Magical Worlds and Monks in Eastern Popular Culture and D&D

I recently purchased the 5th Edition of the Dungeons & Dragon’s Player’s Handbook. Looking through its pages, studying each class and their attributes. I played briefly when I was younger, so I felt that nostalgic feeling of studying the nuances of each class and of the abilities unique to each.   It had been so many years that I was also looking at the Player’s Handbook like someone completely new to it’s world.  (Being a veteran of the MMO Neverwinter Nights, many other video game RPGs influenced by D&D).

I was fascinated by the qualities and abilities of some very unique classes, from Bards to Rangers, and not only their unique qualities, but their use of magic.   It seemed like the nature of the world is basically a world filled with magic, even if its practiced by a select few.  It’s still basically, in many ways than one:  a world full of magic.  When I came to the Monk class, I was surprised to see no magic at all for the Monk, mostly from a perspective of a fan of  the history, myths, legends, of “warrior monks” and the magical arts in the popular culture of China.

You can scroll down to see a potential list of Spells from 5th edition that could be learnable by Monks.  It surprisingly makes the Monk a different but unique and equal adventurer alongside the magical Bards, Rangers, and Clerics.

Chinese and Japanese pop culture fantasy worlds are also filled with magic.  The tradition from years and even ages past to today, is as rich as that in the West.    I know Monk class has Ki points that allow for some magic spells at later levels, but this separate system doesn’t quite allow for the same amount of choice that other classes have with regard to magic.  I appreciate the inclusion of the Monk as a class, and see the ability for it to be better incorporated into the magical world(s) of D&D.  (And it is in later books like Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide).  But there is still room for more of the richness of Eastern fantasy and magic to be included in D&D.

THE MONK IN LIVING TRADITIONS, LEGENDS, and POPULAR CULTURE

China, to say nothing of other countries like Japan and Thailand, has no shortage of movies, myths, and stories set in fantasy settings.  I will focus on China, but similar traditions exist in Japan and Thailand.

The adventuring monk is a type well represented in Chinese myth and popular culture, but a lot of the truth of this character is rooted in reality. The Temples of Shaolin and Wudang are world reknowned in popular culture and movies that are embraced around the world. They are also active and living communities that continue to train monks and people from around the world who seek enlightenment and are drawn to learn the martial arts from the monks themselves.

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SHAOLIN AND WUDANG SWORD

THE SUPERNATURAL: GODS, MONSTERS, WHITE MAGIC, BLACK MAGIC

Just as important as their “warrior monks” skilled in athleticism, martial arts, and in wielding the Chinese longsword, is the spiritual and religious traditions of Buddhism and Taoism that cultivate the minds and spirits of their monks. The monastic life of study and meditation instills in the monks a connection to the natural and spiritual worlds, and a devotion to a life of helping others. In popular culture, Shaolin priests and monks also use their skills to defeat evil spirits, demons, vampires, and the undead, while Taoist magic is used for the same purpose.

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Chinese Fantasy - large selection.jpg

CHINESE FANTASY MOVIES  (right-click on image and open in new tab to see enlarged version)

 

The sword-skills and styles of Shaolin and Wudang are world reknown due to popular culture. Their sword styles make them excel particulary with longswords, using both piercing and slashing style of attacks in both styles.  Shaolin and Wudang monestaries both have their own unique martial arts styles, training that gives their practitioners amazing acrobatic and athletic abilities, and a training in meditation and spirituality that gives them a connection to and a life in harmony with all living things of the world.

Given the nature of these hero monks, their role in Dungeons & Dragons is unique.   Like the bard they are proficient in melee weapons and should be proficient with the longsword (And with subclasses they are).  Like Clerics, Druids, and Rangers, they possess a connection to both the spiritual and the natural worlds that makes them unique among adventurers.

It would seem Barbarians, Fighters, and Paladins share some common traits as classes while each having unique features. Classes specializing in Magic: the Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard also are of a type. In the same way, Monks are unique from Rangers and Bards, but should share a little bit more in common with these other two classes, namely their use of magic and proficiency with certain martial weapons.

 

SPELLS FOR MONKS IN D&D: WHAT SPELLS SHOULD MONKS BE ABLE TO LEARN?

 

Therefore, because of their traditions of magic and spirituality used to help others, it seems only right that just as Bards and Rangers have the ability to learn multiple spells at multiple levels, the Monk should have the same ability.  Also, it just makes them better adventurers and heroes, the kind that are depicted in the epic stories of Chinese popular culture and movies that are often filled with their fair share of magic and monsters.

The following is only one person’s views and opinion. While subclasses address the martial aspects of Monks, they do not seem to address the magic and “magical” aspect or lack thereof in a satisfying manner.   Since Daoists focus on Divination, and Shaolin on the spiritual aspect of living, and both have a connection with the natural world, I chose spells that met the criteria of these three aspects.

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CHINESE DIVINATION

 

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TAOIST MAGIC

 

To show the reasonableness of the following list of Spells, that the number of lower level spells are no more than those available for a Ranger to learn, and the number of higher level spells are no more than the number available to a Bard to say nothing of the more religious natured classes of Clerics, Druids, and warrior-like Paladins.

As for how many spells should be allowed to be learned per level, that is something I have not considered, but it probably should not be much different from the Bard or Ranger.

 

MONK SPELLS

 

CANTRIP

Guidance

True Strike

 

1st LEVEL

Animal Friendship

Comprehend Languages

Cure Wounds

Detect Evil and Good

Detect Magic

Detect Poison and Disease

Divine Favor

Expeditious Retreat

Feather Fall

Jump

Protection from Evil and Good

Speak with Animals

 

2nd LEVEL

Aid

Blur

Calm Emotions

Enhance Ability

Protection from Poison

See Invisibility

Lesser Restoration

Locate Animals or Plants

Locate Object

Pass without Trace

 

3rd LEVEL

Beacon of Hope

Clairvoyance

Fly

Remove Curse

Tongues

Water Walk

 

4th LEVEL

Divination

Locate Creature

 

5th LEVEL

Commune

Commune with Nature

Contact other Plane

Dispel Evil and Good

Divine Favor

Greater Resoration

Legend Lore

Reincarnate

 

6th LEVEL

True Seeing

 

8th LEVEL

Holy Aura

Mind Blank

 

9th LEVEL

Foresight

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