Optimizing a D&D 3.5 Monk
I have complaints from someone in one of my groups that the 3.5 monk isn't good for anything offensive, only for defense and disarming (defenestration wasn't mentioned).
My experience has only been with a monk in the party, and she constantly fought defensively.
How do we make this character brokenly good?
The Monk class is one of the weakest in the game. It has extremely few powerful or useful features, and those that are useful tend to have extremely tight limits on how often they can be used. The only major exceptions, namely their Unarmed Strikes, AC Bonus, Flurry of Blows, Evasion, and their bonus feats, all happen in the first two levels. There is almost no situation in which it is optimal to take more than 2 levels of Monk.
And in those few cases (using Alternate Class Features), you still max out at Monk 6.
Overview of Monk class features
Just so we’re on the same page, here’s what Monk has to offer. Most of it is pretty weak.
Unarmed Strike Damage
The Monk’s unarmed strike damage is their best feature. Unfortunately, it grows extremely slowly, and you cannot (easily) enhance them as you could a normal weapon, so even though it’s the Monk’s best feature, it’s still not a particularly great feature.
The best way to maximize this damage is by increasing your size. Start as a race with Powerful Build, like Goliath (Races of Stone) or Half-giant (Expanded Psionics Handbook), or maybe even go for some real monstrous race or template, like Half-minotaur (Dragon vol. 313) or Feral (Savage Species). For that matter, the anthropomorphic animals in Savage Species might just be overpowered enough to make a Monk worth something. A Warforged with a Battlefist (Eberron Campaign Setting) gets the damage bonus but not the other benefits of Powerful Build.
Take feats that improve your size for the purposes of your damage, like Improved Natural Attack (Unarmed Strike) (if your DM thinks that you cannot take INA with Unarmed Strikes, or houserules so that you cannot, do not even consider the Monk). Get ways of increasing your size further, like Expansion (Expanded Psionics Handbook), or, if you must, Enlarge Person (but note that Enlarge Person’s 1 round casting time makes it absurdly inefficient in combat, and it won’t work on Goliaths or Half-giants). In a high-level game, get a magic item of these things, or Giant’s Size (Complete Arcane) for growing two size categories. Though your odds of remaining competitive in a high-level game are really low.
If you can, get a Necklace of Natural Attacks (Savage Species); if you can’t, it’s even harder to justify Monk. The Necklace of Natural Attacks allows you to give your unarmed strikes actual special abilities. If you cannot get the Necklace of Natural Attacks, the Scorpion Kama (Magic Item Compendium) can have its damage replaced by your Unarmed Strike damage, so that’s decent, though more expensive. Do not ever buy an Amulet of Mighty Fists. That item is ludicrously overpriced, even for a Monk who needs it.
If you can afford it from character creation, the Fanged Ring (Dragon Magic) is must-have. It’s 10,000 gp, but it gives Improved Unarmed Strike and Improved Natural Attack (Unarmed Strike), as well as a free Con-damaging poison. If you cannot afford it to begin with, you probably need to take Improved Natural Attack on your own; the bonus is just too important.
If you run out of size increases, bonuses to your effective Monk level can work too. Unfortunately, they work slowly, thanks to the fact that the Unarmed Strike damage only goes up one die size per four Monk levels. Monk’s Belt and Superior Unarmed Strike (Tome of Battle) both have these sorts of bonuses (but note that RAW, the Monk’s Belt and Superior Unarmed Strike do not stack; most DMs allow them to though). You may also ask your DM if you could get Superior Unarmed Strike as a bonus feat if something would otherwise give you Improved Unarmed Strike (which you already have by virtue of your Unarmed Strike class feature) – the Fanged Ring becomes even better then.
Flurry of Blows
Also known as Flurry of Misses. You’re a medium BAB class, and you’re taking yet more penalties. Might be worth it for an extra attack, if you had a source of bonus damage like a Rogue does. You don’t, though, and you cannot afford the Rogue’s focus on Dexterity.
Monks have a very hard time hitting things. You cannot afford to go all-in on Strength like other characters might, you need a lot of feats so Weapon Finesse hurts to take (and you still can’t go all-in on Dexterity, either), you have poor BAB, etc. Flurry makes that worse.
This class feature would be much better on another class. For example, the Shou Disciple prestige class is full BAB and gains Flurry, for example; that’s at least better anyway. If you want to optimize Flurry of Blows, you really want two things the Monk does not have: full BAB, and bonus damage dice. There aren’t a lot of good options for getting all of those things, however.
Other Monk Weapons
The Monk gains proficiency in some Exotic weapons; this is yet another feature that you get at level 1 and that gives you no reason to stay in the class. They’re almost entirely worthless anyway, but for completion’s sake:
- Kama: can trip, but no reach. Guisarme is vastly superior for a trip-lockdown build.
- Nunchaku: +2 bonus on Disarm; doesn’t even counter-act the +4 bonus for holding a weapon in two-hands. Disarming is a waste of time anyway when Locked Gauntlets are so easy to use and add such a huge bonus.
- Sai: +4 bonus on Disarm; actually does cover the two-hand bonus, but there’s nothing special about these otherwise. Disarming remains a difficult tactic to use.
- Shuriken: the best of the bunch, because it counts as ammunition. Only worthwhile if you’re really abusing that, though, to get vastly-cheaper weapon enhancements. Only justifies one level in Monk anyway, and Ninja (Complete Adventurer) is arguably better since throwers really want bonus damage.
- Siangham: literally a Short Sword with a smaller critical range. The game would be improved if this didn’t exist and the Monks could just use Short Swords.
Actually a decent bonus, but unfortunately you’ve got so many ability scores that you need to maximize that you won’t be able to get a very high Wisdom. Plus, really, most of the time, plain armor is better. And if it comes down to it, the Monk’s Belt replicates this feature for a relatively affordable 13,000 gp.
Maximizing this is pretty obvious: pump Wisdom. That’s really hard on a Monk, however, since the Monk really badly needs Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution as well. This is a major, overarching problem with the Monk, for which there is not really any good answer. Even if you were to roll really high scores, keeping them all high becomes prohibitively expensive by mid levels. This feature is far better for a Cleric or Druid than it is for a Monk.
Bonus Feats and Evasion
Decent, but hardly amazing. Fighters and Psychic Warriors get better feats; Rogues get an awful lot more useful class features along with Evasion. Rings of Evasion are pretty pricey for what they do, but it’s a bad sign when your class features are easily replicated by magic items.
Honestly, these are one of the better reasons to be a Monk. With all of the alternate class features and additional Monk feats in supplements, you can get some good stuff. Usually the idea here is to get a bunch of useful feats in two levels, and move on to something else. Only really worthwhile if you need two feats you can get from Monk and Improved Unarmed Strike, though.
