Breaking Class Sterotypes: the Monk

Since the original post was deleted in the relevant sub, I re-upped it here.

I’ve been seeing quite a few posts of late on /r/Pathfinder_RPG in which the OP completely misrepresents a class. Common statements made include:

  • “I don’t want to play a cleric because I don’t want to be stuck healing everyone and not fight.”
  • “My DM isn’t allowing monks in my game because there’s no Asian setting in his world.”
  • “I don’t want to play the bard because they’re lame/I don’t want to play a singer/they’re faggy(I’m paraphrasing – for the record, this is other people’s opinions, not mine. I like bards, and have no problems with “Broadway Personalities”).

In response to statements like these, I’m writing a short series of articles to help dispel some of these stereotypes and myths. This is the first of an as-yet undefined number.

The Monk

AD&D First Edition

The main reasons that people have the misconception that the monk is an “Asian” class (whatever THAT means) is chiefly due to a few reasons: its second iteration in First Edition, the Third (and a half) Edition iterations, it’s current Pathfinder iconic, Sajan, anime monks like Goku, Krillin, and Dhalsim (Street Fighter), and the wave of kung fu, ninja, and other asian exploitation fad movies from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

The monk was introduced all the way back in AD&D 1e. It was billed as being “the hardest to qualify for, and perhaps the most deadly.” To qualify for it, one had to have Str 15, Dex 15, Con 11, and Wis 15 (one had to qualify for your classes before you could take them – it was a strange time).

Quoting from the Players’ Handbook:

“Monks are ascetics who practice rigorous mental and physical training and discipline in order to become superior. Therefore they must always be lawful in alignment, although they can be evil, good, or neutral with respect to their approach to lawfulness. A monk who for any reason loses this lawful alignment loses all monk abilities and must begin again as a first level character (the old ways were harsh AF).”

The rest of the class description deal with their number of attacks, the weapons they can use and their abilities, none of which will be relevant to this article.

As you can see, nowhere does it say that they are of Asian origin; while the class is undoubtedly inspired by various Eastern Asian real-world monks, the flavor is left entirely to the player.

Until Oriental Adventures, that is.

Oriental Adventures09-oriental-adventures

Oriental Adventures was an AD&D supplement which provided material for running a campaign in an Asian-flavored setting, complete with mythology and classes but also included updated mechanics. By this time the monk was fully Asianized. The changes in mechanics served the community well, but the die was cast and monks were fated forever to be “Asian”.

Third Edition and Fifth Edition

Second edition skipped the monk as a core class for whatever reason, but it was reintroduced as a kit (sort of an archetype) for clerics. It wasn’t reintroduced as a class until the Third Edition Oriental Adventures sourcebook was released. Obviously, with a name like “Oriental Adventures” you weren’t going to see a Friar Tuck type monk emerge. While archetypes had been introduced in 2nd edition, none of the monk archetypes were of anything other than Asian in flavor, and the overall mechanics of archetypes didn’t mature until 3e. Even so, there scipoumweren’t any monk archtypes which broke the Asian mold.

I’m not familiar with 5e, so I won’t try to speak about that system.

The Problem with Monks

Monks still suffer from this typecasting today. Many, many people hear “monk” and they instantly think of the Bruce Lee type (martial artist and weapon master archtypes), the Pai Mei (qinggong sensei) type, or the Mr. Miyagi (lotus sensei) type, possibly Jackie Chan’s drunken master. People hear “monk” and they think of this guy. Or this guy. Maybe even this guy.

If that’s the case, then you’re only getting half the story.

“Monks” aren’t solely Asian

Many non-Asian countries and cultures have a history of unarmed combat: Russia (Krav Maga), Iceland (Gilma, developed by the Vikings), England (Bartitsu), France (Savete), Aboriginal Americans (Okichitaw and others), Brazil (Capoiera), the Ancient Greeks and Romans (Pankration and Greco-Roman Wrestling), and Germany (Ringen). Asia doesn’t have a monopoly on unarmed fighting techniques; they’re simply the most visible right now.

The Misinterpretation of the term “Martial Art”

Martial art means “art of fighting”, not “tiny screaming asians in robes”. This is the very definition of “stereotype”. Long before Bruce Lee burst on the scene, boxing (a martial art) was extremely popular in North America. “Fisticuffs, the Manly Art of Boxing” was extremely popular in England. Martial artists include wrestlers (yes, even the WWE kind), practitioners of Tai Chi, boxers, fencers, swordsmen, archers, crossbowmen, and wielders of quarterstaves. In addition to tiny screaming Asian men. If you recall, the fighting classes of PF are called “martial” classes. They practice the martial arts. Modern soldiers are also martial artists, as they learn the art of war.

Global Monastic Traditions

Monasticism isn’t new, nor is it solely relegated to Asia.

