Author Topic: [Pathfinder] Zen Archer Monk Handbook  (Read 119646 times)

Offline StreamOfTheSky

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[Pathfinder] Zen Archer Monk Handbook
« on: January 16, 2012, 09:01:27 PM »
Zen Archer Handbook

Note: Please discuss this handbook in the discussion thread.

  • Introduction
  • Race and Ability scores
  • Class Features
  • Feats and Traits
  • Equipment
  • Multiclassing and Prestige Classes
  • Surviving Level 1 and Sample Builds

This guide will use a ranking system using the color spectrum to rate the class features and options, as follows:

Red: Absolutely terrible.  Almost never worth considering, let alone a good idea.
Orange: Subpar.  May have occasional use and isn’t crippling to take if you like the flavor.
Green: Average.  There may be more powerful options instead, but this is fairly solid.
Blue: A good choice, above average.
Purple: Among the best in its class, possibly a no-brainer pick.  Outstanding!


This guide is all about optimizing the Pathfinder (PF) Zen Archer, a Monk archetype from the Advanced Player's Guide.  The Zen Archer has slightly less multiple ability dependency (MAD) than normal monk, archery means he can always full attack and never let the flurry of blows he relies on to be relevant be beyond use, and also being an archer means that he can worry less about the Monk's infamous quishiness in melee combat.  In other words, finally a Monk class that is sort of playable!  The guide will be limited to only Pathfinder sources, namely:

  • Core Rulebook (CR)
  • Advanced Players Guide (APG)
  • Ultimate Magic (UM)
  • Ultimate Combat (UC)
  • Bestiary I (BI)
  • Bestiary II (BII)
  • Bestiary III (BIII)
While there are other Paizo sourcebooks galore, these are by far the most “mainstream” and likely to be used in a given game.  While 3E is frequently allowed in various sizes and forms into Pathfinder games, there is simply too much additional rules, and of tremendous variance in power level, to make a comprehensive, yet concise guide trying to accommodate for different “levels” of 3E book allowance.  Feel free to utilize any 3E Monk handbooks for information on what to pick out from there if needed.

Why Be a Zen Archer?

Good question!  If you want to be a martial archer, Fighter and Ranger certainly offer competitive benefits, and other classes like Paladin can even do archery well.  Fighter offers better attack and damage and more feats; Ranger provides spellcasting, a companion, and just an overall better HD/BAB/skills package.  I do think Zen Archer has its merits, however:

- It's easy.  This is probably the most compelling reason.  You get flurry already, rapid and manyshot don't stack with it anyway, all the other basics are covered with bonus feats...  You really don't have to think much with Zen Archer, it all is put together for you already, making it beginner-friendly.
- It is the only class that can get Improved Precise Shot AND Point Blank Master in the early levels.  Ranger can get one or the other, Fighter can get PBM.  Only Zen Archer gets both, and at the same time or earlier than anyone else can.  To me, that's a big deal, at least.
- It ends up getting the most sheer attacks of any archer (ki pool!).  More dakka!  Fighter (especially) and Ranger will do a bit more damage per arrow, though.  With Perfect Strike to help, you'll be putting out consistent damage every round.
- Pre-Ultimate Combat *shakes fist* it was the only archer that could threaten with bow shots.  If UC isn't being used, that's nifty I guess.

One final note, while this guide is about being a Zen Archer Monk (ZAM...getting to be a pain to type out), realize right now that every ZAM is also a Qinggong Monk if UM is an allowed book.  Qinggong Monk is literally just a bunch of free options you don't have to choose, there's no reason to NOT be one.  Please see my short Guide to the Qinggong Monk if you need help picking which Ki Powers to select.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2012, 02:53:42 AM by StreamOfTheSky »

Offline StreamOfTheSky

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Re: [Pathfinder] Zen Archer Monk Handbook
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2012, 09:01:57 PM »
Ability Scores

