Hello all! Welcome back to our weekly Underrated or Underpowered. Today is a special one because it’s our very first one that was requested over on instagram!! If you guys ever wanna see something in particular, that’s the best place to get in touch! Anyway, without further ado… here is Way of the Long Death Monk!
The Cycle of Life and Death Continues
To start the article off I just want to talk a bit about the background of these monks. As I brought the subclass up to the other writers, I was simply met with a “Way of the what?” It occurred to me that a surprisingly few number of people actually know about this subclass, so let’s take a look at its origins and what it’s all about
The Way of the Long Death Monk was released in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, along with many other forgotten subclasses such as the Battlerager Barbarian, Undying Warlock, Oath of the Crown Paladin, and our very favorite Purple Dragon Knight Fighter. However, SCAG also brought us some favorites such as the Bladesinger, the Swashbuckler, and some great spells (I’m looking at you Booming Blade).
Their little flavor blurb says that these monks are obsessed with dying and the mechanics around it. They capture creatures and preform experiments to capture, understand, and and record the moments of their demise. With this knowledge, they refine their fighting style to create deadly understanding of martial arts. Now, if you ask me, it’s kind of worrying that a monk monastery is capturing creatures and potentially humanoids and conducting “experiments” on them to gain a better understanding of their moment of death. All moral questions for your character aside, it creates an… interesting opportunity to make a meaningful character. Enough of this, let’s get right into the mechanics of the class!
We Will Live…
The first ability the Long Death Monks get is Touch of Death. Whenever you reduce a creature within 5 feet of you to zero hit points, you gain temporary hit points equal to your Wisdom + your Monk level. This ability helps the monk to tank a ton of damage, especially if they’re able to get a pick in the beginning of the fight. Around level 3 you’re probably still fighting goblins/kobolds and their superiors, so as long as you can take out a kobold you can begin a chain of temp HP. Important to note, temporary HP doesn’t stack, so if you kill two kobolds in one turn you won’t be getting double the temp HP. Regardless, this ability helps you to tank a lot more damage throughout the day!
The second ability is Hour of Reaping, which you acquire at level 6. This allows you to use your action to make every creature within 30 feet of you to make a wisdom save or be frightened of you until the end of your next turn. It’s hard for me to really say how good or bad this ability is, since I’ve never seen it used in game. Since Wisdom is your secondary stat, your DC will be a bit lower than what you’d hope for. The ability also states that it targets every creature, including your allies. Since you’re a monk, your Dex is probably quite high so you’ll be moving ahead in the initiative order. If you move forward and use this ability and your allies fail, tough luck for them since they won’t be able to move closer to the enemies since you’re in the way. I think if you could use a bonus action with this it may be a bit better, or if you could target only enemies or even use a ki to allow your allies to succeed automatically it would be better. As it is though, this ability is kind of a mediocre version of fear that only lasts one turn. In a perfect world, it gives all of your allies advantage for a round on enemies. In the real world, you probably end up fearing one or two enemies and one or two allies and you give enemies advantage on your allies.
Way of the Long Death receives arguably their best ability at level 11, Mastery of Death. When you are reduced to 0 HP, you can spend 1 ki as a free action to instead be reduced to 1 HP. This is great if you have a DM that loves to abuse things like disintegrate or finger of death. If you’re fighting a creature that makes one HUGE attack each turn and you’re not fighting any other minions, it also is one of the craziest abilities in the game, ensuring you won’t die. However, chances are at this point in the game enemies are going to be pumping out 3 attacks per turn. It actually may be more beneficial to go down and get healed than to burn multiple points of ki to ensure you don’t die to a savage multiattack. However, I don’t want to undersell this ability. It’s amazing if you ever just want to decide “I don’t want to go down quite yet.” If your DM is the type to only throw one encounter at you in a day, you can almost guarantee you won’t die of unnatural causes.
Their capstone ability at level 17 is called Touch of the Long Death. This ability lets you take an action and expend 1 to 10 ki points and force the target to make a Constitution saving throw. If it fails, it takes 2d10 necrotic damage per ki point spent or half as much on a successful save. On paper this ability is insane. A potential 20d10 necrotic damage for one action is extremely appealing. However, there’s a few flaws with the ability. One, unless you’re using patient defense or step of the wind, you won’t be doing much else on your turn. Two, this ability, to get the most out of it, costs more than half your available ki points all at once. Chances are if you wanna do fat damage but still conserve, you’d use 5 ki points and instead deal 10d10 necrotic damage. However, that leads into our third flaw, where we realize this forces a Constitution saving throw, which most creatures you’ll be using this ability on have probably a +12 to, at least. Many boss monsters you’d use this on also have either legendary resistance or resistance to necrotic damage. All things considered, at this point you’d probably end up dealing more damage just using Flurry of Blows on your turn, since your martial arts die is a d10 and you get to add a guaranteed +5 each time you hit. Sadly, as cool as this ability is, it just seems to fall kind of flat on its own.
… They Will Die
This is the part where I compare the Long Death Monk to other monk subclasses. While a lot of the things I’ve said so far have been pretty negative, it’s important to note that this subclass is spectacular at tanking hits. Between the monk’s innate ability to dodge as a bonus action as well as the copious amount of temp HP you’ll get and your Unarmored Defense, you will probably be tanking as much as the fighter if not more.
This iteration of the monk gives up much of the utility that other monk subclasses bring. Open Hand turns you into a condition inflicting monster, Drunken Master lets you dance around the battlefield without getting hit, and Shadow gives you access to spells such as darkness, pass without a trace, and even silence. Likewise, it doesn’t have the same martial capability as say, a Sun Soul monk, which has some innate spellcasting and better ranged options than darts. Even Way of the Four Elements has more utility and damage options than the Long Death Monk.
As a tank, you also have better options than the Long Death Monk. Eldritch Knights make fantastic tanks due to their usage of shield and absorb elements. Bear Totem barbarians as well are some of the best tanks in the game, if that’s what you’re looking for. If you still wanted all the cool monk abilities, a Kensei Monk with a feat like Defensive Duelist could do you well. Sometimes getting hit comes with some nasty side effects, so it may be better to try and AC tank through an attack rather than use Temp HP.
The Final Verdict
My opinion of this subclass actually changed from before I did my research and wrote this article and after. I’ve decided that I believe this subclass is Underpowered. From a thematic standpoint there really isn’t much to go off in terms of creating your character. From a mechanical standpoint, the class will get you through an adventure, but other monk subclasses will simply do it better. The subclass is relatively boring in my opinion, not getting any of the exciting moves that an Open Hand, Sun Soul, or even Wot4E monk gets. I think the class could benefit from some sort of spellcasting in the same way as the Shadow Monk, resistance to necrotic damage, or some way to add a payoff for Touch of Death. Fortunately you could work with your DM to try and make the subclass more exciting, but in a setting such as AL or something more official, you’ll most likely find yourself wishing you picked another subclass.
And that does it folks! It was a lot of fun to look into a subclass I didn’t know TOO much about, since most of the ones I write about I have some form of familiarity with. Again, this was requested over on Instagram so if you want to see something in particular, feel free to leave us a comment over there or on our Twitter! We also have forums that you can check out and create discussion in. Thank you all for reading, and I look forward to writing more for you guys next week!