Just pointing out that you cannot use this at the same time as Flurry of Blows. A pretty good example in a nutshell of what’s so wrong with the Monk. Having high movement is usually close to useless to a PC character – usually running out ahead of your party is a very bad choice, and your party won’t be able to keep up. In combat, distances are only seldomly so large that you’d need the boost.
There’s just... not much purpose to this. It just is.
This is actually insulting. At 20th level, you gain a version of this that is still worse than a 1st-level spell. That Silverbrow Humans can get as a racial feature, along with several other benefits, in exchange for just the human bonus skill point per level.
This is even less useful than Fast Movement. It affects almost nothing, and nothing affects it. You cannot optimize it any meaningful fashion.
Still Mind, Ki Strike, Purity of Body, Wholeness of Body, Improved Evasion, Diamond Body, Diamond Soul, Timeless Body, Tongue of Sun and Moon, Perfect Self
A series of small and niche bonuses to things. Almost all of these are pretty easily replaced with items.
Being an Outsider could be useful, but you need class levels in things other than Monk, which you cannot have as a Monk 20 (pre-Epic, anyway). The rest... just don’t do very much. You cannot really optimize these either. The ones that are important (defense vs. [Mind-Affecting] is the big one) should be overwritten with outright immunities. The rest can and probably should be ignored.
Stunning Fist, Abundant Step, Quivering Palm, Empty Body
Mediocre to OK effects with ridiculously tight limitations on them. Quivering Palm is a joke at 1/week. Note that it’s a [Death] effect, which tons of things are immune to and those that aren’t usually try pick up immunity to it. Stunning Fist is in the same category; immunity to Stun is very common and very desirable, so you won’t have a lot of valid targets. Abundant Step is as dimension door which means you cannot do anything after using it, and again, you don’t get to use it very much. Empty Body is good but comes way too late and lasts way too little time.
Unfortunately, while there are ways to optimize some of these (ways to get more uses of Stunning Fist, new and better effects on Stunning Fist attacks), I am not aware of any that are good. Abundant Step is much improved by Shadowpounce (Telflammar Shadowlord from Unapproachable East or Crinti Shadow Marauder from Shining South), but there are much better ways to get teleporting for the purposes of those classes. Generally, these effects require too much investment and give too little return. The optimal thing to do, sadly, is to take what you’re getting anyway, and try not to sink too many resources into them.
There are some beliefs about Monks that are pretty common, but are ridiculously false.
Monks make good tanks
They have a low HD, cannot wear armor, have bonuses but not immunities to a lot of things, and pose no threat to the opposition so there is no reason for the enemy to waste time with them.
At the very best, the somewhat-difficult-to-attack-but-totally-ineffectual Monk may get ignored until the end of the combat, at which point either the enemy is dead (no thanks to him) or his party is dead, and now he runs.
Monks can run away. They are pretty good at that...
Monks make good grapplers
They make awful grapplers. Their grapple check is very low, thanks to their BAB, lack of Strength, and lack of native access to size increases. The damage dealt by any grappler that doesn’t have Constrict is really low; the Monk’s is a little less low but still very low. Grappling is about locking a foe down, and the Monk can’t do that well at all.
For grappling, it’s all about size. Which is why Grappling is really for monsters, not humanoids.
Monks make good magekillers
No, they don’t. They have high saves, but spellcasters have ways to ignore saving throws. They don’t have access to a large number of important immunities. They cannot fly, see invisible creatures, affect incorporeal/ethereal creatures, and so on: These are defenses that mages like a lot.
A lot of this comes from the belief that Monks are good grapplers (see above): freedom of movement and/or dimension door says the mage doesn’t care.
Ultimately, the only people with any real chance of taking down a mid-to-high level mage with any competence is to be another mage, either higher level or more clever. Spellcasting in 3.5 is extremely overpowered.
Vow of Poverty is good for Monks
It’s not; it’s awful for Monks. Monks desperately need magic items to shore up all their myriad deficiencies, and Vow of Poverty prevents you from getting them.Vow of Poverty is good for Anyone
Vow of Poverty literally grants you bonuses that you can buy for less money than you lose. It is mathematically bad for you, and that’s not even considering the two feats you burned (Sacred Vow and Vow of Poverty itself).
There are a few benefits from Vow of Poverty that money can’t buy; some ability score bonuses and some bonus Exalted feats. Unfortunately, there are very few Exalted feats worth taking; Vow of Poverty will get you those, but then you’ll end up taking random stuff that’s not particularly good but you’ve already paid for it so why not.
The only classes that can take Vow of Poverty and not be utterly crippled are things like Druids and to a far lesser extent, Incarnates and Totemists (both from Magic of Incarnum). And they’re still much better off without it. I’ll give a special mention to the Apostle of Peace, one of the most game-breaking prestige classes in the game (both because it is overpowered and because it literally breaks the game’s expectations and prevents others from playing), since it does require Vow of Poverty.
See here for a full description of the prolems of Vow of Poverty.
Ways to be a “monk” without being a “Monk”
Psionics and Tashalatora
Psychic Warriors (Expanded Psionics Handbook) and Ardents (Complete Psionics) make great “monks” straight out of the box. Both are ¾ BAB Wisdom-based classes, like the Monk, but both have Psionic powers to allow them to do things well. They can both take Improved Unarmed Strike if they want to punch things. They both get Expansion which, in combination to the other items/feats that a Monk would take, is going to likely make them better than a Monk at punching things. And much better at Grappling.
And then there is Tashalatora (Secrets of Sarlona). This feat requires Monastic Training (Eberron Campaign Setting), and allows you to stack any one Psionic class with your Monk levels for the purposes of Unarmed Strike damage, Flurry of Blows, Fast Movement, and the AC Bonus (read: everything that was even half-good on the Monk). Monastic Training can be taken as a bonus feat at Monk 1, and Tashalatora can be taken as a bonus feat at Monk 2. Hilariously, neither feat actually requires any Monk levels, which means for two feats your Psychic Warrior or Ardent can literally have the same stuff as a Monk of the same level, without giving up any of their manifesting.
Cleric: Casting spells while punching things.
Clerics can take Improved Unarmed Strike. They can even get a free Weapon Focus in it if they get the War Domain from a god with it as his favored weapon. More importantly, Clerics can make great melee combatant: buff up with spells, and let ’em have it. The Monk’s belt can replace the AC Bonus if you want, though it’s ultimately not really necessary. Cleric also adds Righteous Might as an option for size-increasing, and it’s a rather good one (though not as good as Expansion).
If you really want, the Sacred Fist (Complete Divine) advances both Monk and Cleric class features. It’s OK enough, but I’d probably try to enter as a single-classed Cleric rather than a Cleric/Monk.
