A Guide to the Qinggong Monk (Pathfinder)
A long time ago, in an edition not so far away, Wizards of the Coasts released Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords , which contained a new subsystem of martial maneuvers that, in practice, worked a lot like spells that you used your weapon to carry out. Many of the maneuvers were supernatural, allowing the martial adept to, in effect, throw fireballs or even fly temporarily. The book was wildly popular for those players that were tired of the caster dominance in 3rd Edition, but sometimes rabidly hated by those that didn’t want “anime” and “wuxia” in their D&D.
When it comes down to it, though, the monk has always been representative of these sorts of characters as far back as 1st Edition, which remained true in 3rd Edition (monks can step through space and time, let’s not forget!). In Ultimate Magic , Paizo ups the monk’s ante quite substantially with the qinggong monk archetype. The qinggong monk is one of the more extensive archetypes, and it allows far more customization than most others, making it well worth the time to read up on before you set out to make one. (It's also an entirely different take on a versatile monk than the master of many styles from Ultimate Combat , which might also be worth a look).
Unlike most archetypes, the qinggong monk gets to decide which class features he gives up to gain his alternate abilities. The list is pretty extensive, so I’ll go ahead and give the whole thing: slow fall (4th), high jump (5th), wholeness of body (7th), diamond body (11th), abundant step (12th), diamond soul (13th), quivering palm (15th), timeless body (17th), tongue of the sun and moon (17th), empty body (19th), and perfect self (20th). At each of the gained levels, the qinggong monk can trade the listed power for another, variant ki power. Each ki power has a minimum level requirement that the monk must meet before he can choose that power.
Some of these variant ki powers grant you the ability to use a feat for one round (regardless of prerequisites) for the cost of ki points. Others duplicate existing monk abilities, allowing the monk to gain abilities he swapped for ki powers, though he has to use ki points to use them (even if they don’t normally cost ki points). The last category of ki powers is the most radical, as they’re spells, using the monk’s Wisdom as his casting ability score.
Notable Ki Powers
The list of ki powers is fairly extensive, so I won’t go through every power, but I do want to take a look at some of the more interesting ones, as well as the abilities you might give up to obtain them.
4th-Level Ki Powers: These are the first ki powers you gain access to, and if you take one of them, you’ll most likely be giving up slow fall (4th), high jump (5th), or wholeness of body (7th).
- Augury (1 ki point): Augury is a useful utility power that can help an indecisive group in difficult planning stages. You’ll probably be able to use this more often than a spellcaster would be, since they don’t have a large number of 2nd-level spell slots at this level (and they have heavy contenders like glitterdust to think about).
- Ki Arrow (1 ki point): If monks have one glaring weakness in combat, it’s their lack of effective ranged attacks. Ki arrow lets you imbue an arrow with ki and throw it up to 100 feet away with a ranged attack roll. If it hits, you deal damage as if you’d hit with a regular unarmed strike. You may not be able to full attack with it, but that range is pretty impressive so this can come in handy in a number of situations. You’ll probably find excuses to use this ability at every level if you take it.
- Power Attack (1 ki point): I’m listing this one to warn against it. If you’re building a melee-focused qinggong monk, you want to take Power Attack as a feat, not as a ki power, since you’ll probably want to use it every round you’re attacking.
- Scorching Ray (1 ki point): Like ki arrow, this helps you with your ranged attacks problem. Scorching ray is one of the better spells out there in terms of damage, and it has the advantage of only requiring a ranged touch attack, meaning it’s not too difficult to hit with. If you can’t manage a very impressive Dexterity, you’ll likely hit far more often with scorching ray than you would with kiarrow.
6th-Level Ki Powers: To gain one of these powers, you’ll most likely give up wholeness of body or diamond body.
- Gaseous Form (1 ki point): For just one ki point, this power is a bargain. Gaseous form is very useful as both a defensive power and for mobility and exploration. You can use it to explore ahead in dungeons without putting yourself at a great deal of risk or use it as a quick getaway in a combat turned sour.
- Spring Attack (1 ki point): Spring Attack is normally hard to justify taking as a feat, as it has two prerequisites that aren’t incredibly useful for most melee characters (especially not those with Acrobatics as a class skill). Against dangerous creatures with reach, though, it can be pretty useful for hit and run tactics. Monks are also far better with Spring Attack than other characters are, since they have such high movement speeds.
8th-Level Powers: You’ll probably give up diamond body for these powers. I personally don’t recommend giving up abundant step as the ability to use dimension door is quite handy. Thankfully, none of the 8th-level powers are must-haves.
