This article was first broadcast in Episode Forty-Three on 3rd October 2018.
Mikey: I’m just saying it gives me more versatility
Ostron: Have you ever heard “Jack of all trades, master of none”?
Ryu: Ostron, you know what happens if you bother Mikey. Suddenly we all sound like chipmunks. Well…except RaeRae for some reason.
Ostron: I’m not bothering him. We’re discussing the merits of his dual role as part time host and audio alchemist compared to you and I who are primarily just hosting.
Ryu: Oh. The multiclassing debate.
Ostron: I…okay that actually is a good point; I didn’t think of it that way.
Multiclassing is a mechanic in D&D that can generate almost as much sidelong glances from players and cautious looks from DMs as declaring you’re playing an evil character, or a Kender.
For those who stopped reading the Player’s Handbook after the Equipment chapter, multiclassing allows you to take a level in a class other than the one you originally started with, giving you access to some of the abilities of the other class while keeping all of the same bonuses and abilities you’ve acquired in your current class up to that point.
It can’t be done on a whim most of the time, however. There are statistical prerequisites for choosing another class. If a character has a score of 13 or higher in every ability except Constitution, they have nothing to worry about. If not, the player needs to check page 163 of the Player’s Handbook, where it lists the statistics that need to be 13 or higher to cross over. Many classes only have one key statistic. Multiclassing to Bard only requires a 13 in Charisma for example, and Cleric needs a 13 in Wisdom, but others have a higher barrier, like Monk that requires 13s in both Dexterity and Wisdom.
Some people are probably wondering “why bother”? As we mentioned, you get a lot of the benefits associated with the other class. There are some restrictions on what proficiencies you gain with the class (those are listed on page 164) but you get the immediate bonus of using the new classes’ hit die, so a Wizard who multiclasses to Barbarian suddenly gets the luxury of a d12 hit die to increase their HP pool. The biggest benefit, however, is the character immediately gains all of the abilities associated with that class at level 1. Multiclass to barbarian? Congratulations, you can now Rage and use your Constitution modifier to determine your AC. Multiclass to Rogue? Double two proficiency skills and start sneak attacking.
Things get a little tricky if you multiclass to a casting class; you get access to the spell lists, but the number of spell slots is dictated by another table, so you can’t start multiplicatively increasing your spell slot count through multiclassing, and there are similar restrictions with Channel Divinity.
Mechanically there are drawbacks and benefits to the whole thing. Obviously there are some devastating combinations that can be put together. Having a Champion fighter who can also apply sneak attack damage while they crit more often is a scary thought, as is a sorcerer who can Metamagic Eldritch Blasts enhanced by Warlock Eldritch Invocations.
However, deviating from the proscribed paths of a single class also has drawbacks. Unlike in previous editions of D&D, the only abilities or bonuses tied to overall character level are the proficiency bonus. All of the other bonuses and abilities are associated with class levels. For example, the fourth level acquired only grants a feat or ability score bonuses if the fourth level is with a particular class. If someone takes three levels in Bard and then adds a level in Fighter, they don’t get to boost their scores until they take four fighter levels or go back and take the fourth Bard level. This also means it takes far longer to progress in class archetypes, whose bonuses are spread out even farther on the level track.
Multiclassing has just as many concerns from a roleplaying perspective. Very often players who enjoy the storytelling aspects of the game get annoyed by multiclassing because it can seem unrealistic. They might be sold on the idea of a Ranger acquiring enough experience and mystical exposure to nature to start going along the path of a Druid, but convincing them a Wizard suddenly developed the fundamental rage and bulk of a Barbarian is a stretch. However, people who multiclass solely for the purpose of increasing their character’s power and damn the roleplaying can also end up frustrated. Currently characters can’t advance beyond a 20th level, so every multiclass level a character takes shuts them out of the top tier abilities. Most classes get their final abilities beginning at level 17. Multiclassing four levels in another class means that level 17 ability is no longer achievable, and if only one of those classes is a spellcaster it means you’re never getting a 9th level spell slot.
Most people who’ve tried or played with someone who likes muticlassing have heard the “you can do really cool stuff combining the X class’ ability with Y class’ feature” argument. The ironic thing is that the other primary argument in favor of multiclassing has to do with roleplaying. 5th edition currently has no class modification mechanics beyond 3rd level. Once you’ve chosen your class and your archetype, you know the progression of your character through to level 20. All of the editions previous to 5th offered the option of significant adjustments at various points. 3 and 3.5’s prestige classes offered different paths of progression at almost any level, and in 4th edition players made significant decisions on how their characters would progress at level 10 and level 20. Very often these prestige classes or class paths would be developed in concert with in-game character development, or as the result of a significant event in the character’s life.
At the moment, if a player decides that their Wizard character wants to devote more effort to learning tactics and combat because of an event that happened while they were level 9, the only way to reflect that in their character’s mechanics is to multiclass into a more martial class like Fighter. Otherwise they have to petition their DM to houserule some abilities or something similar.
So the debate continues on. Muticlassing might be the best route to your perfect build or the only way to really represent how your character has grown during the journey, or it could hamstring your powergaming and be the clearest indicator that you don’t care about the game’s story. We leave the final verdict up to you.
Mikey: Wait a minute, Ostron, you do stuff in the Gnomish Workshop all the time
Ostron: Yeah, that’s more like an archetype that goes along with my wizardry.
Mikey: So what about the killer DM? Same thing?
Ostron: That’s just a cursed magic item; it doesn’t affect the class.
Ryu: I’m going to do you a favor and not bring KayDee in to talk about that. Let’s go over to the Scrying Pool before I change my mind…