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I have a concept for a "fat" yet beefy character with focus on brawling/hand-to-hand combat and possibly quarterstaff combat. The character is a member of a monastery, abbey, or religious order, with a distinct European monk feel. I'd like to multi-class him with Cleric. The character is basically Friar Tuck from the Robin Hood legends.

The obvious class choice for this character would be Monk, both for RP reasons and mechanics. The Monk's focus on hand-to-hand combat and quarterstaff usage would be perfect. Also, his use of Wisdom will synergize nicely with Cleric. Unfortunately, the Monk's Dex focus ruins the concept of the beefy but slow brawler.

How could I make this character concept work? Is there any way to have a strength-based Monk? Are there any other classes which would work better for a strength-based brawler (maybe Fighter)?

I'm definitely more into the role-playing aspects of the game as opposed to optimization, so I'm willing to sacrifice some power for roleplay possibilities, as long as a character plays at least decent.

Also, if worst comes to worst I will sacrifice my beefy character idea for a traditional Dex based Monk design.

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If you're allowed to use variant human, take the Magic Initiate feat, choose Druid as the class, and take Shillelagh as one of your cantrip selections. Shillelagh lets you use your Wisdom Modifier for attack rolls with a Quarterstaff or similar weapon. (Note though this won't apply to your unarmed strikes unless your DM rules it that way.)

This also nets you one other Druid cantrip, and a first level Druid spell once per day. For Friar Tuck, may I suggest Goodberry to make Goodberry Wine.

Another thing to note, is that a Monk, while able to use Dex for Unarmed Strikes and Quarterstaff strikes, does not have to and may instead use Strength for both attack and damage rolls.

Keep in mind, this will leave you with lower AC than usual if you don't wear armour, and if you do wear armour you will lose out on your Martial Arts and Unarmoured Defense features.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm thinking I'll probably go with a traditional Dex based Monk. I just remembered that I'll need at least 13 Dex anyway to multi-class Cleric, which I was hoping to do early game (my party doesn't have a good healer). \$\endgroup\$ – user23473 Dec 23 '16 at 20:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ You could always go with just straight Cleric then, choosing a thematic domain, and wielding a Quarterstaff anyways. \$\endgroup\$ – Randomorph Dec 23 '16 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user23473 You don't need 13 dex for cleric, you need 13 wis (plus the Ability Score Minimum for the class you're leaving behind, per page 163). The rules for Ability Score Improvements can be found in any class as a level 4 ability. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Dec 23 '16 at 22:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon He only needs 13 Wis for the Cleric, but you also need 13 Dex to multiclass out of Monk. \$\endgroup\$ – diego Dec 24 '16 at 4:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder from PHB p. 163: "To qualify for a new class, you must meet the ability score prerequisites for both your current class and your new one..." \$\endgroup\$ – Randomorph Dec 25 '16 at 15:15
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Although "friar" is related to monasticism, the Monk class is clearly mostly related to Asian fighting-monk tropes, not European/British ones as in Robin Hood. I don't think Monk really best represents this character idea, and there's no good reason to be constrained by it.

At first, I was thinking Fighter — it would let you focus on Strength and Constitution, and the Battlemaster archetype gives some nice tricks which would lend themselves nicely to the quarterstaff (along with Great Weapon Fighting, for higher damage with that weapon). But then I remembered that the quarterstaff thing was Little John's schtick. Friar Tuck is actually generally portrayed as fighting with a sword.

If quarterstaff is what you meant anyway, definitely do look at Fighter, either with a Cleric multiclass (I guess Nature domain would be flavorful) or simply the Acolyte background. (Like many 5E classes, the goodies in the straight fighter class keep on coming every level.) The extra ability score increases let you pump up those physical ability scores and still have a respectable 13 or 14 Wisdom — or grab the Polearm Master feat.

