D&D PHB: Fighter, Monk & Paladin

Ok, fighter time. I’m not sure there’s a lot of preamble necessary, as this is possibly the most archetypical of characters. Dude wears armor and fights with badass weapons. Done. We’ve already seen the basics in the basic rules. Fighting styles let you skew the fighter in your preferred direction (including archery, which is welcome). They pick up a second wind ability, reminiscent of 4e, but only for fighters, which seems a nice compromise.

They also get action surge, which grants one extra action, once per rest. This doesn’t increase until level 17 (where you can do it twice) so while it has the structure of a currency move, it’s really not one. They pick up an extra attack at level 5, and at level 9, get to reroll saving throws[1]. Pretty cool stuff, but clearly, there’s a lot more to be had in the subclass, the martial archetype (which, for those counting at home, are picked at 3 and get extra stuff at 7, 10, 15 and 18).

The archetype we’d seen previously, the champion, is pretty clearly the easy option. If you don’t want to fiddle with a lot of game mechanics, don’t want to worry about spells or currency, and just want to beat the crap out of stuff, this is the way to go. It may be the most straightforward class in the game.

This is in direct contrast to the Battle Master, which is one of the fiddliest (at least to set up). It’s got some little utility stuff – learn an artisan tool and study enemies to gauge their strength, but the real heart of it is the combat maneuvers and the superiority dice.

The superiority dice themselves start as d8s, but increase with level. You get 4 of them, and they refresh after a short of long rest, so fighters looking for some currency, this is it. These dice fuel the maneuvers – you start with 3 of them and gain more as you level up.

The maneuvers are combat effects which are akin to short feat chains in previous editions, but less potent than feats in 5e. They largely correspond to combat actions you might take, and let you spend a superiority die to help the roll. Precision Attack, for example, lets you add a superiority die to an attack roll, before or after you roll. Riposte lets you spend a die when something misses you to counterattack, and if you succeed, add the superiority die to your damage. Basically, you can combine these maneuvers to make the fighting style that suits your imagining of the character.

Notably, a few of the maneuvers will be familiar to fans of the 4e Warlord, including getting others to attack and granting temporary hit points[2]. This makes me a little sad, since it suggests we may not see the Warlord again, but it’s nice to have an options to hit those notes.

The last archetype, the eldritch knight is kind of a fascinating acknowledge of realities of play, since it more or less gets you the fighter/magic-user (sorry, wizard) without needing to delve into multiclassing. That’s delightful. It also has a few notes of the swordmage, with a bonded weapon and eldritch strikes. There’s also combat casting for cantrips (and later, real spells) and can teleport a little.

But mostly, they get spells. Wizard spells, prepared like a bard or sorcerer, capped at level 4, with some limits on what to can learn that skew the pool towards abjuration and evocation.

As much as I love this conceptually, I admit, I’m mentally asking myself how this compares to going multiclass fighter/wizard (or fighter/sorcerer). At 10/10 F/W (vs L20 F with Eldritch Knight) I have lost Teleportation and the ability to make a melee attack when I cast a spell. I’ve also lost ~20 hitpoint (10d10 vs 10d6).

But I’ve gained 5th level spells, the benefits of a different fighter archetype and the class and subclass benefits of whatever caster class I chose. That seems to be a lot more gains than losses.

Now, I can see the eldritch knight working if you really just want to cast spells in melee, but otherwise, I think I may be missing the real reasons to go with this subclass (besides the non-trivial benefit of reduced bookkeeping)

Man, I thought that was going to be  simple. I can now only imagine what the Monk has to offer.

The short answer is, “a ton”. The Monk has more fiddly bits then I will ever be able to list, but I’ll try to capture the high points.

The basic Monk abilities are Unarmored Defense (Unarmored AC is 10 + DEX + WIS) and Martial Arts (use dex instead of strength for attack and damage when unarmed or using monk weapons, but use your martial arts damage die instead). That adding dex to damage bit is a surprise to me, and offsets the fact that the first martial arts die is a d4. For a monk, d4 + DEX may well be better than d8 + STR.  The damage die starts at a d4 and caps out at a d10, so the monk is never going to be landing the big single hits (which is find, since she’ll probably be throwing a lot of punches).

