This month's PHB3 Debut consists in one of the builds for the final version of the Monk class. It is the same build (Centered Breath Monk) that we were presented six months ago as a playtest article, and the changes from one article to the other are nowhere near as many as I would have expected.
From my experience playing with monks, I had the impression that not only were they slightly underpowered as Strikers, but they were also missing something in the 'special' department. The thing is, they do have a unique, fun mechanic in full disciplines (which add both great mobility and flexibility), and the playtest version of flurry of blows was different enough from previously see striker damage mechanics, but still... that didn't seem to be enough. The Unarmed Combatant and Unarmed Defense features were basically a wash, since they changed the aesthetics of the class (no weapons, no armor) in a way that made no mechanical difference. Monks needed a power boost to become competitive, and some kind of new feature to become interesting.
They got their power boost all right, but it turns out that the feature that could make it all work was already there, and only needed a small tweak. Here is the complete list of changes from the playtest version.
- Changed all weapon powers to implement powers. The monk is now a purely implement-based class, though they can use any weapon they are proficient with as an implement.
- Monk Unarmed Strike is no longer enchantable, but the same effect can be achieved with a new Magic Item type, Ki Focuses (First seen in the Assassin class description).
- Overall damage increase, affecting a lot of powers as well as the Flurry of Blows feature.
- Centered Flurry of Blows now always slides your target, and can actually move it away from you if it wasn't the victim of your original attack.
The first three points are fine, addressing balance concerns and cleaning up the class mechanics. The last one, though, is what finally made everything click for me. Sliding someone every turn is exactly the kind of trick that could make the class stand apart, and the only reason I didn't think of it before is because it was already there, but didn't work quite right.
See, the early implementation was terribly clunky, in that you could only slide a guy if you hadn't targeted him with an attack, and he had to end adjacent to you. So you ended up adjacent to at least two enemies, which is an uncomfortable position for a striker, as even with the monk's increased mobility, it's not that easy to get away from that without taking multiple opportunity attacks. The slide was still a cool maneuver, particularly in any scenario with hampering terrain, but it took a bit too much effort to pull off.
The new version of the flurry slide may not seem too much at first, but it is way, way better. First of all, moving someone away is more often than not what a Striker wants to do with forced movement, particularly when that someone isn't your main target. Depending on your at-will selection, you could have the option of pushing your primary target and running away, or knocking him prone and shifting just short of charge range, which combine well with the ability of sliding away another enemy (or enemies, at Paragon tier and beyond). And second, but also important, moving one or more enemies every turn grants you an amazing control of the battlefield.
Overall, Monks look like a really fun class that can pull its weight in a battle. They have great mobility, and decent single-target damage, but they also have pretty good area attacks, and can kill minions like nobody's business. I'm pretty certain that the Centered Flurry's slide will drive many DMs crazy, and turn any map with a pit into a celebration for PCs. Which is a pity, because I will probably be on the DM side when I see it. My only complaint is that they have only released one feat for the class so far, but thankfully we can houserule some more while we wait for PHB3.