Before I begin the actual article some confessions.
First, I love the 1e monk. I have played three; Ti-Gun, who died at 13th level; Xing-Chao whi is 5th level; and Tamsen who is 3rd.
Second, I am constantly messing with the monk class and often my campaign allows the Martial Artist created by Lew Pulsipher. Lew and I spoke about the Monk a fair amount and those discussions were the cause of a lot of the fiddling I mentioned earlier. As I remember we sorta' settled down to either using his Martial Artist or having 1e Monks with +1 h.p. per die.
But the biggest conclusion was - most people didn't understand the role of the monk. I understand that some people don't like the idea that each class has a role within a party (some at all, some in particular ways) but I don't think it can be denied that originally 1e was all about having a good mix of various roles filled.
The roles of the 'main four' is pretty understandable: fighters are physical offense; magic-users are magical offense; clerics are physical and magical defense; thieves are scouting. The other classes are interesting mixes: druids are magical offense and defense in the wilderness; rangers are physical offense and scouting; paladins are physical offense and magical defense; assassins are scouting and physical offense; bards are everything. But the monk? The monk is different.
Let's look at what the monk is not. Do a quick google search for 'ad&d 1e monks' and you will find a lot of hate. The people who hate the monk tend to broadly fall into two different camps: one the one hand is the 'they are fighters who aren't good at fighting' camp and on the other is the 'they are wimps at low level and gods at high level' camp.
"They don't have enough hit points for the front line"; "their armor class is too poor for front line combat"; "their special abilities are too situational to be effective in the front line" are all taken from the 'they aren't fighters' discussions.
"A high level monk has more attacks than anyone, can't be hit, and can one-hit kill almost anything - if he survives to 7th level, which is almost impossible"; "while the Grand Master of Flowers is the most powerful fighter in the system the monk is the weakest class"; "at low levels all a monk can do is avoid combat and steal X.P. from the party as everyone hopes he lives long enough to turn into a killing machine at high level" are all taken from the 'wimp to god' discussions.
It is very true a monk is not a front line fighter. And while the monk has thief abilities the thief is better at it. So if the monk isn't physical offense, magical offense, magical defense, physical defense, or scouting - what is he?!
Simple; The role of the monk is to counter magical offense and magical defense.
I support this is the monk's abilities both to begin and as they level up;
1) hard to surprise
2) multiple attacks
3) bonus weapon damage
4) good saving throws
5) takes less damage from spells
6) very high movement rate
7) can deflect/dodge missile weapons
8) stealth abilities
9) immunity or resistance to disease, poison, charm, ESP, mind blasts, quest and geas spells, etc.
10) communication with plants and animals
11) a one-hit kill ability
12) the ability to heal himself (only)
So the monk can avoid detection with stealth or with magic-like abilities while being very hard to surprise; avoid arrows and bolts; stay out of the reach of fighters; cover tremendous distances; shrug off a wide range of spells; take less damage from spells; and have a large number of attacks.
The monk is a commando that waits for the right moment to assault and neutralize key targets, especially spell casters. He is, in the end, a wizard slayer and cleric killer. His job is to close the distance rapidly, dodge spells, and disrupt spell casting as he takes down magic-users and clerics.
Now for a totally self-indulgent scenario!
The party crept down the middle of the room, alert for danger on all sides. The hobgoblin mercenaries had been bad and the fanatical cultists with no fear of death had been worse but they were close, now. The map from the archbishop said that the sanctuary of the Cathedral of Evil was past the massive double doors at the other end of this hall.
The hall itself was huge; wide enough for a battalion of pikemen, longer than the king's parade ground, and with pillars stretching high above. The sound of their boots on the basalt floor echoed loudly in the silent space.
With a shout a group of men dressed in the black and white of the cult stepped from behind a pillar over 100 feet ahead. Tolmar the guardian, a paladin, in front, sized them up - a huge man, almost certainly a half-ogre, in plate mail with a maul that must weight 20 pounds; another man in plate with the facial tattoos of a full priest of the cult; a beautiful woman with cruel eyes, no armor, and a wand in her hand; three more hobgoblins with shields as a wall in front of them.
"There," hissed Korbok the dwarven swashbuckler/filcher, "a rat-faced little man in the shadows to our left who thinks he is hidden"
Tolmar knew the fight would be tough; these followers of the cult were the ones who wiped out the last band sent by the archbishop.
"Dalbok, prepare to hit them with that foul-smelling vapour as soon as they attack"
The magician grunted to let his friend knew he was ready.
"Brother Saric, yon devil worshiper will want your heart - be prepared to counter his foul curses"
The canon muttered an 'aye' under his breath.
"Korbok, go take care of our little friend as soon as you can slip away."
"I will, lad."
"Firewalker, you and I will deal with the rest"
The huge myrmidon just grinned from beneath his troll-skull helmet.
Tolmar looked over his shoulder at Firewalker's cousin (a warrior), Dalbok's apprentice (an evoker), and his own squire (a keeper),
"And you three do as you've been trained - guard Dalbok and Brother Saric first, help us second, aye?"
A chorus of 'eyes' returned.
