My group has decided to switch from 4e (which had very mixed reactions) to Pathfinder, since we all seem to like 3.5 well enough. However, one of the few things everyone enjoyed in 4e was the ability for PCs to control the battlefield: creating zones, forced movement, marks, et cetera. We keep running into problems in Pathfinder and are struggling to re-learn our tactics for the new system.

Our beefiest fighter is our monk; is there anything she can do to help control the battlefield? Let's assume she can level-dip; if there's another class or prestige class that focuses on that, we might be interested. Also assume we can get scrolls, wands, or whatnot; we do have some arcane spellcasters, but none of them are optimized for this sort of thing yet.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ A more general question about how you can do battlefield control in 3.5 could be answered in-depth, if you're interested. Most Monk questions end with, "Just don't play Monk." \$\endgroup\$ Jan 7, 2014 at 20:22
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ We do prefer questions that are solving someone's actual problem over pure theory-wonk questions. "Our heaviest meleer is a monk and wants to do battlefield control" is a much better question than a general open-ended one. And they don't just end with "don't play monk" for people who bother to answer the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Jan 8, 2014 at 0:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This question is over a year old, but for future readers who stumble here like I did, Paizo has recently released the Unchained Monk, which many consider to have addressed a fair number of the origional Monk's problems. d20pfsrd.com/classes/unchained-classes/monk-unchained \$\endgroup\$
    – Isaac
    Aug 13, 2015 at 9:21

3 Answers 3


Compared to 4e...

3.PF do not have nearly as much active battlefield control, and it’s all magic

Both Pathfinder and 3.5 before it lack 4e’s emphasis on positioning in combat. There are very, very few abilities that push or pull enemies, and basically all “zones” are magical in nature (though they are frequently very potent).

Battlefield control is typically done best by Wizards and Druids. Clerics can be pretty good at it too, and have a more martial bent. For Pathfinder-specific classes, the Summoner can be quite solid at it as well. Witches tend to be more about debuffing, targeting foes directly, and the Magus is largely about direct-damage.

The only real mundane options are Tripping, and Grappling.

I’m ignoring Bull Rush (Barbarians are just so obviously better, plus it just doesn’t help much in 3.PF), Disarm (locked gauntlets shut that down too hard), and Sunder (hard to do, destroys potentially-valuable loot) as tactics that aren’t worth even considering.


Tripping was a fairly solid tactic in 3.5, though it still paled in comparison to what magic could do. Pathfinder nerfed it drastically, but it’s still just about the best option available to mundane characters.

The typical trip-lockdown build focuses on attacks of opportunity and reach. The idea is to stand in the enemies’ way, with too large a threatened area to go around, so that they have to take an Attack of Opportunity from you. You then Trip on the Attack of Opportunity, and success means you get another attack to try for some damage too. Getting up on their next turn provokes another Attack of Opportunity (you cannot trip them again, however), and burns a Move action, so they either have to stay put or use their Standard to move, leaving them no actions with which to do something. This is a pretty effective tactic, so long as you can actually bar their way and succeed on the trip check.

Because Attacks of Opportunity are so important, Combat Reflexes (and reasonable Dex) is a must. Because you need to use tripping a lot, you obviously need Improved Trip, which usually means Combat Expertise (and Int 13). In 3.5, that would be enough. In Pathfinder, you also need Greater Trip, and you’ll burn a ton of Attacks of Opportunity (i.e. you’ll need a lot more Dex) since Greater Trip’s attack requires an AoO unlike 3.5-Improved Trip’s completely-free attack.


Grappling relies on Improved Grapple (and thus requires Improved Unarmed Strike), which are easy for a Monk, but is impossible to use on creatures more than two size categories larger than you and spellcasters can easily avoid it once they have 4th-level spells thanks to freedom of movement and dimension door. As a tactic, at best it only stops one enemy, and a lot of monsters are just going to be much better at it than you are. And at high levels, any Combat Manuever is very difficult to use against anyone, due to how CMB and CMD are calculated in Pathfinder.

3.PF are not balanced, and the Monk class particularly so

Another thing you’ll have to get used to, coming from 4e, is that neither 3.5 nor Pathfinder are at all balanced, and magic dominates everything. The Monk class, in particular, is very weak (see “Optimizing a D&D 3.5 Monk” and “Does Pathfinder significantly fix known problems with the Monk class?” for more details). That fact basically sets the tenor of this entire answer.

