The Way of the Four Elements monastic tradition is widely considered to be underpowered and unappealing. I analyzed this subclass and looked at the ways others tried to fix it (here is one example) in order to come up with my version of an update. This is what I came up with.
The core of the problem, in my opinion, lies in the fact that the only bonus this subclass gives to a monk is the ability to cast a limited number of spells using the same resource that powers their other abilities. This is very problematic because they are given a choice: use regular monk abilities, or use the Elemental Disciplines, as a monk does not have enough ki points for both, especially at lower levels.
I had several ideas on how to fix this. I thought about giving these monks spells slots in a same fashion as an Eldritch Knight or an Arcane Trickster. This was unsatisfactory because it doubled the complexity of the subclass and provided only a few low-level spell slots. Other problems included making a whole spell list for this subclass, and casting higher-level spells. I considered giving them a feature that allowed replacing spell slot levels with ki points (for instance, casting a 4th level spell by expending a 2nd level spell slot and spending 2 ki points), but in the end decided to scrap the concept as it was too cumbersome.
The best I could come up with was giving these monks additional ki points that can be used only for their elemental disciplines. This one feature wasn’t enough, so I decided to give them additional traits that they learn at levels 6, 11, and 17. All other monastic traditions grant features at these levels, but the Way of the Four Elements only grants one new elemental discipline.
This is my way of fixing this archetype. Simply add the following features to the Way of the Four Elements monastic tradition and you are good to go.
Way of the Four Elements (remake)
Enlightened: At 3rd level, you discover deep reserves of inner energy inside your soul. You have an additional number of ki points equal to your Wisdom modifier. These extra ki points can only be used for elemental disciplines.
Energy from Within: At 6th level, you have developed an intimate connection with the ki flowing through you. Whenever you spend ki, you regain hit points equal to twice the number of ki points you spent.
Mystic Assault: At 11th level, you can augment your physical attacks with your elemental disciplines. Immediately after you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use a bonus action to cast an elemental discipline spell with the casting time of one action.
Mastery of the Elements: At 17th level, you can disrupt the ki inside other creatures with your strikes, making them more susceptible to your elemental disciplines. When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike, that creature has disadvantage on the next saving throw it makes against an elemental discipline you use before the end of your next turn.
Additionally, choose one elemental discipline that you know and that has no level requirement. You need to spend one less ki point when using that discipline. This can reduce a discipline’s ki cost to 0.
But this is an Elder Scrolls homebrew page, and I just had to make a more complex and more flavorful version of this monastic tradition, based on the Shouts that appear in TES V: Skyrim. Below you will find all the features of this monastic tradition, which can be used to replace the Way of the Four Elements in an Elder Scrolls campaign.
Way of the Voice
Disciple of the Thuum: When you choose this tradition at 3rd level, you learn magical disciplines that harness the power of your voice. A discipline requires you to spend ki points each time you use it.
You know three shouts of your choice, which are detailed in the “Shouts” section below. You learn one additional shout of your choice at 6th, 11th, and 17th level.
Whenever you learn a new shout, you can also replace one shout that you already know with a different shout.
Using Shouts. Each shout has two levels: the basic level and the empowered level. The exception are the shouts learned at 17th level. To cast a shout, you need to use your action and spend the indicated number of ki points, choosing between the shout’s basic and empowered effects. If you choose the empowered effect, its ki cost and effect are added to the basic effect.
Shouts produce a loud noise that can be heard up to 300 feet away. If a shout requires concentration, it follows the same rules as spells that require concentration, as described in the Player’s Handbook on page 203. You cannot use shouts if you cannot speak. This includes situations when you are gagged, underwater, or in an area of magical silence.
The list of shouts is provided at the end of this class description.
Enlightened: At 3rd level, you discover deep reserves of inner energy inside your soul. You have an additional number of ki points equal to your Wisdom modifier. These extra ki points can only be used for shouts.
Energy from Within: At 6th level, you are deeply connected with the ki flowing through you. Whenever you spend ki to use a shout, you regain hit points equal to twice the number of ki points you spent.
Mystic Assault: At 11th level, you can augment your physical attacks with your shouts. Immediately after you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use a bonus action to use a shout that spends up to 3 ki points.
Mastery of the Voice: At 17th level, you can disrupt the ki inside other creatures with your strikes, making them more susceptible to your shouts. When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike, that creature has disadvantage on the next saving throw it makes against a shout you use before the end of your next turn.
Additionally, choose one shout that you know and that has no level requirement. You need to spend one less ki point when using that shout. This can reduce a shout’s ki cost to 0.
Shouts: Shouts are presented according to the level when they become available. If a shout requires a level, you must be that level in this class to learn the shout.
Aura Whisper (Concentration).
Basic (1 ki): This shout is silent, and produces no more noise than a whisper. You gain heightened senses for 10 minutes, choosing one of the following options:
Keen Sight – You have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight. You can see up to 1 mile away with no difficulty, able to discern even fine details as though looking at something no more than 100 feet away from you.
Keen Hearing – You have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing. You know the exact location of every sound produced within 60 feet of you.