Otherwise, following my refreshed memory of the character: try Barbarian. You don't need to go for the whole Barbarian trope, but Tuck had a reputation for a temper, and why not use a class that plays that up? Plus, gives you an excuse to wear a friar's robes instead of armor without putting yourself at a great disadvantage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ And "friars", while organized on monastic lines, were explicitly differentiated from European monks by their mission to travel the lands preaching the word of God. Pretty much has to be a cleric on that front. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Apr 10 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jamesb I cetainly wouldn't think so \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm May 4 at 0:04
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A single-class Cleric should be fine

You don't need multiclassing for the Friar Tuck-type character. His wisdom is high, he is strong and has decent constitution. The "Creating a Cleric" chapter in the PHB (p.57) describes exactly that ability combination for a quick build:

You can make a cleric quickly by following these suggestions. First, Wisdom should be your highest ability score, followed by Strength or Constitution. Second, choose the acolyte background.

It is naturally dexterity would be his weak point.

In 5th edition clerics are no more heal/buff machines, they have more diversity. Your cleric will be proficient with simple weapons including Quarterstaff. You can take the "Tavern brawler" feat on 4th level:

Tavern Brawler
Accustomed to rough-and-tumble fighting using whatever weapons happen to be at hand, you gain the following benefits:

  • Increase your Strength or Constitution score by 1
  • You are proficient with improvised weapons
  • Your unarmed strike uses a d4 for damage
  • When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or an improvised weapon on your turn, you can use a bonus action to attempt to grapple the target

A cleric can be a decent melee fighter. He might be proficient with martial weapons as well, providing you will take a proper domain (e.g. Tempest).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry it took so long to get back to you! Your idea seems to make sense, with one exception: wouldn't I be required to use armor in order to have a decent AC, especially if my Dex is low? \$\endgroup\$ – user23473 Mar 14 '17 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user23473 if you want high AC, yes, without any kind of unarmored defence you do need armor \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Mar 15 '17 at 10:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmmm...too bad. I've heard a lot about a homebrew 'Pugilist' class recently, I wish WotC would do something similar. \$\endgroup\$ – user23473 Mar 22 '17 at 12:22
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I know this question is old, but I've often considered STR-based monks, so here's my take on it (note that I'm deliberately focusing on the "STR based monk" aspect of this character concept rather than challenging the notion that this character could be something other than a monk, since the other answers already do that quite well and I wanted to address the STR based monk aspect):

AC is the problem

Because monks can't use armour without sacrificing various class features like Martial Arts and Unarmored Movement (as pointed out in other answers), you need decent DEX in order to have decent AC (along with WIS, although that's not directly in competition with STR in this case).

This is what makes DEX their primary stat (which is also why the multiclass requirement includes 13 DEX), and even though technically you can use STR for attacks, that's clearly not how they were designed given the multiclass requirement and how their Unarmored Defense feature works.

So your options are go for a STR based monk anyway and just suffer low AC (unless you can find some Bracers of Defense or something), or find a way around the AC problem.

Solutions to the AC problem

One way is to pick the Tortle race. Since they have an AC of 17 due to their shell, they can be a STR based monk that can have a decent AC without needing a good DEX (and since Tortle's get a +2 bonus to STR and a +1 bonus to WIS, for Ki save DC, they make ideal STR based monks). Of course, last I checked, Friar Tuck wasn't a Tortle, so that won't help in this specific case...

The only other way is homebrew. Going with a homebrew monk archetype that changes the way AC from Unarmored Defense is calculated would solve this problem, but has the added problem of being homebrew. As an example, Way of the Closed Fist on D&DBeyond (there are two versions, I'd recommend the "Direct" version as it is less complicated) specifically says you can use STR instead of WIS to calculated your Unarmored Defense.

Alternatively, if you're into making homebrew, make your own archetype that does this (I made a Way of the Sumo, not published on the internet anywhere, that has STR based monks in mind, but in my case I allowed Unarmored Defense to use CON instead of DEX). But again, this is all homebrew and thus requires your DM's approval and is definitely not legal for Adventure's League (in case that's relevant).

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for friar tuck as a tortle. It even gives you that portly build. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Jun 15 '18 at 16:31
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Thematically and mechanically some levels in Barbarian might be a good fit: As a friar he is a layperson (and therefore not an ordained cleric), and the Barbarian's unarmored AC formula would give you your desired beefiness while jaunting around in a robe. Rage can be flavored as coming from religious fervor while in the heat of battle.

Friar Tuck's background specifically has him being an expelled monk-in-training, so maybe a few levels in (Drunken Master?) Monk and the rest as an Ancestral Guardian or Zealot Barbarian would do the trick.

