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The Monk is one of the player roles in NetHack. Monks are always human, and can be lawful, neutral, or chaotic. They are martial artists conforming to the "Shaolin Monk" stereotype. From the guidebook:

Monks are ascetics, who by rigorous practice of physical and mental disciplines have become capable of fighting as effectively without weapons as with. They wear no armor but make up for it with increased mobility.

The Monk is a good choice for a player who wants to practice both magic and hand-to-hand combat, but isn't interested in using weapons. It is a good class with which to achieve conducts.

Monks know all nonmagical armors from the start. Their special spell is restore ability. When crowned, they get a spellbook of restore ability instead of the standard crowning sword.

Starting equipment

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

As of commit d452242a, Monks can no longer start with sleep. Instead they can start with confuse monster.

As of commit 9d910773, Monks start with a 25% chance of a magic marker (19–23 charges) and 7.5% chance of an oil lamp.


Monks gain intrinsics at these experience levels:[5]

In essence, Monks automatically acquire all of the intrinsics granted by crowning (and then some) by the time they reach level 17.


Monk skills
Max Skills
Grand Master

Monks start with Basic skill in Martial arts and Healing spells. The initial spellcasting skills are hardcoded in the function skill_init in weapon.c, so even Monks starting with other spellbooks than healing start unskilled in Clerical or Enchantment, but still basic skilled in Healing.

Special rules

Monks have a multishot bonus for throwing shuriken.

The things that make a Monk unique are the penalties imposed for non-Monkish behavior:


Monks feel guilty about eating non-vegetarian food, and suffer a small alignment penalty (-1 alignment) for doing so. As compensation for this, they gain intrinsics rapidly as they level up. The penalty can be considered a fair price for getting otherwise tricky to find intrinsics, such as telepathy or disintegration resistance. Because of these intrinsics, many players who want to play a vegetarian, vegan, or foodless character choose Monk. However, in general Monks should not feel required to maintain the vegetarian conduct. Unless they eat enough meat to make their alignment negative they shouldn't have any problems. This also provides an additional easy way for Monks to keep their alignment low enough to avoid crowning.

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

When Minetown is generated (but not loaded from bones), any delicatessen is converted to a health food store. (This was intended to already be implemented, but due to a bug, only the shopkeeper's name is affected.)

Fasting and over-eating

For monks, being weak from hunger exercises wisdom, but still abuses strength as with other roles.[6] Being satiated abuses a monk's wisdom in addition to the normal abuse of dexterity experienced by all roles.[7] The exercise/abuse is registered on turns whose number is a multiple of 10.

No body armor, no shield

Monks are penalized for wearing body armor (all armors and mails; this doesn't include robes, cloaks and shirts) with a -20 to-hit penalty.[8] Other types of armor (boots, gloves, and helms) carry no penalty. For a low-level Monk it is virtually impossible to hit while wearing body armor. However, some players start using body armor once they have reached a high experience level with enough dexterity, strength and luck to overcome the to-hit penalty. The armor penalty doesn't apply if you are polymorphed, so a Monk that gets his hands on a ring of polymorph control can turn into, say, a vampire lord and have no problem hitting while wearing armor.

Monks get an additional hit bonus when not wearing a body armor, not using a shield, and not wielding a weapon. This bonus is experience level / 3 + 2.

Wearing a shield or body armor makes a Monk incapable of dealing a "staggering blow", reducing his or her effectiveness in martial arts.


Character creation

For Monks planning to switch from martial arts to a weapon at some point, your best option is a sacrifice gift. In this case, lawful monks are most likely to receive a viable artifact weapon sooner due to the lineup of artifact long swords, which unrestricts the skill and allows basic-skilled usage of Excalibur; there is also the option of shooting for Grayswandir. Neutral sacrifice gifts are less reliable, while chaotic gifts are mostly useless; additionally, monks receive a different crowning gift from most other roles in the spellbook of restore ability, and thus will have to either carry the book or wield an artifact in order to receive a more 'standard' crowning gift. A neutral Monk has the option of wishing for the Staff of Aesculapius, the only artifact weapon they can naturally reach Basic skill in, although the usual risks and perils of wishing for an artifact apply.

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

Demonbane is now a mace, so lawful Monks aren't guaranteed to get Grayswandir or unrestricted long sword skill as their first gift. They have an 89% chance of receiving one or the other in at most two gifts.

For those planning to maintain weaponless conduct, chaotic Monks will have an easier time dealing with the mysterious force, and chaotic gods also grant more prayer timeout reduction from sacrifice, making it easier to farm spellbooks from an altar.

Early game


Monks are pretty capable fighters in the early game. Martial arts do good enough damage, and the Monk's starting inventory is just fine. Many of the weapons and armor lying around in the early game are of little use. It is probably best to focus on learning spells and gaining protection.

It is very likely that an amulet of reflection will be your source of reflection for the entire game, so heading to Sokoban early is a good idea.


