The mechanical problems with Multiclassing in D&D 3E

With the recent flood of new classes from Wizards, the problems with the 3e multi-classing system have become readily apparent.

Of course, these may not be considered as problems by all. However, the problems that the Eldritch Knight and Mystic Theurge were designed to fix have become what might be a troubling part of the 3.5e system.

What are these issues, and are they indeed problems? That depends on how flexible you want the system to be.

Historically, 1E had a multi-class system that required player choice from first level. It actually worked better than the 2E system, due to two reasons:

* Multi-class fighter/wizards could wear armour (one of the few reasons to take that combination)

* Character retirement and level limits meant 12th level was the end of most campaigns.

The XP system for multi-classing broke down at high levels (10+); this was not properly compensated for in 2E’s expanded level limits.

1E and 2E did not allow “free” multiclassing. There were very definite limits on what combinations were allowed. This is an important point to consider as we move to 3E and the “free” multiclassing it initially appeared to support.

In 3E, there are no main restrictions as to which classes you combine (with the slight exception of alignment-based incompatibilities). This may lead many to thinking that they can combine any classes they like and get an effective character. This is not the case.

3E multi-classing works by an additive process: you add together the benefits of being in each class.

This works fine for the primary attributes of D&D characters: Hit points, Skills, Saving Throws and Attack Bonus. They are designed with this additive process in mind. Other abilities, such as Sneak Attack, also are additive in nature.

However, most abilities are written specifically for a class, and are not additive in nature. The most obvious offender here is Spellcasting, but it also applies to Bardic Knowledge, Turn Undead, Monk unarmed damage and some other very class-specific abilities, such as the Soulknife’s mind blade.

As I mentioned in my opening statement, this has become extremely pronounced with the new class options. If you multi-class or take a prestige class, it is most likely that these non-additive abilities are not increasing in power, although there are exceptions.

The ostensible freedom of 3e is instead restricted. There are classes, like the 1e Paladin, that cannot be multi-classed with effectively.

Although some prestige classes have mitigated this, whenever a new class ability is added the problem reoccurs.

However, is this really a problem? Although the idea of freely multiclassing is attractive, conceptually there is not a problem with some classes not making good multi-class characters. Of course, there should be some combinations that must be addressed (such as the fighter/wizard example), but all in all it may not be the problem that it could be considered to be.

Was indeed 1e’s solution to this the correct one? Should multi-classing be allowed freely?

This is an issue that should be discussed over the coming years, and resolved when the 4th edition is published. It is not a crisis by any means, but instead a decision that should be made on a major part of the 3E system.

And I’m still waiting…

Mainly to be paid again. I have one starter + 1 single from Aberrations. It’s another week until I get paid again – not that I can spend much on games, as I still have some significant debts. Oh well. Hopefully my cheque for Maze4 will clear soon.

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