- Dragon’s Breath (2 ki points): This power is notable primarily because it gives you a wide range of options. In many ways, dragon’s breath is like seven different spells for the price of one, giving you a range of energy types and two area of effect types that you can use.
10th-Level Powers: You’ll trade diamond body, abundant step or diamond soul for these abilities, most likely. These powers are fairly situational, but they can be quite useful in the corresponding situations.
- Greater Bull Rush/Disarm/Feint/Sunder (2 ki points): I can’t count the number of times I’ve wished I had the feats to help me make a crucial combat maneuver in a difficult fight. Qinggong monks with one of these powers are much better prepared for situations like this. You’re quite capable of focusing on one combat maneuver (like trip) with your feats and having another of these powers as a backup for different situations.
- Improved Blind-Fight (1 ki point): Concealment is the bane of any melee, so being able to ignore it for a round can be quite helpful.
- Shadow Step (1 ki point): This is probably the first power you might consider swapping for abundant step. Though it only works in dim or shadowy areas (a bit like the shadowdancer’s shadow jump ability), it costs fewer ki points, so that’s an exchange that might pay off, especially in urban campaigns where there’s likely to be a lot of shadows around.
12th-Level Powers: These powers aren’t particularly mind-blowing, and I’d probably recommend taking a 10th-level power if you were looking to swap out abundant step or diamond soul. Shadow walk is a pretty cool spell for travel, if you don’t have access to teleport in your group, though.
14th-Level Powers: Quivering palm is the sort of ability that’s very situational, so you could do very well to give it up for one of these powers.
- Cold Ice Strike (3 ki points): Though this power is expensive, cold ice strike is a swift action to use, meaning you can combine it with a full attack or another ki power to do some pretty impressive damage in a single round.
- Ki Shout (3 ki points): This power gives you a ranged stun, which does sonic damage as a bonus.
16th-Level Powers: Timeless body and tongue of the sun and moon aren’t incredibly useful in a combat sense, though they may have some minor applications in more socially-oriented games. If they won’t be much use for you, consider swapping them for one of these.
- Bleeding Critical (3 ki points): Critical feats require a lot of investment for an ability you only get to use some 5% of the time (10% if you’ve got Improved Critical), but with this ki power, you can save your precious feats and still have a nice effect to add some power to your critical hits.
- Improved Vital Strike (2 ki points): Like most feat-based ki powers, you usually wouldn’t take this as a feat. But, for two ki points, being able to triple a single unarmed strike’s damage dice is pretty nice. 6d8 base damage is nothing to sneeze at for a single attack after needing to move!
- Quivering Palm (2 ki points): If you swapped out quivering palm before, you might also consider getting it here instead, since it can still be situationally useful.
18th- and 20th-Level Powers: I don’t recommend giving up empty body for timeless body or tongue of the sun and moon. Most of the 20th-level powers are critical feats, so if you like one of those better than Bleeding Critical, you might consider giving up perfect self (though becoming an outsider has a number of nice defensive benefits).
There are a number of other ki powers to consider, of course, so be sure to look over the list when making a qinggong monk. You may find that abilities that are somewhat situational could be much more useful in general in your game.
This sample build gives up some of those situational monk abilities for more versatility. It’s more of a combat-focused build, though it does give up both slow fall and wholeness of body, letting you take augury for more flexibility. It focuses on Wisdom over Strength somewhat to gain some additional ki points, but you’ll probably still be putting your ability score increases into Strength over all. Otherwise, the build is fairly standard, focusing on high Strength to get the most out of your flurry of blows (and extra attacks from your ki pool). Dwarf is chosen as the race to ease the pain of needing Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom at respectable levels.
Dwarven Qinggong Monk 5
Ability Scores (15 Point Buy): Str 14, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 17, Cha 6
Feats and Ki Powers
1 Combat Reflexes, Improved Grapple (bonus)
2 Improved Trip (bonus)
3 Power Attack
4 Scorching Ray (ki power)
5 Extra Ki, Augury (ki power)
At higher levels, you should consider the combat maneuver ki powers to maximize your versatility in that regard. Dragon’s breath and cold ice strike might also be useful so your ranged options aren’t only limited to fire damage, which is commonly resisted.
With the qinggong monk allowing so many different options, it’s hard to pin the archetype down to just one build—it’s a lot like playing a spellcaster in that regard. Figure out the mixture of ki powers that suits your character and your game, though I do recommend that you pick up at least some of the powers I’ve recommended above.
That’s my take on the qinggong monk. I hope it’s been helpful!