The Swordsage (Tome of Battle) is everything the Monk should have been to begin with. They get the same AC Bonus, except they can also wear Light Armor. Their maneuvers allow them to be a real martial artist, instead of just Flurrying (and missing) every chance they get. There’s even a maneuver or two that replicate Flurry.
The Unarmed adaptation of the Swordsage also gets the Monk’s Unarmed Strike damage, in exchange for his martial weapon and light armor proficiency. The Shadow Sun Ninja also advances Monk class features if you have them, but as the name might suggest it’s not really your typical monk-type class.
@TimothyAWiseman: Tashalatora is a feat from *Secrets of Sarlona*. It refers to a monastery-fortress within Sarlona, where the Kalashtar monks are renowned for their blending of psionic and martial skills; it's one of the few places in Sarlona famous even in Khorvaire. *Secrets of Sarlona* explicitly states that foreigners travel there for the training, or find a master in e.g. Sharn. Of course, outside of Eberron, the feat would need to be adapted, but doing so should be trivial for any setting that includes monks at all, since it's just a fancy monastery with a unique tradition.
I find "you don't like monks" an odd criticism. It seems obvious he doesn't like monks (at least from a tactical perspective, storry terms are different), but the reason for that seems to be that his analysis is that they are tactically bad. If he's right that's a very good reason to not like them, if he's wrong then I think he'll start liking them if someone can show why he's wrong.
Essentially, sixth level is the end of Monk as an independent class.
Monk's biggest and most pervasive problem is that it can't play well with itself. More than any other class in the game, a Monk's features demand exclusivity of use, even to the point where you can't use other Monk features if you want to use certain ones. Looking at the SRD entry for Monk we can see that they get three bonus feats (from a tight list), fast movement, an armor class bonus, flurry of blows, still mind, evasion, purity of body, and the start of their Ki Strike. That same monk has a base attack bonus of +4, a base of +5 in all of their saves, 24 + (6 x Int Mod) skill points and of course standard wealth by level for a sixth level character. Where does this start falling apart?
Lack of Focus. Monk is already staring down a few mutually-exclusive active features on a list that's thick with passive abilities. If he takes advantage of his Fast Movement, he can't Flurry, and in order to Flurry he needs an enemy in melee range of him. In contrast, a Warblade or Swordsage of the same level can move into melee range as a swift action (Sudden Leap) and make a full attack, or, even better, just use their normal move action and use a strike such as Mountain Hammer. Spellcasters can move and cast, and benefit greatly from doing so (especially at such low levels when range matters), and some classes are already gaining abilities that self-synergize within the class itself (such as a paladin's mount enabling charging feats that make Smite better). This is the level when Shock Trooper comes online for fighters, Shards of Granite manifests for initiators, and when spellcasters start playing around with metamagic, granting non-monk classes increasing numbers of options that only continue to increase. Advantage: non-Monks.
Too Little (Too Late). A lot of Monk's features are, numerically, very poor. Deflect Arrows, for example, only functions once a round and won't work against ranged spells, supernatural abilities, or extraordinary abilities. Slow Fall is worse than the first-level spell Feather Fall and has limitations on it; Purity of Body provides the Monk with immunity to diseases that they were practically immune to already thanks to low save DCs, but doesn't provide immunity to the truly dangerous diseases in 3.5's game worlds such as Mummy Rot. Ki Strike proves itself to be redundant at this level, where it's efficient to keep around a Necklace of Natural Attacks +1 or a special monk weapon, and the Monk's unarmed strike damage lags behind the weapons chosen by other melee-oriented concepts. Advantage: non-Monks.
This Feat Is Awesome (For Anyone Else) The reason any build includes levels of Monk inevitably involves those three bonus feats mentioned above. The problem is that while there are excellent choices at all three points (first, second, and sixth), these choices do almost nothing for the Monk itself. Low numbers prevent effective use of Improved Grapple, and low accuracy hinders Stunning Fist; Crusaders, Fighters, and Barbarians get more out of Combat Reflexes (Deflect Arrows, with its sharp limitations, is not worth discussing) since they can use it to increase their damage or lock down the battlefield, and Monk lacks the resources to make use of Improved Trip (size increases, strength increases, sources of reliable bonus attacks, reach) or Improved Disarm (see the above). A build that happens to include some Monk levels on another chassis gets a lot more use out of these feats, and sometimes the presence of Monk levels in that build is sufficiently painful in and of itself to warrant just purchasing them the hard way instead of fighting with a bad skeleton. Advantage: non-Monks
Multiple Attribute Dependency. Monks need their ability scores like they need new lungs and there's not enough resources to go around at level six (or any level) to keep them all where they need to be. Since monks don't wear armor, low-level monks need both Dexterity and Wisdom to increase their armor class (and the Dexterity also helps their Initiative, an all-important consideration at low levels). As a melee class, they need Strength for both accuracy and damage, and since Unarmed Strikes are considered light weapons (see the Unarmed Strike description in the SRD) they really need the raw Strength since they can't apply their full modifier or take advantage of Power Attack. Like all characters, the Monk wants a solid Constitution score to survive combats and traps, and would like a solid Intelligence score to boost their relatively low number of skill points. Only Charisma is not directly wanted or needed by the class. Items can help with this to some extent, but boosting the number of ability scores necessary is expensive and eats into the budget you need to pick up utility items - even the lowest-cost option (the Belt of Magnificence) is a hideous expense, and at low levels like sixth you can only really boost the one ability score. In the meantime, wizards, clerics, druids, fighters, barbarians, rogues, bards, warblades, crusaders, and even factotums have a clear focus that enables them to funnel resources into one or two ability scores that then proceed to boost everything they do. Advantage: non-Monks.
The Good Parts
Dipping. As I mentioned above, there are some character concepts and builds that benefit greatly from one, two, or six levels of Monk. Depending on the concept (mechanical or flavorful) that you're attempting to bring to life, a pair of Monk levels sees use to gain bonus feats, evasion, and in some cases wisdom to their armor class. The Sacred Fist and Enlightened Fist prestige classes are both natural outgrowths of monk/spellcaster dips that lead to some interesting alternate playstyles and represent mechanically viable choices. Monk dips also see some interesting use in powering down classes while improving a specific facet - for example, a lawful Druid dipping a few Monk levels to tone back his casting while improving armor class (and gaining bonus feats) for his Wild Shape forms.
Evasion. This is a big one. Monk is one of two classes to gain Evasion at low levels (the other one is Rogue) and for some (many) builds that care about having Evasion Monk can be a highly superior choice. Coupled with the immediate boost to Reflex saves provided by the Monk levels, a pair of Monk levels can take a spellcaster or other interested character from struggling with area of effect attacks to blowing through them with ease, and the consistently good saves (and large incentive to keep Dexterity high) keep even the straight-classed Monk shielded from such attacks for his entire career.
