Monday, August 27, 2018

DMs, Stop Putting Up Barriers To Multiclassing

I've said it before, but for those who don't know me, I've played maybe three to five characters in my nearly 15-year career as a gamer who were single-class PCs. Every other character I've ever played (and there have been a lot of them, since my early gaming career was full of DMs who would run for about five sessions before scrapping the game to do something new) has been a multiclass character. Sometimes it was split right down the middle, and sometimes it was just dipping a toe or two into a second class, but they were never only one thing.

I've got two levels of swashbuckler. Fight me!
In all my time as a gamer, though, I've noticed that certain DMs will arbitrarily try to throw up red tape to keep their players from multiclassing. They demand that you spend in-game resources, seek out a trainer, and in some cases fold their arms until you prove to them that your story should be allowed to go in a particular direction.

This isn't making your game better. It's just enforcing class stereotypes, and restricting players' freedoms.

Work With Them To Craft A Solution

I talked about this forever ago in What's In A Name? How Character Class is Limiting Your Creativity, but I feel it should be repeated. Your class is, more often than not, just a name for a particular set of mechanical tools and abilities your character uses. A monk doesn't have to come from a monastery, a paladin isn't necessarily a knight in shining armor, and a cleric doesn't have to be a priest. These are just traditions and stereotypes we've attached to these classes, and our brains sometimes throw fits when we try to step outside the boxes we've put these classes in.

As long as a player's character follows the actual rules of the game (they maintain the required alignment, follow any attribute, skill, or spell requirements to take levels of the class, etc.) they aren't breaking the rules. And, as their DM, your goal should be to help your player realize their character, rather than throwing road blocks in their way.

Sure, you can take a level of wizard. After you give me a 5-page essay, and spend six in-game months with a teacher.
You see this most often in classes where spellcasting is concerned. After all, how would Hardwick have learned any spells, much less put together his own spellbook, in the middle of the jungle on a dungeon crawl? Especially if he's just a fighter?

Well, since you ask, there are a dozen different ways that occur to me. I'll give you a few.

- Hardwick became a mercenary because he didn't want to be a wizard. He still underwent several years of tutelage in his youth, though, and has the spellbook from when he was a novice.
- Hardwick is a smart guy, and he has seen his share of magic both from allies and enemies. Mimicking the gestures he's seen, and reading through arcane texts he's found crawling through dungeons, he's managed to figure out the core concepts of basic spells.
- Hardwick has had friends, family, and maybe even lovers who knew something about the mystic arts. As such, they've all tried to answer his questions, and show him an apprentice trick or two. All of that knowledge has finally culminated in his ability to cast starting spells.

These are just a handful of potential solutions, but you notice what isn't listed here? Something that makes a player spend their hard-earned resources in-game, or which acts as a time sink making them waste time looking for a teacher and attending lessons, taking time away from being an adventurer and following the plot they're actually a part of.

If They Qualify, Let Them Have Their Toys

Now, it should be noted that some games have restrictions on who is allowed into certain classes. Multiclassing in 5th edition requires you to have certain attributes at certain levels, for example. Certain prestige classes in Pathfinder require you to have a particular spellcasting level, a certain skill rank, or special requirements (killing someone to become an assassin, vanquishing a demon to become a hellknight, etc., etc.). If a players has already met those requirements, there's no reason for you to make it harder on them.

Or, worse, to just say no for no particular reason.

20 years of pitiless combat... but taking a few rogue levels is too much?
Now, it is your game, and as the DM you have the authority to say no if you feel that a player's build or actions are going to be a problem. However, if you know up-front that you're not allowing certain things (evil alignments, summoners, non-core races, etc.) then you should make that clear up-front when you talk to your players and set the ground rules. And if you're putting additional steps into the multiclassing process, make it clear that is how your game works before Eliza decides that her thuggish barbarian should really have more skills and some sneak attack.