Monks can often get through the early game (or the entire game) with no weapons at all. If you really feel you need a ranged weapon, crossbows are plentiful in the Mines but wielding one is a hazard to any weaponless attempt. Shuriken are good if you can find some, but are subject to breakage. A small stack of spears, although heavy, is normally easily obtainable.

A Monk is probably the best role for attempting a weaponless conduct, since they can train up to Grand Master in martial arts. Indeed, at early stages of the games, hands are the best "weapon" for a Monk. There is no actual penalty for using weapons, but Monks can attain proficiency in very few weapon skills.


The 20 points to-hit penalty for wearing body armor is huge. This makes body armor entirely infeasible, except for pacifists. You should find a good helm and shoes, however, even if they are metallic. Keep your robe safe: it massively boosts your spellcasting and will be hard to replace early on.

At the early stages of the game, it is not recommended to use a shield, as you lose your hit bonus for not using a shield or weapon, and it will additionally harm your spellcasting.


All of the three possible starting spells are useful if used in conjuction with martial arts. Healing lets you fight longer, sleep prevents your enemies from fighting back, and protection can make up for armor deficiencies (if you cast it before going into your fights).

Monk is the only role other than Wizard that can achieve at least a Basic proficiency in every magical school. This broad array of possible spells is useful for any Monk, but especially for one attempting a weaponless conduct.

The starting robe gives Monks a massive bonus to spellcasting as well, twice what any other role gets from wearing one. Even taking into account base spellcasting penalties, a Monk with a robe will still enjoy a better total bonus than even a Wizard.

Monks do not have the hungerless spellcasting available to Wizards, so wearing a ring of slow digestion is especially useful.

Mid game


Maximize your Luck as soon as possible once you get a luckstone. Once you have maximized your luck and have a good experience level, start trying on body armor to see if you can hit consistently. If you can, a lot of the problems surrounding armor will be resolved.

Monks have one of the toughest quests in NetHack. Master Kaen is legendarily difficult, and because he is a spellcaster you will want magic resistance before you meet him. Be sure to read up on his weaknesses. The phasing monsters on the Quest can swarm around you no matter where you hide. Combining all that with your difficult armor choices makes it likely that you will need to wait until after completing the Castle to embark on the Quest. Kaen is vulnerable to the effects of a scroll of scare monster, making the fight with him much easier, so finishing the Castle shouldn't be as necessary if you have one.

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

The scroll of scare monster no longer works on any @ or unique monster.

Assembling an ascension kit can be a bit of a puzzle, seeing as you will likely avoid body armor and shields. Your alignment becomes very important once you start wishing for artifacts.

If you decide to wish for artifacts, try to obtain magic resistance first (slotless if possible), and then half damage if you can get some. There are no lawful half physical damage artifacts, an important consideration given a Monk's AC challenges. Neutrals can get the weighty Orb of Fate for this, but for a spellcaster, the energy regeneration and branchporting of the Eye of the Aethiopica might be better. Neutrals can also sacrifice for Magicbane to get magic resistance and unrestrict dagger skill as a bonus. Chaotic Monks can get half physical damage via the Master Key of Thievery.


Typically, the only weapon worth using is a good, well-enchanted artifact weapon. Otherwise, bare-handed attacks will be more effective due to being restricted in almost every weapon skill. To unlock a skill, you need to obtain a weapon of the same skill by sacrificing or by crowning.


You should always wear a shield if you are wielding a weapon, as there is no additional penalty for using both a weapon and a shield. Since shields harm spellcasting, wear either a small shield, which is not that bad, or a shield of reflection, whose benefit of reflection is worth the spellcasting penalty.

As for body armor, some players do not wear body armor at all. Most players do wear body armor during the middle or late game, as it solves a lot of problems.

Avoiding body armor

It is very important to lower your AC by all means. Another problem is obtaining magic resistance and magic cancellation. If you cannot hit anything while wearing body armor, and cannot get an artifact offering magic resistance, you might need to forego your robe in favor of a cloak of magic resistance.

If you have no magic resistance, polymorph traps will be a serious problem, as stepping on one can destroy your cloak and/or shirt. Wear a ring of polymorph control or amulet of unchanging (unless you have a better amulet) to prevent unwanted polymorphing. If you have neither, wear disposable junk armor below level 9. Automatic searching can also help you find and avoid polymorph traps, especially if you also have high Luck.

Wearing body armor

The only body armors which are worth the downsides are gray dragon scale mail and silver dragon scale mail. Picking one over the other depends on which extrinsics you already have from other sources.

If you can almost but not quite hit consistently while wearing body armor, try augmenting your to-hit bonus with gauntlets of dexterity or a ring of increase accuracy, or further increasing your experience level.

For Monks wearing body armor, it is a good idea to get rid of the penalty by self-polymorphing before the most demanding tasks, like killing Master Kaen; see the relevant section on polymorph control for a list of creatures who can wear all armor. Alternatively, you may simply remove your own body armor before the fight, provided your AC is good enough without it.