Three Good Saves. A native Monk doesn't get a lot of benefit from all three of his saves being good because his ability scores are stretched so thin, but the base bonuses are still worth talking about, especially against extraordinary or supernatural abilities like poison. Though this, again, is more of a perk for Monk dipping, it's still a nice plus in games that see a lot of those abilities. It's less useful against spellcasters, who have a wide spread of spells that don't care about your save modifier, but wonderful against many stock monsters.
Is there any good time to play a Monk?
In my personal opinion, no, but there are a few circumstances where it works out alright, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention them. Here's a few things to look for or observe that indicate that a Monk might be viable.
Generous Point Buy. Multiple Attribute Dependency (MAD) is one of Monk's biggest problems and plagues him for his entire career. If your DM has a generous point buy or another advantageous ability score generation system, Monk (and other MAD classes such as Paladin) becomes instantly more viable. I would strongly advise against attempting a straight-classed Monk without such a system in place, for the stark fact that MAD is forever, not just for a few levels, and is the single-hardest problem to fix from the player end.
Low-Op Spellcasters or No Spellcasters. If you know you aren't going to fight a lot of spellcasters, or if the spellcasters you do fight are sufficiently low-optimization, a subset of Monk's problems vanish along with the enemies. Monk lacks a lot of ways to counter common spellcaster tactics (melee in general has this problem), but if the casters are "playing dumb" for some reason (ranging from genre convention to deliberate optimization choice to simple lack of system mastery) these problems go away to a large extent. It's telling that even if this is the case, spellcasting monsters and spellcasting enemies will be some of the toughest you will ever face down and are never to be taken lightly.
Lack of "Special" Enemies. Abberations, Outsiders, Undead, Plants, and Constructs are all very bad for Monks, being chock full of special abilities like flight, incorporeality, ability drain, immunity to status effects, mobility, spellcasting, and some truly hideous lockdown effects such as grappling or mind blasts. To contrast, Monks can at least function when fighting enemies like humanoid warriors, gigantic vermin, oozes (to the extent that melee in general fights oozes, in any event), giants, and other "brutes" willing to stay on the ground and trade blows. "Dumb" enemies (those lacking Knowledge skills, familiarity with spellcasters, or who are played either deliberately or accidentally with an 'aggro' tendency that causes them to target the Monk) are a great indicator that a straight-classed Monk might be possible.
Higher Than Average Wealth. Money is the great problem solver in D&D; access to higher-than-usual amounts of cold hard cash can help the Monk to simply buy the ability to shore up his weaknesses, enabling him to contribute more. Would other classes benefit more from this wealth? Well, yes, but the high concentration of bounteous rewards would at least make Monk less aggressively bad.
The Higher Levels
Monk is almost unique in that its power level relative to published monsters/challenges actually manages to degrade rather than remain steady or improve, and this is because challenges grow more complex while Monk does not. Starting at level seven and eight, monsters like the Gadacro, Erinyes, Shadow, Wraith, Harpy, and Gargoyle start becoming common, sporting movement modes like flight that make them hard to target, incorporeality that can make them impossible to damage, and damage reduction that's difficult to overcome. Fiends like Hezrou or Solaminths can afford to spam their spell like abilities every round until the Monk fails his save, something he has problems doing in return, and superior mobility makes mock of his fast movement with fly-by attacks. As the levels and challenge ratings increase, the Monk is forced to decide between gaining utility (such as by placing Ghost Touch in his Necklace of Natural Attacks or purchasing a Feathered Wings Graft) to meet this increasing demand for complexity, or putting his resources into damage so that he can attempt to contribute. In the end, there's not enough cash to go around, and his class features fail to offer any additional help towards that goal. Some point to consistently high saves and the Stunning Fist feat to suggest that the Monk might be able to deal with spellcasting monsters at this stage, but the trouble is that as levels go up this sort of tactic becomes less and less viable - the monsters and spellcasters stop using abilities that permit saves, and gain access to the ability to leave melee essentially at will, as well as non-AC defenses that have a high chance of simply negating the Stunning Fist attempt entirely. It's true that some of these problems afflict melee in general, but in the case of the Monk his already low attack numbers and lack of options makes the issue much more pronounced.
Traps and Obstacles
The picture here isn't much better; Monk gets a technically-decent number of skill points (4 + Intelligence modifier per level) but lacks the incentive to boost their Intelligence modifier enough to make that meaningful. The Monk skill list dovetails well with spellcasting dips, but lacks a lot of utility, with the only standout skills being Hide, Move Silently, and Diplomacy. An investment in these skills can provide a sort-of benefit to the Monk, but for the most part the Diplomacy ranks will see use for Aid Another actions and the party rogue or swordsage is going to do much better with Hide and Move Silently.
Monks do fairly well against traps (many of which target armor class or reflex saves) and rarely take significant damage from them; however, the Monk isn't really capable of solving traps. They move through unscathed, leaving a hazard that then afflicts the rest of the party, and they are for the most part incapable of finding those traps and pointing them out without triggering them. If speed is of the essence, however, it's the Monk to send sprinting down the unknown hallway with one's best wishes and a small betting pool.
Monks suffer from many things (things that are also present in other classes to a greater or lesser degree that also suck).
Multible Ability Dependancy (Str, Wis, Dex, Con).
Lack of a full attack bonus (like a fighter).
Inability to move and do your attack routine (this is a problem for more or less every melee class in 3.x ever).
There are other nit-picky things (some very questionably useful abilities, some very questionable limitations on your questionably useful abilities).
The best way to min/max monk is to get into wizard ASAP (especially if you can talk your DM into letting you keep the mysterious monk voodoo, and re-skinning your wizardly stuff as monk mantras and enlightenment effects or something)
Grappling. Grappling is a horribly broken rule set, so take advantage of Improved Grapple (+4). Throw in a potion of Enlarge Person or some such to give expanded reach and that extra +4 for size, and a +1 to strength, have a decent strength score, and when you consider the monk's high movement rate on top of that, and you give your monk a ridiculous +9 bonus to grapple. Add to the fact that the monk is doing normal (not subdual) damage in the grapple, and you can effectively keep the opponent from any spellcasting with somatic components, or using any weapon larger than light, and this becomes a very scary asymmetric combat character.
Monks are terrible at Grappling. They have no native access to increasing their size, they have medium BAB, and they need too many ability scores to focus on their Strength. A Barbarian or Fighter makes a far better grappler. At best you'd dip Monk for 2 levels for Imp. Unarmed Strike and Imp. Grapple, no more.
