Monk / Barb or Barb / Monk


I want to build a High Strength unarmed martial and like the idea of combining the monk and the barbarian but can't decide which way to do the build.

For the Monk/Barb
I like Monk Mountain Stance as base picking up some Barb Feats E.g No Escape and an instinct ability, they all look good honestly and getting a bit more health.

For the Barb/Monk
Go Dragon Barb and go Monk to get Dragon/Mountain Stance and associated feats as well as flurry of blows and have the lower defenses but rely on the high damage bonuses from Barbarian.

Thoughts on these options?

I think in general monk first offers better defensive scaling with saves and unarmored AC, but barbarian first offers more health and offensive options. So it depends on whether you want to be an all-out attack character or you want to focus on staying standing. I think barb/monk could also focus well on using maneuvers, dragon stance stomp, and other things to remove enemy actions, to reduce damage, to make up for slightly lower defenses.

If unarmed is your main concept than Monk wins out (unless you want Animal Instinct). Flurry at 1st w/ Stunning Fist 2nd is much better than at 10th & 12th! And you don't have to wait until 2nd to punch...and only at 1d6 until 4th for a Stance.
And in both builds you sorta need to be unarmored (at least if using a Monk's Stance), which is where a Monk's proficiency makes for much better defense than a Barbarian's hit points.

Let's say you go w/ Monk. Then decide if you want the barbarian flavor, which can be done w/o being a Barbarian. Monks have lots of meaty options that can be skinned as savage maneuvers, so your PC could say they're a Barbarian and not be.
Then there's Rage which is good, and I think worth the feat, but doesn't work well w/ ki focus spells, if you like those.
No Escape may be unnecessary for a Monk who can close & flurry anyway (even if slower w/ Mountain Stance) and Stand Still seems the better feat for a good Reaction.
I'm not sure any of the Barbarian feats are particularly helpful compared to Monk feats except for specific builds/tactics which you haven't mentioned.

I probably should have clarified that this character is starting at level 6 so the slow low level build up is not really an issue.

The point about going animal barbarian is probably valid over any of the others and supplementing that with some of the monk mobility options. The major benefit is the massively increased damage on a hit due to rage and specialization bonuses.

Though an option I just saw is the Giant Barbarian option, thought not sure if it could apply to get major bonuses to stuff like whirling throw and really go in on the grappling taking the bonuses from both monk and Barb.

Monk indeed, since, as others pointed out, you mean to go unarmed.

I think the idea of barbarian with monk stances is potentially a little clumsy since you'll need to use two actions just to get into rage and your stance. Rage also inherently works against the AC bonus you might be shooting with a mountain stance build. In that regard, I agree that if you're going to blend the two you should probably consider Monk base with minor emphasis on rage as a damage boost or do Animal Instinct barbarian with less emphasis on monk stances.

Hypothetical Level 6 Options (emphasis on defense):

Monk Base, Mountain Stance (1) + Mountain Stronghold (6) + Barbarian Dedication (2) for Rage

  • 24 AC = 6 (level) + 4 (expert) + 1 (dex, stronghold) + 4 (status, stance) - 1 (rage)
  • Takes two actions to get into stance, +5 movement thanks to monk
  • Only leaves you the level 4 feat open for other stuff
  • Dropping stronghold leaves you down 1 AC and frees a feat

Barbarian Base, Dragon Instinct, Monk Dedication (2), Mountain Stance (4)

  • 21 AC = 6 (level) + 2 (trained) + 4 (status) - 1 rage
  • Takes two actions to get into stance + rage - movement speed
  • Leaves level 1 and 6 feats open but you're slower and have the worst AC

    Barbarian Base, Animal Instinct, Monk Dedication (2), Animal Hide (6)

  • 24 AC = 6 (level) + 4 (expert) + 3 (dex) + 1 (status)
  • Takes 1 action to rage, granting armor + rage
  • Leaves you the level 1 and 4 class feats open for other stuff


    An theoretical animal instinct / monk build (leaving most skill and general feats free) that tries to blend unarmed attacks, decent defense, and some monk flavor.

    Barbarian (Animal Instinct - Snake or Snark) This gives you a strong natural attack, 1d10 piercing, with grapple so you have a way to scale up your athletics checks as you get item bonuses to natural attacks.

    1) (Class) Sudden Charge - Lets you get into combat quickly. Your first round is probably rage + sudden charge to get right up in someone's face. Could easily swap to another 1st level barbarian feat
    2) (Class) Monk Dedication - Your fists (bludgeoning) are now 1d6. This is usually a little wasted, but for you it gives you a different unarmed damage type to use while raging without violating your anathema
    2) (Skill) Titan Wrestler - you can now grapple bigger opponents
    4) (Class) Basic Kata - Crushing Grab. You now get to apply damage when you grapple
    6) (Class) Animal Skin - your rage now boosts your AC instead of decreasing it if you wanted to go the unarmored route. Starting with a 14 dex and boosting to 16 at 5 gives you a very strong AC without mountain stance (see above)
    8) (Class) Thrash - At this level, you can now do your rage + sudden charge combo in the first round or rage + stride + grapple. The next round you grapple, doing strength damage, and then attack at -5 and thrash (not an attack action) or thrash twice if you're having a hard time hitting for some reason. Furious Bully is also an option if you wanted to juice athletics further.
    10) (Class) Flurry - you can now bite twice for a single action.

  • Thank you for that comprehensive response. It was very helpful.

    I see the issue with the AC reduction with a non-animal Barbarian base, it's not the end of the world but it is one lower than a normal barbarian in medium armour. Though if I was going with the dragon build I would with a high dex build going into stealth and also using dragon stance. Really lean into the Dragon theme. The 2 actions at the start isn't too big of an issue, and can be assisted by wounded rage and similar feats. Entirely resolves at level 12.

    I think I'm going more towards the Monk base for the other 2 options, pick up raging intimidation for the free skill feats and demoralize while raging with the level 4 feat. The set up turn is what it is but I think that it can work alright.

    The Animal Barbarian build works really well but I don't think it is quite what I'm looking for, though filed for a future character.

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