Thursday, August 25, 2016

5e Freebie: Kensai

About a week or so ago I had this idea for non-traditional monk traditions for 5e.  Basically, the idea was to have characters who fought bare-handed like monks, but had slightly less regimented backgrounds, and consequently, less "Far Eastern" abilities.

I initially came up with three traditions: the Brawler, the Wrestler, and the Kensai.  I have since expanded the idea into a whole new class, based mainly on the Monk from the PHB, but with some distinct differences.  And in the process, I decided that the Kensai was actually more like a very focused traditional Monk.

So, here is the Kensai Tradition.  It isn't playtested, so you may want to tweak it a bit here and there.  But the idea is that this is a fourth Tradition your Monk character could choose from at 3rd level.  I've also included a few magic items that are geared specifically for traditional Monk characters.

Also, as usually happens when I get a bug like this up my ass, someone else has already done the Kensai as a full class.  Have a look here.  It looks pretty good, honestly.

As always, comments and criticisms are welcome.

    There are warriors who gain total mastery of a specific type of weapon, and then there are the kensai.  A kensai is a monk who has dedicated practically his entire existence to perfecting his ability with a specific type of weapon, to the point of it being a supernatural connection.  Although a kensai can use other, simple weapons, if there is a weapon of his chosen type available, even if it is inferior to other available weapons, he will always choose that one.  At 1st level, the kensai declares his chosen weapon, and he will use this weapon (or another one just like it) until the end of his days.  This weapon can be simple or martial, but cannot be a ranged weapon.  Eventually the kensai will focus his efforts with a specific weapon of this type, often specially commissioned, and always of masterwork quality.  However, a kensai will never use a magic version of his chosen weapon.

Special note:  Any instance where a monk would gain an additional unarmed strike, the kensai can be assumed to make that additional attack with his chosen weapon.

Perfect Form
When taking the kensai tradition at 3rd level, you improve the die-type of your chosen weapon by one step.  From then on, any weapon of this type you use rolls this new die for damage.  For instance, if you choose the longsword, any longsword attacks you hit with will deal 1d10 damage, instead of 1d8.  If you choose a greatsword, any attack will deal 2d8 damage, instead of 2d6.

Ki Weapon
At 6th level you can channel your Ki into your weapon, per the monk’s Ki Empowered Strikes feature.  However, when using your chosen weapon, you also add one half of your Proficiency bonus (rounded up) as a magical bonus to attack and damage.

Soul Weapon
At 11th level, you must choose a specific weapon to focus on.  This weapon becomes soul bound to you; you can never be disarmed, and you will never fumble with this specific weapon.  Additionally, you score a critical hit on a natural roll of 19 or 20 with this weapon.

My Weapon Is My Life
At 17th level your Soul Weapon can be summoned from a distance, and will magically appear in your hand instantly, so long as it is on the same plane of existence.  Additionally, you can spend a Ki point once per round to make a single ranged attack with the weapon, attacking any target within 50 feet of you.

Magic Items for Monks
Monks are not above the use of magic items, though their normal restrictions on weapons and armor apply.  Items such as Rings of Protection, Bracers of Defense, and Girdles of Strength are fairly common for monk characters to use when available. 

Below are four magic items that are specifically intended for monks.

Gauntlets of the Iron Fists
These hand coverings are usually in the form of wraps of sturdy cloth or leather, and radiate moderate magic.  Wrapping one’s hands with these gives the monk a magical bonus of +1 to +3 to hit and damage when making an unarmed strike, depending on the power of the enchantment.

Intercepting Staff
This +1 staff is made from dark cherry wood, and radiates mild magic.  While wielding the staff, a monk may expend a Ki point to activate the staff’s Interception ability for that round.  When this is used, the monk makes an attack roll, the result of which becomes his AC for a single opponent’s next attack.  If the opponent misses, and the monk’s AC roll was higher than the opponent’s AC, the monk strikes with the staff as a free action, automatically dealing 1d8+1 (plus Strength modifier) in damage.

