Last Updated on January 22, 2023
A monk is a graceful combatant practiced in the martial arts. That term, martial arts, is one that’s often used to describe nothing more than fighting. It can be easy to forget the second part of the term, art.
No monk forgets that their martial abilities are an art form. This is evident in the many abilities they get, all benefits of the practice of meditation and the urge to strive towards mastery over one’s own body.
While all monks are artists in some way, perhaps none is more consciously aware of their art than the kensei monk. Monks who take this path do not simply use weapons, they develop a connection with their weapons akin to the connection between a painter and his brush.
These monks study to use not just simple, but martial weapons as well. As they do so they develop the ability to attack swiftly whether they are wielding a melee weapon or a ranged weapon. They use their ki to deal massive damage and strike with incredible accuracy.
It is for all these reasons and more that a monk who studies in this tradition is truly deserving of the title “Kensei” which means “sword saint” in Japanese.
This honorary title denotes a level of mastery and perfection over swordsmanship that is far beyond that of a “Kengo” (sword master) or “kenshi” (swordsman).
- Kensei Weapons
- Improved attack and damage rolls
- Improved AC
The entirety of this subclass is built around the kensei weapons that you choose when you take this tradition at third level. You gain two immediately, one ranged weapon and one melee weapon, and gain an additional weapon at 6th, 11th, and 17th levels, or whenever you gain another subclass feature.
What makes these weapons so special is that they are not restricted to the simple weapons. You can choose any simple or martial weapon so long as it does not have the special or heavy properties or a longbow.
Dropping the two-handed and martial limitations of the regular monk weapons means that you can have a weapon to use all of your ki features with that start off dealing up to 1d10 of damage if you choose to use the longsword as a two-handed weapon.
Of course, you can still theme these in any ways that you see fit, and I’ll include a few options a little further on in this article.
You gain a number of features that directly benefit your kensei weapons in addition to counting them as monk weapons for the purposes of your various ki features, such as stunning strike, or to evoke your flurry of blows ability.
One of the most consistent abilities is that of your Agile Parry. It gives you an additional +2 to the monk’s already impressive AC so long as you make an unarmed strike as part of your Attack action and are wielding one of your kensei weapons.
Once you get the extra attack ability at 5th level, you can start making one kensei attack and one unarmed strike during your Attack action to make sure this bonus is almost always up and running.
On the ranged side of things, you get the ability Kensei’s Shot, which increases your ranged weapon’s damage by 1d4 of the weapons type. You do need to use a bonus action to trigger this ability but especially when you can let off multiple ranged attacks in a turn this will really boost your damage nicely.
Speaking of boosting damage, at 6th level you gain the ability to add extra damage to the damage of your kensei weapons equal to your martial arts die. You won’t quite be doubling your damage for a few levels, but this is a great boost that really gives monks the opportunity to hit hard, not just to hit often.
The other 6th level ability turns your kensei weapons into magical weapons. The main class already gives this bonus to unarmed strikes, but most monks are left having to find their own magical weapons to deal with the many foes like demons and ghosts that might have immunities or resistance to nonmagical weapon attacks.
This shows that the kensei is just as skilled with their weapons as a normal monk is with their hands and feet, reinforcing the idea that a kensei’s weapons are truly an extension of their body.
Getting back to features that rely on ki energy, the Sharpen the Blade feature lets you spend ki points to increase your damage and attack rolls. You choose one of your weapons to increase both rolls by up to 3, and spend that amount of ki points.
The only bar on this is that you cannot use this feature on a magical weapon that already has a bonus to attack and damage rolls.
Fortunately, the specific wording means that you can still use this bonus on a magic weapon that does not boost your attack and damage rolls, so you can take a magic item with an impressive ability and make it a more powerful weapon.
Perhaps something like an Oathbow or a Sword of Sharpness would make excellent candidates for this boon.
The capstone ability of this subclass actually doesn’t require you to use a kensei weapon, but since you’ll have 5 at this point it’s unlikely you’ll use anything but.
