D&D 5e: Way of the Sun Soul Monk Guide
Role in the Party
The Sun Soul Monk is intended as a fun energy-shooting blaster monk who can use both unarmed strikes, weapons, and their various special energy blast abilities. However, the mechanics of the subclass are awful and fail to deliver on this fantasy in every way. The damage of these damage-focused options is terrible and there’s almost no added versatility.
This is likely the worst class/subclass combination in the game; but can we save it with some careful decisions? Probably not, honestly.
Way of the Sun Soul Monk Features
Radiant Sun Bolt
Starting when you choose this tradition at 3rd level, you can hurl searing bolts of magical radiance.
You gain a new attack option that you can use with the Attack action. This special attack is a ranged spell attack with a range of 30 feet. You are proficient with it, and you add your Dexterity modifier to its attack and damage rolls. Its damage is radiant, and its damage die is a d4. This die changes as you gain monk levels, as shown in the Martial Arts column of the Monk table.
When you take the Attack action on your turn and use this special attack as part of it, you can spend 1 ki point to make the special attack twice as a bonus action.
When you gain the Extra Attack feature, this special attack can be used for any of the attacks you make as part of the Attack action.
This is the main mechanic of the subclass. It seems like a ranged radiant punch at first, but it’s not eligible for martial arts so you’ll only have one attack. This means that if you actually try to use this, you will deal a total of 1d4+dex damage that round unless you spend your very limited ki to do the same damage you could just do by punching. You can’t even use Stunning Strike with this, and there aren’t any other features or feats that really boost this. Maybe the Hex spell can increase the damage, but Hex works on any attack, so you’re better off using it on stronger ones.
Monks have proficiency in the shortbow: if a monk attacks with that, they can deal 1d6+dex damage, maybe more if they take Sharpshooter, which Radiant Sun Bolt isn’t eligible for. Monks aren’t even all that great with the shortbow; this feature is worse than one of their most mediocre damage options.
If you take this subclass, the optimal choice is to rarely use this feature unless you’re fighting one of the two non-module specific enemies that are vulnerable to radiant damage. Even then, your damage is still bad unless you spend ki; hope you saved it!
Searing Arc Strike
At 6th level, you gain the ability to channel your ki into searing waves of energy. Immediately after you take the Attack action on your turn, you can spend 2 ki points to cast the Burning Hands spell as a bonus action.
You can spend additional ki points to cast Burning Hands as a higher level spell. Each additional ki point you spend increases the spell’s level by 1. The maximum number of ki points (2 plus any additional points) that you can spend on the spell equals half your monk level.
You are level 6 and have Flurry of Blows and Stunning Strike, which are solid staples for spending ki. Burning Hands is a weak 1st level spell that loses its shine as a decent damage dealer when enemies start getting more powerful around 3rd level. You do not want to spend two ki points on Burning Hands, even if you can do it as a bonus action. Maybe if every single square of the 15 foot cone was full of weak enemies, you might consider it, but that seldom happens.
At 11th level, you gain the ability to create an orb of light that erupts into a devastating explosion. As an action, you magically create an orb and hurl it at a point you choose within 150 feet, where it erupts into a sphere of radiant light for a brief but deadly instant.
Each creature in that 20-foot-radius sphere must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 2d6 radiant damage. A creature doesn’t need to make the save if the creature is behind total cover that is opaque.
You can increase the sphere’s damage by spending ki points. Each point you spend, up to a maximum of 3, increases the damage by 2d6.
The Way of the Four Elements monk is a widely mocked subclass: this is a worse version of their Fireball option. This is a constitution saving throw, and enemies take no damage at all if they pass, and the damage is horrible unless you spend a bunch of ki. This is also an action, unlike your terrible burning hands, which have become even more obsolete than before by this point.
At 17th level, you become wreathed in a luminous, magical aura. You shed bright light in a 30-foot radius and dim light for an additional 30 feet. You can extinguish or restore the light as a bonus action.
If a creature hits you with a melee attack while this light shines, you can use your reaction to deal radiant damage to the creature. The radiant damage equals 5 + your Wisdom modifier.
Use your reaction, get some free damage, and you are also a lightbulb. Not bad. However, it only works if you get hit, and getting hit by enemies is not good, and you can expect to deal 9-10 damage with this, which isn’t a ton. This is unfortunately the first feature that doesn’t screw you over through wasted ki if you actually try to use it
There’s not really anything here. You do have the freedom to not use your bad features, and you can run fast, so that’s good I guess?