Ki Medallion
This medallion is a small disk or amulet on a golden chain worn around the monk’s neck, and radiates faint magic.  By meditating with the medallion in hand for one hour, the monk can suffuse the medallion with Ki points equal to half of his current maximum rounded up.  These Ki points can be spent just like the monk’s own Ki points.

Ring of Physical Perfection
This plain, onyx ring radiates moderate magic.  A monk wearing such a ring may expend up to five Ki points to heal himself as a full action.  For each Ki expended the monk regains 1d8 hit points up to his maximum.  Once all five Ki points have been used, the monk must meditate on the ring, regaining one Ki point of healing for every half hour of meditation, up to a maximum of five (2.5 hours).


  1. I'm relatively new to this DnD thing, but while this is almost exactly what I want in my next character, there are two points I'd like to question, if you don't mind.

    First is my concern regarding the balance on the 6th ability. Having a guaranteed magical weapon once you hit a PS of 5 in a edition that's balanced on only having magical weapons at the DM's discretion - and even then rarely at that - seems like it might be unbalanced to me. I mean, it immediately ignores most relevant resistances, and later on has a +3 to both hit AND dmg? Stacking that with other things is... well it could make it difficult to convince the DM to allow.

    My second and last point is that it feels like, until level 17, you have no interesting maneuvers or techniques with which to spice up the gameplay of fights- it would just be attack, extra attack, and then flurry over and over again, unless you use Patient Defense/Step of Wind. WoS has spells to cast and a shadow step ability, WoE has elemental themed attacks out the wazoo, and WoO-F has all SORTS of spice to add to a session.

    I just feel like you're missing out on making this class something that is both balanced enough and flavorful enough to appeal to the DM you propose it to.

    Mayhaps replace the +hit/dmg of the 6th level and give three abilities- one on the 3rd level, then another on the 6th to go with magical damage type for overcoming resistances, and another to celebrate being more connected with the blade.

    My choices would be:
    3rd level: a weak AoE, which damages all within the reach of your chosen weapon with a dex/strength save (whichever the victim is proficient in) to see who gets hit. Probably like 1d4-or-6 to start and it gets stronger at the 17th level by 1 die- costs 1-2 ki points?

    6th Level: To celebrate the weapon being magical, maybe add a defensive boost- +AC if you use your reaction and some ki to simulate your how your weapon flows freely from attack into defense. If +AC isn't your thing, mayhaps something similar to vanilla monk's arrow catching for melee attacks- like now the arrow skill can be used for melee as well.

    Another idea I had, if you plan on having this archetype be a real glass cannon type, is you could show off the new magical traits of your weapon skills by having consecutive hits on a target deal additional damage?
    1 hit: normal
    2 hit: +2 dmg
    3 hit: +2 dmg or upgrade dmg die for
    the rest of this turn's
    attacks. 4 hit: +2(+3 instead
    if you chose +2 last hit) or
    upgrade your damage die once
    more for this hit- but suffer
    -1 on your attack roll to hit
    if you already upgraded.

    This would REALLY spice up the gameplay between choosing safe damage and risking it for potentially higher. The numbers I used can certainly be changed- I have neither tested this nor thought it through thoroughly.

    11th level: Mayhaps have a ki steal technique- -2 ki to use, but if it hits, it's a gain of +3 ki point and, say, +1 damage.

    I dunno. I just feel like adding lore-friendly maneuvers would really spice this archetype's gameplay up. And remove the potentially DM-discouraging magical-weapon boon of the 6th level you currently run. The examples I used? Just what'd I'd run- I'd like to see your input/ideas on the matter. Do you still stand by your choice of 6th level boon? Or do you favor replacing some of it with maneuvers? Maybe ones of your own design?

    Other than that, this class is more than fine as-is. This is just my natural tendency to want to change things. I love tweaking things. I hope this comment reaches you in good health-

    1. Good lord the formatting on that comment went wonky towards the middle there. My bad!~