Thursday, April 22, 2010

Monks: Who got Eastern Philosophy in my Western European Setting?

Personally, I always had a soft spot in my adventuring heart for the monk. Sure D&D was, for the most part, based on Western European medieval society, but there was always something about a character that had a little bit of everything that seemed self-sufficient to me. 

I've played enough D&D to know that there is always a place in the party for a Jack-of-all-Trades. Someone that can fill gaps and step into more than one role, even if it is at a reduced skill level. 

I like the fact that he doesn't rely on weapons and armor, just in case he were to, oh I don't know, get dropped into the dungeon of a group of slave lords with no equipment. I like that he can do a bit of healing, even if it's only to himself. As a back up thief, he can do the most commonly used skills: Open Lock, Find/Remove Traps, Move Silent, Hide in Shadows, Hear Noise and Climb Walls. As a fighter, he can deal some damage and dodge some blows and move quickly enough to fill holes in the lines. He's like the Home Town Buffet of the D&D world. He's a good smorgasbord of abilities, without being too filling.

However, what I don't like about the monk is that he is a kung-fu master in medieval England! That just rubs me, and I believe a lot of other, the wrong way. Every other class seems to conform to a uniform genre. Classic literature types of personalities. And then Jackie Chan steps from the shadows and ruins the mood.

It was always a struggle to shoehorn a monk into a typical D&D game and make it seem "realistic". Sure, it was always the "traveler from a distant land" type of background, but that got old real fast, and they were never really accepted into the party.

Another aspect of the Monk that I both loved and hated at the same time was level advancement. Once a monk reached a certain level (8th to be exact), the character must then challenge and defeat one of the few masters at that level or lose experience. While I like the idea of the battle for supremacy, no other character has to do anything like that. So if the DM is feeling a bit stingy or doesn't feel like doing a side quest, the monk character is sorta out of luck.

Does an Eastern based character concept belong in a generally Western European fantasy setting?
Is there a way to make this a more Western character concept or is it too "Kwai Chang Caine"?
Does it ruin the mood non-Oriental Adventures games or can it be accepted?


  1. The way I've done it is to mix in some 'Cistercian Order by way of Byzantium' flavor with the Eastern philosophy, in a setting that itself mix-and-matches cultures a smidgen, so it isn't such a 1-to-1 analogy with Europe.

  2. In 3.5 D&D I reflavored the monk as a western style prizefighter trained as part of a sorta mystic gladiatorial tradition. I altered just a few abilities a smidge and the Order of the Fist was born.

    I like the monk too, but hate the flavor.

  3. I've been blogging about my love-hate relationship with monks since I started with RPG blogging. I don't know a single player that doesn't have some sort of problem with the class.

    Back to your gripe: have you considered reflavouring your monk? Europe has a rich history of martial arts, some imported, some home grown.

    - j

  4. I came up with a more Europeanized take on the Monk a while ago, with mostly emphasis on their barehanded fighting skills. You can check it out here:

  5. Why should a campaign be "medieval England?" The monks in my campaign are beer-brewing martial artists, more like a more fit friar tuck than Kwai Chang Kane.

  6. @Trey: When I started playing D&D, it had that flavor to it and I still see it that way for some reason.