Unerring Accuracy does exactly what it sounds like it would and lets you reroll a missed attack once on each of your turns. Note that this is once on each of your turns not once per turn.
If you have any fun feats that let you make reactionary attacks more often you won’t be seeing the benefits of this ability then.
- Heavy/special weapon ban
- Little ranged support
- Dedicated Weapon
This subclass presents itself as a monk with supreme mastery over weapons. For a monk, it definitely fits the bill. Most monks are extremely limited in their weapon choice, and the heavy/two-handed bar keeps a lot of fun options out of reach.
A monk’s martial art dice max out at 1d10, and while that’s amazing for unarmed strikes, it does mean that a monk’s weapon will never deal as much damage on its own as something like a maul, greatsword, or a greataxe could.
Here’s the thing though, the kensei opens up martial and two-handed weapons, while still blocking monks from using heavy weapons and even adding on the bar against using special weapons!
What this does is sneakily keeps the kensei monk from a damage die greater than a d10, and blocks all but the weakest of reach weapons, the whip. This means that for all the impressive abilities that the kensei get, their claim to weapons master is pretty weak. They may be a “sword saint” but they’ll never be a greatsword saint.
The fact that most two-handed and reach weapons still have the heavy property is a sad hurdle that monks, unfortunately, cannot jump. But the insult doesn’t stop there.
While this subclass makes no great claim to be a “kyūdōka,” or expert in archery, it feels like there is an expectation that ranged weapons would be of some importance to them.
Especially given the fact that one of your two starting kensei weapons is required to be a ranged weapon, you’d suspect that kensei monks are formidable ranged opponents.
This just isn’t true. Sure, all of the kensei abilities are applicable to ranged weapons, but what about monk abilities such as the stunning strike. Shouldn’t we be able to transfer some of that ki into our ranged weapons if our weapons are supposed to be an extension of our bodies? Evidently not.
While the kensei isn’t going to be a zen archer or a great weapon master, they do still have plenty of amazing abilities to boost their weapons. Some more synergy with the abilities of the base class would be nice, but none of these limitations really make the kensei weaker, they’re just a bit sad. They are, as this section proclaims, limiting.
What is sad, is something completely separate from the kensei subclass. Introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything amidst a slew of fun optional variant features was the Dedicated Weapon feature for the monk class.
This feature gives any monk the ability to choose any simple or martial weapon that does not have the heavy or special property to use as a monk weapon.
While the feature requires you to have an existing proficiency in the weapon of your choice, that’s not too hard to pick up.
This means that if you were only interested in the kensei for their expanded arsenal, and chose it over a different subclass that had more mystical abilities, or even a more exciting combat style, you now have no reason to choose the way of the kensei.
I’m sure this slight to the kensei was unintentional, and the kensei still has its own list of features for these kensei weapons. But it’s a sight nonetheless and in my opinion, it really drops this subclass down a few pegs in the monk ratings.
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
Color and Tier ranking is very helpful when you’re trying to digest a lot of information. In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
- Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.
- Green – B Tier. Solid but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or Green can be very good but only in very specific situations.
- Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
- Purple – S Tier. the top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are worth strongly considering when you create your character.
Our goal here is to provide scannable, but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.
While we might sometimes make reference to unofficial or homebrew content to illustrate a point (or just because it’s too cool not to talk about) every option we suggest is legal in the official rules for D&D 5e as published by Wizards of the Coast.
Monks focus on dexterity for all of their impressive movement, and wisdom, which improves their AC and gives their foes saving throws a more difficult DC.
As a class they have incredible speed and agility with many abilities that make them one of the most resilient classes. A race can give a monk excellent movement to work with along with the ability score bonuses that we’re always looking for.
