Monday, October 10, 2016

"Muticlassing" is Not a Dirty Word

As I've said several times, I spend a lot of time online talking about RPGs. I discuss rules, bounce around character concepts, and every now and again I even have people reach out to me to ask about how to make certain ideas viable in their games. However, there's been a pattern I've noticed of late. A pattern where DMs will post in one forum or another, and lament that the player characters, "have too many classes."

I'd like to take today's Monday post to explain why this is a silly statement, and to suggest where some of this angst is coming from.

You're Building A Concept, Not A Class

Now, before we get started, I feel I should tell you something. I've been a gamer for a little over a decade now, and in any class-based system I have played, I have never played a single-class character. Part of that is because I love prestige classes, but another part of it is that I never allowed my concepts to be constrained by class mechanics.

Put another way, I never said, "I'm playing a fighter, so what kind of fighter am I?" Instead I would say, "Arnault Hamden is a master swordsman. A back-alley enforcer, his combat style is one part down-and-dirty backstabbing, and one part graceful blade work. So how do I represent that mechanically?"

There are a lot of options, but they'll all do the job.
I could, for example, play this concept as a straight fighter. His increased weapon training, combined with feats like Improved Initiative and Piranha Strike would bring across that speed and viciousness are why he tends to walk off the field when all is said and done. On the other hand, I might want to take levels of fighter and duelist, granting him increased damage, dodge bonuses, and parrying. I might choose to dip into rogue instead, giving him sneak attack, evasion, and uncanny dodge to show he can never be caught off guard.

There are dozens of other ways, but you get the idea.

As I said when I wrote What's In A Name? How Character Class is Limiting Your Creativity, your class is a meta concept. It's something you, the player, know. In the world of the game, though, no one goes around calling themselves a rogue. No one puts out a job posting specifically looking for a barbarian. Too often, though, we think of our characters purely in terms of their classes. This character is a wizard, that character is a paladin, the one across the table is a sorcerer.

But this guy? Well, that's Styx. Styx is a half-mad ruin delver who seeks knowledge of the ancients. Learned in a dozen different languages, and twice as many magical traditions, he always seems to have another trick up his sleeve, and another secret waiting to be learned. Because when you try to remember the character is a diviner who chose to focus on necromancy and enchantment magic, who also has levels of rogue, and then took levels in arcane trickster, it becomes easier to see the person than it is to see the mechanics.

And that's how it should be.

Multiclassing Has Weaknesses, as Well as Strengths

Too often when people decry multiclass characters (especially those who just dabble in another class for 1 or 2 levels) it's because they feel those characters are somehow exploiting the rules to gain more power. A fighter only has to give up 1 point of BAB to take a 2-level rogue dip, and that gains him trapfinding, evasion, and sneak attack. Combine that with a greatsword wielder specialized in Power Attack, and you've got someone who at level 3 can lay down some serious hurt.

Everything has a weakness, though.
The important thing to remember, though, is that multiclassing has weaknesses. For example, take the fighter/rogue combination. Sure you gain sneak attack, evasion, trapfinding, and a little boost to your Reflex save. Know what you lose out on, other than a point of BAB, some hit points, and your favored class bonus? Your Will save. Because neither class has a good Will save, taking the two of them together tanks it. While that might not be a huge deal at lower levels, when you eventually find yourself going up against the villainous enchanter or illusionist, all they'll have to do is wave a hand, and the powerhouse melee combatant is going to be swinging at shadows (or worse, attacking the party) for the rest of the fight.

That's just one example, though. For instance, spellcasting classes derive a lot of their power from their caster level. If you multiclass as a spellcaster, that takes a serious hit. That will affect not only how much damage certain spells do, and how long many spells last, but it will also make it harder for you to penetrate an enemy's spell resistance. A similar case can be made for classes like the monk, and even the barbarian, where many powers are directly tied to how many levels of that class the character has.

That's how the game balances itself out. Because if you're going to multiclass your character, you gain some things, and you lose some things. That doesn't make your character inherently more or less powerful. It simply means the array of abilities and tools you have is unique to you. And, as long as your character build can get the job done, and doesn't violate any of the rules (both the standard rules of the game, and any additional rules that were laid down during Session 0), there's no reason to throw shade.

But They're Using Too Many Options!

This is the part where I play armchair psychologist. Because I feel that many times when someone running a game complains that players are multiclassing, or using too many game books to build their concepts, or bringing in obscure rules, the frustration isn't about the PCs. It's the idea that the players know more than the DM, and they're adept at using all the options they have to hand in order to build effective avatars to interact with the world.

The solution? Git gud.

Or get wrecked.
This isn't to say that you should get into a dick-measuring competition with your players to make them fall in line. However, as the DM, it's your job to understand the rules of the game, and to know the rules that govern the PCs and their abilities. Maybe you've never played a barbarian before, but you realize that Uncanny Dodge means the ambush by assassins isn't going to go so well since it means they can't catch the big bruiser flat-footed (and thus can't sneak attack him that way). Perhaps you've never read the parry ability of the duelist or swashbuckler, so you find yourself feeling a little lost when one of the PCs can roll an attack to stop your attack. If you played prepared spellcasters, then you may not realize that spell-like abilities work differently, and thus can't be foiled in many of the same ways.

It's fine not knowing things. No DM is going to be perfect. However, the proper response to not knowing something, or not being comfortable with something, is to sit down and have a discussion with the player, or the table, about it. Not to lament that players are, "too overpowered," for your game.

You have access to every rule, creature, and spell in the game. There's no such thing as overpowered. You simply need to find the challenge that best suits the group, and the party, you actually have in front of you.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully some folks found it enlightening, as well as entertaining. If you'd like to support Improved Initiative so I can get you more content just like this, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All new patrons who pledge at least $1 a month will have some sweet swag coming their way! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, why not start now?


  1. Hear, hear!

    My professional owlbear wrestler Hogan Savage is no one-trick pony as Monk / Fighter / Barbarian.

    Monk so I can stack Wis + Dex for AC, so I can get away with wearing speedos, thigh high boots and a bandana. And some oil. Also, unarmed damage if I can't wrestle it to the ground.

    Fighter so I can action surge, so Move + Grapple + Shove becomes a thing. Also, feats.

    Barbarian for Kordamania! I'll rip my shirt off to expose the oiled chest beneath and then you'll realize I'm going to grab you and get really close.

    I do NOT get why people are against it when it's definitely a thing in the game.

    Those DM's are weak.

  2. I've done three characters running who the other players didn't identify by class. The straight Human Fighter (Two Weapon Warrior Archetype, using paired shields to bash) they referred to as a 'merc', because he was. The Halfling Investigator (Steel Hound/Sleuth)/ Gunslinger (Musketeer)/ Swashbuckler (Musketeer) refers to himself as an 'Explorer', but the rest of the party just refers to him as a 'mojo mage': 14 points of Grit + Luck + Panache at lvl 4 is... a lot. Finally, the character who started it, a Human Fighter / Rogue, was referred to IN GAME as 'Our Sasha', because her name had become synonymous with being bone-chillingly creepy.

    It's all about the concept. Chase it down.

    1. Oops - that should have read 'Gunslinger (Mysterious Stranger).

  3. the Sylph Street Magician Rinnie was a Slayer. the Shaman and Apothecary Ilina was a Wizard with a few clerical spells, Divine Evoker Pyrus was a Dwarven Tank Wizard with the Religion and History Skills, and Shinkuro, the Tiger of Southern Nihon was a Fighter/Brawler/Slayer and Julian Snowe was a Weretiger Magus who identified as a fey bastard of the Northeastern Snows