And then it just disappeared from the map.
All the hullabaloo surrounding Fortune Cards must be taking up our communal talking space because I can’t find a blog or forum thread anywhere speculating on the subject. Am I seriously the only one who cares about this? How much hype did Hybrids stir up when they were first announced? Maybe we’re just once bitten, twice shy (or would that be twice bitten, thrice shy?) on the subject. Neither the current multiclass nor hybrid systems seem to satisfy what many feel is a true multiclass character the way it was presented in earlier editions. I believe the in-game technology now exists to correct the discrepancy but before I get into that, let’s take a short look at what does and does not need to be ‘fixed’ about the current systems as it will guide the design I eventually propose.
Entry Speed – In 3E/Pathfinder, a character must be level 2 in order to begin multiclassing by taking levels in different classes. I’m avoiding the gestalt discussion here because those characters were SPECIFICALLY meant to be stronger than a core class where as simple multiclassing is intended to be on par . Prior to 3E, a character could start as a fighter/thief, fighter/mage or whatever immediately at character generation given the right stat combinations and would gain levels in their different classes at different times. It’s much harder to make a blanket statement about progression in 2E and back as different forms of multiclassing appeared in different rulesets, but generally speaking you had the opportunity to start out as a multiclass character one way or the other. Now in 4E, you can again start as a multiclassed character at level 1 using either the standard or hybrid systems. So far so good.
Option Spread – Here again, 4E is still looking pretty good. 2E and back had fewer core classes (again, you can’t count the kits because those were not available for multiclass use) so more core classes gives you more options. 3E of course has WAY more classes and theoretically speaking every class feature could be available in full to a multiclass build, so in sheer weight, 4E falls short. Proportionally speaking, though, the current standard and hybrid multiclass systems do theoretically grant access to any power in the game and many classes have several multiclass feats, each giving access to a shortened form of a level 1 class feature so it’s not quite as bad in thorough investigation as it seems on first glance.
Option Strength – Here is where things start to fall apart for 4E. Previous editions gave multiclass characters the same features with the same numeric values and usage allowances as a single-class character. 4E is the first D&D game for which a multiclass character will, by design, be given a limited or shortened class feature. The decision was made by the devs to prevent characters from stepping on each other’s schticks too much. It’s niche protection. Though I might fiddle with option strength in a home game, for the purposes of presenting a useful product to the D&D community at large I will respect the design premise and move on.
Low-Level Efficacy: This requires some terminology definitions. By “low-level”, I mean the Heroic tier in 4E and then levels 1 to about 6 in previous 20-level schemes. By “efficacy” I mean the overall usefulness of the character for its level as well as how strongly the character feels like each of its component classes.
Previous editions of the game had few problems with any multiclassing efficacy at low-level. BAB/THAC0 simply didn’t have enough time to fall “behind the curve” in the first few levels in the vast majority of multiclass builds. Also a spellcaster would not often feel the effects of slow spell progression until (s)he failed to pick up 3rd level spells (read “fireball”) at about the time that the party really needed more daka to handle threats. You could juggle two maybe even three classes in these systems for the first few levels and not really suffer for it.
4E represents a radical divergence in results from previous editions at low-level play. It takes several levels for a standard multiclass character to really feel like a member of its secondary class(es) (one Scorching Burst per encounter does not a Wizard make!). Over the course of these several levels, the character must make a tremendous feat investiture to immerse itself in its secondary class(es) – up to 75% of its Heroic Tier feats for a non-Human! This of course puts a significant dent in the character’s ability to operate in its primary class leaving the player with a sense of loss not present in earlier editions. Hybrids do not require the feat investiture (directly, anyway) and more immediately feel like immersed members of each class but often suffer from gimped class features – particularly Defender marks. Hybrids also often have problems with MBAs, defenses and implement proficiencies. Thus one important goal of our multiclass 2.0 will be to create immersion in the secondary class(es) at low levels without burdening the character with a heavy feat tax.
