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Monk Rogue Multiclass - 5e Ninjas
Monks are adept warriors of discipline and skill who have trained and honed themselves into perfected instruments. Rogues are agents of shadow and misdirection who can find the perfect opening to plunge the knife. Put them together and you get straight up ninjas! Monk rogues take all of the rogue’s stealth and power and combine it with nigh-superhuman martial prowess and skill. Sharpen your kunai and shuriken as we go through everything you need to know.
Why Play a Monk Rogue Multiclass?
In a lot of ways, the monk class and rogue class are very similar. They’re both primarily Dexterity based martial classes that thrive off mobility and speed. Where their martial capabilities differ is in their attacks. Monks are the attack spam class dealing out far more low-damage hits than any other class is capable of, while rogues focus on delivering a single powerful sneak attack each turn. Together we can “double up” on a lot of the extra speed and mobility features to become incredibly fast and nearly untouchable, and between 3-4 attacks we can better ensure we get our single powerful sneak attack can off. These classes can really cover for the other's deficiencies in melee combat.
And because both classes line up on Dexterity, we don’t stretch much at all on the ability score increases and can even comfortably snag some feats. The result is essentially (if not thematically) a ninja, delivering the killing blow from the shadows before flipping back up into the rafters.
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What are the Downsides?
Monk and rogue class features don’t line up seamlessly and your lawful rogue is going to clash a bit. Firstly, for a rogue’s sneak attack to function you have to be using a finesse or ranged weapon, and unless your DM is cool fudging the rules a bit there’s no mechanical way to turn all those monk unarmed strikes into finesse or ranged weapon attacks. Thankfully there are a few monk weapon options that fit the bill but we can’t fish for our sneak attacks with our flurry of blows.
Beyond that we have two classes that both really want to make use of their bonus action. As much as we’d want to, we can’t use our rogue cunning action to dash and then flurry of blows. You’re going to run into a lot of situations where just based on the action economy you can’t put all the pieces together. It’ll be nice having all those extra options, but we can’t have our cake and eat it too.
Finally, any multiclass is going to sacrifice late game features that you would get from a single class, and since the damage output of both classes scales up on a class level basis, and while we gain martial capabilities, we still take a hit on damage.
When Does a Monk / Rogue “Kick In”?
For the core of all our builds we get sneak attack with only a single level in rogue and most of the core features we want from monk with 2 levels, so the builds kick in most of the way at your 3rd character level. We typically want rogue as our base class or primary class, with a solid chunk of monk usually up to 6th level. Beyond that core concept most of our build ideas really want the initial 3rd level features of both the monk and rogue’s archetypes which means they really kick in at 6th level.
What Class Features Do We Care About?
We’ve got a few ideas on how to bring the build together but in general the following monk and rogue features will be important to us:
Significant Monk Features
- Unarmored Defense. Monks get an AC equal to 10 + Dexterity mod + Wisdom mod so long as they’re not wearing armor. Rogues already tend to go with light armors and in most cases, this will be a straight upgrade. We should be able to get our AC using unarmored defense to 17 or 18 fairly early which is a respectably tough AC for a DPS class.
- Martial Arts. Martial arts is the core feature that we get with a single level of monk. Whenever we take the attack action, we can also choose to make an unarmed strike as a bonus action. Think of this as sort of our “default” extra punch that doesn’t cost anything. We also do more unarmed strike damage, and deal 1d4 instead of just 1 when we smack things around. This martial arts die increases with our monk levels from 1d4 eventually to 1d10, but as a multiclass we’re probably going to be stuck with 1d6 or maybe 1d8 at the very top end.
