There are many, many, MANY problems with the Monk class in the PHB. I won't go into them all here; there are simply too many. However, because the monk mechanics are used to power unarmed combat in much of the rest of the game (i.e. prestige classes stack with monk for some, but not all, of the classic monk abilities rather than providing their own martial arts, equipment provides virtual monk levels, and even the unarmed swordsage refers to unarmed damage "as a monk"), it means that the monk still has a loose stranglehold on this aspect of the game. This means that anyone who wants to play a martial artist is going to have to make contact with the monk in some way, shape, or form, and thus inherit several of the monk's problems.
There are two other major monk problems worth discussing before we dive into the meat of this thread. The first is that its key abilities actually work at cross-purposes to each other - the classic example is Monk Speed + Flurry of Blows (barring action-granting equipment, you can't use them together due to the action costs - and nothing should rely on action-granting equipment to merely function). The second is that monks, in melee, suffer from self-imposed limits on everything that melee needs. They don't get Reach with any weapon they can use their abilities with. They don't get Power Attack beyond 1:1 unless they're using a quarterstaff (although they do get "off-hand" 1:1 Power Attack, in effect a bonus Oversized TWF feat). They don't get armor, so their low-reach combat exposes them to a lot of attacks. The moderate base attack combines with the narrow chances they get to deliver multiple attacks, leading to the monk frequently choosing between doing nothing or delivering a Flurry of Misses.
This is a proposed collection of houserules based around getting those different monk abilities to talk to each other, and cover for SOME - but not all - of the monk's combat confusion as discussed above. Along the way, it carves out a mechanical niche for the monk that should make it play very differently than before, bringing more of its abilities to bear all at once. It's NOT intended to make the monk a replacement for, say, the unarmed swordsage - if anything, the monk's final destination here should be lower-to-mid Tier 4. Further offensive bumps up the tier system can come later (and would probably be separate class features for the monk rather than modification of monk features used by many classes); I'm focusing on dynamic play rather than the raw numbers for now. The point of this thread is to provide a possible starting point for this.
Monk Mobility Package
These are modifications of existing monk abilities to give her a more mobile, dynamic chassis. They advance with existing monk ability enhancers (i.e. a prestige class or Tashalatora) exactly like the normal monk ability they're linked to, but because no class I know of advances all of these, it actually might make monks more interesting as a single class without requiring more than a handful of monk levels to bring them to bear in more interesting classes.
Consider the following abilities to appear as part of the text of the corresponding monk ability. As extensions of normal monk abilities, they go away when those abilities would go away (i.e. when wearing armor).
- Combat Lunge (extends "Unarmed Strike"):
- A monk can attack with an aerial lunge, leaping between multiple targets and chasing down elusive foes. A monk's melee reach with all monk weapons improves by 5 feet per 4 effective monk levels (+5 feet at 4th level, +10 feet at 8th level, etc - this is the same rate at which unarmed damage increases). However, whenever she makes a melee attack with such a weapon within this increased reach, she moves in a straight line to the nearest square adjacent to her target immediately before making the attack. Treat this movement as a 5' step, except that it can cover longer distances, does not count against nor interfere with normal movement, and ignores difficult terrain. Additionally, if this movement would move a monk through the threatened area of a creature fighting defensively or using Combat Expertise, it provokes attacks of opportunity as if it were normal movement.
- A monk can lunge any number of times each round, including on attacks of opportunity, with one exception: if she charges, she can only lunge on the first attack, and cannot lunge again until the start of her next turn. Because grappling removes her threatened area, a monk is normally unable to lunge while grappling as well.
- If a monk is unable to complete this movement, whether by terrain (use the guidelines for aiming a straight-line charge attack; remember how cover interacts with melee attacks), a movement-interruption AoO effect, or any other cause, that attack is foiled.
- [Three possible FAQ notes. Yes, a monk martial adept can lunge on a strike (if the strike involves multiple attacks (against multiple foes) or if you're mixing in Snap Kick, you can even lunge multiple times - but if the strike targets multiple foes, like Steel Wind, you only lunge into position once, and that has to be into the nearest possible square to launch the attack), and if you happen to get up to Spring Attack, lunge movement doesn't count against normal movement, so a speed 50 monk can move 25, Lunge, then continue moving another 25. Second, Combat Lunge isn't "natural reach" so to speak, so it isn't doubled if the monk is using a reach weapon nor is it increased if the monk enlarges (it's added on to her final normal reach and the Lunge only triggers if you're delivering an attack into the reach provided by Lunge, not the reach provided by your weapon). Finally, if the monk somehow treats a reach weapon as a monk weapon - i.e. a longspear with the Serpent Strike feat - she lunges into the nearest position to the target from which she could normally attack with that weapon (i.e. 10' away with a longspear) instead of adjacent to the target.]
