If someone makes a monk (no judgement!) and is going the pacifist route via Vow of Peace, do they need to have taken Holy Subdual to avoid dealing the extra holy damage as lethal damage, or does the monk's built-in ability to deal subdual damage with unarmed attacks automatically work on the holy damage added via Sanctify Ki Strike and Holy Ki Strike?

Follow-up: If the answer is "yes," do monks need to take subduing strike or do they already qualify from their monk ability to do nonlethal damage with no penalty using unarmed strikes?


2 Answers 2


Sanctify Ki Strike applies a straight damage bonus to your attacks; it does not affect the type of that damage in any way. So if you were dealing nonlethal bludgeoning damage (e.g. unarmed strike), you are now dealing slightly more nonlethal bludgeoning damage.

The bonus holy damage from Holy Ki Strike is the same as bonus fire damage from a flaming weapon, which... RAW, your weapon deals nonlethal damage, and the extra holy damage is still part of your weapon’s damage, so it would be nonlethal too, in both cases. But that one is worth running past a DM. There’s really not anything wrong with nonlethal holy damage or nonlethal fire damage (there are even explicit cases of each), but a lot of people find it weird and nix it. But, officially, without a statement in Holy Ki Strike saying “this damage is always lethal,” the choice to use your weapon to deal nonlethal damage would apply to the extra holy damage as well.

The other issue here is that the Holy Subdual feat makes no sense. The bonus damage from smite definitely can be made nonlethal just by choosing to deal nonlethal damage with your weapon (similar wording to Sanctify Ki Strike), and the bonus damage from a holy weapon, RAW at least, should too (similar wording to Holy Ki Strike). So clearly the authors of Book of Exalted Deeds thought these things would, by default, always be lethal. They thought wrong, at least in the case of smite and really also in the case of holy, but nonetheless there it is, in the book. Which isn’t so surprising—Book of Exalted Deeds is a terrible book, and its authors thought a whole lot of things that were completely untrue. For example, the book claims using poison is evil—a position taken by no other book in the entire edition (and completely nonsensical when you consider things like Always-Good couatls and their natural poison).

On which note, I want to address another of the many failings in Book of Exalted Deeds—the vows. The vows are poor fits for the system, conceptually, and extremely poor fits for the system, as far as execution is concerned. Vow of Peace and Vow of Nonviolence, in particular. Please run this character past the entire group (not just the DM) before playing it. This character completely changes the premise and dynamic of the game, for himself and also for the entire party, since the vows affect others. I, for one, would object strongly to having that sprung on me (and have, in the past, dropped out of games in which another player had gone a similar route). D&D 3.5e is not a good choice of system for this kind of character, and the presence of this character could very well ruin the game not just for you, but for everyone else as well. (Judging Vow of Peace/pacifism, not monk.)

For more on this:

  • \$\begingroup\$ Extra damage tacked on is not part of your weapon damage. For example, it is not multiplied in a critical strike as your weapon damage is. Here's another example: If you hit a monster with a slashing weapon that has 10/bludgeon damage reduction, but your slashing weapon is a fire sword, 10 damage will be taken off the physical damage of your sword. However, the monster will still take the full fire damage unless it has energy resistance. This is just like how wizards (without a BoED feat) cant make their fireball do nonlethal damage, nor can warlocks make their eldritch blasts do nonlethal. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 11, 2017 at 1:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also appreciate that you might not like the character I'm talking about, but you frankly know nothing about the game we are playing. The question isn't your opinion about pacifism monks in D&D, it's about application of rules. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 11, 2017 at 1:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @WannabeWarlock 1. [citation needed]. Seriously, I would love to see actual explicit rules on the subject, but I’m almost certain they don’t exist. Your examples fail because no bonus damage dice gets multiplied on a crit (even, say, sneak attack, which definitely takes on the damage type and lethal-or-not properties of the rest of your damage, barring its own explicit exception in the latter case), and no fire damage is reduced by DR because DR has nothing to do with energy damage. 2. I know you are playing 3.5, which is enough for me to have the strong opinion that this is a mistake. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 11, 2017 at 1:36
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @WannabeWarlock Bah, comments are too short and I don’t like how the space rendered that second bit. I hope you’ll forgive the terseness. The reason that I am not going to just let you do you is because you are not the only person reading. We answer questions here not just for the person asking, but also for posterity. Others considering the idea (which is a fine idea in and of itself) may not be aware of how poorly 3.5 handles it. In your own case, your question does not indicate that you have table buy-in—which could be a very considerable problem if you do not. Hence the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 11, 2017 at 2:54

Upon reading more carefully, it appears that the monk's unarmed strike does in fact become a "holy weapon" which would necessitate using Holy Subdual. As for the Subduing Strike, it suck but monks do not get it. They can do subdual damage with unarmed strikes without the feat without taking the -4 penalty, but only for unarmed strikes while the feat applies to all weapons. A monk trying to get the extra holy damage would need both feats if he wanted to remain a pacifist.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Weapons can deal nonlethal damage; not saying your conclusion is wrong, just saying your evidence is incomplete. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 10, 2017 at 12:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I edited my statement -- I meant they cannot do nonlethal damage without a -4 penalty to their attack except with unarmed combat. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 11, 2017 at 1:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, now I understand what you mean. A little hard to read there. Ultimately, yes, monks do not already have Subduing Strike; even if they could deal nonlethal damage with all weapons, they still wouldn’t have the feat, technically, so strictly-speaking a monk would still have to take the feat if he needed to meet a prerequisite of having it (the same way having a +2 bonus to Will doesn’t mean you have the Iron Will feat). But the Holy Subdual feat is still redundant in this case (and really, in most cases). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 11, 2017 at 1:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan The only thing I can find is from BoED. So if the player takes the view that it's making up new rules that don't exist with the holy damage, then it would make them redundant. The implication in the rule as-stated, though, might make it hard to convince people that it was unnecessary. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 11, 2017 at 5:19

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