Ki Powers

Before I jump into the next topic, a quick word on the poll from the last post. The results don’t give any choice a clear mandate… but I’m going to lump for the one with the most votes. Therefore overcasting spells drains the ability score that an  instinctive caster uses to cast her spells. Normally this is Charisma, but I’m sure there are instinctive casters out there who use different ability scores.

As with all the decisions we’ve taken over the last few posts, I’m still going to see how all this works in play. Marc suspects that instinctive casters may now be too versatile compared to acquired casters. He may be right. But I don’t want to make any further changes to the system unless I can avoid it. So without further ado…

The Problem of Ki

Magic is not the only way in which characters can create fantastic effects. Many classes have supernatural abilities that are powered by the character’s ki (soul energy for want of a better term). The Monk and the Ninja are the obvious examples of Ki-using characters in Pathfinder. However, I like the idea of Ki and I believe that the same mechanics can be used to convert the Incarnum-using classes, the classes from the Book of Nine Swords and the 4e Swordmage into Pathfinder.

However, we have a bit of a problem. Ki works fine using the rules as they’re written, there’s no question of that. Ki users aren’t as versatile or powerful as spellcasters, and nor should they be. That said there’s a certain parity between the monk, the sorcerer and the wizard. Our house rules for acquired and instinctive magic throw that balance out of the window.

Here’s how ki works at the moment. I’ll use the Monk as an example. All monks have a number of ki points equal to half their level plus their Wisdom modifier. These points make up their ki pool. The monk use this ki pool in one of two ways. He can spend points to trigger supernatural abilities, such abundant step (aka dimension door), making an extra attack or dodging a foe. Secondly, as long as he keeps at least one point in his ki pool, he maintains the ability to use some supernatural abilities (such as ki strike) at will.

A monk’s ki pool is a daily resource. It is replenished after an extended (8 hour rest) and with very, very few exceptions the monk cannot get any ki points back without such a rest.

And that’s our problem. We’ve moved to a 4e-like system where acquired and instinctive casters replenish their magic after each encounter. Monks and other ki-users are still stuck on a daily recharge system. That makes their abilities relatively less useful when compared to other party members. The parity that the rules assume between these classes is no longer there.


You can see where this is going by now, can’t you? I have some ideas on how to go forward with the monk. If we can fix him then I can use that as the template for all other character classes that use ki. Here are my ideas (following by a poll), but if you think of anything else or want to make any further points, then please use the comments below.

Option One: The Rules as Written

It’s certainly an option to leave the monk exactly where he is. We keep his powers on a daily recharge schedule. In doing so we’ve inadvertently elevated magic users even further above the monk in terms of usefulness and power, but on balance we’ve decided we don’t care about that. There are other classes (such as the Barbarian and the Bard) that have daily resources to manage – so the monk can manage with daily resources too.

I will only counter that argument slightly by saying daily resources for bards and barbarians bug me a little to. And if we do go through with changes to the way Ki works, I’d certainly consider testing some of the ideas I’ve had for Barbarian Rage and Bardic Music to bring all the classes into line.

Option Two: More Ki Points per Day

The easiest modification, perhaps, is to simply increase the number of ki points a monk has. Instead of half his level plus his Wisdom modifier, why not make it his full level plus his Wisdom modifier? The monk still manages his resources daily instead of by the encounter, but he has more resources to play with – hopefully making his a little more versatile.

Option Three: Ki Points per Encounter

Alternatively, we can just use the same system for monks as instinctive casters. The monk still has the same number of ki points (which is less than any instinctive caster – including the hexblade) but they all replenish every time the monk takes a short rest. This is how things work for all spellcasters. Why not ki-users as well?

Option Four: More Ki Points per Encounter

A combination of options two and three. The monk has more ki points (his full level plus his Wisdom modifier) and all those points are replenished after each short rest. This is the most powerful option for the monk.

Option Five: Limited recharge per encounter

The monk has the traditional number of ki points (half his level + his Wisdom modifier) and he spends them normally. After each short rest he replenishes his ki pool to half his maximum total, rounded down. So a monk with 10 ki points who spends 8 of them, may take a short rest to restore his ki pool to 5. However, the same monk who spends only 3 points won’t get any benefit from a short rest as his current total (7) is above half his ki pool’s maximum limit. The only way to restore a ki pool to its maximum total would be to take an extended (8-hour) rest.

