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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A hopefully constructive critic on the announced #dndnext multiclassing

The readers that know me know this already, but those of you who read about my characters here could easily understand it too: I'm a GREAT fan of multiclassing.

We didn't have any multiclassing rules (and we still have to wait till the next package), but all my characters always try to be at the very least two archetypes at once. It's my way of seeing an interesting character, much before a gamist approach: to me, a realistic character has tried different paths in his/her life, some with more success than others, and the final result is something unique, with limitations but also strengths, and for sure with a lot of variety. Being like this myself, I can't help representing this (very general and adaptable) trait into the vast majority of my (many) characters.

I discussed this matter on the D&D Next Facebook group (and my concerns with the currently proposed multiclassing rules), and after a bit of discussion/rant, someone told me simply to change game, because if I like multiclassing so much, than probably D&D isn't for me. First of all I want to clarify that no, I like D&D multiclassing. Because I like to think in terms of D&D classes, and I like to have a multiclassing system that imposes some disadvantages for multiclassing. I'm not the type that prefers class-less systems (although they can be cool, I love Kuro for example), and it's not like I fight against character limitations within multiclassing. I want them, actually. What I fight against is a system made just for "game completeness", without thinking about what a multiclassed character should really be for a player who likes multiclassing.

What does a multiclassing-lover want?

So I'm a multiclassing lover. First of all, why ask this question? Because people who don't love multiclassing plainly want a balanced system that won't break the game. And that is very easy to achieve, they did it in 4th edition, They are doing it in Next. It all has to do with numbers really, at most some weird combos that may come out. So what I'm saying first and foremost, before answering the question is... This question:

Why should multiclassing be designed for multiclassing lovers?

Seems like a stupid question at first, but it's important. We're talking about a "sub-system". A system inside the big D&D system. And it targets specific players. So who are these players, and what they want? Being one of those, it's easy to reply.

So again, what does a multiclassing-lover want?

Variety and amount of features, and the versatility that comes with this. A multiclass-lover wants to be able to cover different situations, and wants basically a richer character, with "more stuff". This is of course at the expense of raw power in the single "departments", but more than that (characters should always simply be balanced, and you can take out power only so much before making the character unusable), more than power, what multiclassed characters don't want is "steam" in each department. What do I mean by that? Let's organize the thoughts as answers to the real question.

What is a multiclassing-lover willing to sacrifice?

Basically, some raw power, but much more than that, this player is willing to sacrifice some "steam" in each of its "departments". What does this mean? It means that he/she wants to be able to pull off some cool feat from his/her second or third class, but accepts being unable to do it often. This is very important. Since you have two or three sources of "power", and this power should basically make you able to cope with a full "adventuring day", it's absolutely unnecessary to have each of these sources provide you with the amount of resources to go on for a full day. What is important is that the portion of full day covered by these resources is covered effectively.

What does the proposed system do in these regards?

I tend to see the objectives of a multiclass system as divided into three or four broad categories:
1- Ease/elegance of the rules
2- Raw power of multiclassed characters
3- Possible diversity output, or amount of viable combinations
4- "Steam" of the output character in each department. (How long can he/she use the features of each class)

A lot of ease of use and rules elegance, but what does that mean?
So I think it's quite obvious that the current system has focused A LOT on the first point. Ease of use and elegance. You know, you pick one class, you take that stuff. Classes are designed to do so, so there's a lot of system integration, and this stuff satisfies both players and DMs alike, but NOT multiclassing-lovers. Those who love multiclassing don't care about the ease of use. They might actually enjoy having to learn more rules to get their character done, so it's a mostly unneeded feature, except for the system integration. That is, multiclassing should always be taken in consideration when designing classes, especially if it's a multiclassing system that works with a "Take your level in X" mechanic.

Quite a lot of raw power, but at what cost?
It's also obvious that since spells scale, and numerical bonuses for the characters are set by total character level, the multiclassed characters are basically going to have the same power level as single-classed ones, numbers-wise. There is an exception to this however: ability score improvement and/or feats get delayed quite a bit. You basically either don't multiclass until you reach 4th level in a class, or you're screwed, not only in the power department, but in diversity too since you can't customize the character. But this is the hard point that's coming...

A lot of killed options and combinations!!
Having to take a subclass to make a combination viable is not a bad thing by itself. I mean, it helps you create a concept, so if you wanted THAT concept, you're served. But basically it means you can't take other subclasses and mix with that other class. The amount of viable combinations is drastically reduced. And martial+caster is not the worst problem here. What about martial+martial? I can see a Fighter/Rogue becoming the typical example of "able to do two things, but very badly". So this becomes a non-viable combination. And if you go up and see what a multiclassing-lover wants, this third point here is exactly what the player aims at: being able to try lots of combinations. If half of them is not viable, the system has failed its target audience.

