Good news to anyone disappointed by the worst subclass in all of D&D 5E: the latest playtest for One D&D, the 2024 rules revision to Dungeons & Dragons, has finally given Way of the Four Elements a long-overdue edit.
The new playtest materials dropped at the end of June 2023, including revisions of seven classes – but it’s the Monk subclass, Warrior of the Elements, that is bound to attract a lot of attention. A revision of the Way of the Four Elements subclass in 5E, it’s regularly cited as a low point for subclasses across the edition, with even the playtest document from D&D Beyond calling it “often the lowest-rated subclass in the 2014 Player’s Handbook”.
But no longer – a number of major complaints about the subclass have been revisited, building the elemental monk into a whole new experience.
The main problem with the prior version was its tight resource management. Your fist-throwing monk could get a nicely elemental flavor, with spell-like abilities that drew on elemental powers, such as ‘Fangs of the Fire Snake’ or ‘Fist of Unbroken Air’. But these abilities also used up your Ki Points, meaning they competed with key features of the class that also used up that same primary resource. These elemental disciplines could be interesting, but were a major Ki sink that felt limiting for player choice, rather than expansive.
The Way of the Four Elements Monk is regularly cited as a low point for subclasses across Fifth Edition.
It was also the only feature you got access to in the subclass. While the Four Elements Monk is often seen as a ‘third-caster’, in the vein of the Arcane Trickster Rogue or Eldritch Knight Fighter, with a slow and limited spell progression, it got fewer kinds of magic, more limited uses and no additional abilities thrown in alongside it – truly the short end of the staff.
The new Warrior of the Elements Monk wisely rebuilds the subclass from scratch. Its core feature, Elemental Attunement, does require you to use a single Ki point, but it imbues you with elemental power for a whole minute (so, for a regular combat encounter). With this feature, any Monk punches deal your choice of damage type (Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning) and can push enemies up to 10 feet away with an unsuccessful Strength saving throw. Your reach also increases by 10 feet, meaning you’re essentially throwing short-range balls of fire and can stop most creatures staying too close to you.
In its 5E counterpart, you’d be spending anywhere from one to six Ki points on elemental disciplines, and in each case it would be for a one-off casting or effect – for a low-level Monk, your power budget could be spent in a single turn. In One D&D, the cost is minimal and the effect is substantial, smartly addressing the biggest complaints about the prior subclass.
One D&D's new Warrior of the Elements Monk wisely rebuilds the subclass from scratch, smartly addressing its biggest complaints in 5E.
Later on, you can use two points to create a blast of elemental energy in a large area, while at higher levels you gain short-term fly and swim speeds when using Monk’s Step of the Wind feature, hurtling through air and sea - which should help you feel like a master of the elements in an Avatar: The Last Airbender fashion. (Anyone wanting that specific fantasy, of course, can check out the Avatar Legends RPG.)
The subclass capstone throws in elemental damage resistance – which you can change on the fly – and a Destructive Stride ability that damages anyone you run past in the chaos of battle.
If I have one complaint, it’s that these abilities aren’t specific to each element, in the way that the Four Elements Monk’s abilities were. Instead, you have generic elemental effects that are flavored as a particular element (fire, acid, etc.) after the fact. Playing a Monk imbued with lightning powers won’t feel at all different from one who left a hermitage in the arctic tundra – though it’s still good to see features with a limited point cost, and things like fly speeds that are thrown in as high-level features without draining your Ki further.
It’s possibly a shame we won’t see many more big ideas for the Monk – due to approaching deadlines, we know that the game's designers are looking to finesse changes in One D&D rather than reinvent the wheel at this point. So anyone who fancied seeing a Four Elements Monk as a fully-fleshed third-caster, with actual spell slots alongside some elemental abilities, will no doubt be disappointed. But if nothing else, the current playtest shows that some of D&D 5E’s biggest issues are getting firmly addressed.