DISCLAIMER: This review is based on a free PDF provided by the author and the publisher, which in no way had an influence on the final score.
Legendary Games has a line of products called Legendary Classes, where they cover a single base class, sometimes offering a completely new version. Monks have been controversial since their inclusion in almost all editions of D&D, and their execution doubly so. While I was hoping LG would present their version, it is also true that monks have some of the biggest supporting content of all classes, so it would be a pain to make a new one, especially since Pathfinder Unchained just did that with the Unchained Monk. So what’s in this book, then? Let’s see!
30 pages of crunchy and fluffy content, which include:
-11 Archetypes for the Monk and Unchained Monk (I will add a U for Unchained Monk archetypes). Just see the list of archetypes for the monk already out there, and chances are most concepts are already covered, but 11 archetypes for both types of monks is amazing. We start with a short introduction about monks, and it has a couple of typos, like “area” instead of “are a”, “well” instead of “will”. There were a few more in the text and I will mention them when they become relevant.
Chakra Champions are masters of the Chakra system from Occult Adventures… Wait, what? There’s already an archetype that does that, the Serpent-Fire Adept from Occult Origins. Anyway, Chakra Champions get Chakra Initiate as their first level bonus feat, but not Psychic Sensitivity, and can get the other Chakra feats as bonus feats. It mentions that these feats ignore prerequisites... So, can I get Chakra Master before Chakra Adept? As written, yes. Instead of Stunning Fist, they get a similar debuff ability called Disharmonious Flux, which is usable at will! Most archetypes that replace this feat change it for another ability usable a similar number of times, so I don’t think it is a good change, especially since Disharmonious Flux is so powerful. I would make it a base feat like Stunning Fist, and increase its usage similarly for non-Chakra Champions. So what does it do? Penalize a save from -2 to -4 (the numbers don’t have the usual minus sign, which is weird), and you can also choose from 14 extra effects, but you learn only 3 through your career; one being Psychic Inception, poached from the mesmerist and even wrongly mentioning it (copy/paste error). Beyond this, Champions get many abilities that interact with Chakras, more so than a Serpent-Fire Adept. Finally, they get two abilities that are different. Kundalini Purge staggers opponents and closes their use of Ki (why only ki? I would add arcane pools and maybe others), and Chakra Overload, which again is a poached ability but this time is from an old 3.X ability from another Chakra user, and it inflicts negative levels. After all is said and done, this archetype changes a LOT from the base class and has cool flavor, but I’m not sure about the balance of Disharmonious Flux.
Crystallion are high fantasy monks, getting power from their connections to crystals. It trades most mobility options to be tougher, like getting damage reduction, natural armor, resistance to fire and electricity and the like, plus some light-related abilities, like being able to glow or distracting allies like the bardic performance, but against sight-based effects. At the highest levels they can also reflect rays or even create prismatic sprays, walls or spheres! They cap transforms them into constructs for spells and effects… which is not good, since you won’t be able to come back from the death or even be healed normally. I would have used elemental instead but oh well. A really high concept and high fantasy archetype with cool imagery!
Flagellants (U) are masochistic monks, who treat pain as a way to purify themselves. They lose most “swift” abilities like evasion and its improved version, and even the increase to AC from higher levels. Instead, they are better at intimidation, get many abilities to ignore debilitating conditions, can reduce bleeding damage, and get access to many exclusive ki powers, like ignoring damage reduction and suppressing regeneration on a critical hit or ignoring hp damage from pain effects and GAINIG temporary hp as part of the deal! While not a new concept, Flagellants get many cool powers and are one of my favorite archetypes for the monk not only from this book, but ever!
Imperial Guards are self-explanatory. They dedicate themselves to protecting their designated charges. They get a slight change in class skills, and a slightly weaker Stunning Fist. They get a modified Evasion that protects both themselves and their charges. They also lose Manoeuver Training and Still Mind, replaced by virtual and improved Bodyguard and In Harm’s Way feats. Finally, instead of Slow Fall they get better at certain manoeuvers, and instead of Quivering Palm they get the ability to counterattack opponents that were intercepted by their virtual feats. An iconic archetype that works well for NPCs and for PCs that develop a backstory together, being a perfect way to introduce an adventuring aristocrat and its entourage.
Leikung (U) are storm monks. They lose Ki Strike to gain the ability to make sonic attacks! Sonic is one of the least-resisted energy types, so I think it is a fair trade, and you can always ask your friendly spellcaster to cast magic weapon on your fist, or just get an amulet. Later they become resistant and later immune to sonic damage and effects. They lose a couple of bonus feats to get the ability to manifest a Sonic Hammer, a powerful weapon that gets Wis to attack and damage and deals half sonic, half bludgeoning damage, and later they can treat them as an adamantine and/or thundering weapon. Finally they can use Echolocation, and unleash Stormvoice, a damaging sound based attacks that can push opponents and break objects. One of my favorite fantastical martial art attacks is the Lion’s Roar (watch Kung Fu Hustle), and being able to focus on sound is my dream come true, but the abilities are a bit on the conservative side, a case of cool doesn’t have to equal powerful.