Fighters are marginally better than monks at grappling, but neither has any business being more than a dip in an grappling build. Your best grapplers are druids (buffing spells, wild shaping into big things, and a 3/4 BAB isn't great, but isn't too bad to be made up for by their other strengths) and other cheese-heavy full casters, and even then, unless you're in a gestalt campaign (where you can get full BAB from one track, and all the other requirements for grapple from the other), even the PCs who are best at grappling suck at it. Grappling is for monsters and gestalts. And no one else.
A Wand of Mage Armour that the party wizard (if any) could use, would help defense since with +Wis bonus as well, the AC will still be quite high. Every grapple monk needs some potions of Balor Nimbus (spell compendium: 2nd level wizard or cleric spell, +6d6 fire damage to anything you're grappling for 1 round/level) if its allowed. Monk/wizards are fairly good as well for that reason (though even a 1 or 2 caster level loss hurts).
As far as offense goes, you could also try the Improved Natural Attack feat to boost damage. If Dex is higher than Strength, Weapon Finesse could help to hit as well - there's a monk variant in Unearthed Arcana (Sleeping Tiger style) that picks up Weapon Finesse at 1st level as their bonus feat, and there's a couple of other options there that could be handy as well.
If you want to give them some monk equipment and you're DM, you can always have an NPC monk appear to show them how its done...the survivors can then loot him :)
My monk recently picked up Weapon Finesse (Unarmed) and an Amulet of Shocking Fists (the +1 to hit was switched to a +1d6 shock damage), both of which have made him a decent offensive fighter. The party's barbarian is still the big hitter, but the monk provides solid front line support.
The party mage has Bull's Strength, Enlarge Person and Mage Armour on standby to further boost the monk's abilities if necessary, although the barbarian usually takes the first two.
This is for Pathfinder, but a similar tactic might apply in your game.
Pathfinder upgraded monks dramatically. They're still rather weak, but all of the really crippling bad stuff about 3.5 monks are fixed, just leaving them moderately sub-par. The monk in 3.5, by contrast, was not just sub-par, it was outrageously, horrifically bad. With careful optimizing it could be made merely a non-contributing party member, but in most cases they were outright liabilities in combat. Having a tactic work to make a monk marginally effective in pathfinder does NOT imply in any way imply that the same tactic will do a 3.5 monk any good.
Here are a few small ways to vastly improve your monk.
- Strength is your #1. More strength! You're punching stuff for a living. No matter what the funny pictures in the books tells you you want to look more like Bob Sapp than Bruce Lee. (GIS those two if unfamiliar with names.)
- Permanencied Greater Magic Fang. Costs for buying spellcasting is in the PHB
- You want to be really, really huge. Like ridiculously big. But you don't want to waste progress on it. If you get something that has +EL or HD make sure that you're getting +2 str per EL minimum, and assume that youre base race would get +2 str with EL 0.
- Monk's Belt. It's your best friend.
- Get the DM to approve a vestment of enlarge person or similar. Rules for making one is in the DMG. Permanent effect from a first level spell should set you back about 2500 Gp. You'll have it by level 3.
Now, to embellish on this: Forget Dex, forget Wis. Forget AC all together. You have some bonuses to both reflex and will saves so you don't need that, and as many people have focused on already you're not the primary target of anyone so you don't need AC. Higher levels you get SR. Not fantastic SR, but way better SR than not SR. Right?
Your maneuverability is fantastic, so take advantage of that any way you can, but focus almost exclusively on strength. Constitution is, as for Monk as for every single class in the game, your secondary stat.
But boost that strength. Get every size increase you can and grapple opponents. Against Barbarians, Paladins, Rangers and Fighters this is usually pretty bad. As long as you don't let wisdom and dexterity distract you you have as much strength as them, less BAB but probably more feats, and better small weapons at your disposal. If they have small weapons your small weapons deal more damage. Your small weapons deal 4d6+ strength damage.
Rogues as well. They get to stab you with their small weapons even in a grapple, but no Sneak Attack. You have both more hp and deal more damage so no reason not to initiate a grapple. For extra fun disarm them too.
Disarming is awsome. Want to really confuse a cleric? Take his Holy symbol and use it as a thrown weapon to hit the moon. Then grapple him to death.
Disarm is fun. Disarming is so fun. Then someone shows up with a locked gauntlet. By far not as common in games as some want them to be, they're still something that will ruin the day for the disarming monk. This is where improved trip and spring attack becomes your friends instead. Sure, they can stand up and ready an action, but by RAW initiative rules this will cost them every other round. In addition they're lying on the ground when your friends try to attack them.
Want to kill the wizard? Grapple is your friend, but you'll need items or caster friends to see invisibile targets and fly. You don't really need teleport if you can fly since your speed is so high. You're not the perfect mage-killer, but a pretty good one. Wizards rearly have duplicate memorized spells to get out of a grapple, so when it's used just deliver another grappling attack. It's not like you're going to run out of them. Sorcerers rarly have that type of defenses. If they do just running in to initiate grapple is still a good way to get the sorcerer out of combat.
Grappling with Druids doesn't neccesarily work fantastically. When they shape shift into a large bear they're strong and have attacks that can be used in a grapple. So you're even there. But you're large too, right (or better depending on how good your game is powered), and he's strong. But so are you. After all you're a Orc, Goliath, Half-Ogre smthn. You're pretty strong. And you have taken the feats to back up your grappling prowess. All he did was take Natural spell and some ring crafting things. Hah! Puny tree hugger. Also, the Druids hp doesn't improve by changing into a polar bear. He just spent a standard action turning into a polar bear. You're leading by a round. No time to waste, every round full attack that dude with your awsome monk combat punch of glory. Anyone I've missed?
This is a better pro-monk answer than many others. The focus on size-increases – if you can get them – is a good idea, and pure-strength is at least a focus that the monk desperately needs. Two places I would disagree strongly, however: SR often **is** worse than no SR, because you need to use a Standard Action to lower it if you want any buffs or healing, and also casters don't really **need** to prepare duplicate spells to get out of a grapple because *freedom of movement* lasts 10 min./level; you're never finding the caster again before that runs out unless he wants you to.
How, exactly, does being in a grapple keep the rogue from sneak attacking you? Also, how exactly are you managing to land and maintain a grapple against a rogue (or anyone else, for that matter)? There's a half-dozen things that are absolutely necessary to be any good at grappling, and the monk doesn't even get *one* of them.
How the hell is this getting so many upvotes? At this point, I'm really wishing comments allowed room for a point by point rebuttal, because literally every piece of advice in this answer is objectively wrong, yet somehow it still keeps getting upvoted.
