OSR: Class: Monk

Not these guys.

 These guys.
Noted Breviary, Getty Museum, MS 24. ~1500

This class is brought to you by Trappist Rochefort (which is delicious) and Aleksei German's Hard to be a God (which is...less appetizing).

This class is kind of a joke. Taking holy orders is something any character can do, at any time. Making a specific class does allow a character to be a monk or a nun and nothing else, undiluted by the demands of the world. Arnold K. described the base adventurer as "Indiana Jones without the archeology skill". This class is a significant downgrade in that sense.

The Exorcist class I'm working on should fill a different niche. A post on abbeys will be along shortly.

Class: Monk (or Nun)

Starting Equipment: robes, holy book
Starting Skill: see below

A: Unarmed Strike, Literacy, Restrictions of Your Order
B: Stunning Fist
C: Evasion, Obscure Knowledge
D: Pronouncement, Improved Dodge

Unarmed Strike

You are not trained in the use of weapons. Even a cudgel is foreign to you. On a successful Attack roll you deal a maximum of 1 damage.
If you want to play a warrior-monk, go with a Fighter and start in the First Estate.


You can read and write. A surprising number of people could do both in the middle ages, but you can really write. Your letters can allow for Charisma tests at a distance. You can roll to see the intentions of an author, the delicate themes of a poem, and the inconsistencies in a complex text. To most people this is a kind of sorcery.

Restrictions of Your Order

You do not start trained in the use of any weapons (-4 to Attack until you land 8 successful hits in combat). You can wear armour, but its encumbrance is doubled for you. You are also expected to avoid the use of magic, from wands to enchantments to spell cast on you for your own protection. In practice, do what you want, but expect angry letters from your Abbot or Abbess if word gets around that you've broken your vows or publicly disgraced your Order. You also have a -2 to Save vs Fear. Make up at least 3 other restrictions or demands.

Stunning Fist

If you strike someone (even with a weapon) and they weren't expecting it, you deal normal damage (1+Strength Bonus for a punch, 1d6+Strength Bonus for a dagger, etc.) on the first round of combat. If the target really wasn't expecting it, and had total trust in your non-violent ways, they must also Save or be stunned for 1 round.


You can never be pinned in a corner by difficult theological topics or arguments. You can always retreat to authority, throw up textual obstacles, or deploy dogma. No one can make you admit something in conversation that you did not intend to admit;  any accidental disclosures are retroactively fixed, if possible.

Obscure Knowledge

Once per session, you can declare something is to be true because you read it in a book. The base chance of the thing actually being true is 50%. There has to be a plausible way you could know about it from reading books (new discoveries, minor details, and personal secrets are unlikely). You don't know whether or not it is true right away; the GM will roll when it matters. You might only be partially correct, but you will never be catastrophically wrong. If you declare that bugbears fear albino goats, they will either fear albino goats or be indifferent to albino goats. They won't be driven into a murderous rage by them. If you have access to a library of 50 books, the base chance increases to 80%.

You can speak for up to 3 hours without pause on a given topic. No tests required. Peasants, nobles, and other sensible people will hear you out politely, unless they've got something better to do. Monsters will still devour you, dragons might argue with you, and you don't impose a supernatural charm effect on anyone. Still, your audience might take up a cause or change their ways.

Improved Dodge

Once per session, you can declare that an attack that hit you missed instead. You can do this after damage has been rolled but before anything else happened. This won't save you from falling off a cliff or a collapsing cavern, but spells will turn away, sword thrusts will miss, and traps will mysteriously fail.

Monk sneaking a drink, source unknown.

Mechanical Notes on the Monk

This class is astoundingly weak in combat. It's not a glass cannon, it's a glass thimble. But it also has access to some very powerful and very broad out-of-combat abilities. You can invent truths to save the party, write letters to important people, support a cause, calm or raise a mob, and generally meddle with the course of history. You can also get filthy rich by several methods.

Romance of Alexander, ~1400. Yes, you are interpreting this image correctly. It is an illustration of medieval monks and nuns playing baseball (as a humorous parody, but still!) Who said the middle ages were grim all the time?

Who Are You?

You can be either male or female. You are a member of the First Estate and you must think like a member of the First Estate. You start at the rank of Initiate. You answer to an Abbot or Abbess, and they answer to a Bishop or Archbishop. You don't have to be pious or devout to be a monk or a nun. You don't even need much religious knowledge. However, you are expected to retreat from the world to a life of spiritual labour. Prayer, devotion, instruction, and solitude are your only goals. For some reason you have left your holy retreat, perhaps permanently, and now wander the rest of the world. You are not ordained, and cannot sell indulgences, perform services, hear confession, or preach. You can become ordained (if you are male) without too much difficulty, if you are in the good graces of your overlord the Bishop.

Starting Skill

1. History, 2. Literature, 3. Medicine, 4. Religion.


1. You have read about fallen empires, lost kingdoms, and ancient cultures long extinct. Things were much better in the past. You are able to speak 2 extra languages, but you also have a sense of nostalgia.
2. You keenly understand the recent history of the local area, as your abbey was persecuted by the current rulers' ancestors. Start with a wildly inaccurate map (draw it yourself) and a distrust of the Second Estate.
3. You read a book from Foreign Parts, translated badly, but with many interesting comments. The desire to travel gnaws at you. Start with a leather bag full of dried peas.
4. You read about an ancient hero of the Church and modeled your life after theirs. Once per session, you can reroll a critical failure if you tell a story about your patron saint, martyr, or theologian, and how they were once in a similar situation. The story can be allegorical.

