way of the four elements monk dnd 5e

Way of the Four Elements Monk: D&D 5e Subclass Review

Featured Way of the Four Elements Monk image credit to Wizards of the Coast’s D&D 5e Player’s Handbook.
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The Way of the Four Elements Monk was introduced in the D&D 5e Player’s Handbook. Unfortunately, it wasn’t well designed. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything tried to help this subclass by adding a Monk feature called Ki-Fueled Attack, but it wasn’t enough. The Way of the Four Elements Monk’s abilities cost too many ki points. You don’t get to use them often enough to be impactful. 

This review will analyze the Four Elements features and how these synergize with the Monk class features. I’ll summarize suitable feats, races, and multiclass options and finally combine these into some build concepts.

As always, these are just my thoughts. If you have any other ideas about the Four Elements, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

3rd Level – Disciple of the Elements – Four Elements Monk Feature

The Four Elements Monk basically only gets one ability called Disciple of the Elements, which allows you to learn Elemental Disciplines – a way to cast spells or get other magical effects by using your kit points. 

You get to pick two Elemental Disciplines at level three. One of these has to be Elemental Attunement, which is the Monk version of Prestidigitation. You gain one more Elemental Discipline at sixth, eleventh and seventeenth levels. Many of the Disciplines are level-locked, so they can only be accessed once you have reached these levels. Whenever you gain a new Elemental Discipline, you can swap out one you already know, so you can upgrade a little as you go along.

Some of the Elemental Disciplines can be upcast by spending even more ki points; although this is capped, there’s a table in the Player’s Handbook with details.

Many of the disciplines involve saving throws, so you will need to have high wisdom for these to be effective. Your spells won’t be effective until you get your Wisdom to twenty. Some of the Disciplines involve Strength or Dexterity saving throws which are automatically failed by stunned targets, so these will probably be the most effective. Elemental Attunement is the only Discipline that doesn’t cost ki points, but you’ll still probably want to swap it out for something impactful.

Many of the Elemental Disciplines have fun names. I can imagine myself enjoying using them at the table.

Note that you can avoid material costs for the spells, but you still need to use your concentration if it’s required. You can lose the spell if you lose your concentration.

Some help is gained from Tasha’s ‘Ki-Fuelled Strike’ as an optional Monk feature; if you spend a ki point as an action on your turn, you can attack with an unarmed strike or a monk weapon as a bonus action on your turn.

  • Using any of your Elemental Disciplines will allow you to attack once per turn (and add an optional stunning strike to that if you hit).
  • You can combo this with one of your prone effects to gain advantage on that attack.

Here is a summary of the Disciplines by level with my notes:

