There is a simple truth in Eberron: people can channel powers that bend the laws of reality. Artificers and wizards use scientific methods to harness powers of arcane magic. Clerics and paladins rely on faith and a connection to a higher power. A psion uses the power of their mind, often enhanced by a connection to Xoriat or Dal Quor. Other creatures in the world are inherently magical. The blink dog doesn’t cast a spell; it simply steps through space, defying physics through instinct and biology. The medusa’s gaze, the harpy’s voice; creatures can be magical. The monk lives in the intersection of these things. Beginning with a foundation of strict mental and physical discipline, the monk learns how to channel a force that lets them perform impossible actions… from moving with superhuman speed to striking with fists of fire. Ki is a power the monk finds within, but it is magic all the same. The wizard shapes the energy that is all around; the monk focuses the power that is already within, combining this with martial discipline.
Other the course of thousands of years, many cultures have developed monastic traditions. It’s not a common path in Khorvaire; while the Silver Flame has multiple monastic traditions, the common templar is an armored warrior. But most people have at least heard of monks, and won’t be entirely mystified when they see one.
Here’s a few of the monastic traditions of Eberron!
THE ORDER OF THE BROKEN BLADE
Traditions: Way of the Kensei
Typical Skills: Athletics, Religion
Dol Dorn stands between the treacherous Mockery and the honorable Dol Arrah. He is the Sovereign of the simple warrior, of anyone who pits their strength and skill against another in a fair fight. Legend says that when a soldier was set upon by three ogres who sundered his sword, he called on Dol Dorn for guidance and miraculously slew his foes using only his hands, feet, and the hilt of his broken blade. He founded the order that continues to this day.
The Order of the Broken Blade is a religious order. Its devotees respect all the Sovereigns and honor them in their moments, but it is Dol Dorn who they look to for inspiration. While a Monk of the Broken Blade trains to become a weapon, they also honor the Sovereign of Strength and Steel through mastery of the longsword, and thus follow the Kensai path. The order teaches that their Sovereign speaks to them in battle, and while they learn the basics of their tradition in a monastery, it is only in true combat that they can learn directly from Dol Dorn. As such, monks of the Broken Blade wander Khorvaire in search of worthy struggles. Some followers of the Sovereigns welcome the presence of one of the Broken Blades and may ask the monk to help overcome a threat to their community. Others—especially followers of the Three Faces of War—see the Broken Blades as dangerous loners who are unwilling to work within the greater structure of an army. Dol Dorn is the Sovereign of Strength, and while the monks certainly recognize the value of speed, they are more prone to hone their Athletics than their acrobatic abilities, and they rarely rely on Stealth (that being more a tool of the Mockery).
THE SILVER FORGE
Traditions: Way of the Sun Soul
Typical Skills: Religion, Acrobatics
The Silver Flame empowers all those who would fight to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. The Silver Forge draws on the flame to transform the devotee into a weapon, striking with both fists and bolts of radiant flame. Few people can master this discipline. Devotees of the order typically serve the Church as templars and are recognized for that rank. However, those followers of the Silver Flame who know of the order (Religion check DC 14) will show respect to a student of the Forge.
The Silver Forge is a religious order and its members are charged to use their power to protect the innocent from supernatural evil and to inspire common folk towards virtuous behavior. While there is only a single Silver Forge monastery in Khorvaire, this was originally developed by the Shulassakar and could be encountered in that way. Certainly, a Shulassakar will be impressed by any human who has mastered this path.
Beyond the Silver Forge, there are some exceptional templars who follow the Kensai tradition, focusing on the use of the Longbow. There is also the Order of the Argent Fist, an elite force comprised of monks who have also been called as paladins.