3.PF do not let you “catch up” if you start a magic career late

Particularly Pathfinder. Unfortunately, a lot of Pathfinder’s changes, relative to 3.5, are geared towards disincentivizing multiclassing. Paizo felt that 3.5 encouraged far too much multiclassing. In 3.5, you could do, say, Fighter 2/Barbarian 2/Ranger 2/Horizon Walker 6 (the so-called “Horizon Tripper” build), which is pretty solid at mostly-mundane battlefield control, but Paizo really disliked that kind of crazy mish-mash of classes. Thus, you are strongly encouraged by the rules of Pathfinder to stay in one class, and most prestige classes are fairly poor. Ultimately, though, it’s difficult, even in 3.5, to start a magic career late. Pathfinder heightened that.

Getting away from Monk

Basically, to sum up, to get good battlefield control you need magic, but multiclassing into a magical class late tends to work poorly. The Monk class is very poor, though, so it may be for the best, particularly if there aren’t a lot of levels wasted in Monk.

Cleric class: an option, but best as a replacement

So multiclassing into Cleric now is not a great idea. It can work OK if you have only a few (say, 3 at the most) Monk levels, but literally every Monk level you have detracts from your overall power as a Cleric.

Instead, using just the Cleric class to make a “monkish” character tends to work much better than actually using the Monk class. Just take Improved Unarmed Strike, and go to town. The Monk’s Belt item can get you Wis to AC, too.

A mix is best done with only a single level of Monk; this grants you a couple of feats, Wis to AC without/before you can afford a Monk’s Belt, and some may feel better about calling themselves a “monk” if the Monk class is to be found on their character sheet. Ultimately, I’d strongly suggest not doing so. In 3.5, the Sacred Fist prestige class from Complete Divine makes a single level of Monk (for early Stunning Fist) a much more valuable option, but Pathfinder doesn’t have that.

Single-level Cleric dip: very useful in general, but not particularly here

Finally, note that Cleric, in particular, makes an excellent single-level dip for almost anyone. This costs more in Pathfinder than it did in 3.5, and 3.5 also had some notable options (Cloistered Cleric, divine feats, devotion feats especially Travel Devotion) that made it better. Still, you can get a lot of stuff from a single level by picking your Domains right, and the Channeling feature is often used as a requirement for things; some of those may be useful. So anyone could consider a level in Cleric. But so far as I know it does not directly help battlefield control.

Fighter or Barbarian

Both of these classes are much better at the best form of mundane battlefield control, trip-lockdown, than is the Monk, as I’ll get to in a minute. Unfortunately, switching here is awkward; most of the reasons that Fighters or Barbarians are better come from more efficient use of ability scores, but you can only take advantage of that as a Monk/Fighter or Monk/Barbarian if you ignore some or all of your Monk features, which then begs the question of why you have them in the first place. Barbarian has the added problem of alignment conflict; you can change alignment, but it may be difficult to do so naturally and fluidly within the narrative.

Still, if she has no more than 4 Monk levels, she could benefit from these classes simply because they have full BAB. That means she only lost one BAB from taking Monk, and that will help with some of the problems she could face.

I’m not going into more detail because then this would turn into an answer about Fighter or Barbarian, not the Monk.

Unfortunately, Monk class features give her no particular skill at battlefield control

Nothing about “having levels in the Monk class” makes her particularly good at doing this. She has some ability at Combat Maneuvers, and Tripping is a fairly good way to achieve battlefield control,1 but the myriad problems of the Monk class itself prevent her from doing so as effectively as, say, a Barbarian or Fighter.

Alternatively, she could try Grappling. Monks do have some things that improve Grappling, at least so long as she takes the correct archetype, but Grappling itself is not a great tactic.

Low AC and HP

First, she is not good at handling the attention she would draw to herself as a battlefield controller. Battlefield control is a major problem for the enemy, and something they want to get rid of. When battlefield control is coming from a Barbarian or Fighter, that represents a somewhat difficult-to-remove threat. Those classes have lots of HP and high AC; she does not. Magic makes them suffer, and her high saves and touch AC provide some protection from that, but not enough.2 Meanwhile physical bruisers will force her to retreat, or die, quickly, while they’ll have a hard time contending with a Barbarian or Fighter.