This is the system that Marc uses to govern Daily and Encounter powers in his 4e campaign, and I think it works rather well. There’s a little more book-keeping involved, but I like the fact that it preserves the idea of ki points as a daily resource while at the same time giving the monk more versatility, and the ability to hold his own against spellcasters.

Options Six: More Ki Points, limited recharge per encounter

This is a mix options two and five. The monk’s ki pool is bigger: his full level + his Wisdom modifier. A short rest allows a monk to replenish his ki pool to half his maximum total. This has the advantage of option six, but also gives the monk a little more poke as the adventuring day continues.


So those are the options as I see them. You may come up with something else. Please vote in the poll below. At the moment, I quite like option six. I like the way the system is just that little bit different from instinctive casting, but still extremely simple. Don’t let me sway you though!


22 thoughts on “Ki Powers

  1. my problem here is with the current implementation, i need to budget my ki points expenditure not knowing whether there is a plan encounter or none on that day.

    my other issue, i dont see why there should be a relation whether i need 1 ki point to be able to do my ki-pool strikes.

    looking at the options of changing the system, i will add i dont like additional book-keeping, not that the system is difficult to keep track, but it is unnecessary.

    i would vote to double the number of ki-points and recharge daily, basically base on your level + wisdom modifier.

    The alternative, not mentioned in your poll, is to reduce all ki use for all abilities to just 1. i like this because it would allow raza to have more flexibility to use abilities without wandering whether he’ll have the ki points to spend. this is also true especially when you have spend feats (Dimensional ??) to improve abundant steps.

  2. I have to confess I quite the like the mechanic of having to keep one point unspent to activate at-will abilities. I think it works quite well for the Gunslinger too, although they don’t use Ki of course.

    Ki is the source that powers all a monk’s supernatural abilities. So it stands to reason that if you completely empty your reserves of that power then none of your supernatural abilities would function.

    However, it is effectively a “tax” on your abilities. You never want to spend your last ki point because if you do then your whole effectiveness is down-powered until after you rest. So there’s an argument there for giving the monk more ki points to make up for it.

    Personally, I’d rather give the monk his base ki points plus his Wis Modifier +1 than remove the mechanic from the game.

    I agree that the problem you have the monk is that you have to anticipate your use of Ki across an entire day. You’re always worried about blowing points in one encounter in case you need your abilities later. No other class has to do this. Not even the spellcasters need to worry about this anymore – as long as they can get a short rest, they can keep going all day without being greatly diminished in power.

    That’s why I thought recharging points per encounter would be more appealing. You voted for more points per day, which surprises me.

    I don’t really want to lower the cost of all a monk’s abilities to 1 ki point. I think there needs to be a means to say that one ability is more significant and more costly than another. If you find you’re running out of points a lot, then I’d rather increase the number of ki points as a whole, than the reduce the cost of any particular ability (like abundant step).

  3. I’m not surprised by this. I said it in the discussion on instinctive casters – recharge magic, while simple in book-keeping terms, makes acquired casters more powerful. The new rules on instinctive magic had to be more powerful just to keep up. Now we’re on to the next class.

    The problem is, every class has a limited number of resources, and we’ve given spellcasters a chance to replenish their main resources as often as they want. You’ve identified barbarians and bards as having the same problem as monks, and you’ve nodded to gunslingers and their grit mechanic, but you’ve also got the cavalier’s challenges, paladin’s smite evil, alchemist’s bombs, assassin’s angel of death and so on.

    And what about hit points? Fighters and barbarians rely on their high number hit points to make a difference. Wizards shoudn’t have to worry too much about that, but if a fighter runs low on hit points, they become a liability.

    To make it balanced, all powers, abilities and hit points would have to be replenished after a short rest, rather than a long rest. That is essentially what you’ve done for casters, so that’s what you need to do for everyone else.