The following options are excellent choices for a kensei monk:
Aarakocra – +2 Dex, +1 Wis.Aarakocras are an incredible race whose abilities and features all make for an excellent monk. While their base walking speed is only 25 feet, they have a flying speed of 50 feet which you can use in conjunction with all of the movement abilities of a monk. They also have talons for their unarmed strikes, which doesn’t change much for a monk, but does look very cool and does slashing damage instead of the normal bludgeoning.
Hawk-Headed Aven – +2 Dex, +2 Wis. I tend to not include UA options, but the Aven race from Plane Shift – Amonkhet are an excellent egyptian inspired race that get a flying speed, proficiency in perception, and do not impose disadvantage when at a long range with a ranged weapon. Plus, those bonuses are amazing for a monk.
Wood Elf – +2 Dex, +1 Wis. One of the nicest synergies between monks and elves is that elves’ long rest is a 4 hour long meditative trance, which is exactly what a monk needs to recoup their ki points. Wood elves also have an increased walking speed of 35 feet in comparison to the rest of the elves 30 feet, a very nice little bonus for the already agile monks.
Dankwood Goblin – +2 Dex, +1 Wis. The hidden goblin subrace introduced in Adventures with Muk, the dankwood goblins are kindhearted goblins that can speak to small or smaller beasts and still gain access to the normal goblin feature of nimble escape to take the hide or disengage actions as bonus actions. Nimble escape is a nice way to save your ki points so that you don’t use them on step of the wind.
We tend to choose these based on our highest stats, but choosing a different route based on how you want to roleplay isn’t a bad idea, especially since adding your proficiency bonus might compensate for a not-so-good ability modifier.
The monk class is given the ability to choose two skills from Acrobatics, Athletics, History, Insight, Religion, and Stealth.
Acrobatics (Dex)- Perfect for monks, allows you to use your already impressive dexterity to pull off some incredible checks.
Athletics (Str)- I would steer away from making a lot of strength checks.
History (Int)- Not incredibly useful unless you have a specific build in mind.
Insight (Wis)- Great ability to have and your wisdom will make this even more viable.
Religion (Wis)- Not incredibly useful unless you have a specific build in mind.
Stealth (Dex)- Monks aren’t typically stealthy but you can definitely make one who is, you have all the right abilities.
When we look for a background we want to find some skills that synergize well with our ability scores, but that’s not all. Our kensei subclass is focused on the art of their weaponry, but also on art itself.
When you take the subclass you gain proficiency in either calligrapher’s or painter’s supplies.
You can easily choose a background that gives you access to these, or one that perhaps gives you some exciting backstory.
Clan Crafter – Proficiency in History and Insight. While dwarves aren’t the traditional race one thinks of for monks, a monk who then learned in the ways of weaponry from a dwarven crafter would easily incorporate knowledge of ki into the more hardy of the weapons. You’ll also get access to a set of artisan’s tools in your starting equipment and the ability to speak dwarvish.
Folk Hero – Proficiency in Survival and Animal Handling. A very fun and varied background that gives you a starting artisan tool. The defining events that set you on your path are very interesting and options like “ I broke into a tyrant’s castle and stole weapons to arm the people,” or “I trained the peasantry to use farm implements as weapons against a tyrant’s soldiers,” are very Seven Samurai-esque which I absolutely love.
Way of the Kensei Monk Progression
Features that you automatically obtain through the Monk class will appear in Orange and features that you gain through the Kensei subclass will appear in Pink.
Filling out the Character Sheet (Level 0)
Hit Dice: 1d8 per Monk level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per monk level after 1st
Weapons: Simple weapons, shortswords
Tools: Choose one type of Artisan’s Tools or musical instrument
Saving Throws: Strength, Dexterity
Skills: Choose two skills from Acrobatics, Athletics, History, Insight, Religion, and Stealth
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (a) a shortsword or (b) any simple weapon
- (a) a dungeoneer’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
- 10 darts
Monks start off with some pretty impressive abilities. The first of which is that when not wearing any armor or wielding a shield, your AC is equal to 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Wisdom modifier. With these being your two primary abilities, you should be off to a very nice start.