Darkvision – You gain darkvision out to a range of 60 feet. If you already have darkvision, its range is increased by 60 feet.
Empowered (1 ki): You also know the direction and distance to all living creatures within 60 feet of you. This does not include constructs and undead.
Basic (1 ki): Force one creature of your choice within 10 feet of you to make a Strength saving throw, dropping one item it is holding on a failed save. The item, such as a weapon or a shield, falls to the ground in a random place within 20 feet of the target.
Empowered (2 ki): You get to choose the place where the dropped item lands. Additionally, you can attempt to catch the dropped item if it would land within your reach. To do so, you must have at least one hand free and use your reaction to make a DC 10 Dexterity check. On a success, you catch the item in your hand.
Elemental Fury (Concentration).
Basic (2 ki): You imbue your strikes with elemental power. For 1 minute, you gain a +1 bonus to all attack and damage rolls made with melee weapons or unarmed strikes.
Empowered (1 ki): The next time you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack or an unarmed strike within the next minute, your blow is charged with elemental energies and the attack deals an extra 2d6 cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage.
Basic (1 ki): You breathe dragonflame in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 3d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful one. The fire ignites any flammable objects in that area that aren’t being worn or carried.
You can spend a number of additional ki points up to your proficiency bonus to increase the fire damage of this shout. For each additional ki point spent, the fire damage is increased by 1d6.
Empowered (1 ki): Creatures failing the saving throw are set ablaze, burning continuously. A burning target sheds bright light in a 15-foot radius and dim light for an additional 15 feet. At the end of each of its turns, a burning creature repeats the saving throw. It takes 1d6 fire damage on a failed save, and the effect ends on a successful one. These magical flames can’t be extinguished through nonmagical means. If damage from this shout reduces a target to 0 hit points, the target is turned to ash.
Basic (1 ki): You use the power of your voice to influence a nearby beast. Choose one beast within 30 feet that can hear you. The beast must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be charmed by you for 24 hours. A beast that is already friendly to you can choose to fail the saving throw. If you or one of your companions harms the target, the effect ends.
Empowered (2 ki): You can communicate with the beast as if it knew one language of your choice. The beast is friendly to you and your companions. Roll initiative for it in combat, where it takes its own turns. It obeys any verbal commands you issue to it (no action required by you). If you don’t issue any commands to it, the beast defends itself from hostile creatures, but otherwise takes no actions.
Basic (1 ki): This shout is silent, and produces no more noise than a whisper. You project your voice (saying a short message) as if it is coming from a location within 60 feet of you. This can be used to distract or confuse others. A creature that succeeds on a Wisdom check against your Ki save DC realizes that the voice is an illusion, but doesn’t know your location.
Empowered (1 ki): You can add your Wisdom modifier to any Stealth and Sleight of Hand checks you make for 30 seconds after using this shout.
Basic (1 ki): You use the power of your voice to stagger all creatures in a 15-foot cone originating from you. Those creatures must succeed on a Strength saving throw or take 2d8 thunder damage and be pushed 10 feet away from you. A creature that succeeds on the save takes half as much damage and isn’t pushed.
You can spend a number of additional ki points up to your proficiency bonus to increase the thunder damage of this shout. For each additional ki point spent, the fire damage is increased by 1d8.
Empowered (1 ki): Creatures failing the saving throw take an additional 1d8 thunder damage and are knocked prone in addition to being pushed.
Basic (1 ki): By harnessing the power of your voice, you move 60 feet in a straight horizontal line. You count as if you are flying during this move, so you do not leave footprints and can cross pits and similar terrain. You stop if you encounter any solid obstacle such as another creature, a stone column, or a wall. You cannot use this shout if you are carrying weight that exceeds your carrying capacity.
Empowered (1 ki): You can move through creatures during this move. Additionally, you can make one unarmed attack against each creature that you moved through.
Dismay (6th Level Required, Concentration).
Basic (3 ki): The power of your voice is so strong it breaks your enemies’ will to fight. Each creature in a 30-foot cone must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for the duration. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on a success.
Empowered (2 ki): A creature failing the saving throw takes 3d10 psychic damage.
Frost Breath (6th Level Required).
Basic (3 ki): You breathe frigid air in a 30-foot cone. All creatures in that area must make a Constitution saving throw. A creature takes 6d8 cold damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. A creature killed by this spell becomes a frozen statue until it thaws. Ice forms on any liquid surface within the area of this shout.
You can spend a number of additional ki points up to your proficiency bonus to increase the fire damage of this shout. For each additional ki point spent, the cold damage is increased by 1d8.
Empowered (2 ki): Each creature that fails the saving throw while standing on the ground is also restrained as its legs are encased in ice, binding them to the ground. A restrained creature can use its action to make a Strength check against your Ki save DC. On a success, it frees itself.
Battle Fury (11th Level Required, Concentration)
Basic (4 ki): Choose up to six creatures within 30 feet of you that can hear you. Whenever one of the chosen creatures makes an attack roll, a damage roll, or a saving throw within the next 10 minutes, that creature can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to the attack roll, damage roll, or saving throw.