The reasons for this are simple: she has a d8 HD, and cannot wear armor. She gets Wis to AC, but considering your typical heavy armor is giving between +6 and +9 AC before magic even enters into the equation, that’s a lot of Wisdom she’d need to keep up. Realistically, it’ll take both Dex and Wis, which is extremely expensive. Meanwhile, if she does have a lot of Wisdom (or a decent chunk of both Dex and Wis), then her Constitution suffers – and then her HP is looking very, very low compared to the d10 or d12 HD of Fighters and Barbarians, who, let’s not forget, also have good Constitution most of the time because they don’t need more than a little Dex, and don’t need Wis for much of anything.

Monk Weapons are bad for this

She also suffers since no Monk weapon is particularly good at trip-lockdown. The gold standard here is the Guisarme, since it has Reach and Trip, which Monks don’t have proficiency in, and none of the Monk weapons have that combination of Reach and Trip unless she expends Exotic Weapon Proficiency in the Kusari-Gama or Double-chained Kama. But she’ll probably have to do that, because she really does need Reach to do trip-lockdown. In fact, she needs Reach and then she also needs to figure out a way to get size increases, if she can (Pathfinder makes this quite difficult compared to 3.5, sadly).

The alternative, Grapple, is better, but not great. Grapple doesn’t often get to use Reach, so she won’t be worse off in that regard, and Unarmed Strike’s damage is used for Grappling no matter what she does. Unfortunately, Grappling is just a weaker tactic all around.

Class Features just don’t help tripping

Furthermore, her class features do not help her overly much with trip-lockdown-style battlefield control. Because of everyone else’s speed limits, it’s rare that she’ll need to actually use her Fast Movement to reposition. Abundant step is nice, but extremely limited. Since she desperately needs Reach, you aren’t using her Unarmed Strike damage. And so on and so forth.

Monk class features do improve Grappling. It’s just not a very good tactic.

Difficulty qualifying for feats

Monks in Pathfinder still have medium BAB. While they do get to treat their BAB as full for the purposes of Flurry of Blows and Combat Maneuvers, they don’t get to do so for the purposes of feat requirements, most notably the BAB +6 requirement of Greater Trip. This is a very serious problem that will plague the Monk for her entire career.

Feats aren’t a great solution to core problems anyway

There are a number of feats, Monk-specific or at least that a Monk can easily qualify for, that help out. mxyzplk lists several, for example, and there are more. These can definitely help. The problem is, and the reason I don’t list them out, is simply because they don’t do enough, or put another way, you don’t get enough feats. Feats are an extremely valuable resource, and you only get a limited number of them. Burning multiple feats to try to fix the various problems is playing a game of catch-up that you’ll never win.

It’s probably worth doing if you’re sticking it out as a Monk, but ultimately it’s not enough to make my advice anything other than “minimize the amount of Monk in your game.”

Multiple Ability Dependency

As already pointed out, she has small HD and a strong need for Wisdom that other classes lack. She needs at least 13 Int for Combat Expertise, so you cannot get extra ability points by dumping that. Tripping relies on Strength, but she can’t ignore Dex either because her Wis isn’t actually going to make up for your lack of armor. As a result, her Trip checks are lower, her HP is dramatically less, and her armored AC is very poor. This makes her very bad at controlling the battlefield and protecting, well, anything. It actually is a major reason why the Monk class is one of the weakest in 3.PF.

This affects Grappling as much as it does Trip. She’ll possibly dump Dex since you lose it while Grappling anyway, and she doesn’t need Combat Expertise so she doesn’t need so much Int, but that still leaves a very difficult split between Str, Con, and Wis. Compared to a Barbarian who can use just Str and Con, and gets bonuses to those, and has much larger HD to begin with... that doesn’t work out very well.


1 For a mundane character, anyway. Compared to the magical battlefield control that’s available, it’s pretty pathetic.

2 Note that smart spellcasters can do things that entirely ignore your saves or touch AC. Even if it’s just summoning up something bigger or nastier, or casting spells on themselves or their allies to make them bigger and nastier.


Omitting all the "why the monk sucks" stuff since you already have one...

