This topic is intended for the discussion of the enlightened fist from Complete Arcane and, more broadly, arcane caster/monk hybrids in general. I'm looking for insight into arcane magic and monk synergies; difficulties peculiar to arcane monks; spells, items, and feats especially helpful for arcane monks; and so forth. I'm not interested in optimizing a single build so much as exploring the possible space of arcane monk builds.
Before I begin, I should probably mention what arcane monks are _not_. The traditional role for an arcane caster in combat is the ranged attack mage. The most familiar version to most readers, I imagine, is the fireball mage, aka, the AoE attack spell mage. Other variants use ray damage spells (or magic missile), disabling spells like /ray of enfeeblement/ and /enervation/, attack spells that bypass hit points like /charm monster/ and /finger of death/, battlefield control spells like /wall of force/, and so forth. Many mages play several roles at once, with varying degrees of success.
Multiclassing into monk is typically a waste of time for such characters. While monk contains a few defensive abilities (better hit points, better unarmored AC, good saves, evasion, deflect arrows, spell resistance) useful for casters, these abilities are more easily obtained in other ways without hurting the arcane caster's caster progression, which is of paramount importance to true casters. In general, monk has few abilities that help ranged casters of any form: even for something like an arcane thrower, a combination involving rogue and arcane trickster would work much better than monk and enlightened fist.
Monks focus on melee, and as a consequence, arcane monks focus on melee. Thus, the purpose of this post is to explore how to overcome some of the monk's deficiencies with arcane magic.
Hereafter, I'm going to assume that a character's combined level in monk and non-casting prestige classes is not more than 11. If the character has many more non-casting levels, they're no longer an arcane monk, but a monk splashing an arcane casting class; also, high-level magic is considerably more valuable than low-level magic, so such builds are probably suboptimal anyways compared to a pure noncaster. Most arcane monks will not meet the typical requirements for gish set forth in other threads on this board (since the combination of monk classes and caster classes leads to low BABs), but I'd consider the ability to cast spells as a 12th-level caster as minimum for an arcane monk, barring some unusual prestige classes that grant spells, like Suel Arcanamach.
Mobility: Monks get bonus speed, acceptable AC without wearing armor, and Tumble, making them the most mobile of the base classes.
Good saves: Monks get all favored saves and evasion at 2nd level (and improved evasion at 9th, which is probably not relevant to this discussion), making them more resistant to magic and various special attacks than most characters.
Attack rate: Monks get a higher base attack rate than most characters at low levels, but are generally no better than anyone else at high levels.
Unarmed fighting: Monks do more damage unarmed than any other class. Unfortunately, unarmed fighting has problems as a primary combat technique, as I will discuss more in the next section.
Decent skills: Monks get Tumble, which is one of the best combat skills, some other strong skills, and 4 + Int skills per level. A monk can serve as a decent scout or infiltrator, though usually the monk will have to sacrifice in other areas.
Stunning fist: Monks get a better version of this skill than any other class.
Random immunities: Monks gradually get immunity to disease, poisons, and aging, and spell resistance; unfortunately, most of these arrive too late to help multiclass monks.
Monk Problems (this is a very long list):
MAD (Multiple Ability Distribution): Your typical monk wants high Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom, with only Charisma as a true dump stat (though most monks can survive with average or below average Intelligence).
Low hit points: The monk only has a d8 hit die, a significant liability for a meleer, especially one with trouble putting a high score in Constitution.
Low BAB: Monks have trouble hitting. Monks who leave monk early for prestige classes have more problems hitting and often issues with attack rate as well.
Inability to bypass damage reduction: Only a concern for monks fighting unarmed. Damage reduction/lawful is rare (most chaotic creatures have damage reduction/cold iron instead), making ki strike (lawful) all but useless. Ki strike (adamantine) arrives far later than most characters can acquire adamantine weapons and is most useful for sundering, since damage reduction/adamantine is also not that common.
Unarmed fighting is hard to boost: Magic items to enhance unarmed fighting are more expensive and less effective than magic weapons.
Lack of feats: With only three feats from their class, monks are severely limited in their feat options. This limits both their combat flexibility and their power.
Lack of damage: The monk's most damaging attack form, unarmed fighting, has the problems noted above. Meanwhile, the monk lacks damage increasing abilities like the barbarian's rage, paladin's smite, rogue's sneak attack, or ranger's favored enemy. MAD enhances this problem.
So, does adding arcane magic help these problems? On the whole, I believe the answer is yes, but first let's cover how arcane magic interacts with the above problems and advantages.
Problems that arcane magic can help:
Lack of flexibility
Lack of damage
Inability to hit
Lack of boosts to unarmed fighting
Inability to bypass damage reduction
Low hit points
Problems that multiclassing for arcane magic increases:
The enlightened fist is going to be the core of any arcane monk build because it advances spellcasting 8 times in 10 levels and monk AC, movement, unarmed damage, and stunning, with requirements of Combat Casting, Improved Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist, Concentration 8 ranks, Knowledge (arcana) 5 ranks, Spellcraft 5 ranks, and arcane caster level 3d. The two key offensive abilities are arcane fist, which allows the enlightened fist to burn a stunning attempt to cast and deliver a touch spell as part of a full-round action, and hold ray, which allows the enlightened fist to turn a ray spell into a touch spell. The character also gets diamond soul, one of the best upper level monk abilities, and ki strike (magic). Fist of energy and arcane rejuvenation are useless, being far overcosted for the benefits they grant.
The natural synergy of unarmed attacks with touch spells, which enlightened fist enhances, is central to the offense of any arcane monk build. Arcane fist gives the monk an advantage over a pure arcane caster, because they can effectively quicken high level touchspells many times a day, and an advantage over monks, who have no spell-casting.
[Aside for people used to reading gish builds: why is arcane fist so much better than channel spell? The basic reasons are that arcane fist allows (and requires) a full-attack action, meaning that an arcane fist isn't "giving up" any combat damage to use it, and that it can be used many more times per day. The following list of spells that are good to use with arcane fist also applies, to some extent, to channel spell.]
Before delving into the details of spells, it seems worthwhile to discuss the role of the arcane monk in the party. The arcane monk is a meleer, not a caster; depending on your choices of spells, feats, and items, you may be able to substitute for a primary arcane caster, but you will not be nearly as effective as a true primary caster. You should impress this point on your allies.
So, at this point, I'm going to examine the offensive touch magic available to the build.
Shocking Grasp: An impressively useful spell once the arcane monk acquires arcane first, you get 5d6 extra electricity damage and a +3 bonus if your opponent is wearing (or carrying, or made out of) metal on one attack. This spell more or less dominates fist of energy and allows the arcane monk to dish out damage on par with the other specialized attack abilities (smite, sneak attack, etc.). Shocking grasp fades later, but by then you have better options.
Chill Touch: This normally useless spell is awesome for arcane monks, because you can cast it and have it last over a series of unarmed attacks (1/level), dealing 1d6 negative energy damage and 1 Str damage (Fort negates) extra. With arcane fist, using this becomes automatic for every combat that doesn't involve undead, and some that do.
Ray of Enfeeblement: With hold ray, the arcane monk can deal 1d6+5 (or so) Str damage per turn, with no save.
Corrosive Grasp (PGtF): While this spell does slightly more damage, for the most part /chill touch/ is probably better.
Shivering Touch, Lesser (FB): 1d6 Dex damage, no save. Probably not as useful as /ray of enfeeblement/, but doesn't require hold ray.
Spirit Worm (PGtF/MoF): Minor Constitution damage if the target fails to save, minor damage if it saves. Probably not worthwhile in the context of other available spells.
Acid Arrow: With hold ray, this ability deals less immediate damage than /shocking grap/, but offers another element and can be useful against low-level casters.
Touch of Idiocy: Useful mostly for shutting down casters at low levels, but excellent for this purpose.
Scorching Ray: The usefulness of this spells depends on how multiple-ray spells interact with hold ray.
Ghoul Touch: Using this spell is far better than making a stun attack for the range when the spell's save DC isn't much lower than your stunning fist. Later on, it fades in usefulness.
Bone Chill (FB): By the time you get hold ray, this spell has probably outlived its usefulness.
Ray of Exhaustion: This spell can be useful with hold ray because it only allows a save for partial effect, not a full negation.
Vampiric Touch: This spell is one of the best for arcane monks, period. Besides offering decent extra damage that is hard to resist and scales all the way to level 20, it also helps with one of the major problems for arcane monks, lack of hit points.
Shivering Touch (FB): 3d6 Dex damage, no save. This spell can be lethal in the hands of an arcane monk, rapidly reducing a target's AC and making it helpless when it reaches 0 Dex. With metamagic and critical hits, this spell is capable of rendering a target helpless in a single attack.
Spider Poison (PGtF/MoF): I don't know why you would use this spell once you have access to /ray of enfeeblement/ with hold ray.
Dimensional Anchor: Requires hold ray. This spell is only useful in certain situations, but may be worth taking for those situations.
Bestow Curse: A good spell for weakening opponents, but has a save.
Contagion: A more flexible spell for dealing ability damage, but it has a save, making it less useful.
Enervation: With hold ray, one of the most powerful spells in the arcane monk's arsenal, mostly because it has no save. Enervation is a powerful anticaster spell, since one lucky hit (or use of Empower or Maximize) can strip most of a caster's highest level spells. Meanwhile, enervation also makes a target less effective at damaging the monk and sets it up for subsequent kill spells (from either the monk or the monk's allies) by reducing saves and possibly spell resistance. Finally, enervation can kill all on its own, though doing so is often an inefficient use of spell slots and stunning fist uses.