Traditions: Way of Shadow, Way of the Drunken Master
Typical Skills: Acrobatics, Stealth
House Phiarlan and House Thuranni walk a line between the role of entertainer and covert operative. There is an ancient path among the Phiarlans that brings both of these together, combining physical grace and performance with deadly martial discipline. When the Mark of Shadows evolved, it was incorporated into this tradition; adherents draw more deeply on their marks than their kin, learning to leap between shadows. When playing such a Shadow Dancer, you might work shadow and illusion into descriptions of your mundane techniques. When you deflect missiles, it may be because your enemy is striking at an illusion as opposed to you deflecting the missile with your hand. Your increased unarmed damage could reflect your crafting talons of shadow as opposed to stronger physical blows. Such things don’t change the way that these abilities FUNCTION, but it adds flavor to your descriptions.
Not all heirs of the house possess the Mark of Shadow, and some who do choose not to use it in this way. There is a separate tradition that focuses on disarming foes with performance, a path reflected by the Way of the Drunken Master. This is in many ways a deadly perfection of the art of the clown, a rolling dance that amuses and entertains while allowing a master to outmanuever baffled enemies.
Both of these are traditions as opposed to orders. They are ancient techniques a modern elf might master, but the tradition is all that binds monks of this path together. Some monks may join the Serpentine Table or serve Thuranni as assassins; others simply find their own way in the world.
THE FLAYED HAND
Traditions: Way of Shadow
Typical Skills: Insight, Stealth
The Mockery is the lord of pain and vengeance, the deceiver who destroys. His monks embrace suffering; through ritual torture, they overcome weakness of body and mind. As part of this training, a monk flays strips of her skin, treating the muscle below with an alchemical substance that toughens it. Once an initiate has learned to endure pain, she is taught to inflict it. The monks of the Flayed Hand are master torturers and deadly warriors. A monk of the Mockery seeks communion with her god through violence and treachery. Many members of the order sell their services as mercenaries and assassins. Others cause pain in more subtle ways by destroying hopes and dreams instead of spilling blood.
Monks of the Flayed Hand are most likely to be found as antagonists. However, there is a critical factor here: the Mockery advocates treachery and terror, but nothing says that these tools can’t be deployed for a good cause. A Flayed Hand monk could be a mysterious figure—never seen without her mask and long gloves—who inflicts pain and terror only on vile and evil people. There’s a touch of Dexter or the general idea of “fighting fire with fire.”
There are many other paths a monk can follow in Eberron, and unfortunately I don’t have time to go into such depth for all of them. But here’s a quick overview of some of these traditions.
- The Path of Shadows is a Kalashtar technique, a martial discipline that helps focus the mind. Despite the name, it is primarily a physical tradition and lends itself first and foremost to the Way of the Open Hand, though practitioners often train in Stealth and Acrobatics.
- The Quori Nightmare is another Kalashtar technique, which draws on the quori spirit tied to the Kalashtar to strike at an opponent’s mind. If the DM is willing to adjust classes, you can reflect this by adding Intimidate to the list of monk proficiencies and changing the abilities of the Way of the Sun Soul to inflict psychic damage instead of fire or radiant damage. The special attacks of the Quori Nightmare take the form of a ghostly manifestation of the Quori, striking a foe with tendrils of terror.
- The Shaarat’Khesh goblins are a Dhakaani order of assassins whose techniques transform a goblin into a deadly weapon. The Shaarat’khesh are ascetics devoted to their traditions and their vows. Most follow the Way of the Open Hand, focusing on the physical arts; however, some may have mastered the more mystical technique of the Way of Shadows. Stealth and Acrobatics are also common among this path, as the goblin favors speed over strength.
- Claws of Eberron. While primarily a shifter technique, this is a path that can be followed by other races; it is known among the shifter communities of the Eldeen Reaches and sometimes used by the Ashbound. A Claw of Eberron draws on primal strength and instinct. When wielded by a shifter, the increasing unarmed damage reflects a minor physical transformation in battle. A monk of another race could still beneift from such a transformation, growing claws or fangs in a shifter-like fashion… or they could just strike with a feral boost to strength or instinctually find vulnerable points. This is most typically reflected by the Way of the Open Hand, and both Acrobatics and Athletics are common skills.