- Initiative Boost (Add to AC Bonus):
- A monk adds twice the bonus to AC from her monk level (i.e. +2 per 5 monk levels) as an untyped bonus to her Initiative checks. (She does NOT add her Wisdom bonus to AC to her initiative; this only considers the AC bonus from level, i.e. the "AC bonus" column on her class table.)
- Floating Withdraw (Add to Monk Speed):
- Monk speed applies to any movement mode the monk may use. Treat it in all ways as a modification to her base speed with that movement mode.
- A monk adds one-half her monk speed to the distance she can travel under the Withdraw action before she is considered threatened. For example, a 10th level monk (Monk speed +30) would consider the square she started in, plus the first 15' of movement, as unthreatened when using the Withdraw action.
- If the monk has the Greater Flurry ability, when she uses the Withdraw action, she can make a single melee attack with a monk weapon immediately before moving. This attack does not benefit from the increased reach from combat lunge.
- Ki Step (Add to Slow Fall):
- The monk can move this distance over liquid as part of normal movement before sinking. This movement counts against her normal movement speed as if it were difficult terrain. She must start and end her turn on solid ground or else she sinks.
- The monk can ascend or descend a vertical surface, or traverse a ceiling, by this distance before falling or needing to make Climb checks, even if there are no handholds or footholds. This movement counts against her normal movement speed as if it were difficult terrain. She must start and end her movement on a horizontal space or from a stable handhold or foothold to use this ability.
- The Slow Fall ability acts as normal. (Note that the earlier abilities are limited by speed, so a 20th level monk can't run "any distance" across water - she's still limited by her normal speed.)
- [Possible FAQ: Yes, you can Withdraw over walls, ceilings, and lakes as well, although they still count as difficult terrain.]
Combat Lunge is obviously the big seller here. It's intended to give the monk reach, most obviously, but in a manner that makes sense - rather than, say, tentacle arms, they get Dancing Blade Form's abiltiy to strike on the move with kung-fu jump-kicks. (I openly admit I got the idea of having it trigger on any attack from KOTOR's Force Jump and Batman: Arkham Asylum's combo system.) Having the ability to strike over a wide area - and carry the monk out of that area - allows their unarmed strike to actually protect them, gives them the ability to make Flurries more often, and is intended to allow a single monk to act as a pseudo-tank in a martial arts sense (i.e. Lunge between three targets, delivering Improved Trip attacks on each one).
Aside: I wrote it the way I did to allow the monk to actually attack aerial targets as well if they happen to dive within reach. Remember that moving through a threatened area provokes an AoO, which the monk can use to Lunge onto you if you're flying near it, and that Grapple can be used against flying targets to hold on. (This gets even more dynamic in tighter quarters with Ki Step's movement along walls or ceilings.)
Initiative Boost is modelled after the swordsage's Quick to Act. AC bonus is something that exists to support monks for not wearing armor, but realistically all it does is increase their MAD. Initiative Boost decreases that somewhat by having their AC bonus also increase their Initiative. Plus, the fluff description for the AC boost - preternatural awareness about one's surroundings - sounds like it should perfectly well apply to reaction time, shouldn't it?
Floating Withdraw was an attempt to use the Monk Speed ability somewhere else - particularly in allowing the monk to escape situations against monsters that out-reach it when he doesn't have secondary targets against which to Lunge. The Withdraw action is underused (for good reason - it sucks), but if the monk lunges in against a big beast and bites off more than she can chew, surely her advanced speed should aid her ability to slip away (particularly if she had no trouble closing distance with a Lunge). The interaction with Greater Flurry gives some incentive for higher-level monks to actually consider this option, as you can try to deliver a kick (or a Stunning Fist, Improved Trip, or whatever) against one guy who's pinning you down before you slip away to a more advantageous position. Remember that Lunge can trigger on AoOs, so Withdraw doesn't necessarily mean you're out of the battlefield - it just means you're in a position to lunge at someone else. (My first version of this ability was actually called "Float like a butterfly" for a reason.)
