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Woodchucks with Nunchucks
Monks are adept warriors of discipline and skill who have trained and honed themselves into perfected instruments. Druids are masters of nature and primeval magics, capable of transforming into beasts. Put them together and you get kung fu bears! Monk druids harness the forces of nature and tap into the potential within themselves to make for some incredibly skilled animal warriors with stunning fists, tusks, and hooves. Get ready for some literal crane and monkey styles as with actual cranes and monkeys as we go through everything you need to know.
Why Play a Monk Druid Multiclass?
The wild-shape focused strategy for 5E druid builds is powerful but can lack the resilience and damage output needed to be viable at higher levels. Conversely monk survivability can drop off at later levels and having access to the druid’s “bag of hit points” for wild shapes can be an invaluable resource you can use to stay alive. All that and you’ll get to do martial arts as the critter of your choice and who wouldn’t want to be a kung fu bear or a jujutsu octopus?
Both the monk and druid both use Wisdom as a primary ability score, so you’re not stretched between stats. It’s a solid choice that works both ways and you can easily make it a monk with a touch of druid or a druid with a touch of monk depending on what you want to go for. You can be a monk spellcasting machine, or a martial art beast attacks master.
What are the Downsides?
Both the druid and the monk have powerful features that scale with their levels, their levels. By multiclassing our martial arts die goes up slower and our access to more powerful druid spells and wild shapes comes later. A straight druid will have more powerful spellcasting, and a straight monk will have a better martial arts attack die.
Both classes also rely heavily on their bonus actions. We have some ways to best optimize around that, but you’ll still have situations where you want to wild shape AND flurry of blows in the same round and you simply can’t due to the conflicting action economy. Natural weapons also aren't monk weapons, so a lot of monk abilities won't quite function right especially while in wild shape.
And fundamentally, multiclass options are automatically foregoing the higher end features you would otherwise gain as a single class. A multiclassed character takes longer to get to key features and in general will feel a bit lagging compared to a single-class character, especially when it comes to ability score increases.
When Does a Monk / Druid “Kick In”?
The short answer for a druid/monk multi-class character is class level 4. With two levels in monk and two levels in druid you’ll gain the core class features and even many of the archetype features we care about for these builds. There are some fun functionalities we get later on but you can consider the builds “working” as early as 4th level.
What Class Features Do We Care About?
There are two very different takes on how to build a monk / druid but they care about similar features and class abilities from both classes.
Significant Monk Features
- Unarmored Defense. Monks get an AC equal to 10 + Dexterity mod + Wisdom mod. This works even while in wild shape and will make our priorities for our animal forms VERY weird because we can ignore their normal AC and substitute our own. We get to use our own Wisdom modifier but if we’re in a wild shape we use the creature’s Dexterity. This puts us in the strange situation where if we’re doing the build that is mostly druid with a touch of monk, we actually don’t care about our Dexterity and can pour all our points into Wisdom instead.
- Martial Arts and Ki. Martial arts are the core of what monk gameplay is all about and while in practice they tend to work pretty simply there’re a lot of fringe rules that come up when we try to multiclass with them. The sad truth is that “natural weapons” such as those you’d use in wild shape, don’t count as “simple or martial weapons” and they’re not “unarmed strikes”. There’s also no way RAW we can treat them as monk weapons. Your DM might allow a tweaking of the rules but for now know that practically every part of the monk’s kit and your ki abilities will work in wild shape, but you won’t be able to make a free unarmed strike when you make an attack using a wild shape’s natural attack. You CAN still flurry of blows though, just so long as you make a SINGLE natural attack or even a creature’s MULTIATTACK option you can then ALSO flurry of blows.
- Unarmored Movement. Very simply monks get to move faster, and this bonus applies while you’re wild shaped. It’s not an absolutely needed feature but it definitely helps our martial combat strategies if we can position and reposition ourselves easily.
- Extra Attack. Monks like most martial classes pick up an extra attack feature at 5th level. If we’re using wild shapes, this is kind of an iffy benefit, as “extra attack” DOES NOT work with a wild shape’s multiattack. It CAN let us make two attacks with a natural weapon though.
- Monastic Tradition. There’re a few options for your monk archetype, and what you go with will mainly depend on if you’re primarily going to focus on the druid’s wild shape feature. For now, know that we care quite a bit about which tradition you select and particularly the features you initially gain with the selection at 3rd level.