Mid-Level Efficacy: “Mid-level” will here refer to Paragon Tier and levels from about 6 to 13 in 20-level schemes.
As mentioned before, the 3rd level spell bracket and a BAB/THAC0 differential of about 3 is where the edges of previous multiclass systems began to fray. Non-casters could generally multiclass back and forth without a lot of thought, but the ever-elusive fighter/mage and mage/cleric archetypes really ran into problems. At some point, you would have to jump ship and focus on one class. 3E tried to patch this by creating feats and prestige classes (Mystic Theurge, Eldritch Knight, Practiced Spellcaster) that maintained spell levels/BAB and it worked for a while. Due to the crazy permutations possible in the ever-expanding system, though, it became a chore to prop one’s stats up correctly for many builds.
Oddly enough, 4E deals with this problem pretty cleanly with Paragon Paths. No matter how few feats a standard multiclass character picks up, (s)he qualifies to take a Paragon Path of the secondary class. This is a set of 3 class features and 3 powers designed to work with and feel like a subset of the secondary class. Best of all, these powers do not get swapped out in Epic Tier and are thus built to last the lifecycle of the character. By the end of Paragon Tier, a character with only the initial multiclass feat and a Paragon Path has a E/D/U count of 1/1/1 out of 4/4/6 which is a nice dip without a ton of effort. This jumps to a possible 2/2/2 with all the power swap feats, effectively splitting the character’s powers down the middle. Include the 3 Path features built for the secondary class and that’s darn solid immersion in both classes without dinging the primary too badly. Paragon Paths are still the better option for hybrids to stabilize one of their classes as well. The paragon hybrid option is usually a trap since it gives only one (possibly gimped) class feature compared to a Paragon Path’s level-appropriate three or four. Thus we need not concern ourselves with “fixing” the mid-game so long as we provide that low-level support.
High-Level Efficacy: “High-level” refers to Epic Tier and then levels from about 13 to 20 in 20-level schemes.
Now I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t done much high-level gaming of any edition so I can’t speak with quite so much confidence, particularly in 2E and back. I suspect that if you managed to get a multiclass character to this point, the whole party is multiclassed and your progression has just been a lot slower. As for 3E, I can’t help but notice the character builds on the various gaming boards at high level. You don’t see [Class A 10/ Class B 10]. Instead, it’s [Class A 6/Class B 2/Prestige Class A 4/Prestige Class B 2/Prestige Class C 5]. Whether it’s representative of what the average player was running at any given home table I don’t know, but clearly the ‘best’ builds lost their secondary class in the shuffle somewhere, sometimes even their primary!
The question then for 4E is how much secondary class support you need at Epic Tier. Is the Paragon Path enough to carry the flavor through on its own? A level 21 character has a whopping 13 feats, jumping to a total of 17 by Level 30! Is a four-feat tax to hold on to that 2/2/2 still an issue at this point? It’s certainly an investment, but it fails to weigh NEARLY as heavily as it did with only 6 feats at level 10. Previous systems require the character to jump through a multitude of hoops to maintain a second class effectively at high levels, so I’m ok with that occuring here as well. We will keep the power swap feats in place for Epic Tier characters who really want to hold on to that premise. On the hybrdis side, only a few who exploit strong class synergy will even make it to Epic Tier. Natural selection, if you will, has culled the weak from their ranks giving us very little material to work with here that isn’t tied up in the individual classes. Thus we can leave the high-end game alone as well.
In summary we really only need to apply one patch to the whole game and let its effects percolate up the level progression to “fix” multiclassing. Low level characters need a way to get a secondary class’ iconic class feature limited to that class’ powers (generally, though there will be exceptions like the Cleric) and featless power swap.
Where have we seen featless power swaps and limited class features for Heroic Tier characters before? That’s right, folks – Themes. I believe Themes are the way to fix 4E multiclassing and I hope that’s what WoTC is up to. Next time, we’ll actually go through and create multiclass Themes for the Fighter, Rogue, Cleric and Wizard.