Ki Step is just a simplified version of two monk ACFs (from Stormwrack and from Dungeonscape respectively) fused into a useless ability to give some reward if Slow Fall happens to progress for whatever reason. They use difficult terrain mechanics since that includes an automatic speed differential, and it allows for a natural degree of multiclassing.
On that multiclassing front, did you notice that every one of these abilities combines very well with what the monk should have been, a Swordsage? (Example: Lunge, as worded, will trigger movement effects like Devastating Throw and Child of Shadow, and Step of the Wind doubles the distance you can move with Ki Step, and Initiative Boost stacks with Quick To Act in exactly the same way the two classes' AC bonuses don't stack.) They still reward having actual monk levels, but if you can get a swordsage dip and then enter a monk advancing PrC (say, Shadow Sun Ninja), the results can get pretty badass, even for a "monk".
Dedication to the Path
One optional - but recommended, based on my tests - requirement is that the above abilities should not be given out wholesale, but should rather be unlocked for monks who express dedication to their discipline instead of just those who dabble in the martial arts. Under this option, a monk needs a number of ranks in the corresponding skill greater than her effective monk level(with respect to that feature) to use them. They also require a minimum number of monk levels (actual levels in Monk, regardless of where they got the class feature from - i.e. Unarmed Swordsage, which is badass enough and has access to Unarmed Strike, does not get Lunge until he has at least one real monk level) to get access to the ability.
- Combat Lunge (Unarmed Strike, min monk 1): Jump.
- Initiative boost (AC bonus, min monk 1): Concentration.
- Floating Withdraw (Monk Speed, min monk 3): Tumble.
- Ki Step (Slow Fall, min monk 4): Balance.
Note that linking this to effective monk level makes equipment like the Monk's Belt into, in essence, Practiced Spellcaster effects for monk unarmed combat rather than "take one level for the feature, then gear the hell up" options. If your effective monk level for unarmed damage is already higher than your HD+3, for instance, you can't use Combat Lunge (since you won't have enough ranks in Jump)!
This is optional, of course, but it does prevent some of the crazier multiclassing impacts of this change without putting too much emphasis on actual levels in monk (as you can get all of these abilities before Monk's absolute last level, 6, and typically you'd only want the abilities that your PrC or multiclass feat advance anyway).
Monks still can't hit worth crap with a medium attack bonus, meaning they're best off against mooks. (This is actually one of the advantages of Lunge: A single monk can cover an entire room full of mooks by leaping between them.) They still only get 1:1 Power Attack, although now they can target their attacks MUCH more freely and make them MUCH more frequently.
One possibility I like that I'm playing around with right now is adding a slightly altered Decisive Strike (PHB2 alternative to Flurry) directly into the Flurry advancement, probably at the same time Greater Flurry comes online (i.e. you get Flurry normally, then sometime between 9 and 11 you get Decisive Strike as well). Decisive Strike normally lets you deliver a single monk-weapon attack as a full-round action, but it (and all AoOs) deal double damage. The modification would be that this attack is also treated as a two-handed attack regardless of the weapon you're using (so Strength*1.5 and 2:1 PA). (If this is unlocked with a required skill rank, it'd be Concentration.) What I'm not sure about is what it should do with Lunge; my current idea is that, if you use Decisive Strike, it would work with Lunge (which means you don't need to be in position to start, meaning more frequent Decisive Strikes), but Decisive Strike would disable the ability to Lunge until the start of your next turn, similar to a charge. This would reinforce the Decisive Strike option as one you'd use against single targets, leaving Flurry (and its several enormous leaps) against spread-out targets. It would retain the utility of the Decisive Strike + Snap Kick combo against single targets without allowing Snap Kick to be an instant bailout, as well.
However, the main emphasis here was on movement and getting the monk features to play nice with each other. Getting the damage to be respectable in a way that doesn't break open all the things that borrow from Monk is the next step.
Okay, now that that's on the table, I'm interested in your thoughts. Remember that this is not intended to be a single-step-solution to fixing all the monk problems, but rather as an alternative direction to make monk play (and monk-into-PrC/multiclass-feat play) more dynamic and distinctive relative to fighters or martial adepts.
With all that said, go ahead: rip me a new one.