Assumption: All 3.0/3.5 and all 3rd party material authorized by wizards are available and the DM is going by DMG CR against the party of 4. When I speak of a monk I mean a character who utilizes its core class features as the basis for the character. No optimizing, just not being foolish.
- Explore overarching perception
- Examine class abilities
- Next discussion will be developing strategies and monk builds
The class will be judged on its class abilities, adaptability, commitment, strength, and potential with a curve of regularity.
- Adaptability: How many situations can you use it in and adapt it with prestige classes?
- Commitment: How many levels do you need to take it?
- Strength: How powerful is this ability?
- Curve of regularity: How can you augment it with magic items, feats, or other abilities?
Adaptability and curve of regularity are intertwined.
At first players get excited because they’ll be able to deal damage with their own hands. They remember kung fu movies, breaking boards, mysticism, and other martial arts. Then they look at the level of damage progression to ensure they are standing with their melee counter parts, but this is their first mistake. A monk isn’t suppose to go toe to toe trading blows, deal massive amounts of damage, or take damage.
Monk is often the most misinterpreted class in several different ways. The monk is a very untraditional base class. Most classes build upon the basis of what they get. A monk builds on the basis of what they don’t need, to understand what they get. For instance, monks don’t need to put as much money into weapons or armor. Monks get two free hands because they don’t need to necessarily use those in combat. Monks can carry manacles, rope, nets, smoke powder, caltrops, potions, other various tools, and they are still armed. By making a stunning fist attack they can neutralize deadly casters or opponents, albeit at sacrificing a round of her own. Don’t tell me mages have spells that have no saves or spell resistance, because those spells are few and far between. The mages who have those spells at the ready require multiple spells to do any real damage to a character. While the rest of the party kills the one character. Monks naturally specialize in neutralizing potent foes where the party out numbers their adversary or in duels.
These stats are general and may vary depending on your build.
Primary class abilities
Class abilities will be judged on adaptability, strength, commitment, curve of regularity.
Flurry of Blows/Greater Flurry of Blows
I'll refer to these as FoB.
Flurry of blows is very similar to two-weapon fighting with two exceptions. One it must be used as a full-round action. Secondly, characters using two-weapon fighting usually have full BAB. To help understand the impact of two-weapon fighting and furry of blows I have made the following examples at level 20.
Full BAB TWF/ITWF FoB W/ TWF/ITWF +18/+18/+13/+13/+8/+3 +13/+13/+13/+13/+8/+8/+3 Medium BAB TWF/ITWF FoB +13/+13+8/+8/+3 +15/+15/+15/+10/+5
Obviously, flurry of blows is superior to two weapon fighting. However, it is not superior to a character with higher BAB. Flurry synergizes against low AC opponents, increasing ones attack bonus, strength bonuses (full Str. is used for damage), damage boosts, and grappling if the character has the improved grapple feat. Monks can also generally use their weapons while grappling without penalty. One can also use place multiple stunning fists to neutralize a target.
Ex.) A Monk with haste and 4 levels in the kensai prestige class can potentially boost strength to +32. On the following turn he can move to his opponent, then make a full round attack with FoB. A monk synergizes with haste (his superior movement), and strength (full Str damage) more than any other fighter. In fact, FOB is TWF with full strength damage, except you are sacrificing at least one point of BAB until level five, two points until level nine, and three points until level 12. A monk wanting to prioritize melee should never go beyond sacrificing three points of BAB.
When a monk is making a special attack like grappling or tripping, he tends to target creatures with medium BAB or lower.
Weaknesses: Going against high AC and high BAB characters.
Additional Considerations: It’s important to note that these considerations vary at different levels of play. In addition, two-weapon fighting is dependent on dexterity, with the exception of the ranger. Rangers are the only class capable of NOT putting extremely high points in dexterity and still receive the feats. Fob can be useful if successfully sneaking up behind lone individuals, a character have extra modes of movement like haste or the Warrior of Darkness, if backed into a corner, or trading blows. It is useable by any class with a one level dip has little feat or prestige support. It is an extremely strong form of attack, but puts the monk in danger with no regular forms of armor and few hit points.
Full BAB TWF/ITWF LVL 6 Monk FoB LVL6 +4/+4/-1/-2 +3/+3 Full BAB TWF/ITWF LVL 11 Monk FoB LVL11 +9/+9/+6/+4/+1 +8/+8/+8+3 Monk FoB W/TWF/ITWF LVL11 +6/+6/+6/+6/+2/+1
- Adaptability: 3
- Strength: 9
- Commitment: 6
- Curve: 6
- Feature Rating: 6/10
PS: TWF on a medium BAB character, charisma, yah!!
Unarmed Speed Bonus
Increases the character’s maneuverability, making them more agile on the battlefield. This synergizes well with running, jumping, charging, tumbling, hiding, moving silently, reaching a destination, and spells/grafts or other features that depend upon a character’s land speed. It allows for hit and run tactics. In addition, it can be increased with prestige classes such as Darkness Warrior, Wild Runner, Barbarian, fist of the forest, a monk belt, grafts, and a few others.
Weaknesses: Mounted players can achieve similar speeds, and have the advantage of “higher ground”. However, only the paladin or a prestige class giving a special mount will survive battle.
- Adaptability: 6
- Strength: 8
- Commitment: 8 (four levels for thirty feet with a monk belt)
- Curve: 8
- Feature Rating: 7.5/10
This is the bread and butter of a monk. Monk is one of the few classes that can easily obtain an incredibly high AC with supporting prestige classes as long as they devote enough ability points in wisdom. This bonus scales as magic items are more readily available. In early parts of a scenario heavy armor is far better, and easier to maintain. However, boosts to wisdom & dexterity, coupled with spell armor will exceed the fighter’s ability to defend against traditional forms of attack. In addition a monk is easier to support with spells making him a nice money saver.
- Adaptability: 7
- Strength: 9
- Commitment: 6
- Curve: 8
- Feature Rating: 7.5/10
The best part about unarmed strike is that your hands are free and your weapons cannot be taken from you without cutting off your limbs. Unarmed damage doesn’t scale well vs melee weapons until very late and by then there are far better prestige classes one could have chosen to increase damage, although sacrificing stunning fist for the draconic variant will allow you to multiply your damage several folds.
- Adaptability: 10
- Strength: 5
- Commitment: 3
- Curve: 5
- Feature Rating: 5.75
- Three bonus feats
Secondary Class abilities
Useful against traps or spells with reflex saves. Nothing like shooting a fireball into a throng of orcs a monk distracted and led into the killing ground. Monks excel at being the “bait”, only to have the monk use the orc bodies as shields preventing all damage.
+2 saves against enchantments. Considering mind enchantments are often battle turner this ability helps shore up monks defense.