At second (non-poaching) level, they gain a speed bump and Ki powers. Ki is the monk currency, starting at 2, and eventually increasing to 20, it recharges after a short or long rest, and can be spent to fuel moves like flurry of blows or step of the wind.

They subsequently pick up more of the monk trademark stuff – deflecting missiles (which is pretty cool), falling safely, making extra attacks, stunning and magical fists, immunity to things like charm, fear, poisons and disease. Better saving throws. Wall and Water Walking. Basically, all the awesome monk stuff you expect (except perhaps quivering palm, see below). Also, notably, nothing that particularly improves AC, which is probably good, because that might be too scary.

The monk subclass is the monastic tradition (taken at 3, benefits at 6, 11 and 17). and at this point, I would expect them to be a little thin, since the monk is awash in abilities. But no, they’re pretty cool too.

The way of the open hand is most reminiscent of the classic D&D monk. You get to add knockback and such to your attacks, heal yourself, do cool peaceful meditation and, ultimately, use the deadly quivering palm. So, y’know, badass.

The way of shadow pretty much comes out and says what’s it’s for: Ninjas. Well, and shadowdancers. But it’s basically all spending ki for darkness and concealment, teleporting between shadows, hiding like a ninja and taking opportunity attacks. Seriously, I think the only think it’s missing is a shuriken ability. It’s definitely very focused, but if that’s the focus you want (because ninja), it delivers.

The way of the four elements is of comparable complexity and construction to the fighter’s battle master archetype. Like the battle master, it is composed of numerous pieces (powers, called disciplines) which you pick and combine to make your unique style. The disciplines largely revolve around adding elemental effects to your abilities, either in the form of spells or as specific effects. For example, Fist of Four Thunders lets you spend ki to cast thunderwave while Fangs of the Fire Snake extends flaming tendrils from your fists, extending your reach and doing extra damage. Basically, it’s like kung fu meets Avatar: the Last Airbender. Those are, of course, two great tastes that taste great together.

I think I can squeeze in the Paladin, so let’s hit it. Interestingly, the color text and core abilities really emphasize the lawful goodness of the class, but the oaths (more on those in a second) emphasize it’s not as clear cut as that. The baseline paladin looks familiar: heavy armor and weapons, Divine Sense (sort of a retuned Detect Evil) and laying on hands.

The lay hands mechanic is pretty sweet, as it gives the paladin a pool of healing equal to 5 x level. With a touch, he can basically heal any number of hit points, up to that amount, with the pool refreshing after a long rest. He can opt to spend 5 point to cure a disease or poison. I like this a lot – it’s simple to use, but feels unique and flavorful. It’s less of the “panic button” power, which some people might regret, but I prefer an ability which is actually used.

As they level, Paladins pick up a fighting style (like a fighter), clerical spells, the divine smite (burn spell slots for extra weapon damage) and immunity to disease. Later on the get an extra attack, a divine aura of courage and the ability to cleanse spell effects. All pretty cool.

The real meat of things, however, lies in the oath. This is the paladin subclass decision (happens at level 3[3], benefits at 7, 15 and 20). Mechanically, it lays down the tenets of your paladinhood, grants you the equivalent of domain spells, grants channel divinity effects and gives a few more powers. Conceptually, it defines the character. Paladins are no longer autotmatically following whatever definition your group uses of Lawful Good – rather, they are following the specific tenets of their oath, which may not be so morally straightforward.

To illustrate, the oath of vengeance demands the paladin fight the greater evil, grant no mercy for the wicked, win by any means necessary and pay restitution when you fail. That is not made of sweetness and light, and in fact it does not take much imagination to imagine this as the code of honor of a villain, not a hero. This is really interesting to me because it leaves the door open to Paladins of almost any ethos, but you need to be able to articulate it into a strong code. Also, it’s important to note, the relatively explicit nature of the oath makes the prospect of failing it a bit more concrete (and there’s a tease of oathbreaker paladin rules in the DMG that I’m very curious to see).

