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Monks don't hit very hard, but they hit a lot, which makes up for it. While you might fancy yourself a Batman-esque brawler, effortlessly shifting from target to target, you would only hit each target for a handful of damage each time. Are there any mechanical benefits to attacking multiple targets during the round rather than focusing all your attacks on one target?

I suppose it's the difference between being Single Target or AoE. You absolutely can spread out your damage if a situation calls for it, but if you can take out a target in one round, wouldn't that benefit your group more than drawing aggro on 4 targets?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Opportunity attacks \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman May 4 '16 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman that comes from movement, not attacks, but I think I see your point. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 4 '16 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Correct, there's not actual "aggro" in D&D, but even from a flavor standpoint, if I hit something, I feel I now have a higher chance of retaliation. I know my DM plays with a "Having been hit by you, the Orc is pissed and turns to you." @KorvinStarmast \$\endgroup\$ – KinnDwarf May 4 '16 at 22:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Been in a situation once where I -- playing a Monk-like martial artist -- was facing hordes of really, really weak undead (non-D&D skeletons of the brittle type that only took a handful of damage each). Being able to more or less reliably fell 6+ of them each round was... nice. ;-) The pictures in our minds were better still. Epic character moment, Jet Li style. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – DevSolar May 6 '16 at 7:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ultimately, I'm debating whether I should take the Mobile feat or the ASI. Since my Dex and Wis are both odd numbers, the ASI would create a noticeable upgrade across the board, while Mobile would just allow me to move around more with less encumbrance. While Mobile sounds fun, I think the benefits of the ASI can't be ignored. \$\endgroup\$ – KinnDwarf May 10 '16 at 15:23
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If we only think about dealing damage, you are correct that killing one target is better than damaging many targets. Spreading your damage out between four attackers causes the party to take damage from all four for the entire combat. Focusing on each one in turn will cause the damage to drop off throughout the fight.

The only real exception to this would be if you expect another party member to use an AoE effect that is not likely to kill its targets on its own. In that case, adding a little damage to each target may be beneficial.

With that said, there is more to the game than just damage. Making attacks against multiple enemies becomes useful if your attacks do something besides damage.

For a monk, the key abilities here are Stunning Strike and Open Hand Technique. Instead of thinking of yourself as generating damage, you think of yourself as handing out status effects. Unlike damage, status effects are extremely valuable to spread out.

The mobile feat is also worth looking into. You can use your extra attacks to "turn off" opportunity attacks, allowing you to disengage or to break through and attack a vulnerable target (like a spell caster).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I hadn't considered Crowd Control, and overall, I think you nailed it on the head. @KorvinStarmast made a good point, too, that it could depend on your position in attack order or party tactics as a whole. Perhaps a monk could hit multiple targets hoping to paralyzing or knock prone attackers that might kill an alley on their next turn. Buying time for an evasion or heal. \$\endgroup\$ – KinnDwarf May 4 '16 at 22:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Strangely, if you apply MMO concepts to this, it makes sense. Not everyone is about the "DPS". But of course, I'll take a group of dead monsters over prone monsters any day. \$\endgroup\$ – Nelson May 5 '16 at 1:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not just abilities but also certain weapons, such as dagger of venom, could add additional status affects to each attack. You could switch back and forth between using "armed" magic weapon attacks and "unarmed" Monk ability attacks like Open Hand Technique or Stunning Strike. \$\endgroup\$ – eyecosahedron May 10 '16 at 20:36
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Yes, there is a benefit, depending upon what the rest of the party is doing.

Example 1:

Your monk does some damage to three targets and is not playing solo. The rogue finishes off one of them, the fighter another, and the warlock's eldritch blast the last one. In each case, the single blow you, or one of the other characters, struck didn't provide enough damage for a killing blow, but thanks to the team effort you now have three dead enemies who are not attacking anyone since each enemy took two doses of damage in that turn.

Example 2:

There are two spell casters opposing the party. Monk hits and does damage to both. Both have to make concentration / constitution checks due to taking damage. (They are not guaranteed to fail, but at least there's a chance for their buffs/debuffs to be disrupted). If the monk (level and Ki dependent) stunned them both, then they are both out of the fight for a while. This allows the rest of the party to take on any other enemies.

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Aside from the tactical benefits of softening up enemies for your allies to cut down, you can spend Ki to stun multiple people, which could mean the difference between life and death. Also, monks are able to get the most attacks possible (aside from a 20th level fighter) in one turn at 5th-19th level, so you are the most efficient AoE melee damage dealer at your level. This can be useful for when you are in a confined space where your caster cannot use heavy damage blasting spells without hitting his allies.

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