Posted by : David Guyll September 17, 2012

I barely even remember how multiclassing (or dual-classing) worked in 2nd Edition. I recall that you had to pick out your classes from the start, and that XP was divided between them.

Multiclassing in 3rd Edition was simpler, but did not make a lot of sense. Basically when you got enough XP to level up, you could pick any class that you wanted (and met the requirements for). This meant that if you started as a fighter (or a barbarian, or sorcerer, and so on) and picked a level of wizard, you got a spellbook with every 0-level spell, and a bunch of 1st-level spells regardless of how much training or schooling you have (or have not) previously had.

Supporters claim that it is okay because it is assumed that at some point you were studying magic, and that when you gain a level it means that you have learned enough to actually do something with it. The problem is that the random age with wizards is higher than other classes, because magic is presumed to take a lot of time to learn. In the game, apparently a character can pick it up in a few days. Also, there is no learning curve; you go from knowing no magic at all to have a comprehensive mastery of cantrips and low-level magic.

Another issue was level dipping, where a player might nab only the first level or two of a class in order to scape class features. One example is 3rd Edition's ranger, which gave you Two-Weapon Fighting at the start (Revised Edition bumped it up to 2nd-level). The barbarian and Rage is another good example.

4th Edition went about things quite a bit differently (which means that a lot of people were dissatisfied with it). The class you started with is the class you got, but you could burn feats to dabble in other classes. Though costly--especially if you believed in feat taxes--it made more sense; a fighter does not learn a bunch of magic spontaneously, but instead gains the ability to use a single spell (and from there can go on to learn more gradually).

Currently it sounds like multiclassing in Next will be optional. They anticipate a lot of groups using it, but will offer backgrounds and specialties that allow you to dabble. It will also follow 3rd Edition's model, where you just pick a class when you level up. However Mearls admits that a front-loaded class makes it ripe for dipping, and is so considering alternate advancement tables for multiclassing. So, for example, multiclassing into wizard will probably not grant you access to a slew of spells. Mearls also admits that multiclassing into a new spellcasting class often works out poorly because of how spells progress. Using an alternate table he believes that they can, if nothing else, reduce the gap to a reasonable distance.

Finally, he wants to bring prestige classes back into the game. My problem with prestige classes was that too many were "class x, but better". Personally I want all classes to be viable by themselves, as they were in 4th Edition. A fighter should not have to prestige-out into weapon master, kensai, or whatever to remain viable, and a sorcerer should not be an elemantalist-lite. The idea of prestige classes being tightly linked to concepts that are different, but not necessarily better, has a lot of appeal (as does linking the requirements to story elements).

Hopefully they can deliver on all of this.

{ 4 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I still prefer 4E's method, in the way that it makes the most sense like you point out. 3E was notorious for letting players devolve into munchkins of the worst kind, seeing if they could "trick" the game with another beautifully built rules exploiting character.

    I wonder, how many of you peeps are actually into multiclassing? I've seen DM's both encouraging as well as actively discouraging it on many occasions.
    I personally never did much of multiclassing as a player, safe for one or two occasions. Beside the obvious benefits, what do you all think is the value of having multiclassing in the game?

    Thoughts, Dave? Or anyone?

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  2. I like multiclassing. It's great for some of those oddball character ideas like the really militant priest or the sneaky wizard.

    One GM had an interesting take. You needed a multiclassing feat at least one level before you multiclassed. The feat would get you a small benefit, like catsing a couple of cantrips or doing a d3 of sneak attack. This shows that you are spending time on learning the new class and made sure that you paid a cost for dipping into one level. It's not worth it to do for a simple bonus feat.

    He also had a way to reduce the penalty of multiclassing. For the classes' main ability (spellcasting, sneak attack, favored enemy), you could add half of your other class levels, up to the number of level in the class under consideration. An example - a 2nd level rogue/2nd level wizard casts like a 3rd level wizard and sneak attacks like a 3rd level rogue. But a 10th level rogue/1st level wizard casts like a 2nd level wizard because they can only apply fake levels equal to their actual level.

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  3. @Maarten: My first 3rd Edition character was a gnome fighter that picked up Weapon Specialization before hopping over to illusionist (the favored class of gnomes at the time) because I wanted to see how well summoned monsters would play out.

    I never got to play much besides that character, but did plenty of multiclassing with monsters. As a character I tended to "prestige-out" because, as I said, many prestige classes were basically "x class, plus more". Personally I would like a multiclass system allow me to organically pick up spells that are still useful; it is no fun picking up a level in wizard, only to realize that most of those spells are worthless.

    In 4th Edition I tended to pick only the first multiclass feat, because I could not justify spending a feat just to swap things out. The first feat was generally useful because you got skill training plus something extra, making it more appealing than skill training.

    The benefits of multiclassing, to me, are that characters can change in the middle of the campaign. A character might discover religion and pick up levels in cleric (or paladin), or another character might manifest psionic powers. Some concepts call for this structure, such as the fighter/wizard archetype, or a rogue might dabble in illusions to help be a better thief.

    Without multiclassing, those options basically require specific classes.

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  4. @Philo: Sounds like a better idea than 3rd Edition's multiclass-gap-fixing feats, like the ones that let you act as a spellcaster four levels higher and such (especially in a game with precious few feats).

    I am hoping that with the alternate tables that characters will not get largely useless things for their troubles. I remember wanting to play a mind flayer using Savage Species, with the thought of multiclassing into psion when I was done (because it made sense); I dreaded the thought of trying to do anything as a 12th-level character with 1st-level psionic powers.

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