Monks practice martial arts, in which they can use their unarmed strikes, any simple weapon, or monk weapons, which can be a shortsword for so long as they don’t have the heavy or two-handed properties. Thanks to this practice they gain the following abilities:
- Use dexterity instead of strength for attack and damage rolls with unarmed strikes or monk weapons.
- Roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike or monk weapon. This die eventually goes all the way up to a d10, as shown on the table above. These die are often referred to as martial arts die.
- If you take the Attack action with an unarmed strike or monk weapon, you can make a bonus action attack with your unarmed strike, provided you haven’t already taken a bonus action in that turn.
Ki is an energy that monks harness to do any number of things. You have a pool of ki points determined by your monk level which is listed on the table above. You regain all ki points when you spend at least 30 minutes of a short or long rest meditating.
If a ki feature requires a saving throw, the DC is equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier.
The first three ki features you can use are as follows:
- Flurry of Blows – You can spend 1 ki point to make two unarmed strikes as a bonus action immediately after you take the Attack action on your turn.
- Patient Defense – You can spend 1 ki point to take the Dodge action as a bonus action on your turn.
- Step of the Wind – You can spend 1 ki point to take the Dash or Disengage action as a bonus action on your turn, and your jump distance is doubled for the turn.
Your speed increases by 10 feet when you are not wearing armor or wielding a shield. This distance increases at different levels listed in the Monk table above.
Additionally, at level 9 you can move along vertical and liquid surfaces without falling during the move.
Dedicated Weapon (Optional):
This optional feature lets you choose any simple or martial weapon that does not have the heavy or two-handed feature to be your monk weapon. This is cool for other monks, but not super important for kensei monks who will get to choose kensei weapons.
Path of the Kensei:
Taking the path of the kensei gives you the following impressive abilities right off the bat:
- Kensei Weapons – You choose one melee and one ranged weapon to be your kensei weapon. They can be any simple or melee weapons that lack the heavy and special properties or the longbow.
Kensei weapons count as monk weapons which you are proficient with that allow you to use the many other features of this class. You may pick an additional kensei weapon at 6th, 11th, and 17th level in this class.
- Agile Parry – While you are holding a melee kensei weapon, you gain an additional 2 AC until the start of your next turn if you make an unarmed strike as part of the Attack action on your turn.
- Kensei’s Shot – You can use a bonus action to give your ranged kensei weapon an additional 1d4 damage of the weapons type whenever you hit with it on this turn.
- Way of the Brush – You gain proficiency with either Calligrapher’s or Painter’s supplies.
Ki-Fueled Attack (Optional):
You can spend 1 ki point to make a bonus action attack with a monk weapon or an unarmed strike.
You can use your reaction to block or deflect a ranged weapon attack that would hit your AC. You reduce the damage by 1d10 + your Dexterity modifier + your monk level.
If the damage is reduced to 0 you can catch the item you were attacked with and throw it back by making a ranged attack with a range of 20/60. Not only do you get to make this attack with proficiency, but also you count the ranged attack as a monk weapon for damage’s sake.
You can either increase one ability by 2 points or two abilities by 1. Alternatively you can choose a feature, if you already have great stats this is a great choice.
You can reduce your fall damage by 5 times your monk level. Who needs feather fall when you can just land gracefully.
Quickened Healing (Optional):
You can spend 1 ki point and heal a number of hit points equal to a roll of the die used for monk weapons + your proficiency modifier.
You can attack twice inside of one Attack action.
You can spend 1 ki point when you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack to force them to make a Constitution saving throw. If they fail the save they are stunned until the end of your next turn.
Focused Aim (Optional):
You can spend 1 to 3 hit points to increase a missed attack roll by 2 for each ki point spent.
Your unarmed strikes now count as magical for the purposes of overcoming resistances and immunities to nonmagical damage. This is huge because it means being able to successfully use your unarmed strikes against a wide variety of creatures that would otherwise be untouchable.
