaknesses, the party Wizard has got to be there to help anyone tagged with a bad debuffing spell or the rogue there to stop the enemy Caster before they even try. And magic items like Talisman of Freedom do so much to ease the burden of being hit by a de-buff spell.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Bringing up the monk unchained is a good call; this question is kind of out of date. But regarding MAD, I completely disagree with your analysis. It is not three important scores, but four. Monk is ostensibly a melee combatant, but has mediocre HD and poor AC, so one desperately Constitution. And Pathfinder only barely supports two important ability scores, much less four. Also, Stun is a pretty weak effect; it’s rather commonly resisted, and the DC is unlikely to be impressive. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 3:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unchained Monk's d10 hit die is the same as fighter and second only to Barbarian. So many items help deal with lack of HP buffing con doesn't go as far. Scrolls of Mage Armor can be quite affordable compared to other armour options and With wisdom also adding to AC you're close with Fighter. The problem of Stun Fist is more the Fort save it doing nothing than Stun itself not being worth it. \$\endgroup\$
    – TREB
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 4:00


Zen Archery (Wisdom to hit) fixes the MAD attribute significantly. Wisdom to-hit rocks. Wisdom in the Flesh for a skill (Stealth off of Wisdom is nice).

Reliance on the Composite Longbow fixes all magic and ranged issues (just get a Magic Composite Longbow, like everyone else). The Zen Archer flurry of blows with a longbow, making the most ranged attacks in the game. Effectively, the Zen Archer has rapid shot and many shot for free, with similar boosts to Ki. With snap-shot and free point-blank master, the Zen Archer does not provoke attacks of opportunity... and instead threatens them even as a ranged-player. Clustered Shot feat solves the damage-reduction problem.

Abundant Step gives you mobility that no one else has. Even if your mobility were cut off somehow, Trick Shot (lvl 11) gives you the ability to shoot around corners and other areas which have total concealment or total cover.

Ki Focus Bow at lvl 17 gives you the ability to stunning-fist enemies at range, possibly making that scary dragon fall from the sky paralyzed.

Here's an optimized Zen Archer: http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2nix8?Zen-and-the-Art-of-Monk-Maintenance-A-Guide

Bow ki deadly flurry haste +34/+34/+34/+29/+29/+24/+24/+19 (2d10+28, and as 1)

Cluster-shotted, so no DR issues to be had here. With the first strike being a stunning arrow at DC 34 vs Fort. With 21 Stunning fists / day, this is basically a "use all the time" ability at lvl 20.

Without expending any resources at all, you have:

Bow deadly flurry +33/+33/+28/+28/+23/+23/+18 (1d8+28, and as 1)

The damage dice drops to 1d8, but you're still dealing a good bit of damage. "Perfect Shot" can allow three rerolls to ensure the first hit does in fact hit, so that Stunning Fist (or the Quivering Palm-injected Arrow) is going to go off.

I don't think any other class can do so much damage from 100+ feet away with so little resource expenditures.


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