Multiclassed to oblivion

Another post in my series on how to build characters that will actually help the party. This advice comes from a very common character type that I could not stand at all. The overly-heavily multiclassed character. Multiclassing is a great way to meld the attributes of two classes: For a barbarian to take some sorcerer levels to magically enhance themselves, or a fighter that wants to flip out like a barbarian every so often.

However, it is an even better way to water down your character to the point of uselessness. Sure, there are lots of multiclass characters that can do a bit of everything, but do first level spells really do much of anything at 1oth level? If you have more HP then your average rogue, but can only take one more hit then a normal rogue, and you are far less skilled then a normal rogue, are you really an asset to the party?

I once played at a table with a Fighter 2/Wizard 2/Cleric 2. That’s right, he wasn’t very good in a fight due to only having a BAB of 3 (half that of a fighter), he had few HP, and could only cast 1st level spells due to splitting his abilities so many ways. Sure, as a character in a book he sounds awesome, since he can do so many things, but as an asset to the party? A straight fighter, or a cleric, or a wizard with an attack bonus high enough to hit monsters, 3rd level spells and so on would have been far more useful.

Remember; your most previous resource in combat is often time. There are never enough rounds to cast all the spells you want, and fighters can always use more attacks. When you build a character think about this: You are walking along a hallway, you run into a group of orcs: When do you do? A fighter will hit something: The cleric buffs the fighter, the wizard casts a spell, the rogue tries to flank of slip into the shadows or something (Can you tell which class I never play?). Or for the more epically inclined of you, what do you do when you when you burst into the throne room of the evil wizard-king moments before he completes his ritual to destroy the world? The base class person knows what to do: The multiclass person doesn’t. Do you cast a first level spell at them? Do you charge into battle and go squish? What can he actually do to HELP the party? (Not much).

I’m using D&D terminology here, but this can also happen even more easily in point-buy games. It is very temping to grab skills willy-nilly all over the place, and stock up on cool advantages and whatnot. However, you should sit back and go “How will I help the party?”. Most of my examples are from combat, but it doesn’t have to be: One of my old GURPS characters Dalton had a special ability that let him see the past of items (Very useful in an investigative game), some combat skills, and more antiquities skills. Which, in an occult investigation game, was quite useful. In that game, that ability was usually worth more then another bruiser. I had a very fixed idea of how I wanted him to help the party when I built him, I didn’t just randomly pick skills out of the book.

So, when making a character and thinking of doing some multi-class combination think: How will this play in combat. Will my abilities help the party out? Am I worth taking over a fighter, wizard, cleric or rogue, or am I going to be a drag on the party? Also remember; Bards at least have charisma, skills and bard song. If you can’t match that, just play the freaking class they built into the game.

Well, so much for this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that I’ve made you think about making characters in a slightly different way.

Until I think of something else to write about, stay geeky.
—Canageek
 

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 9:12 am  Comments (8)  
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  1. I agree with you, but I’d phrase it differently – it’s not how heavily multiclassed you are – it’s the thoughts behind it. As you mentioned, you need to know your role in the party and make sure that you aren’t letting them down. But as long as you don’t compormise that, a little multiclassing can be a wonderful thing.

    “do first level spells really do much of anything at 1oth level?” My answer is – it depends on what spell and why. Sure a single magic missile isn’t going to turn the tide, but an expeditious retreat at the right moment might. Mage armor comes in handy in places where it’s not polite to wear plate mail. And don’t forget the other benefits – a first level wizard can use wands and scrolls and they get a nice bonus to will saves. +2 to a non-favored save is still significant even at 10th level.

    Likewise a rogue taking a fighter level gets a bonus feat, weapon and armor proficiencies and a bonus to fortitude saves. The first level of rogue gives you a sneak attack die, trapfinding (even if you don’t plan on disabling them, being able to spot a magical trap is very useful), lots of skills, and a bonus to the most common save of all.

    As you mention the trick is to think about how you’ll use your new capabilities in a game. Conside rhwta you gain, but also know what you’re giving up or delaying.

