Monks make a careful study of magical energy that most monastic traditions call ki. This energy is an element of the magic that suffuses the multiverse—specifically, the element that flows through living bodies. Monks harness this power within themselves to create magical effects and exceed their bodies’ physical capabilities, and some of their special attacks can hinder the flow of ki in their opponents. Using this energy, monks channel uncanny speed and strength into their unarmed strikes. As they gain experience, their martial training and their mastery of ki gives them more power over their bodies and the bodies of their foes.
Small walled cloisters dot the landscapes of the lands of Palodar, tiny refuges from the flow of ordinary life, where time seems to standstill. The monks who live there seek personal perfection through contemplation and rigorous training. Many entered the monastery as children, sent to live there when their parents died, when food couldn’t be found to support them, or in return for some kindness that the monks had performed for their families.
Some monks live entirely apart from the surrounding population, secluded from anything that might impede their spiritual progress. Others are sworn to isolation, emerging only to serve as spies or assassins at the command of their leader, a noble patron, or some other mortal or divine power.
The majority of monks don’t shun their neighbors, making frequent visits to nearby towns or villages and exchanging their services for food and other goods. As versatile warriors, monks often end up protecting their neighbors from monsters or tyrants.
For a monk, becoming an adventurer means leaving a structured, communal lifestyle to become a wanderer. This can be a harsh transition, and monks don’t undertake it lightly. Those who leave their cloisters take their work seriously, approaching their adventures as personal tests of their physical and spiritual growth. As a rule, monks care little for material wealth and are driven by a desire to accomplish a greater mission than merely slaying monsters and plundering their treasure.
Way of Mercy
Monks of the Way of Mercy learn to manipulate the life force of others to bring aid to those in need. They are wandering physicians to the poor and hurt. However, to those beyond their help, they bring a swift end as an act of mercy.
Those who follow the Way of Mercy might be members of a religious order, administering to the needy and making grim choices rooted in reality rather than idealism. Some might be gentle-voiced healers, beloved by their communities, while others might be masked bringers of macabre mercies.
The walkers of this way usually don robes with deep cowls, and they often conceal their faces with masks, presenting themselves as the faceless bringers of life and death.
Way of Shadow
Monks of the Way of Shadow follow a tradition that values stealth and subterfuge. These monks might be called ninjas or shadow dancers, and they serve as spies and assassins. Sometimes the members of a ninja monastery are family members, forming a clan sworn to secrecy about their arts and missions. Other monasteries are more like thieves’ guilds, hiring out their services to nobles, rich merchants, or anyone else who can pay their fees. Regardless of their methods, the heads of these monasteries expect the unquestioning obedience of their students.
Way of the Astral Self
A monk who follows the Way of the Astral Self believes their body is an illusion. They see their ki as a representation of their true form, an astral self. This astral self has the capacity to be a force of order or disorder, with some monasteries training students to use their power to protect the weak and other instructing aspirants in how to manifest their true selves in service to the mighty.
Way of the Cobalt Soul
Driven by the pursuit of knowledge and their worship of the Knowing Mentor, the archives of the Cobalt Soul stand as some of the most well-respected and most heavily guarded repositories of tomes, history, and information across Palodar. Here, young people seeking the clarity of truth and the strength of knowledge pledge to learn the arts of seeking enlightenment by understanding the world around them, and mastering the techniques to defend it. To become a Cobalt Soul is to give one’s self to the quest for unveiling life’s mysteries, bringing light to the secrets of the dark, and guarding the most powerful and dangerous of truths against those who would seek to perverse the sanctity of civilization.
The monks of the Cobalt Soul are the embodiment of the phrase “know your enemy”. Through research, they prepare themselves against the ever-coming tides of evil. Through careful training, they have learned to puncture and manipulate the spiritual flow of an opponent’s body. Through understanding the secrets of their foe, they can adapt and surmount them. Then, once the fight is done, they return to record their findings for future generations of monks to study.
Way of the Drunken Master
The Way of the Drunken Master teaches its students to move with the jerky, unpredictable movements of a drunkard. A drunken master sways, tottering on unsteady feet, to present what seems like an incompetent combatant who proves frustrating to engage. The drunken master’s erratic stumbles conceal a carefully executed dance of blocks, parries, advances, attacks, and retreats.
A drunken master often enjoys playing the fool to bring gladness to the despondent or to demonstrate humility to the arrogant, but when a battle is joined, the drunken master can be a maddening, masterful foe.
Way of the Fisherman
Monks of the Way of the Fisherman never strike first, but are determined to strike last. Basing their technique on the humble fisherman, these monks learn to take a hit and return it with twice the force, along with abilities to ensnare and trap enemies if they can.
Way of the Four Elements
You follow a monastic tradition that teaches you to harness the elements. When you focus your ki, you can align yourself with the forces of creation and bend the four elements to your will, using them as an extension of your body. Some members of this tradition dedicate themselves to a single element, but others weave the elements together.
Many monks of this tradition tattoo their bodies with representations of their ki powers, commonly imagined as coiling dragons, but also as phoenixes, fish, plants, mountains, and cresting waves.
Way of the Great Sage
Monks who follow the Way of the Great Sage believe that to be enlightened is to stray from the norm and forge your own destiny. Question the laws created by man and even deviate from the path set by the gods as you grow and walk your own path of deception and strength.
When you choose this tradition you learn that deception and trickery can be as useful as wisdom and strength in taking hold of your fate and making it your own.
Way of the Kensei
Monks of the Way of the Kensei train relentlessly with their weapons, to the point where the weapon becomes an extension of the body. Founded on a mastery of sword fighting, the tradition has expanded to include many different weapons.
A kensei sees a weapon in much the same way a calligrapher or painter regards a pen or brush. Whatever the weapon, the kensei views it as a tool used to express the beauty and precision of the martial arts. That such mastery makes a kensei a peerless warrior is but a side effect of intense devotion, practice, and study.
Way of the Long Death
Monks of the Way of the Long Death are obsessed with the meaning and mechanics of dying. They capture creatures and prepare elaborate experiments to capture, record, and understand the moments of their demise. They then use this knowledge to guide their understanding of martial arts, yielding a deadly fighting style.
Way of the Solitary Mountain
The mountain possesses a quiet strength and an unfailing resilience that stands against the cruelest storms. However, when moved to action, nothing can stand in its path as it becomes an entity of tremendous force. Inspired by the creatures of the Elemental Earth the Way of the Solitary Mountain was developed by those who wished to stand as bulwark against the terrors of the world.
Way of the Sun Soul
Monks of the Way of the Sun Soul learn to channel their life energy into searing bolts of light. They teach that meditation can unlock the ability to unleash the indomitable light shed by the soul of every living creature.