Prismatic Ray (CA): Like most of the prismatic spells, a decent and flexible tool for attacking enemies, and hard to defend against.
Disintegrate: Another power spell for the arcane monk (and you should have hold ray by the time you get it), disintegrate is often best used as a finisher after some uses of enervation to weaken an enemy's saves.
Emerald Flame Fist (CA): This is another awesome spell for arcane monks, and possibly the only circumstance I've seen where you want your opponent to _succeed_ on their save. 3d6 + 1/level fire damage to all your unarmed attacks for 1 round/level is amazingly strong.
Irresistible Dance: This is one of the best upper level spells for an arcane monk. The spell has no save, prevents the target from taking actions, reduces its AC, and allows you (and anyone else threatening it) to take an attack of opportunity against it each round. What's not to like?
Polar Ray: Lots of damage, no save.
Blackfire (CA): This spell has the potential to do lots of Constitution damage, but has a save. Best followed with several applications of enervation, if you want to use it, but this probably isn't the best spell for arcane monks.
Bestow Curse, Greater (CD): This spell offers a save, and given this, may not be worth an 8th-level slot.
Simbul's Skeletal Deliquescence (PGtF/MoF): This spell has a save and is mostly useful for disabling opponents without killing them.
Imprisonment: This is a good finisher spell.
Energy Drain: Like /enervation/, but more so. However, an Empowered Maximized /enervation/ applies more average negative levels.
I should note that while I focused on touch and ray spells in the prior section, an arcane monk can exploit one other type of offensive magic: spells with areas that extend from the caster. However, the arcane monk is generally no better at this than other arcane warrior builds, and other arcane warriors tend to have fewer of the arcane monk's problems.
In this vein, one spell deserves a special note: /antimagic field/. Monks have decent abilities for fighting in an antimagic field, and are the best equipmentless fighters in an antimagic field, bar none. I'll examine this topic further in the section on spell/feat combinations.
After touch magic, the most important spells to an arcane monk are buffs, because they help make up for the arcane monk's deficiencies compared to combat-focused monks and to overcome the weaknesses of monks compared to "full" melee classes with better hit dice, BAB, and abilities. The following lists are focused on combat utility, as opposed to general utility spells.
1st: /mage armor/ (until surpassed), /true strike/, /magic weapon/ or /laeral's cutting hand/, /fist of stone/ 2nd: /false life/, /lion's charge/ 3rd: /magic weapon, greater/ (unless you have an alternative means of getting the same effect), /haste/ (ditto) 4th: /polymorph/ 5th: /draconic polymorph/, /mestil's acid sheath/, /blink, greater/ 6th: /heroism, greater/ 7th: none 8th: none 9th: /shapechange/
Protection from Evil etc.: Too specific for limited-knowledge casters, but useful for others in appropriate situations.
Shield: This is a strong spell for all arcane casters from low to high levels, and the arcane monk receives particular benefit from it.
Mage Armor: One of the paramount spells at low levels for an arcane monk, this allows you to not only compete with but surpass the ACs available to most other characters at those levels. Eventually, /mage armor/'s bonus may be too low, but it remains an excellent spell for a long time.
True Strike: One of the low-level arcane spells most useful at high levels, Quickened /true strike/ is mainstay of later-game combinations.
Enlarge Person: Another power spell for arcane monks, this gives you 10 feet of reach with your unarmed attacks and bonuses when making special attacks such as trips.
Magic Weapon: Besides granting the ability to pierce damage reduction/magic early, this spell helps overcome some of the arcane monk's low-level problems with damage and hitting.
Laeral's Cutting Hand (PGtF/MoF): This spell grants a +2 enhancement to attack and damage with one hand, but you can't cast spells with it and it doesn't last as long as /magic weapon/. This spell definitely deserves consideration, but which spell you prefer depends on other variables.
Kaupaer's Skittish Nerves (PGtF/MoF): A bonus to initiative is always a good thing, but this spell competes with many other good buffs and doesn't last very long.
Fist of Stone (CA): An amazing spell for the low-level arcane monk, granting you an extra attack (though at a -5 penalty) and a hefty bonus to Strength for your attack rolls and damage.
Protection from Arrows: Good for defeating low-level archers.
Blur: Good protection spell for low levels in melee.
Mirror Image: Another strong protection spell, better than /blur/ in many respects.
Invisibility: Useful for stealth and sneak attacks.
False Life: This is another essential for low-level arcane monks, helping to mitigate their generally terrible hit points.
Alter Self: This spell can be powerful in combat if your type is something besides humanoid; if not, it still has uses, but is not nearly as potent.
Stat Pump Spells: A typical arcane monk can make good use out of four or five of these spells, but typically, can only afford to use one or two. Prioritizing them is often difficult and situational.
Lion's Charge (SS): This spell is a must-have for arcane monks, because it allows you to use the monk's improved movement speed while still making full attacks and thus using arcane fist.
Claws of Darkness (PGtF/FRCS): Most useful at low levels when the claws' advantages are strongest and their disadvantages least annoying, but not all that helpful for an arcane monk, especially since the best effect, /slow/, requires grappling.
Create Magic Tattoo (PGtF): This flexible spell can create a variety of useful effects, but unfortunately requires a costly material component.
Arcane Sight: Useful for determining your enemies' vulnerabilities.
Heroism: This is an excellent buff when it first arrives and remains helpful later because it can be cast long before.
Rage: Mostly useful in later levels when you've maxed out the more common bonus types.
Displacement: Another good protection spell.
Blink: An excellent physical defense spell, if you're willing to take the risk that your spells won't function.
Magic Weapon, Greater: This spell is essential, though isn't necessary until the midlevels.
Haste: This spell is also essential.
Weapon of Impact (PGtF, MoF): If you're playing with the moronic 3.5 rule, /weapon of impact/ provides all the increase you will ever need to your unarmed threat range.
Stoneskin: This is a useful spell to cast in emergencies, but is too expensive to use routinely.
Invisibility, Greater: This spell has obvious uses in combat and for stealthy arcane monks.
Fireshield: This is a good spell to make melee attackers hesitant about striking you as well as providing you protection from fire or cold.
Polymorph: In my opinion, this is the single most important buff for an arcane monk, because it simultaneously tackles several of the central problems with the build. /Polyrmorph/ helps mitigate MAD by replacing your physical stats, allowing you to invest more in mental stats without hurting your combat ability as much. Many of the forms you can polymorph into have special attacks that are similar to feats, allowing you to make use of combat maneuvers without needing to spend feats to get them. Unarmed combat synergises with natural attack forms, since an arcane monk can make a full unarmed attack and then follow it with the natural attacks of any form the monk has polymorphed into.
Assay Resistance: Like /true strike/, calling this a buff is a bit of a stretch, but it gives a +10 bonus on the check to beat spell resistance for one spell, which can be incredibly valuable against an opponent with high spell resistance.
Permanency: The arcane monk benefits from having a number of spells cast permanently. At the top of the list is /magic fang, greater/, which an arcane monk should try to find a +5 version of ASAP and make permanent, thereby saving the need for any expensive magic items and/or buff spells. Another good choice is /enlarge person/. The various supplements contain other useful permanent spells. For limited spell knowledge casters, /permanency/ is often best obtained from scrolls.
Draconic Polymorph (Draconomicon): Like ordinary /polymorph/, but scales better with level and grants some stat bonuses to your alternate form. This is an excellent spell and, provided you have the slots, can more or less completely replace /polymorph/.
Mestil's Acid Sheath (PGtF/MoF): Similar to /fires of purity/, but does _lots_ more damage. One of the best midlevel unarmed boosters. [Seems to have no damage cap . . . is this right?].
Kiss of the Vampire (PGtF/MoF): This spell probably doesn't allow you to make unlimited unarmed attacks with /enervation/ and /vampiric touch/, but it still might be worth considering; it's unclear to me how this spell interacts with 3.5.
Blink, Greater (CA): /Blink/ without the disadvantages. This is an extremely useful spell for an arcane monk.
Touch of Adamantine (BoED): This spells allows you to bypass the corresponding damage reduction and ignore hardness like an adamantine weapon; given the arcane monk's lack of ki strike (adamantine), this spell can be very useful, especially if you're using sunder.
Contingency: This spell has many creative uses, but can be difficult for a character with limited spell knowledge to afford.
True Seeing: This can be an important spell, but its usefulness is situational and with the expensive material component, may not be worth taking for limited spell knowledge castes.
Heroism, Greater: A strong melee combat buff.
Transformation: This spell is always a popular one for arcane warriors, and is better in many respects for arcane monks since they're combinations of casting and a lower-powered meleer. Unfortunately, most of the arcane monk's power comes from the effective combination of spellcasting and unarmed fighting; so while this spell may have situational uses, more often than not it's not a good idea.
Mass Stat Pumps: The usefulness of these spells depends mostly on the choices of the rest of your party.
Brilliant Blade (CA): Give your fists the brilliant energy property; useful in some situations, dependent on what you're fighting.
Fiendform (CA): This is essentially an alternate form of /polymorph/. It has its uses, but is probably a judgment call whether it's worth a 6th-level slot in any particular campaign.
Fires of Purity (CD): Similar to /emerald flame fist/, does less damage, but no chance of "losing" the spell to a lucky failed save on your opponent's part and it does damages to anyone who attacks you. However, it's not a touch attack spell, so you can't pseudo-Quicken it with arcane fist.