Your damage will be completely awful if you actually try to use the features of this subclass, and your area of effect options are weak and cost a metric ton of ki. If you ignore the features, you’re a monk with no subclass. Even if you thought about taking this class for flavor reasons, you still have better options: a Celestial Warlock has a powerful ranged energy blast option and is also a full spellcaster and can do cool big blasts, and you can even use a weapon if you want.
Best Race Options
The Half-Elf offers you access to the Elven Accuracy feat, as well as more ability score increases than other races. Use the Tasha’s feature to put them into dexterity, wisdom, and constitution, and start the game with slightly higher scores in these than the average monk, then boost an odd Wisdom with Elven Accuracy at 4th level.
The Changeling race gives you something fun you can do out of combat. You might have bad damage, but at least you’re amazing at changing your form.
Dhampir is hilarious: you’re a vampire-adjacent creature with sunlight powers. It’s not a bad racial option either, since it counts as a monk weapon for you. After landing a bite, you can buff the damage of your next attack or your next ability check, and since it scales with your martial arts die, at high levels, you could add another 1d10+2 to 1d10+5 damage to a Radiant Sun Bolt or heal by the same amount or add it to an ability check. You add another die on a critical hit, so go bite some unconscious people.
Choosing the Right Skills
Your high dexterity and desire to do cool monk stunts means that Acrobatics proficiency is going to be your proficiency of choice. You might also consider Athletics proficiency if you don’t want a negative modifier, since martial artists tend to be in solid physical shape.
Your high wisdom means that you can at least be solid in the exceptionally useful Perception, and any other wisdom skills of your choice. Insight is a solid pick, and since you probably lack magical healing abilities, Medicine proficiency can help you stabilize an ally in an emergency.
Even though you’re very light-based, you can still be very good at Stealth and Sleight of Hand if your party needs them. Just make sure to turn off your level 17 ability before sneaking around in the darkness.
Religion proficiency may make sense depending on what kind of monk you are, so you might consider it if nobody else has it.
You may not deal a ton of damage as this class, but if you take the Ritual Caster feat, you will at least have solid rituals you can use to help the party. Wizard is best, but if you can’t fit 13 intelligence on your build, Druid and Cleric will also do.
This would technically be a house rule, but if you beg your DM to let you use all of the Sharpshooter features with Radiant Sun Bolt, you can at least do solid damage when you’re spending ki. I haven’t personally met a DM who seems like they would say no to this.
If you pick the Elf race, you can use Elven Accuracy, which increases the accuracy of your Radiant Sun Bolts. You might not hit hard unless your DM lets you use Sharpshooter, but you can at least hit more often.
You might consider Acolyte due to this subclass’s holy flavor. Having a religious organization as an ally can also be useful.
Weirdly enough, I think the Fisher background works spectacularly if you’re starting the campaign at level 3 or higher. Maybe you swam around in the ocean and shot fish with your Radiant Sun Bolt, which is more effective than using a conventional ranged weapon and doesn’t require you to open your mouth and risk drowning as a cantrip does. You could make a solid living as a fisherman with lasers.
The Prismari Student background might be fitting, as well as a solid source of a free feat that you can use to grab the Shield spell or something else. The Prismari school has a lot of art-focused blasting mages, so maybe you can do something artistic with your Radiant Sun Bolt or flavor it strangely. Your Searing Sunburst, while it does terrible damage, does happen to be an amazing infinite use firework since spending ki is optional. You can be better at long magical light shows than most other Prismari students by 11th level.
One level of Hexblade Warlock gives you access to Hex, and maybe if you put Hex and Hexblade’s Curse on your Radiant Sun Bolt, you can make it do less terrible damage. I would recommend just being a full warlock instead of going Sun Soul Monk at all though.
Radiant Sun Bolt still works while wearing armor, so a one level Cleric dip for armor proficiency can give you a higher defense at low levels, let you benefit from magic armor you find, and give you some other benefits, including spellcasting. Peace gives you a powerful buff you can apply to others, and Twilight is an interesting thematic choice that also has powerful benefits.
One level of Barbarian grants you rage and armor proficiencies, which can boost your defense. You aren’t using strength to attack enemies, but at least you’ll be resistant to a lot of damage.
Would I recommend playing a Sun Soul Monk?
No. You can make the Radiant Sun Bolt less terrible with spells like Hex, but you’re probably just better off going with a normal Warlock if you want to be an energy-shooting martial artist type of character. Eldritch Blast with Hex can do 4d10+4d6+20 damage at high levels, and this is before you apply any damage bonuses from your subclass or cast any different damage boosting spells. Maybe just take one level of monk if unarmored defense is that important for you and you have the ability scores to justify it.