- The Tairnadal. The Tairnadal elves devote themselves to martial excellence, working to become avatars of their legendary ancestors. Tairnadal techniques often focus on speed, skill, and precision over force, and there are ancestors who have inspired monastic paths. The Way of the Open Hand and the Path of the Kensei are the most common paths, but Shadow, Four Elements, or even Drunken Master could be justified with a logical story about the ancestor in question.
There are many more possibilities. Aereni monks drawing on the power and techniques of Deathless ancestors. Monks devoted to the Blood of Vol, who draw their Ki from their divinity within. Changeling mourners, who adopt the form of their victims for a day, giving the fallen’s spirit time to peacefully transition. Warforged monks who physically transform their body into weaponry. Beyond this, some of the Dark Lanterns learn the based skills of the monk—rarely harnessing the potential of Ki, but learning the skills that provide a deadly unarmed strike.
That’s all I have time for now, but share your thoughts and questions below! My thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this blog going.
What would you say defines the monk mechanically and what sort monks that aren’t MONKS might you pitch with that mechanical chassis?
Physical abilities—Armor class, unarmed strike damage, speed—that build over time; abilities restricted by use of armor. Different traditions can push the class in different directions; a Kensei uses weapons, a Sun Soul has a ranged attack. Over time, you gain immunity to disease, poison, and age.
The focus on unarmed combat is a pretty specific thing, and it would be weird to ignore it. But that doesn’t have to reflect being part of a martial or monastic tradition. I mentioned a few ideas above, and just didn’t call out that they didn’t have to be tied to monastic traditions. Expanding on these….
- A warforged whose enhanced abilities reflect physical evolution. Increasing unarmed strike damage would be reflected by evolving weaponry. Ki would reflect internal reserves of energy allowing the warforged to push beyond its limits or to activate embedded enchantments (for Element, Sun Soul, Shadow monks).
- A follower of the Blood of Vol who’s drawing on their own Divinity Within—reflected by their Ki—to boost their physical abilities. This isn’t about monastic tradition; it’s enhanced speed and reflexes combined with skill at unarmed combat.
- A Vadalis experiment: a magebred human whose class abilities reflect the ongoing manifestation of their physical evolution. If you’re using the lore from 4E, this character could be part of the program that developed the Mournland Magebred.
- A creation of the Daelkyr or Mordain the Fleshweaver. Your evolving physical abilities could reflect physical mutation. Your Unarmored Defense could be armored skin, and your increased damage some form of symbiont-like grafted weapon.
- A gladiator who focuses on martial arts, but isn’t part of a monastic tradition.
Essentially you have someone who can kill with their bare hands and possesses exceptional speed and a limited ability to boost their physical abilities or generate supernatural effects. You simply need something that explains those concepts, but as noted with the magebred human, this doesn’t have to be something that someone else could replicate.
Would Sora Maenya be aware of any ancient or primal paths that might be passed on to her war trolls?
In the past I’ve suggested that Sora Maenya might be the master of the Tiger Claw discipline from the Book of Nine Swords. She could thus be a master of a monastic discipline, but I would likely make it AN ENTIRELY UNIQUE TRADITION — not simply saying she’s an Open Hand monk, but designing a new tradition that someone can ONLY LEARN FROM HER. This could also be reflected by a feat that a monk could only get from training with her.
With that said, I personally WOULDN’T have her war trolls know these techniques. The war trolls are exceptionally disciplined for trolls, but to me the point of Sora Maenya knowing a secret technique is that IT’S SECRET AND AWESOME and that most people just don’t have the talent to master it; if you convince her to train you, you might be the first person in centuries to learn this technique. War trolls are heavily armored and talented for trolls, but I don’t think I’d make them THAT special.
I was wondering if you could touch on the Order of the Radiant Flame, the Brotherhood of the Mystic Fist, and the Long Arm school (and why the Long Arms were persecuted). Or is Long Arm one of the Phiarlan/Thuranni traditions mentioned above?