Significant Druid Features
- Wild Shape. I could write a whole article about wild shape even for a normal druid, its applications and weirdness. It also has some very weird interactions with our monk features that will take a bit more explaining, but one way or another your build cares about wild shape.
- Spellcasting. Druids are primarily spellcasters and even a small dip into druid provides access to powerful cantrips, healing spells, and highly damaging concentration spells. Druids aren’t normally blaster casters, but if you can maintain concentration you can deal huge amounts of damage over time using spells like moonbeam and call lightning.
- Druid Circle. We care a ton about our druid archetype here and it’s really just a choice between two options: Circle of the Moon or Circle of Spores. Circle of the moon is the go-to wild shape focus archetype, and is what we want to go with if we focus on our druid half and doing flurry of blows as a bear. Circle of spores on the other hand uniquely adds a bonus d6 of necrotic damage to every melee attack we make, and that includes all those unarmed monk strikes. We go for the fungus on builds that focus more on our monk capabilities with a dip into Druid.
Monk / Druid Ability Scores
Both monks and druids care about essentially the same primary scores, Wisdom and Dexterity, and they both have a secondary concern for Constitution. However, depending on how we build this multiclass our priority for these scores skews a bit.
If we plan on primarily focusing on our monk features with a touch of druid, then all of the above applies as normal. We want our Wisdom and Dexterity as high as possible, with Constitution as our 3rd highest score.
However, if we are going to focus on our wild shape ability, and plan on spending most of our combat time entirely in a wild shape, then strangely we don’t care about Dexterity or Constitution since our physical scores will be replaced with those of whatever beast we change into. That just leaves Wisdom as our one core stat that should get all of our attention. Wisdom drives our spellcasting out of combat, and in combat it will increase our AC thanks to the monk’s unarmored defense feature.
And regardless of your build, you can regard Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma as dump stats as they’ll have very little impact on our abilities.
Finally, these are scores lower than we’d want them to be anyway but the minimum requirements for druid and monk multiclassing are at least 13 Dexterity and 13 Wisdom so for the build to function at all you’ll need to hit at least these minimums.
Monk / Druid Races
If we go hard on the wild shape plan, then only Wisdom really matters to us but going for a more balanced build or a heavy monk build means we should be taking both Wisdom and Dexterity into account. The following races have either a bonuses in Dexterity or in Wisdom, making them ideal choices.Aarakocra
Your favorite difficult to spell bird people get +2 Dexterity and +1 Wisdom alongside their one real important feature which is the ability to fly. These birds are by far the most commonly banned player race, so the odds of you actually getting to play one is low. However, if you get the chance they’re the ideal monks, with a perfect ability spread and about the strongest mobility feature you could hope for.
Elf (Pallid or Wood)
Elves gain +2 Dexterity and both the pallid and wood subrace options will net you +1 Wisdom. Both are excellent choices, but you’ll have an easier time getting access to wood elves as pallid elves are a bit overpowered and are technically setting locked into the Critical Role world of Exandria. Still, wood elves are an attractive option from a mobility standpoint as they’ll get to stack even more movement up for your druid monk.
Halflings get the all-important +2 Dexterity, and the ghostwise subrace snags you +1 Wisdom. Halflings are always a powerful option due to the Lucky feature, and the monk’s bonus movement makes up for their relatively slow speed. Ghostwise also gives you straight-up telepathy, which is just as useful as it sounds.
Base human gets +1 to every ability score, and variant human will get you a powerful 1st level feat alongside +1 to any abilities of your choice (so Dexterity and Wisdom). Humans are intentionally flexible, and they really are a viable option for every class. You should especially consider taking variant human (assuming your DM is allowing it) if you’re trying to work towards any complex combat builds that take a lot of feats to function.Kenku
Your favorite easy to spell bird people, the kenku, also get +2 Dexterity and +1 Wisdom, but flight is a distant fantasy. Instead, you get a smattering of stealthy features that feel a bit more roguish than monk-like. However, they’re still a fine fit, and the utility options will make your multiclass build a bit of an all-rounder.
Putting the Monk / Druid Together
Most multiclass builds focus on a single synergy with a few variations on the same theme. But for monk / druids we get two vastly different strategies to go for.
The Fungal Monk
We’ll go over the simpler of the two builds first which for the most part plays like a standard monk but with a lovely necrotic bonus. To get this build started we need at least 2 levels of druid, and we need to select the circle of spores. The circle of spores gives us a lovely mushroom motif for a start, but the feature we really care about is symbiotic entity. Rather than transforming into an animal, symbiotic entity lets us buff ourselves with mushroom power for the next 10 minutes as an action. While we’re mushroom buffed, we gain 4 temporary hit points per druid level, and every single melee attack we make deals an additional 1d6 necrotic bonus damage. This functions with things like flurry of blows and the potential damage output can get pretty insane.
