The Monk FAQ: How to Play Them, What to Wish For, What to Eat, and Other Considerations

By Kate Nepveu,
Version 1.2; last change *** (updated for 3.4.1).

One common question on is "I'm playing a Monk, what do I wish for?" Other Monk questions, such as "How do I get Monks to survive?" and "What can I eat?" are also asked fairly often.

This document is an attempt at answering these questions. By its nature, it therefore includes SPOILERS (though mostly in the last two sections). It is also quite long. Read at your own risk.

Please note that this spoiler only covers vanilla NetHack 3.3.1, 3.4.0, and 3.4.1; monks are apparently quite different in SLASH'EM.

Corrections, clarifications, and comments are always welcome.


General Notes: Roleplaying, Conducts, and Special Restrictions

When it comes to playing Monks, there are some optional restrictions, for varying degrees of "optional."

The least-optional restriction is quite simple: a monk wearing body armor receives a -20 penalty to the chance to hit in direct combat ("Your armor is rather cumbersome..."). It's possible to wear body armor, particularly at high experience levels, and still hit things [1]; see the weapons spoiler for information. It is not recommended for low-level characters. For purposes of this FAQ, it will be assumed that the character does not wear body armor (because if you're far enough in the game that it's possible for you to wear it, you probably don't need this FAQ).

Body armor is, well, stuff you wear on your body, but does not include T-shirts, Hawaiian shirts, or any kind of cloak or robe. Anything under "suits" or "dragon suits" in the armor spoiler is body armor.

[1] In fact, someone on ascended a Monk wearing body armor; see Seth Scott's ascension post for more details.

Note that there are two other ways that armor affects Monks' combat.

  1. Weaponless Monks without body armor (or a shield, in 3.4.1) receive a to-hit bonus: 2 + (experience level / 3).
  2. Monks have a chance of dealing their opponent a staggering blow ("The [monster] staggers from your powerful strike!"), in which the monster is stunned for a turn and also staggers back one space, if it can. The following conditions must be met: Monks must not be wearing body armor or shields; they must directly attacking in melee combat; they must not be wielding a weapon; the hit must be doing more than 1 HP of damage; and the character must be in natural (non-polymorphed) form. The chance is 1% for each level of skill beyond unskilled. (This ability is not unique to Monks, as it applies any character with Basic skill in unarmed combat; Monks are simply in the best position to make use of it.)

    Big monsters (LARGE, HUGE, or GIGANTIC) and thick-skinned monsters are immune to staggering blows. Consult the Monster Manual to see what size an individual monster is; I am unaware of a spoiler that lists monsters by size. According to the weapons spoiler, "Thick- skinned creatures include: gargoyle, winged gargoyle, all mimics, mumak, titanothere, baluchitherium, mastodon, all baby and adult dragons (D), earth elemental, all baby and adult nagas (N), xorn, skeleton, gold golem, wood golem, clay golem, stone golem, glass golem, iron golem, horned devil, barbed devil, crocodile, salamander, Chromatic Dragon, and Ixoth."

Optional restrictions are largely a matter of roleplaying. On one end of the spectrum are players who never break weaponless and vegan #conducts; on the other are players who wield whatever weapons come their way and eat corpses whenever they choose. Where you fall on this spectrum is a matter of personal preference. (Some players even choose to fast. This challenge is beyond the author's present knowledge. Note that in 3.4.1, Monks exercise wisdom by fasting.)

However, do note that eating non-vegetarian food gives a penalty of -1 to alignment. Early characters in particular should be wary of harming their alignment too greatly, as it may affect their ability to pray to get out of tight spots. To make mostly-vegetarian conduct easier, Monks start out with a lot of food and gain intrinsics like clockwork as they gain levels; see Playing Tips.

Monks also start out restricted in all wielded weapons but quarterstaff (they are also unrestricted in spear, javelin, crossbow, and shuriken).

If you choose to adhere to weaponless ("You never hit with a wielded weapon"), vegan, or vegetarian conduct, here's what's required.

Weaponless conduct

Vegetarian and vegan conduct

Being a vegetarian or a vegan is theoretically simple: Don't eat anything that's not vegetarian or vegan. However, the devil is in the details . . .

To maintain conduct, you must eat both the proper monsters and the proper items. Monsters are treated first.



Food Items Safe for Vegans

There was a bug in 3.3.1 that did not update your conduct when you ate non-food objects or rotten food; however, this was fixed in 3.4.0.

What Should I Wish For?

Many players' usual first wish is dragon scale mail or an artifact weapon. Body armor is not an option for monks, and many players chose not to wish for an artifact weapon (either to preserve weaponless conduct or because they do not like wishing for artifacts). Thus, "What should my Monk wish for?" is an oft-heard question.

