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Monks were spiritual ascetics and practitioners of a mystical energy known as ki, the magical essence which flows through all living things. Monks utilized this energy to augment their own physical abilities, granting them extraordinary speed and strength. Monks could also use their own ki to alter the energy flow in other living creatures, for both defensive and offensive purposes. Monks' ability to manipulate ki was often (but not always) mediated by their own psionic ability.
Sabuti Shanardanda was a notable monk from Amn during the Era of Upheaval. Danica Maupoissant was another notable monk studying at Spirit Soaring (Edificant Library). Grandmaster Kane was an incredibly powerful monk of the order of Ilmater, one of the companions of Gareth Dragonsbane who assisted him in defeating the evil witchking Zhengyi.
Monastic traditions appear to have originally arisen in Amn and Calimshan simultaneously, though traditions from Kara-Tur and other material planes immigrated to Faerûn and may have originated earlier. Most monastic orders were devoted to the worship and internalization of the ideals of a god, though others were not and it was not required for a monk to manipulate ki, since a monk’s power most often came from within, rather than from divine sources. The gods most commonly worshiped by monks tended to be champions of virtue like Bahamut, deities of battle such as Tempus, or those who required of their followers a disciplined lifestyle. Monks of Ilmater, Shar, and Yondalla (among the few halfling monks) were also common and members of the Shining Hand were devoted to Azuth.
Monks usually lived in monasteries, which could be found throughout all of Toril, though most commonly in Amn, Calimshan, Damara, Kara-Tur, the Lake of Steam, or Silverymoon, as well as Mulhorand. In Shou Lung the Iron Hand, Five Stars, Northern Fist, and Southern Star schools were among the most highly reputed, with branches in Shou communities throughout Faerûn. In Faerûn proper the Order of the Dark Moon and the Disciples of Saint Sollars the Twice-Martyred, devoted to Shar and Ilmater respectively, were generally well-respected. Some monasteries were located in reclusive mountains; others operated in city slums. Monasteries that were located within or near towns or villages were generally on good terms with their neighbors, providing various services in exchange for food or other resources.
Wherever they were based, monks rigorously trained their bodies and minds towards perfection, enabling them to defend themselves with their bare hands or a few select weapons. Due to the discipline imposed by this training, monks were almost always of a lawful temperament. However, monasteries - and the monks that resided within - varied between good and evil. Good monasteries were servants of the people, protecting them from bandits and other threats. Evil monasteries, on the other hand, were often tyrannical bastions, ruling the surrounding lands through fear or serving despots as spies and assassins. Most monks adhered to neither extreme, however.
Most monks came to their individual monastery at an early age, either as orphans or as members of starving families. As a result of their young induction, relatively few monks felt any close connection to their previous families or friends, and instead looked to their fellow monks as their family. Other monks came from a different background, most often within cities where masters of an order set up schools to teach the fighting style and traditions of his or her order to prospective students.
Most monks were humans or half-humans such as half-elves or half-orcs. Elves also make capable monks due to their natural agility and perceptiveness. However, dwarves, in spite of their hierarchical and orderly culture, found the concept of the monk distasteful or bizarre and as a result few chose such a path. Likewise gnomish and halfling monks, with the exception of stronghearts, were not particularly common. And among the more savage humanoids such as orcs or goblinoids monks were an utterly alien tradition.
Monks who chose to become adventurers did so for a number of various reasons. Some monks left out of a desire to test their own capabilities, perhaps as a means to spiritual development. Others were forced from their monastery for violating some rule of their order. A few were sent into the world with a particular purpose by their superiors, Whatever the reason, the transition from the communal life of the monastery to one of solitary traveling was rarely easy on monks.
