I am not surprised, in my travels, on what monastic abilities are used more often than others.
By far, the most popular ability for most players is the feat, Stunning Fist, and for good reason.
But is that all there is to being a Monk? To stun things.
I say, “Nay, nay!”
My adventures with Kiricletica have allowed me to acquaint myself to the mystical powers inherent in the finishing moves available to all Monks. Since she plays completely alone, the solitude forced me to review and utilize anything I could do to gain an advantage against the hordes. Kiri may be a ninja, but the Conservation of Ninjutsu only goes so far.
A Primer on Finishing Moves
For those newer to Monks than others, a finishing move is a spell-like ability made by combining three ki attacks, often the elemental attacks from your training based on earth, wind, fire and water, which activates a specific attack or defense. Despite the name, a finishing move isn’t necessarily a “Finish him!” killing strike.
Once a chain is charged up, a special attack feat, Finishing Moves, changes its appearance to reflect the charged finisher, where then the Monk can activate it.
The Book of Syncletica lists all finishing moves for your technical review. Here, I’m going to highlight each finisher’s merits and why each should be used more often.
For those with some knowledge of the monastic arts, ask yourself: How many of these finishers have I used? How many did I forget existed, or what they did?
All Monks can perform these four finishing moves, which are generated by using the same elemental ki attack three times in a row.
The Trembling Earth: Long before any Monk can train in Improved Critical feats, this attack will raise an Monk’s critical hit multiplier. For unarmed attacks, this greatly increases potential damage. It’s also a great first-strike attack against mages since it inhibits their ability to cast spells for 30 seconds. Think of this move as your personal anti-magic cone. In fact, use it against a beholder to effectively make it powerless to hurt you.
The Gathering Storm: This finisher gives you, in effect, a concealment-like effect that is applied to the attacker rather than to yourself. By reducing the enemy’s chance to land attacks for 30 seconds, you are effectively using a Concealment ability. Combine this with true Concealment effects such as Blur (available for Shintao Monks through a later finisher) and you may increase your ability to attack more safely.
Breath of the Fire Dragon: This is an attack that emulates the spell, Burning Hands. It’s often good to destroy objects that require a fire attack when you might lack the STR to knock something down, such as a door. Unfortunately, the effect can be inconsistent in some locations where you should be able to use fire to complete a task but cannot (setting the tents on fire in
“Undermine” “Siegebreaker” comes to mind). Great against trolls and icy creatures.
The Raging Sea: Enemy attacks are slowed by this finisher. Use it whenever you have a high attack speed enemy to cut down the damage rate to you and your party.
Those that train in the Harmonious Balance philosophy will become Shintao Monks in principle. The Fists of Light, a new ki attack, is the keystone to these finishers, which create helpful buffs for you and your party. Of all the finishing moves, these five finishers certainly are most popular to others in a party.
These finishers only last 1 minute, but their effects (like Bard songs) cannot be dispelled, not even by a beholder.
Grasp the Earth Dragon: This finisher is popular in quests such as “The Dreaming Dark” and the raid “Tower of Despair” as it is the only anti-stun protection in the game.
Dance of Clouds: An easy way for a Monk to keep himself and his party with Blur at all times. Ki is regenerative, saving spell points from others.
Walk of the Sun: A great way to boost the saving throws of any in your party by 2. Stacks with everything. Rogues and trap-prone members of your party adore this move.
Aligning the Heavens: Arguably the most popular finisher, this one should be activated before a party begins mass buffs, as it reduces spell costs for all by 25% for 1 minute. I try to use this while in battle, especially when shrines are few and far between fights.
Healing Ki: This finisher is why Shintao Monks are extremely durable. This finisher is a mass-healing effect. It also activates any selected Elemental Curatives, which will remove blindness, curses, disease, or provide a Lesser Restoration to any party member in range. Healing amplification can amplify Healing Ki (and the Healing Curse vampiric effect that a single Fists of Light attack generates) to the power of a Heal spell and beyond. A light Monk should be spamming this attack in raid battles to supplement healing and take a little work off the healers in the party.
Those that train in the Inevitable Dominion philosophy become Ninja Spies in principle. The Fists of Darkness is a keystone to these five finishers, all of which are attacking finishers. I’ve seen few ninjas I could identify that use any of these finishers, which is disappointing. Those players gravitate all too often to the ninja’s negative energy attack, Touch of Death, and a later ki assassination attack, Quivering Palm.
They underestimate these abilities. All of these require a Fortitude save equal to 10 + Monk level + WIS modifier. Finishers such as these is why experienced Monks know to pump WIS as high as they can to ensure that their attacks and finishers stick.
