Guide to Building a Monk Way of the Open Hand: Dungeons and Dragons 5e

For the Monastic Tradition Way of the Open Hand, consider the following build:

To build a Way of the Open Hand monk in Dungeons and Dragons 5e, make Wisdom your highest ability score, followed by Dexterity.  Usually, Dexterity should be a monk’s highest score.  However, we will need Wisdom for our unique combat effects to land.

In D&D 5e, monks who take the Way of the Open Hand are martial arts specialists.  Wise and quick, every monk has some martial arts training—it’s kind of a big deal to this character trope.  Focus, discipline and training give these wise warriors access to ki, a source of power that comes from within.  The Way of the Open Hand expresses this ki through martial combat, adding special effects to the unarmed bonus strikes this class offers.

If you’re looking for a quick adventure to launch your next campaign, consider my original pirate story, Dead Man’s Tale.

Deadman's Tale an Island Pirate Adventure DnD 5e friendly 3rd party campaign

Choose a race with high Dexterity and/or Wisdom modifiers

In many ways, monks and rangers are similar—they’re high-speed glass canons with unique abilities that rely on Wisdom.  Therefore, classic ranger races would fit a monk build well, including wood elf, tabaxi, or shifter.  You’re more likely to find races with Dexterity bonuses than Wisdom, but Wisdom is trickled in as a secondary +1 bonus.

However, the firbolg leads with a primary +2 Wisdom bonus, which would be the best way to increase the DC score of your moves (equal to 8 + proficiency + Wis mod).  These friendly forest giants are granted an additional +1 to Strength, which is totally useable for this type of build.  I imagine something akin to a kung-fu yeti—and that’s just fun.

Basic buildout should be for a martial arts specialist

The Way of the Open Hand is built for campaigns that largely contain medium sized monsters or humanoids.  The fun of a monk is the martial-arts action, and that doesn’t always pan out against giant monsters.  I mean, you could survive and throw ninja stars, maybe smack the behemoth’s knees with your nunchaku, but you get the picture.

Upon choosing this class, I’ll gain Martial Arts and Unarmored DefenseMartial Arts grants several different abilities.  First, I can use my Dexterity modifier for unarmed attacks.  Then, I can roll 1d4 for the damage.  Lastly, I can throw one of these punches or kicks as a bonus action after an attack with a monk weapon.  Of course, this assume I haven’t already taken a bonus action.  Unarmored Defense allows me to add my Dexterity and Wisdom modifiers to my AC instead of armor.  Trust me, this is should end up being better.

Level 2 introduces ki to the equation—my monk’s power source for cool moves.  Gaining these abilities offers me three ki points and three choices of how to spend those ki points.  These moves are Flurry of Blows, Patient Defense, and Step of the Wind.  Flurry of Blows adds one extra unarmed bonus attack to your basic Martial Arts ability.  Patient Defense allows you to take the Dodge action as a bonus action on your turn.  Step of the Wind allows you to take the Disengage or Dash action as a bonus action on your turn.

So, that’s an extra hit, dodge, disengage or dash as a bonus action.

I’ll also gain the Unarmored Movement ability, granting me 10 more feet of speed without armor.

More Monk Builds:

Guide to Building a Monk Way of the Drunken Master: DnD 5e

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Guide to Building a Monk Way of Shadow: DnD 5e

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Use combat effects that leverage an opponent’s weakness.

At level 3, I’ll choose my Monastic Tradition, Way of the Open Hand, and gain the ability to deflect missiles.  Though this trope is more-so based on Shaolin monks, I like to think of this character as a karate guy in a sleeveless gi—like Ryu from Street Fighter.  It’s karate time.

Deflect Missiles allows me to roll 1d10 + Dex mod +Monk level and reduce the damage by this number.  If the damage is reduced to 0, I can catch the projectile and spend 1 ki point to throw it back at my enemy.  The damage of this ranged attack is 1d4 + Dexterity modifier.

Open Hand Technique allows me to add several abilities to my Flurry of Blows attack, including:

  • Knocked prone on failed Dexterity save
  • Push 15 feet away from you on failed Strength save
  • Prevent opponents from taking reactions on their next turn

These advantages act as a form of field manipulation and work best within a team dynamic.  Imagine the set up.  I’m a firbolg blackbelt who just knocked a raiding hobgoblin prone with a sweeping leg kick.  Next turn, my samurai fighter friend has advantage on their sword strike, dealing a lethal finishing blow.

The trick is to choose the correct martial ability for the opponent your facing.  If the opponent is big and strong, try a technique that forces it to make a Dexterity check.  This is flipped for a speedier opponent like a goblin—make it throw a Strength save.  Preventing an opponent can seem like a technical effect.  However, if they have a gimmick that acts as an action, you could act as a counter.  The key to combat prowess is understanding your foe.

Utilize new monk techniques as you level up.

By level 5, I will have gained Slow Fall, Extra Attack and Stunning StrikeSlow Fall allows me reduce damage taken from a fall by 5 times my monk level.  Stunning Strike is a paralyzing blow that disrupts the ki within their bodies.  A failed Constitution save leaves the opponent stunned next turn.

By level 7, I’ll have a nice array of abilities, including Ki-Empowered Strikes, Evasion, Stillness of Mind and Wholeness of Body.

  • Ki-Empowered Strikes allow my unarmed strikes to act as magical and hit opponents like ghosts.
  • Evasion allows me to avoid magical area damage, such as fireball, and take no damage on successful Dexterity saves instead of half.
  • Stillness of Mind is an action that eliminates a charmed or frightened state.
  • Finally, Wholeness of Body allows me to heal damage equal to 3 times my monk level once per rest.

Higher levels add abilities that make me more and more invulnerable.  First, I’ll resist charms and fear.  Then, I’ll resist poison and disease.  Later on I’ll gain Tongue of the Sun and Moon and be able to understand any language.  Now, I’ll be able to lean into the Wisdom of this character and not just break bones.

My biggest abilities will allow me to astral project and regain ki points on short rests.  Again, this character is the most fun as a goofy karate master.

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