Strength: A secondary score.  This helps your damage, but not much else.  A 12-14 is fine to put here, don’t go below 10.
Dexterity: Yes, you get Zen Archery.  But make no mistake, this is still boosting AC, reflex, initiative, and skills, and helping you get by the first 2 levels.  Don’t go overboard, but again, a 12-14 is nice to have starting.  Several build-critical feats (Precise Shot, Deadly Aim, etc...) require Dex 13.  You can use bonus feats on some, but not all of those.
Constitution: Don’t neglect this, but between being in the back and having good base fortitude…you can survive without this very high.  No lower than 10, though.
Intelligence: Your base allotment of 4 skill points is probably enough, you don’t need this above 10, 12 at most.
Wisdom: I cannot emphasize how crucial this stat is!  Bonus to all types of AC and CMD, attack bonus, skills, ki points… You want at least a 16 here, try to get it to 18 after racial, more if possible!
Charisma: Your only total dump stat, make it a 7 for extra point buy.

Race Selection

I won’t list every possible choice, only those in the CR and specific choices from Bestiary I and II that would be well suited to follow the way of the bow.

Core Races:
Dwarf: “Dwarf” may not mesh in your head with “archer” or “monk,” but these are bar none the best race in core for ZAM!  Bonus to Wis and Con, penalty to your uber dump stat, darkvision, a slew of awesome racial features of actual use...  Very good race to choose.
Half-Orc: Darkvision is nice, most of the other racial features are a waste, though there are some good swaps in APG.
Half-Elf: Better than human, but barely.  Helps if you plan to multiclass a bit.  Option to get an exotic weapon proficiency is nice if the 3E Greatbow is available.
Human: I don’t like human for a ZAM, honestly.  You aren’t very starved for skill points OR feats (unless 3E stuff is allowed), I’d prefer getting two ability bonuses and an unnoticeable penalty, and human has no special vision, either.
Elf: The Dex and Con penalties negate each other, Int is pretty useless, as are the proficiencies and racial features.  Low-light vision is something, I guess.
Gnome: Small size and -2 Str hurts damage far too much, and the racial stuff is wildly unhelpful to you.
Halfling: Exactly like gnome, except the save bonus is nice.  Not enough, though.

Bestiary Races:
Oread (BII): The only true challenger to dwarf.  I like +2 Str better than +2 Con and you still have darkvision plus immunity to person spells (in PF, both Reduce and Enlarge Person screw over archers hardcore).  Is it worth losing the saves, stability, etc.. of dwarf, though?
Vanara (BIII): +2 Wis and Dex and -2 to Cha is a good spread.  A climb speed, some good skill bonuses, and low-light vision are welcome.  Most interesting feature is the tail, though as a monk and an archer, you'll seldom need a "third hand."  See if the DM would let you hang from a tree with your tail to have both hands for shooting the bow.
Tengu (BI): +2 Wis and Dex is nice, -2 Con can be managed.  Some good skill bonuses, low-light, gifted linguist and sword-trained are interesting…
Duergar (BI): Uglier dwarves (I didn’t know it was possible, either).  Have double darkvsion range, some random immunities, and invisibility and enlarge (self-only) 1/day each, but lose some dwarf features and have -1 to hit in bright light.
Merfolk (BI): No Wis bonus, but stupidly good bonuses (+2 Dex/Con/Cha, no penalties), low-light, and +2 natural armor.  Between your fast movement and near immobility in combat, their 5 ft base speed can actually be overcome.
Undine (BII): +2 Wis, the Dex bonus and Str penalty is mostly a wash, darkvision, and immunity to person spells.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2012, 02:57:52 AM by StreamOfTheSky »

Offline StreamOfTheSky

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Re: [Pathfinder] Zen Archer Monk Handbook
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2012, 09:05:29 PM »
Class Features

