October 7, 2020

Prestige Levels

Comments from the Pinky: Prestige classes have traditionally be really hard to implement in 5e, because there's no balance expectation or precedent to work from. However, we realized that if they were simply one level dips, we could tightly control the balance. If these are received well, we may write a lot more! Let us know what you'd like to see in new prestige levels.

Prestige Levels

Many of the most iconic character concepts trace their origins to prestige classes, specific classes from older editions designed exclusively for multiclassing. However, this prestige class format doesn’t translate well to 5th edition, where characters have customization choices built into their subclasses and features in a modular way. This adaptation of prestige classes reduces these classes to single levels, maximizing flexibility and player choice, while minimizing harmful balance changes to the overall system.

Prestige levels represent a character’s expertise and training outside their main class, and should be tied to their choices or events within the narrative. For example, if a fighter spends his downtime in a large city acting as an enforcer for a thieves’ guild, they might take the Scoundrel prestige level when they next level up. Or if a character’s mind is invaded by an aboleth or they glimpse the hideous Great Old Ones, they might take the Madman prestige level.

Using Prestige Levels
With the GM’s approval, you have the option of gaining a prestige level whenever you advance in level after 1st, instead of gaining a level in your current class. A prestige level follows the general rules for multiclassing and might require that you meet a prerequisite before taking it. Sometimes these prerequisites are class features which you must gain from a base class, and some are narrative prerequisites that you must work with the GM to accomplish before taking the class.

Hit Points and Hit Dice
Like any base class, prestige levels grant you additional hit points and hit dice. You add together the Hit Dice granted by all your prestige classes to determine your pool of Hit Dice.

Proficiencies and Languages
A prestige level specifies if it grants additional skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies, or languages when you take it. Your proficiency bonus is always based on your total character level, not your level in a particular class.

Prestige Levels
The following prestige classes are listed in alphabetical order.

Where other warriors equip themselves with swords and axes, you use your bare knuckles and a poor disposition to bring down your foes. You've mastered this unarmed killer edge through hand-to-hand bouts for prize money, pride, or freedom.

Prerequisites: None
Hit Dice: 1d8
Hit Points: 1d8 (5) + your Constitution modifier

Skills: Choose one from Athletics or Acrobatics

Hand to Hand
Your body is a single deadly weapon, more dangerous and versatile than any sword or arrow. You gain the following benefits:
  • You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes.
  • Your unarmed strikes deal 1d4 bludgeoning damage. This damage increases to 1d6 when you reach 5th level, 1d8 when you reach 11th level, and 1d10 when you reach 17th level.
  • When you use the Attack action with only unarmed strikes, you can make one unarmed strike as a bonus action.

When you are hit by a melee attack, you can roll a d10 and reduce the damage taken by the number rolled. Once you use this ability, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

Clandestine Caster
Discretion is the better part of both valor and incredible arcane might. With some canny trickery, you've learned to hide your magic in plain sight, where you might pass as a mighty, but otherwise unremarkable warrior, until the moment when you have the upper hand.

Prerequisites: Spellcasting or Pact Magic feature
Hit Dice: 1d6
Hit Points: 1d6 (4) + your Constitution modifier

Skills: Deception

This prestige level counts as a level in your Spellcasting or Pact Magic class for the purpose of determining your available spell slots. However, it does not advance your spells known and prepared. For example, if you are a Wizard 2/Clandestine Caster, you have four 1st-level spell slots and two 2nd-level spell slots, but you only know 1st-level spells.

Invisible Cantrips
When you cast a cantrip that requires a spell attack roll, you can disguise its casting (including its spell components) and effects as if it were a melee weapon attack. To do this, you must be holding a melee weapon and must target a creature within 5 feet of you. You don't have disadvantage on this spell attack roll for a hostile creature being within 5 feet of you. The effects of the spell are completely invisible, appearing as if you instead delivered a mighty blow with the weapon.

Subtle Spell
You can cast a spell without any somatic or verbal components. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Diligent research and practice has paid dividends. Through months of effort, you've mastered new crafts, honed your skills, trained in combat, or even improved your book-smarts.

Prerequisites: None
Hit Dice: 1d8
Hit Points: 1d8 (5) + your Constitution modifier

Tools: One type of artisan’s tools
Languages: One of your choice
Skills: Choose any two

Choose two of your skill proficiencies. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies.

You gain proficiency in any three simple or martial weapons of your choice. Additionally, you gain proficiency in light armor. If you already have proficiency in light armor, you gain proficiency in medium armor instead.

Perhaps the strings in your mind have finally unraveled. Perhaps, they’re merely knotted. Maybe those strings are spaghetti, and you got hungry and ate all the spaghetti, and now you’re not really sure where your brain is. Now that you’re irrevocably insane, you have a unique, unhinged outlook that helps you see things other people miss.

Prerequisites: Have had one or more Indefinite Madness traits
Hit Dice: 1d8
Hit Points: 1d8 (5) + your Constitution modifier

Languages: One chosen randomly be the GM
Tools: One chosen randomly by the GM
Skills: One chosen randomly by the GM

This prestige level counts as a level in your Spellcasting or Pact Magic class (if you have a level in such a class) for the purpose of determining your available spell slots. However, it does not advance your spells known and prepared. For example, if you are a Wizard 2/Madman, you have four 1st-level spell slots and two 2nd-level spell slots, but you only know 1st-level spells.

Lunatic Insight
At 1st level, whenever you make an ability check that doesn’t include your proficiency bonus, your unique insight allows you to make connections which may or may not exist. If the d20 roll for the ability check is even, you add your proficiency bonus to the check.