The fact of the matter is that European and Middle Eastern countries and cultures also have their monks. Stop me if you have never heard of Robin Hood and his Band of Merry Men. One of whom was Friar Tuck, a Franciscan monk complete with quarterstaff, tankard of ale, brown robes, and tonsure. Friar Tuck is the very embodiment of a Drunken Master Sensei who has taken a Vow of Poverty and the Improvised Weapon Mastery feat, as he also uses his tankard in combat. Friar Carl, from Van Helsing. Fray Felipe from Zorro. The Monk from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Frere Jacques of the eponymous children’s song, Frere Jacques (Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques, dorme vous? Dorme vous?). I realize that most of these examples don’t fall under most people’s idea of a master of battle, but the more pacifistic of them would likely be Monks of the Lotus Sensei, using words and guidance rather than actively engaging in combat, or else have entirely mediocre stat arrays.

Stepping outside of Europe and into Asia Minor:

Jainism is a pacifist religion which originated in India and has a strong monastic tradition. In fact, monasticism is both encouraged and respected. The most extreme Jain will go about life naked, possessionless, and penniless, and will go far out of his way to avoid causing the death of any creature, almost to the point of paralysis for fear of treading on an ant. when moving about.

You know the guys in orange robes who pester you at the airport? Hare Krishna monks. Again, pacifists.

Manichaeism is a Persian (Iraqi) religion founded in the 3rd century BC. It was divided into two types of followers, the auditors, and the elect. The elect lived apart from the auditors to concentrate on reducing the material influences of the world. They did this through strict celibacy, poverty, teaching, and preaching. Therefore, the elect were probably at least partially monastic.

And lastly, Scientology has monks and nuns. Ask your DM about playing a Scientologist monk today!

A Different Point of View

“Monk” doesn’t mean “actually a monk”. Like everything else in Pathfinder, the label for the class represents a set of abilities, skills, and proficiencies which are collectively called “Monk”. Your class does not define your character, it’s just your class’ skills and abilities. It’s not necessary to take it literally, although you can.

“Monk” could mean “simple farmer who has used farm implements his whole life and meditates while milking his cows, developing his focus, and practice-fighting with his brothers, and other family members”.

It could mean “young boy who lives at the edge of a forest with his family and discovers that if he focuses his concentration to a fine point he has an incredible talent for unerringly putting arrows onto a target”.

It could mean “A woman who, after many years of being abused by the men in her small village, practices hard and discovers a core of power within her which allows her to perform incredible feats and defend not only herself but others who are less fortunate, but only if she maintains her strict, daily regimen and constant focus, which requires her to eschew most creature comforts”.

Shaolin monks are but one example of this type of lifestyle from one specific corner of the world, and the most visible example of monk in common culture. It could even be argued that farmers are a variety of monk: they often live simple lives that adhere rigidly to a fixed routine and undergo constant physical training, endure great mental stress, are often materially poor, are familiar with a wide variety of simple weapons, and could even be said to possess a Ki pool as they also often spend a great deal of time in isolation and concentrating their focus and energy.

Non-Asian Monks in Popular Culture

Hawkeye from Avengers is a Zen Archer Monk.5195357-hawkcw

Does this guy look Asian to you?

Chuck from Chuck is a monk. Jedi are monks. Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, and Agent Smith are monks. Bane is a Tretori monk (or possibly a Brawler). Spock is a monk. The Tick is a monk.

 

I hope that you, Dear Reader, have gained some insight as to the nature of monasticism and asceticism and learned that “monk” doesn’t have to mean “screaming tiny Asian guy”, but can refer to anyone who lives modestly in accordance to a code and adheres to a monastic lifestyle, eschewing many creature comforts in an attempt to better themselves.

Let me know in the comments which class you’d like me tackle next: Bard or Cleric.

Happy Gaming!

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Depression: The World’s Most Popular Endurance Race

DepbrainThis post has unusually somber tone for my blog. Depending on your reaction, I apologize, or fuck you, it’s my blog.

You can sort out who’s who.

Some, but not all of you know that I’ve been wrestling with bout of severe depression for the past several years. While I’ve received support from the most unlikely of places, I have also received counter-support from even unlikelier sources. I didn’t write this post as a means of whingeing about my state, but as a means for people to understand exactly what all sufferers of depression experience, and how we go through our daily lives.

I know a lot of people won’t get it. I know a lot of people will say, “Come on, stop being such a pussy and snap out of it.” or “Well, that’s life. Get over it.” or “Stop complaining! There are so many people who have it worse than you do.” or “Oh, come on, everyone gets depressed. You just need to put things in perspective.”

I envy those people. I envy them because they don’t understand. I envy them because they’ve never experienced true depression.

Continue reading

Yellow Bird Flies Through The Green Hell

Chances are, you think that when I say “Yellow Bird”  I mean an actual bird, a canary perhaps.

You’d be wrong.

What I do mean is the 1987 RUF CTR “Yellowbird”. But first things first.

The Nürburgring.

“For a quick lap at the Nürburgring, you’ve probably experienced more in seven minutes…than most people have experienced in all their life in the way of fear, in the way of tension, in the way of animosity towards machinery and to a racetrack.” —Sir Jackie Stewart

Welcome to Hell.

