Monk Fun - VoP, Max stunning

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 Hello, me again. This time I'm asking on behalf of a player in a game I run. Anyway, he's playing a monk. He doesn't want to take any casting abilities, however he is doing some rather interesting stuff with it, or rather aiming to. 

I'll show you what he has now, stats don't matter, he's managed to roll 14 as his lowest, which is in INT, and has 3 18's in his stat line.

Race: Human

Class: Decisive Strike Monk 5 so far

Feats:
Flaw (Meagre Fortitude): Sacred Vow
Human: Vow of Poverty
Lvl 1: Weapon Focus (Unarmed Strike)
Monk 1: Stunning Fist
Monk 2: Combat Reflexes
Vow 2: Vow of Nonviolence
Level 3: Pharoah's Fist
Vow 4: Vow of Peace


This player is aiming to basically get Ring the Golden Bell and eventually freezing the lifeblood. His aim is to be ending combat without killing as often as possible, and in combination the two allow him AoE stun/paralysis. 

 However, we've both noticed the DC scaling isn't particularly nice. Anybody able to help out with this? He's fairly new, only ever played once before. And I don't want to dishearten him since the other players are all quite experienced... and this is a really cool build, I've toyed around with it before to no avail. Now he's trying it, and getting better than mine.

 So ideas? 
How are you reconciling Vow of Nonviolence (which mentions that pain effects and anything that causes suffering breaches the vow) with things like Freezing the Lifeblood? Or Vow of Peace (which prevents you from dealing any harm at all) with an offensive approach?

Honestly, Vow of Poverty is not worth it, particularly on martial characters and especially on monk-types; one of the lesser-discussed problems with it is that there just aren't enough good Exalted feats to fill the innumerable bonus feats you get from it, which leads to characters hog-tied with Vows like this one. 

I'm not sure what Ring the Golden Bell is either; I've never heard of it.

My table's been playing around with Pharaoh's Fist builds for a while; we've got ways of doing the AoE "Stunsplosion" that might help your player out. However, they won't work with your Vows - and they would probably suggest getting out of Monk at or before level 6 (monk 7+ is never worth it). Here's a couple notes that we've found.

-Ability Focus (Stunning Fist) appears to apply to anything that references Stunning Fist as well; it MIGHT allow you to simultaneously boost your stun DCs, your Freezing the Lifeblood DCs, and potentially other abilities powered by the same uses.
-Pain Touch (CW) is an alarmingly good feat to use, particularly with Pharaoh's Fist. However, it directly conflicts with both of your extra Vows.
-Since these feats are NOT actions in and of themselves, you can probably combine them with martial strikes. This works best with maneuvers like Death Mark (Pharaoh's Fist works best against exactly the same enemy formations as Death Mark) and any of the Iron Heart whirlwind strikes. To get the most out of the whirlwind strikes, consider using Serpent Strike (Eberron - use a longspear as a monk weapon; just enchant it with Ki Focus) and Dancing Blade Form (for still more reach). This trick lets you strike everything within reach with the same attack, which you boost as a Stunning Fist, Pain Touch, or Freezing the Lifeblood maneuver. As an example, the following is actually possible at level 8 (Monk 1 / Warblade 7 with flaws):
Show
As a full-round action, make a single stunning attack at +4 to hit against every target within 25 feet, and any target adjacent to a target within 25 feet.  In this radius, foes must save vs stunning once for the initial attack, and once again for each other target adjacent to them who is hit.  Failing the save causes 1 round of stun, followed by 1 round of nausea - and that's before you can pick up Freezing the Lifeblood to add a duration of paralysis on there. Forcing them to make multiple saves or lose their action is almost as good as getting an impossibly high single DC for the same effect.