Already Insane
You have advantage on saving throws you make against effects which would charm you or cause madness.

Whether you made some dastardly friends, discovered a love for illicit substance, or merely decided that the law shouldn’t stand in the way of making some coin, you’re in deep with the criminal underworld. You can probably keep your criminal ties under wraps, but you can’t stop looking over your shoulder, for fear that the authorities, or worse, your friends might come calling.

Prerequisites: Have joined a criminal organization
Hit Dice: 1d8
Hit Points: 1d8 (5) + your Constitution modifier

Tools: Thieves’ Tools
Skills: Deception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth

Thieves’ Cant
During your training you learned thieves’ cant, a secret mix of dialect, jargon, and code that allows you to hide messages in seemingly normal conversation. Only another creature that knows thieves’ cant understands such messages. It takes four times longer to convey such a message than it does to speak the same idea plainly.
In addition, you understand a set of secret signs and symbols used to convey short, simple messages, such as whether an area is dangerous or the territory of a thieves’ guild, whether loot is nearby, or whether the people in an area are easy marks or will provide a safe house for thieves on the run.

When you gain this prestige level, choose one falsehood about yourself that you practice until you can recite it perfectly. This falsehood can be a single lie or an entire false history. You never need to make a Deception check for this falsehood.

When a creature you can see misses you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to move 5 feet without provoking opportunity attacks.

When it was all over, only you survived. Your close brush with death has robbed the reaper of its sting, and taught you a few hard-learned lessons about escaping death’s clutches.

Prerequisites: Survive a combat encounter with 1 hit point remaining
Hit Dice: 1d12
Hit Points: 1d12 (7) + your Constitution modifier

Relentless Survival
When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.

You can take a breather, a minute of downtime during which you compose yourself and mend your wounds. When you do so, you can spend one Hit Die, as if you finished a short rest. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.


  1. Funnily enough, the best way to get the prerequisite for Survivor is to already have Relentless Endurance... (or have a paladin touch you.)

    These look nice, and I look forward to seeing more in the future. It's a neat way to have extra customization in addition to feats.

    That being said, with the exception of Clandestine Caster, these don't really seem to fill in a niche or offer something to support a specific character concept...

    1. These are very much broad proof of concept levels. If these work out well in playtesting and feedback, we'll definitely make more niche options for these!

    2. As a GM, I'd immediately expand the Survivor pre-req to "Survive an encounter where you are reduced to 1 HP or less"

  2. I think they should be treated more like Pathfinder 2e Archetypes. In that you aren't multiclassing so much as swapping what you would get at that level without losing stride in your class progression.

    1. I think they might do something like that with the new CFVs coming out in Tasha's.

    2. So you mean, the subclass system thats already in place and was built specifically to work like that? Come on man.

    3. Giving the ability to swap out any level in a class for a prestige level is very problematic. You could skip features which improve later or are necessary for interaction with other features, for example.

      The alternative is creating alternate class features, specific replacements for specific class features, in order to ensure there's no consequential issues in the system. This very much what Wizards is doing in Tashas', but that system isn't precisely what we're intending to create here: we're experimenting with an option which opens the door to more customization at every level, regardless of class.

    4. Yeah, that's kinda how it works in Pathfinder 2e. You could also have it as an alternate option for Ability Score Improvements.

    5. A bit more involved than even the most complex feats. Probably wouldn't be able to use feats along side this.

  3. I think these sound like a great idea, but you have kind of created something that is straddling 2 different concepts. They are super flavorful, but I don’t know if they currently reach the tier of deserving the name “Prestige.” Even if they include some things that power up based on overall character level, or somehow don’t negatively impact your spellcasting progression these feel more like they are really situational and overly specific. Maybe if you were targeting minimum character levels beside just 2 so that they could have more advanced powers? For instance if you had tiered single level prestige class dips? Then the player could be planning on incorporating them into their progression, and you have more freedom for some prestigious abilities that are not game breaking. You can create some really unique and powerful abilities if they are only introduced into the game at specific character/power levels. As they are now these feel more like a sideclass, or a secondary universal subclass. Still really neat and a nice way to differentiate your character from other versions of the same class. Definitely worth continuing to develop.

    The second idea that you appear to be toying with here is a micro level. What if they included smaller hp bonuses and were not considered part of a characters overall "level"? like they are half levels or quarter levels? Essentially they give small rewards that feel similar to a “level-up” but do not fully power up the character. They would be great options for DMs who want to extend the player's time in the 4-11 sweet spot without removing and/or stagnating character advancement in the numerical character sheet area. Call them “milestone” classes, and then put specific exp break points between levels where you can take a milestone class level. D4 or low static numbers like 1 or 2 or even just flat +con bonuses to hp. You could have a “milestone” bonus to skills based on the class that grows by 1 per Milestone level taken to a max of your current proficiency modifier. Add smaller than normal bonuses, smaller than feats but similar to them. Even going so far as to give out Something like a miniature subclass ability or microfeat as the milestone class feature. For example D4 superiority dice? Or a bonus Ki point during the day, does not come back after a short rest? The ability to use arcane recovery twice a day, but on separate short rests. That's just harvesting miniaturized concepts of what already exists. I am sure you guys could come up with even cooler unique abilities on top of that.

  4. I just want to say this is one of the coolest homebrew things I've ever seen and I'm really looking forward to implementing it in my game :0

  5. Note for Mike for later: We could rename these "Auxiliary" levels

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