I recently had a player, considering playing a monk, ask, “Can monks use potions?” My knee jerk response was, “Of course!” But a closer read proved me wrong.
The text in question:
Magic items usable by monks include all magical varieties of weapons listed (unless proscribed), rings, and those miscellaneous magic items which are usable by thieves. No other magic items of any sort may be employed by monks.
I’d always read that as “all magic items usable by thieves”. But that’s not what it says; it says “all miscellaneous magic items usable by thieves”. Miscellaneous magic item is a category of magic item, just like potions, rings, Rod/Staff/Wand, etc.
The deeper I dug, the clearer it became. Reviewing Appendix C from the DMG, all characters encountered in a city/town may possess one or more magic items. In the table for item determination, monks are assigned no chance of having a potion. They do have a chance of having a misc. weapon, a protection device, a ring, or misc. magic, just like the PHB description. That table explicitly breaks out “Misc. Magic” as a category.
Appendix P provides a method for creating an adventuring party. On the Potions Table the monk is not listed as having a chance to have a potion (nor scroll on the Scroll Table), but the monk could have a magic weapon or miscellaneous item (and again Miscellaneous Item is broken out as a category).
Appendix P is, almost word-for-word, the “Putting Together a Party on the Spur of the Moment” article by Gary Gygax, published in Dragon #26, June, 1979 and the unquestionable precursor to Appendix P: Creating a Party on the Spur of the Moment. The article includes an almost identical “Potions Table” as Appendix P—identical except that the Dragon article assigns the monk a 4% chance/level of having a potion. The monk’s chance was removed from the table as part of revisions for the DMG!
The Ghost Tower of Iverness (C2), one of the early tournament modules, permits the PCs to shop for magic items before the adventure. “Rings, weapons, and miscellaneous items usable by thieves are the only
items the monk may use.” And again, Miscellaneous Items is broken out as a separate category.
Going deeper still, monks were originally introduced in the Original D&D Blackmoor supplement. The quote there?
Monks have no magical abilities per se. Besides magical weaponry, monks may only use rings and those miscellaneous magic items usable by thieves. Potions and scrolls may not be used.
I don’t have electronic (searchable) copies of all the 1e modules. The Mad Hatter (monk) in EX1? No potions. T Diumm and T. Deeous (monks) in EX2? No potions. Eson the Wise (I7)? No potions. Urquant (UK2)? No potions. Sion & Hadley (UK4)? You, you guessed it. By random determination, there’s a 20% chance of the magic item you have being a potion.
One module includes an exception—the two monks in C1, who used a unique item (the potion of dreadful sleep) to enhance their ability to feign death. Modules aren’t perfect sources for canonical information, as the authors often change the rules to wrap a module to their intent. In this case, for example, the authors have this one potion affect the NPC monks in a different manner than normal for the potion—extending their feign death. C1 also includes numerous changes or expansions to core rules: changes to slow poison and neutralize poison; adding a barbarian’s ability to detect poison; non-thieves able to attempt move silently, etc., etc. This one exception in C1 hardly provides enough strength to ignore the other examples.
By the Book, the description is clear enough, and it’s backed up by substantial circumstantial evidence. Monks can’t use potions.
They can in my campaign anyway. How about yours?