-This won't help your character since he's already built, but you can use Carmendine Monk or Kung Fu Genius to switch the monk to operate off of Intelligence instead of Wisdom, which should also switch over your Stunning Fist related feats. Thus, if you enter warblade to get the whirlwind strikes, you get a lot of mileage out of putting effort into boosting your save DCs.
-A more typical approach would be to switch from monk to swordsage in the coming levels, particularly the unarmed swordsage variant to keep the monk damage up there. Swordsages most notably get Shadow Hand teleports, which can better enable you to move into position and deliver your stuns. Furthermore, you can "trick" this a bit through a feat no one ever uses - Sun School, in Complete Warrior, basically gives you a miniature Shadow Pounce. This normally isn't worth it - but if you're able to augment a single unarmed strike to the extent of a Pharaoh's Fist stunsplosion character, it can be devastating, even with the slowest of the teleports. (Later on it can allow you to blink into enemy formations, stun/nauseate/paralyze all of them, and then proceed to open up with whatever martial strike or full attack (i.e. Flurry of Trips; particularly funny with Great Throw) you so choose.)

Hope that's of some help. I don't want your player to have a bad experience by literally feating himself into a corner with Vows. (Vow of Poverty LOOKS good only because it puts all of those benefits in one place. The VoP monk is a common mistake.)

Cancer prognosis: I am now cancer-free.

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These are NOT all my creations! The lead authors are identified as follows: [TS] Tempest Stormwind, [AR] Andarious Rosethorn, [RT] Radical Taoist, [SN] Sionnis, [DH] DisposableHero_, [SH] Seishi.

[TS] The Pinball Brothers: Large And In Charge (Melee, Lockdown, Charge, Juggling)
[TS] Ashardalon Reborn: I Will Swallow Your Soul (Melee, Fear, Negative Levels, AoE, Theme)
[AR] "A"-Game Paladin: Play That Funky Music, Knight Boy! (Team Support, Melee, Theme, Single-Class)
[RT] Uncanny Trapsmith: Get in, make it look like an accident, get out. (Skillmonkey, Stealth/Scout/Infiltration, Unorthodox Methods, Theme)
[AR] Wizsassin: *Everything* is permitted. (Spellcaster, Support, Sneak Attack, Utility)
[TS] Phantom Rush: General Gish Gouda. (Gish, Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Early-Entry PrC)
[TS] Storm Knight: Another kind of gish. (Melee/"Gish", Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Unorthodox Methods)
[TS] Inevitable Nightmare: The weapon you only have to fire once. (Melee, "Unorthodox" Methods (no charging), Reliability)
[AR] Captain Constitution: The number one threat to America. (Melee, TOUGHTOUGHTOUGH, Defense, Theme)
[AR] Nuker: I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down! (Spellcaster, damage, blasting, damage)
[TS] Dread Lord of the Dead: Let the Reaping Begin! (NPC-only, Variable (combat/casting/leadership), Iconic Villain, Theme)
[AR] Heavy Crusader: No Rest. No Mercy. No Matter What. (Melee, Damage (No charging), Variable, Theme).
[TS] Gun Fu: It's bullet time (Ranged, THEORETICAL, Twin weapons, Theme)
[RT] Face First: We should talk. (Psionic, social, mind-control, info-management)
[SN] Chaingun Porcupine: Never Enuff Dakka. (Ranged, Skirmishing, Spike Damage, Incarnum)
[RT] Always On Edge: The Mortal Draw deals death. (Melee, Generalist, Dungeoneering, Stunt)
[AR] Feral Druid: Real feral taste. Zero druid calories. (Melee, offense, damage, murder)
[RT] Rusty!: Man's Best Friend (Sentry, Support, Backup, Rearguard)
[RT] The T3 (Tashalatora Triple Threat): My Kung Fu is More Powerful (Hybrid, Flex-Function, Melee, Caster)
[RT] The #1 Snoipah: Boom. 'Eadshot. (Caster, Theme, Spike, Trapscout)
[AR] Dreamblade: Rest in Pieces. (Melee, Damage, Single-Class, Combo/Momentum)
[AR] Evasion Tank: “When fighting angry blind men, is best to stay out of the way.” (Melee, Tank, Unorthodox Methods (attack negation), Theme)
[DH] Psycarnum Warrior: ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA Start (Melee, Tank, Psionics, Incarnum, 1337 h4x)
[AR] Heavy Weapons Elf: WHO TOUCHED MY BOW? (Ranged, Cohort, Damage, Unorthodox Methods (ranged ToB))
[RT] Gnowhere Gnome: A little man who wasn't there (Caster, Stealth, Single-Class, Elusive)
[AR] Uberflank: I got your back. (Melee, support, stunt, teamwork)
[TS] Flip the Bird: Everyday I'm shuffling (Ranged, harrier, unorthodox methods (ranged ToB / off-turn movement), support)
[DH] Eat Sleep Gank: Real Ultimate Power (Stealth, Assassination, Spike, Magic Versatility)
[AR] Slash and Burn: Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death. (Melee, Theme (flex-style), Damage, Stunt)
[RT] Edge of the Light: Cut, Fade to Black (Melee, Defense/Offense, Momentum, Tactical)
[RT] Quiet Murder: Cut throats, not corners. (Melee, Stealth, Harrier, Tactical)
[TS] Wand Overdrive: Say Hello to my little friends. (Caster, support/artillery/variable, wand specialist)
[RT] God Hand: What did the five fingers say to the face? (Melee/Gish, Unarmed, SAD, Theme)
[AR] Zero Buff Time Gish: Try to keep up! (Gish, Speed, Movement, Opportunity)
[TS] Robo Tackle: I Am Iron Man. (Melee, setting-specific (Eberron), positioning, theme, stunt)