Many of the traditional recommendations for wishes apply, and their particular advantages and disadvantages for Monks are discussed below. In addition, items particularly useful to Monks are mentioned. This is not meant to be a comprehensive wishing spoiler, because one already exists. In particular, if you're wondering what quantity or enchantment to wish for, consult this file.

Some players chose not to wish for artifacts or to polymorph piles of objects ("polypiling"). Read the following advice with the implicit disclaimer of "If you are not opposed to..."

Finally, there may be some overlap between this section and "Playing Tips." The author has simply exercised her best judgment; organizational suggestions are always welcome.

General Comments


All the armor above can be also obtained via polypiling; note that your chances of getting magical armor from polypiling non-magical armor is extremely small (0.6%, to be specific). There is a magical items spoiler that may help you polypile. Of course, if you really need a specific item, or you haven't collected enough polypile fodder, just wish for the item itself.

Artifacts, Spells, Miscellaneous

Playing Tips

— Now with an extended section on The Quest and Master Kaen! —

Good luck and have fun!


I plundered liberally from the following:

Addendum on Artifact Weapons

The following section is quoted from a post to by Jason Short, <>, discussing the question of which artifact weapons are "good enough" that a Monk with Basic skill would prefer them over martial arts (if not trying to keep weaponless conduct).

Additions and corrections were made by nyra <>.

An interesting question. The following is intended to apply only to monks. I can make no assurances of it's correctness.

Martial arts base damage: 2.5
bonus for "Grand Master": +9
average damage          : 11.5 (excluding strength bonus or increase

nyra corrects:

. . . characters who reach Grand Master skill in martial arts (granting a +9 damage bonus) will on roughly every fourth hit only do one hitpoint damage plus any applicable strength or ring bonus.

. . . The base damage roll for martial arts is 1d4, and the +9 damage bonus is only applied when the base roll is higher than one. . . . The result is that Martial Arts at Grand Master skill doesn't do 1d4+9 hitpoints damage [1] (averaging at 11.5) but rather 1;11;12;13 with equal probabilities, averaging 9.25 hitpoints of damage.

[1] before taking damage boni from strength or rings [or blessed gloves against undead, or silver rings against silver-hating creatures] into account

average damage with selected artifacts at "basic skill":
(again exluding strength bonus or increase damage)
(average damage to small/large monsters)

+7 Grayswandir:   23/23     (plus 10.5 of silver damage)
+7 * Brand:       23/27     (less against * resistant monsters)
+7 Staff of Aes.: 21/21     (PLUS level drain)
+7 Mjollnir:      23/22     (much less against shock-resistant monsters)
+7 Excalibur:     17/19
+7 Snickersnee:   17/18
+7 Stormbringer:  13.5/13   (PLUS level drain)
+7 Vorpal Blade:  12.5/14.5 (plus beheading chance)

+7 Magicbane:     13.4/12.9 (less against MR monsters)
+2 Magicbane:     ~9.5      (less against MR monsters)
+0 Magicbane:     ~7.8      (less against MR monsters)

+0 Mjollnir:      16/15     (MUCH less against shock-resistant monster)
+0 Grayswandir:   9/9       (plus silver damage)
+0 * Brand:       9/13      (less against * resistant monsters)
+0 Cleaver:       10.5/12
+0 Stormbringer:  6.5/6     (plus level drain)
+0 Vorpal blade:  5.5/7.5   (plus beheading chance)

Conclusion: at +7, even Stormbringer is significantly better than martial arts. At +0, though, the only worthwhile weapon is Mjollnir. Note that many of these weapons will give you intrinsics or other bonuses in addition to what is listed above.

nyra adds:

[Based on the correct calcuation of Grand Master damage,] Monks going weaponless afflict less damage than they'd do wielding a +5 long sword or the +0 Excalibur at basic skill.

[Note that Excalibur can be obtained fairly easily by lawful monks.]

Two-weaponing a +7 silver saber with the one-handed artifact of your choice above will give you an extra 11.5 points of damage from the weapon, but will cost you 6 points of damage since you get a -3 with each weapon (monks are restricted in two-weapon). Thus, you'll do an extra 5.5 points of damage per attack - plus silver damage. (Example: two-weaponing grayswandir and a silver saber you'll do an average of 28.5 damage, plus 21 points of extra silver damage.) A long sword, katana, or crysknife will do minimally more damage but without the silver bonus. IIRC, the effects of any rings of increase damage are applied to both weapons, but your strength bonus only applies to the first weapon.

[Editor's note: from 3.4.0 on, Monks (like other classes restricted in #twoweapon) are unable to two-weapon at all.]

Note that I have ignored the strength bonus to damage. This can be as much as +6 (strength 18/** or above), but I believe it is applied equally in all situations. It should therefore not be a factor in choosing a weapon. Also note that I have ignored the chance to hit; this will be a problem at low levels for +0 weapons, whereas a martial arts grand master gets a large bonus.

Information above taken from Dylan O'Donnell's artifact and weapons spoilers, and from the source.

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