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An oddball multi-class can fit your concept

Rather than go straight up with the Drunken Master Monk (XGtE) build, which seems a good fit for your drunkard Friar Tuck as a character concept (with a modest bit of re-skinning, concept wise1), you can use a Multi-class option. It won't be optimized, but it will have some features that you can use to be both deceptively agile and deceptively strong and thus effective as a brawler.

How could I make this character concept work?

Let's look at your criteria

I'm definitely more into the role-playing aspects of the game as opposed to optimization, so I'm willing to sacrifice some power for roleplay possibilities, as long as a character plays at least decent.

And addressing this concern

Unfortunately, the Monk's Dex focus ruins the concept of the beefy but slow brawler.

Who says Friar Tuck was slow? He's deceptively quick even if he looks like a big beefy cleric. (For a cinematic reference, see John Belushi doing back handsprings in the first Blues Brothers movie (40 seconds into that video clip)).

Is there any way to have a strength-based Monk?

You don't need to be strength-based, but you do need to be strong enough.

Are there any other classes which would work better for a strength-based brawler (maybe Fighter)?

Fighter would be fine if there was a Fighter Class feature that made an unarmed / unarmored fighting style effective: so far in this edition there is not. We won't go with brute strength; we'll be a little tricksy in how we achieve your objectives.

I'm definitely more into the role-playing aspects of the game as opposed to optimization, so I'm willing to sacrifice some power for roleplay possibilities, as long as a character plays at least decent.

I recommend the following approach since optimization isn't the aim, and your role play riffs on you appearing to be a big beefy brawler but you use a little deception to present that appearance. (The Merry Men used disguise and subterfuge as standard tools of their trade).

  1. Go Straight Human.

    Using point buy to generate stats ... 15 13 13 13 11 8 8 and adding +1 to each stat yields

    S 14(13+1) D 14(13+1) C 12(11+1) I 9(8+1) W 16(15+1) Ch 9(8+1)

    Whatever other Skill proficiency choices you make, be sure to take Athletics.

  2. Start with 1 level in Monk.
    Why? Quarterstaff. I have found that at low monk levels that bonus action attack is very handy. Your AC is 15 from Wisdom and Dexterity bonuses. Not great, but a good start.

  3. Add 1 level in Rogue
    Why? Expertise
    You want expertise in Athletics to double your Proficiency with that 14 Strength. You also get another skill proficiency. You also open up some other features like cunning action if later on you want to add one more layer of rogue.

  4. Feed in levels with Cleric, Trickery Domain.

    Friar Tuck is deceptively quick, even though he looks like a beefy brawler. Domain Spells include:

Charm Person; Disguise Self.

Handy for a variety of situations where the player/party is trying to get past guards/soldiers/trouble. Deception or persuasion needs to have been taken as a proficiency (suggest either Criminal or Charlatan as the background2) to add your proficiency bonus to those Charisma checks. It won't be optimized for these "face" skills, but each + will help. If you and your party set up circumstances that attract advantage you can sometimes get advantage on a Deception roll (depends on how effective your DM thinks it is).

Mirror Image; Pass without trace

Mirror Image renders AC moot for a few rounds, since the enemy hits "not you" three times. Very handy. Pass Without Trace provides some "get out of town" chances for the whole party - this is what the Merry Men often did in running away into the forest.

Blink, Dispel Magic

They can't hit what just blinked away (AC mitigation); Dispel Magic helps get your mates out of trouble.

Dimension Door, Polymorph

More ways to "not be there when they try to hit me" or to set up the case of "Haha, try fighting a gorilla, pal!"

A word on the Athletics Check for Grappling and Shoving.

At level 2, with that Rogue level's Expertise put into Athletics, you get +2 +2 +2 for a grand total to +6 to your Athletics check. That's equivalent to an 18 STR Fighter with Athletics proficiency.

