In mountains high and valleys low, the ascetic warriors known as monks practice their art. By focusing their minds and bodies, both to near perfection, they master a psionic fighting art that enables them to perform feats of martial power beyond that of the normal fighting man. Monks tap into the psionic potential that pools within themselves, using the energy to fortify their bodies and sharpen their minds.
Monks come to the path in many ways. Perhaps they set out on this path to put a dark past behind them. Or their village was victimized one time too many by an evil lord or marauding beasts, and they now seek justice. Whatever the reason, the monk has come to study within a monastery which trained them in the traditions of their Order.
Many people who eventually train as monks have long felt that something is missing in their lives. Some might have lacked discipline, regularly acting from anger or on whim. Some might have suffered a spiritual hollowness that traditional religious practices failed to fill. Life might have been directionless, lacking meaning or purpose. Others might have experimented with many professions, but discovered that excellence or fulfillment in them was unattainable. Any of these frustrations might prove enough motivation to drive someone to the doors of a monastery.
For a monk, each day is a step on a life long journey toward a spiritual awakening—the ultimate unity of body, mind, and soul. If pursued with passion and dedication, the journey brings success, contentment, and greater understanding. Perceptive allies gain insights about themselves as you follow your path. For your enemies, each day brings the vital, life-altering revelation that standing against you is extremely unwise.
True enlightenment encompasses heart, essence, and spirit that are neither mental nor physical. For this reason, many monastic traditions embrace a spiritual element. They focus on the soul as an integral part of the whole individual. This is why many monks study within the confines of various churches and temples dedicated to the gods of Faerûn. This leads to many monks being confused with clerics and priests.
Although scholars, sages, and religious leaders understand the holistic nature of a monk’s training, many common folk view monks primarily as religious figures. They consider the monk’s ascetic lifestyle and spiritual philosophy as a product of strict religious fervor. This opinion is reinforced by the overtly religious nature of many monastic traditions. Such folk expect a monk to be part of a formal ecclesiastical hierarchy, and to display holy symbols or other religious trappings. If a monk’s tradition and Order does not include those features, one could be viewed with suspicion. Locals might wonder if a monk’s lack of religious accouterments hides an allegiance to an unholy or a disfavored deity.
Some monks follow strict tradition and ritual. Others find their power honed by rigorous training or even inspired by wild and uncontrollable impulse. Regardless of their method, monks defend the world against dark threats beyond the scope of most heroes. This dates back to the Dawn War, the war between the primordials and the gods.
Ancient sages suggest that monastic traditions first appeared in the late years of the Dawn War. Such traditions began as sects within larger faiths, loyal to the oldest deities. Individuals horrified by the destruction wrought by primordial soldiers and aberrant creatures created schools in which new techniques were developed to fight such opponents. Dedicated martial arts styles, defined by specific fighting techniques, were not a new concept. But these practitioners buttressed their physical prowess with the mental and spiritual focus that would grant them an edge against their alien and supernatural foes.
For generations, monastic traditions remained a part of the faiths that spawned them. These religious orders, and new ones founded on similar principles, continue to this day. Some of these holy monks, however, began to question whether the path to enlightenment necessarily led through the domain of any specific deity. They grew to believe that their duties to the priesthoods distracted them from personal studies. These monks considered a religious approach unbalanced toward spirit and not sufficiently respectful of body and mind.
Since their first expansion, the spread of monastic traditions has waxed and waned. During epochs of relative peace and stability, new orders arise and old orders expand. Monks are found wandering through all lands, spreading the example of enlightenment. Candidates interested in monastic training can travel freely to the schools of their choice. During dark times such as the contemporary era, monks hole up in their strongholds, as hard-pressed to survive as all other folk. Adventuring monks still make sojourns across the dangerous wilds between the isolated enclaves of civilization, but these travelers can sometimes go for months or even years without seeing others of their kind.
Legends say that each Order and Tradition speaks of the One Who Walks. It teaches that there can only be one monk who is granted this status. The One Who Walks is nearly immortal. This monk wanders the world, looking for a single student to whom he or she can pass this wisdom. The student then assumes the mantle of the One Who Walks, who can finally meet true enlightenment and leave the mortal realm behind. More than one unscrupulous monk has claimed to be the One Who Walks, gaining money or influence over adherents eager for their teachings. Even if the legend has any basis in truth, the identity of the One Who Walks remains a subject of much speculation and few empirical facts.