Game: Unorthodox Monks
Publisher: The Le
Review Dated: 6th, December 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 3.50
Gosh. Two bucks for thirty pages – you can’t fault that. The Le’s Unorthodox series tours through d20 D&D’s core classes and for this review we’re looking at Unorthodox Monks.
With Unorthodox Monks we might expect to find alternatives to the traditional monk class. The first unorthodox alternative I thought of – and hoped for – was that of a monk. The traditional European monk, that is. Sure, since this is an action game we’d probably be looking at a Friar Tuck type monk; a jolly round man, with some mysticism, a belly laugh and a powerful punch. He might even have some healing abilities. But no; we’re not that unorthodox. We don’t even have a pacifist monk.
Unorthodox Monks gives us 5 variations on the Asian monk stereotype. I think “variation” is the right word. They’re all deadly.
The Chaos Monk doesn’t have the discipline needed to be a monk. Hmm. Wait. We’re still talking about the Chaos \Monk/ though? The Chaos Monk concentrates his ki into his punches and focuses on destroying things. They’re deadly in hand-to-hand combat.
The Lasserator is deadly in melee combat. The Lasserator concentrates their efforts, training and ki on their melee weapon of choice. The class is clearly inspired by the Hong Kong opera style of movie (Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon) as the Lasserator leaps from tree to tree trading razor sharp and highly accurate sword blows.
We’re told that at high levels the Shadow Warrior is almost impossible to kill. It seems quite likely as they’re able (at 19th level) to turn ethereal. This will make them rather awkward to hit, true. The Shadow Warrior is the ninja inspired monk alternative. They’re the creepy sneaky ones. Oh, and they’re deadly.
The Snake Master makes your usual monk look ineffective. These monks are the masters of combat. In fact they’ve turned away from any pretence of spiritual mastery in favour of learning more butt-kicking moves. The Snake Master’s particular shtick is the pressure point attack. They’re deadly.
Not all the monk alternative monks here prefer to ignore the spiritual side in favour of becoming hot combat machines. The Spiritual Defender is humble and pure. It just so happens the Spiritual Defender finds himself forced into fighting evil in order to defend good. They get their powers from their purity. It shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that the Spiritual Defender is deadly.
It’s perhaps fortunate that on my very first flick through Unorthodox Monks I noticed the paragraph about game balance in the PDF’s introduction. I think it’s impossible to say that “Class Y is too powerful”. It all depends on what type of game you’re in. I prefer low powered games and for me all these monks aren’t balanced. I have many friends who’ll be able to use all five of these alternative classes at once in their cinematic fantasy adventures. Balance is peculiar to your current group of characters in their current setting. It could all change. The Le offer a nod to this and offer some quick suggestions on how to balance these classes for your game. This includes simply tinkering with damage dice or save bonuses. It may seem like common sense but I always appreciate having it black and white.
It might be easy to assume that Unorthodox Monks has simply whacked out five cheap combat classes. Well. Um. They are cheap – only $2 remember. Yeah, they’re combat classes too. But! These aren’t quick and shallow. Each class as between 5 and 6 pages all to itself and that’s more than the core rules allow. One of my pet peeves in third party classes is that they can be uninspiring in their class specials. Power Punch +1, Power Punch +2, +3, +4, +5 and +6 just doesn’t thrill me. We don’t have that problem here. Okay, actually, quite a few of these unorthodox classes do stack up to +5 and +6 specials they’re not at the expense of other abilities. Each unorthodox class, though combat based, does manage to have a unique feel.
It was the artwork which caught my attention the most in Unorthodox Monks. I know expect and demand beautiful ladies in skimpy clothes in every The Le’s product (grin).
… but really there’s a valid point there. Unorthodox Monks represents great value for money. These classes are thorough and well thought out. I just don’t want to use any of them. They concentrate on the most annoying (for me) aspect of the monk class and go to town on them. I think these alternatives are unorthodox only because we might wonder why some of them qualify for ki at all. We don’t really push the monk class much at all here. For me this results in a PDF which scores as many plus points as it does negative points and lands slap bang in the middle of the “good enough” / “acceptable” pigeon hole.
I think I’m on the harsh side of the Unorthodox Monks potential readers but perhaps not a minority. Although this is certain a “pass level” supplement for me I suspect it really will appeal to certain types of monk class fans and I can see it being really useful in certain campaign worlds (I just can’t shake the anime feel here). And again, at $2 it’s not an expensive experiment to find out which category you might be in.