There are three oaths available, and the first is the oath of devotion. This is basically the classic lawful good paladin of old, swearing to honest, duty, courage, compassion, honor and duty. In keeping with that, the benefits are also nicely classic – you can use your divine channels to make your weapon divine or turn unholy creatures, generate a protective aura against charms, operate under protection from evil and good and ultimately have a minute of holy glowing awesomeness.

The Oath of the Ancients addresses an old bit of oddness of how you can have fey knights be paladins, since the priorities of the traditional paladin seem like a bit of a mismatch. These paladins are all about the idea of “the light”, which is (intentionally, I imagine) very loosely defined, but it sort of a mix of art, kindness, beauty, joy, love and goodness. A paladin of the ancients needs to kindle, shelter, preserve and ultimately be the light.

The spells granted are a little bit druidic, and the channels can be used for an entangle effect or to turn “the faithless”, which is to say fey and fiends (this is, I have to say, a fascinating distinction). They get a spell resistance aura, an ability to take more damage and ultimately, to assume the form of a champion of nature, basically kicking ass.

Even more than the nature cleric, the paladin of the ancients seems to be taking cues from the 4e Warden, which is not a bad thing at all, since that was a pretty fun class. More, this oath says interesting things about the world, so I admit it intrigues me.

I’ve already talked about the tenets of the oath of vengeance, but I will make a note about it: there’s a lot of reference to your sworn enemy, but nothing that particularly restrains that, so the paladin may have enemies of convenience at times. I imagine this is intentional, since that sort of abuse is exactly the risk of this sort of ethos.

These paladins can use their channels to abjure their enemy (basically, turn them) or to gain advantage against them. Subsequent abilities are all about kicking your enemy’s ass, culminating in turning into an avenging angel for an hour.

These are not nice guys, but I definitely know players who are going to gravitate to this oath.

(aside – I’m this far into the book, and I only just now noticed that each class has an icon in the upper corner of their first page. I’m not sure if these are used elsewhere, but they’re pretty neat).

  1. Which once again raises the specter of what an intelligence saving throw means  ↩
  2. One of which, Rally, seems fairly abusable if you have a lot of time. You can stack temporary HP on someone, short rest, and repeat 3 or 4 times before they go off into battle. I actually don’t mind it being used once to spend all 4 superiority dice on a “pep talk” – that’s actually kind of awesome, but the cycling of it seems lame.  ↩
  3. And this is quite interesting conceptually as well. The text makes it clear that the implications of this are open to interpretation, but it means those first two levels of paladin (before the oath is taken) are an interesting limbo. I like this a LOT, especially since it allows for “former paladins” who are not actually evil or oathbreakers, just folks who balked before they had to take that final leap of faith.  ↩

21 thoughts on “D&D PHB: Fighter, Monk & Paladin

  1. Rob Donoghue Post author

    On G+, it was pointed out that multiclassing is a *optional* rule, and in that context, the Eldritch knight makes a ton of sense.

  2. Douglas Bailey

    Just wanted to mention points which you’ll see later on as you read through, but which I hope address two of the concerns you’ve raised here:

    1. Intelligence saves are used against some illusion spells (such as phantasmal force, p. 264).

    2. Temporary hit points can’t be stacked, as noted on p. 198. So the Battle Master fighter’s Rally ability isn’t as broken as it seems at first glance.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      1) awesome! That’s what I would have hoped! There’s also a Strength save mentioned in one of the Monk abilities, so I feel like the uses are out there, if not yet fully integrated.

      2) Ah, yes, went and gave that a close read, and right you are. that’s a relief.