Helpful in overcoming damage reduction, damage reduction is slightly a problem but can be overcome.
Slow fall, purity of body, wholeness of body:
These are all small abilities they may be of some use once in a while but rarely make the difference.
Monks become immune to poison. Think out of the box. Perhaps you’re a monk who studies fighting styles of the viper, cobra, or rattlesnake. Use poison, as often as possible. Harvest and sell when possible. This is a great secondary ability although it comes a bit late.
Most monks are best left between the levels of 4 – 11 so I will not mention other abilities.
Few people stick with any base class all the way through and monks should not be an exception.
The monk is vary stat dependent. This is both a positive and a negative. At the beginning of the game this creates a lot of difficulty for the monk. However, at the end of the game when all stats can be raised the monk actually benefits more than any other character.
- Medium BAB for a melee character (Bad)
- Great saves (good)
- Stealth skill set (good)
- Medium HP (BAD for melee)
- A monk is capable of handling conflicts without killing (good) ex. Stealth, paralyzing through feats, running away, or running past the problem.
This makes monk a very fragile class with excellent abilities that need to accentuated with feats or using feats and multiclassing to shore up their weaknesses.
Q: So you’re saying I can’t tank?
A: No, I’m saying a monk should never be your primary tank except for specific circumstances. In many situations a monk will have better AC than any other party member, great saves, but won’t have the hit points or supply as much damage. There are good monk tank builds, but you’re no longer a monk if you ignore your maneuverability.
Q: Should I grapple, disarm, or sunder?
A: These are very situational abilities that can be selected as bonus feats with different monk variants. Monks are better at dealing damage in a grapple than most others but full BAB characters are better at getting a favorable grapple. In fact, monks who have a hard time hitting often do a much better job at doing damage in a grapple because its no longer an armor check, but a grapple check. Making those flurry whiffs into flurry hits. Imagine UFC when someone is being kneed in the ribs by a monk, +4 grapple helps out with the negatives of flurry of blows and low BAB.
Disarming or sundering a foes weapon is difficult because an unarmed strike counts as a light weapon, which means they receive a -4 on their check. However, a monk only needs to disarm or sunder a warrior’s weapon once or twice to leave the user ineffective for the rest of the encounter.(remember the monks hands are free so he can hold them) A monk doesn’t need to succeed on the first, second, or third attempt to take powerful weapon wielders out of a fight. However, these abilities are often not useful when fighting monsters.
Q: I’m adept at slaying mages?
A: No, a monk has the maneuverability, and stealth skill set to reach mages and temporarily neutralize them. Although, there are a few monk builds that are “mage killers” and do so at a high success rate, from my experience. A monk intending to neutralize a mage should be able to do so in one round. In addition, this comparison isn’t PVP its PVE based on CR. At high levels a monk should have enough magic items to make up for most of his deficiencies and you have more survivability than any other melee class going up against a caster, with the possible exception of ToB classes.
Q: Sword Sage is better?
A: For most purposes yes, but it has some limitations monks don’t.
Q: I’m stealthy, have speed, so I’m a scout.
A: Yes, but not if traps or wards are in place you won’t be able to handle the situation alone unless you’re a throat stabbing monk with sneak. Luckily, with high saves and possible resistance you’ll save any initial blunders. In addition, if your DM is good at splitting up the party, or timed scenarios monks often benefit due to their speed.
Q: Without magic or magic items monks suck.
A: The game is made and written with great consideration to magic items and friendly party buffing. Monks without magic items or buffing is like wizards never being able to find the scroll they want.
Q: Doesn’t a fighter make a better grappler?
A: Not exactly, there are many problems with this argument. First fighters don’t make better grapplers early in the game. The BAB differential isn’t that different, a fighter will only have a +1 to +2 in strength over a monk, and on the defensive a fighter doesn’t have escape artists. However, a monk can flurry in the grapple giving him consecutive rolls. Even at higher levels fighters don’t necessarily make better grapples, they are different grapplers. Fighters will be able to successfully hold a grapple, but monks will do far greater damage in the grapple. In essence it doesn’t make sense for a fighter to become a grappler if there is a monk doing so in the party. The fighter has to sacrifice two feats. A monk sacrifices one feat out of limited choices. A monk sacrifices far less and a fighter is better off with a weapon. At level 11 a draconic variant monk with the monk belt has 4 attacks with his furry of blows that will deal 2d8+3d6 per punch by sacrificing stunning fist. This isn’t even optimization. It’s a simple question of strategy, and functioning in the party. If I have a wizard grappled am I going to ready an action to hurt his concentration? Will I pin him making him unable to cast spells with verbal components? A stealthy monk with better movement speed can do this much better than a fighter. A fighter is more likely to one shot or two shot the wizard if he attacks with a weapon. But as I said earlier, damage should never be a monk’s primary concern.
Q: Do druids and spell casters make better grapplers?
A: Yes, but only for a short period. Once anti-magic field and dispelling becomes common with items it’s no longer an issue.
Q: Does improved natural attack increase my unarmed strike damage?
A: Per RAW yes, under the entry for the Monk's Unarmed Strike in the SRD it says:
A monk’s unarmed strike is treated both as a manufactured weapon and a natural weapon for the purpose of spells and effects that enhance or improve either manufactured weapons or natural weapons.
Q: Does Improved Unarmed Strike Stack with the monk belt?
A: Per RAW no.
Q: If I am bigger will I do more damage?
A: Yes, but so would other melee characters
-1: If your monk has the highest AC in the group, something is seriously wrong with the other people in your group. Monks also suck at grappling. Even the best non-gestalt PCs at grappling suck at it, and monks suck worse. A lot worse. Flurry of blows doesn't just synergize with low-AC targets, it absolutely requires the target be *unrealistically* low-AC to even break even with the already poor damage you'd do if you didn't flurry. Nearly every tactic you recommend can be shut down with trivial ease by almost any non-mindless enemy. The list goes on and on.
Here is a simple alteration to make monks fun to play:
The Ascetic Rogue feat originally (in the table) allowed Rogue/Monk levels to stack for sneak attack. Before you cry foul that a monk can take 1 level of Rogue and get 10d6 SA by level 20, consider that clerics (medium att bonus) already have a feat that does this, and a rogue can get monk (2d10) dmg and other bonuses from a single level of monk, while gaining some nice free feats.
Since monk AC fails at high level, I recommend a karmic strike (feat) build with high Con and the pharaoh fist and staggering blow feats. You stun enemies on their turn, limit their damage to you, and then get a full attack on a stunned opponent.
This build does very nice damage, but for balance has trouble getting some of the nastier epic feats (crippling strike and opportunist) that an epic rogue can get. With a lot of work, you can build towards an Epic SA of Opportunity, or just settle for 1 SA of opportunity with the non epic version of the feat.