Psychic Cenobites remind me of a 3.X psionic prestige class, so seeing a version here is intriguing since Legendary Games doesn’t work directly with psionics. They are trained to resist and later harmlessly absorb mind attacks, and get a powerful critical-like attack, Id Strike, that has a save, doesn’t work with mindless creatures and can’t trigger other abilities. Higher level abilities include True Seeing and Invisibility Purge, plus an intriguing variant of Quivering Palm that Dominates instead of killing opponents, and it can get a triggering condition that can make for cool roleplaying situations. An outstanding take on the psychic-y monk without just resorting to give it access to psychic spells, amazing for occult-heavy (and psionic!) campaign, and also for unconventional villains. The archetype’s only blemish is a repeated part under the Greater Concurrence ability that comes from the lesser version, but maybe it is supposed to work like Improved Evasion and you get only a partial effect on an unsuccessful save? Who knows.
Shinsei (U) again remind me of Rokugan. They are a combination of pally and oracle, with a dash of the occult united under the unchained monk’s chassis. It may sound like a bad thing, but it’s quite the contrary. They get abilities to avoid being deceived, and are also excellent caster neutralizers, since they can mute opponents and also treat themselves and one target as if they were in a magic field. They also have to take a vow at first level without any bonus, but can take more vows and benefit from them normally. The perfect option for pally players in a martial arts campaign, but on a personal note I didn’t particularly like this one, it just didn’t excite me.
Singhala are raging tiger monks. They get some of their bonus feats locked in the Tiger Style and its follow-ups, are immune to fear and get a better version of the Diehard feat. They get also some modest magical abilities to communicate with felines, and can enter a special, controlled rage that can enhance one physical ability of their choice; why this doesn’t work like the more modern unchained barbarian’s rage is beyond me, but easy to houserule. They can also scare their opponents, making them shaken and even panicked. Pounce and Haste are among their highest level abilities, as is Ki Shout and Tireless rage. If you have ever wanted to rage with a monk, this is your best chance. To my chagrin, I can’t combine this with Leikung but well, we can’t have everything.
Tempests (U) are monks who focus on speed. They get a modified, more thematically appropriate bonus feat list, get a Skirmish ability (a kind of moving sneak attack) instead of flurry of blows, and can be faster instead of getting extra attacks. Like one version of the Flash, Tempests must eat double since their speed also affects their metabolism, and they also heal more quickly. They also get their own version of Ki powers called Speed Stunts, and there are a lot, 27 to be exact! Among them are a couple of ki powers, but most of them are new abilities that make use of the fastest character archetype I have seen. They also change Flawless Mind for Flawless Agility, working similarly but for Reflex saves. If you have ever wanted to play the Flash, or you have a coming medieval super hero campaign, look no further!
Voidminds (U) represent one of the most esoteric archetypes I have read, reminding me of the Akashic from Monty Cook’s Arcana Unearthed. They can emulate some divination spells, and get several abilities to get and give access to feats and skills they may or may not have. They can also manipulate fate gaining humongous bonuses to some rolls, but of course limited by your Ki. Following the Void theme, their highest level ability lets them inflict negative levels! A really weird, almost alien archetype, excellent for players who want to play a melee-er that can also buff himself or his allies. Another winner IMHO.
Yogi close the archetype section. They gain many abilities to control their bodies, able to choose one (later two and then three) ability from among 8. They also get Psychic Sensitivity as their first bonus feat, and can chose other feats that have this as requirement for their other bonus feats. Instead of evasion and its improved version, Yogi get access to the more fitting Resolve ability of samurai. They can also get Wis to attack rolls and manoeuver checks! They can fascinate foes, as the bardic performance, with a droning chant. And of course, iconic as Yogi are, they can levitate. An iconic, non-Shaolin-esque monk that represent another type of self-mastery!
-Honor and Vows, which include 10 new Vows, which avoided the trap of the Still Mind requirement, an ability traded by many archetypes and that only Monks have, even when the text in Ultimate Magic mentions “any character with a Ki pool” IIRC. These vows only require a Ki pool so they can be accessed by many characters. Vow of Hard Gold is the opposite of what most associate with monks, becoming materialistic in a dogmatic way. Vow of the Ki weapon is an options for anyone obsessed with one specific weapon. Vow of Knowledge demands protection of academic texts. Vow of Obedience gives you a master you have to obey. Vow of Secrecy impedes you to tell facts, or betray hidden allies. Vow of Self-Sacrifice gives you a ward you have to protect (perfect for Imperial Guards). Vow of Sightlessness is the iconic situation where a character becomes blind by choice. Vow of Simplicity is wonderful for character who want to play the blunt, non-socialite character. Vow of Superiority is awesome for nobles and people from theocracies, and remind me of the Scarlet Brotherhood from Grayhawk. Vow of Total Freedom is for character that don’t want ties, and many chaotics fill the bill. I found a couple of typos here and there, and most Vows mention monks, where the introduction mentions otherwise.
