So, my goal here is to have my character hit the Fist of the Forest Prestige class by 6 from a Monk start. This class requires a +4 BAB to start out. This means if I stick 100% monk I won't get that BAB until 6 getting me to my Prestige class 1 level later than I want. What are the best options/benefits I can get for a single level splash that gives full BAB? The focus if my build is to maximize damage + survivability. Main stats are CON -> STR and then DEX + WIS.

I was originally looking at Fighter for the bonus feats. I was really excited about this and the Ascetic Fighter Feat... until I found out that it was just a homebrew feat. I then found the Rokugan Ninja class that would give me a useful level of sneak attack. So far these seem like the only good options I have but I'm sure there are others.

Basically, my question is What 1 level dip into any class would give me the most out of it when paired with a level 4 Monk that also has full BAB when I am going for a tanky damage build?

Alternatively, if you can give me a good unarmed build that gives me at least 2 levels in monk and 4 BAB by level 5, I'm willing to listen also.

NOTE: Psionics won't be allowed in this build.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If Rokugan--a 3rd-party D&D, 3rd Edition source--is available, does this mean any Dungeons and Dragons 3.X source is acceptable? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 23, 2014 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Yes although the source is good to know so I can find access to it if I don't currently. \$\endgroup\$
    – dphil
    Oct 23, 2014 at 19:30
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Is Monk 4 non-negotiable? Monk 3 and 4 offer very little of worth or merit. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 23, 2014 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan It could potentially be negotiable. I like the save bonuses and the Ki strike though. If it's worth the tradeoff I suppose. \$\endgroup\$
    – dphil
    Oct 23, 2014 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also like the unarmed progression as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – dphil
    Oct 23, 2014 at 22:19

3 Answers 3


First, it must be said: monk is a weak class. The best number of monk levels you can have is zero, and unarmed swordsage would be literally strictly-superior. I am assuming, per the question, that the first two monk levels are set in stone, but if they are not, I would strongly consider alternatives.

For a quick run-down...

Monk 1 is a fairly solid level

You get two bonus feats (Improved Unarmed Strike and one other), great saves, and Wis-to-AC. The HP, BAB, skills, and proficiencies are all mediocre, but oh well, they’re not exactly atrocious either. Flurry of Blows... well, it’s optional, so you can always opt to not use it.

Two bonus feats in one level is worth a fair bit, so cool.

Monk 2 is... OK enough

Evasion is pretty good, another level of all-good saves is solid, and hey, yet another bonus feat. You can do better but it’s not awful. If you aren’t using sane multiclassing rules for BAB (read: fractional), the BAB’s also as good as you’re gonna get. So yay.

Monk 3 and 4 are just bad

Still Mind is a small bonus to saves against only a single school of magic. It doesn’t even cover all mind-affecting things. There’s a reasonably good chance that you will forget you have this bonus when the time comes to roll a save it works on.

Fast Movement is a little better; you’ll probably remember you have it, anyway. But it’s still not great; it is not something that’s going to be particularly relevant most days, since you typically want to stay with your party and rarely are going to need more than 30 but less than 45 feet of movement in combat.

Ki Strike is OK enough, except you need magic bonuses to your unarmed strikes anyway. So you are going to have an item that obviates this class feature. The better option is necklace of natural attacksSS; a +1 amulet of mighty fists is ridiculously overpriced, but will cover your need for magic damage.

Slow Fall is just insulting.

The unarmed strike damage improvement works out to an average of +1 damage. You can do better.


So, what to take instead of those levels of monk?


Cleric is almost-certainly the best single-level dip in the game. Won’t improve your HP or BAB, but it will give you fairly-good saves, and more importantly a couple of spells and the right to pick a couple of Domains. This is a big deal.

The best choice for you is to take the Travel Domain, and then swap it for Travel Devotion.CC This just about instantly solves your mobility issues, as it allows swift-action movement for a whole minute each day, with additional minutes gained by burning Turn Undead uses. A Cha of 12 is sufficient to get 3 minutes of this every day. If you have low Charisma, or just want to make sure you always have enough Turn Undead uses, you could just take the Undeath Domain to get Extra Turning.

Other solid options include the fantastic Time Domain, for Improved Initiative, a solid feat in its own right that is also often required for things. Along those lines, the Darkness or Shadow Domains get Blind-Fight, which is kind of mediocre but is another common requirement. War gives Weapon Focus, and deities who favor unarmed strikes exist, but I would only do that if I were eyeing some things that require Weapon Focus, as the feat is quite poor.