If anything this change makes monk overpowered (depending on your party), so consider a compromise of +1 SA dice for every 4 levels on monk for a more balanced approach.
So, I have very limited experience with the monk class as a DM. I did however play a game with a crazy Min-Maxer who ended up making the monk the most powerful person in the party. I can briefly explain some of the things she did, and hopefully that helps.
Be an Anthropomorphic Baleen Whale
Now, our party started at level 5. She opted to playing as an Anthropomorphic Baleen Whale. So let me go through the ups and downs of playing as one:
Great Stat Boosts (That are entirely appropriate)
Anthropomorphic Baleen Whales are almost tailored specifically towards monks. They have +8 STR, +4 DEX, +4 CON, +0 INT, +4 WIS, and +0 CHA. Those are literally all the stats needed by the monk. With a 24 Point Buy, you can have your stats be:
12 STR, 14 DEX, 14 CON, 10 INT, 14 WIS, 08 CHA
Then add the modifiers and turn that into
20 STR, 18 DEX, 18 CON, 10 INT, 18 WIS, 08 CHA
No too shabby.
+9 Natural Armor
This is amazing. With the stats above, this would give the Monk an AC of 27. Name one thing with a CR of 5 that could hit that? It's a decent enough substitute for no armor.
This is a must with monks. It gives bonuses to your grapple and unarmed damage as said to pretty much everybody above.
This is so good that I'm convinced that it's a typo. The Sharakim, a race that I really like, doesn't have half the good things that this race does, and it has a +1 LA. The Diaboli, a race whose only defining characteristic is a crappy weak poison attack, has a +1 LA. This is +0. Granted, it has a starting ECL of 3, which means that they'll be 3 class levels behind the rest of the party, but progress at the same speed. They still have 3d8 starting HD and (2+Int)x6 Skill points, so I guess it balances out.
3 Class Levels behind the rest of the party
This is really the only downside. But keep in mind, you still have (2+Int Mod)x6 Skill Points, along with 3d8 Racial HD, which means you'll still have the same amount of HP as a monk of the same ECL.
So as you can see, the Anthropomorphic Baleen Whale is pretty much the ideal monk.
Now, when you start as a level 5 (level 2 with ECL 5 if you're an ABW), you start with 9,000gp. The first thing you should buy is an Ectoplasmic Fist (Quoiri Shard) (3,000gp) which ups the damage of your unarmed strike by one size. Get a wizard friend of yours to cast Enlarge Person on you and congratulations! You're now a second level monk doing 3d6+6 damage per strike.
Next you want a Monk's Belt (13,000gp) and a Fanged Ring (10,000gp). These two items will be probably the most useful things in your arsenal.
The Monk's Tattoo is useful, but horribly expensive at 80,000gp and for the most part NOT worth it. If you have hoards of cash to burn, do it as it doesn't take up any slot that can be allocated to more useful magic items.
Don't bother with an Amulet of Mighty Fists as getting a Greater Magic Fang + Permanency combo is much cheaper and yields the same result.
Get any item with Natural Weapon Augmentation (Ghost Touch). Incorporeal monsters are annoying and common. You need defenses against them.
On second though, get any item with Natural Weapon Augmentation. It's a really useful spell that shouldn't be looked over.
If you're going for a grappler build, pick up some Gloves of Titan's Grip (14,000gp) as it gives +8 to grappling checks for 7 rounds 3 times/day
Also pick up a Pale Green Ioun Stone (30,000gp). a +1 to pretty much everything is useful and grass is green, water is wet, and heaters are hot.
Feats and Flaws
Monks are pretty feat-starved. There's no denying that. To fix that, I recommend taking two flaws to reap the benefits of bonus feats. The only two official flaws that you can take guilt-free as a monk are Murkey-Eyed (Which can be rectified with an item that counters concealment) and Shaky (because you aren't going to be making any ranged attack rolls any time soon)
As for recommended feats, there are a few that come to mind
Improved Natural Attack is a must as it increases your unarmed strike damage. Combined with the large size as said above, it will definitely help.
Dodge and Mobility are traps. Don't buy them unless they're prereqs for an actually useful feat.
Grappling Block is insanely useful, but requires an INT of 13, which is troublesome because INT is usually a Dump Stat for monks. You can get most of the prereq feats (Improved Unarmed Strike, Deflect Arrows, Combat Expertise, Improved Disarm) from class levels. If you have a generous ability buy, then go for it.
Defensive Strike is fun if you play defensively. It helps with your low BAB and allows you to abuse your high AC at lower levels. However, it's plagued with the same issue of Grappling Block as it requires an INT of 13.
Pain Touch is a great feat if you got Stunning Fist as a bonus feat for your monk class, but if you didn't don't bother with it.
Power Attack is highly recommended as it is with any Melee class, but keep in mind that it's painful to sacrifice BAB as an average BAB class
Skills and Skill Tricks
Always have at least 5 ranks in Balance. That goes without saying
Rogues will be using their Hide and Move Silently skills better, but it's still a useful stealth skill
If you're going to be grappling, then you're going want to keep Escape Artist high.
Listen/Spot are good skills to have. Coupled with your high wisdom modifier, if you keep these skills high you won't be failing these checks any time soon.
Always have Tumble maxed out. It's too useful not to.
Sense Motive is a useful skill to have, too. It's used more frequently then you'd think, and synergizes well with your high wisdom modifier.
Climb, Jump, and Swim can all be replaced with low-level spells, so don't bother with it unless they're prereqs for skill tricks. Concentration is useless to you, so don't bother with it. Craft, Profession, and Perform are all useless, too as you'll be making more money adventuring. And lastly, despite them being great skills, your Knowledge (Religion), Knowledge (Arcana), and Diplomacy skills are all based off of your dump stats, so you're not going to be able to optimize them as well as you'd like.
As for skill tricks:
If your DM allows you to count your unarmed strikes as "light weapons" and are going for a Grappler build, then pick up Escape Attack. That's really the only situation it's useful. If you're also playing as a Half-Orc or Human (Pretty much the only two classes in the PHB that can pull off a monk), then pick up Easy Escape, too.
Point it Out is useful and since you already have a good amount of ranks in Spot, it should be no issue to pick it up.
Spot the Weak Point is good because it allows you to deal touch attacks, which is good for your low BAB and bad for their hit points.
And lastly, Acrobatic Backstab synergizes well with your ranks in Tumble and allows you to treat your enemies as flat-footed.
That's really all the advice I have on optimizing the Monk. That's really all I can say without parroting what other people have been saying, so I'll leave it at that. If I got anything wrong, point it out to me. I got this advice from a friend.