The band started forward, the cultists pausing just a second before also beginning the strangely slow approach of imminent combat. Both groups spread out, the cultists sidewise, the band circular with the henchmen guarding the rear. Tolmar did one last mental check of his own gear and glanced around his friends as he prepared to give the order to begin when he saw a flicker of movement - a lone man dressed in the robes of the cult was coming from the band's right flank, and fast - as fast a a warhorse in charge,
"Ware the right!" he called but neither his own squire nor Firewalker's cousin could move fast enough to prevent the bald, barefoot attack from closing with Dalbok and striking the grey-bearded mage with a kick. Tolmar had to turn his gaze back to the front as the enemy began to charge.
Tomar was worried immediately. Without the spell from Dalbok the enemy not only kept formation but their spellcasters had free reign - Some sort of magic crossbow bolt sped from the witch and struck Tolmar while the evil priest spoke a word to Firewalker that made him freeze in pace for long enough that the hobgoblins wounded him.Then the rhythm and needs of battle took over.
Korbok was dueling the rat-faced man in the shadows; Brother Saric was able to paralyze the three hobgoblins but at the cost of being hit with more mystic bolts from the witch; he saw a spell from Dalbok's apprentice strike the enemy priest, ruining another spell but when Tolmar looked over his shoulder to check on the man he assumed was another suicidal cultist.
So far Firewalker's cousin and his own squire hadn't even been able to wound the odd man, who was now approaching Brother Saric from behind. But where was Dalbok? Puzzled, he took the chance to look more closely and what he saw made his blood run cold.
Dalbok was lying on the ground, his neck obviously broken. This strange man had killed the wizard in a matter of moments with his bare hands!
Tolmar focused on the battle in front of him again, but called out,
"Protect Brother Saric!"
Tolmar and Firewalker traded blows with the mighty maul-wielder. While each took some damage the half-ogre was obviously badly wounded. The witch shot a spear of fire at Tolmar, but he was able to get his shield up in time. But the enemy priest, his face a rictus of hate, was able to dart out and touch Firewalker the exposed skin above his arm bracer. Firewalker's cry of despair rang out immediately,
"I cannot see! The foul creature has taken my sight!"
Tolmar glanced back to see how long it would take Brother Saric to heal his friend and was horrified; Saric was busy fighting the stranger. Far from being overwhelmed the unarmed man seemed completely unconcerned to be surrounded by 3 enemies as he ducked, weaved, and dodged the attacks of the priest and the henchmen.
Tolmar had to return his attention to the half-ogre and protect his blinded comrade. The enemy priest had pulled out a staff and was cackling with gleeful laughter ad he struck at Firewalker. Firewalker simply growled defiance and did his best to ward off the blows and strike back. Dalbok's apprentice boldly strode forward and touched the evil priest and the priest screamed as the smell of ozone filled the air. The witch appeared to cast a spell but Tolmar saw no effect.
Tolmar glanced around again; Saric and the two henchmen still struggled to fight the bald man, who at least appeared to have been hurt. The odd man had produced an oddly-decorated hand axe from somewhere and was trading blows with Saric.
Korbok, however, was frozen in mid- attack, as paralyzed as the hobgoblins! The rat-faced man was grinning in delight and preparing to kill the helpless dwarf.
"You two!," he shouted, gesturing to the henchmen, "save Korbok!"
The henchmen looked to where he was pointing and sped toward the rat-faced man. The man himself hesitated for a moment before squaring off to face the two men coming at him.
Tolmar and the half-ogre squared off while Dalbok's apprentice tried to both hide behind Firewalker and tell him where to strike at the tormenting cultist. The witch cast a spell and vanished in a shimmer of air and the cultist had taken a step back and was chanting over his staff.
Tolmar assessed the situation; while the half-ogre was badly hurt, so was he; Firewalker was blind and barely able to hold off the attacks of the cultist priest even with help; the henchmen were in a fight that was almost separate; Saric was engaged and unable to cast spells;Korbok was paralyzed and Dalbok was dead; the witch was almost certainly plotting a surprise attack while invisible. The smart thing to do was retreat, but how to get Firewalker and Korbok out? And retrieve Dalbok's body? He would have to trust in his team mates and in God. He turned back to his fight.
Although he took another blow Tolmar killed his opponent. At about the same time the cultist lashed out with his staff and struck Firewalker - with a shuddering gasp, Firewalker collapsed. Dalbok's apprentice gasped,
"His staff! It has a cobra's head!"
Indeed, the cultist's staff was now tipped with the head of a cobra, one that had just bitten and killed Firewalker.
Behind him he heard a cry. Spinning around he aw the witch drawing back from Saric with an evil grin. Talbok smelled ozone and realized whatever Dalbok's apprentice had done she had just done to Saric. Before Tolmar could do anything the bald man struck with his hand axe and killed Saric.
Glancing over he saw that his squire and Firewalker's cousin had killed the rat-faced man.
"Both of you! Get out! Tell the archbishop what happened here!"
The two young men hesitated. Tolmar eyed the evil priest,
"That is an order! Go!"
They turned and ran back through the hall. The bald man calmly put his tasseled hand axe back beneath his robe and sprinted after the henchmen. Tolmar turned to face the cultist and his snake staff. From down the hall he heard his apprentice tell Firewalker's cousin,
"I will try to hold him at the door, you keep going"
"He would have been a fine paladin,"
As the priest closed in Tolmar saw the witch turn and began to walk toward helpless Korbok....