One with the Blade:
Magic Kensei Weapons –Your kensei weapons also count as magical weapons.
Deft Strike – You can spend 1 ki point to deal extra damage equal to one roll of your martial arts die once on each of your turns.
Stillness of Mind:
You can use your action to end an effect that is charming or frightening you. It’s important to note that this ends the entire effect, not just the charm or frightened status. This is important because many effects have additional clauses on top of those two options.
Purity of Body:
You are immune to disease and poison. All disease, all poison.
Sharpen the Blade:
You can use up to 3 ki points to touch one of your kensei weapons and give it a bonus to attack and damage rolls equal to the number of ki points spent. The bonus lasts for either one minute or until you use the feature again and cannot be used on a magical weapon that already has a bonus to attack and damage rolls
Tongue of the Sun and the Moon:
You understand all spoken languages and any creature that can speak at least one language can understand you.
You have proficiency in all saving throws. You can also use 1 ki point to reroll a saving throw if you fail it. You must take the second result.
You cannot be aged magically, do not suffer the frailties of old age (other than death) , and no longer need food or water.
Once on each of your turns you can reroll a missed attack roll with a monk weapon.
As an action, you can spend 4 ki points to become invisible for 1 minute. During this time you are resistant to all damage except force damage.
You can also spend 8 ki points to cast the Astral Projection spell without material components. The only stipulation is that you can’t take anyone with you to the Astral Plane.
You regain 4 ki points when you roll initiative and you have no ki points remaining.
I am so pained that this subclass of monk isn’t the one to get access to great weapon master or polearm master, but so be it. There are still some excellent feats that synergize very well with the Way of the Kensei. My top choices are as follows:
Alert – Alert Feat‘s additional +5 to initiative and creatures not being able to surprise you or gain advantage on you if they are unseen are very monk-like abilities. These will give you a definite edge in battle.
Charger – You can make a bonus action attack or shove a creature when you Dash as an action. You can also just get a +5 bonus to damage if you move at least 10 feet in a straight line towards an opponent, something you’ll be doing a lot of.
Mobile – As if monk didn’t make you fast enough, this feat gives you an additional 10 ft of movement speed, eliminates difficult terrain when you are dashing, and protects you from opportunity attacks when you make melee attacks. Easily boosting your movement speed up to an insane 70 feet by 18th level, you are basically the Flash with this ability.
Sentinel – While a monk can certainly move around a lot, there is something to be said for stopping the movement of others, which this feat does incredibly well with its opportunity attacks. Sentinel Feat also gives you an additional reaction attack against creatures who attack your nearby allies.
Sharpshooter – If you do want to go for a more of a Zen Archer approach to your character you’ll need something to improve your ranged skills. The penalty for bonus damage is easily offset by any number of your kensei abilities making Sharpshooter Feat even more deadly than it is in the hand of other archery classes.
Fighting Initiate – Since kensei weapons give you proficiency in martial weapons, you have a unique opportunity to get fighting styles as a monk. A lot of fighting styles are excellent choices, but I would highly recommend Archery to offset your lack of ranged prowess, Blindfighting because it cool as all hell and fits a monk so very well, or Dueling for even more damage on your melee weapons.
Kensei Monk Build
For the following example build we’ve used the standard set of scores provided in the PHB (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) when deciding ability scores. The only levels mentioned for the purpose of these builds are those when you will have the opportunity to make a decision on how your adventurer grows.
Race: Wood Elf
Background: Folk Hero
Ability Scores: STR 8, DEX 17, CON 13, INT 10, WIS 15, CHA 12
Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Survival, Perception, Acrobatics, Insight
Language Proficiencies: Elvish, Common
Tool Proficiencies: Smith’s Tools, Calligrapher’s Supplies
Equipment: Smith’s Tools, a shovel, an iron pot, a set of common clothes, a belt pouch containing 10 gp, a shortsword, an explorer’s pack, 10 darts
Longbow is the best bet for range and longsword is going to give you 1d8 when you use it as a one handed weapon or 1d10 when you wield it with both hands.