But before you do that, ask yourself why? Why are you putting arbitrary restrictions on the building blocks your players are using, and when they're allowed to use them? And what, if anything, is this action meant to accomplish?

More often than not, you find the answers to those questions tend to suck a lot of enjoyment out of a game.

That's all for this week's installment of Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully it helps folks who are trying to have a constructive discussion regarding character building and career path. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or just go to my Gamers page to see only the tabletop stuff. Or, if you want a little drama with your advice, check out the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help bring the world of Evora to life! To keep up on my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to help me keep creating content just like this, then tip me by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or becoming a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Either way, there's a lot of free stuff in it for you along with my thanks.


  1. I look at multiclassing as fleshing out character and reinforcing that with mechanics. People branch out if they see a benefit, or even if they just find an interest in another field. Sometimes buying some out-of-class skills aren't enough for a player's needs.

    Of course, depending on the system, multiclass can disrupt the game balance either way: Diluting your character to be mediocre at everything, or making your character outshine the specialists. If that's the problem, that's a worthwhile reason to bring in home rules and bans.

  2. Sorry but this is just wrong when it comes to "it's just a collection of skills" mainly because the characters in the game itself recognize the classes.

    Folks are described by their class in the game all the time.

    "That ranger fellow sure is quiet in the corner with his pipe."

    "I am a cleric of Sarenrae and can provide healing services."

    "We have our wizard working on the problem, so it should be fixed in a jiffy."

    Just as examples. Yes the characters very wildly in the fine print, but a person with the universe always knows a barbarian rages, a wizard casts spells, a cleric gets their magic from their god, and so on. These are assumptions that can be made by actual characters and people in the game, NPC or otherwise, about other people. And for the most part they would be right.

    It's an RPG, that means roleplay is a part of it.

    How about this, "Stop stifling GM story facilitation with whining" as an article?

  3. Well, 2nd Edition Pathfinder is certainly going to put a kibosh on effective multi-classing from a system level so maybe DMs won't have to be so mean.

  4. There are really two different schools of thought- that each PC should be a distinct iconic role, complete with things they -cannot- do and require their team for, consistent with some old-school flavor (akin to the old B/X book)- as compared to the other school of thought where each PC should be able to do pretty much everything, but some folks specialize more in certain areas(much more akin to modern single-player computer RPGs). People steeped in the former school -like- the reliance on a team-based strategy to get things done, while people steeped in the latter often use secondary classes to paper-over or compensate for the weaknesses (or to stack on bonuses) in their primary class and tend to look at classes as simply a collection of mechanics to be combined as needed. In my case, I tend to favor the simplicity of the former, especially as a GM, as it tends to be easier to deal with on the fly. But they both have their virtues.

  5. some classes are simply an evolution of what the character has always been doing. like a Swashbuckler or Battle Oracle Dipping Fighter for Weapon Training or could happen at any point like a cleric having an Epiphany or a Sorcerous Bloodline manifesting.

  6. You're not wrong. Many DMs can be extreme hardasses about these sorts of things, and it is a problem. I haven't faced it myself, but I know many who have, and when DMing I try not to do things which place arbitrary restrictions on the players. I do feel that in your article you have left out an important component. You suggest that the DM should approach the player to try to craft a solution. I would put forth that the onus is on the player to approach the DM. The DM has to handle crafting the world, developing NPCs and stories for the players to work with, and often times managing the players themselves.

    While I do not believe DMs should refuse the right to multi-class, or put in a severe restriction, I would say that the players themselves have a responsibility to approach the DM. To say, "hi DM. Next time I level up, I wanted to take my next level as fighter. Do you have some time to discuss how we can weave this into the story, or my character's background?" If the DM then says no, or outright refuses to work with the player, I would certainly link them to your article. But I feel like the ball starts in the player's court.

    But, in the end, thank you for writing this! It has been an interesting read, and though I don't agree with some aspects, I feel a valuable one which I will think of when considering how I handle such things.