- Ki. These are your mystical resources that you spend to fuel most of the monk’s abilities. We get a number of ki points equal to our monk levels, and they recharge on a short rest. At 2nd level, we get a trio of useful features that all work off our ki. Flurry of Blows is the most often used one, and it works exactly like our martial arts extra unarmed strike, but if we spend a ki point for flurry of blows, we make two extra unarmed strike attacks instead. Patient Defense lets us dodge as a bonus action at the cost of 1 ki point (which is situational but very useful). And finally Step of the Wind lets us dash or disengage as a bonus action for 1 ki, and also doubles our jumping distance for the turn. We won’t be using step of the wind much since we’ll already be able to dash and disengage as a bonus action for free thanks to cunning action, but we might be able to make use of the extended jump range.
- Unarmored Movement. Very simply monks get a faster base movement speed. When you first gain the feature with your 2nd monk level it’s 10 feet of extra speed and it improves to 15 feet at 6th level, 20 feet at 10th level, 25 feet at 14th level, and 30 feet at 18th level. Just the 10 feet of extra speed is a huge boost and you’ll typically be able to maneuver yourself however you’d like in combat.
- Dedicated Weapon. In the most recent monk rework they got this new 2nd level feature that essentially lets them turn any weapon into a “monk” weapon so long as it doesn’t have the heavy or special weapon properties. For us this opens up a world of finesse and ranged weapon options including shortbows and rapiers.
- Ki-Fueled Attack. Also gained in the newest rework, monks gain this ability at 3rd level to spend a ki point not on unarmed strikes but on another attack with a monk weapon. This is key because we can only do sneak attacks using a finesse or ranged weapon.
- Deflect Missiles. Starting at 3rd level we can use a reaction to reduce the damage taken by 1d10 + your monk level + your Dexterity modifier. You only have the one reaction but it’s incredibly handy to essentially negate the odd arrow that flies at you.
- Quickened Healing. Gained at 4th level, you can spend 2 ki points to heal a number of hit points equal to a roll of your martial arts die + your proficiency bonus. It’s not a huge amount of healing for the cost, but you regain ki on a short rest and that healing can come in clutch.
- Focused Aim. Gained at 5th level, you can increase your attack roll by +2 for every ki point you spend, up to a max of +6. This means every time you’re pretty sure you were close to hitting you can bump it up after the roll to push the hit through. Normally this is sort of meh for monks since each one of their attacks doesn’t do a whole lot, but with sneak attack we really want to push that one hit through sometimes.
- Extra Attack. Just like most martial classes monks gain an extra attack at 5th level. Importantly this is a proper extra attack which means we can use our finesse weapon and potentially get off our sneak attack.
- Monastic Tradition. Not key for making the multiclass work as a whole but definitely key for some of our deeper builds. We’ll go into the relevant ones in the builds themselves but know that the 3rd level monastic tradition options are important to us.
- Evasion. Gained at 7th this lets us take half damage from failed Dex saves and no damage from passed Dex saves. Very useful, but the rogue has the exact same feature at 7th as well and they don’t stack up.
Significant Rogue Features
- Sneak Attack. Raw damage on the condition that you either have advantage, or your ally is within 5 feet of the target, and the weapon must either have finesse or be ranged. Annoyingly there’s no way to trigger this off unarmed strikes (believe me I’ve tried) so we have to rely on using finesse or ranged monk weapons.
- Expertise. We aren’t focusing too much on skills but double proficiency bonus in a few skills is definitely helpful for any utility options you want to pursue. Boosting skill proficiencies like stealth and acrobatics pushes us closer to being respectable sneaky ninjas.
- Cunning Action. Gained at 2nd level, this lets you dash, disengage, or hide as a bonus action. Monks have a similar ability but it costs ki points so this is nice to have so we can do it for free. Sadly, it still uses your bonus action which is always going to be a premium for us.
- Archetypes. The core concept doesn’t require any specific archetypes but our in depth builds definitely rely on them. We’ll touch more on them later but for now just know the archetype is important.
- Uncanny Dodge. Gained at 5th level we can straight up halve our damage taken from a single shot by using our reaction. Combined with the monk’s unarmored defense we can be seriously hard to take down.
- Evasion. Gained at 7th this lets us take half damage from failed Dex saves and no damage from passed Dex saves. Very useful, but the monk has the exact same feature at 7th as well and they don’t stack up.
Monk / Rogue Ability Scores
Both the monk and the rogue have the same primary stat Dexterity and our multiclass does the same. The monk however also really cares about Wisdom which should be our second highest ability score. Finally, we’re going to be in the middle of combat quite a bit and having a high Constitution can help us survive so it should be our 3rd highest ability score. Thus, our primary abilities will be Dex and Wis, with a consideration towards Con for hit points. Since we're not hard up on points, feel free to spend your ASIs on bonus feats as needed.
The rest of the abilities, Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma aren’t terribly relevant to us and we can treat them as dump stats.
Monk / Rogue Equipment
Your armor is simple since you won’t be wearing any, unarmored defense should be providing you with a better AC than any light or medium armors can provide, and we don’t have to worry about any stealth penalties.
Where it gets more interesting is in the weapon options. We don't get all martial weapons from rogue but we do get most of the ones we'd care about (access to finesse weapons). We need weapons that are either finesse or ranged to meet the qualifications for sneak attack and we need them to count as monk weapons for all our monk features. Normally, this would be a very short list of just daggers and shortswords but with the Tasha’s update to monks and the dedicated weapon feature gained at 3rd level our options open up dramatically.
With dedicated weapon, we can turn any weapon into a monk weapon over the course of a short rest so long as it doesn’t have the heavy or special properties. This opens up the rapier which doesn’t feel very ninja themed but is still the top-end finesse weapon for straight damage. It also opens up the hand crossbow and the shortbow for some really nasty ranged sneak attacks.
Monk / Rogue Feats
We shouldn’t be hard up for ability scores which gives us some wiggle room to spend ASIs on feats. We can also get bonus feats by starting as a variant human (if your DM allows it). The following feats don’t fit every monk/rogue, but they should be on your radar when an ASI level comes up:
Dual wielder does three things:
- Gives us +1 AC when we use two melee weapons.
- You can dual wield with weapons even if they aren’t light.
- You can draw and stow two weapons instead of one at a time.
So, bonus AC makes this a decent defensive option, but the drawing/stowing thing rarely comes up unless your DM is being very picky with the rules. The big potential draw for us here is dual wielding non-light weapons. And since we want finesse weapons, that means double rapiers. It’s not necessary but upgrading your off-hand weapon to a 1d8 weapon is pretty appealing.
This feat lets you snag a fighting style without having to take a fighter level and there’s a few martial options that are very useful for us:
- Archery gives us +2 bonus damage to each ranged attack roll which is big for fringe sniper builds.
- Dueling gives us +2 bonus attack damage for our main weapon if we’re sticking with the rapier and unarmed strike slaps plan.
- Two-Weapon Fighting lets us add our ability modifier to damage with our off hand. A decent offensive option for just a bit of extra damage on our bonus action attack.
- Thrown-Weapon Fighting will be key to our kunai machine gun build as it lets us draw new weapons as the part of every attack and grants +2 damage to all our thrown weapon attacks.
- Finally Unarmed Fighting potentially gives us a very odd way to “skip” monk levels for our strangler build as it can ramp our unarmed strikes up at the cost of using Strength. A tempting option if you're only dipping into monk and don't want to take a level of fighter.
This is obviously only applicable if your game has guns in it, but our builds work pretty darn well if pistols are available, and this feat is very helpful for up and coming gunslingers.
- Firstly, gunner is a half feat that comes along with a point of Dexterity which we’re happy to have.
- This feat gives us proficiency with any firearms that might be in the campaign. Depending on how your DM works it they might be "martial weapons" or something else entirely but whatever your DM counts them as this gives you proficiency with them.
- You ignore the loading quality of firearms, which is especially useful if your campaign is using black powder weapons with stringent loading qualities.
- You can fire ranged attacks within 5 feet of enemies without invoking disadvantage.
Depending on how your DM rules it guns might be part of your martial capabilities to start with anyway, but this will still be useful regardless.
The lucky feat is good on any build and here it can help us push through a sneak attack. Very simply, you get 3 luck points you can use to reroll any d20s that recharge on a long rest.
This lets us snag a couple 1st level spells as additional spellcasting options from a class's spell list. We could technically take anything crazy like chronurgy magic, but the spellcasting ability modifier is determined by the class. So as a Wisdom based character, we want to steal from either cleric spellcasting or druid spellcasting without dipping into a cleric level or a druid class level.
Some interesting defensive options include cure wounds, healing word, and shield of faith. Our AC without spells should be pretty good already but +2 from shield of faith can't hurt. I recommend just taking this rather than arcane trickster if you're really hurting for some spellcasting.
Most of our builds want to run in and out of combat quickly and mobile speeds us up while keeping us safe from reprisal.
- We gain 10 feet of extra movement speed which stacks with our extra monk movement.
- Whenever we dash, we ignore difficult terrain.
- Whenever we hit somebody with a melee attack, they can’t make attacks of opportunity against us for the rest of the turn.
That last one is key for the hit and run strategies but keep in mind we can also get it from the swashbuckler rogue archetype. Both are good options, just don’t take them together unless you're really worried about difficult terrain since they won’t stack up.
Found in Tasha’s, this half-feat is one of the best things to happen for aspiring ninjas.
- We get our choice of +1 in any mental stat, which we can make Wisdom.
- We learn the spell invisibility and another 1st level spell of our choice from the illusion or necromancy school. There aren’t a whole lot of those, but disguise self and silent image are on the list and are incredibly useful to our builds.
Without a level dip we can just straight up cast invisibility which is a godsend for any sneaky strats. This is particularly useful tactical option for any build making use of the assassin rogue archetype.
Pretty much only for our sniper assassin build but definitely worth it there.
- Long range doesn’t impose disadvantage on our shots.
- Our ranged attacks ignore half and 3/4ths cover.
- We can take a -5 penalty on a shot to deal 10 additional damage.
Helps with any plan that involves sneaking around in the dark.
- We can attempt to hide even when only lightly obscured.
- If we’re hidden and miss a ranged attack, it doesn’t reveal us (must have been the wind).
- We can see normally in dim light.
Which Class do I Start With?
The short answer is that you should be starting with rogue as your first character level. Rogues have significantly better equipment proficiencies and extra skill proficiencies that you’ll lose out on if you start with monk as your first character level. The only “upside” of starting with monk is you’d gain Strength saving throws instead of the arguably worse Intelligence saving throws but starting with rogue is the clear winner here.
Putting the Monk / Rogue Together
Monk and Rogue clash a bit on their action economy but their core features mesh surprisingly well. There are some powerful synergies we can accomplish with a bit more work though, and you should consider some of the following strategies:
Your sword twirls as you sway in between your foes stabbing and prat-falling your way through combat unscathed. The idea here is to synergize the way of the drunken master and the swashbuckler rogue archetype to do hit and run style combat even against whole groups of enemies.
We want to start our first level in rogue, but we essentially want to get to 3 levels in each class as soon as possible to gain both the way of the drunken master and swashbuckler archetypes. Beyond that the order of levels is a bit looser, but we want to end up with 6 monk levels / 14 rogue levels.
For our weapon we want to use a rapier (turned into a monk weapon using dedicated weapon) and keep our other hand free to make unarmed strikes.
It’s also worth noting that both of these class archetypes care a bit about Charisma and the Performance skill, so it’d be wise to at least not make your Charisma a dump stat. You shouldn’t prioritize it, but it’d be nice to have a +1 in it or at least not a negative Charisma. You also get Performance as one of your extra proficiencies with these archetypes, so it doesn't take one of your options up.
So, what does this actually accomplish? Well, both of these archetypes are trying for hit and run strategies. The drunken master’s technique is better but costs ki, and the swashbucklers technique costs nothing, but doesn’t work if the enemies are all in a group. By having both together we can essentially guarantee that we can hit and run without ever getting attacked back for doing so.
Whenever you’re fighting a single enemy, you can simply run in, stab and slap them a bunch, and then run out using the swashbuckler’s fancy footwork to avoid attacks back. If your opponents are bunched up, you can run in and make your attacks using a flurry of blows. Then because of the drunken master’s drunken technique we gain the benefits of a disengage action and have our movement increased by 10 feet for the turn.
Damage-wise we’re doing pretty good as well, at 9th level (5 monk / 4 rogue) at 18 Dexterity we’re getting two stabs with the rapier, sneak attack, and two unarmed strikes a round for an average 39 (2d8 + 4d6 + 16) damage a turn. So long as you try and save your ki for flurries you can keep these 3-4 attacks and damage up regularly and it’ll only go up as you gain rogue levels and improve that sneak attack.
Kunai Cat Machine Gun
Imagine yourself darting between the rafters as you unleash a flurry of pinpoint accurate kunai before disappearing back into the shadows as a stealthy ninja cat. Ok so technically they’ll be daggers but if your DM is cool you should be able to flavor them as kunai.
To start with we’re going to be playing some keep away tactics, so picking a race that starts with climb speed will be a great help. Tabaxi are especially good here since they also pick up darkvision, they already get proficiency in Perception and Stealth, and the feline agility trait that lets them double their speed for a turn.
Next, we want to start with a single level in rogue to pick up all the proficiencies and 1d6 of sneak attack. Then we’re going to take 4 levels of monk. For our monastic tradition we take the way of shadows, and when we get that 4th level, we want to take the feat fighting initiate and select the thrown weapon fighting style.
After that we want to take 3 more levels of rouge to pick up the scout rogue archetype. The scout archetype gets us the skirmisher feature that allows us to dart away up to half our speed as a reaction when something steps up to within 5 feet of us. The build then finishes off with 2 more levels of monk to get the way of shadow feature shadow step and the rest of our levels will be rogue levels giving us a final split of 6 monk levels / 14 rogue levels. I don't think it's worth pushing monk all the way to 11th level for cloak of shadows. If you're really hurting for invisibility, I instead recommend taking the shadow touched feat.
So how does this work? Firstly, as a shadow monk we essentially get a spell list. As a shadow monk we can cast a ton of magical options using our ki points including darkness, darkvision, pass without trace, silence, and minor illusion using Wisdom as our spellcasting ability modifier. Put these additional spellcasting options together with our innate climb speed and speed boosts from our shadow monk levels we will be hard to catch and harder to find once hidden.
What we’re actually doing while playing keep away is throwing kunai (daggers). By taking the thrown weapon fighting style we can draw a dagger every time we make an attack, so we don’t need to worry about drawing weapons, and every thrown weapon attack deals an additional +2 damage.
Now we can’t use flurry of blows to throw daggers, but we can simply use our bonus action to make an attack with a light weapon in our off hand. Or, if we want to also add the Dex mod to damage (which you normally wouldn’t for an off-hand attack) we can spend a ki-point to make a ki-fueled attack. So, between our normal attack, bonus action attack, and extra attack (from our 5th monk level) we’re throwing 3 daggers a turn. And so long as we’re throwing our daggers at somebody surprised or already fighting our allies, one of those dagger hits will be a sneak attack.
So, let’s gauge how this will play at 9th level with 6 levels of monk and 3 levels. We’re making 3 dagger attacks and our sneak attack is 2d6. With 18 Dex we’re dealing 29 (3d4 + 2d6 + 14) damage at range each turn without spending ki points and with some of the best keep away play possible in 5e. We have a movement speed and a climbing speed of 45 feet per round, and any time somebody moves within 5 feet we can dart away 20 feet as a reaction. We have deflect missiles as well if they fire at us. And thanks to shadow step we can teleport 60 feet whenever we want as a bonus action so long as our destination is in dim light or darkness AND it grants us advantage when we do so.
You’ll have absolutely insane mobility, and it will take a LOT of work to even attack you while you continue pelting them full of kunai!
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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