    • Well, you may be right. I have already changed the way Alcehmists work to bring them in line with other spellcasters. I don’t really see a problem with the paladin’s smite ability, but that might just be because I haven’t had a low-level paladin in an adventuring party.

      On the whole I think I’ll wait to see if this becomes a problem. I don’t want to go changing a whole host of classes for something that might not be as big an issue in play as we think it is. If it becomes a problem, or if a player simply tells me his character sucks, then I’ll address it then.

      I guess I’m largely trying to come up with workable rules for the classes I know I have to deal with on a session-by-session basis. So cavaliars and assassins aren’t on my radar yet.

      I’m not worried about hit points, though. Any party that has characters who can cast healing magic should be able to regain hit points in fairly short order. Fighters won’t be able to replenish hit points themselves, but given enough time, the party cleric can put the fighters back together again between encounters.

  4. I would definitely go with the Ki Points per Encounter, no other change should be neccessary. Recharging Ki points lets the monk do his cool things in every encounter instead of saving the flying teleport backflip kick that makes people explode to only one encounter per day.

    More importantly however is the parity you mentioned. Instinctive casters are now using a per-encounter system which allows them to use all their abilities all the time as a balance for the fact that they have less abilities overall to use and Ki follows almost exactly the same concept.

    It shouldn’t be neccessary to make any change other than points per encounter. Monk Ki abilities are already fairly awesome and giving Monks the ability to use their Ki abilities in every fight will be a noticable jump in power for the class that should come fairly close to matching the sorc’s ability to do the same.

  5. Ok – this might sound like a bit of INdran bashing – but it isn’t meant as such. Lets start from the statement that INdran will keep enough KI points back to use his healing power (frankly I think any of us would- when I tinkered around with a Monk – it was going to be part of my plan too).

    IIRC that’s 2 points to trigger that power; so then you have to weigh up the fact that the MONK is already a very efficient fighter type ; i.e. they have good HP AND they can attack using their hands EVERY ROUND, PLENTY of times, often more times than the fighter, so extending the use Ki powers is an affront to both the Fighters and teh Magic users.

    Personally I would favour a “per encounter” style of KI point BUT, with a very reduced number of KI points, maybe +1 every odd level.
    so 19th level (Raza) would have 10. This would mean that maybe he’d keep healing back and be able to do 3 more “natty” manoeuvres per encounter – that seems “balanced” to me.

    I would scrap the requirement to keep a point back (it is effectively a redundant point in the current ruleset – same for Gunslingers!) – so 1st level monk can do didly squat (although they may not get KI powers until later anyway – I forget and cannot be bothered to look it up!)

    YOU also have to consider the ROGUE and its subclasses when you tinker with KI powers – as they can get access to KI talents too via advanced rogue talent.

    I am also of the opinion Neil (and in agreement with Dan here) – that in your quest to remove the book-keeping, you run the risk of seriously unbalancing things.

    • Jon and Neil,

      I did wander about the healing monk ability and the ki point per encounter. Specific to Raza, at L19, Raza can heal 38 HP per 2 ki points and takes a standard action to act. In the middle of combat, this would be a suicide action for Raza. Most hits do more than how much the monk would heal and even if you heal every round down to your last ki, Raza would end up dead as he cant attack whilst trying to heal and his defense AC is not high enough. The healing thing is great if you have a moment of pause in battle or use with some combination of feats but quite useless in continuous combat.


      • The rules state that the monk spends 2 ki points to heal himself of hit points equal to his level. We changed it to hit points equal to twice his level, because the written rules did seem too low. I think everyone agreed to this at the time. It brings it in line with the paladin’s lay on hands ability. A 19th level paladin can restore 9d6 hit points (average 32, but maximised at 20th level).

        If I’m being honest, I don’t think that Wholeness of Body is really designed to keep the monk up and running during combat, but is more of a meditative thing that is done when there isn’t someone trying to stab you.

    • Changing any rules in the game always create unforeseen complications. I am still of the opinion that the house rules we have for magic now are better than the ones we used to have when third edition started. I think they work better at low levels, and they make play easier at high levels.