To be clear: many authors have worked on Eberron and added their own sects and ideas. None of these are things I created, so I can’t tell you what the creator intended. I’m actually embarrassed to say that I DIDN’T think to check the Player’s Guide to Eberron before I wrote this; as I usually say, what I write in these articles is what *I* do, not necessarily canon. I can add a few thoughts:
- Order of the Radiant Flame. Faiths of Eberron states that the OotRF is a contemplative order that seeks spiritual union with the flame. In mentions that they “ponder the mysteries of the cosmos from their monasteries and shrines” but I don’t feel that this necessarily means they are PC-classed monks; I see “monastaries” in this case as simply being the abode of a community of cloistered faithful. So I would personally say that the Order of the Radiant Flame could involve characters of ANY class — including “classless” NPCs trained in Religion and Arcana, who are contemplating mysteries. I could IMAGINE a PC-class-monk of this order, but I could also see a cleric tied to this order.
- Brotherhood of the Mystic Fist. The idea of this school is that it focuses on multiclassed sorcerer-monks. It’s mentioned in the PGtE, but they give no indication of its history or location. The idea of a school that seeks to develop “physical skill and arcane potential” suggests Aundair to me, but Aundair leans more towards wizardry than sorcery. So if I were to use this, I might go WAY exotic and say that it’s an old Sarlona technique from pre-Sundering kingdoms, and give them a lone monastery in the Lhazaar Principalities. They’ve preserved their tradition ever since the Sundering; they could be waiting to take vengeance on the Inspired, or for some chosen student to arrive.
- The Long Arms. Again, this isn’t mine, so I don’t know the original intent. It’s said that they have close ties to Phiarlan, which to me says that it’s either a direct Phiarlan tradition, or that they were licensed performers, which allows this to be a human (or other race) tradition developed more recently. As for why they were persecuted, to me this reads more like a local issue —bandits or a vendetta with a local lord (perhaps a local tyrant being mocked by the troupe) than some sort of massive large-scale persecution. But you can certainly add more depth and scope if you’d like!
In the ECS is there’s is the image of a monk follower of the Mockery… That looks a bit strange thinking that monks have to be lawful. Any thought on that?
We’ve never been too fixated on alignment in Eberron. The order in question is The Flayed Hand, and I’ve added an entry for them in the main article. But looking to alignment in this case: as I discussed when talking about good and evil, personal alignment is primarily about the manner in which you conduct your affairs, not the end goal. A lawful person can pursue an unlawful act; but they will do so in a disciplined, organized way. Lawful doesn’t mean “obeys the laws” — laws are a cultural construct and one nation’s laws may be abhorrent to someone from another culture. It means that they value structure, tradition, order, discipline, strategy — while a chaotic person is more driven to innovation, personal expression, acting without thinking of the consequences.
In 3.5 monks are lawful because their lives and traditions are extremely structured. They are entirely about mastering an ancient tradition and following an established path. In 5E I’d be happy to abandon this and present a monastic order connected to the Fury that is driven by ecstatic motion and spontaneous action. But I don’t mind the limit on the 3.5 monk. In the case of the Flayed Hand, again, the monks revere a god who encourages treacherous behavior on the battlefield… but that doesn’t mean chaotic behavior. That betrayal will be carefully planned and calculated.. and again, this is tied to tradition and extreme discipline.
What about pacifist monks? I like Mohists and I want to explore moral dilemmas (they are inherent when you teach pacifism during the time of war), counter-siege techniques and the like. Where would you put the Way of Tranquility in Eberron?
