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MonkSep 28, 2015 5:00 pm CT

Zen Meditation: Monk class fantasy from the tavern brawler to the martial artist

Pandaren Monk

Sitting in the audience of the opening ceremonies for BlizzCon 2011, I found myself absolutely mesmerized by the idea of the Monk class to be introduced in Mists of Pandaria. After maining a Shaman for over eight years, I knew prior to even trying out the alpha of Monk this was the class for me. As a kid, I grew up salivating over the Dragonball universe, and I absolutely adored all types of martial arts movies. The idea of a streetfighter-esque class, my favorite archetype in Dungeons and Dragons, I knew there would be no way I could keep casting totems.

Imagine, for a moment, a Monk outside of Warcraft. We consider ourselves to simply be martial artists, perhaps — something ripped out of the pages of the same universes described above. So, how exactly do the specs actually fit this class fantasy, or do they have their own that they’re modeled after?

Chen, the drunken brawler, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Chen the drunken brawler

The brawling masters

At BlizzCon 2011, the announcement of Mists of Pandaria brought the description of the Monk class. Described as a drunken brawler, each of the three specs would have a fast-paced playstyle with their various brews. Being honest, that fantasy changed wildly following the release of Mists of Pandaria — but not for Brewmaster. Instead, the spec has embraced the fantasy while other Monk specs have made their own deviations from it.

Each of the Monk specs have their own effigies. In this case, the Brewmaster is the Ox, Niuzao: a great, strong beast which simply shrugs off attacks as if they’d never happened. Add in a bit of Elusive Brew and perhaps a bit of Stagger, and you have the perfect tavern brawler.

In terms of representation, Chen illustrates this ideal perfectly. A large Pandaren, always with his brew in hand, swinging his staff while just ignoring attacks.  The spec’s design also reflects the fantasy of the brawler.

In order to mitigate damage, Brewmasters simply stagger it — not too different from what any drunken master might do. Smashing her kegs on the ground, the brewmaster confuses and puts her enemies into a Dizzying Haze. Yet, even with the brews, they are still a Monk — Jabbing and Blackout Kicking their way to victory.


The martial artist

Perhaps the largest iterations have been done on Windwalker. While the overall fantasy of the Monk pointed toward a drunken brawler, Windwalker has deviated more toward being a martial artist rather than the dizzying haze described for Brewmaster. Xuen, the White Tiger, as Windwalker’s effigy is also pretty straight-forward. This represents both ferocity and wisdom.

Wait, wisdom? How does a level 90 talent that teleports off of platforms represent wisdom, exactly? Recall the White Tiger Temple: Xuen imparts wisdom to both the player and Wrathion about the Sha and dealing with his own inner demons, while still presiding over the training at the White Tiger temple. An interesting choice overall for a DPS class — yet, it still makes sense when you really look at who the Windwalker represents.

Windwalkers are the Bruce Lees of the Warcraft world, learning to harness their fury into their Tigereye Brew while dealing damage in a more consistent way than most classes. Consider the spell names for Windwalker — Fists of Fury, Serenity, Tigereye Brew. All of these indicate a type of anger management really encouraged by the Pandaren and by Xuen — that is to say, the harnessing of their rage into their Chi-based attacks.

But how about those Mistweavers channeling their inner crane? They’re certainly martial artists similar to Windwalkers, yet they are dealing damage in order to heal. How does that even work? Well, this fantasy may be a bit more of a stretch. Just like a serpent stance Mistweaver, they are still, in a sense, using the mists in order to heal.


The serpent in the mist

So on one hand, we have a Monk who kicks and punches in order to heal. On the other hand, we have one that’s sitting a bit further away and channeling healing spells while casting Renewing Mist. These seem completely different — one acts like your Bruce Lee that happens to also heal while he’s punching, while the other seems more like a Druid that doesn’t have a tree form.

Consider it the Mistweaver’s environment. Mists fill Pandaria, a land once completely hidden by them until the Horde and Alliance finally found them. Perhaps in its history, a few Monks simply found ways in which to use this for its healing energies. In fact, this makes Yu’lon about perfect for Mistweavers. Represented as a cloud serpent, Yu’lon would be incredibly familiar with the mists and how to bend them to their will. Meanwhile, Chi’ji represents the Mistweaver acting as a martial artist; while they are kicking and punching, they may deal damage but are still using the mists in order to heal their allies.

In fact, while the Brewmasters have their kegs and Windwalkers have their Tigereye Brew, Mistweavers have their tea — the old solution to any illness. The perfect solution to any cold day, or any sore throat, Mistweavers have the perfect brew to keep the healing energies going.

The overall fantasy

Overall, I think that Windwalker and Brewmaster hit their respective fantasies on the head. But the problem with Mistweaver is obvious when one tries to really compare it to any kind of culture reference outside of Warcraft — there’s just no real precedence for a kick-puncher that’s also healing.

This also appears in the gameplay of Mistweaver. While crane stance is incredibly fun, serpent stance ends up being the de facto stance for Mistweaver, further removing them from the ideal of a martial artist. What if their toolkit revolved more around actually performing amazing feats of martial arts, not too different from Brewmaster or Windwalker?

For all specs, Chi Explosion has also killed parts of the fantasies. We have an archetype that is supposed to rely on its own power to deal measured amounts of damage — and so we are just bursting all of it at once? That simply does not make sense in the world of martial arts. Further, Windwalker itself has become extremely bursty with the inclusion of Chi Explosion, Serenity, and even the kinds of uptime that Tigereye Brew has seen — really detaching from the idea of carefully measured attacks. While many players enjoy its playstyle (including myself), Chi Explosion simply does not fit the fantasy.

In terms of the brewing brawlers, Brewmaster could certainly use a few more brew-related spells. Perhaps some extra cooldowns could work, or even just renaming certain spells (Guard, anyone?). It might be interesting if, rather than relying on Chi like their more sober brethren, they had a few extra brews or ales in their toolkit.

As a final note: Chi Burst truly fits the Dragonball Monk fantasy probably better than should be commented on. After all, surely Goku’s kamehameha also has its cast time reduced by haste?

Perhaps with a few tweaks to Mistweaver, and a few more brews for Brewmaster, these archetypes could really fit into the typical Monk fantasy. How else would you see this class tweaked to fit its typical archetype?

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