Monks ability to manipulate ki gave them a wide variety of special abilities, as did some monks' skill with psionics or divine magic. Among the most basic capabilities granted by monks' control of their own ki was an enhanced awareness of their own surroundings, improving their ability to sense and avoid attacks. This ability was impeded however, by the use of armor, which is why most monks eschewed it. In addition to forgoing armor, most monks often used only their bare hands for weapons, delivering powerful blows that were enhanced through a monk's use of ki. In addition to unarmed strikes, monks were also trained in the use of all simple weapons (such as nunchaku or kamas) as well as shortswords. When fighting unarmed or using weapons such as these, monks attacked with greater agility and power than other combatants who used similar techniques. Some monks could also enhance these attacks with implements such as magic weapons or ki focuses.
As monks grew more experienced, they gained additional abilities. Experienced monks could use their ki to increase their speed while running unarmored or to deflect missile attacks. With further training they could decrease the affect of gravity on their bodies as they fell, attack more quickly, deal a paralyzing blow to enemies, overcome a creature's resistance or immunity to nonmagical injuries, or calm their minds in the heat of battle. Assuming their training continued unimpeded, monks eventually became as capable in any mental, spiritual, or physical defense as humanly possible and became able to replenish their use of ki at an incredible speed.
in addition to combat abilities, monks gained a number of other benefits from mastering their ki. Experienced monks could, for example, render themselves immune to disease or poison or use their ability to interact with the ki of other living creatures to understand any spoken language (or make themselves similarly understood). With further training, monks could learn to halt the aging process and to sustain themselves on the energy of ki, without need for food or water. The most experienced monks could even make themselves invisible or replicate the effects of the astral projection by using their ki to render themselves in insubstantial.
Though all monks shared a great deal with one another, many focused on a number of specific, exclusive techniques that distinguished different monasteries from one another. Some of the most frequently practiced traditions are listed below.
Centered Breath traditionEdit
Frequently found in remote rural areas, monasteries that taught the Centered Breath tradition placed an emphasis upon mental perfection and acuity, calmly anticipating enemy actions and countering them with psionic energy. Centered Breath monks were soft-spoken ascetics, who preferred solitary study to combat training, honing their psionic abilities through discipline and quiet contemplation. Some Centered Breath monasteries even swore themselves to a vow of silence, allowing members to speak only for one hour a day.
Through such dedicated study Centered Breath monks acquired a number of unique abilities. Among the most basic of these was the centered flurry of blows discipline, which involved hitting an opponent rapidly in order to shift them a short distance. Additionally, Centered Breath monks - who were often less physically powerful than other monks - could use their considerable mental powers to regulate their own body, increasing their fortitude.
Stone Fist traditionEdit
While some monks emphasized the importance of mind over body, adherents of the Stone Fist tradition believed that true spiritual perfection began with the mastery of the body. Training themselves to supernatural levels of agility and strength, Stone First monks were master athletes, who often offered their services as laborers or artisans to local communities when they weren't training. Stone Fist monasteries where therefore more likely to be found in towns or villages than the remote wilderness, though exceptions did exist for those monasteries whose members sought to test themselves physically against climatic extremes, such as a desolate tundra or an active volcano.
The harsh training of the Stone Fist tradition made its adherents both more agile and more powerful than other monks. Moving swiftly across the battlefield, Stone Fist monks favored such disciplines as the stone fist flurry of blows technique, which landed a series of quick and devastating blows on enemies. Stone Fist monks' physical mastery also gave them a degree of resistance to efforts to sap their will, making up for their shortcomings in mental training.
Way of the Four ElementsEdit
Among the most deliberately magical of the monastic traditions, the Way of the Four Elements taught monks to use their ki to manipulate the four fundamental building blocks of matter in the multiverse: air, earth, fire, and water. Four Elements monks could bend these elements to their will, manipulating them as though they were a part of their own body. Many of them celebrated their mastery of the elemental forces by embellishing their bodies with representative tattoos, such as dragons, fish, phoenixes, or mountains.
