D&D 5e: Way of the Astral Self Guide
D&D 5e: Way of the Astral Self Guide
Role in the Party
It’s unclear if the Way of the Astral Self Monk is a deliberate reference to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, but either way, that manga/anime is what a lot of people think of when they see this class. The Astral Self Monk is a special monk that can summon an astral form in combat to aid them, and as they level up, they gain more and more of the astral form.
The Astral Self Monk has some problems, and it’s difficult to use the features of the subclass effectively; it’s possible to become a decent grappler, but that’s about it. You can still do fine at a table of unoptimized characters though.
The Way of Astral Self Monk subclass is found in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Click here to pick up your own copy of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything!
Way of the Astral Self Features
Arms of the Astral Self
At 3rd level, your mastery of your ki allows you to summon a portion of your astral self. As a bonus action, you can spend 1 ki point to summon the arms of your astral self. When you do so, each creature of your choice that you can see within 10 feet of you must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take force damage equal to two rolls of your Martial Arts die.
For 10 minutes, these spectral arms hover near your shoulders or surround your arms (your choice). You determine the arms’ appearance, and they vanish early if you are incapacitated or die.
While the spectral arms are present, you gain the following benefits:
You can use your Wisdom modifier in place of your Strength modifier when making Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
You can use the spectral arms to make unarmed strikes.
When you make an unarmed strike with the arms on your turn, your reach for it is 5 feet greater than normal.
The unarmed strikes you make with the arms can use your Wisdom modifier in place of your Strength or Dexterity modifier for the attack and damage rolls, and their damage type is force.
This lets you punch with wisdom with extra range and grapple with wisdom… but only if you spend ki and give up a bonus action. The extra reach doesn’t even apply to your grapples. Weirdly enough, the arms don’t even grapple for you, they just let you use wisdom; so you still need your normal hands free to grapple.
The biggest problem with this is that you might want to invest in wisdom, but then you’re making attacks that are worse than the spear, quarterstaff, or possibly longsword or Warhammer attacks you could have been making this whole time. At high levels, your unarmed strikes become as good as these things, but that’s a lot of levels. If you’re level 4 and have 18 wisdom and a lower dexterity, and want to attack with wisdom, on round 1 you deal a total of 1d4+4 damage, and it takes until round 2 for you to deal 2d4+8. You could spend ki to use Flurry of Blows, but your Arms of the Astral Self costs ki too.
This is a complete waste of ki and a bad idea until high levels unless you’re trying to grapple with wisdom and drag enemies through a spike growth with your high speed. You’re still probably not great at it.
Visage of the Astral Self
When you reach 6th level, you can summon the visage of your astral self. As a bonus action, or as part of the bonus action you take to activate Arms of the Astral Self, you can spend 1 ki point to summon this visage for 10 minutes. It vanishes early if you are incapacitated or die.
The spectral visage covers your face like a helmet or mask. You determine its appearance.
While the spectral visage is present, you gain the following benefits.
Astral Sight. You can see normally in darkness, both magical and nonmagical, to a distance of 120 feet.
Wisdom of the Spirit. You have advantage on Wisdom (Insight) and Charisma (Intimidation) checks.
Word of the Spirit. When you speak, you can direct your words to a creature of your choice that you can see within 60 feet of you, making it so only that creature can hear you. Alternatively, you can amplify your voice so that all creatures within 600 feet can hear you.
I guess amplifying your voice could be fun. Rules as written, it goes through walls. Advantage on Insight and Intimidation is a minor benefit, and Astral Sight might be good if someone in the party has the Darkness spell, then you could take advantage of it. It’s still hard to use Darkness without hurting other party members though, and a party relying exclusively on this strategy will be destroyed by an enemy with blindsight or devil’s sight. Overall, this is a bad feature, unless someone has Darkness, then it’s meh.
Body of the Astral Self
Starting at 11th level, when you have both your astral arms and visage summoned, you can cause the body of your astral self to appear (no action required). This spectral body covers your physical form like a suit of armor, connecting with the arms and visage. You determine its appearance.
While the spectral body is present, you gain the following benefits.
Deflect Energy. When you take acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, or thunder damage, you can use your reaction to deflect it. When you do so, the damage you take is reduced by 1d10 + your Wisdom modifier (minimum reduction of 1).
Empowered Arms. Once on each of your turns when you hit a target with the Arms of the Astral Self, you can deal extra damage to the target equal to your Martial Arts die.
If you spend some ki, you can deal some extra damage and reduce some energy damage; finally, a feature that’s not terrible! Your martial arts die is a bit bigger than it used to be, and these damage types are pretty common, so you can get some use out of it. The problem is, it’s not dramatic; one extra martial arts die a turn isn’t a lot, especially since you’re spending 2 ki to get it.