With two levels of druid and two levels of monk, our mushroom enhanced flurry of blows with a quarterstaff will be dealing an average of 29 damage (1d8 + 2d4 + 3d6 + 9) over 3 attacks assuming a 16 Dexterity. This gets even more nasty once we hit our extra attack, and when we get our martial arts die to increase. Even just the bonus attack from standard martial arts really pushes the damage output through each extra melee weapon attack.
We also get to utilize our reaction due to the halo of spores feature we also gain at our 2nd druid level. Whenever somebody moves within 10 feet of us or starts their turn there, we can have them choke down some spores as a reaction, forcing them to make a Con save or take 1d4 necrotic damage (which is doubled to 2d4 if we’ve got our mushroom power flowing). It'll usually be weaker than normal opportunity attacks, but it's a lot more dependable.
The catch to all this is we only keep our bonus necrotic damage up so long as those temporary hit points are remaining. The OTHER catch is activating our mushroom powers takes an action, which seriously limits its combat application.
However, since it lasts 10 minutes and wild shape uses recharge on a short rest, you should reasonably be able to mushroom up whenever you think combat is likely and you should have a round or two of your extra damage to stack on before an enemy gets a good enough wallop in to soak up all your temporary hit points.
With that in mind, I recommend the way of the drunken master for our monastic tradition as a solid choice on this build. The drunken technique feature lets us do our damage and then drunkenly scurry away without reprisal, which should hopefully make sure we keep those temporary hit points as long as possible.
Ideally, you’ll want as many monk levels as possible for a larger martial arts die and more attacks, but more druid levels means access to better druid spells and more of those temporary hit points.
I’ve found the right mix at minimum to be 2 druid levels and 18 monk levels, and at most 5 druid levels and 15 monk levels. 5 druid levels gets you to a solid 20 temporary hit points and up to 3rd level druid spells.
The Kung Fu Dire Wolf
This is the more complex of the two builds because for this we want to focus on our wild shape ability but with a dash of martial arts. For this build we're primarily a druid with just a monk dip and we want to spend most of our time in beast form instead of our normal form.
To start with we’ll be going with the circle of the moon as it’s the mandatory option for any build that wants to use their wild shapes for combat. Then all we really want from our monk levels is the monk unarmed defense feature gained at 1st level and the ki feature we gain at 2nd level that has the flurry of blows ability wrapped up into it along with the patient defense and step of the wind abilities. All of these features still function in a wild shape, though they interact in some decidedly strange ways.
We don’t technically need to get up to 3 levels of monk for this build so we don’t necessarily have a monk archtype in mind. But if you do, I recommend going for the long death tradition as it will give you regular boosts of temporary hit points as you tear through enemies as a martial artist capybara or whatever other fight creature you come up with.
Fundamentally this strategy is the same for a normal circle of the moon druid. You stay in wild shape in most situations, and fight using the higher CR options that circle of the moon provides. The twist here is that because of unarmored defense we can typically have a higher AC than the wild shape would normally provide, and in many cases, we’ll also be able to dish out more attacks using flurry of blows while still in animal form. The trick here will be selecting the right wild shapes.
Which Wild Shape Form Should I Use?
For builds touching on monk but focusing on our druid wild shapes, we want to optimize for damage output and survivability when choosing our beast form. Unarmored defense means we should favor forms with a high Dexterity score, since that will typically mean a better AC. We should also be very aware of the strange action interactions at play here. A beast’s “multiattack” does NOT use the “attack action” and is instead its own weird action that just so happens to include attacking (confusing I know). Our flurry of blows ability can only function when we use the attack action specifically so we want to prioritize creatures with a single powerful attack we can make and then flurry with, rather than beasts that rely on a ton of smaller hits using a multiattack. 5e druids limit our access to wild shapes by CR and (at least at early levels) by their swim and fly speeds. For ease of reference, we’ll categorize the optimal forms by your druid levels. We’re also going to assume a Wisdom of 18 for these builds, as you’ll be wanting to get to 18 Wisdom as soon as possible. Also be aware of each beast’s Strength and Dexterity scores when it comes to your unarmed strikes. Martial arts say we can use our Dexterity instead of Strength for them, but we obviously want to use whichever is highest when we do our flurry of blows attacks.