Maxing out your healing and clerical spellcasting skills is probably not worth it if you can keep wearing your robe. Neutral Monks who cast lots of spells will likely want to wish for the Eye of the Aethiopica for energy regeneration.

Late game


In addition to rounding out your ascension kit, you might also want a silver object for fighting undead and demons in Gehennom. Weaponless Monks can remove their gloves and wear a silver ring for attacking shades, or wield a silver non-weapon such as the Bell of Opening.

The crowning gift of a spellbook of restore ability is often considered worthless, as its primary function will have long been superseded by the unicorn horn, and a blessed potion of restore ability can also serve the same purpose while additionally restoring lost levels. Both this and the Monk's obtainable intrinsics from gaining experience levels suggest that a Monk player should probably avoid being crowned, so as to preserve a shorter prayer timeout.

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

Unicorn horns can no longer restore reduced attributes in vanilla NetHack, so the value of this spell has increased.


A highly-enchanted double-damage weapon like one of the Brands, even at Unskilled, will do significantly more damage than martial arts at Grand Master level. See The Monk FAQ for an in-depth comparison of average damage. Monks not attempting the weaponless conduct may want to switch to using an artifact weapon once they get something powerful enough (and once they are high enough level to hit monsters even with the Unskilled to-hit penalty). Alternatively, using their existing weapon skills, a fully enchanted silver spear can also be effective, especially in Gehennom against the numerous silver-hating foes there.

Obtaining weapons through sacrifice will unrestrict the relevant skills, which is especially important for Monks.

Shuriken are a good ranged option for late game Monks. If you want a large number of them, you will probably have to polypile for them.


At this point you should be able to overcome the body armor penalty entirely with high stats and luck, or possibly through self-polymorph. You should be wearing body armor unless you have some good reason not to, are trying for the Nudist conduct, or are roleplaying.

Once you start wearing body armor, you should also get a shield, which doesn't have any further adverse effects on melee combat if you already have body armor, and doesn't affect your martial arts. However, note that shields can impede spellcasting. A shield of reflection in particular can free up your amulet slot for something more useful.


It is likely that extremely high level spells like finger of death will remain out of your reach, but don't underestimate the power of the middling spells. Magic missile in particular is probably your most powerful ranged attack.

Rank titles

The status line shows you to be one of the following ranks when you reach the specified experience level:[9]

  • XL 1-2: Candidate
  • XL 3-5: Novice
  • XL 6-9: Initiate
  • XL 10-13: Student of Stones
  • XL 14-17: Student of Waters
  • XL 18-21: Student of Metals
  • XL 22-25: Student of Winds
  • XL 26-29: Student of Fire
  • XL 30: Master


Main article: Monk quest

In the Monk quest, the player fights Master Kaen for the Eyes of the Overworld.



In UnNetHack, monks get a bonus point of AC while confused as a reference to the idea of drunken boxing.


In SLASH'EM, Monks also have the largest number of techniques of any role. Most of these are martial arts-themed offensive moves that make the Monk a more balanced role.

They don't suffer to-hit penalty for wearing body armor (unless fighting bare-handed).

Their first sacrifice gift are the Gauntlets of Defense.


In dNetHack, Monks have a variety of special maneuvers, including fighting-game-style attacks similar to SLASH'EM monk techniques. Monks also continue to gain intrinsics after level 17:

Their crowning gift is the Grandmaster's Robe, which improves their unarmed attacks while worn.


In FIQHack, monks can be human or elven. The monk crowning gift is a magic marker instead of a spellbook.

Encyclopedia entry

One day, an army general invited the Buddhist monk I-Hsiu (literally, "One Rest") to his military head office for a dinner. I-Hsiu was not accustomed to wearing luxurious clothings and so he just put on an old ordinary casual robe to go to the military base. To him, "form is void".

As he approached the base, two soldiers appeared before him and shouted, "Where does this beggar came from? Identify yourself! You do not have permission to be around here!"

"My name is I-Hsiu Dharma Master. I am invited by your general for a supper."

The two soldiers examined the monk closely and said, "You liar. How come my general invites such a shabby monk to dinner? He invites the very solemn venerable I-Hsiu to our base for a great ceremony today, not you. Now, get out!"

I-Hsiu was unable to convince the soldiers that he was indeed the invited guest, so he returned to the temple and changed to a very formal solemn ceremonial robe for the dinner. And as he returned to the military base, the soldiers observed that he was such a great Buddhist monk, let him in with honour.

At the dinner, I-Hsiu sat in front of the table full of food but, instead of putting the food into his mouth, he picked up the food with his chopsticks and put it into his sleeves. The general was curious, and whispered to him, "This is very embarrassing. Do you want to take some food back to the temple? I will order the cook to prepare some take out orders for you." "No" replied the monk. "When I came here, I was not allowed into the base by your soldiers until I wear this ceremonial robe. You do not invite me for a dinner. You invite my robe. Therefore, my robe is eating the food, not me."

[ Dining with a General - a Zen Buddhism Koan ]


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