It’s been said that nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. Well, unless these Monks have day jobs as accountants, we must be talking about the Way of the Long Death Monk!
With diligent studies and training with the aim of harnessing the power of Death itself, these Monks bring a touch of the macabre to the game.
So whether you’re looking to truly overcome the ultimate fear of death or just want to play the edgiest kung fu fighter possible (no judgment!), this subclass may be for you!
This is the full subclass guide to the Way of the Long Death Monk in D&D 5e!
- 1 What is the Long Death Monk in D&D 5e?
- 2 Role in the Party
- 3 Long Death Monk Abilities
- 4 Connections
- 5 Is the Long Death Monk Good?
- 6 Conclusion – Guide to the Long Death Monk in D&D 5e
What is the Long Death Monk in D&D 5e?
It’s not unnatural to fear death.
However, the Way of the Long Death teaches that this fear can be overcome through enlightened understanding. From there, these Monks are able to harness the power of death itself to create a discipline that defies the nature of life and death itself.
Introduced in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, the Way of the Long Death Monk makes for a remarkable tank. As you might expect from their name, it takes A LOT to take down a Monk who follows this tradition!
These Monks carefully study the various ways in which life expires. The sick and dying are especially welcomed within their monasteries so that the Monks may observe the person’s death.
Such an intense obsession with the subject of dying might make outsiders view these Monks in the same way as Necromancers or Death Clerics. As such, monasteries dedicated to this Monastic Tradition are especially hidden from the outside world.
However, Monks of the Way of the Long Death remain detached from the subjects that they are studying. To them, Death should not be a taboo subject and should instead be understood as the ultimate destination of life.
Without an understanding of death, can one truly understand life?
Role in the Party
The Long Death Monk brings a patient and hardy fighting style to the table. While they don’t get much in the way of features to boost their damage output, they’re incredibly tough.
They can still lay a smackdown with the Monk’s class features, but this subclass is heavily geared towards increasing the Monk’s survivability.
Where most Monks will be zipping around the battlefield striking at enemies with a barrage of punches and kicks, the Long Death Monk is best at holding the party’s frontline.
With each new feature, the Long Death Monk gets even tougher. Once you gain your level 11 feature, you’re infuriatingly hard to drop.
Also Check Out: The Full Monk Class Guide for D&D 5e!
Long Death Monk Abilities
So let’s take a look at the features you gain from the Way of the Long Death subclass.
Heads up: they’re pretty crazy!
Touch of Death (Level 3)
As a Monk who has spent countless hours dedicated to studying death as a force, you have learned how to extract and harness the power of others’ vitality in combat.
Right out of the gate when you take this subclass at level 3, you gain a feature that makes you considerably tougher!
When you reduce a creature within 5 feet of you to 0 hit points, you gain temporary hit points equal to your Wisdom modifier + your Monk level (minimum of 1 temporary hit point.)
For your role in the party, this is a core part of how your Long Death Monk plays. It allows you to stand on the frontlines and endure far more damage than your enemies might expect.
Definitely be sure to check out my article covering the ins and outs of temporary hit points. You’ll be using them A LOT in your adventures!
Naturally, having a higher Wisdom score will increase the number of temporary hit points you gain from this feature.
But keep in mind that the specific trigger for this feature is that YOU have reduced the creature to 0 hit points. If you don’t also pump up your Dexterity, you’re less likely to land the final hit on an enemy to activate this feature in the first place!
To get the most out of this feature, make sure you’re prioritizing enemies that have very low HP!
A Bag of Rats?
I talked about this in my guide to the Pact of the Fiend Warlock, but it’s worth mentioning here as well…
There are some players out there who rationalize that the best way to get the most use out of features like this is to carry around a bunch of sacrificial critters. It could be a bag of rats, a jar of worms, or whatever.
By their logic, they can simply sacrifice one of the critters and get a boost from their feature.
I have some opinions on this…
While I’ll give kudos for thinking outside of the box with this tactic, I really think it goes against the spirit of the feature itself. It seems very “munchkin-y” to me to carry around a bunch of critters with the explicit purpose of sacrificing them one by one to exploit a loophole.
Personally, I’d reason that there just isn’t as much vitality to be harvested in this way if we’re looking for an in-game reason why it won’t work. While it may fit the theme of the Way of the Long Death Monk better than other classes with similar features, I just wouldn’t see it providing the same benefit.
Such things at the beginning of one’s training in this tradition might have been common (like dissecting a frog in a middle school science class), but by level 3 you would have outgrown these “lessons.”
Furthermore, I imagine some Druids would take an active interest in dealing with the lunatic who is torturing and sacrificing innocent critters. Just saying…
For the out-of-game reason, it’s just incredibly cheesy to me in a way that’s reminiscent of the Peasant Railgun.
Ultimately, it’s up to your DM.
For my two cents, though, that doesn’t fly at my table.
Hour of Reaping (Level 6)
Ask not for whom the bell tolls!
At level 6, the Long Death Monk gets a useful control ability in the form of Hour of Reaping. This ability allows them to strike terror into the hearts of those around them.
As an action, each creature within 30 feet of you that can see you must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be frightened of you until the end of your next turn.