My favorite Vows are Simplicity, Superiority and Total Freedom, for different characters. These Vows, like the originals, are excellent role-playing tools, especially for power-gamers to force them earn their benefits, and for newer gamers too, so they have a compass to lead their role-playing.
-Ki and Psychic Power is an obvious but still amazing section that codifies many options from Occult Adventures as Ki powers for the Qiggong-archetype for monks, and expands the reach of unchained monks who selects the Qiggong ki power. From the lowly Psychic Sensitivity to the powerful Akashic Form, there are many, many new options for monks who want to focus on their mystical side.
-Ki Tatoos are like an archetype. In exchange for the Bonus Feat class feature, a Tatooed Monk gets a Ki Tatoo at 1st, 3rd, and every 3 levels thereafter. Some tattoos have passive abilities and most have an activated ability that costs a point of Ki. Bamboo enhances your constitution, Cobra lets you Poison (as the spell) by touch, Dragon gives you a breath weapon, Tengu gives you proficiency and weapon focus on one sword, and so on. These ones remind me again of Rokugan. I would have loved some interconnection between these tattoos and ki users in general, since the archetypical tattooed mofos are Yakuza, another Ki-using class by LG. As always, I will yell “PAY A FEAT” to any player asking for one.
-Ki Tomes are a follow-up section of one of my favorite books ever, Meditations of the Imperial Mystics. Ki Tomes are a special type of magic item that can serve as a learning source for feats and spells, and you can rule that some of the options contained herein are not general knowledge and BAM! Instant adventure seed: the hunt for the Text. Anyway, on the Ki Tomes.
Text of Burning Wind and Iron Rain is a powerful tome that contains many unorthodox techniques that focus on weapon and firearm combat. Just by meditating on the tome nets you a Ki power: Ki Arrow as a spell-like ability usable at-will, with a Ki cost of one point. You can also learn a lot of feats described here (18!), and you can also pay Ki to learn them temporarily. There are a couple of feat branches: one focuses on wielding one weapon better, to the point where you can give it special weapon qualities it doesn’t normally have (you could brace with a staff, for example); the other allows you to fight with monk weapons and guns at the same time, culminating in a kind of Flurry of Shots (TM). Apart from these, there are a couple of assorted feats (one is a follow-up for the Crane style!). There are two worth mentioning because they could unbalance the game if left unchecked: Soul of the Gun lets you trade Grit and Ki freely (so you could arguably get infinite Ki), and Rain of Needles extends shuriken range and increase its damage, up to 2d10 if taken enough times! Of course, this will eat 8 feats, but the range and damage may be too over the top for your campaign.
To Serve Stone’s Stern Will is a zealot’s tome devoted to the might of the Shaitan, or earth genies. Studying it teaches you a Gunsmithing (like the feat), gaining a hefty bonus to craft firearms and gunpowder. You can also learn Shaitan and Tiger’s styles, a couple of Vows, and the Earth Affinity extraordinary ability. The latter opens up a couple of Qiggong powers and two exclusive feats that have Earth Affinity and a Ki pool as prerequisites. The text has a typo, mentioning a Lesser Earth Mastery not included in the text, which I think was a beta name for Earth Affinity.
Of Note: Chakra Champions and Shinsei are the weakest parts of this book. I decided to talk about the “not-that-cool” because I was having a hard time deciding on what archetypes to mention here. The Vows go from nice to character-defining, the Tatoos are like another cool archetype and the Ki Tomes are just plain written awesome.
Anything wrong?: The editing was painful to read. LG has spoiled its readers by having a very tight quality control, so the few errors and typos felt like a kick to the… shin. Beyond that, I disliked the Chakra Champion’s name LOL.
What I want: More interconnection between LG products, like the option for Yakuza and Kinetic Shinobi to get Ki Tatoos. I also would have liked to know what spells from the Asian Spell Compendium could be taken as Qiggong. Finally, while maybe not in a monk book, I want to see how the newer classes deal with Ki, like LG did with the core and base classes for their The Way of Ki book.
What cool things did this inspire?: Using oread monks with the Crystallion archetype, I will represent an alien race of creatures from the plane of Earth that will play the good/bad guys in different situations. As a player, I want to play with almost all archetypes! A monk/gunslinger, or maybe just one with the variant multiclass of the other, is a must!
Do I recommend it?: After having read almost all monk books released for 3.x D&D, as well as most major monk books out there for Pathfinder, like the Talented Monk or The Monk Unfettered, so there is little that can really wow me. But good material is good material, and if anything of what I wrote intrigued you, the by all means buy it! I really want to rate this with 4.5 stars, because of the editing, but since I can’t, my verdict this time will be four flying guillotine-y stars for this book!
[4 of 5 Stars!]