Empowered (2 ki): The chosen creatures also gain temporary hit points equal to your monk level + your Wisdom modifier. These temporary hit points last for 10 minutes.
Become Ethereal (11th Level Required, Concentration)
Basic (3 ki): You, along with everything you are wearing and carrying, become halfway ethereal, gaining resistance to nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage for 10 minutes. While in this state, you cannot make unarmed attacks or weapon attacks, but can still use shouts.
Empowered (4 ki): You become fully ethereal, gaining immunity to nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, as well as resistance to all other damage for 10 minutes. You can also move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. You take 5 (1d10) force damage if you end your turn inside an object. While ethereal, you cannot make unarmed attacks or weapon attacks, but can still use shouts.
Call Storm (11th Level Required, Concentration)
Basic (3 ki): A storm cloud appears in the shape of a cylinder that is 10 feet tall with a 60-foot radius, centered on a point you can see 100 feet directly above you. You cannot use this shout if you can’t see a point in the air where the storm cloud could appear (for example, if you are in a room that can’t accommodate the cloud).
When you use this shout, choose a point you can see within range. A bolt of lightning flashes down from the cloud to that point. Each creature within 5 feet of that point must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 3d10 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. On each of your turns until the spell ends, you can use your bonus action to call down lightning in this way again, targeting the same point or a different one.
If you are outdoors in stormy conditions when you use this shout, you gain control over the existing storm instead of creating a new one. Under such conditions, the shout’s damage increases by 1d10.
Empowered (2 ki): The area underneath the cylinder is considered difficult terrain for flying creatures. The area is heavily obscured, and exposed flames in the area are doused. If a creature is concentrating in the spell’s area, the creature must make a successful Constitution saving throw against your spell save DC or lose concentration. Attacks with weapons using arrows, bolts, and other ordinary projectiles passing through the area have disadvantage (boulders hurled by giants or siege engines, and similar projectiles, are unaffected).
Slow Time (11th Level Required, Concentration)
Basic (3 ki): For 1 minute, time is slowed for everyone except you. During this time, your speed is increased by 15 feet, you gain a +2 bonus to AC, have advantage on Dexterity saving throws, and gain an additional action on each of your turns. That action can be used only to take the Attack (one weapon attack or unarmed strike only), Dash, Disengage, Hide, or Use an Object action. When the effect ends, you can’t move or take actions until after your next turn, as a wave of lethargy sweeps over you.
Empowered (6 ki): You briefly stop the flow of time for everyone but yourself. No time passes for other creatures, while you take 1d4 turns in a row, during which you can use actions and move as normal.
This effect ends if one of the actions you use during this period, or any effects that you create during this period, affects a creature other than you or an object being worn or carried by someone other than you. In addition, the effect ends if you move to a place more than 1,000 feet from the location where you cast it.
Call of Valor (17th Level Required, Concentration).
Your shout summons warriors from Sovngarde, who come from the afterlife to aid you through advice or combat prowess. A number of warrior spirits appear in a space within 60 feet of you. The spirits use the berserker, veteran, or archer statistics from the Monster Manual or the Volo’s Guide to Monsters. The spirits returns to Sovngarde after 1 hour or when they drop to 0 hit points. You can summon up to 3 spirits, spending 3 ki points for each spirit summoned. You can summon a specific spirit if you know their name and they are willing to lend you their aid.
Dragon Aspect (17th Level Required, Concentration).
You spend 7 ki points to take on the mighty aspect of a dragon, with an armored hide, spectral wings, and powerful claws. You gain the following benefits for 10 minutes:
Claws. Your unarmed strikes use 2d6 for their damage dice and deal slashing instead of bludgeoning damage.
Draconic Resilience. You gain resistance to fire and cold damage, and your AC is increased by 2.
Spectral Wings. You have a flying speed of 60 feet. If you are still flying when this effect ends, you fall unless you can somehow prevent it (such as through the slow fall trait).
Soul Tear (17th Level Required).
You spend 8 ki points to harness the darkest powers of the shout, destroying a creature’s body from the inside and rending its soul. A creature within 30 feet must make a Constitution saving throw. It takes 5d8 + 30 necrotic damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
A humanoid killed by this shout rises at the start of your next turn as a zombie that is permanently under your command, following your verbal orders to the best of its ability.
Commentary. This homebrew is NOT PLAYTESTED. It likely suffers from some balancing issues, but it is at least a viable subclass unlike the original Way of the Four Elements. If you decide to use these rules, do not hesitate to make changes as you play. I would greatly appreciate any feedback on these rules.
The shouts in Skyrim have three levels, but I decided to give each shout only two because I couldn’t think of additional effects for many of them. When creating these shouts, I wanted to keep them both flavorful and mechanically sound. Most of the shouts replicate effects of spells from the Player’s Handbook, but use a cone for their area of effect and have other minor alterations.
I have updated the Nords’ racial feats, Thuum, to provide the same version of the shouts that are available in this monastic tradition.