As befits an adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons, the setting of Baldur’s Gate 3 is full of magic and monsters. In such a world, filled as it is with fireballs, necromancy, and animal transformations, it might seem difficult for a character class based on martial arts and spirituality to stand out.
On paper, this is the correct assumption. As written in the Player’s Handbook, the Monk’s abilities amount to little more than some extra dice rolls and a few pseudo-spells; they’re less magical than a Wizard and less physically powerful than a Fighter. It’s no coincidence that, in over a decade of playing and running Dungeons & Dragons games, I’ve only ever seen a Monk played once.
However, Larian Studios has managed to breathe new life into the class. In Baldur’s Gate 3, monks are visually distinctive whirlwinds of death, able to dart across the battlefield while raining deadly strikes down upon whichever poor fool manages to get in their way.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is able to give Monks this new lease on life because of the visual possibilities afforded by the medium of video games. Martial arts are far more impressive when seen than merely described. It’s one thing to read about the deliberate and graceful movements of an accomplished karate practitioner, but another thing entirely to witness them performed.
Punching above their weight
It’s no coincidence that the classes traditionally considered most dull in Dungeons & Dragons place a greater emphasis on physicality. The Rogue, Fighter, and Monk often get a bad rap. Compared to the Eldritch powers of the Warlock or the unfettered musical charisma of the Bard, the Monk-Rogue-Fighter trifecta often seems boring by comparison.
Fighters and Rogues, however, offer versatility and accessibility that can make them more appealing. A Rogue will be skillful and useful in a wide range of situations, while a Fighter is simple to understand and great to have around in, well, a fight.
By offering a cinematic reimagining of the Monk, Larian gives players a new way to appreciate the class
Monks, by contrast, are complex, requiring players to track Qi points and large numbers of attacks. This can be off-putting, especially for new players. Their specialisms are niche too, and, while powerful in the hands of veteran players, are often difficult to unravel. When leveling in D&D, everybody gets to pick a specialism based on their class. While it’s obvious what a Wizard who specializes in Necromancy might do (spoilers: it involves skeletons), the same cannot be said for a Monk dedicated to the Astral Self.
However, by offering a cinematic re-imagining of the Monk, Larian gives players a new way to appreciate the class - by showing, not telling. Rather than simply having a higher movement value on a character sheet, we can see the Monk cross the battlefield at pace, closing gaps with a speed that’s the envy of most other classes. Instead of just rolling more dice at the table, we are treated to the sight of the Monk laying into their enemies with deliberate animations that convey a sense of pinpoint precision.
Larian has also furnished the Monk with unique sound effects and battle cries. Unarmed attacks sound satisfying, each punctuated with a deep and satisfying thud that’s straight out of a kung-fu film. Monks let out pleasing martial yells as they attack, reminiscent of the real-world Japanese Kiai - the practice of shouting during an offensive move. In one particularly impressive detail, the spells available to Monks who choose the Way of the Four Elements specialization boast a different sound design to other forms of magic. Monk spells use chimes, bells, and throat-singing in a way that evokes a sense of reverent spirituality.
As with any of the Baldur’s Gate 3 classes, the fantasy they represent extends off of the battlefield, serving to define a given character’s role in the wider world. Bards make snarky comments, Wizards spout lore, and Druids commune with nature, for example. Monks, however, have something unique to offer the chaotic and fantastical world of Dungeons & Dragons: a sense of calm and tranquility.
Often Monks will give stoic, sage advice, urging those they speak with to look for mindful solutions to their problems. In a way, they’re very reminiscent of Jedi from Star Wars, which comes as no coincidence given their common roots in Pan-Asian spiritualism.
Monks will give stoic, sage advice, urging those they speak with to look for mindful solutions to their problems
It’s one thing to be aware of those roots, however, and another entirely to see them have an active impact on the world. When asked by Withers, the game’s resident undead watcher of souls and preserver of balance, what the worth of an individual life might be, a Monk can offer a response that wholly captures the spirit of the class: “Mortal lives are not ‘single’,” says the Monk, “they are part of a greater whole - a path to enlightenment.”
Similarly, when faced with the offer of joining the forces of the antagonists in Act 2, the Monk can calmly retort: “Those who walk a tranquil path want for nothing. Keep your ‘blessings’.” In short, the Monk is always cool as a cucumber, bringing a specific feeling of serenity to cutscenes that no other class in Baldur’s Gate 3 can manage.
Calm and collected, they are the eye of the storm at the heart of the frantic chaos and violence that surrounds them. To play as a Monk is to rise above the petty concerns and materialistic desires of those around you - at least, that’s how Larian’s D&D adaptation makes you feel. Though Monks in Baldur’s Gate 3 embody a distinctive kung-fu aesthetic, they are so much more than just their appearance. Thanks to Larian Studios, the Monk has been lifted off of the page and graced with an adaptation that fulfills the promise of the class. Thanks to this cinematic realization, I have a brand new appreciation for one of D&D’s more overlooked classes.