2 Druid Levels
At only 2 druid levels you’ll still have access to comparatively quite powerful CR 1 beasts, but you’re still limited by swim and fly speed. The following beasts are likely your best options at 2 druid levels:
With a very chunky 37 hit points, an AC of 16 thanks to unarmored defense, pack tactics, and an attack that also inflicts prone, dire wolves are going to be your go-to hard hitter for a long time. That prone effect will also trigger before your flurry of blows, meaning you’ll likely get advantage on all those melee attacks.
Think of this as your tanky option for when you just need to take the hits. It normally has a natural armor AC of 12, but our unarmored defense bumps that up to 16. It has a whopping 45 hit points and has the same damage output of the dire wolf just minus the pack tactics. It also has a fun rampage ability where it gets to make an additional attack if it finishes an enemy off, which makes it an attractive option if you know you’re going to face numerous but weak enemies. Rampage uses our bonus action however but think of it as a decent option when we’re out of ki points.
This one is a bit of a stretch that your DM may not allow, but it’s a variant of the standard giant spider from the out of the abyss adventure with much better stats and an extra head. It technically meets all the limitations for wild shape, but is SIGNIFICANTLY better than many of the other options at this CR. It normally has a natural AC of 14, but with our unarmored defense we can get that up to 17. It has 44 hit points, and has a bite that can potentially deal 3d8 + 3 damage if they fail a Con save. The DC is a lowly 11 though, so I wouldn’t keep on the spider plan once you hit higher CRs.
4 Druid Levels
As a 4th level druid, we don’t get any higher in CR, but we do get to finally take beasts with a swimming speed. Mostly our best options are the same as at 2 druid levels, but with a couple nasty additions.
Giant octopi are beefy critters, with 52 hit points and an 11 natural armor bonus improved to 15 with our unarmored defense, they almost have enough hit points to justify their use out of the water as well. Their attack has a 15-foot reach and has a very nasty and basically free grapple attached to it, making this a promising grapple monster if not just a damage sponge. Also, a very high swim speed makes this an obvious choice if you’re actually underwater.
This is an iffy one compared to the octopus, you drop all the way back to 39 hit points and with unarmored defense you’re still at 15 AC. What makes it interesting is the swallow ability that can let you literally eat smaller targets and boil them down with acid damage. Still probably inferior overall to the giant octopus but still worth considering if you’re in a mixed land and water environment or have a single BBEG you wouldn’t mind eating.
6 Druid Levels
At our 6th druid level, we finally get up to CR 2 beasts which radically increases our damage output and survivability though we still can’t take anything with a flying speed for a couple more levels.
Giant Constrictor Snake
I tend to think of this as your direct upgrade to the giant octopus as you’ll want to use it in most of the same situations. Giant constrictor snakes have 60 hit points, an AC of 16 thanks to unarmored defense, a swim speed, and a big dangerous grapple attack. It’s also got a beefy +4 Strength bonus which is particularly nice for this snake’s “very unarmed” strikes.
42 hit points and an AC of 17 (due to unarmored defense) isn’t bad, but the 60-foot movement speed and charge ability means we can smack things for 4d6 + 6 and follow it up with our flurry of blows, hopefully with advantage if we manage to knock them prone. I don’t recommend this one for tight quarters but if you’re in a mostly open field it’s golden with decent damage and survivability.
45 hit points and an AC of 15 (due to unarmored defense) feels pretty basic, but the blood frenzy feature will mean practically every attack you make will be at advantage. Take this if you’re fighting high AC opponents while underwater.
This is technically setting locked to strixhaven but a nice DM might allow this big sloth in other settings. It has the highest hit points I could find for the CR at 76, but due to the negative Dexterity we’ll be stuck with a 13 AC for the unarmored defense. It has a solid grappling attack, and you should consider this in situations where a hit points are better than AC.
8 Druid Levels
As an 8th level druid, we don’t improve in CR, but we do finally gain access to flying beasts which drastically improves our mobility and gives us one juicy option in particular.
This flying dinosaur’s stats don’t look great at first, with only 30 hit points and a 15 AC thanks to unarmored defense. But since it has the flyby feature and an insane 80-foot fly speed, you’ll be able to harass anything that can’t fight at range with impunity. Each dive attack bite will do an amazing attack with 6d6 + 2 damage, and we can still make our flurry of blows on the fly, making this my uncontested top pick for your flying beast of choice.