      But I know they’re not as balanced as the published rules, and that spellcasters are comparitively more powerful than non-spellcasters as a result. My only defence is that things aren’t as bad as they used to be. And there are still aspects of third edition that I can’t (or won’t) take straight from the book. Things that don’t make sense for Iourn, or just rules I can’t get my head around. My weakness, I know.

      Regarding the monk, I see what you’re saying here. I wouldn’t be my choice to allow the monk to replenish all his ki points on a per encounter basis. I think that makes it too much like magic.

      At present monks get ki points equal to half their level + their Wisdom modifier. That’s not too much more than 1 ki point per odd-numbered level. Raza has a Wisdom of 18, so the ki points for a 19th level Raza would be 13 as it is. I don’t think we should go below that level to be honest.

      But if we change to a “per encounter” system, what happens to the ki pool? Do we say that a short rest is enough to regenerate all the ki (all Raza’s 13 points), or do we say that a short rest only regenerates ki up to half his maximum total – so once he burns through his ki once, his ki pool is reduced to a maximum of 6 points until he next takes an extended rest?

      I favour the second mechanic because it preserves a sense of daily limit on a monk’s powers, it’s different to the way magic works, and it ensures the monk becomes less versatile as the day goes on. Spellcasters don’t have this reduction in versatility, but at the same time they are only spellcasters. The monk, as you say, has plenty of utility without needing to dip into his ki pool at all.

      As for other classes that have the ki pool (such as Rogues who select the ki pool talent from Ultimate Combat… I see no reason why that can’t work exactly the same way as ki works for the monk. One system for everyone.

      Finally, I just want to underline my support for the 1 ki or grit point “insurance” to keep certain powers available. It allows a greater versatility from the design perspective . I like it a lot… and when it comes to converting classes from the Tome of Battle into Pathfinder, it’s really handy to have it there. I can have a rule saying that a particular Warblade stance requires the Warblade to keep 1 or 2 unspent ki points in his pool. Thus he is less able to spend points on his other abilities.

  6. why need them to keep points back Neil.
    You don’t ask Instinctive caster to keep spell points back.
    Or make Druids alwasy keep one wild-shape back…. why give a charcacter something and then say it’s unuseable. It seems mad to me.

    Now – you could reduce the overall size of the encounter pool by say 2 ; BUT allow them to “overuse-ki” which wipes out their pool completely until they have had a proper 8 hour rest and allow them an additional use of any of their power (regardless of cost) one time.

    This could apply to all classes – call it the class connection.
    the character can sever the class connection for one last heroic act.
    This connection takes a full 8 hour rest ou wish to restore.

    Then its easy.

    You have a set amount of Ki/Encounter ; all useable.
    and a one shot “temporary sever class connection”.

    The player maths then becomes easy.
    There is no trying to remember to keep “1 back” (damn silly if you ask me!)

    BUT you (Neil) get to keep the power which say “need 1 ki in the pool” to be instead “need class connection intact to function”


    got any more issues you want me to solve?

    • The point gets kept back because that’s what the published rules say, and I’m not changing anything I don’t have to change. As I’ve said, I like the mechanic. It works well, it’s not complicated and it’s very helpful from a design point of view.

      Certainly, your class connection rules do the same job – but that’s just it: they do exactly the same job. Why introduce something new, when what already exists works perfectly well?

      I think it’s okay for different classes to have different rules and different limitations. Monks aren’t spellcasters. There’s no reason why they should follow the same rules or even the same logic as instinctive casters or druids.

  7. Neil says:

    I have never played a monk so I’m not really sure but they seem to me to be powerful and versatile enough without needing anymore help! They seem to be fighters that also have access to a limited set of ‘magical’ powers, that to my mind makes them better than straight fighters and magic users, but I may be missing something.

    On a purely practical level, Ki is concerned with the ‘inner power’ of the martial artist and therefore, to my mind, it is ‘depleted’ due to the sheer mental exertion necessary to tap into it, therefore the character would need a sustained period of time to recover. I actually voted for the limited recharge mechanic as it seems to me that a shorter rest should allow the monk to recover a little.

    On a slightly different note I fundamentally disagree with being able to keep only 1 point in your pool to have access to certain Ki powers: that flies in the face of what Ki is to my mind, besides does any other class have such an ability?