For non-feat options, you could do a whole lot worse than the Magic Domain; a single level in cleric paired with the Magic Domain means you get to use every single cleric and sorcerer/wizard wand in the game, with no Use Magic Device check. That is really nice, particularly on a character that isn’t going to get UMD in-class or have high Charisma.

Other meaningful DevotionsCC include Animal (flight! limited, sure, but still!), Law (attack bonuses; you need them), and Knowledge (you probably won’t have great Int, but it’s a minimum of +1 to attack and damage no matter what you roll, and it’s not super-hard to get +2 or +3). Knowledge Devotion is so good that it’s worth considering being a cloistered clericUA just to get it. Under fractional BAB, Monk 2/Cloistered Cleric 1 has +2.0 BAB, making it a good time to start taking +1.0 BAB classes.


Two levels of paladin gets you Divine Grace, which you shouldn’t care about in the least since you should have minimal Charisma, but the Serenity featDC allows you to switch Divine Grace to Wisdom, and then all of a sudden it matters a whole lot. It also swaps other paladin class features; Smite Evil 1/day isn’t impressive, but you’ll have it and it will use Wisdom instead of Charisma.

Really, I only recommend this route if you’re going high-Wisdom, which your question indicates you are not. If you change that, I also recommend Intuitive AttackBoED as that will reduce your need for Strength; it functions like Weapon Finesse, but for Wisdom instead of Dexterity and for simple weapons (including unarmed strikes) rather than light ones.

And the problem with this is that you already need two feats (Great Fortitude and Power Attack) by 5th level in order to qualify for fist of the forest, and paladin wants another two feats. Non-humans only get two feats by 5th unless they have flaws,UA which means you can’t actually take Intuitive Attack and Serenity until later. Being human helps (you can get one of them) and flaws eliminate the problem, but if those aren’t options, those paladin levels don’t do a lot for you until 6th or even 9th.

Psychic WarriorXPH

Another ¾ BAB class, sadly, but this one is a powerhouse. The first two levels have bonus feats from the fighter list, or any Psionic feat, so that’s a ton of options. More importantly, you get some powers, including the excellent expansion, and if you really want to, you can take Monastic TrainingEbCS (psychic warrior) and TashalatoraSoS to have psychic warrior progress your various monk class features. In fact, since neither feat requires levels in monk, you could replace monk entirely with this class.


Fist of the Forest requires a fair few skills, and they’re kind of ranger-y. Ranger has full BAB and 6+Int skills. It’s boring, but it’s thematic and it will help you out. I wouldn’t bother with more than one level, though. I’d try to avoid even that if I could.


OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Warblade has d12 HD, 4+Int skills, and a few maneuvers – which do excellent things for your mobility and versatility. Diamond Mind is excellent, as it is based on Concentration (which, obviously, uses Constitution), and Stone Dragon can do great things for that whole survivability thing. In particular, knowledge of a Strone Dragon maneuver can let you take Stone PowerToB instead of Power Attack, trading attack penalties for temp HP every round. That can seriously extend your HP, as you keep regaining temp HP.

Personal Suggestion

Dragon of the Stony Path

Assuming fractional BAB,

Monk 2/Warblade 1/Cloistered Cleric 1/Warblade +1/Fist of the Forest

Cloistered Cleric should definitely get Travel Devotion and Knowledge Devotion. For the third Domain, Magic and Time are strong contenders, as is Law Devotion. But Undeath Domain is probably the best choice, not because it’s particularly amazing, but because Extra Turning means you can dump Charisma and get 4 uses out of Travel Devotion in a day. Travel Devotion is fantastic.

Warblade is more interesting. That first level, I’d probably take stone bones, considering your goals, and sapphire nightmare blade to give your Constitution some offensive use. Douse the flames or leading the attack are my picks for the third maneuver, but either works. The stance is a toss-up too, but I favor bolstering voice or leading the charge.

Then, because you have a Stone Dragon maneuver, you can pick up Stone Power at 3rd level. This meets fist of the forest’s Power Attack requirement, and is decidedly more survival-oriented. It’s also just better when you aren’t wielding a two-handed weapon.