Welcome to Hell.

The Nürburgring-Nordschleife (as it’s properly known) is the toughest, scariest, longest, most challenging, most dangerous, most intense and most insane race track in the world. It’s 23km long (14 mi). It has more than 100  corners (numbers vary from 98 up to 147, depending on who you ask). It’s so large, entire towns are contained within it. Since opening in 1927, Nordschleife has claimed more than 200 lives and collects between 3 and 12 more every year. Famed race driver Niki Lauda was badly burned after crashing his Ferrari at the left-hand kink just before the Bergwerk carousel. It’s so infamous that Sir Jackie Stewart dubbed it  “The Green Hell”, partly for its level of danger, partly for its verdant scenery. It is so iconic that it has been featured in almost every console car-racing game since 1998.

So it would seem virtual suicide to take one of the fastest, most powerful, most wrongly-designed cars ever and put it on the Nürburgring.

Continue reading

Merry Christmas, The End Is Near

And quite frankly, I’m looking forward to it.

christmas-lollipop-with-santa-hat

This is you.

In keeping with the spirit of the holidays, I’m going to help dismiss any fears that the world will end by administering a healthy dose of logic, reasoning, irony, nawlij and wit.

Tomorrow, the world dies. At least, according to the Mayan calendar (or rather, a poorly-interpreted version of it). Variously, the end shall come by way of:

1. Solar Maximum, which is a period of high activity from our sun during a regularly-occurring 11-year solar cycle.
2. Interaction with our galactic supermassive black hole (Abbreviated to SMBH herein) at the center of the Milky Way (which, incidentally is the reason we’re here in the first place.
3. (And this one is my personal favorite) Collision with the rogue planet Nibiru.

SPOILER ALERT!

The world isn’t going to end. If you (or any of your peers) believe this to be true, then I do believe I have a bridge you may be interested in purchasing.

If you believe that the world will end on the 20th of December, 2012, did you just fall off the turnip wagon?

Continue reading

Best Joke I’ve Heard of Late

Janine was planning a trip to Halifax for business. Her friend Rebecca learned of it urged Janine to absolutely find the best place in town for scrod, a local fish delicacy and to try when she had the chance. Janine faithfully promised her friend that absolutely, yes, she would make time in her schedule to do so.

The week passes with every day being far too busy and Janine too occupied to live up to her promise. In fact, her schedule is so busy that almost the entirety of the week passes by before Janine remembers, finally, on the last day of her visit to Halifax, the promise she had made before she left. Being mindful of this and as her last day of meetings ended early, she decides to go out for dinner and sample the dish.

After a visit to her hotel room for a brief freshening up and a change of clothing, she stepped out of her hotel and hailed a cab.

“Where to, Miss?” asks the cabbie.

“Well, I’ve been in town all week,” she admits, slightly embarassed, “and my schedule hasn’t let me keep a promise I made to my friend. Tonight is the last night that I am here and have the chance to keep it. I would like you to take me to the finest place in town to get scrod.”

The cabbie turns around to face her and looks her square in the eye.

“Miss,’ he said, with a mixture of surprise, disbelief, and grudging respect in his voice, “I’ve been driving cab for 32 years. I’ve had a lot of people ask me that question in a lot of different ways.”

“But this is the first time I’ve had it asked in the pluperfect subjunctive.”

/joke

And pause.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t get it.

Love Letter To The Lost (You Know Who You Are)

In this posting, I post a love letter to an anonymous recipient. While this particular post is out of the usual character of DogsinPants, and is also deeply personal, I was convinced by a friend that it was too good not to publish. Names and dates have been changed to ensure anonymity. The reader is addressed directly — “My Dear X” — a format borrowed from the Art of Mentoring series.

December 14, xxxx

Dear X,

Today is the anniversary of the last day I saw you with my own eyes. To say the least, it’s been a day of reflection for me. I often spend time in memory, most of that is memory of you, if I’m honest.

I miss you. There hasn’t been a single day since I left that I haven’t thought of you. I know you don’t want to get maudlin about it so I won’t dwell on it, but I had to tell you.

I’m sorry it took so long to send you your things; I wanted to send them long before now but I didn’t want to send them without a letter, and this letter has taken me a long time to write, just to get my head in the right place and to find the right words and to be really sure about the things I said. I didn’t want to get them wrong. Continue reading

Strangers in a Strange Land: When I Mother Earth Came Back From Mars

It’s official: I Mother Earth are reuniting for a one-off show at The Sound Academy in Toronto on February March 23rd. This will be the first time IME have performed together live in  8 years. Tickets went on sale this Saturday past and were sold out within 5 hours. To fans like myself the possibilities are tantalizing: Jag has mentioned on the band’s blog that the response was surprising, as he hardly expected them to sell out so quickly. To fans like myself there’s no surprise at all, just a sense of, “Finally!” This has no doubt spurred speculation as to whether IME will reunite for another album and Jag has even gone so far as to mention that they have been working on tracks, but without serious intent.  Perhaps that will change after this show. Continue reading