I’ve been gone so long I forgot how to do this. It doesn’t matter. I’m diving in. Try to stop me!
This almost feels like it should be the default (though I think that might actually be the hermit) but this is where I feel like monks live and breathe. They hang out at a monastery and do things. This lends itself to every great Kung-fu movie where you say, “My monastery was destroyed by an evil group of thugs and I am now going to hunt them down.” Then do your best Master of the Flying Fist impression and go about your business.
The real question here is, are you a monk who uses charlatan like abilities, or did you become a monk because of some trouble being a charlatan got you into. I like the idea of a daredevil monk who uses his physical training to insert himself into situations he has no business in, while seeming like he’s helpless (but he’s actually a bad-ass).
It’s always fun with criminal to go with the, “one close call and I took up a new profession”, but what I really like about monks, especially way of the Shadow monks, is the idea that you’re a monk who follows a criminal deity and you’re just honing your body to be a better thief. Like a ninja.
Singing, dancing monks? How about Dance-fighting monks? Not like old-school West Side Story snap-attacking fighting, think Capoeira. Think guys spin kicking each other into sick break-dance moves and backflipping their way to victory over the rhythmless masses. Now that’s entertaining.
Monk Folk Hero
Folk Hero is such a freeby background. It goes with everything. I love the idea of the monk traveling the land, handing out free advice, fighting against injustice, getting people to snatch pebbles from his hand…wait, I’ve seen that somewhere before.
Monk Guild Artisan
Something about the mental and physical discipline needed to become a monk goes along well with creating great art. Painting, sculpting, wood-carving, you name it, it takes some time to master and some discipline to become great at. Plus, being a monk, you don’t even care if anyone buys it. So that’s a plus.
For whatever reason this is the “default” background for Monks according to the PHB. I guess because they get some kind of spiritual awakening? Bail on society, get yourself together physically and mentally, then come back and be a crazy person. Your goal here is to convince everyone you know things they don’t. Like secrets of the universe. And kung-fu. Like Jackie Chan in the Karate Kid remake.
My idea is that you’ve lost your noble family to the criminal underworld of your town. You have run away to learn how to deal with your emotions. You have found teachers who have taught you a number of skills. You are now a zen master who can kick people into next Tuesday. And you’ve returned to save your city.
This is every kung-fu master who traveled to the western world to fight against cowboys, knights, unsuspecting boxers, or whatever. Things are different where you’re from. People have honor and respect. People understand that anyone, no matter what they look like, could kick the sh*t out of you. So, you learn from them, they learn from you.
This is another one that has a built in sense of, yeah, of course monks hang out at libraries or places where they can study 24/7, and they’re studying physical combat and meditation and whatever else. But now you’re ready to take that knowledge out into the real world and to test your studies against reality.
Shipwrecked you stumbled across the deserted island until you came upon something strange. A monastery. They took you in. They never spoke. They taught you everything you needed to know about hand-to-hand combat, their religion, their culture. They made you one of them. And then the rescue party arrived, a few years too late. And now you’re heading back to ‘civilization’.
Monk soldiers are terrifying because, like, have you seen what one of them can do? You’re one of them. Your regiment was wiped out by … something horrible. You don’t like to talk about it. But now you’re on your own, with only the training and discipline you had when you went to war. And man, that training was good.
Urchins are already well suited to being monks because, well, you were living on the street. So at least being inside and getting gruel were better than that. And then they taught you to fight. And then they taught you, well a lot of things. And then, they all mysteriously disappeared. Did you dream it all? Well, you still know kung-fu. So you can take care of yourself. So, now? Time to adventure.