  3. Christopher

    I have a soft spot for Monks. Someone did an analysis of the original 1e monk and decided it was a class designed to quickly enter melee with the spellcasting ranks and disrupt their spells, and that subsequent editions muted the things (great saves, magic resistance, ability to move past opposition, lots of attacks, the ability to stun) that made this possible (having played monks in 3e, I can say that as late as 11th level, trying to use whatever mechanic it is that lets you avoid AoO isn’t good enough against a fully equipped party of adventurers). I wonder how the specifics of this stack up.

  4. BJ

    There is some sort of problem with the RSS feed that’s causing it to no longer show up in my RSS reader, and it gives errors in Firefox and Chrome when trying to access it directly. The W3C feed validator is fairly unhelpful but when I open it in Chrome, it gives the error:

    This page contains the following errors:

    error on line 39 at column 124: Input is not proper UTF-8, indicate encoding !
    Bytes: 0x1B 0x2C 0x20 0x75
    Below is a rendering of the page up to the first error.

    Since I follow updates with RSS, it would be nice not to lose easy access to the blog, so it may be worth looking into. It looks like the HTTP headers and the XML file itself are claiming UTF-8, but there are non UTF-8 characters in the document body, which could be a configuration problem in WordPress.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Wacky. I won’t be able to check it until after Gencon, but I’ll see if we can sort it out Not sure what would be causing that, since this is a pretty vanilla install.

      1. BJ

        It could probably be caused by writing your post in another editor that uses a different encoding, like Word, and then copy-pasting it into the WordPress editor.

        1. Rob Donoghue Post author

          Yeah, I’m pretty sure when it happened – had a post that failed validation, but I thought I’d fixed it with a manual C&P as text, but apparently that didn’t kill the bug.

  5. blackcoat

    Oh, man do I love the paladins in this edition. The oaths make them *feel* different in ways that hasn’t happened in prior versions of the class, but they still feel very different than even the war clerics. They are fanatics to their ideal and their oath. One of the bits that you didn’t mention is that the oaths also change the spell lists up a little bit.

    I am, btw, one of those people who’s gonna play a vengeance paladin, probably multiclassed with rogue in a way that makes for a pretty deadly assassin of Forseti.

  6. Robert

    “As much as I love this conceptually, I admit, I’m mentally asking myself how this compares to going multiclass fighter/wizard (or fighter/sorcerer). At 10/10 F/W (vs L20 F with Eldritch Knight) I have lost Teleportation and the ability to make a melee attack when I cast a spell. I’ve also lost ~20 hitpoint (10d10 vs 10d6).

    But I’ve gained 5th level spells, the benefits of a different fighter archetype and the class and subclass benefits of whatever caster class I chose. That seems to be a lot more gains than losses.”

    I’ve statted this out and it’s not really an apple-to-apples comparison. You 20th level Eldritch Knight is vastly tougher and more dangerous in melee combat than your Fighter/Wizard, who has more magical punch. Consider:

    1. The 20th level Eldritch Knight gets 4 attacks/action, vs 2 attacks action. Right there you can already see that the fighting abilities of the two builds are not really comparable.

    2. The 20th level Eldritch Knight gets another use of Action Surge. So in the first two rounds of combat, the F10/W10 can deal out six melee attacks; the EK20 gets sixteen.

    3.The 20th level Eldritch Knight gets two more stat boosts/feats. ‘Nuff said.

    If I were building the F10/W10, the Fighter path I’d choose would probably be Eldritch Knight. Now you have the spell slots of a 13th level Wizard and some of the EK fighting tricks. But you would still be vastly inferior as a front-line fighter.

    I think a fairer comparison would be F12/W8. That’s more like the balance of fighting abilities and spells you see at EK20. With that, you get:

    1. Three attacks vs four, instead of two vs four.

    2. Six feats to seven, instead of five to seven.

    3. The hp+Second Wind gap falls from 30hp to 24hp.

    You lose your 5th level spell, but if you take the EK option, which still seems best, you end up with 12th level Wizard spell slots. So you still get more magical punch that way, but you’re still sacrificing durability, a feat, and some sheer melee awesomeness.