Whereas other monks focused on the mastery of specific martial arts techniques, Four Elements monks instead used their ki to master spells which utilized one or more of the four elements. Many monks chose to specialize in one element but others were multifaceted, using two, three, or all four elements together to create a diverse array of effects. Elemental spells mastered by monks of the Four Elements were often given different names than those used by more typical spellcasters. Cone of cold for example became breath of winter, while fireball became flames of the phoenix. In addition to replicating the effects of spells, monks of the Four Elements also practiced a number of unique abilities, such as the elemental attunement technique, which allowed them to cause or create minor elemental effects.
Way of the Open HandEdit
Masters of the martial arts, monks of the Open Hand were the ultimate practitioners of unarmed combat. Monks belonging to the Way of the Open Hand could use ki to hinder opponents, heal their own bodies, or protect themselves from enemy attacks. In addition to unarmed combat, monks of the Open Hand were also skilled in the use of monk weapons like kamas or staves.
The most basic technique available to monks of the Open Hand was the so-called "open-hand technique," a variation of flurry of blows which allowed a monk to knock an enemy down or force them back a distance of about 15 feet. More experienced Open Hand monks could use their ki to replicate the effects of the sanctuary spell, granting them magical protection from enemy attacks. Among the most advanced abilities known to practitioners of the Open Hand was the quivering palm technique, which allowed a monk to strike an enemy and send miniature vibrations coursing through the target for a period of up to two or more tendays or until the monk chose to end them. If the monk ended these vibrations by choice they could do so harmlessly or as a lethal attack which only the most lucky or durable could survive.
Way of ShadowEdit
Also known as ninjas and shadowdancers, monks who practiced the Way of Shadow were masters of stealth and trickery. Unlike most monks, Shadow monks were often part of a clan, rather than a traditional monastery, sharing techniques that were passed down from one family generation to the next. Others were more akin to thieves' guilds. Both variations often used their skills to earn a living as spies or hired killers and practitioners of the Shadow Way were expected to obey their superiors with unquestioning obedience.
To help them in their subterfuge, monks of Shadow could use their control of ki to replicate the effects of several spells such as darkness or silence as well as cantrips such as minor illusion. More experienced Shadow monks were also capable of a limited form of teleportation, darting from one shadow to another across moderate distances. A more advanced technique allowed Shadow monks to blend into such shadows, becoming invisible so long as they remained within the dark and refrained from interacting with other creatures or objects.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 76. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Mike Mearls, Bruce Cordell, Robin Heinsoo, and Robert J. Schwalb (March 2010). Player's Handbook 3. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 63. ISBN 978-0-7869-5390-5.
- ↑ Ed Greenwood, Sean K. Reynolds, Skip Williams, Rob Heinsoo (June 2001). Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 24. ISBN 0-7869-1836-5.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 Ed Greenwood, Sean K. Reynolds, Skip Williams, Rob Heinsoo (June 2001). Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 25. ISBN 0-7869-1836-5.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 81. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Bruce Cordell, Robin Heinsoo, and Robert J. Schwalb (March 2010). Player's Handbook 3. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-0-7869-5390-5.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 77. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams (August 2000). Player's Handbook 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 37. ISBN 0-7869-1551-4.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams (August 2000). Player's Handbook 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 38. ISBN 0-7869-1551-4.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 77. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Bruce Cordell, Robin Heinsoo, and Robert J. Schwalb (March 2010). Player's Handbook 3. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 62–64. ISBN 978-0-7869-5390-5.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 79. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Bruce Cordell, Robin Heinsoo, and Robert J. Schwalb (March 2010). Player's Handbook 3. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-7869-5390-5.
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 Mike Mearls, Bruce Cordell, Robin Heinsoo, and Robert J. Schwalb (March 2010). Player's Handbook 3. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 63–65. ISBN 978-0-7869-5390-5.
- ↑ 17.0 17.1 17.2 Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 80. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 80–81. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
- ↑ Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.