Starmantle (BoED): Despite this spell's minor component cost, it can be extremely useful for any kind of arcane monk; as a rule, arcane monks have abnormally high reflex saves compared to most meleers or casters, and they can use the decreased damage from weapons this spell grants. However, if you aren't fighting things with weapons, you're wasting your time.
Spell Turning: This is a generally useful spell that you don't usually see on a meleer.
Arcane Sight, Greater: Another useful spell unusual for a meleer.
Mind Blank: This is a good spell for anyone, though generally you need it less than most characters because you have an excellent Will save and often higher than average Wisdom.
Moment of Prescience: This is mostly an emergency spell, and only dubiously worth an 8th-level slot.
Iron Body: The penalties for this spell generally exceed the benefits.
Polymorph Any Object: Like all the polymorph spells, this one is a good choice for the arcane monk, but often you can get the spell's benefits from only a few castings, which means that for limited knowledge casters it's often better obtained from a scroll.
Ghostform (CA): Being incorporeal is a double-edged sword for an arcane monk, unless you can find a way of making your fists ghost touch weapons.
Heart of Stone (CA): DR and energy resistances are highly useful, if you're willing to deal with the possible problems and the experience cost; limited knowledge casters should, of course, cast this from a scroll, if you can find one.
Foresight: This spell is overcosted for a 9th-level spell, but useful nonetheless.
Shapechange: _The_ spell for high level arcane monks, this spell has all the advantages of polymorph with more flexibility, longer duration, the ability to change forms as a free action once each round, and the ability to acquire all the extraordinary and supernatural qualities of the shape you assume. /Shapechange/ is simply awesome, and should be a priority acquisition for any arcane monk if at all possible.
Absorption (CA): Similar to /spell turning/, except that you can use it to cast spells rather than causing them to rebound on the caster. The utility of this spell is a judgment call, but it's certainly better for casters with more limited numbers of spell slots.
Superior Invisibility (CA): This spell has its uses, but also some serious problems, and the CA version as written makes no sense. /Stalking spell/ from SS, if you can persuade your DM to use it, is better and makes more sense.
Concluding comments: I ignored many useful spells in these analyses, including battlefield control (/wall of force/), movement (/dimension door/, /ethereal jaunt/), and general utility (/dispel magic/). You will almost certainly want a few spells beyond combat magic and buffs.
It's highly unlikely that you will be able to provide all the buffs and utility spells you want on your own. I focused my discussion on spells with range Personal and buffs that are especially helpful for arcane monks. Obviously, it's a good idea to coordinate buffs with your allies.
Arcane monks need more feats than they can possibly get, so have to make some significant sacrifices somewhere. I'll start my discussion of required feats and feats designed to enhance the synergies between arcane casting and monk abilities, or to mitigate the disadvantages of multiclassing.
Kung-Fu Genius (DR 319): Allows you to substitute Int for Wis for monk class abilities. It's not clear (to me, at least) Stunning Fist DC counts as a "monk class ability" for this purpose since it's a feat, though I'd hazard that other feats are not. However, stunning DC and the AC bonus are the only monk abilities available from monk levels reachable for arcane monks that matter at all.
Ascetic Mage (CAdv): Allows sorcerer levels to count for the monk's AC level-based AC bonus and gives Cha to AC instead of Wis.
Comments: These feats are both pretty good since they help reduce MAD. Whether they are worth taking depends on how good your stats are and how much you need AC.
Arcane Strike (CW): Burn prepared spells or spell slots to add a bonus to your attack roll and damage for one round. Simply put, this feat is essential for arcane warriors, and the monk gets more advantage from it than most because of their typically lower attack bonus.
Practiced Spellcaster (CD): This feat is very strong in the opening but weaker past level 15 or so. However, because of the way the levels work out, it's normal for an arcane monk to be a 6th-level character with a caster level of 3, or an 11th-level character with a caster level of 7. In those level ranges, Practiced Spellcaster can make a huge difference in the amount of damage a monk can do and the length of time their damaging spells and buffs last.
Extra Stunning: This feat is most useful at low levels when the arcane monk doesn't have many uses of stunning per day. However, it still makes a substantial difference in the number of stunning attempts you have available at level 15 (14 or 15 vs. 11 or 12).
Rapid Stunning: It is the opinion of some posters that Rapid Stunning allows extra uses of arcane fist per round. If your DM permits this, Rapid Stunning is a must-have feat, and it may be worth taking a second time (but after that, you tend to run out of good BAB attacks to use to deliver your touch spells).
Combat Maneuvers and Special Attack Feats:
Rather than examining specific feats for the first part of this section, I'm going to look at specific types of fighting styles.
Tripping [Combat Expertise, Improved Trip, Combat Reflexes, Defensive Throw (CW), Elusive Target (CW)]: With the help of /polymorph/ and /enlarge person/, an arcane monk can become quite accomplished at battlefield control, though will obviously never reach the abilities of a true tripping or disarming expert like a spiked-chain wielder. Combat Reflexes can help this kind of build. Note that many wolf-type monsters have inherent trip attacks, so if you plan to use tripping without reach, these are often a better option.
Disarming [Combat Expertise, Improved Disarm]: Disarming, in my experience, is rarely a worthwhile strategy, and unarmed disarming is particularly problematic, especially since an arcane monk's strength bonus on the check is often poor.
Grappling [Improved Grapple, Earth's Embrace (CW), Clever Wrestling (CW)]: This is terrible idea. Arcane monks always take Stunning Fist instead of Improved Grapple, casting spells while grappling is difficult at best, none of the enlightened fist's abilities help grappling, and arcane monks don't have the Str scores to grapple well. If you want to grapple, /polymorph/ into something with good Str and Improved Grab.
Bullrush and Overrun [Improved Bull Rush, Improved Overrun, Shock Trooper (CW)]: These maneuvers are generally better used by characters with less MAD, and rarely worth specializing in even for those characters.
Feint [Combat Expertise, Improved Feint]: Arcane monks don't get Bluff in-class and receive no special benefit from denying opponents their Dex bonus to AC, making this a poor option.
Mounted Combat [Mounted Combat, Ride-By Attack]: The usefulness of mounted combat is highly campaign-dependent.
Sunder [Improved Sunder, Eagle Claw Attack (CW), Combat Brute (CW)]: This particular combat maneuver has great potential in the hands of an arcane monk, helping to reduce the advantage that equipment-wielding characters have over the monk. Spells and feats like Arcane Strike can also make destroying weapons much easier.
Spring Attack [Spring Attack]: While ordinary monks can get a good amount of mileage out of Spring Attack because of their high movement, arcane monks rely much more on full attack actions and spellcasting, both of which undermine the value of Spring Attack.
Unarmed Special Attacks [Ability Focus (MM), Fists of Iron (CW), Freezing the Lifeblood (CW), Pain Touch (CW), Stone Monkey (DR 309), Weakening Touch (CW)]: The central problem with most of these feats is that they require a high Wis to take, which increases your MAD problems. Also, since they require stunning fist uses, their opportunity costs are much higher for you than for most monks.
A few deserve special notes. Fists of Iron is a complete waste of time and one of the most worthless feats I've ever seen published. Stone Monkey requires grappling, making it less useful. Weakening Touch gives a -6 noncumulative penalty to Str that stacks with spell-derived ability damage, making Str-based disabling attacks that much more effective.
Group Attacks [Cleave, Great Cleave, Whirlwind Attack]: These feats are no more or less useful for an arcane monk than for most arcane warriors. In most cases, arcane warriors have better ways of dealing with groups of enemies than using Cleave or Whirlwind Attack.
Sunset School (CW): This feat is mostly notable for the ability to attack after using /dimension door/ et al., since an arcane monk is probably able to use this ability more often than a normal monk can.
Other Melee Combat Feats:
Two-Weapon Fighting (need I say?): Many of the arcane monk's spells and abilities (such as Arcane Strike) give bonuses to all attacks in a round, so getting more attacks is very useful; also, using two-weapon fighting with unarmed attacks makes it no harder to cast spells, since you have both hands free. That said, using two-weapon fighting increases the arcane monk's already significant problems with hitting. When you add up the numbers, an arcane monk's BAB progression is caster-like for the first eight levels or so. Meanwhile, a typical full attack sequence for a mid-level arcane monk is -2/-2/-2/-7/-7/-7 (haste, flurry, one iterative attack, and two natural attacks from a /polymorphed/ form) on a base attack bonus of +6 or so. Adding Two-Weapon Fighting to this can make it very difficult to hit, even with a bonus from Arcane Strike. The other problem with Two-Weapon Fighting is that the Dex requirements tend to be prohibitive.
Weapon Finesse: This feat is of questionable value. While the arcane monk, like a rogue, has damage that isn't so reliant on Str, and thus can afford to concentrate on taking Dex for its other advantages, many of the best forms you /polymorph/ into have much higher Str than Dex, particularly if you use /draconic polymorph/. Weapon Finesse does have utility in decreasing MAD until you get /polymorph/, particularly if you're taking other feats with high Dex requirements, like the two-weapon fighting tree. Using Weapon Finesse tends to make the early levels suck more, because you will be doing even less damage in a level range where your damage is weak already.