[TS] Holy Fire: Just getting warmed up! (Casting, damage, theme (fire), theme (sacred), blasting)

[TS] Groundhog Mage: ♪Let’s do the time warp again♪ (Casting, stunt, setting-specific (Faerun), spell stamina / versatility, spontaneous wizard)

[RT] Captain Charisma: All she wants to do is dance (Hybrid (melee/support), SAD, Theme (criticals), Theme (flex-style)

[TS] Assassin's Speed: A blade in the crowd (Melee (technical), iaijutsu, SAD, theme (Assassin's Creed), tutorial)

 

Want to see how the entire group rolls?
[All] Party Optimization Showcase: Dead for Nothing
[TS/RT/AR] Optimization Article: The Flash Step
[RT] Optimization Article: Kung Fu Witchcraft

 

Seishi: I think it might be fun to have a one-off [game] tuned fairly, but with the intention of wiping the party. 

DisposableHero_: if [my campaign] has taught me nothing else, it is that with this group, nothing tuned fairly will ever wipe the party

RadicalTaoist: I've been throwing **** at this group that's 5 levels over CRed in DFN, and have yet to wipe the party.

Tempest it's not my character, and his justification for using stunning fist/freezing the lifeblood is actually in the vows themselves. He's not doing damage, and if an enemy becomes stunned, and later on paralyzed, he's not killing them and won't allow anyone to kill them. The fight is still over, and I agree with that.

 His character fights as a last option, which in the first couple of sessions he's roleplayed really well.

 I mentioned Unarmed Swordsage to him, and he wanted monk. But now he wants his Stunning fists maximised while still working within the vow confines. I also pointed out how Monk just isn't great.


RING THE GOLDEN BELL
[GENERAL]
With the rush of air from a single precise strike, skilled
martial artists can extinguish a candle flame from
several feet away. Legendary masters developed this
ability to the point that they could ring a thousandpound
bell using only a finger strike from 20 feet away.
Prerequisites: Wis 13, Improved Unarmed Strike,
Stunning Fist, Weapon Focus (unarmed strike), base
attack bonus +5.
Benefit A number of times per day equal to 1 + your
Wisdom bonus, you may deal unarmed strike damage with
a successful ranged attack. This attack has a range increment
equal to 5 feet + 5 feet per point of Wisdom bonus. Normal
cover modifiers apply. This attack can deliver any effect your
unarmed strike can normally deliver, such as a stunning
attack due to the Stunning Fist feat.

It's from Dragon 319.

Does seem like he's right the only way to really boost stunning fist is the Vows though.

 

Interesting feat, and I can see why it would work well under your interpretation. (I don't have as good a knowledge of Dragon as I do of the printed books.)