You have a couple monk abilities that help you control the battlefield somewhat. Not "glitterdust" somewhat (though glitterdust's been nerfed in PF) but usable effectively.

  1. Movement
  2. Tripping
  3. Attacks of Opportunity, in conjunction with various shutdown powers


Monks' fast movement, ki boost to movement, slow fall, high jump, high DEX to Init, and likely high Acrobatics and possibly AC (at least with a ki point boost) allows them to maneuver into position much more quickly within the enemies' ranks. "Not as fast as magic" says the peanut gallery, but I'm going to focus on what your existing monk can do not why she should cut her own throat. In a game I run, the main fighter's a monk and he can get way inside the bad guys' ranks (like, to the caster they're protecting) way faster than all the heavy-armor guys can; he tries to be in back of the baddies first round whenever he can. Besides providing direct threat and distraction, this sets up for effective use of the next two tactics.


Monks can replace any attack in a flurry with trips, sunders, and disarms. This provides a lot of opportunities to trip. You can expand your reach range with Combat Patrol or Lunge. Besides Improved Trip, Agile Maneuvers can boost your CMB if your DEX > STR and Fury's Fall can add it on top of it.

I've had many a combat where the party monk keeps a guy on the ground and/or stunned and everyone gathers around for a good Rodney Kinging. Crawling and standing up are both bad moves so they have to attack from prone, suffering bad attack and AC penalties.

AoOs and Monk Specials

To control what people are doing, obviously stuff like Stunning Fist helps a lot. You can use this straight up or tie it to Combat Reflexes use with AoOs, since due to point 1 you can usually be wherever you wan tto be on the battlefield. You can apply stunning fist to weapons using Cornugon Strike, and also your Improved Unarmed Strike unlocks a lot of styles and style feats - like Scorpion Style (a monk bonus feat I might add), where you hit someone and reduce their speed to 5'. There's a lot of other style feats that either stand alone or proc off Stunning Fists that can be used to lock down opponents. Our monk took Ki Throw and that allows a pretty big reposition.


I've only been playing a monk in our newest campaign for a couple sessions but from the massive amount of research that I've read up on for Monk, battlefield control can be attained.

First off let's look at what the Monk's strengths are: Massive movement distance, multiple strike options in a single round (flurry of blows), stunning fist ability, and scaling AC bonuses.

Each of these strengths allow the Monk to be a scalpel on the battlefield, by engaging enemies one at a time and rendering them useless or impaired for a short time (if not indefinitely) with the Stunning fist strike. This can escalate from a stunned opponent for 1 round up to permanently blind or deaf.

So the battle starts, our monk targets the NPC capable of causing the most disruption. (either the opposing wizard as magic truly does dominate battlefield control, or the knight with the bastard sword dealing twice the damage of anyone else.)

In a single move with increased move speed he can reach that target and perform a combat maneuver to grapple the wizard to prevent casting or disarm the knight with the bastard sword. Next round he pumps out a flurry of blows with a stunning fist strike to incapacitate the enemy.

At this point our Monk can either leave his target and assist an ally, or continue to pummel his target until it's no longer a threat to the party.

Boom, pinpoint battlefield controller. Not nearly as effective as a magical pit or a wall of stone, but if played correctly can be just as influential.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ AC is not a strength of the monk class; monks tend to be low-AC characters because of their lack of armor. Their scaling AC bonuses only partially mitigate the loss of armor; they don’t represent an advantage. A single attack allows grappling, but is insufficient to prevent spell casting, and disarming will probably fail because any knight worth his salt has at least one locked gauntlet (then again, any knight worth his salt isn’t wasting his time with a bastard sword). Stunning Fist has a low DC, multiple failure modes, and is frequently a sought-after immunity. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Nov 18, 2015 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Loss of armor does not mean loss of armor bonus to AC. Unless we are pretending that Armored bracers, and spells like Mage Armor do not exist. As for disarming, locked gauntlets are a rare sight, maybe not in 3.5 which is what you are use to, but in pathfinder things are a bit different. The problem with disarming is that after level 16+ the creatures you face do not have weapons that you can disarm. Stunning fist is based off of wisdom, if you are not building that, you are probably doing something wrong. I've seen reach trip monks, ranged disarm monks, and grapple monks all be very effective \$\endgroup\$
    – DanceSC
    Feb 29, 2016 at 2:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .