Monk Warlock Multiclass for D&D 5e
Table of Contents:
Monk Warlock Multiclass
Flurry of Hexblade’s Curse Anyone?
Monks are the pinnacles of discipline and martial technique that test the limits of humanoid capability. Warlocks are the servants of eldritch beings who’ve bestowed upon them unknowable cosmic powers in exchange for dark and mysterious pacts. When combined you get a sword wielding martial arts master whose intense training is empowered by the dark gods. Grab your hexblade and put on your gi as we go through everything you need to know.
Why Play a Monk Warlock Multiclass?
Warlock has always been the multiclassing darling, providing some of the best bang a single level in anything can provide. The monk class often gets passed over often in that regard, but actually boasts a ton of powerful features in the first couple levels. While these classes don’t necessarily mesh well at the later tiers, as dips we can gain a ton of power using warlock to enhance a monk playstyle or using monk to enhance a warlock playstyle. We’re also not shifting too hard into different ability scores, as both classes are mainly Dexterity dependent, and while their core features clash on Wisdom and Charisma we can build in such a way that we can ignore one or the other.
Ultimately, you play a monk/warlock to play a martial DPS powerhouse for massive damage. We’re looking to pile additional damage through multiple attacks by using hexes and buffs. We're hoping to crush whatever we run into quickly and then regain all the features from both our classes on a short rest.
What are the Downsides?
Our features really don’t work well together other than the first couple level dips, so any sort of 50/50 split will end up as a sad collection of incoherent features. We’re also mixing a martial class and a spellcasting class, so we’re having to limit ourselves down to specifically the martial focused warlock archetypes. That means hexblade which is never a bad thing, but it still means there isn’t much variety.
The monk’s martial arts feature also scales with monk levels, so a dip into warlock means getting that improvement even later, and if dipping into monk we have to accept a paltry d4 for our fist’s base damage forever.
Finally, just like any other multiclass build, you’re giving up entirely on capstone features and other late game features, and you’ll be getting your mid-game features later even if it’s only a dip.
When Does a Monk / Warlock “Kick In”?
Every build we’re going to go through relies on combining the 1st and 2nd level Martial Arts and Ki features of the monk, with one of the warlock’s 1st level archetype features. This means that in each of our build’s cases, we’ll be kicking in with 3 class levels.
What Class Features Do We Care About?
We’ve only got a few monk abilities and warlock abilities that really synergize with each other and a few more that will matter for every build or at least most of them.
Significant Monk Features
- Unarmored Defense. Monks get a special defensive option that provides them with an alternate AC equal to 10 + Dexterity mod + Wisdom mod so long as they’re not wearing armor. We’re likely getting armor anyway from our warlock levels so we can ignore this on mainly warlock builds, but for mainly monk builds this’ll be our best AC source at higher levels when our Wisdom mod pushes us past what medium armor grants.
- Martial Arts. This is the core defining monk feature that improves our unarmed strikes and allows us to make an unarmed strike as a bonus action. Remember that this is different from flurry of blows, and it’s basically the default “free” punch that we can make without spending ki or any other resource. The monk unarmed strike damage die is 1d4 instead of just a measly 1, and it improves with monk levels to 1d6, 1d8, and eventually 1d10. Though if we’re only dipping into monk, we’re going to have to make do with just the d4.
- Ki. These are your mystical resources that you spend to fuel most of the monk’s abilities. Technically you gain a number of ki points as shown on the table, but it’s basically equal to your monk level starting at 2nd. And starting at 2nd, we get three abilities we can spend those monk points on. Flurry of Blows is the one we’ll be using most often, 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.
- Unarmored Movement. Very simply monks get extra 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 extra feet is a huge boost to speed, and you’ll typically be able to maneuver yourself however you’d like in combat.
- Dedicated Weapon. In the optional rules monks got this new 2nd level feature that 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 importantly means that whatever weapon we use for our hexblade, we can also make into a monk weapon.
- Ki-Fueled Attack. Also gained from the optional rules, monks gain ki-fueled attack at 3rd level which lets them spend a ki point not on unarmed strikes but on another attack with a monk weapon. Usually, we’re going to be better off with a flurry of blows instead but there are some situations where one bigger thwack will be better than two little ones.
- 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 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.
- Extra Attack. Just like most martial classes monks gain an extra attack at 5th level. This means we can make two attacks with our primary weapon and make a bonus action unarmed attack using martial arts, or with a ki point a flurry of blows gives us a total of 4 attacks, 2 with our primary weapon and 2 unarmed strikes.
- Monastic Tradition. We don’t really need to hit the 3rd monk level if we’re focusing on warlock. If we’re core monk however, we’re taking a pick and sadly nothing adds a ton to the build and it’s more a matter of picking something that doesn’t actively clash with it. The exception being the way of the long death, which shines when combined with the undead patron.
- Evasion. Gained at 7th this lets us take half damage from failed Dex saves and no damage from passed Dex saves. A great feature if we’re going long on monk.
Warlock Features for Monk / Warlocks
- Pact Magic: Warlock spellcasting is unique, with very limited spell slots that recharge on a short rest with Charisma as its spellcasting ability. We can get a ton of use out of the warlock spells, particularly the spell hex.
- Eldritch Blast: Often called the best cantrip in the game and the most effective spell at consistent damage in the game, warlocks uniquely gain access to the spell eldritch blast. The monk levels won’t add to this in any way, but it’s nice to have this ranged damage option in your pocket if you can’t quite get within punching range.
- Hexblade: Hexblades are some of the most common multiclassed archetypes and it’s easy to see why. With just the 1st level archetype abilities you get hexblade’s curse and hex warrior that together give you a pile of abilities. Firstly, you get medium armor, shields and martial weapons proficiencies. You also get to turn a weapon into your “hexblade” which lets you use Charisma for attack and damage rolls (not something we’re caring about here but still cool). We care more about the hexblade’s curse, which lets you doom a target for a ton of buffs against them, including extra damage to them equal to your proficiency bonus, crits on a 19-20, and gains us hit points when we kill the target of our curse. The bit we really care about though is that proficiency to damage bonus, since it triggers on every single attack, we can stack that bonus up by making a ton of attacks using flurry of blows.
- The Undead: At first level this patron grants you the form of dread which as a bonus action turns you into your spooky form which gives you temporary hit points and inflicts a frightened chance on one of your attacks each round. Hexblade still beats this in most cases, but we have a specific build that synergizes with it.
- Pact Boons: Gained at 3rd level, we get a special gift from our patron that really solidifies our strategy. For any martial strategy this is almost always pact of the blade.
- Eldritch Invocations: Eldritch invocations are a great big list of magical abilities we can pick and choose from carte blanche style. We get to pick 2 of these at 2nd level and then slowly get drip fed more options as we advance in warlock level. There’s a lot to go over but for now know a few of these invocations will be key for certain builds.
Monk / Warlock Ability Scores
Right off the bat both classes are Dexterity based and it should be your highest score. After that it gets complicated.
Many of our monk features care about Wisdom and many of our warlock features care about Charisma, and if our class level split was even, we’d be forced to care about both ability scores. But since we’re just doing level dips and the features we care about in either case don’t rely on these stats we can have our cake and eat it too (mostly).
If you are primarily a monk with a level dip in warlock, Wisdom should be your second highest ability score and we can use the minimum Charisma required for multiclassing (13).
If you are primarily a warlock with a level dip in monk, Charisma should be your second highest ability score, and we just need the minimum Wisdom required for multiclassing (13).
Then, as a martial class we do need to worry about staying alive on the front line, so Constitution should be our third highest ability score.
Whatever you do, you’ll need to make sure to meet the minimum multiclassing requirements for both monk and warlock, which means at least 13 Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma.
Finally, in every version of the build, we don’t care about Strength or Intelligence, and we can use both as dump stats.
Monk / Warlock Equipment
Weapons for this multiclass used to be more problematic but thanks to the monk’s newish dedicated weapon feature a lot of the old restraints here are gone. We just need to select a weapon that fits both the now much more lax requirements for monk weapons, and also the requirements for a hexblade, which together looks like this:
- The weapon can’t be two-handed.
- The weapon must be simple or martial (so basically can’t be an exotic weapon).
- The weapon can’t be heavy.
- The weapon can’t have the “special” property (like lances or nets).
That may sound like a lot, but it actually leaves us with a ton of options, even ranged weapons. It’s also important to note that the versatile ability isn’t on this list, and we can make our unarmed strikes even while two-handing a versatile weapon. This means for raw damage output, our best options are the battleaxe, longsword, or warhammer. Each of these are functionally identical 1d8 weapons with the versatile feature that lets us upgrade to 1d10, and the only difference is dealing bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage.
Now you may be asking how we’re using Dexterity for these obvious Strength weapons, but thanks to dedicated weapon we can treat all of them as monk weapons and swing them around using Dexterity to our heart’s content.
When it comes to armor we’re basically stuck using the unarmored defense feature. We aren’t allowed to use the martial arts features while wearing armor or using a shield, so 10 + Dex and Wis modifiers will have to suffice.
Which Class Should I Start With?
Objectively starting with monk gives you slightly more to work with, you don't get an additional skill, but you do pick up a bonus tool or instrument proficiency, but you can honestly start with either. You’ll end up with all the proficiencies we care about in either case, so the main choice is between saving throws. Monk grants proficiency in Strength and Dexterity saves, while warlocks grant Wisdom and Charisma saves. Feel free to start with either, but I do think starting with a monk level is slightly better.
Monk / Warlock Feats
As with most martial caster class combinations, there’s one feat you should really consider and that’s War Caster. War caster has three benefits, and all three are powerful boosts if we plan on both casting spells and getting into melee.
- It gives us advantage on concentration checks made to maintain our spells.
- It lets us cast spells even when our hands are full of weapons or shields.
- It lets us cast spells in place of normal attacks when making attacks of opportunity.
Monk / Warlock Spells
Even just a single warlock level gets us a couple cantrips and a recharging 1st level spell slot with pact magic. So, what in the warlock spell list benefits us the most for a martial caster build?
I often recommend the melee cantrips like booming blade or greenfire blade but sadly they don’t work here. Both martial arts and flurry of blows require us to “take the attack action” to activate, and using the melee cantrips clashes with that since you actually use the “cast a spell” action that just happens to involve your sword. Instead, we want to focus on spells that we can use to buff ourselves before hitting combat, spells that stack up more damage, or ranged options for when the target stays out of melee reach.
Let’s start with the cantrips we can make the most use of:
- Eldritch Blast. The ultimate cantrip eldritch blast is no less useful even if we aren’t building for it. For pure ranged damage potential, it’s hard to argue against picking it up.
- Mind Sliver. This mind-bending cantrip forces an Intelligence save that deals 1d6 psychic damage with cantrip scaling and reduces their next saving throw by 1d4. It has a range of 60 feet, and I like it for some extra damage and potentially combining it with a more impactful effect on the next turn when you close the distance.
- Sword Burst. Like a mini thunderwave, you force a Dex save in the area around you inflicting 1d6 force damage with cantrip scaling on a failure. Normally a bad pick for squishy casters, it’s a fair option if you find yourself surrounded in melee.
Next let’s look at some useful 1st level spells:
- Armor of Agathys. Grants you 5 temporary hit points and inflicts 5 cold damage on anybody who hits you in melee while you have any of those hit points remaining. This one is particularly useful because it lasts for an hour and doesn’t use concentration. Which means we can cast it long before combat starts and still gain the benefits. Scales up by 5 points each for every slot level above first.
- Arms of Hadar. Hits everyone within 10 feet of you with a Strength save for 2d6 necrotic damage and a prevention of reactions until their next turns. Extremely useful if you find yourself surrounded and can act as a getaway as your targets shouldn’t be able to hit you with attacks of opportunity as you flee.
- Hellish Rebuke. Punishes a foe impudent enough to hit you for 2d10 fire damage. Not fantastic since it requires you getting hit, but if you’re at the front lines anyway it’s some free retaliation.
- Hex. Sort of like a hunter’s mark, we can curse a target so that whenever we hit them with melee weapon attacks while still concentrating on the spell. This is the automatic include for most of our builds, as that d6 necrotic damage can stack up on every single punch from our flurry of blows. The only thing holding it back is the action economy, since our martial arts/flurry monk abilities, hexblade’s curse, and hex, all use the bonus action. This means we’ll only get the full combo on big bosses that are taking a lot of rounds to fell, but hex can still act as our “extra” hexblade’s curse when we have multiple fights between short rests.
Monk / Warlock Multiclass Builds
Monk and warlock don’t mesh well late, but their early features can provide massive buffs to either strategy. The following builds all focus on one class, dipping just a bit into the other class.
Way of the Hexmaster
If you’re coming into this multiclass trying to maximize damage output, this is probably the strongest option. Firstly, we’re making monk our primary class and dipping just a single level into warlock and taking the hexblade patron.
Our monk archetype doesn’t really matter here, and you can pick what you’d like, though I’d recommend the way of the open hand just for some extra effects on our attacks, way of the ascendant dragon for elemental damage options, or the way of shadow for extra utility and mobility.
For our warlock spells, we want to take hex, which we can stack up alongside hexblade’s curse to pile on damage. We have very limited spell slots, but hex is almost always going to be worth it. As stated in the equipment section, we take a battleaxe, longsword, or warhammer as our primary weapon and hexblade, and convert it into a monk weapon using our dedicated weapon feature.
So how does this work? Well, as a bonus action we can target a creature using our hexblade’s curse, and hit them once with our hexblade, and on the next turn we hit them with the hex spell and stack up the damage further. After that, we can start spending our bonus actions on flurry of blows, stacking up 2 attacks and then defaulting to a single bonus action attack once we run out of ki points using martial arts.
Let’s take an example of the build at 6th level, (1 warlock level and 5 monk levels). After stacking up hexblade’s curse and hex, we’re free to do 4 attacks per turn on our target, (1 normal attack, 1 from extra attack, and 2 bonus attacks from flurry of blows). Each of these 4 attacks gets all the damage buffs from our hexes AND is a critical hit on a 19-20. Our weapon attacks can still be two-handed thanks to versatile, and deal 1d10 + 1d6 + proficiency + Dexterity modifier, and our unarmed strikes deal 2d6 + proficiency + Dexterity modifier. That means on average even without critical hits, if all 4 attacks hit, we’ll deal a whopping 60 damage (2d10 + 6d6 + 12 + 16)!
Admittedly, this requires us to have time to stack up the buffs, but even with just hex or just hexblade’s curse it’s an impressive beatdown you’ll be able to dish out.
Way of Dread
Similarly to the hexmaster, we’re only taking a single level of warlock with the rest going towards monk. This time however, instead of hexblade we want to take the undead patron. Our goal here is less about DPS and instead we’re going to focus on inflicting the frightened condition as often as possible.
For our monk archetype we want to take the way of the long death, specifically to get the 6th level feature hour of reaping. Hour of reaping lets us use our action to force a Wisdom saving throw on every creature within 30 feet and creatures who fail are frightened of us until the end of our next turn.
When picking the warlock spells, we still want to pick hex as a powerful way to stack damage. Unlike the prior build, we don’t have a way to pick up martial weapons which means we’re stuck with the best simple weapon with versatile, such as the quarterstaff or spear.
So how does this work? Well, we essentially have a lighter version of the previous DPS setup, but now we can also easily keep our enemies frightened of us for most of the combat. The undead patron grants us a form of dread we can activate as a bonus action. This extra spooky mode gives us temporary hit points, and once during each of our turns we can force a fear save on a target we hit with a melee attack.
Hour of dread lets us use our action to inflict a big burst of fear, and we can do both hour of dread and activate our form of dread on the same turn. Then on the next turn we can use our bonus action to hex a target and start going to town inflicting damage and fear.
Our damage output is a bit lower but using the same 6th level example (5 levels of monk 1 level of warlock) we’re still at 4 attacks, generating an average of 46 damage (2d8 + 6d6 + 16) once we have hex and our flurry of blows up and running. But here, we can reasonably keep our opponents frightened, meaning you’re unlikely to get swarmed, and whatever target you single out will have disadvantage on all their attacks against you. Become a dreadful martial arts monster!
Pact of the Fist
This build trades off a bunch of the monk’s inbuilt resilience for a little bit of bonus damage and much more utility. For this final build we’re swapping it up taking only 2 levels of monk and the remaining 18 levels in warlock. You may be tempted to take a third monk level for one of the monk subclasses, and you can if you’d like, but I don’t think you gain enough bang for the buck. If you do end up taking a 3rd level and an archetype, I’d recommend the way of mercy for the equivalent of a healing spell, way of the ascendant dragon so you can change up the damage type on your unarmed strikes, or the way of the drunken master to avoid opportunity attacks.
For our warlock levels, we’re once again taking hexblade and the hex spell, and since we’re going all the way with warlock, we also want to take the pact of the blade. With all these warlock levels we also get a bounce of eldritch invocations, and we want to make sure we pick up armor of shadows, improved pact weapon, and thirsting blade. For your remaining invocations consider any of the pact of the blade or hex options, such as eldritch smite, lifedrinker, maddening hex for bonus psychic damage, or relentless hex.
So how does this work? Well essentially in the same way, but with additional spell slots and a bit less raw damage. Firstly, we can ignore unarmored defense and our Wisdom score because we have armor of shadows (free mage armor) and can rely on that for our AC. Next, we want to do the same combination of hexblade’s curse and hex whenever possible, or perhaps just one for smaller foes. This will end up with a slightly lower average damage for our full 4 attack flurry of 58 damage (2d10 + 4d6 + 2d4 + 12 + 16) but with the ability to push it up even higher through spellcasting.
For example, if we use the 3rd level spell spirit shroud instead of hex, that full flurry pushes up to 62 damage (2d10 + 4d8 + 2d4 + 12 + 16) with the bonus benefits of stopping enemy healing and reducing their movement. Or through maddening hex we can stack up extra psychic damage equal to our Charisma modifier, for an average of 70 damage (2d10 + 4d6 + 2d4 + 12 + 16 + 12)!
Last updated: January 27, 2019
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