September 21, 2016

The Miracles of Multiclassing

This fantastic article was contributed by Derek Nekritz, a friend of the site, and a splinter in the Finger of Vecna.

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.

  1. Rogue 1 (8+Con 1st level HP, Dex and Int saves, four skills plus background skills, Expertise, Sneak Attack and Thieves’ Cant) 
  2. Fighter 1 (weapon and armor proficiencies, Fighting Style, Second Wind)
  3. Rogue 2 (Cunning Action)
  4. Rogue 3 (Swashbuckler: Fancy Footwork, Rakish Audacity, Sneak Attack 2d6)
  5. Fighter 2 (Action Surge)
  6. Fighter 3 (Battle Master: Combat Superiority)
  7. Fighter 4 (Ability Score Improvement/ Feat)
  8. Rogue 4 (Ability Score Improvement/Feat)
  9. Fighter 5 (Extra Attack)
  10. 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!)


  1. The issue is that level 10 is really quite high. A lot of multiclass characters rely on picking a specific class at level 1 (often fighter for armour proficiencies) then going into what they actually want to be. This is unpleasant if you actually try to play the character from level 1, especially with certain combinations (warlocks only get bearable at lvl 2 for example).

    1. I agree with you to some extent (we do focus on archetypes here, after all). The idea here is that you can build multiclass characters in an experimental way to prototype different types of homebrew you'd like to build. You can award features earlier in homebrew, and you can be assured that it's balanced, since it's based on core mechanics.

    2. Great article! I love these experiments! :)
      I personally made a Warlock 5 / Sorcerer 6 and it is pretty awesome!
      Now I have just finished building the Duelist Swashbuckler 6 / Battle Master 5 and it is really looking good! Tons of options and still quite reliable (I have to get to level 11 every time for other reasons!)

      Only problem is sometimes the need for high stats in different fields (also a low STR score bear with it the burden of being 'encumbered' the majority of the time if your DM cares about equipment).

      What would you think it would be a Warrior Mage of Cormyr? Simple multi class with even levels or just Eldritch Knight and / or Bladesinger?

    3. Michele,

      Thanks for the kind words, I haven't gotten a chance to play a Warlock/Sorcerer yet, but one of my favorite characters who ascended to being King of the Fey is a Fey Warlock/Oath of the Ancients Paladin. Sorcerer and Warlock REALLY need more official content, so good thing the Hand are on the job!

      My absolute favorite character (who I am writing about next time and what he has taught me) is the Duelist build I listed eventually going to end on more Swashbuckler than Battlemaster.

      As a DM I tend to over look encumbrance, I usually hand out bags of holding early on. One thing I will talk about next time is what you touched on, traditionally called Multiple Ability Dependence or MAD is the only clear downside to multiclassing. I tend to let my players build with heroic style stats (usually nothing below 12), because my style of DMing is more "make god bleed" with the main threat being choices of character, (example: the climax of Captain America: Civil War) as opposed to inflicting as much damage as possible.

      Honestly, I would suggest for the Warrior Mage, based on the PRC from 3.5 to have levels in Sorcerer in order to obtain metamagics, and College of War Bard. I tend to reserve EK and Bladesinger for my concept of a Magus from Pathfinder, not to say any definition is the one and true definition in a multiclass build. As far as the archetype for the Sorcerer goes, I highly recommend the Ultimate Magus archetype that the Hand of Vecna featured from Idanbhk. So so good. 14 levels of Bard will net you the ability to cast spells and swing your sword, plus magical secrets, then that sorcerer for the augmented casting, metamagics. Happy spell slinging!

  2. My favorite multiclass I've played has been a 3 Fey Lock 2 Bard (campaign is on going). Multiclassing really lets you find your niche and make fresh characters and play styles. A minstrel of the Summer Court- such a fun idea, all possible with multi classing!

  3. Which archetype will you be in Bard? So many cool ideas that could go with Archfey Warlock (my personal favorite).

  4. I personally really enjoy playing the "gish" which is just a frontline spellcaster. Eldritch Knight, Bladelock, Bladesinger, even basic Paladin are all kinda similar to what I aim for, but I never truly get there without multiclassing.

    My favourite is the Paladin/Sorcerer, specifically I go SnB with 6 levels in Paladin (Oath of the Crown) and 14 levels of Sorcerer (Draconic). My main DPR comes from the SCAG blade cantrips but that's not the goal of this character. He wants to tank hard and offer selective AoE hard control. Plate + Shield + Defence fighting style = 21AC flat, add in the Shield spell and Aura of Protection and you become very difficult to damage, as a Paladin you have healing spells when you do get damaged. Careful Spell lets you cast whatever AoE control spell you want without it coming back to bite your party in the ass, Champion's Challenge and the combination of War Caster + Booming Blade only adds to your options without having to spend spell slots or Sorcery Points. If the party really needs a nova this guy does it better than most, two Divine Smite attacks + Scorching Ray as a bonus action thanks to Quickened Spell at a total cost of 3 spell slots and 2 Sorcery Points. Outside of combat this guy will be an amazing party face with his high Cha.