Each class level you get, you get everything from that class level. A lot of "steam" here...
So if you take a level in Mage, you instantly get 2 spell slots. First level. Wow, so I can do my magicky things for as long as a true mage, but maybe I'm 10th level, and 1st level spells are... Obsolete.
So you get my point: what good is having everything the class offers, if those things are pointless at your level? And mind this, you're gonna get a whole lot of spell slots as you proceed in that path, but you'll wait ages till you get a truly cool spell for your character level. Can this be corrected? Of course it can.

The big obstacle that designers never try to jump... Cross-training, and jumping ahead in it.
Both players and designers can't seem to get around this fact. Even when they create tools to fix the problems that the lack of this causes, like the infamous 3rd edition Prestige Classes that let you advance in two different classes. So what's the matter? The fact is that for a multiclass character to function, to make any combo truly viable, you have to get around the "1st level in" mental image, and start thinking in total character level. A 10th level Fighter that learns magic is not at the same level as a 1st level Wizard. It's a person with much more experience and competence. Even if it's not competence in that field, it is a person who has had the discipline and sheer force to achieve great things in his/her life. So why should this character go at the same pace as one that has barely left the home village? Only because you see that "1st level" in the table. Because if you think about it, it doesn't make sense. It makes a lot more sense that a 10th level character will not of course be as good as a 10th level Wizard when starting, but will very quickly catch up to at least half his level. Just to say a number. Basically, numerically speaking, giving an equally-levelled two-classed character the amount of stuff that is a sum of those levels, is giving this character HALF of what his/her character level deserves. Now, of course you should have penalties for multiclassing, but what I propose is that the final result will look more like 3/4+3/4, instead of 1/2+1/2. True, the math tells you that you will end up with a total of 150%, not 100%, so in theory you'd be overpowering a single-classed character. but no guys, the 150% character will still only be 75% X and 75% Y. And it's the X and Y that actually do things in play, not an abstract sum of them. It's like apples and oranges, you can't sum!

So, a solution...
First of all, ease of use and elegance are all good things etc. but they are not a priority. First come up with a system that caters to its target and does what it needs, then fine-tune everything to embellish the rules and make them as simple as possible. So with this in mind, I go back to the proposal of having different class tables for multiclassing. Yes, it is possible; yes, it solves problems. A multiclassed character should not get everything, because seriously, better cast half the spells but good, than double the spells but bad.
Also, design things by retro-engineering a full and good hypothetical multiclassed character. It's 10th level, wants to be half and half. But for the principle I explained above, this means it must be roughly equivalent to 7th/7th, not 5th/5th. So see what that kind of character would have, reduce the steam you put in those features (their viability during a day, for example number of spell slots), and then you have a balanced thing.
Very basically guys, the very simple rule of "caster level equal to caster level + half non-caster level". This is a golden solution that can find place in the basic multiclassing rules. Combine it with another small rule of limitation, like "must have a spell of a lower level prepared to prepare one of the next level", and you have a character that maybe has 4 slots instead of 8, but each slot has a different level spell, up to 4th. And this could be with only 4 level of Wizard and 10 of Fighter. Cause half of those Fighter levels will be helping, but those 4 levels of Wizard will be giving less slots than normal, only one per level. True, it surpasses the ability of a 4th level Wizard, but it's a character 10 levels higher. It should be better!
This is just an example, and you can find countless problems with this particular system out of context. But you can see what it solves, and you could surely see how much people that love multiclassing would love such a system. Others could complain, but hey, if you're not using a system, why should you be so worried about it? Maybe because it breaks the game, true. But again, this is an example, without any true balancing put into it. Put some numerical balance, stick to the 75%/75% good at something (instead of the 50/50) paradigm, and eventually you'll have the balance AND the target of the system happy. And again, I can't stress it enough, the target of multiclassing is people who love multiclassing. Not those who hate it or don't care. They can surely have an opinion about it but hey they won't use it! So it's much better to have them bitching, than the real targets of the system. If the real targets of the system complain, the system is a failure, even if a majority is happy about it. Because that majority isn't going to use the system anyway. They will just be happy that the system exists and that in their mind it won't break the game, but they will never use it. And in turn not even those who like multiclassing will use it, because it doesn't cater to them.

So for the final words, please designers, recognize that some parts of the game don't have to be liked by the majority, recognize that they cater to a target. The current proposed multiclassing system caters to a different target. It might be the best multiclassing in D&D ever from many points of view, but it doesn't offer the core elements that people who truly like multiclassing want. So think twice, try new things, and in particular, listen to the feedback of those who like multiclassing, not from feedback of those who don't care or hate it. How can you distinguish among the three? Well, you're the professionals, good luck! :-)