5. Your study of the history's endless churn has left you melancholy. You know all about famous local defeats, deaths, and tragedies. Start with a stout walking stick (as a quarterstaff).
6. You paid very close attention to the accounts of treasure-hauls and plunder in your book. You can evaluate the approximate value of treasure and loot (as a Thief).

1. You memorized large chunks of beautiful prose. You are poetic and sentimental. Start with a basket of flowers.

2. You memorized endless passages of invective, abuse, and slander. You are sarcastic and bitter. Start with a wheelbarrow.
3. You memorized large chunks of poetry. Start with 1 Camp Follower. They are a reminder of you embarrassing love (directly or indirectly).
4. You read a very controversial piece of courtly literature. You either hate it completely and will denounce it at every opportunity, or you will defend it as a work of unrivaled genius and beauty. Either way,  you can make easily find common ground with people who share your view.
5. You have remarkable handwriting. Your script is used as the model for other initiates in your order. Start with 1sp, a quill, and a small pot of ink.
6. You have aspirations to write a great book, poem, commentary, or letter. You have been practicing. Start with 2d10 unfinished drafts on small parchment scraps, stored in a leather bag.

Note: you cannot use this skill to remove Fatal Wounds. This skill is more suited to long-term care and the treatment of disease. You cannot perform surgery, but you might be able to advise a barber-surgeon or a butcher.
1. You tended to the mad. Start with unshakable patience and an iron bell.
2. You were often at the bedside of the dying, ready with words of comfort. You always know the right thing to say to someone in pain or in the last moments of life. Start with a white cloth.

3. You studied herbs, poultices, and infusions. Few of your remedies have any measurable effect by modern standards, but they are (sometimes) better than nothing. You can name most plants.
4. You have read all the books of medicine written by the ancient authorities. Your treatments might be dangerous or impossible under the circumstances, but you will never fail to recommend a treatment or supply a diagnosis (even if you fail a skill test).

5. Your abbey sheltered many wounded soldiers during the last War. You can determine the number of Fatal Wounds and Current Injuries any person has just by looking at them, and triage appropriately.
6. You have read books of unorthodox medicine from Foreign Parts. If you roll an unmodified 20 on your Medicine skill check, your treatment is instantly and profoundly successful. If you roll an unmodified 1, your treatment makes you a laughingstock and possibly a criminal, provided it is publicized.


1. You have absolutely unshakable faith. You might be a monomaniacal fanatic or a humble and devout teacher. You gain a +10 to Save vs Demons, mind-altering effects, and despair (but not fear). If you ever lose faith or commit an act you cannot reconcile, you instead take a -10 penalty to Save (not just vs. demons, all Saves) until you atone or find peace.
2. You are an expert on doctrine and ritual. Start with a gold icon worth 1gp.

3. You studied the lives of the Saints extensively, and have gained some of their natural fortitude and patience. You start with +2 HP and bare feet.
4. You know where to find the most obscure information or greatest living experts, and have spent years cultivating your contacts. You can write a letter to them asking for guidance and receive an answer in 10+1d6 days, exploding on a 6 (if you roll a 6, add another d6, etc.). The answer may not be accurate, but it will be an answer.
5. You personally experienced a miracle. If you recount the miracle in a serious and moving way, you automatically succeed on your next Charisma test, provided your target would appreciate the story.
6. You either cannot abide luxury and vanity or you are utterly profligate and dissolute. You must Save each day if you have over 10gp or spend all but 10gp on luxuries, alms, etc. Remember, money spent on purely frivolous things nets a +10% XP bonus. If you have no way to spend the money without giving it to another PC, you don't need to Save.

Source unknown

Special Secret Note: When you reach level 5, instead of retiring your character or continuing to adventure, you can perform a miracle. You must be in absolutely untarnished standing with the Authority. You may have sinned, but you must be properly, fully, and faithfully atoned. Your GM will only inform you of this option if it is relevant. Under some circumstances, this option may be available earlier. Once the miracle is performed, your character becomes an NPC.

Further Reading

More on Nuns
The Rule of St. Benedict (and source text).


  1. I liked it. Not that I or one of my player would play (no one liked these tropes) but it is a nice option to have so the players can feel more immersed in trve olde medieval things.

  2. This class would be excellent as the leader of a bungle of henchmen (birds doeth flock; henchmen doeth bungle). In fact, sometimes having no discernible dungeon skills is the best way to avoid dangers in the dungeon - nobody is going to ask you to do anything.

  3. This is amazing. I especially love the "Evasion" ability. It's such a perfect reversal of what we expect that to mean, and yet it's absolutely an ability a skilled monk or nun would have. Stunning fist is pretty great in that regard too, because seriously who expects to get punched by a nun?

    I'm curious why the character immediately becomes an NPC after performing a miracle. Is it because they immediately either die or become Very Important, and either way can no longer go on adventures?

    1. Mostly because you level via looting gold, and once you can perform miracles, looting gold, raiding tombs, and hanging out with a bunch of scummy gits in armour seems like a very odd thing to do. It's basically like leveling up from loot-seeking behavior... and therefore, aren't much good as PCs.

  4. About the Medicine background that lets you evaluate Fatal Wounds, are those and injuries a hidden mechanism, or is it supposed to be for NPCs?

    1. Fatal Wounds are a semi-hidden mechanic. Of course everyone around the table knows that Bob's character has 13 Fatal Wounds and is dead no matter what, while Alice's character has only 1 and might make it... but the characters don't (usually). It depends on the type of injury, their background, their level of panic and triage experience, etc.

      That medicine background lets you say, without metagaming, who's most dead and exactly how dead they are.