It’s a little dicey how well this works into the Long Death Monk’s action economy.
Typically, Monks are able to use their action to barrage enemies with attacks. Instead, Hour of Reaping has you using your action to frighten enemies and open up potential opportunities for your allies to deal out some punishment.
That said, the frightened condition is pretty rough. Those who fail their save won’t be able to move closer to you and will have disadvantage on their attack rolls and ability checks while in line of sight of you.
If your party is finding itself surrounded or being charged by a large group of enemies, this could be an absolute lifesaver!
Just be aware of the downside to this ability: it’s not limited to just your enemies.
You’ll want to make sure that your party is far enough away or else you could end up frightening them too!
Mastery of Death (Level 11)
Remember when I mentioned that level 11 is where you become infuriatingly hard to drop?
Well, here we are!
With Mastery of Death, you are able to be the thorn in your enemies’ side that they’ll never get out! You’ve become so familiar with the force of Death that you are ably to defy it by simply channeling your ki!
When you are reduced to 0 hit points, you can expend 1 ki point (no action required) to have 1 hit point instead.
This is bonkers! Personally, I’d consider this to be one of the greatest Monk subclass features in all of 5e!
First of all, there’s no impact on your action economy from this. It’s instant! You can be at 1 hit point, get smacked 3 times by an enemy, use a ki point after each attack, and still be standing.
At level 11, the enemy will need to drop you to 0 hit points TWELVE TIMES (if you have all of your ki) to even have a chance at being rid of you for good!
If I were the enemy, I’d start seriously evaluating my escape options at that point. That’s the kind of stuff that nightmares are made of!
Touch of the Long Death (Level 17)
At level 17, you gain your capstone feature: Touch of the Long Death. With just your touch, you channel a flood of deadly energy into the creature.
This is a potentially very powerful offensive option that lets you dump a ton of ki points into a single attack for some sickening damage!
As an action, you touch one creature within 5 feet of you and expend 1 to 10 ki points. The target must make a Constitution saving throw. It takes 2d10 necrotic damage per ki point spent on a failed save or half as much on a successful one.
If you absolutely need to take an enemy down immediately and are pretty confident they won’t make their saving throw, this is a powerful option for dealing a boatload of burst damage.
That said, there’s a fairly steep cost to using this!
You’re skipping all of the potential damage from your typical Monk action of Attack + Flurry of Blows. Additionally, you’re betting that the enemy will fail their save AND doesn’t have resistance to necrotic damage.
Lastly, you could very well be dropping all or most of your remaining ki into this which will leave you with none to fall back on if this doesn’t drop the target!
It’s a fairly “high risk, high reward” type feature. If it goes well, you’ll deal a ridiculous amount of damage to the enemy. Otherwise, you have burned a huge amount of your ki!
In terms of efficiency, this feature doesn’t quite hold up to the Way of the Open Hand Monk’s Quivering Palm. But it’s still a great capstone to a very powerful Monk subclass!
However you connect your Long Death Monk to the story and party, you’re likely to be a bit weird. But with a name like “Way of the Long Death,” you probably expected as much!
I think there’s a certain trap in the theming of the Long Death Monk.
While a Necromancer or Death Cleric are largely bound to be creepy and evil (or at least in a dark gray moral area), Monks of the Way of the Long Death deal with the subject in a different way. They seek understanding of death as a natural force which means they might have interesting viewpoints to share on certain subjects.
Such a Monk would likely be familiar with the effects of various diseases, could likely determine the cause of death of a person in a mystery campaign, or offer comfort to those whose loved one has passed away.
These characters don’t worship death, but they understand and accept it.
With that knowledge and experience, they don’t have to be the creepy or sadistic type of character that someone might initially think of them as.
I’m heavily reminded of Japanese Death Poems (jisei) when I think about this class’s theme.
If you are looking for some character inspiration (or just enjoy poetry as much as I do), here’s a link to a wonderful collection of these “farewell to life” poems.
Is the Long Death Monk Good?
Hidden within the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, this oft-ignored subclass is actually a very powerful Monk subclass option.
One of the biggest weaknesses that Monks have as a class is that they don’t take hits so well. They’re great at dodging attacks and keeping out of harm’s way, but every now and again an enemy gets lucky!
If you’re looking for a Monk with greater survivability that can function as a type of tank for the party, the Way of the Long Death is a great option.
It’s rare to have a subclass that really shines at each and every tier of play! However, the Way of the Long Death Monk greatly delivers!
Want to see how this Monastic Tradition compares to the others? Check out my full ranking of every Monk subclass in D&D 5e!
Conclusion – Guide to the Long Death Monk in D&D 5e
The Way of the Long Death doesn’t typically get a lot of attention, which is honestly such a shame!
Hopefully you’ve found this guide helpful! I’m really curious to hear about others’ ideas for playing a Long Death Monk. If you’ve played one before or have a concept for such a character in mind, I’d love to read about them in the comments!
Side note: as I’m writing this I still can’t stop chuckling at the idea of an accountant Long Death Monk. “All things exist in balance: life and death, assets and liabilities, quarterly revenues and expenses…”
Ok, ok… I’ll take my cheesy dad jokes elsewhere…
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