Intuitive Attack (BoED): Similar to Weapon Finesse, this feat allows you to substitute Wis for Str when making attack rolls. The major differences are that it helps a different set of abilities (an AC bonus that you retain when flat-footed, different skills, and the unarmed special attacks tree) and that Wis isn't replaced when you /polymorph/, which may or may not be an advantage depending on your perspective. One disadvantage of Intuitive Attack is that as an exalted feat, it is a supernatural rather than an extraordinary ability, so does not function in an antimagic field; it also requires a good alignment.
Weapon Focus (unarmed strike): This feat does provide a +1 bonus to all your unarmed attacks that stacks with everything. However, +1 is not all that much and it doesn't help your natural attacks; I'm dubious whether this feat is worthwhile.
Improved Natural Attack (unarmed strike) (MM): This increases an arcane monk's base unarmed damage, which can be quite good given the typical number of attacks you get: for instance, if you are a Medium-sized and deal damage as a 16th-level monk, Improved Natural Attack adds 4.5 damage, on average, per hit. Multiattack and Improved Multiattack (MM): If your DM allows you to take these feats, depending on what types of typical polymorph forms you use, they can be well worth it, since frequently an arcane monk gets as many attacks with natural weapons from /polymorph/ as from iterative BAB-based unarmed strikes.
Improved Critical: My understanding of the rules is that if you use an unarmed strike to deliver a touch spell and you get a critical hit with that strike, the unarmed damage is doubled, rather than the spell's damage. Now, in most cases, it's much better for an arcane monk to double spell damage rather than strike damage. So, can you choose to critical your touch spell instead of your unarmed strike? If so, Improved Critical (touch spell) might be worth taking. Improved Critical (unarmed strike) is worthless in any event: much of your extra damage comes in the form of extra dice (Arcane Strike, many spells, etc.), which aren't multiplied by criticals, and your damage bonus is often rather small, so the damage boost Improved Critical provides is minuscule.
Roundabout Kick (CW): This feat is a better way to boost unarmed criticals, though the additional damage is still not all that good.
If your DM doesn't use the idiotic 3.5 rule that Improved Critical doesn't stack with other ways of increasing threat range, /weapon of impact/, Roundabout Kick, and Improved Critical are the best way to wring extra damage from unarmed criticals, and can provide a noticeable damage boost.
Power Attack: Arcane monks, as I have mentioned many times, have problems hitting. However, if you're fighting an opponent you don't have much trouble hitting, for whatever reason, Power Attack is one of the best and most flexible ways of boosting your damage that exists. It also synergises well with any ability that gives you a bonus to hit or reduces your opponent's AC, like many of the arcane monk's spells do.
Mage Slayer (CA): If you take this feat, you more or less have to take Practiced Spellcaster to make up for the reduction in your caster level. That said, this does make you considerably more threatening as mage killer, but I think this is a poor feat for arcane warriors: there are many other builds that can use it more effectively.
Deflect Arrows: You can get this feat free with monk 2, which is the only reason it deserves mention. Its usefulness is dependent on how often you expect to meet archers. It's better at low levels than high because high level archers can more or less ignore it with a full attack. One particular use of this feat is defeating the ever-popular "ready an action to fire an arrow if they cast a spell."
Miscellaneous Caster Feats:
Arcane Preparation (CA): I still don't know why this feat exists except to rub in the prep-caster favoritism. More or less the only reason to take this feat is Quicken, and even Quicken is not worth 2 feats.
Counterspell Feats [Improved Counterspell, Reactive Counterspell (PGtF)]: Counterspelling is usually better left to the primary arcane caster of your party.
Eschew Materials: The situations in which this feat does something are rare, and usually there are better ways of dealing with them than wasting a feat.
Spellcasting Prodigy (PGtF): This feat was marginal even before the gimping of save DCs, but it does help to mitigate MAD.
Spell Focus and Greater Spell Focus: Arcane monks' MAD and lower-level spells means that breeching opponents' saves is often unrealistic. The +1 DC bonus provided by Spell Focus and Greater Spell Focus is rarely enough to matter and moreover, the good spells with saves are scattered across several schools (necromancy, enchantment, transmutation, illusion). Finally, most touch and ray spells don't have saves.
Spell Penetration and Greater Spell Penetration: Spell resistance can be a serious problem for arcane monks, because almost all of their spells are resistable. With Practiced Spellcaster, typically an arcane monk is no worse than a normal caster at breaking resistance, but this may not be good enough.
Arcane Mastery (CA): Take 10 on caster level checks. This is another aid to beating spell resistance, though you have to be careful about when you use it (hint: you can use /chill touch/ as a test spell to find out if you breech a target's SR taking 10 on your caster level check).
Feats to Learn Other Spells [Extra Spell (CA), Arcane Disciple (CD)]: I have heard interpretations of Extra Spell indicating that you can use it to obtain spells that are not your casting class's spell list. Arcane Disciple gives you domain spells to your class spell list, though you still have to learn the spell, which can be costly for a spontaneous caster.
These options are important because there are some spells that exceptionally powerful for arcane monks that do not appear on typical arcane lists. Healing spells are an obvious if boring option, but healing is probably better left to other party members. There are several strong cleric combat buffs that are worth examination: /divine favor/, /divine power/, and /righteous might/. The inflict spells are all reasonable choices, and /harm/ is an amazing complement to an arcane monk's repertoire. The supplements contain other good domains and spells: for instance, several of the spells from the Madness domain (CD) are useful for an arcane monk's arcane fist, as is /blast of force/ from the Force domain (CD). The Competition domain (CD) grants both Divine Power _and_ Righteous Might, along with some other potentially useful spells.
Most metamagic feats are useless. I'm only going to mention the ones you might want to use (or think you might want to use, but actually don't).
Empower: This feat is the best general damage-boosting feat available, for two reasons. The first is that Empower is almost as good as Maximize on small die sizes: on 1d4, Empower yields an expected value of 3.5, and in the limit of large numbers of d4, an expected value of 3.75. On 1d6, Empower's expected value is approximately 4.83, and in the limit of large numbers of d6, 5.25. Back when it was possible to multiple Empower, Empower was more or less just better than Maximize. The other reason Empower is good is that at equivalent spell-slot levels, Empowering a lower-level spell is often better than using a higher level spell: the classic example showing this is a level 10 caster using Empowered Fireball to do 15d6 damage while a /cone of cold/ only does 10d6. Arcane monks have a lot of spells that benefit from Empower, so this feat is a good choice for them.
Maximize: Maximize is only worth taking if you want to double Maximize and Empower, in most circumstances. There are a few corner cases where Maximize is much better (/false life/, for instance), but I think these are outweighed by all the circumstances where Empower is better.
Extend: Arcane monks use many buffs, so this feat can be quite useful to them. However, metamagic rods of Extend are rather cheap and in many cases you can get away with using them rather than taking the feat.
Silent and Still: Both of these feats are of only situational value. Still allows spells to be used while grappling, unless you're a spontaneous caster. Silent and/or Still can allow you to use spells while /polymorphed/ into something that can't speak or make arcane gestures. Generally, these feats are useful only if you expect to regularly create circumstances where you want to cast a Silent or Stilled spell; a feat is too expensive a cost for an arcane monk to take them "just in case."
Quicken: Probably the best metamagic feat, if you're a prep caster. If not, you can't use this feat, unless you make a house rule (I think stripping Quicken from spontaneous casters is unjustified and maims their competitiveness with prep casters).
Energy Substitution (CA): While this feat is popular with primary arcane casters, many of the best spells for arcane monks are nonelemental and moreover, arcane monks tend to have a fair amount of elemental diversity just from picking appropriate touch spells. Also, arcane monks are not reliant on only elemental spells to boost their damage. Finally, Consecrate/Corrupt, depending on your alignment, is often a better way to break elemental resistances if you must.
Consecrate/Corrupt (CD): Useful for piercing resistances, but do arcane monks don't rely on elemental spells for damage the way primary arcane casters do.
Persistent (PGtF): At the 3.5 +6 adjustment, unless you're an incantatrix, have Divine Metamagic, or have some other way of bypassing a level adjustment, this feat is close to useless. For arcane monks, who have few high-level spell slots anyways, this feat is even worse.
Innate (PGtF): The new version of Innate Spell is good for both prep casters and spontaneous casters. Prep casters can get more uses/day of their most commonly used spells (for an arcane monk, often /polymorph/, say). Spontaneous casters can convert a spell into spell-like ability and then swap it out, effectively gaining an extra known spell. Having a spell-like ability has other advantages, such as not needing verbal, somatic, or material components to cast it. The one problem for an arcane monk is that you can't convert your offensive spells into spell-like abilities, because by the RAW arcane fist does not work with them.
Item Creation Feats:
Arcane monks based off wizard get Scribe Scroll for free. Beyond this, the vast majority of items you will want to craft for yourself are wondrous items, so Craft Wondrous Item is the only other feat worth taking; this is a specific extension of Craft Wondrous Item being far and away the best item creation feat.
One exalted feat was covered earlier, Intuitive Attack. Most of the monk exalted feats require ki strike (lawful), which arcane monks do not get. One exalted feat deserves a special mention: Vow of Poverty. Arcane monks who need not rely on a spellbook combine the two classes that need equipment least, monk and arcane spellcaster, so Vow of Poverty is a natural choice for them, especially since the bonus exalted feats can help deal with their limited numbers of feats.
Unfortunately, the number of exalted feats that are actually useful for arcane monks is limited. Intuitive Attack and Celestial Familiar are useful enough to justify to take even if you're not getting free feats, but only for certain builds. Touch of Golden Ice is an excellent addition to an arcane monk's attack, dealing additional Dex damage (though the save DC is too low for the feat to be worth taking if you're not getting free feats from Vow of Poverty). Nymph's Kiss, Favored of the Companions/Knight of Stars/Servant of the Heavens, Exalted Spell Resistance, Gift of Faith, and Nimbus of Light are all varying degrees of useful (Nymph's Kiss and Exalted Spell Resistance are by far the best), but not something worth taking for an arcane monk outside Vow of Poverty. All told, there are about six feats in this collection I consider decent: Intuitive Attack, Celestial Familiar, Golden Ice, Nymph's Kiss, and Exalted Spell Resistance.
A final note are the other Vow feats. Most of the best ones boost Will saves, but an arcane monk's Will save is typically already disgusting. Luckily, some of the feats that are better for arcane monks have roleplaying restrictions that aren't as heinous. In general, the largest problem with loading up on Vow feats is that you can end up with a character whose roleplaying options are crippled.
Quick Draw: For an arcane monk, if your DM allows it, this feat is for retrieving a stored item (such as scrolls, wands, etc.) as a free action.
Great Fortitude: The arcane monk's "weak" save is Fortitude. While your Fortitude save will not be terrible, it will be noticeably lower than your other saves, so it may be worth increasing.
Improved Toughness (CW): The arcane monk's low hit points make this feat a good choice, though it's probably a better idea to offset low hit points with spells than feats.
Familiar Boosting Feats [Improved Familiar (DMG, PGtF, CW), Exalted Familiar (BoED)]: Most arcane casters view familiars as experience drains waiting to happen. This is mostly true of arcane monks' familiars as well, unless you're willing to spend some effort boosting them. Note that because arcane monks have better saves and hit points than most arcane casters, their familiars are inherently more survivable. Also, familiars share spells, so they benefit from any of the arcane monk's melee buffs, which other arcane casters also often lack.
Given these advantages and the frequent usefulness of a companion in melee, familiars can be more useful to arcane monks than primary arcane spellcasters. The most important principle of improving a familiar is to turn them into something with more combat ability. The expanded familiar lists in CW, PGtF, and BoED help with this, but this can also be accomplished with spellcasting, since a familiar shares any /alter self/ or /polymorph/ spell you cast on yourself. Familiars are magical beasts, which considerably expands the available combat-worthy options for /alter self/. Familiars have the full range of forms available to you with /polymorph/, and you can turn them into forms that you wouldn't want to take because of spellcasting or other limitations. If you use share spells to /polymorph/ your familiar, beware of the risk of becoming separated from them in combat; this is one reason why it's often a wise idea to have a familiar with a sturdier base type than the typical small animal.
Leadership: Cha-based arcane monks can get significant mileage out of a cohort: for instance, a primary arcane caster to provide buffs and backup firepower. Int-based arcane monks usually dump Cha, making this feat a poor choice for them.
Improved Initiative: Winning initiative is always helpful and in higher-level combats is often critical, with the side that wins initiative able to dominate the battlefield by forcing their opposition to react, rather than the other way around. I view Improved Initiative as a must for almost all characters.
Knowledge (arcana) 5 and Spellcraft 5 are requirements for enlightened fist. Concentration 8 is also a requirement, and maxed Concentration is _essential_ to the class, since you will be casting in your enemies' threat ranges in almost every combat. Tumble is the arcane monk's other essential skill, since it gives you combat mobility without costing you feats and offers you some other helpful abilities (particularly once you can hit epic-class Tumble DCs).
Given how little a typical arcane monk wants to grapple (at least without using /polymorph/ first), Escape Artist is a good combat skill, and is also helpful for other situations; it also decreases the needs for Still Spell. Listen and Spot are good skills for any character; if you need to act as a scout, you probably want Hide and Move Silently along with them. Finally, Diplomacy and Sense Motive are odd but not insensible choices, particularly for an arcane monk using Cha for casting, but both have the problem that they are not class skills for enlightened fist.
The traditional method to constructing a build is to discuss race and class order first. I inverted this so to motivate the decisions in this section.
By far the strongest choice for race, in my opinion, is human, for the bonus feat, flexible favored class, and +1 skill point per level.
Gnomes and halflings are small, which is a nasty penalty for any melee combatant and worse for a monk; while arcane monks can work around this disadvantage to some extent, taking a -2 Str penalty and an inconvenient favored class on top of this is a serious problem. Meanwhile, their other racial bonuses are not particularly helpful for arcane monks. Elves aren't small, but their racial bonuses are again not all that helpful for an arcane monk. Half-orcs take enalties to both arcane spell-casting abilites and have a bad favored class. Dwarves have a useful ability distribution for an Int-based casting arcane monk and some useful combat abilities, but a poor favored class; they're the only core alternative I'd consider to human for an arcane monk.
There are probably non-core races somewhere with more helpful abilities for arcane monks. However, a level adjustment is a serious problem for an arcane monk: they already lose essential casting levels from taking monk and enlightened fist, and a level adjustment puts them even further behind the curve. On one final note, races with the outsider base type can use /polymorph/ and /alter self/ much more effectively than a normal arcane monk, and may even be worth a +1 adjustment.
As with most odd multiclass characters, it's essential to enter your prestige class as soon as possible: staying longer in either base class dilutes the progression of your key abilities. For enlightened fist, level 6 is the earliest you can take the class.
The fundamental decision an arcane monk has to make is what casting class to build off. While sorcerers make terrible primary arcane casters, sorcerer casting has definite advantages for arcane warriors. As a rule, arcane warriors don't need to be as flexible as primary casters, lack a high enough spellcasting ability to gain substantial numbers of bonus spells and so need more spell slots from their casting class, can use large numbers of spell slots more effectively than a primary caster (via Arcane Strike and other such means), often need to cast one spell many times per day, and can deal with a staggered spell progression more easily than a primary caster (since not all their capabilities rest on their spellcasting). As an ability, Cha is weaker than Int, but it has some worthwhile uses, such as the Leadership feat. Sorcerers get Bluff in-class.
The other option is wizard. Wizards get all Knowledges in-class, which can be helpful. High Int offers the arcane monk the ability to max many skills, and arcane monks (as opposed to primary casters) have a good selection of useful skills. Having to prepare spells in advance is a disadvantage in using arcane fist, but not a disadvantage in buffing; Arcane Strike also provides a good way for the arcane monk to use otherwise wasted prepared slots. Wizards get Scribe Scroll and a bonus metamagic or item creation feat at 5th level; as usual, unlimited spell knowledge enables useful item creation. Finally, wizards get higher level spells earlier, and wizard is the only way for an arcane monk to get 9th-level spells pre-epic.
Wizards also have the option of specialization, which helps reduce the spell slot disadvantage. However, arcane monks face hard choices in specializing, since between combat and buffs they cover all the schools to roughly the same depth. Transmutation and necromancy are the schools with the best coverage of each level of spells (to ensure that the arcane monk doesn't waste any specialized slots), but their coverage is by no means complete. Abjuration and conjuration contain the fewest spells that are true power spells for the arcane monk, but they also contain many essential utility spells like /dispel magic/ and teleportation spells.
Sorcerer-arcane monks tend to be stronger in combat, able to deal more damage, more consistently, while wizard-arcane monks have more flexibility and stronger out-of-combat abilities: a wizard-arcane monk can serve as an excellent scout, for instance.
[Alternate arcane casters: I neglect other arcane casters here because most of them are much worse for an arcane monk than normal sorcerer or wizard. As a general rule, classes with slowed spell progression are disadvantageous to classes that add to arcane caster level like enlightened fist, because such prestige classes are balanced against full spellcasting classes like sorcerer and wizard and you lose the special abilities those other base spellcasting classes grant when you go into the prestige class. Prestige classes that rebuild spell progression, like assassin, are interesting choices for arcane monks, tend to lead to very different builds, and are often even slower than a straight arcane monk, which in most campaigns is a problem. Also, all Cha-based casters except sorcerers suffer from increased MAD because Ascetic Mage does not work for them, unless your DM makes a specific exception.
Bard: Bards get healing and some of the buffs that are good for arcane monks, and don't suffer as much from the slowed spell progression (since a bard can still max out at 6th-level spells pre-epic while taking 4 levels that don't increase spellcasting). Their better BAB, hit dice, and skills are all helpful, and bardic music is always useful. However, bards lack almost entirely the touch and ray spells that make arcane monks worth playing, and armored casting is useless for arcane monks.
Hexblade: Hexblades get good hit dice and BAB, and Bluff and Diplomacy In-class (which can be helpful for certain ways of playing an arcane monk). Their spell list contains a good selection of buffs and touch attack spells, including many of the key spells for arcane monks; with their limitations on spells known, they can't actually use any more spells than they get on their list. Their biggest limitation is their shortage of slots, but the good hit dice and BAB can allow an arcane monk to allocate more points to a high spell-casting ability, which makes up for this deficiency to some extent. Some of the hexblade's class abilities are quite good for monks, such as mettle. The hexblade's most serious problem is probably an inability to penetrate spell resistance because their caster level is only 1/2 that of a full caster; Practiced Spellcaster can improve this situation if your DM allows it to be used thus.
Warlock: Warlocks can qualify for enlightened fist. Warlocks have a better BAB, slightly more hit points, better skills, and some mildly useful class abilities for an arcane monk. Several of the warlock's invocations are useful for an arcane monk.
However, there's a catch: arcane fist and hold ray work on spells, not spell-like abilities, meaning that there's little to no synergy between an arcane monk's and warlock's abilities beyond the buffs, which aren't that great for an arcane monk anyways. If your DM permits you to use invocations with arcane fist/hold ray, with appropriate choice of invocations adding your eldritch blast damage to your unarmed attack each round can be decent, though often not as good as the damage an arcane monk based off wizard or sorcerer can dish out. However, you can do it all day, every attack, without worrying about spell slots. If your DM is not so generous, you're forced to rely on the hideous blow invocation, which isn't that bad at low levels, but falls further and further behind relative to a normal arcane monk as levels increase. Warlocks are also critically short on good buffs to make up for the arcane monk's weaknesses as a melee combatant.
Warlock seems like it should work for arcane monk, but in practice, it's not very good, at least once the flexibility and firepower of true arcane spellcasting arrive.
Warmage: Warmages get full spellcasting and some of the touch and ray spells good for arcane monks. However, their spell list has no buffs, armored casting is useless, and their warmage edge ability gives the arcane monk MAD of the worst possible kind. Thus, warmage is an awful class for an arcane monk.
Wu Jen: In an OA setting, wu jen is a viable alternative to wizard or sorcerer: it gets many of the same buffs and touch spells, along with a few useful buffs and touch spells wizards and sorcerers don't. You want to ask your DM about including certain appropriate spells from other sources on the wu jen list.
Assassin: Assassins have some useful spells, but their casting is too weak and their spell list too limited for arcane monks.
Some prestige class builds that work, more or less, are included in the sample builds section, below.]
Now, finally, I'll get to the part that most people start with =): builds.
All arcane monks start with monk at first level, to take advantage of the better hit die and skills (and also the early dominance of warrior-types over arcane casters). After that, you have to decide whether to focus more on combat and skills, or go straight for higher caster level (which often doesn't pay off for many more levels). A second level of monk gets you Combat Reflexes or Deflect Arrows, a +1 bonus to all saving throws, and evasion, along with its other benefits (taking a 2nd level of monk is forced on characters without monk or wizard/sorcerer as one of racial favored classes). Wizard-arcane monks can get 9th-level spells at level 20 if they avoid losing any more caster progression than monk at 1st level; sorcerers max out at 8th-level spells in any case, but gain more slots and known spells. For those using UA rules, Human Paragon is an attractive option for arcane monks, particularly monks using sorcerer (which has no class features after 1st level except for familiar advancement): it allows you to get into enlightened fist at level 6 while giving you better hit dice, better class skills and more skill points per level, and a bonus feat and a +2 ability boost, both of which an arcane monk can badly use.
In the realm of the more exotic, you can delay enlightened fist to take other abilities. For a martial focus, fighter 1 or 2 (possibly with monk 2), will greatly delay your caster advancement, but will give you more combat feats to play with, some better hit dice, and a bonus to your Fort save. A character starting with monk 1/wizard 4 can take wizard 5 to get an item creation or metamagic feat, which is often worthwhile; taking wizard 5 later is also an option.
The fractional base attack bonus rules from UA are amazingly helpful for arcane monks; see if you can get your DM to use them. (I think they're good period, but I imagine not everyone shares my opinion).
An arcane monk's spellcasting stat is usually their most important ability, because it has to be good enough for them to cast 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th-level spells. Str, Dex, and Con usually follow in that order. However, as I will show in the next section, you can create arcane monks with a wide variety of different ability orderings, depending on your selection of feats and classes.
Most arcane monk builds take a feat to reduce MAD at first level; this is a good idea unless you rolled quite well or you're using a high value point buy. Practiced Spellcaster is useful for any build, but if you're going monk 1/PAC 4, you can avoid it in favor of another feat if you so desire. Builds that lose more caster levels more or less have to take it, because being a 6th-level character with a caster level of 3 is rather awful. Combat Casting is a necessity at 1st or 3rd level. Every arcane monk should take Arcane Strike as soon as they can, which in almost all cases is 9th level unless you're using fractional base attack bonus, in which case it's sometimes 6th level. Other than that, feats mostly go where they fit. Metamagic feats and certain general utility feats like Improved Toughness and Improved Initiative can be safely taken in late levels, being less essential earlier.
The next section lists a set of sample builds to show how all the proceeding abilities work in practice. Most variants will start with monk 1 or 2 followed by PAC 3 or 4 (PAC stands for Primary Arcane Caster, meaning either wizard or sorcerer in most cases). Anywhere where you have PAC 4, it's possible to replace it with PAC 1/Human Paragon 3; in most circumstances where I'm allowed to do this, I prefer it, because the bonus abilities, better skills, and better hit dice are quite helpful. Anywhere wizard appears, wu jen can be substituted. Finally, a more martial build may want to go to monk 2 while maintaining PAC 1/Human Paragon 3 and/or take a level or two of fighter for more feats; I'll mention some builds that do this explicitly, but I'll discuss other builds that don't.
I use the elite array for stats because it's simple and fairly representative.
Most builds go only to 15th or 16th level. This is intentional: since most campaigns don't survive to see 20th level, I'm most concerned with the performance of characters in the level range 5-15. You can make an argument that how characters perform in levels 1-5 is most important, since many campaigns don't make it past those levels, but the balance is so different at those levels, compared to higher levels, that those comparisons are terrible guidelines for most of the rest of a character's career.
What do arcane monks do after 15th level? This is a difficult question without any good answers. Master of the East Wind (DR 314) gives full arcane caster advancement and advances the standard complement of monk abilities, but has no class features worth speaking of. Most other arcane warrior classes are designed for weapon-wielding, armor-wearing tanks (spellsword, dragonslayer, rage mage, etc.). The rest still presume the use of weapons (bladesinger, eldritch knight, etc.). In both cases, the requirements tend to be heinous and the flavor wrong. Caster classes can offer the arcane monk some useful options, but only at the cost of badly-needed BAB and hit points. Pursuing other monk prestige classes gimps your casting progression.
The "best" solution, in most cases, is to beg and plead with your DM to give you an option that doesn't suck. Luckily, in most cases, you won't have to exercise that option because your campaign will end first.
Skills: Concentration maxed, Jump 5, Knowledge (arcana) 5, Spellcraft 5, Tumble maxed, at least 2 other high skills
Abilities: 14/13/12/15/10/8 for wizards, 14/13/12/8/10/15 for sorcerers (it's debatable whether a sorcerer-arcane monk would apply the 8 to Wis or Int)
This build is simple and to the point. Rather than attempting to build a feat tree or select feats that combine well, it picks independent useful feats. Because of this, you can easily swap out one feat for another: Practiced Spellcaster for Empower Spell, for instance. Wizard-arcane monks will often want to take the 5th level of wizard for the extra metamagic or item creation feat.
The monk 2 variant sacrifices caster level for better saves, slightly better monk abilities, evasion, and in most cases, Deflect Arrows (Combat Reflexes is often not all that useful unless you specifically select feats that make it useful).
Monk 2/PAC 3/Enlightened Fist 10
Feats: Ascetic Mage or Kung-Fu Genius (1st), Combat Casting (1st), Practiced Spellcaster (3rd), Leadership (or any feat for wizards) (6th), Arcane Strike (9th), Rapid Stunning (12th), Empower Spell (15th)
Abilities: 14/13/12/15/10/8 for wizards, 14/13/12/8/10/15 for sorcerers
The only difference here is the second level of monk to get Combat Reflexes, a prerequisite for Rapid Stunning. This build presumes that Rapid Stunning does, in fact, allow extra uses of arcane fist. The only reason you get Rapid Stunning so late is because of BAB issues (an arcane monk at level 12 has a BAB of +7). With fractional BAB, this build can take Rapid Stunning at 9th level; unfortunately, because you can't take Arcane Strike at 6th level, you're still in trouble. If you are using fractional BAB, see if you can persuade your DM to allow you to take human paragon, as well, which will give you the BAB at 6th level (though it does cost you another caster level). Failing that, your best option for speeding up your feat acquisition is a well-placed level of fighter or two.
Abilities: 10/15/12/14/13/8 for wizards, 10/15/12/8/13/14 for sorcerers
This build focuses on maxing out its number of attacks and the damage those attacks do. The first two levels will suck because you can't take Weapon Finesse until you get a better BAB. Generally, if you're taking the -2 penalty for fighting with two weapons, you want to climb as far up the TWF tree as you can, since there are no additional penalties. It takes Weapon Focus to help mitigate some of the TWF penalty.
To meet the Dex requirements for TWF, it uses Weapon Finesse to reduce MAD. However, this build's ability scores are still not good enough: this build can reach 8th or 9th level spells, which requires either better ability scores than these, use of human paragon, or use of /wish/ or tomes. Ideally, this build also wants better BAB so it can get Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, but that requires taking a hit on caster level or using fractional BAB. Note that if it takes human paragon earlier and uses fractional BAB, it can take Greater Two-Weapon Fighting at level 15, having just hit +11 BAB, but this requires a /wish/ or tome to reach the necessary value for your spellcasting stat unless you rolled rather well or are using high-value point buy.
Abilities: 10/13/12/14/15/8 for wizards, 10/13/12/8/15/14 for sorcerers
In this case, it's not BAB that's the limiting factor for these builds, but rather getting high Wis soon enough. Adding human paragon for the ability boost at 3rd level helps immeasurably, giving you a Wis of 17 at 5th or 6th level, depending on how you take it; this, in turn, allows you to take Weakening Touch earlier, possibly skipping Pain Touch entirely if you so desire. In general, these builds have a lot of flexibility, and you choose alternate martial arts feats without much trouble. If you want to enhance your use of stunning fist, Ability Focus (stunning fist) followed by Pain Touch is the way to do it. Weakening Touch is better when combined with magic, though you can also (presumably) take Ability Focus for it as well. Rapid Stunning and Extra Stunning are good for most of these builds. All these builds have the same weakness in antimagic fields since they rely on Intuitive Attack. Freezing the Lifeblood requires too high a BAB to be shown in these builds, though you can get it at 15th level if you're using fractional BAB and human paragon.
If you want to be able to function in antimagic fields, you have to use Weapon Finesse (unless your DM allows Kung-Fu Genius to affect: Stunning Fist and the other feats; Ascetic Mage doesn't help you in either case). Your ability distribution is similar, but you tend to always have more trouble hitting. Alternatively, you can stop worrying and learn to love your MAD, which is a lot easier if you roll really well for stats.
Monk 2/PAC 3/Enlightened Fist 10
Feats: Ascetic Mage or Kung-Fu Genius (1st), Combat Expertise (1st), Improved Trip (3rd), Practiced Spellcaster (6th), Arcane Strike (9th), Dodge (or a random feat for sorcerers) (12th), Defensive Throw or Karmic Strike (or a random feat for sorcerers) (15th)
Abilities: 14/13/12/15/10/8 for wizards, 14/10/12/13/8/15 for sorcerers
Wizards make better trippers because of Combat Expertise's requirement. You _could_ take monk 6 for Improved Trip, but this costs you so much in caster level that I doubt it's worth doing for an arcane monk (though see the suel arcanamach section below). Wizards can also take some of the other tripping feats because of their better Dex.
This basic build can be used for any maneuver fighter: at 1st level, take the qualifying feat for your maneuver (typically Power Attack, Combat Expertise, or Dodge), at 3rd level, take the maneuver feat, and then continue to build the tree if you desire and there are good feats for it using your feat at 6th level (possibly), 12th, and 15th. Builds that don't need Combat Reflexes can go monk 1/PAC 4.
Human paragon and a level or two of fighter can be quite helpful for maneuver builds, if you're willing to take the hit to your caster level (which tends to work better than for most arcane monks, because you should fight better than a typical arcane monk).
Vow of Poverty:
Monk 1/Sorcerer 4/Enlightened Fist 10
Feats: Sacred Vow (1st), Vow of Poverty (1st), Nymph's Kiss (1st), Touch of Golden Ice (2nd), Combat Casting (3rd), Intuitive Attack (4th), Celestial Familiar (6th), Leadership (6th), Favored of the Companions/Knight of Stars/Servant of the Heavens (depending on who you want as a patron) (8th), Arcane Strike (9th), Vow of Purity (10th), Vow of Abstinence (12th), Improved Natural Attack (unarmed strike) (12th), Exalted Spell Resistance (14th), Improved Initiative (15th)
This build can go in many different directions using variations on the above builds; Vow of Poverty mostly grants random abilities on top of an arcane monk's other abilities, with the only possible synergy with the preceding builds being Intuitive Attack.
These builds use alternative spellcasters, either base or prestige. I don't really recommend them, but you can try them if you wish.
Human, LN or LE
Monk 1/Hexblade 6/Enlightened Fist 10
Monk 2/Hexblade 3/Enlightened Fist 10
The difference between the first and second build order is a question of whether Practiced Spellcaster grants you the caster level to meet Enlightened Fist's requirements. It's far from clear to me which build is better.
Arcane monks based on hexblade have much better BAB than normal arcane monks, so they have fewer problems hitting and can take high BAB feats much earlier; they also have better hit points and a few more interesting things they can do with skills. In compensation, of course, their spellcasting is much weaker, though because their progression is slower, they can afford the hit to spellcasting more easily than an arcane monk based on a full caster. (Amusingly, a high-level hexblade actually gets _more_ known spells than a sorcerer, for the spell levels they get, though arcane monks lose enough casting levels so that this isn't true for them.) Hexblade has one notable synergy with enlightened fist: at hexblade 5, you can choose a bonus feat, and your options include Combat Casting.
There are many possible different class orderings that work. For feats, you probably want to select one of the more martially oriented builds in the previous section.
As for spells, the spells specifically useful for an arcane monk on the hexblade spell list are:
Using this prestige class as a basis for an arcane monk works far better than it has any right to. The best thing about sublime chord is that it restarts your spell-casting, which frees you to take more levels of monk (or fighter, or racial paragon, or what-have-you) without hurting your spell progression past level 10. Exploiting this, however, will put you at a disadvantage at low to mid levels, particularly if you try to use wizard to speed your progress to 3rd level spells, since that maxes out your MAD.
The peculiar aspect of going for sublime chord is that monks (though not enlightened fists) get all the skills necessary to qualify for sublime chord as class skills (with the addition of Spellcraft from a casting class). The other prerequisites that matter are bardic music, which requires a level of bard (or virtuoso, but I will discuss that later), and 3rd-level arcane spells. Thus, typically a character intending to use this combination should take bard first (to help with the skill points), then monk levels at periodic intervals (the last must be at level 7 or later, if you don't want to lose skill points) to fill out the ranks in the necessary skills. It should be noted that at some point between bard and monk, you have to switch alignments, which some DMs may object to.
That said, here are some builds, in order of increasing low-level suckage.
This build is a standard enlightened fist build except that it subs a level of bard for a second level of monk, decreasing your BAB, caster level, and monk abilities (though further increasing the ridiculousness of your Will save and helping your Reflex save). It's also inefficient in the sense that it increases caster level past the 3rd level spells needed for sublime chord, and that it also takes one level off sublime chord casting.
[Note for rules-lawyers: in CA, enlightened fist's spellcasting increased refers to classes before you gained the enlightened fist _level_, allowing you to take the 1st level of enlightened fist before taking sublime chord.]
[Multiclassing note: enlightened fist relaxes the monk multiclassing restriction, so you can actually arrange your monk levels to get the skills when you need them.]
These builds squeeze more out of the rebuilt spellcasting you get with sublime chord, at the cost of delaying enlightened fist abilities and inefficient use of casting classes. Wizard 5 and monk 2 aren't terrible, since they give you feats, but an arcane monk gets almost nothing worthwhile from monk 3 or sorcerer 6.
These builds use human paragon to avoid having to spend so much time in base casting classes. The wizard variant doesn't gain much, though, since wizard 5 grants a bonus feat, and the sorcerer variant loses the second level bonus feat from monk and evasion.
The sorcerer can't avoid losing the second level of monk, but does at least get to take levels in virtuoso instead of sorcerer. Virtuoso does have the definite advantage that you don't have to change alignments at any point during the progression.
Most DMs would look at these class orders and conclude, quite correctly, that you were minmaxing. For all the effort, though, in many cases the character you get is at best only marginally effective at low to mid levels, a sort of low-powered bard-caster-monk hybrid.
By level 20, a sublime chord/enlightened fist is better off than most more normal enlightened fist builds in terms of spellcasting and skills, but is it worth it?
Finally, you can use virtuoso to qualify for sublime chord while not delaying enlightened fist:
Note that you have to delay taking the second level of monk until after you enter enlightened fist to optimize your expenditure of skill points to meet the requirements for virtuoso and then sublime chord. The wizard variant of this build is probably better off to take wizard 5 at some point and drop the last level of enlightened fist.
Human paragon allows you to qualify for virtuoso and sublime chord with less pain. If I was going to attempt to play an arcane monk using sublime chord for my casting, this is how I would do it; and you aren't too much worse off compared to an ordinary arcane monk in the midlevels, though your BAB suffers. (You really, really want fractional BAB. At level 18, without it, your BAB is +9; with it, your BAB is +12.5.)
The suel arcanamach spell list is not especially suited to an arcane monk because it doesn't contain many good offensive touch spells, since it lacks access to evocation, necromancy, and enchantment. However, suel arcanamachs do get access to most of the best buffs for an arcane monk. If your DM allows you to use Extra Spell to take other spells off the suel arcanamach spell list, two or three spells can make them competent users of arcane fist, though they will never be as good as an arcane monk based on a full casting class. Arcane Disciple is another possible choice for domains such as Death, Decay (Eb), Destruction, Force (CD), Necromancy (Eb) (this domain is a _perfect_ choice for a suel arcanamach/arcane monk), or Undead (DR 312). /Shadow evocation/ and /shadow conjuration/ are both worth considering as spell options.
The reason to bother with suel arcanamach at all is that you can spend all the levels until you enter the prestige class taking levels in fighter-type classes. Monks going for arcane monk meet all the requirements trivially except for the +6 BAB, language requirement, and 5 ranks of Spellcraft. The necessary language can be bought cross-class, but 5 ranks in spellcraft require character level 7 if you're buying it cross-class and a monk doesn't hit BAB +6 until level 8. Since the advantage of suel arcanamach is better melee ability, typically you want to arrange your classes to maximize that.
Monk has, for meleers, five natural drop points of relevance: monk 2 (bonus feat, evasion), monk 5 (-1 flurry), monk 6 (bonus feat), monk 9 (+0 flurry, improved evasion), and monk 11 (greater flurry). The shortest way to enter suel arcanamach is hexblade 6, because it's the only way to get +1 BAB/level and Spellcraft in-class. An arcane monk entering suel arcanamach will have to be at least one level slower, meaning that you can always afford to take Spellcraft cross-class. Note that if you take monk to 5, you lose 2 BAB (even if you're using fractional progression, this can't be sped up again to bring you to +6 by level 7). Thus, a monk has the following options: monk 2 followed by 5 levels of a +1 BAB/level class, monk 5 or 6 followed by 3 or 2 levels of a +1 BAB class, or monk 9.
With monk 2, 5 levels in another class, then another 3 levels in suel arcanamach, I don't understand why you'd multiclass into enlightened fist: your monk abilities are so weak that enhancing them isn't worth your time. Of core classes you can splash, the sensible choices are fighter 2, paladin 2 or 3, or ranger 2; if you're using fractional BAB, you could also go cleric 2 (or rogue 2 or druid 2, though why you'd want to is beyond me). There are no doubt other options beyond the core classes, hexblade 3 being a good example.
After qualifying, you need suel arcanamach 3 to meet the requirements for enlightened fist (which incidentally gives you all the worthwhile abilities from suel arcanamach for an arcane monk). If you only spent 8 levels in other classes before going into suel arcanamach, you get all the worthwhile abilities from arcane fist and full suel arcanamach spellcasting at 20th level; else, you fall one level short.
When all is said and done, suel arcanamach doesn't work all that well for an arcane monk, but is nonetheless an interesting option for monks experiencing a midlife crisis (and these builds can get some ridiculously high saves).
This section is mostly an overview of magic items in the core; there are undoubtedly other good items in the supplements. I'm not going to mention the usual suspects, such as items to provide enhancement bonuses to stats, cloaks of resistance, etc., only specialty items.
Ring of Counterspelling: Use this to store /dispel magic/ and /dispel magic, greater/ to protect your buffs; after a certain point, it's well-nigh essential.
Ring of Wizardry: Arcane monks need lots of spell slots, and often don't mind using lower level spells: casting /vampiric touch/ is probably a waste of a high level caster's action, but an arcane monk is more than happy to do so even at 15th level while also using another 3rd-level slot to power Arcane Strike.
Metamagic Rods: Arcane monks can rarely afford to take more than one or two metamagic feats and these rods can help make up for that deficiency. Monks are also normally good at using rods in combat, since they can hold a rod in one hand and attack with the other (or their knees, elbows, legs, etc.)
Extend rods, to max out buff lengths, are cheap and incredibly useful, and don't even need to be combat capable. Silent rods are useful against the risk of being silenced, and can allow you to use spells while /polymorphed/ into something that can't speak but has hands (legendary ape is a good example). You typically want to use Empower too often for a rod to be useful, but an Empower rod or a Maximize rod can add punch to a few spells a day.
Amulet of Mighty Fists: This item is ridiculously too expensive. You can afford to pay for many /magic fangs/ and scrolls of /permanency/ for the cost of one of these items, at the same caster level. Alternatively, you can cast /greater magic weapon/ on yourself and it will last all day past a certain level.
Monk's Belt: Overcosted, but a useful piece of gear anyways all the way into epic levels.
Some Sample Combat Tactics:
Using Antimagic Field to Kill Mages: Most casters (if you're dealing with a martial cleric wearing heavy armor, look at the warrior section, below) are crippled in an antimagic field, since they will be wearing no or light armor, have weak weapons and melee combat skills, and few hit points. Simply put, you can pound most casters into a pulp in an antimagic field, the key problem is keeping them in it. You have several options for doing so. One of the best is grappling (one of the conditions under which an arcane monk _wants_ to grapple): in most cases, once you succeed in a grappling a caster, they're helpless and you can use the damage opponent grapple option to squeeze them to death in short order. If you choose this option, make sure your Str in an antimagic field is decent, and it may even behoove you to take Improved Grapple for the +4 bonus, since often your BAB won't be much higher than the caster's; when using this method, watch out for casters with Escape Artist.
Another possible method is tripping the caster. Since you're in an antimagic field, you won't have reach (unless you're playing a non-core race), so they can use the withdraw action to escape from you if they aren't prone at the start of their turn, so you must trip them as soon as possible once they're in the field. If they are prone at the beginning of their turn, they have to use a move action to stand and another to leave the field, both of which provoke attacks of opportunity you can use to trip them again. If you're trying to trip, watch out for casters with Tumble.
A final option for keeping a caster in the field is using Stunning Fist or other unarmed special attacks to stun, paralyze, nauseate, or otherwise disable the caster. This technique requires a decent Wis to increase the save DC on your Stunning Fist (or other martial arts attack), but most casters have poor Fort saves, so you have decent odds of them failing their save. This technique also synergises well with the other two options.
Using Antimagic Field to Kill Warriors: This may seem perverse at first sight, but it can work. The essential fact to note is that you don't need equipment to melee, but most other warriors do. For the most part, then, dealing with a warrior consists of taking away their weapons and then dropping them into an antimagic field where the rest of their equipment is useless or near useless.
The first step is to sunder or disarm your opponent's weapons. In most cases, sundering is a _lot_ easier, but of course costs the (virtual) money you might get if you defeat the opponent some other way and then sell or use their weapon. However, if you manage to deprive your opponent of the use of a weapon, typically they become helpless in combat. Smart warriors will have reserve weapons, so you have to sunder those too. Unusually smart warriors will have a reserve weapon that they only bring out in an antimagic field, so it is best to prepare to sunder another weapon while in the field.
Preventing your opponent from using a weapon is the most critical point, because it reduces them to unarmed combat. A typical arcane monk at level 15 does 2d6 + Str bonus damage with attacks at +7/+7/+2 from BAB and flurry, before adding your attribute bonus to attack. Most opponents will be doing 1d4 + their Str bonus in damage, with say 4 attacks, but each attack they make draws an attack of opportunity. An armored warrior can get an AC of 23 (+8 mithral full-plate, +3 Dex, +2 shield); your AC will typically be worse, but not much worse. This situation is advantageous to you, and you can improve it by using one of the techniques mentioned above in dealing with arcane casters, though against warriors your best option is usually unarmed special attacks. Note also that by the RAW, since a feat is an extraordinary ability unless stated otherwise (as for the exalted feats), you can use Arcane Strike in an antimagic field (though many DMs might object), which can give you a huge advantage. Having enough ranks in Sense Motive to deal with feinters who have sneak attack or similar abilities in an antimagic field is a good idea.
There are some opponents that using this strategy on is a terrible idea. A combat-focused monk, a fighter specializing in unarmed techniques, grappling, or who has too many weapons to sunder, or certain rogue builds, will destroy you. Since you can't always identify such a lethal character ahead of time, it's best to make sure that you have Tumble, Escape Artist, or similar abilities to improve your chances of escaping or getting a standard action to dismiss the field. Luckily, arcane monks are more survivable than pure casters, in most cases, so your chances of escaping are better than a typical pure caster.
Sundering: Improved Sunder is usually a necessity for sunder tactics. One excellent spell for sundering is /touch of adamantine/: ignoring hardness less than 20 allows a single attack to destroy many pieces of equipment (though unfortunately by the time you get it, adamantine and mithral items with good pluses start to appear). /True strike/ allows you to all but guarantee that you hit your target, and if you have good mods on your attack roll, you can use Power Attack to boost your damage (typically, given an arcane monk's low BAB, maxing out Power Attack is a good strategy on a sunder). Finally, /Mestil's acid sheath/ in conjunction with /shocking grasp/ or /emerald flame fist/ are the best spell for boosting the damage you do to your sunder target.
I haven't covered everything here, and I'd appreciate comments covering important things I missed.
Very nice job! That must have taken a lot of time to write! Thanks for sharing.
I've been considering running an Enlightened Fist on one of the one-shot adventures we seem to have from time to time. The low BAB for a melee type had scared me away and I wasn't confident of how well the EF could use magic to overcome this. Your post went a long way towards giving me the itch to give it a try.
I really hate to point this out, as you really have done a great job of putting this all together and its really well thought out, but one cannot take Ascetic Mage at first level, as it requires the ability to cast second level spells. I'm sure this can be adjusted for but hampers the abilities of an arcane monk sorcerer at low levels.
I really hate to point this out, as you really have done a great job of putting this all together and its really well thought out, but one cannot take Ascetic Mage at first level, as it requires the ability to cast second level spells. I'm sure this can be adjusted for but hampers the abilities of an arcane monk sorcerer at low levels. -ateve the mighty mouse
That's true. And let this be a lesson that glancing through something is bound to lead to stupid errors.
With that change, I think a lot of the basic sorcerer builds are screwed . . . getting through levels 1-6 would be too painful. (Speaking of which, why did they make this feat so useless? They duplicated a weaker form of Arcane Strike and gave it unreasonable prereqs).
I suppose that if you have access to human paragon, it's probably survivable. You just take human paragon 1 as your first level, picking skills to match your monk skills, a level of sorcerer, two more levels of paragon, monk 1, then enlightened fist, then you have 2nd-level spells to pick up Ascetic Mage at 6th level.
However, taking monk at first level with sucky Wis, then multiclassing into sorcerer, sounds like it wouldn't work. You'd be so weak for the first couple levels that it wouldn't be worth playing.
Personally, I think the feat is poorly written, given the existence of Arcane Strike. I'd houserule it if I were to play it.
Any opinions or rule fixes on this spell? If it works on all your unarmed strikes that would make the most disgusting combo for an Enlightened Fist. Lots of attacks with Flurry and Haste, no Save and as the abilities gained are described as Supernatural no SR.