9 Druid Levels
As a 9th level druid, we finally get to take CR 3 beasts which gives us a damage increase and upgraded hit points yet again.
Giant Snapping Turtle
Found in tomb of annihilation, this big snappy boy has a decent AC of 17 even without unarmored defense, and a solid 75 hit points, making this your go-to tank for when you just need to stay alive. It also has a surprisingly fast swim speed, and an attack that will do 4d6 + 4 meaning you won’t sacrifice much on the damage front either.
With a whopping 90 hit points (and a bit of a sad 14 AC) this is a giant slab of meat that you should take advantage of in any aquatic setting. The bite deals 5d6 + 4 damage and with a speedy 60-foot swim speed you’ll be a deadly threat in the water.
10 Druid Levels
As we’re the mighty circle of the moon druids, we get the elemental wild shape feature with our 10th druid level and access to the incredibly powerful elemental forms. Each of the 4 elemental forms have their own ups and downs, let’s go through them.
The air elemental has the least hit points out of the bunch with only 90, but unarmored defense pushes us up with extra defense to a hefty 19 AC, well past their normal natural armor bonus. The big draw here is the 90-foot fly speed, which is obviously amazing in any situation where maneuverability is important. You can even move through narrow pinholes and enemies. The whirlwind attack is interesting but not great against most solid targets you’ll be fighting at this level. Take this when the fly speed is needed or you’re facing a mob of weaker foes.
Easily the sturdiest of the bunch with 126 hit points, but sadly because of the terrible Dexterity score we’ll be stuck with its innate 17 AC. The big draw here is the earth glide ability. It only counts non-magical and non-worked stone, but that still leaves a lot of situations and caves you can stroll right through. Take this one if the area is earth-glide-able or you just need a solid wall of tank hit points.
Arguably the best damage dealer of the bunch, your touches will do 2d6 + 5 fire damage but will also light them on fire for another 1d10 every round. Sneakily your unarmored defense also pushes this to a 17 AC, and with 102 hit points you’re still quite tanky. Take this form if you’re just interested in doing as much DPS as possible.
Unarmored defense gives us 16 AC, and with 114 hit points this is a solid tank option. Functionally similar to the air elemental, this is your best choice in an underwater environment. It also vies for the best damage dealer, as the whelm attack can potentially hold enemies down and keep them down, dealing 2d8 + 4 every round so long as you keep grappling them.
12 Druid Levels
As a 12th level druid, we gain access to CR 4, but since we already gained access to the CR 5 elementals a couple levels ago, I was hard pressed to find any animal form that came close to competing with our existing options. I dug deep though and found one option that gives the elementals a run for its money.
I found this guy squirreled away in the tortle package and it’s exactly what it sounds like, a plesiosaurus with two heads. It has 100 hit points and with our unarmored defense it gets a solid 16 AC. You get one attack with each head, giving us two bites, each dealing 3d6 + 6. We can’t use both attacks and also flurry of blows, but it’s a decent option. We also get advantage on a ton of conditions (due to the two heads) and a decent swim speed. I’m not saying this is better than the elementals, but it’s on par.
15 Druid Levels
The upgrade to CR 5 beasts is likely our final increase if we’re running the build that dips 3 levels into barbarian and in our final tier of play, we get some even nastier monsters to play with.
If you have the room, the gargantuan brontosaurus can do a truly impressive 6d8 + 5 damage with its tail, or it can make a stomp attack that adds a trip effect at the cost of 1d8 damage. It has 15 AC, 121 hit points and the damage potential outsteps the elementals so this big dino is usually the better option unless you really need one of the elemental abilities or the map can’t accommodate something that big.
18 Druid Levels
This is the tip top of our beasts at CR 6, but you’ll only be getting this far if you only take the 2-level dip into monk. Most campaigns aren't getting to 19th level or 20th level anyway, so it's unlikely one way or another that you'll actually get to mammoth it up.
Weirdly, I think there’s only ever been the 1 CR 6 beast, the one, the only, the mammoth. The mammoth is a strict upgrade on the “charge in and stomp” beasts that occupy a lot of slots. 126 hit points, and our unarmored defense does manage to pump the AC up to 13. It has a trampling charge move with a very high DC (18) so you should reliably be able to get off its big charge and stomp combo at least once per fight for 4d8 + 4d10 + 14 damage plus your two flurry of blows attacks. The big question is if playing a mammoth at the tail end of your campaign is worth losing those sweet primal path buffs for the rest of your campaign.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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