Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Quirky Laboratory: Multiclassing

Has anyone in your group gone the multiclass route in 4E? I mean, really multi-classing by taking all the power swap feats and not just the overpowered entry feat. Show of hands. That's what I thought- I can't see a single one of you raising your hands.

Multi-classing has been in Dungeons and Dragons for years, even decades, now. But it's really fallen out of use in fourth edition. I think there's some room to squeeze it back in. It just needs a bit of zip added to it. I'm throwing multiclassing in the lab to see what comes out.

In the Beginning
Once upon a time, in an edition long, long ago, multi-classing was a mystical option that us humans could never get the hang of. Elves and dwarves lived so long they decided to give themselves job security by getting two degrees. Elves often went for three classes making sure they never left university for over 100 years and had to take up adventuring as the only way to pay off their student loans.

The half orcs and halflings of the world, despite being short lived, were often given a class for hitting puberty. All of these extra classes slowed down the demi-human adventurers from progressing, but that worked out just fine in the end. Humans decided to get unionized and went on strike, refusing to make burnt offerings or dance naked in the woods unless the gods granted them seniority in all the job fields related to adventuring. So while humans were allowed to advance without limits in any class of their choosing, demihumans were forced to retire after hitting some invisible ceiling like a Russian phycisist driving taxis in New York. Most non-humans multiclassed so they had something to live for after their human buddies hit eighth level.

Humans had unlimited advancement, and while they could only concentrate on one class at a time, they had this peculiar option called dual classing. A human could dual class by pretending that they were first level all over again in a new class and forget all their fireballs and lightning bolts to pay attention to sneaking in shadows and swinging swords. After they proved to themselves that they really were awesome with swords and armor, then they could dust off their old spellbooks and go out to use both classes again. It was a long, painful process and humans mostly decided that they could live with only being single classed.

You Want Multiclassing, You Got it!
Third edition decided multiclassing should be easier. A lot easier. Easier like becoming a registered priest on the internet or writing a limerick in the men's bathroom and picking up a few levels of bard. All you had to do was gain a level and decide you want to be a wizard. Boom! You were a wizard.

And to top it off, every variant of a class that could ever be conceived of was thrown into prestige classes, the original model for the paragon class. Once a character hit about seventh level or so, they could (and often would) tack on classes like they were the latest iPod app. You couldn't go to the character optimization boards without seeing a character with enough classes it looked someone had their finger stuck on the "/" key. (Brd1/rog3/ftr3/ur-priest2/sublime chord 1/fochlucan lyrist 9, for example)

Yet for all that, multiclassing stunted the growth of the big guns in the party- the spellcasters. Any level where you weren't advancing as a wizard was a level you could never get back. Casting fireballs while the rest of the party had access to power word kill was not a good career choice. Most martial characters only needed attack bonuses, so they switched majors every few hours to get whatever class features looked best that level.

Go Fourth and Multiclass
So here we are today in fourth edition. Multiclassing is done through feats; pick up a feat to multiclass and you gain some minor ability from that class. If you want to be more invested in that class, you can use a feat and trade in one of your powers for a power of the new class. It solved the issue of falling behind in power, which was a great step forward.

The entry feat gave you skill training and a special power to boot, so it was a great option. But after that, multiclassing quickly lost its appeal. You use up a feat slot just to get access to a power that's not any better than what you already have available? When the Player's Handbook first came out, maybe you could make an argument that this was a good option. But after all the splatbooks and Dragon magazine articles came out, each class had plenty of powers available without needing to use a feat to gain more options.

Since those multiclass characters didn't work out too well, a new breed called hybrid characters came along. Hybrid characters let you take half of character A and half of character B and smash them together. Then you could use feats on top of that to add even more powers and options from either of your classes to round out your role a little better. Power gamers everywhere rejoiced; they could take the bare bones of two favoured classes, grab the options they really wanted, and discard the rest.

Hybrid characters literally had an exponential effect on the number of character options available at first level, at a time when making a new character was already a daunting task. My limited experience with them indicated hybrid characters also increased the power curve quite a bit. There was a lot of mashing together of abilities and powers for no cost. I decided I didn't like hybrids, but there were a few interesting options, like Hybrid Talents, that could be used.

Going in for the Skill
Somewhere in all this, a neat little option called skill powers came out. They would let anyone with skill training trade in a utlity power for one that focused on that skill. Often the powers were about one utility slot underpowered compared to a class that had a focus in that skill. Because they were underpowered, they didn't get used much. But in many ways, skill powers provided you with a decent multiclass power option, even if you didn't take multiclassing.

I liked this type of power level off. I liked hybrid talents. I like using feats to multiclass. Combine it all together and we get today's experiment.

The Experiment
Here is my multiclass experiment:
  • Remove Hybrid characters
  • Keep the multiclassing entry feats the same
  • Add a new multiclass power swap feat, Versatile Power. This feat allows you to swap any of your utility, encounter and daily powers for that of your secondary class. The following limitations are added:
    • You cannot have a utility power in your secondary class of a higher level than your highest utility power in your primary class.
    • You cannot have an encounter power in your secondary class of a higher level than your highest encounter power in your primary class.
    • You cannot have a daily power in your secondary class of a higher level than your two highest daily powers in your primary class
  • The old power swap feats are still available if higher level powers from your secondary class are still desired.
  • Versatile Master is now a heroic tier feat.
  • You may take the Hybrid Talent feat to gain any of the Hybrid Talent abilities from your secondary class.
  • An additional Hybrid Talent feat option is to gain the weapon proficiencies from your secondary class.
In this way, a character can use feats to gain many of the abilities of their secondary class, but each feat spent will actually let the character gain something. In addition, multiclassing can be picked up either at the start of your adventuring career or at anytime afterward and be just as effective. With the liberal use of feats, a character can maintain a strong presence in both of their classes.

I'm interested to know your thoughts if your try this out. Or did you like multiclassing the way it was? It will be my players who let me know the most- if they all take multiclassing now, maybe it's a little too good. If no one takes multiclassing at all, it might still need a little work.

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