    All in all I think the 20th level Eldritch Knight holds up rather well compared to the Fighter/Wizard. Certainly enough to answer the “Why do I exist when there’s the F/W option?” question.

  7. John Fiala

    The basic Monk abilities are Unarmored Defense (Unarmored AC is 10 + DEX + WIS) and Martial Arts (use dex instead of strength for attack and damage when unarmed or using monk weapons, but use your martial arts damage die instead). That adding dex to damage bit is a surprise to me, and offsets the fact that the first martial arts die is a d4. For a monk, d4 + DEX may well be better than d8 + STR.

    Actually, the book says “You can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapon.” – which as far as I can tell means you have the choice of the d4 or the weapon’s base damage. Naturally to start with I keep my weapon’s damage, but once 10th level is passed the Martial Arts damage gets more interesting.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      I had also overlooked that finesse added dex to damage too, so it’s less weird than I thought.

    2. Robert

      What it lame about the Monk, besides the 1d4 — was 1d6 really so unbalanced, I ask the universe and Wizards? — is that you get only one bonus attack per round. Just. One. Period.

      That has all kinds of awful consequences. The monk can’t dual wield — an off-hand weapon is a bonus attack, and then you don’t get any Martial Arts. Polearm Master, which gives an off-hand with the quarterstaff, is out for the same reason. And if you’re thinking a Monk/Rogue hybrid would make a sweet ninja, beware — Cunning Action is, you guessed it, a bonus action, meaning your ninja leaves either Martial Arts or Cunning action on the table, every round.

      Doing a quick read-through, it can seem like the Monk spends a ki point to get two extra attacks, but no, that is also a bonus action, so to get the two attacks you have to give back one. This hurts rogues, rangers, anyone who dual wields too. Grrrrr . . .

      1. Rob Donoghue Post author

        Hmm. I had read the flurry of blows as also providing the extra bonus action, but you’re right, it does not explicitly say as much. May be time to press for clarification.

        1. Robert

          At least (he said, pathetically pleading) let us have some sort of “Combat Reflexes” feat that allows two per round. Something. Because as written it’s terrible. And not just for “power gamers”; as you know, the Rogue class get illustrated, on the very first page of the description, with a guy toting a couple of big knives. Hope he didn’t want his Cunning Action ability . . .

          1. Rob Donoghue Post author

            See, I admit I’m liking the bit where two-weapon fighting is a tradeoff, not something that is always worth pursuing. That said, it’s definitely interesting to look over some classes with an eye on the bonus action throttle.

          2. Sandra

            Oh, wow! We played this rule wrong and it was one of the few flies in the ointment for me, that the rogues got both cunning action and twf.
            Thanks for pointing this out (and I just double-checked) — I’m pretty relieved that both use up your one bonus action because the rogue’s damage output was getting a bit silly.

      2. Stuart

        Flurry of blows give 2 attacks for one bonus action, so you give up the 1 attack bonus action from martial arts to get a 2 attack bonus action from flurry of bows, just remember that these are all unarmed attacks so start at 1d4+dex/str bonus (whichever is bigger). Also remember that you can use a quarterstaff or spear 2 handed and still get the martial arts bonus attacks. monks don’t get the ability bonus with off hand attacks so dual wielding is pretty much moot.

        As for the number of attacks we get 1+1 at level 1, that’s better than a fighter with a comparable damage output to a fighter with a 2 greatsword or greataxe. At level 5 monks get 2+1 (martial arts) or 2+2 (flurry) for 5 rounds with martial arts now doing 1d6 damage, fighters get 2 plus 1 action surge, so 2+2 for 1 round, so damage wise monks are still ahead of the curve. Plus monks get Stunning Fist at level 5, so they can hit someone and then force a save, if stunned they give advantage n all attacks against them until the end of the monks next turn. all that for 1 Ki point, and you can still choose to flurry as stunning is part of an attack.

        At later levels the attacks even out a bit but the monk, when playing to it’s strengths, can be seriously evil in combat


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