We can start by picking up fighting initiate and choosing Dueling as our fighting style. This gives us a +2 to damage with a melee weapon that we are holding in one hand, which should be most of our weapons most of the time. That way we can still make strikes with our offhand.
This build isn’t focused on ranged weapons, but a whip is an excellent weapon that gives you reach and it’s damage will improve vastly beyond the 1d4 it normally deals.
We can take +2 to our Dexterity, since our Wisdom is only being used for Stunning Strike and our AC will still increase if our Dex modifier goes up.
Warhammer has the same 1d8 or 1d10 spread of damage as the longsword, but will give us the opportunity to deal bludgeoning damage with something other than our fists.
Now’s a great time to become Alert, putting us back to the top of the initiative line most of the time.
Admittedly, we could’ve taken mobile earlier, but it really is just the cherry on top for a monk. At this point our speed is 70 feet already, and we’ll get another 5 feet in two more levels.
Morningstar will give us 1d8 piercing normally, but our monk weapons are already dealing 1d10 so we actually get to see this weapon deal more damage.
We’ll want to increase our wisdom by 1 and our constitution by 1, giving us the next modifier in each of those abilities.
Synergies and Multiclassing
It can be very tempting to multiclass with a monk to give them access to extra abilities, but I highly recommend against it unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, in which case you probably wouldn’t be reading this.
Almost all of the abilities of the monk class are tied into ki points which increase at every level. Those that don’t highly benefit from movement speed which increases steadily up to 18th level.
The only redeemable multiclass for an even moderately experienced player is a one to three-level dip, but there aren’t many that are worth losing out on Perfect Self or Empty Body, two of your most powerful ki-related abilities.
Okay… did I scare off the weak? There are some really cool options out there if you are bold. Fighters, rangers, and rogues all make excellent use of dexterity and give you some fun options to play around with. Some of my favorite concepts are as follows:
Kensei Samurai – The natural pairing of two of the great eastern-styled subclasses out of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Like Takezo Kensei from the Heroes television show, this monk with a three level dip into fighter can withstand a lot of damage.
Through the samurai subclass you’ll be receiving a Fighting Spirit, which allows you to gain advantage on all of your attack rolls until the end of the turn along with 5 temporary hit points. Unfortunately, this requires a bonus action, so you can’t use it in conjunction with a flurry of blows, but you can definitely ensure some great hits with this.
The fighter class itself will give you a fighting style, action surge, and second wind, all excellent features that justify losing out on a few ki points.
Soul Blade Saint – Normally, I’m very against mixing two classe that have pools of energy points. Here’s the thing though, the Soul Blade’s psionic blades can easily count as kensei weapons. This means boosting the damage of these magically appearing weapons up to 1d10 if you opt for only a 3 level dip into rogue. Even the second bonus attack blade that normally only deals 1d4 is subject to this increase since it is a simple weapon without the heavy or two-handed properties and therefore a run of the mill monk weapon.
Throw in the fact that a monk who can deal sneak attack damage is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever heard off, and the fact that your pool of psionic energy is tied in to your proficiency bonus rather than your level in rogue? Yeah, this is a combo to be reckoned with.
I mean, even a more even split of 11 levels in monk and 9 levels in rogue would be viable since that’s three of your four kensei subclass features and it gets you up to 5d6 sneak attack damage, 1d8 for your psionic energy die, and lets you TELEPORT.
The ultimate attack here would see your psychic kensei blade with a +3 to attack and damage, dealing 1d10 thanks to monk weapons, adding in 5d6 for sneak attack, another 1d10 for the Deft Strike at the cost of 1 ki point, an extra 2 damage from the dueling fighting style (fighting initiate), followed by another attack dealing 1d10, and using flurry of blows to get in two more attacks.
With plenty of options to reroll or add extra die to your attack rolls in their, that’s a maximum of 85 damage in a turn, and you can do that a lot more frequently than a spellcaster can let off fireballs.