    • The thing about monks is that, while they can be powerful in certain situations, they aren’t fighters. INdran would be first to say that monks can’t stand toe to toe with a fighter in combat. They don’t have the armour class, they don’t have hit points and they can’t deal damage as quickly.

      The ki powers and abilities (as well as the incresed number of skills and feats) create a viable and interesting class when compared to warriors and wizards… but in no way do they create a class that eclipses either of their martial or magical companions.

      The argument here is that the monk has a point-based system for rationing his ki powers that gets recharged daily. All of the other points-based daily recharge abilities have been moved to a per-encounter basis… so should the monk follow suit?

      I agree with your definition of ki here. The monks are relying on an inner power, rather than tapping an external power source as magic-users do.

      Any class with a ki pool uses this “keep one point in reserve” mechanic. It’s something Pathfinder is quite fond of as it also turns up in the Gunslinger – although they use “grit” and not “ki”.

      I think it does make sense from a story point of view. If the ki represents an internal power supply that can be exhausted, it stands to reason that when it is exhausted all of the monk’s supernatural abilities cease to function. He needs a little something in the tank to keep his powers ticking over.

  8. I wouldnt like the recharge per encounter at half your Ki. I do not think you should see ki-pool as giving an added edge to what the class has.

    Monk are not wizards/sorcerers, but you have tweaked to allow spellcasters to recharge their casting abilities per encounter.
    so why not just give that to the monk. As you say, a monk wont last in battle with a 121 fighter and probably nor with a wizard, the class is designed to be all-rounder with a little more focus on defense. Now that you have given more flexibility to the spellcasters to let them recharge per encouter, why not do the same for monks and leave it at that.

    And lets do some maths here, a spellcaster will have say 50 spells at his dispossal by the time he hits level 19, and has the abilty to throw all these spells again after a 5 mins rest. A monk at the same level has 13 ki-points. that is insignificant in terms of abilities compared to a spellcaster. on average he may spend 6 ki points doing abundant step (dimensional attacks), 2 ki points on healing, 2 on extra attacks and 2 on defense +4 AC. that is hardly game breaking per encounter, compare to an invocation that can throw 4 9th level spells plus all the other 8th level spells. And now you are pondering whether we should half that pool after per-encounter???

  9. Also, to Jon; the Monk is NOT an efficient fighter type. A fighter (especially a pathfinder fighter) will completely mop the floor with a monk.

    What monks have is mobility and fancy tricks, and that’s what they’re good at. They can move around almost unrestricted to get into good tactical positions to make the most of their abilities.

    It’s also worth noting that if you exclude Ki powers, you can actually do everything a Monk does with a Fighter, only better. Ki powers are literally the one advantage Monks have over Fighters.

  10. @TeamGlister.
    I take your point – my 19th lvl Fighter would – on average, mop the floor with INdrans Raza, UNLESS Raza gets the drop and makes a quivering Palm stick…. and that isn’t even a Ki Power…..

    Caveat : My Fighter is a bit of a Munchkin build……I am aware of this.

    So while in a toe-2-toe fight – that last over a sequence of rounds – yes… fighter should win….. but that doesn’t make Monks bad fighters….
    The dynamic (for the majority of time) of our party is one where we shove the Paladin ; the Half-Orc Druid the Dwarf Ranger AND the Monk forward inthe to close combat while the Cleric and Sorcerer hang back and hope that the fight doesn’t get to close.
    In the schema – the first point of contact is USUALLY the MONK.

    So with a nod to Neil (S) : I am putting forward the point that a refreshing pool of Ki for Monks, I beleive, makes them overpowered.

    Most fights only last 5/6 rounds maximum, so giving Monks a Ki pool that doesn’t restrict them not only overpowers the Monk but devalues (from a story perspective) the powers – as they will be seen every combat, every time.

    I know from my experience of Ravenna (sorcerer) that most fights follow a spellcasting pattern. I tend to treat it like a RPG game on my PS3…. and that became dull for me – hence why I switched to the fighter ….

    I ramble…..

    My point is,i think, that the Ki Pool shouldn’t be the NORM for the Monk but should be the “Exceptional”, and as such more thought need to be given to this.

