I’ve heard over and over again, from various people, that they feel multi-classing in 4th Edition just isn’t worth it. I even got to the point of asking several of the Wizards staffers if their current games (each staffer seems to be playing in several games of 4e) had any higher level multi-classed characters that they could tell us about. I didn’t really get solid answers; it seems most of their in-house games are understandably still in the heroic tier. What I think a lot of people are missing is the bigger picture: how a character develops over time and how multi-classing plays into that. I believe most of us are simply reacting based on first level characters, and honestly, multi-classing in the very beginning SHOULD suck.
At first level you have to take an Initiate/Student feat which officially makes you a multi-class character, and each one gives you a small portion of the second class’s power. Typically the class’s at-will power is given to multi-classed characters as an encounter ability, because do we honestly want someone who is only a wizard on the side going around and blasting things as much as a full-time wizard? I don’t think so! I think a lot of the disappointment comes from this. At first level you really don’t get a huge feeling that you’re playing a multi-classed character.
The next step for multi-classing is actually swapping out powers from your main class for those of your secondary one as you level, which I don’t think many people have really gotten to use yet. At first glance, this is quite scary because you feel like you’re losing abilities and becoming weaker in your main class, when instead you’re just becoming more diverse. The part where the system really becomes interesting is when you look at how these powers are swapped out. You aren’t just gaining powers from a separate class, you’re actually taking a feat at 4th, 8th, or 10th level that THEN allows you to swap out one of your lower level class powers for an equal level power from your secondary class. This firmly solidifies you in the realm of your primary class. Instead of feeling like you are training in two separate fields, you’re still gaining levels as your primary and simply swapping out powers for some variation in abilities. This brings us to the next part that really scares people, giving up all those precious feats!
Feats are a definite hangup for people in the transition from 3rd Edition to 4th. In the previous edition, feats were a huge way of customizing your character, so much so that they were the only thing that differentiated fighters from other classes (and from each other). Most of the “cool moves” that people wanted to do like spring-attack and whirlwind attack were feats. Mobility and Combat Expertise really allowed the player to change how a character played and acted in combat. Now with 4th Edition, feats have been reduced (in my opinion rightfully so) to the final layer of customization for each character. No single feat is going to make or break any character since each one has a limited but useful effect. But what a lot of people gloss over is how many MORE feats a character gets in 4th Edition. A 10th level character now has 6 feats (7 for humans), a 15th level character has 9, and at 30th level you have a whopping 18 feats! The typical character in 3rd Edition has only 7 feats by 20th level, compared to the 12 that they would have nowadays. That’s almost a 2-to-1 exchange in feats and their abilities have been adjusted accordingly. What this means is that a character giving up 4 feats to multi-class is not giving up as much as people think they are, it is simply a trade of that upper layer of customization via feats for…gasp…customization via multi-classing! A character could take skill focus in thievery to add that little extra flavor, or they can take the Sneak of Shadows feat and automatically gain training in thievery, plus they are granted access at higher levels to rogue abilities and powers.
As I was thinking about all of this, I decided a larger perspective on multi-classing was necessary, so I brainstormed what a higher level multi-class character would be like and what they’d be giving up to do it.
A 10th level character has:
- 2 at-will powers (3 for a human)
- 3 encounter
- 3 daily
- 3 utility powers
- 6 feats
That’s a lot of choices for a single classed character, with a good number of feats on top for that extra layer of unique. Now if they were multi-classed, the character has spent 4 feats on a second class and still has 2 feats to spend on other things. What they get in exchange is 2 primary class encounter powers and 1 secondary encounter power, 2 primary daily powers and 1 secondary daily power, with 2 primary utility powers and 1 secondary utility power. In summary, the character has spent 2/3 of their feats to become 1/3 a secondary class. That sounds like a pretty hefty mix of class to me, but I think there’s always going to be a backlash from some players who really loved being able to be equal parts fighter and equal parts wizard, and equally good at both as any single class character. I think most of us can agree, while that might be fun every once in a while for players (though it’s always fun for the powergamer), it really just is not enjoyable for everyone at the table. Then again, it appears some people don’t play D&D to enjoy it, and rather enjoy torturing themselves. Plus, what often ended up happening with the 3rd Edition rules was a player would create a character that was equal parts two separate classes, and sucked at both!
The next step in multi-classing appears to include Paragon Paths or a lack thereof, because you are allowed to take a path from a class even if you’re only multi-classed into it or to skip taking a paragon path at all in order to continue multi-classing. Some seem entirely restricted, like the Ranger’s paths not allowing multi-classed characters to take them, but I think these oversights will be fixed when the expanded material comes out such as Martial Power in mid-October. None of our gaming groups have really had much of a chance to play in the Paragon tier, or any chance to try out the Epic tier, so those discussions will have to wait until we’re all a little more familiar.
The second part of this article, A Closer Look at Paragon Multi-Classing, is up now!