Awakened Astral Self
Starting at 17th level, your connection to your astral self is complete, allowing you to unleash its full potential. As a bonus action, you can spend 5 ki points to summon the arms, visage, and body of your astral self and awaken it for 10 minutes. This awakening ends early if you are incapacitated or die.
While your astral self is awakened, you gain the following benefits.
Armor of the Spirit. You gain a +2 bonus to Armor Class.
Astral Barrage. Whenever you use the Extra Attack feature to attack twice, you can instead attack three times if all the attacks are made with your astral arms.
An extra +2 to your armor class is great, and an extra attack is great. The problem is, this costs an overwhelming amount of ki; that’s almost a third of your total ki reserves just to cast this, and it doesn’t last all day. You have 17 ki points per short rest, but you have so many ways of burning them very quickly. At least you also get the other subclass features for free when you do it. Also, it goes away if you’re incapacitated, so don’t get stunned, don’t take a nap, and don’t drop to zero hit points.
You’re the only character in the game who can use their Wisdom modifier on grappling checks, and you could grapple people with your normal arms while punching them with your astral arms for some low-ish damage; most grapplers only ever use one arm to grab, so you could drag two people around at once.
Your damage, defense, and overall versatility are fairly low, and you don’t have the tools built in to take advantage of your ability to see through magical darkness. The rules on dragging creatures are also a little vague; can we rotate creatures around us or move them backward by moving towards them?
Best Race Options
Tieflings get a free casting of Darkness once per day starting at level 5, and Hellish Rebuke isn’t a great spell, but it’s free damage once per day. Fire damage resistance can also be handy. Make sure to move the ability scores around with the Tasha’s feature.
The Long-Limbed trait of the Bugbear gives your unarmed strikes a ridiculous 15-foot reach (but only on your turn), and Powerful Build can increase your damage; if your astral arms are activated before the fight, you can flurry of blows on round 1 for some good damage.
Kenku can gain advantage on any skill they’re proficient in a few times per day: use that ability when grappling someone to become an unusually solid grappler.
Choosing the Right Skills
If you want to grapple, Athletics is mandatory. If you’re not interested in grappling at all, Athletics is worse than Acrobatics, so pick that to escape grapples.
You’ll likely want a higher wisdom score than the normal monk if you want to use your arms all the time, so you can specialize in the powerful Perception skill, and be decent with Survival, Insight, and Medicine. You’ll be especially good at Insight starting at level 6.
Intimidation proficiency is useful since you already have advantage on those checks starting at level 6.
Elven Accuracy works with both wisdom and dexterity, and it’s a half feat that can boost either ability score so if you’re an elf, you want this feat on your Astral Self Monk. Being able to roll three d20s instead of two when you have advantage is great; just make sure to bring Darkness somehow or have an ally who can give you advantage some other way.
Crusher is an okay feat for a monk; you should consider it after maximizing your dexterity and/or wisdom scores.
Skill Expert is an easy way to double your proficiency bonus for Athletics, and it’s a half feat that can increase any ability score, not just the one associated with the skill, and you get another skill proficiency as a treat. Exceptionally good on a grappling build.
The Astral Drifter background from the Spelljammer books might be ideal if your dungeon master is fine with you starting with a free Magic Initiate: Cleric feat. You have Astral in your subclass’s name, and your Divine Contact feature is fun.
Inheritor is ideal if you want to be part of an entire bloodline of Astral Self monks and replicate the full Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure experience. The inheritance is your astral form powers. Curse of Strahd just got much more interesting.
The Criminal background is perfect if you’re much more interested in copying Giorno from part 5 of the series instead of Jotaro or the other protagonists. Try to become the head of the mafia during your campaign.
If you’re frustrated with your overall power level and want a cheap and easy way to increase your usefulness, one level of Peace Cleric will do the trick by giving you a powerful buff. It’s a solid action to use on the same turn you activate your astral form, so you’re not even losing a bonus action attack.
After hitting level 6, if you have a decent intelligence, it might be worth taking three levels of War Wizard; this boosts your initiative, armor class, saving throws, gives you several Shield/Absorb Elements uses per day, and rituals like Find Familiar, and most importantly, grants you the Darkness spell. Warlock and Sorcerer are also okay ways to get this spell.
Three levels of Gloom Stalker Ranger will give you a whole plethora of benefits; check it out if you’re interested in gaining a heaping truckload of goodies.
Would I recommend playing an Astral Self Monk?
Not at a table with decently well-built characters. Monks can be good if you put a strong subclass on them, but this subclass is only good for grappling, and it’s not any better than a normal grappling build and worse than a specialist like a grappler Rune Knight.
You can have some fun making Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure references at a table with less powerful characters while still being effective though, so feel free to bring an Astral Self Monk there.