3rd-Level Elemental Disciplines of the Four Elements Monk

  • Elemental Attunement – unique Four Elements ability, “Monkidigitation”, no ki points, compulsory.
    • Should be swapped out at level six, although it’s the only ki-free ability so if you want to have something to do when you run out of ki you can keep this.
    • This one doesn’t involve ki usage so won’t trigger Ki-Fuelled Attack.
  • Fangs of the Fire Snake – unique ability. 1 ki point for one turn of fire damage with 10ft extra reach, spend another ki point for 1d10 bonus fire damage on a hit.
    • It only fires off your unarmed strikes, so if you were using a 1d10 versatile Dedicated Weapon you are now back to 1d4s (your Martial Arts die doesn’t reach 1d10 until level seventeen).
    • It’s one of the few ways for Monks to do a ‘nova round’ of damage, you could blow nine ki points on this and Stunning Strike in one turn (assuming you’re at least level nine). That would basically be it for your ki usage until a short rest. The Paladin/Fighter versions of a nova round will still likely do more damage.
    • It provides access to magic damage a few levels earlier than usual for a Monk.
    • Fire damage is one of the most frequently resisted damage types (unlike magical bludgeoning damage, which is what a level-six Monk normally does).
    • The Astral Self Monk also gets a third-level feature that grants magical attacks with extra reach for one ki point… that lasts ten minutes… quite literally providing 100 times the base value of this.
    • This is one that doesn’t combo well with Ki-Fuelled Strike (you get extra attacks anyway).
  • Fist of Four Thunders – 2 ki for Thunderwave – 15ft cube for 2d8 thunder damage to multiple creatures, push them ten feet away, Con save for half and no push.
    • It has an area of effect at least, thunder damage is not often resisted.
  • Rush of the Gale Spirits – 2 kit for Gust of Wind – concentration, one minute long control option.
    • You can keep a whole platoon of enemies at bay in a corridor, or counter a Fog Cloud. Situational but not bad.
  • Shape the Flowing River – unique ability, use 1 ki point to reshape a 30ft by 30ft area of ice or water within 120ft of you, or convert ice to water or vica versa.
    • Nice way to impact your environment if you happen to be near ice or water. Situationally useful, only costs 1 ki point.
  • Sweeping Cinder Strike – 2 ki for Burning Hands. 15ft cone for 3d6 fire damage, Dex save for half.
    • Sun Soul Monk gets this as a bonus action and can upcast it higher. Stunning a creature first to avoid the save would be the best way to use it. 
  • Unbroken Air – unique ability, 2 ki. Choose one creature within 30ft, 3d10 bludgeoning damage and get pushed up to 20ft and knocked prone, Str save for half damage and avoid the push/prone effect. Increase damage by 1d10 per ki point spent.
    • Doesn’t require line of sight (this is amazing).
    • Features shared with Water Whip (below): 
      • Provides magic bludgeoning damage three levels earlier than usual.
      • Stunned creatures auto-fail the save.
      • Not affected by you having disadvantage on attacks.
      • Can move creatures into nasty effects (including your own River of Hungry Flame / Wall of Fire).
      • Guaranteed damage that can’t be counterspelled (it’s not a spell).
      • If you knock a flying creature prone it falls from the sky.
      • Not an attack or spell, so can be used while under the effects of an Invisibility spell.
      • The limits that apply to upcasting only affect those Disciplines that cast spells, so the only limit to increasing damage on this is the available ki points.
  • Water Whip – unique ability, two ki. A creature you can see within 30ft takes 3d10 bludgeoning damage and gets pulled up to 25ft or knocked prone, Dex save for half damage and avoid the pull/prone effect.
    • Does require line of sight.
    • Shares a lot of great features with Unbroken Air (see above) .
    • Great for knocking dragons out of the sky (prone), use Ride the Wind to get close enough.
    • Can pull flying creatures down close enough to hit them.
    • The original PHB had required a bonus action to use Water Whip, but errata changed it to an action (not sure why they nerfed this subclass).

6th-Level Elemental Disciplines of the Four Elements Monk

  • Clench of the North Wind – 3 ki for Hold Person, Wisdom save to avoid.
    • Might be OK if upcast to affect more than one creature, otherwise seems expensive compared to Stunning Strike.
  • Gong of the Summit – 3 ki for Shatter, 60ft range, 10ft sphere effect, 3d8 thunder damage, Con save for half.
    • Not a huge area of effect or huge damage.

11th-Level Elemental Disciplines of the Four Elements Monk

  • Flames of the Phoenix – 4 ki to cast Fireball, Dex save for 8d6 fire damage.
    • Great spell at level five, not so good when powered by a Monk’s Wisdom at level eleven.
  • Mist Stance – 4 ki for Gaseous Form, concentration, one hour.
    • Really nice get out of jail card, some infiltration shenanigans possible as well. Your improved movement speed will also boost the 10ft flying speed of this to something almost useful. 
    • You can’t attack or cast spells in gaseous form so this is for movement only, and therefore doesn’t compete well with Ride the Wind (see below). 
  • Ride the Wind – 4 ki for Fly, concentration, ten minutes.
    • You’re now a flying Monk, and your 60ft flying speed gets all the usual Monk movement speed bonuses so will actually be 80ft at level eleven when you get this.
    • This is an amazing ability, but it’s late at level eleven.