Zen Archer Monks recieve:
  • Medium BAB
  • d8 HD
  • All Good saves
  • 4 + Int skill points
  • Proficient with all bows, all non-UC monk weapons, some simple weapons, and no armor/shields
  • 1d6x10 gp starting wealth (Brilliant on an archer class!)
Class Skills
Acrobatics: Balance, Jump, and Tumble all in one skill.  Balance is especially helpful to avoid going prone, from which you cannot shoot a bow.  Max it.
Climb: One point wonder.
Craft: A single rank in bow making to make arrows on spare time if the DM is strict about keeping track of them.
Escape Artist: You don’t want to get grappled, but this skill is pretty bad at keeping up w/ monster’s CMB.  Your CMD should be super high, at least.  Unfortunately, this is a max it or ignore it skill.  Take your pick.
Intimidate: Leave it to charismatic people or melee guys with nothing else to do from range.
Knowledge (history): One point wonder.
Knowledge (religion): One point wonder.
Perception: The best skill in the game!  Max it.
Perform: Put nothing here unless for flavor.
Profession:You can make the checks untrained just fine.
Ride: Hey, you could try a mounted build if a friend provides the mount, I guess.
Sense Motive: At least one point, usefulness depends on campaign and DM.
Stealth:You can be an ok scout w/ this and speed, but scouting is usually a bad idea.  Most useful for trying to wrangle the occasional surprise round.
Swim: One point wonder.

Cross-class Skills
None are particularly useful, actually.  Use Magic Device, great as it is, will never really work with your cha as a dump stat and lack of the class skill bonus.

Flurry of Blows: The main reason the ZAM has any business being an archer to begin with.  Can’t combine with Rapid Shot or Manyshot, oh well.
Bonus Feats: These are great since you can ignore requirements, just be sure to choose wisely.  Here they are by level:
(click to show/hide)
AC Bonus: Even with high Wis, this won’t cut it.  Get a friend with Mage Armor!
Perfect Strike: I wish we could’ve kept Stunning (applied to bows). :(
Unarmed Strike: Gives you something to do in melee and grapples and you always threaten; helps to qualify for a style feat if you want.
Way of the Bow: At level 2, Weapon Focus for Evasion is kind of  a bad trade.  But Specialization as well at 6 is great!
Zen Archery: Critical to reducing your MAD, great feature!
Point Blank Master: Yup, you get it before anyone else can.
Fast Movement: Eh, we’ll take it.
Ki Pool: Barring an emergency, only use this for the extra attack.
Slow Fall: Possibly good if it’s a level 20 game w/ unerrata’d Cloud Step, otherwise swap via Qinggong Monk.
Ki Arrows: Very yucky.  Especially with Gravity Bow spell being cheaply available, it won’t be until very high level that this actually helps at all, and still won’t be worth the ki point.
High Jump: I’d swap this out via Qinggong Monk.
Wholeness of Body: Godawful.  Swap it out w/ Qinggong Monk.
Reflexive Shot: A little late to start making an AoO build, and you shouldn’t be in melee a lot anyway.  Oh, and UC gave this away to the Fighter as bonus feats and he can do it better than you.
Trick Shot: Every ZAM has had Improved Precise Shot for 5 levels by now, the only uses are 2 points to ignore full concealment or 3 to ignore total cover.  Beg your DM to let you swap this via Qinggong Monk.  Beg.
Abundant Step: Teleportation is always nice as an option.
Diamond Soul: SR is double-edged.  If you hate it, swap it out.
Quivering Palm: This is just cool, sorry.  If you hang on for 2 levels, you can actually use it on bow shots.  I suppose you could swap it out and reclaim it from Qinggong Monk for Timeless Body at 17, too.
Ki Focus Bow: After a lot of suck, we finally have an amazing class feature again!  This is simply incredible.  By now, you could have easily gotten several “fist feats” (Stunning Fist, Touch of Serenity, Punishing Kick…), all of which you can use once per round and monk level times per day EACH.  And now you can chain them off your bow shots!
Timeless Body: This will never be useful in most games, swap.  If you get to start at this high a level, milk those age bonuses to wisdom!
Empty Body: Like with teleporting, nice as an option, but really costly and overall unimpressive for this level.
Perfect Self: Unlike a melee monk, no Enlarge Person doesn’t hurt you.  This is still embarrassingly poor.  Sad thing is, Qinggong Monk doesn’t offer much better for it.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2012, 12:20:37 PM by StreamOfTheSky »