At level 5 (total) you get +2 +3 +3: for a grand total to +8 to your Athletics check. That's equivalent to a Fighter at level 5 with a 20 Strength. Note: if you cast the guidance cantrip on yourself before you try an athletics check, you get an additional +1d4 added to that. :)

  • Between the need for a boost in Charisma checks mentioned abovve, and Athletics checks, Guidance becomes a "must" cantrip for this character concept when you get your first level of Cleric. As an added benefit when that first level of cleric comes along, Trickery gives you another boon to help your party, particularly if you are all running a "Merry Men" themed group. If you've taken the Criminal background, you have stealth proficiency. You can help out another party member with ...
    • Blessing of the Trickster
      Starting when you choose this domain at 1st level, you can use your action to touch a willing creature other than yourself to give it advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks. This blessing lasts for 1 hour or until you use this feature again . (PHB, Trickery Domain)

If you are lucky with loot, a few items to help this character concept

A Magic Item that makes this work even better is Gauntlets of Ogre Strength, or any of the Giant Strength belts... if you can get your hands on them.

A few other good items for this build, if you can acquire them.

  1. Displacer Cloak (gives enemy disadvantage on attacks);

  2. Bracers of Defense (+2 defense when not wearing armor),

  3. Ring of protection.

  4. A Ring of Spell Storing with all five slots dedicated to Shield of Faith would allow frequent use of that spell to buff up your defense, or an ally.

ASI recommendation: boosting Wisdom at the first ASI

Spell DC and AC are both boosted at level 4 (PC level 6) I'd suggest that the following ASI also be Wisdom (PC level 10) which boosts your spell DC as well as increase your armor class to 20.
That said, applying it to Dexterity may be needed for a little more "to hit" and for those Dexterity saving throws that crop up with some frequency. Since you are already proficient, being a Monk first, that may not be as critical. If by level 10 you have raised cleric to 8, the spell DC boost makes your Save DC tougher on a wide variety of spells that can confound the enemy.

Spell selection: Bless and Shield of Faith are important to this approach.

While you need to tailor your spells 'prepared' to your group, Bless is your money maker for both you and your allies: it boosts chances to hit and boosts saves. Shield of Faith assists with your AC issues, or for a tanky ally/front liner.

You will eventually need to boost Constitution with an ASI.

You can make the argument that you ought to start with 14 Con and 12 Str (you won't be wearing armor, encumbrance isn't an issue) to make your concentration checks for Bless and Shield of Faith easier to pass. If you do that, you sacrifice a little of the athletic/brawler theme you are looking for. It's a trade off ... pick either one.

Depending on how many levels up this game goes, you can:

Add another level of Monk to get a few ki points and more movement, evasion, dash options (The Friar chuckles as he taunts his foes "Betcha didn't think I was that quick!") to try and avoid hits ...
or
add another level in Rogue to use Disengage as your Cunning Action. If you are not there, you can't be hit. If they chase you they might give allies a chance for Opportunity Attack.

What appears to be a big and beefy oaf, a hard drinking cleric ... is a bit more than he appears.

You aren't smart, you aren't handsome, and you appear to be a big beefy drunk. Looks can be deceiving, and you are harder to hit than it looks.

Role: a combination of support, brawler, and trickster (though not optimized with high Charisma) who is surprisingly effective at a variety of Athletic moves, and whose spells make the party better. What's more, in the brawler theme, you have an uncommon aptitude for knocking people on their butts (Shove/Prone) so that your allies can hit them with advantage. You'll now and again be able to shove a foe out of a window, or off of a cliff.


1 @stwlam points out that Drunken Master concept is originally based on the Jackie Chan martial arts/comedy films rather than a drunkard Catholic monk, however, you can make it fit given your emphasis, as stated, on the roleplay side. I'd still use some Trickery Cleric with the Drunken Monk to meet your cleric MC design point as well.

2 If using Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, Faction Agent or Urban Bounty Hunter offer Deception as a proficiency ... or you can make a custom background per PHB p. 127.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The Drunken Master concept is based on the Jackie Chan martial arts/comedy films rather than a drunkard Catholic monk. \$\endgroup\$ – stwlam Jun 15 '18 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @stwlam I am aware of that, but you can make it fit a drunken friar just fine if you use a little imagination. (And I'd still consider using some Trickery Cleric) ... see also his last sentence. Also, if worst comes to worst I will sacrifice my beefy character idea for a traditional Dex based Monk design \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 15 '18 at 18:34

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