    Neil (M) : question….can the Ki healing power be used multiple times?
    If so – what’s stopping monks healing completely ex-combat using a recharging Ki Pool?

  11. Hello all. My apologies, but I haven’t found the opportunity to get back to the blog over the last few days:

    Jon: I don’t think the Ki pool is “exeptional” for the monk any more than spellcasting is “exceptional” for the wizard. It’s part and parcel of the character, not icing on the cake. Without it the monk is – largely – a slightly sub-par fighter.

    This ties into the point that INdran was making… and I have to say I agree with him.

    I don’t think that refreshing the ki pool per encounter for monks will make them particularly overpowered when compared to spellcasters or fighters. Their ki abilities are fairly limited. The ki pool gives the monk the ki strike ability, and in addition to that the monk can spend ki points to:

    1) Make one additional attack when he uses Flurry of Blows.
    2) Add +4 to his AC for one round.
    3) Add +20 to his acrobatics/athletics check for one jump.
    4) Wholeness of Body (self-healing) from 7th level
    5) Abundant step (dimension door) from 12th level.
    6) Empty Body (etherealness) from 19th level.

    Given that all dimension door abilities require line of sight in my house rules, I don’t think there’s anything there that that would cause concern. Also, I think that rather than over-exposing or devaluing the powers, increased usage of these abilities would make the monk more iconic and better defined.

    Rather than the monk being someone who teleports once or twice per day, he becomes the character who disappears and reappears around the battlefield, phasing in and out of reality… he’s the character who is always able to jump like a startled cricket… not just sometimes.

    I think that’s more desirable for the character, not less.

    Jon, to answer your question: given suitable conditions and opprtunities to take several short rests, then the monk could heal all his hit points. But then under the recharge rules, so can any class that has access to healing magic. Monks remain less versatile than clerics because they cannot use their healing on other people. Is this a concern?

  12. Without ki powers, monks are at a big disadvantage. Their big strengths are multiple attacks and great mobility. But when you move, you can’t take multiple attacks, meaning their advantages are not compatible. So what they need are those nifty tricks to pull them level with the specialist classes. They have other things too – stealth, acrobatics, great saving throws – but ki gives them an edge they need.

    The important thing is that players other than casters are not gipped by the rules changes. If all casters have pretty much limitless resources, you don’t want to get into a situation where monks, barbarians and cavaliers (yes, I know you don’t have any cavaliers yet, but I was considering one the last time we played and the system has to accomodate as many options as possible, even if the rules aren’t yet finalised) aren’t out of fun things to do long before the clerics and wizzards are.

    So, give them enough of a recharge to ensure they can keep going as long as a caster. Then do the same for everyone else’s key abilities. That way you’ll keep enough balance to make everyone happy and ensure each class is attractive.

  13. Yes, it is important to make sure that other classes aren’t disadvantaged by the new magic rules. As it stands at present monks, cavaliars, bards, barbarians, paladins and numerous other characters have class abilities that have daily rather than encounter based limits. And you may be completely right, and they may all need some tweaking.

    However, I don’t want to go mad and change a lot of things until I’m convinced that there is a problem. After all, under the old house-rules most spell-casters had a spell point surplus after a certain level. If they cast spells whenever they needed to, but still didn’t use all their daily resources, then they had access to their magic (effectively) at-will. That system jollied along with the other classes as defined in third edition – which was much less forgiving than Pathfinder.

    So… I’m going to see what happens. INdran (why is it always INdran?) is playing a magus in my weekly game. I won’t change the rules for his Arcane Pool. At least not let. I want to see how the class works alongside Malcolm’s inquisitor (an instinctive caster using spell points), and Marc’s wizard (an acquired casters using the recharge system). Maybe I have to change the Magus, but I’d rather not simply assume I have to.

    As for the monk… Well the vote above is not exactly conclusive, but more of you do seem to prefer a recharge per encounter of ki points – especially when you take into account that INdran voted for an increased daily limit and then changed his mind. Let’s leave the monk ki pool where it is (half his level + his Wisdom modifier) and have those recharge at the end of a short rest. We’ll see how that goes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s