Let’s put it this way, if you don’t want to see a teleporting monk with psychic weapons you’re not my real friend.
Beginner’s Guide to Kensei Monk
Monks in the worlds of D&D are some of the most impressive martial combatants out there. They float across the battlefield with grace, harnessing the energy of their ki to unleash powerful blows and perform incredible feats of discipline.
Come to think of it, they’re not all that different from monks in our own world. To be clear, we’re talking about eastern monks, not weird friars sitting in the bottoms of castles and reading books.
Like the monks of our world, monks hold weapons in a position of great veneration. They view combat as something to resort to, not to leap into, but those who train for it are skilled enough to make any foolhardy foe wish they had made better life choices.
While all monks use their weapons with grace and dignity, there are those whose skill with a blade is unparalleled. Those who follow the way of the kensei, the way of the sword saint, use their weapons as if they were an extension of themselves.
Through their weapons they can channel their ki to land the most vicious of blows on those who would spread evil throughout the lands.
Extensions of the Body
Typically, a monk may use simple melee weapons or a shortsword in combat. So long as the weapons do not have the heavy or two-handed properties they can utilize them to strike down their enemies.
The kensei however, gain access to a wider range of weapons which includes most martial weapons and most ranged weapons.
With these weapons, they gain plenty of impressive abilities that go beyond that which even a normal monk is capable of. Increased damage and finer accuracy are the two key points to a kensei’s weapon usage that make them shine.
They can deal double their damage and hit when they would miss, results of years of practice and active meditation.
Where a typical monk’s unarmed strikes count as magical weapons once they can channel their ki well enough, a kensei’s weapons can be counted as magical for the sake of resistances and immunities to nonmagical weapon damage.
To my knowledge, this is the only subclass in all of D&D that boasts this ability, although many classes can easily access magical weapons at some point or another.
Their 11th level ability, Sharpen the Blade, even allows them to give their weapons +3 to attack and damage rolls. This sort of consistent bonus to damage and attack ability is something that is only seen on the rarest of magical weapons out there and can be attributed to this subclasses rigorous training.
If you’ve read through the description for the monk class, you might’ve noticed that monk weapons can be reskinned to feel more fitting than the typical weapon name might be.
A common example is calling a club a nunchaku. Mechanically it is the same, but it supports the mental image of a monk far better than a wizened martial artist carrying around a blunt club into battle.
Similarly, you can reskin any of the martial weapons that are now available to you through this subclass as more monastic weaponry. Some ideas for martial weapons inspired by asiatic monk culture are as follows:
- Battleaxe – Twin Hooks or Fu Tao
- Flail – Manriki
- Longsword – Katana, Sasuga, or any variety of Dao
- Morningstar – Meteor Hammer
- Rapier – Jian
- Scimitar – 9 ring broadsword
- Shortsword – Butterfly Swords,
- Trident – Tiger Fork (this is basically just a trident, with very little deviation, but it gives you a different name so there’s that)
- Warhammer – Chui (a chinese version of a warhammer that consists of a hard metal sphere on the end of a pole)
- Warpick – Kama (an agricultural sickle)
- Whip – Rope Dart (Jōhyō or shéng biāo)
Researching different weapons so that your monk isn’t just wielding some run of the mill battleaxe will likely give you a much greater appreciation for your character. It will also help to immerse everyone else at the table into the impressive weapon feats you manage to pull off.
And who knows, your DM might be pleased enough with your excitement and immersion that they give your weapon some extra mechanical benefits, it’s not unheard of.
Playing a kensei monk is an excellent way to make yourself feel like any of the amazing kung fu masters that you might’ve watched growing up.
I know that every time I think of this subclass I get fond memories of watching the 36th Chamber of Shaolin as a young boy and imitating all the beautiful martial arts on display. I hope you enjoy the art of bringing such a character to life.
And as always, happy adventuring.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.