Apart from Ability Focus (Stunning Fist) for another +2 DC (which, as I said, should probably work with all of the derivative feats too), I think he's best off just pumping Wisdom; I don't think the DC can be boosted otherwise. Extra Stunning Attacks might be a worthwhile investment to boot. As I suggested above, the only other way I know of to make it more dangerous is to force more saving throws off of a single stun attack, and make sure that any one of those saves failing is a Very Bad Thing for the target... however, of the three feats that I know of to make that happen (Pharaoh's Fist, Pain Touch, Freezing the Lifeblood), one of them decidedly conflicts with the Vows.

The other approach, which is kind of unusual, is to focus on hosing enemy saving throws instead of boosting your own DCs. I'm not sure of a good way of doing this that works within that particular character focus, though - the best examples of these are Intimidators (which can double as action-denial characters with Imperious Command and the Never Outnumbered skill trick), certain bard builds, hexblades (with the Dark Companion ACF), and binders (or those who can spare two feats for Bind Vestige + Improved Binding; you're trying to get Focalor's Aura of Sadness here, and that can be obtained just with the feats). I'm currently playing a character that puts a lot of these together, and he's a lot more fun than I thought he'd be... but it's most certainly not an ideal match.

If you've already got everything he needs to keep the DC high, I'd suggest focusing on unarmed attack accuracy; even with those feats, the attack needs to hit or it's wasted, and the monk's medium attack bonus isn't helping. It's boring, but that might be the best way to go. An interesting - and thematically appropriate - way to do this is to pick up Deep Impact, although the wording on Ring the Golden Bell prevents that feat from working with it (the ranged alternative, Fell Shot, will work, but that's very feat-costly for 1+Wis mod / day ranged attacks). There's also Martial Study, to grab appropriate maneuvers - as written, it seems that Ring the Golden Bell might actually work in delivering these attacks at range, although don't ask me to explain how. I'd still suggest the whirlwinds; if targets cluster up enough, that also means the Pharaoh's Fist explosions overlap, and each one forces a separate save.

Cancer prognosis: I am now cancer-free.

Weekly Optimization Series

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These are NOT all my creations! The lead authors are identified as follows: [TS] Tempest Stormwind, [AR] Andarious Rosethorn, [RT] Radical Taoist, [SN] Sionnis, [DH] DisposableHero_, [SH] Seishi.