For the second warblade level, your Initiator Level is 3 or more, so you can take a 2nd-level maneuver. Plenty are good, but mountain hammer is more-or-less definitively the one you want to take. It’s good in combat, and great out of combat. Seriously, get mountain hammer.

Worth noting, if you have the flexibility to change the order of your classes, 1st level has some special features (maximized HD, quadrupled skill points) that monk does not make good usage of. Either of the other classes is better; warblade for HP or cleric for skills.

Zen Knight

Monk 2/Paladin 2/Warblade 1/Fist of the Forest

Using Serenity and Intuitive Attack to add Wisdom to all saving throws (twice to Will!) and to your attack rolls, as well as your AC of course. Warblade either at 3rd, so you can take Stone Power, or at 5th, so you can take mountain hammer. If retraining is allowed so you can swap out Power Attack for Stone Power once you have your warblade level, it’s far better at 5th. If not... ugh, that’s an unpleasant choice.

Remember the problems brought up in the paladin section about actually taking Intuitive Attack and Serenity while qualifying for fist of the forest.

But this basically isn’t worth it unless you are going all-in on your Wisdom score. Paladin does not add very much – not nearly as much as cleric, swordsage, or warblade – other than the opportunity to use Wisdom for almost everything you do.

Note that unarmed swordsage is so much better than monk here. It’s always true, but especially so in this case. Swordsages get Wis-to-AC, but can still wear light armor. It would also get you a bunch of maneuvers, potentially helping with the mobility issues you have because you don’t have Travel Devotion.

On which note, Monk 1/Cloistered Cleric 1 (assuming fractional BAB) is far better than Monk 2, and maybe even than Swordsage 2: you get Travel Devotion.

Monk 1/Paladin 4/Fist of the Forest

Only worth noting because Serenity means that Paladin 4’s Turn Undead is 3+Wis uses per day instead of 3+Cha uses. Then you can take Travel Devotion as a regular feat. Don’t really think it’s worth it, myself, unless you cannot use fractional BAB. Particularly since you already have issues getting all the feats together.

SAD Wisdom-sensei

Unarmed Swordsage 1/Paladin 2/Unarmed Swordsage +3/Fist of the Forest

Note that this build qualifies to take fist of the forest at 6, but doesn’t because Divine Grace and Insightful Strikes are yummy.

Intuitive Attack and Serenity are assumed. Again, accomplishing that as a non-human without flaws is problematic. At least here you can delay Great Fortitude until 6th, that helps. Also, swordsages really want Adaptive StyleToB...

This build gets Wisdom to AC (even while wearing light armor), all saves (twice to Will!), attack (with Intuitive Attack), and damage (when using a strike from the discipline chosen for Discipline Focus). Stone Dragon is a decent choice for Discipline Focus, as it will give you Weapon Focus (unarmed strike) as well as be a discipline you want to use often, but note that Stone Dragon has the unfortunate limitation of only being usable while standing on the ground. This becomes a serious problem at higher levels, when it becomes so crucial to get flying in order to engage foes.


  • BoEDBook of Exalted Deeds
  • CCComplete Champion
  • DCDragon Compendium
  • EbCSEberron Campaign Setting
  • SoSSecrets of Sarlona
  • SSSavage Species
  • ToBTome of Battle
  • UAUnearthed Arcana
  • XPHExpanded Psionics Handbook
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's probably worth mentioning that ascetic knight advanced unarmed strike with paladin levels, making that synergy even less sucky. Also, does swordsage synergize well? (I know it's very monky, but I don't remember the specific synergies) \$\endgroup\$ Oct 24, 2014 at 1:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton Sure, but with only 2 paladin levels, that’s a really dubious use of a feat; sure, Monk 2/Ascetic Knight 2 means Monk 4, i.e. a damage increase, but that’s +1 damage, i.e. not worth a feat. Swordsage is in a similar boat, in that you can take the unarmed swordsage variant, netting that unarmed damage boost, but it’s not full-BAB, and ultimately the better usage would be to replace monk with swordsage, not multiclass them. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 24, 2014 at 1:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I'm going to look into the details of this later tonight and see how well they mesh with my build. I probably should have noted my DM likely won't allow psionics. We never use them so I completely forgot they existed. \$\endgroup\$
    – dphil
    Oct 24, 2014 at 13:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ So... I skimmed through the build and REALLY liked some things in here and got excited and so looked closely instead of waiting. I like the Paladin idea because honestly, it makes me less MAD. With Divine Grace + Serenity, DEX becomes a complete dump stat for me (Tumble will still be strong with skill points). I don't like the Cleric idea since the 12 CHA requirement makes it slightly more MAD, but I think I need to look more into the Warblade as well. Very great answer though and accepted. So far looking Monk 2 + Paladin 2 + 1 unsure (likely Warblade). \$\endgroup\$
    – dphil
    Oct 24, 2014 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dphil You do not need 12 Cha, it just gets you an extra usage of Travel Devotion. A cleric dip still gets you two uses per day of it even with 8 Cha. And you could take the Undeath Domain to get get four uses per day, even with 8 Cha. Based on your description, it did not seem like you were favoring Wisdom very much, which is why I leaned away from paladin. If you are going to get a lot of Wisdom, Intuitive Attack from Book of Exalted Deeds is like Weapon Finesse, but for Wis instead of Dex, and for simple weapons rather than finesse-able ones. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 24, 2014 at 14:27

