Multiclassing in Next
Here’s the interesting thing about multiclassing: I don’t have strong feelings about it.
Mike’s post seems to be mostly about laying down what the goals and non-goals of multiclassing in D&D Next are. I’m going to paraphrase a bit, but I see these as the main pillars of multiclassing Mike mentions for Next:
- Multiclassing is optional
- Multiclassing means taking levels in multiple classes
- Multiclassing levels are different than your primary class levels
Ultimately this is a little like a hybrid of the 3rd and 4th edition approaches: you actually gain levels in a different class, like 3rd, but those levels are specially designed for multi classing, like 4th.
The really interesting bit is about how these levels scale. Mike says this:
There’s an assumption built in here that’s not directly addressed: this is only an issue if you assume that multiclass levels should always be viable and comparable to levels in your primary class. That’s a reasonable assumption, but one that’s worth considering. What are the other options?
One response is the way 3E handled it: the first level of a class is more valuable than the others. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s the experience you want to create. It leads to an interesting optimization environment where you get a 10th level character with no more than one level in any given class. It leads to classes being things you use for their abilities, not statements about who your character is.
Another option is to make the starting point higher. This helps break up abilities so that a starting character gets a good chunk but a multiclasser doesn’t get them all at once. For example, the first level of magic0use has always been considered pretty tempting: some cantrips, first level spells, maybe some skills and such. What if instead of all of those at first level, it was broken up a bit:
- Magic-related skills
- 1st level spell(s)
3rd level is effectively the new 1st level. A typical starting magic-user would be 3rd level. A fighter (who also starts at 3rd level) who multiclassed into magic-user would only get cantrips for their first level.
This approach tends to make multiclassing more of a balancing act, requiring careful investment of levels, without a first-level bump.
It also has the upside of allowing a slight adjustment of starting power. If 3rd level is the new 1st level, you can make less-powerful starting characters by starting at 2nd or 1st level. This is similar to how Adventurer, Conqueror, King handles levels: the first few levels are generally not played, you start at a higher level. The lower levels are useful for teaching the game, mostly, or making things more challenging on the players.
There’s another approach, and I can’t actually think of a game that takes this one.1 1. Which may mean that it’s actually not viable or that it’s horribly stupid. What if, which you chose a level in another class, you gained that level in that class (but not the previous levels)? So if you’re a 5th level cleric and you take a level in wizard you get just the abilities listed in the 6th level entry for wizard, which would be maybe one 3rd level spell castable once per day.
The interesting bit here is that it makes each level about the ability of the character, not the class level. So a powerful fighter who takes a single level in wizard doesn’t get a few low level spells, or a full compliment of spell casting, they just get one or two powerful spells. There’s still some level of niche protection here: the Fighter-10/Wizard-1 character has a powerful wizard ability, sure, but they don’t have much depth in wizard abilities, while the Wizard-11 character has immense depth in wizard abilities. The wizard-11 character has lots of spells of varying levels, the Fighter-10/Wizard-1 has one or two powerful spells, but nothing else wizard-ly.
Mike also deals with Prestige Classes, which suggest another type of multiclassing: multiclassing by fictional precedent. This is the model where picking up a level in, say, wizard isn’t just about maximizing damage output, but about reflecting the fact that your character has been hanging out with wizards and has started to pick up some wizardly tricks.
Prestige classes seem to have a bad reputation. I’m actually kind of fond of them, but I’ve found it’s best to be very careful when comparing DW’s compendium classes to prestige classes, since people have some bad feelings about those, mostly due to their proliferation. It sounds like they’re coming back to Next, which I’m all for, especially since they’ll “include story elements, such as finding an ancient tome, joining a guild, or completing a ritual.”
I wouldn’t phrase it like that. “Story elements” is a pretty loaded phrase, but it’s probably a viable shorthand when talking to the kind of audience a designer blog on the D&D site is likely to draw. My problem with it is that it implies that what’s not clearly measured in numbers is all vague story-stuff. The requirement that your character must have bathed in dragon blood before entering the Dragon Slayer class is as much a requirement as that they had to be at least 5th level. In fact, in some ways it’s a more important requirement: your character doesn’t know their level, but they know that only those who slay a dragon can wield dragon fire (or whatever).
When it gets right down to it, I don’t have much preference for any given multiclassing model. There are so many ways that multiclassing can be usable and useful that the choice of which to use comes down to statements about what kind of game this is.