[TS] The Pinball Brothers: Large And In Charge (Melee, Lockdown, Charge, Juggling)
[TS] Ashardalon Reborn: I Will Swallow Your Soul (Melee, Fear, Negative Levels, AoE, Theme)
[AR] "A"-Game Paladin: Play That Funky Music, Knight Boy! (Team Support, Melee, Theme, Single-Class)
[RT] Uncanny Trapsmith: Get in, make it look like an accident, get out. (Skillmonkey, Stealth/Scout/Infiltration, Unorthodox Methods, Theme)
[AR] Wizsassin: *Everything* is permitted. (Spellcaster, Support, Sneak Attack, Utility)
[TS] Phantom Rush: General Gish Gouda. (Gish, Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Early-Entry PrC)
[TS] Storm Knight: Another kind of gish. (Melee/"Gish", Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Unorthodox Methods)
[TS] Inevitable Nightmare: The weapon you only have to fire once. (Melee, "Unorthodox" Methods (no charging), Reliability)
[AR] Captain Constitution: The number one threat to America. (Melee, TOUGHTOUGHTOUGH, Defense, Theme)
[AR] Nuker: I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down! (Spellcaster, damage, blasting, damage)
[TS] Dread Lord of the Dead: Let the Reaping Begin! (NPC-only, Variable (combat/casting/leadership), Iconic Villain, Theme)
[AR] Heavy Crusader: No Rest. No Mercy. No Matter What. (Melee, Damage (No charging), Variable, Theme).
[TS] Gun Fu: It's bullet time (Ranged, THEORETICAL, Twin weapons, Theme)
[RT] Face First: We should talk. (Psionic, social, mind-control, info-management)
[SN] Chaingun Porcupine: Never Enuff Dakka. (Ranged, Skirmishing, Spike Damage, Incarnum)
[RT] Always On Edge: The Mortal Draw deals death. (Melee, Generalist, Dungeoneering, Stunt)
[AR] Feral Druid: Real feral taste. Zero druid calories. (Melee, offense, damage, murder)
[RT] Rusty!: Man's Best Friend (Sentry, Support, Backup, Rearguard)
[RT] The T3 (Tashalatora Triple Threat): My Kung Fu is More Powerful (Hybrid, Flex-Function, Melee, Caster)
[RT] The #1 Snoipah: Boom. 'Eadshot. (Caster, Theme, Spike, Trapscout)
[AR] Dreamblade: Rest in Pieces. (Melee, Damage, Single-Class, Combo/Momentum)
[AR] Evasion Tank: “When fighting angry blind men, is best to stay out of the way.” (Melee, Tank, Unorthodox Methods (attack negation), Theme)
[DH] Psycarnum Warrior: ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA Start (Melee, Tank, Psionics, Incarnum, 1337 h4x)
[AR] Heavy Weapons Elf: WHO TOUCHED MY BOW? (Ranged, Cohort, Damage, Unorthodox Methods (ranged ToB))
[RT] Gnowhere Gnome: A little man who wasn't there (Caster, Stealth, Single-Class, Elusive)
[AR] Uberflank: I got your back. (Melee, support, stunt, teamwork)
[TS] Flip the Bird: Everyday I'm shuffling (Ranged, harrier, unorthodox methods (ranged ToB / off-turn movement), support)
[DH] Eat Sleep Gank: Real Ultimate Power (Stealth, Assassination, Spike, Magic Versatility)
[AR] Slash and Burn: Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death. (Melee, Theme (flex-style), Damage, Stunt)
[RT] Edge of the Light: Cut, Fade to Black (Melee, Defense/Offense, Momentum, Tactical)
[RT] Quiet Murder: Cut throats, not corners. (Melee, Stealth, Harrier, Tactical)
[TS] Wand Overdrive: Say Hello to my little friends. (Caster, support/artillery/variable, wand specialist)
[RT] God Hand: What did the five fingers say to the face? (Melee/Gish, Unarmed, SAD, Theme)
[AR] Zero Buff Time Gish: Try to keep up! (Gish, Speed, Movement, Opportunity)
[TS] Robo Tackle: I Am Iron Man. (Melee, setting-specific (Eberron), positioning, theme, stunt)

[TS] Holy Fire: Just getting warmed up! (Casting, damage, theme (fire), theme (sacred), blasting)

[TS] Groundhog Mage: ♪Let’s do the time warp again♪ (Casting, stunt, setting-specific (Faerun), spell stamina / versatility, spontaneous wizard)

[RT] Captain Charisma: All she wants to do is dance (Hybrid (melee/support), SAD, Theme (criticals), Theme (flex-style)

[TS] Assassin's Speed: A blade in the crowd (Melee (technical), iaijutsu, SAD, theme (Assassin's Creed), tutorial)

 

Want to see how the entire group rolls?
[All] Party Optimization Showcase: Dead for Nothing
[TS/RT/AR] Optimization Article: The Flash Step
[RT] Optimization Article: Kung Fu Witchcraft

 

Seishi: I think it might be fun to have a one-off [game] tuned fairly, but with the intention of wiping the party. 

DisposableHero_: if [my campaign] has taught me nothing else, it is that with this group, nothing tuned fairly will ever wipe the party

RadicalTaoist: I've been throwing **** at this group that's 5 levels over CRed in DFN, and have yet to wipe the party.

One feat the monk will want is Intuitive Attack, since it allows him to focus on Wisdom as his main ability score (giving it the highest bonus from Vow of Poverty, extra ability score points, and so on).

It's kind of a shame (unless you allow him to retrain) that he's already at 5th level, since all the official Alternative Class Features are selected at 4th level or lower, and they include some very good choices like Holy Strike and Invisible Fist.

The kraken stirs. And ten billion sushi dinners cry out for vengeance. - Good Omens

Co-Author of the Dreamfane, Euralden Eye, Gajuisan Crawler, Gruesome Lurker, Fulminating Crab, Ironglass Rose, Sheengrass Swarm, Spryjack, Usunag, and Warp Drifter, and author of the Magmal Horror from Force of Nature.

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