First of all, I do just want to note that when people in Eberron use the term “monk”, they are generally referring to cloistered ascetics associated with a religious or philosophical tradition—but that very few of these individuals actually have levels in the monk class. It’s the same way that the vast majority of priests in Eberron are not clerics. There are surely monasteries tied to every religion in Eberron and every deity in the host. Aureon has monasteries where monks transcribe ancient tomes of law and contemplate mysteries of arcane law. But these monks AREN’T martial artists who can kill people with their bare hands. So my first point is that there are SURELY pacifist monks in Eberron… but most of those pacifist monks, being pacifists, aren’t actually trained in deadly arts of unarmed combat.
With that said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the idea that some ARE. Eberron has been through a century of war, and I think it’s highly plausible to have an order that uses the traditions of the Way of Tranquility to try to intervene and bring an end to conflict when they can. Boldrei is an option for this, as suggested online. But I’d personally call them Syranians: an order that has long contemplated the mysteries of Syrania, which as I note in this article is fundamentally the Plane of Peace. Rather than acting on behalf of a deity, they draw on the power of Syrania (reflected by their supernatural abilities) to enhance their efforts at mediation and conflict resolution.
My players are about to pass Angwar Keep, which Five Nations (I know you didn’t write it) suggests is inhabited by warforged monks who defected from Cyre, and now serve the Church of the Silver Flame. Any thoughts on what a big group of war-veteran warforged monks would do close to the border of the Mournland?
They’re defending Thrane from threats that emerge from the Mournland, for starters. I’d imagine that they patrol the border of the mists, as well as occupying the fort.
Beyond that, they are contemplating the Flame and their connection. Do they have souls as mortals do? If not, does serving as a vessel of the Flame essentially fill them with a soul? Could they become vessels for couatl spirits or other spirits that have joined with the Flame? Plus, given the whole “no sleep” thing you’ve got 24 hour chants, etc.
How would you deal with a small town in Q’barra where a monk of the Mockery is the spiritual leader of the community?
This is tied to my idea for a Q’barra Campaign. The point of having a character as the Faith of a town is that the majority of the people in the town share that faith and look to the spiritual leader for guidance. So this is a town founded by people who revere the Mockery. Which means they don’t have to hide their faith… but also, that the way the faith is enacted needs to take the overall good of the community into consideration. So, something like this.
Betrayal is a small mining town on the edge of Hope. It was founded by followers of the Mockery disgusted with the Last War; had one of Jarot’s children simply assassinated the others, Galifar would still stand and innocents would have been spared the losses of the war. This is a faith that has lingered in the shadows in the Five Nations, but in founded their own community in Q’barra the faithful finally had a chance to build a town openly driven by their faith. While many assume that Betrayal is a chaotic place where the strong dominate the weak, Dol Dorn is the Sovereign of Strength; the Mockery teaches how cunning and terror can overcome strength. The leaders of Betrayal have to earn the respect and fear of the community. The Sheriff of Betrayal is there to enforce order… and if anyone thinks they could do a better job, they’re welcome to assassinate the sheriff and take his place. But with that said, the sheriff DOES enforce order. The principle the town was founded on is that *assassination could have prevented the needless death of innocents* in the Last War. This isn’t a place where random violence is encouraged or accepted; if someone does get rowdy in the bar, the bartender will poison their next drink. It’s a place where people are expected to use their cunning to succeed — but to also consider the overall strength of the community. If a miner can salt a claim and trick someone else into paying a foolish price for it, so be it: that’s a legitimately victory of cunning, a lesson taught to the loser. And it can be expected that the loser will take vengeance on the person who tricked them, if they can find a way to do it; but that vengeance should only target the person who harmed them, not bring harm to innocents.
It’s understood that a wronged party will seek vengeance in Betrayal, and as long as that vengeance only targets the wrongdoer that’s accepted. So deception and trickery is accepted, and if you’re smart enough to get away with something, congratulations; if you’re not smart enough to pull it off without the other person realizing what you’ve done, now they are entitled to pursue vengeance. So haggling is a fine art in Betrayal, but no one will BLATANTLY take advantage of others… because such obvious predatory behavior invites retaliation from those who’ve been wronged, and as long as it’s legitimate vengeance, the sheriff will allow it.