17th-Level Elemental Disciplines of the Four Elements Monk

  • Breath of Winter – 6 ki for Cone of Cold, 8d8 cold damage, Con save for half.
    • A middling damage-dealing AOE, not the best save to target either. Not great.
  • Eternal Mountain Defense – 5 ki for Stoneskin, concentration, one hour.
    • All monks get Empty Body at level eighteen, allowing the character to spend four ki and become invisible and resist all damage except force damage for one minute. It doesn’t require your concentration, either. Skip Eternal Mountain Defense and just use that.
  • River of Hungry Flame – 5 ki for Wall of Fire, concentration, one minute, 5d8 fire damage for creatures that enter the wall or end their turn within 10ft of one side of it, Dex save for half.
    • You can push/pull creatures into the wall using your other features.
  • Wave of Rolling Earth – 6 ki for Wall of Stone, concentration, ten minutes.
    • Has a better duration than Wall of Fire but doesn’t do the same kind of damage. For some reason it’s one ki point more expensive.

You get to pick only five out of the seventeen abilities, which seems stingy. This subclass is designed with many unnecessary restrictions…

Advanced Strategies

Once you can fly (and I think you should always take Ride the Wind), you can pull off some nice combos with Water Whip.

  1. Fly to within 30ft of your target (usually above), use Water Whip to pull them 25ft towards you.
  2. Use Ki-Fuelled Strike to hit them while they are in the air, also potentially using Stunning Strike.
  3. Let them fall taking 1d6 of falling damage for every 10ft they are up in the air (if you can use this against flying creatures that are a long way up even better).
  4. They will land prone and potentially also stunned.
  5. Do this to whatever the Paladin is facing off against.

There are some nice synergies between Unbroken Air and pushing creatures back into the River of Hungry Fire (Wall of Fire). The Crusher feat, Water Whip, and Fist of Four Thunders can also be used here.

Unbroken Air can force a mage with Greater Invisibility to take damage and potentially lose their concentration. You don’t need line of sight to use it, Counterspell won’t stop it, and it’s guaranteed to do some damage.

Subclass Summary

In general, a Monk that casts spells won’t synergize with the core Monk playstyle of melee combat and Stunning Strikes.

None of the Four Elements features are actively detrimental; however, most are expensive in ki points for poor rewards.

The design of the class feels very clunky, and there are a couple of traps: 

  • Many of the spells are AOEs with saves that are not likely to be difficult to pass due to the Monk needing to concentrate on boosting Dex first.
  • Fangs of the Fire Snake only lasts for one turn, and will rapidly burn through ki points if you also add some extra damage. The damage type is commonly resisted.

I’ve mentioned this several times, but the new Ki-Fuelled Attack feature in Tasha’s helps this Monk more than most. You get to attack once a turn while using most of your Disciplines.

Feat Options

Monks are very MAD (multi-ability dependent), and the Four Elements Monk is extremely MAD. Many of your better subclass features require saving throws, so you need high Wisdom to be successful. As a Monk, you also need very high Dexterity for your attack and damage rolls, Initiative rolls, AC, Evasion, and Deflect Missiles abilities.

So you are probably best off concentrating mainly on boosting your stats rather than taking lots of feats.

Having said that, my go-to feat for Monks is Mobile. This feat allows you to make hit-and-run attacks against a single target without risking attacks of opportunity. Mobile provides a strong, resource-free, hit-and-run playstyle.

Another good feat for all Monks is Crusher. The only downside with this one is that it boosts Constitution (or Strength) rather than Dexterity. You could start with an uneven Constitution score at character creation and even it out using this feat. The knockback effect is handy, and it makes Crusher an alternative to Mobile for avoiding opportunity attacks. The tradeoff is that Crusher requires that you hit the creature while Mobile doesn’t require a successful hit. It can be difficult to judge when you should use Crusher’s knockback. If you leave it to your last attack, you may miss; if you land it early, you might miss out on attacks.

Landing a critical hit may, in some cases, only benefit your allies. Using Fangs of the Fire Snake will render Crusher useless since you won’t deal bludgeoning damage with your attacks.

Shadow Touched allows you to cast Invisibility once a day. Shadow Touched also earns you one first-level Illusion or Necromancy spell (I would probably go for Silent Image). The benefit of casting Invisibility on yourself is that Unbroken Air and Water Whip are not spells nor attacks, so you can use them while remaining invisible. Read the description of Invisibility to confirm.