Offline StreamOfTheSky

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Re: [Pathfinder] Zen Archer Monk Handbook
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2012, 09:06:56 PM »

I will divide feats up into sections.  Core (Core Rulebook + Bestiary I) + APG, as those are either core books or required to be a ZAM in the first place, UM, and UC.  Feats from the CR will not be labeled, ones from APG or BI will be denoted.  Only feats related to the class or archery, and some more general feats will be reviewed.

Core + APG
(click to show/hide)

(click to show/hide)

(click to show/hide)


Unlike all other sections of this handbook, traits wil be noted from ANY source.  This is mostly because the traits system in Pathfinder is a total cluster :) :) :) :) and a giant pain in the ass to search through.  Rather than identify the source, I'll just direct link to each of them.  Traits are organized by type, as you're limited to one trait from each list (Combat, Faith, Magic, Social, Campaign, Equipment, Race, Regional, and Religion) by RAW.  PF seems to have a big stiffy for religion; many of the best traits fall in there, including many that mechanically have no apparent connection to religion at all.

Honored Fist of the Society: A PF Society trait for +1 ki point.  A fallback option if nothing else seems good.
Reactionary: +2 Initiative.
Excitable (Gnome only): +2 Initiative.  You can only get one combat trait, though, and gnome sucks.  What's the point of this?


Dangerously Curious: Use Magic Device as a class skill.

Rich Parents: If your DM is unreasonable regarding Monk starting wealth, this may be your only option for starting with a bow at level 1. Still stings to permanently waste a trait on this.
Adopted: The only way to get a race-specific trait if you are not one of the chosen people.  I think blowing both traits for one race-based one is a waste.

Chance Savior (Carrion Crown): +2 Initiative.
Shadow Child (Council of Thieves): While ignoring the 20% miss chance of dim light is tempting, IPS at level 6 makes this worthless.  Avoid.

Heirloom Weapon: This was errata'd nerfed to the point of being literally worthless.  However, if you can use the original Adventurer's Armory version, this is one of the best traits AND allows you to start the game with a bow!

Warrior of Old (Elf): +2 Initiative. But elves suck.  Better to be a half-elf and take...
Elven Reflexes (Half-Elf): And yes, I'm seriously going to note all of these.

Glory of Old (Dwarf only): +1 on most save rolls, cause there's no such thing as too high.

Lessons of Chaldira: A save reroll is potent, and you're unlikely to fail twice in a row w/ your save bonuses.
Defensive Strategist: You are never flatfooted at the start of an encounter. It's almost as good as outright having Uncanny Dodge.
Wisdom in the Flesh: Any one str, dex, or con (there are none) -based skill becomes a class skill and is based off wisdom. The obvious choice is acrobatics or stealth, though you already get those as class skills. Since you have perception and a great wisdom score, picking up disable device can effectively turn you into the party rogue if you want.
Magic is Life: As long as a buff spell is active on you (so, any time you're not sleeping), you get +2 save vs. death effects and auto-stabilize if below 0 hp.  Sort of cool.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2012, 09:37:50 PM by StreamOfTheSky »

Offline StreamOfTheSky

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Re: [Pathfinder] Zen Archer Monk Handbook
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2012, 09:07:23 PM »

Offline StreamOfTheSky

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Re: [Pathfinder] Zen Archer Monk Handbook
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2012, 09:07:38 PM »

Offline StreamOfTheSky

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Re: [Pathfinder] Zen Archer Monk Handbook
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2012, 09:08:03 PM »