Multiclassing in 3.5 edition was a dangerous, but powerful, tool. Too many loop holes, and too much trouble. In 5th edition, the value of multiclassing has radically changed. Archetypes have filled the gap that prestige classes and conventional multiclassing left behind. They add changes of flavor to each character we build leaving less need for multiclassing. Instead, multiclassing has become an optional rule along with feats. Let's talk about how we can use multiclassing in the current edition as a launching point for building new, interesting homebrew.
Multiclassing for Fun and Profit
In the rules for multiclassing, we are given requirements for each class. Each class comes with archetypes. Blending these classes and archetypes gives us a powerful tool, but a much less dangerous one. The power of multiclassing does exactly what prestige classes used to do in 3.5, they create a unified character concept. Now you may be thinking, “But Derek, how does multiclassing unify a concept?” Classes in 5e have thinner walls between them. This is thanks to the archetype mechanic. Before, a rogue and fighter felt like just that. If you went into the Duelist prestige class, the abilities of both became unified in a new class. Now that archetypes change the flavor of a class thanks to each archetype, other classes can lean towards others. For instance, my favorite archetype for Rogues is the Swashbuckler from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s guide. My favorite from Fighter is Battle Master. They have a certain interaction with one another that may go something like:
Swashbuckler: Hi, Battle Master, nice sword.
Battle Master: Hey, you too, man.
SB: I’m pretty fast with mine… plus tasty extra damage.
BM: Hmph…. I can disarm people… plus I have multiple attacks a round.
SB: Really?! The more people I attack, the more I can run from.
BM: Hmm…..Wanna team up?
Forging the Duelist
Thus two wonderful friends were born out of their similarities. Together they may very well be combined to be more like the Duelist prestige class from 3.5. I always wanted to build a good Duelist but they always fell tragically behind in 3.5. In 5e, they create an interesting but modest synergy. Let’s say you wanted to favor rogue over fighter? You may want to land on either ability score adjustments, archetype features, or important class features, just to get the most bang for your proverbial buck. So let’s take a look at a tenth level character build for a Swashbuckler/Battle Master. This build assumes a couple things: that we are trying to stay relatively true to the old PrC, that we are only using published material and the Unearthed Arcana articles, and we are taking advantage of the first level skill package from rogue.
- Rogue 1 (8+Con 1st level HP, Dex and Int saves, four skills plus background skills, Expertise, Sneak Attack and Thieves’ Cant)
- Fighter 1 (weapon and armor proficiencies, Fighting Style, Second Wind)
- Rogue 2 (Cunning Action)
- Rogue 3 (Swashbuckler: Fancy Footwork, Rakish Audacity, Sneak Attack 2d6)
- Fighter 2 (Action Surge)
- Fighter 3 (Battle Master: Combat Superiority)
- Fighter 4 (Ability Score Improvement/ Feat)
- Rogue 4 (Ability Score Improvement/Feat)
- Fighter 5 (Extra Attack)
- Rogue 5 (Uncanny Dodge, Sneak Attack 3d6)
So what we have when splitting the levels evenly between the two classes is a character that is a little heartier and better at combat than a normal rogue and that has far more utility than a normal fighter. Of course the obvious con to multiclassing is losing out on Extra Attack until later, but with Swashbuckler’s extra punch thanks to Rakish Audacity, you won’t fall behind in damage too badly, which is assisted by your fighting style. Using Two Weapon Fighting with a scimitar or shortword at this level yields an average damage of 14 (4d6) + 2*DEX, which is precisely the expected damage a fighter using a greatsword can expect (14 (4d6) + 2*STR). For those of you willing to use a buckler, you gain the advantage of being able to use a shield which will push the average rogue’s AC to a nice 14+ DEX, if you’re still using light armor, that is. Also, your Swashbuckler abilities prohibit opportunity attacks against you as you dart around the field. Ultimately, you’re not falling behind fighter very much at all.
Multiclassing for Homebrew
Sure, multiclassing is apparently a decent strategy, but since our usual topic is homebrewing, reducing the need for multiclass shenanigans, what is the point? Well, it looks like to me, we have the makings of a homebrew class or, potentially, two of them. Remember earlier when I said, archetypes change the flavor? Multiclassing is a wonderful prototype for homebrewing.
So if we were to design an archetype for Rogue and an archetype for Fighter, we can look at what they gain from this multiclass build and create the basis for a new archetype. Perhaps, giving Rogue a fighting style at 3rd level, proficiency in shields, and giving an ability similar to a battlemaster’s maneuvers would bring it closer to the style you might want. While alternatively, you could make the Fighter archetype focus more on mobility. I may design these in the future, but for now I will give a few samples for various 20 level multiclass builds to recreate old prestige classes from the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide. I will omit some as they have been pretty well recreated in archetypes, or they are just too far from what is available right now. Try them out, and see how you like them.
Arcane Archer: Eldritch Knight Fighter 10/ Artificer Wizard 10 (Unearthed Arcana: Eberron)
Archery Style, Sharpshooter Feat, and Spell Sniper feat are important additions. As a DM I would allow bows to be arcane foci for this character.
Classic 3.5 Style Assassin: Assassin Rogue 17/ Hunter Ranger 3 or Deep Stalker Ranger (Unearthed Arcana: Light, Dark Underdark)
Two Weapon Fighting, Hunter’s Mark Spell, Skulker Feat, and Savage Attacker are all great choices for this build. Colossus Slayer for Hunter Rangers will do wonders with sneak attack and combat in general. Deep Stalker’s Ambush ability is bananas with Assassinate
Shadow Dancer: College of the Sword Bard (Unearthed Arcana: Kits of Old) 6/ Way of Shadow Monk 14 OR Shadow Sorcerer 14 (Unearthed Arcana: Light, Dark, Underdark)
HARD MODE: College of the Sword Bard 6/ Assassin Rogue 3/ Way of Shadow Monk 11
Skulker feat works very well for the stealth aspect of Shadowdancer while Bard offers Two Weapon Fighting Style, and Monk and Sorcerer all the fun shadow powers. Throw in Assassin if you want to be extra murderous. I recommend the Shadow Sorcerer because it gives you access to a wider variety of shadow based abilities plus some extra spell casting that is also CHA based. (Thanks, Bard!)