Check out Shou Disciple from Forgotten Realms - Unapproachable East. It's a 5 level class, full BAB, awesome buff to UA dmg, and you can take it at 4th going straight monk (+3BAB and Jump 8). I'm not sure it's worth all 5 levels, but has some real advantages at low levels.


This assumes you are not using Fractional BAB (pp 73 Unearthed Arcana), as most groups don't;


Barbarian is an excellent dip. You gain fast movement, some proficiencies, rage (which can be switched out for a better type like Whirling Frenzy, and stacks perfectly with Feral Trance), full BAB and d12 HD. Uncanny dodge if you double down.

That's the simple answer from the point of being a Monk 4 already.

It requires an alignment shift from Lawful, but I think that makes sense for a Fist of the Forest? They don't exactly strike me as the most ordered and plan-focused of organizations.

All Barbarians are Spirit Lion Barbarians, because they get Pounce instead of Fast Movement. If you have access to Complete Champion, that is. Otherwise, they are Wolf Totem Barbarians because it gives you free Improved Trip (UA).

Take It To 11

Monk is a 1 level dip, period, unless you're Passive Way (UA) and going for level 2 to get free Improved Trip and Evasion for some ungodly reason.

It is a dip only if you intend to wander around without armour, and have 16+ wis. Otherwise it is not worth a level.

Psychic Warrior gets access to Inertial Armour (Mage Armour) that counts as Unarmoured, Force Screen (Shield), Claws of the Wolf (hour duration natural weapons), Expansion (Enlarge Person on steroids), and very few power points to power all this. But that's fine, it just requires strategy. It is superior in all ways to monk, and there is no real reason to take any levels in monk unless your wis is 16+ with it on the table. Psywar 4/Barb 1/FoF+++ gets you max pp, rage, 4 BAB, and 2 bonus feats. It's a solid tanky hand to hand murderer.

Unarmed Swordsage is from Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords, as an alternate class feature to the standard Swordsage. It gives a bunch of pseudomagical abilities that are great (don't use the strikes, use the boosts and counters), wis to AC (at level 2), unarmed strike, lots of skillpoints, and a few other boosts(including the excellent Shadow Blade feat). Swordsage 4/Barb 1/FoFF++++ is probably going to be a hell of a lot more fun than Monk 4.

For that matter, there's nothing really wrong with Fighter 2/Barbarian 1/Ranger or Warblade 1/FoFF. It's the earliest entry, lets you dump wisdom entirely, and is arguably superior if you have someone to drop a friendly Mage Armour, Greater on you. You will probably want to pick up Swordsage after FotF in order to help out with mobility issues (Pounce aside, Sudden Leap is amazing) and to up your damage with the Shadow Blade feat, and then after that probably Psion/Psywar to be able to buff yourself with things like Expansion, Inertial Armour, etc.

This may all seem a bit excessive, but you're playing an unarmed melee character. That's probably the weakest archetype in all of DnD.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Monks and barbarians have an alignment conflict; doesn’t completely kill the option, but it bears mentioning as changing alignment is often non-trivial. Also, when I asked if Monk 4 was non-negotiable, the OP said he could consider alternatives to Monk 3 and 4, but it seems 1 and 2 are non-negotiable. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 24, 2014 at 13:22

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