Pain Touch: Enemy is nauseated for up to 60 seconds. The Nauseated quality means that an enemy can’t do anything but move around: no attacks, defense, actions or spell casting. Only the Stinking Cloud spell shares this property. Nauseated is different from Sickened (what Troglodyte Stench does). Only a Heal or Panacea spell will remove this effect. This should be a common fight tactic against paralysis-immune enemies such as the Duergar.
Falling Star Strike: Enemy is blinded for up to 60 seconds. While ninjas later gain Flash Bang to daze and blind enemies for about 6 seconds, this finisher will blind for much longer. Against a single enemy, it’s a good way to flank and strike at them while they flail about in vain trying to hit you.
Karmic Strike: Produces a hit with critical threat at the expense of 20 hit points to the Monk, which cannot be reduced by effects such as damage resistance. Given that other training to improve critical threat are available, this might be a less than desirable move. Against tough named enemies that are resistant or immune, this finisher is better than nothing in trying to generate more damage. But it steals your own HP, so I would understand if most Monks skipped this finisher.
Freezing the Lifeblood: This move is, by far, the most under-utilized finisher that a ninja can make. You paralyze an enemy for up to 60 seconds. Now, unlike the Paralysis effect, which lasts only 6 or so seconds and has a low Will save to avoid or escape it, this move’s DC is as high as the Monk’s level and WIS modifier. This likely means that what you paralyze will stay paralyzed for the full minute, unable to move. Kiricletica uses this move a great deal. In stealth, behind a group of enemies all looking the other way, I use this finisher on every one I can. Often that means most or all of the entire mob is frozen; I slay them without a single counterattack. Freezing can be done at level 3, so even a low-level Monk can dominate the dungeon. It’s only condition is that the target must be humanoid. Aside from the obvious (humans, elves, halflings), the effect works on gnolls, orcs, kobolds, and lizardmen, but not monstrous humanoids or giants. Outsiders that look human (such as the Eladrin) are also immune. Red-named enemies are immune, but not others.
Touch of Despair: This move debilitates a target’s negative energy and fortification protections by 25%. A common finisher for ninjas, who follow it up with a Touch of Death attack that benefits from the negative energy vulnerability. But this finisher also activates one of the selected Ninjutsu moves, which will give a negative-level to all nearby enemies, inject or forcibly remove stacks of Ninja Poison, or suck a small amount of HP and ki from an enemy.
With the proper prerequisites, any Monk can also perform four additional finishing moves in their highest levels of training. With Update 19, however, some finishers once restricted to a specific philosophy have now become effectively exclusive to one class tree.
Curse of the Void: Once a personal favorite attack for ninjas, this attack charmed enemies for up to 2 minutes. But since lesser Void Strike attacks disappeared with Update 19 for any Monk, only a Level 12 Henshin Mystic that trains the only Void Strike in the game, a tier 5 ability, can pull this off–and far slower than any past ninja.
Moment of Clarity: A finisher that I used in “The Shroud” to give brief Insight bonuses to attack and damage. But, like Curse of the Void, only a Mystic can perform this finisher.
Shining Star: The best named finisher (a pun on the song by the 70’s group, “Earth Wind and Fire”), this finisher uses (wait for it) the Earth, Wind and Fire ki attacks to form a finisher that (you guessed it) causes the target to dance: Your personal Otto’s Irresistible Dance. Unlike all other finishers, this move uses CHA (10 + Monk level + CHA modifier) as the DC. CHA is normally a complete dump stat for Monks, so wearing a Charismatic item or using a free tome if you find one is better to use this move.
The Henshin Mystic is All Masterful
With Update 19’s introduction of the Henshin Mystic, the game changed quite a bit on finishing moves. Before this update, no Monk could utilize more than 11 finishing moves (four Foundational, five Philosophical, 1 Void-based, and Shining Star).
But the Mystic gains the ability to add one special ki attack at level 12–a ki attack that’s opposite of the philosophy they chose at level 3. A Light-aligned Mystic can add a Dark attack, and a Dark Mystic adds a Light attack. These attacks then enable Mystics to complete the 5 additional finishers of their opposite philosophy, including Touch of Despair and Healing Ki.
Since the Mystic is the only class with Void Strike as well, this allows the Mystic to perform both Void based finishers.
As such, the Mystic can perform all 17 finishing moves.
The question you should ask yourself (be a ninja, Shintao or Mystic) is whether you’re going to push beyond your mere mastery of one or two finishers, and know what and when to use at the given time.
A Monk that uses only a few finishers is like a Wizard that casts only a Wall of Fire.