Assassin's Kitty, by Hax
is running a D&D
game on Saturday and I am super-jazzed. We have six players, but strangely no rogue (closest thing is a gnome bard who takes after Baron Munchausen). But while I had a fairly decent idea for a halfling rogue "gentleman thief" type, I was suddenly grabbed by the idea of a pacifistic tabaxi elemental monk ("Aang with cat ears," as Blitzy referred to him), and Kihai sprung into existence.
None of us have played a 5E monk yet, so it should be interesting! (We did have a few pop up in the 3.x days, including one who was a monk/cleric with a phobia of undead based on Jackie from The Jackie Chan Adventures
and ran around saying "Bad day! Bad day!" whenever undead showed up, and another who wore a tuxedo and a bowler hat and considered himself to be the paladin's butler whether the paladin liked it or not.)
However! The more I looked into the Way of the Four Elements archetype for the monk, the more concerned I got. The play reports had a recurring refrain of "It looks great on paper, but it's pretty meh
in actual play. To use any elemental ability, they have to blow all their ki points, leaving them as a TWF rogue without the mobility." That, combined with only getting one elemental ability to choose from every 3-4 levels, leaves them nerfed compared even to other monks (Way of the Open Hand abilities enhance flurry of blows, for instance, so that's ki you were going to spend anyway, just made better). In short, the W4E monk's elemental abilities come at the cost of
his monk abilities, rather than supplementing them.
Poking around the internet found a popular community remix
of the archetype, and I floated this to Blitzy as a possibility. He expressed concern that it might be overboard, and the more I dug into it, the more I agreed with him. The addition of cantrips and the expanded roster of abilities was good, and the lowered ki costs certainly made the class more useful in a sustained encounter. But a lot of the revised elemental disciplines are just broken, giving monk unarmed attacks range for free, or knocking down foes without so much as a saving throw, and so on. By the time I had finished going through it all, I knew that this was something I wouldn't be inclined to allow as a DM, and as such is not something I would feel good about using as a player.
The real problem, more than anything, is that the Way of Four Elements monk wants
to be a semi-spellcaster, like the Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster, but for whatever reason, the devs at WotC wanted them to burn up ki instead of just getting spell slots. They're kinda mum of this particular topic, but what hints they've given (through tweets responding to player question and the like) is that they feel like W4E monk abilities are too broad unless you take a serious nerfhammer to them– which is why Shadow Monk spells of the same level as the W4E monk cost less ki.
(This is a little bonkers, IMO. The whole point of spell levels is that they are already balanced relative to each other. If one 3rd level spell is "too broad" compared to another, then that should be a 4th level spell, duh
. And if that was the case, why do the play reports of W4E monks have this recurring refrain of "limited"? But devs are gonna dev. )
Looking at the problem from that angle, I decided to see if I could find a version of the class that does the sensible thing and "eldritch knights the elemental monk." I found a homebrew Way of the Elements
archetype that does just that, floated it by Blitzy, and he approved it. We hashed out a couple of tweaks to bring back some of the more flavorful bits of the W4E monk and/or make it work better in Hero Lab (my character-building tool of preference), and I think this is just about perfect. I hung a lampshade on the whole thing by calling it the Way of the Elemental Avatar, and Kihai is ready to go!( Mechanical stuff hidden to spare your feed. )
Thoughts and Observations
What I like most about this version is that it adds a lot more flexibility to the class, without necessarily making it more "powerful." A W4E monk from the PHB who takes "Shape the Flowing River" as their one elemental discipline at 3rd level is instantly screwed if the campaign heads off to the desert, for instance. This version doesn't have to spend their lives hoping that their particular corner case finally
Separating the monk's ki abilities and spell slots also enables the monk to do their flashy bender-ey stuff without giving up their monk-ish mobility. But they don't get a ton
of spell slots, and burning ki to get more is so expensive that even at higher levels it's not something they'll just do all the time. I mean, theoretically a 20th level monk could burn through all their ki and all their slots to cast burning hands
twenty-one times in a row, which is a little nuts, but that would only make sense in a scenario where the monk is facing down an army of kobolds or something. In that same scenario, a wizard is gonna be spamming fireball
to much greater effect.
As an "off-rogue, off-spellcaster, mook-slaying machine of a controller," I think this version will work well. :)