    • True: Not all multiclassing is bad. In Living Greyhawk I played a Cleric/Radiant Servant of Pelor as my main character from 2002 to 2007 or so. I also saw some very effective fighter/clerics doing the battle priest thing, some very mixed class cavalry (fighter feats, plus classes that let them ride better, etc) and a number of fighter/barbarians, barbarian/sorcerers and so on.

      My problem is that a lot of people see shiny abilities and think they would be cool to have, without looking at the large picture. You list some good way to multiclass, but have a look at the example I gave. It couldn’t fight well enough in melee, and it only had a few cleric and wizard spells. Cure Light is a great spell, but at the same level my cleric was tossing out cure serious a few times a day, and the wizard was casting haste and fireball. So what does the Ftr/cleric/wizard do? It can’t survive in a toe-to-toe fight, it can’t cast for very long, and its spells don’t do much anyway.

      Then there is the fighter X/rogue X or whatever. Again, can’t take the front line, as it doesn’t have heavy armour or decent HP, and only an OK to-hit, but at the same time can’t really sneak as it doesn’t have the skill points of a true rogue. I have seen similar concepts done well, but most of the time I saw it, it was done by people who saw the damage they could do via sneak dice, and I wound up having to slip in to combat to heal them.

      Multiclass characters CAN be done well, if the abilities compliment one another. Just keep in mind, that they have to compliment each other, or you’ll wind up doing a lot of nothing.

  2. Agreed, and in addition to “which way can your character help the party?” there’s also the role-playing aspect to consider: Getting a real feel for how a certain class plays or thinks is part of the fun – if someone’s character has more than 1 class, they are essentially trying to “think” and “train” for 2 or 3 VERY distinct full-time jobs.

    • Oh, but how many people are solely defined by their jobs? Sure I know a lot about liquid analytical equipment, but I also know a lot about roleplaying games. …and science fiction literature. …and philosophy. …and physics. …and computers. …and economics. …and heist movies.

      One of my friends is currently a teacher. He’s also big into furries and is a classic car enthusiast. He’s snorkeled at several islands in the Carribean and South Pacific. He used to work for the Air Force – he was the guy they called to fix the ICBM’s.

      Other people in my life include: Technical writer/historian/dancer. Seminary student/office worker (or cleric to clerical). Actor/athlete/salesman. And I’ve completely forgotten the roles of spouse and parent, which could easily be classes unto themselves.

      Now some of these are favored classes and others are just a two-level dip. But they involve very distinct skill sets. I know very few people that only focus on one thing through their lives and never branch out

      • At the same time Philo, how many of those things can you do at a professional level? I know a lot about RPGs (But I couldn’t make a living writing them), and a lot about physics (but not more then a 2nd year physics major), computers (I could make a bad living repairing the basics, but not programming or anything above the basics), History, literature, etc, but I couldn’t make a living at any of them, or do more then understand enough to comprehend them.

        On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of years working on getting my chem degree, and am now working on my Masters, and I note that the further you go into your degree, the more focused you get. I know a bit about a lot of things, but there is only one I can make a living at.

        If you are putting your life on the line about something, would you want to trust a minor hobby to disarm a trap, or would you want a professional who does it all the time?

        • Oh, I’ve earned money doing technical support (for extremely different product lines), sales, field service, technical writing, computer programming, retail sales and running carnival games.

          You mention putting your life on the line, but often there’s more to it than just skills. Somebody with better saves and more hit points can often deal with a failed trap disarm better.

  3. Multiclass characters are just plain more difficult to do well, though it can be done. The main issue I find is that oftentimes it’s good for the PCs to have their comfortable niches so that you don’t have the combat wombat stepping onto Sneaky McGee’s toes. If it’s a roleplay-heavy game, the niches can be more diverse and therefore survive multiclasses a bit better.

    • Yeah, it does depend on the type of game. I was in a combat heavy game, that was very challenging. There were some very good multiclass characters, including a lot of Fighter/Clerics, Barbarian/Fighters, Sorcerer/Barbarians and such. You just have to design them very well.


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