Race Options

A useful option for any Monk since Tasha’s is picking up a martial weapon proficiency. These can be swapped out for one or more weapons of choice to fire the new Dedicated Weapon feature (and give you a 1d10 versatile weapon attack die for your main attack) and/or converted into tools proficiencies. So Dwarves, Elves, Githyanki, Hobgoblins all make good race choices.

As always, Variant Human and Custom Lineage give you that free feat. Given how feat-starved Monks can be, a first-level feat allows a Monk to start well.

Several races possess racial invisibility for benefits outlined in the Shadow Touched discussion above. The Duergar and Glasya Tiefling are two of the races that get this.


I always like dipping one level of Cleric for my Monk characters. Many Monks don’t use their concentration for anything (although this one is somewhat of an exception), so picking up useful spells like Bless is extremely helpful. I like Arcana Cleric in this case. Adding Bane and the new Mind Sliver cantrip gives you options to debuff enemy saves. You can also increase the chances of landing your Stunning Strikes and boost the damage of your Elemental Disciplines.

A slightly off-the-wall option with the Arcana Cleric is to pick up the Metamagic Adept feat and Quickened Spell to allow you to thoroughly debuff saving throws on your chosen target by casting both Bane and Mind Sliver in one turn (Bane first since it’s a leveled spell), then go to town with your Stunning Strikes and Disciplines. Arguably, a Four Elements Monk would satisfy the Metamagic Adept requirement of being a spellcaster. Check with your DM, but this subclass is notoriously weak, so it needs all the help it can get. You may need to take a level in Cleric first to unlock Metamagic Adept.

If you want to use Fangs of the Fire Snake, you could add a level of Fighter to get the Unarmed Fighting Style and increase your Unarmed Strike damage to 1d8 much faster. Second Wind is always nice as well. Another Fighter level would, of course, give you Action Surge, allowing you to blow even more ki points in one round!

Build Ideas

My favorite build for a Four Elements Monk would probably be a Custom Lineage with Mobile, which gives all Monks a great start. Proficiencies in Stealth and Acrobatics. After my first Monk level, I’d take a level in Cleric – I will ignore the overpowered Peace and Twilight domains and instead choose Arcana domain. The Mind Sliver cantrip is one of the ones I’d pick up, which will come into its own when I start getting Elemental Disciplines and Stunning Strike. I will also start memorizing Bane once I reach Monk level 3 as well.

Some of the unique Four Elements Monk Elemental Disciplines are actually pretty good – Unbroken Air and Water Whip are top of the list for me. They have flexible effects that can also be upcast and offer some battlefield control and debuffing.

I don’t think you can pass up the ability to fly; it will transform your play style.

That only really leaves two spots…

  • River of Hungry Flame is the standout for me of the seventeenth-level options. It synergizes with Unbroken Air.
  • Shape the Flowing River can shape ice and/or water. It can be useful in the right occasion, and it only costs a single ki point.

I would then concentrate on ability score increases most of the time. I might consider adding Shadow Touched a bit later to help power up Unbroken Air and Water Whip, or even go for the Metamagic Adept option for a bit of extra debuffing power. 


You don’t get to use your subclass features that much because they are too expensive in ki points – a lot of other Monks get features that are just ‘always on’ (or last 100 times longer for the same ki cost), and this one feels extremely restricted in that regard. You don’t get a lot of subclass features, and if you run out of ki, you basically have no subclass features at all. On top of all that, there are a few potential pitfalls to watch out for with this subclass. I think the design of this subclass could do with a lot of love.

Having said that – Monks that fly, jerk their targets off the ground and stun them in mid-air are fun Monks. If you can avoid the pitfalls, I think it’s perfectly possible to make a workable Four Elements Monk and have a lot of fun playing one.

That wraps up my review of the Way of the Four Elements! Check out more of my subclass reviews here on FlutesLoot.com. You can find a collection of my work here. You can also read all of FlutesLoot’s content about Monks right here. Enjoy your adventure this weekend!

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