Posted by : David Guyll September 17, 2012
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.