Merits of Multiclassing

Welcome to the Gibbering Mouth article for February 12, 2014. Today’s article is a Wednesday Rave; the topic is multiclassing support in Pathfinder.

Raise your hand if you were a 3.5 Edition gamer. Now raise your hand if you were a 3.5 Edition gamer who limited himself solely to single class characters. I’m willing to bet that if I had any ability to actually check the Internet’s results on this, there wouldn’t be many hands left in the air. 3.5 Edition was many things, but friendly to single class characters wasn’t one of them. Imagine the Pathfinder rogue without rogue talents or the Pathfinder fighter without weapon training or armor training. Imagine the Pathfinder wizard without the arcane bond or arcane school bonus abilities or imagine the Pathfinder cleric … exactly as it is now in Pathfinder. Huh.

 The point I’m trying to make, however, is that Paizo took remarkable strides to fix 3.5 Edition’s base classes when they adopted the system as their own. Classes were revamped, the favored class system was reworked to reward single classing rather than slightly hamper multiclassing, and most classes received a powerful capstone ability that players wanted to invest 20levels in that class to earn. Multiclassing was still functional for martial characters and spellcasters who strived for specific prestige classes. Instead of being a requirement, multiclassing was a choice. Sometimes it was a difficult choice. In either case, it was a breath of fresh air for players who felt like they were required to take an absurd number of levels in different classes in order to create characters who were enjoyable to play, much less viable ones. Remember; in 3.5 Edition the “rogue class” was just sneak attack damage with a smattering of trap stuff and defensive abilities and the “fighter class” was just bonus feats and both classes were heavily front loaded. You got powers every level as a rogue until 6th level and you got feats every level as a fighter until 6th level. For this reason, prestige classes and multiclassing in general allowed players to get something every level. Getting nothing, also called “dead levels” isn’t fun game design, as Paizo realized when they revamped 3.5 into the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. But in this age of single class design, has that sentiment come full circle? Is multiclassing now a play style that is less fun than single classing? It’s a topic worth thinking about as we further discuss multiclassing in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

Why do We Need Multiclassing?

Before I start whining about the lack of prestige classes and multiclass support, let’s clarify once and for all why prestige classes and multiclassing support should be a more prominent part of the game then they are.

  • Legacy: When Pathfinder was first conceived, its goal was to bear the torch that was 3.5 going forward. For better or worst, multiclassing and prestige classing were huge aspects of 3.5 ‘s system design. I admire and agree with the need to make single classing viable, but that shouldn’t require the near abandonment of multiclass support. We’ve seen trickles of support in the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player’s Guide in the form of prestige classes as well as special multiclassing feats in Ultimate Combat like Monastic Legacy, Channeling Scourge, Horse Master, and Shapeshifting Stalker. Since abilities (especially the feats) require the player to spend resources that aren’t required by single class characters to obtain them and are designed with prerequisites that make dips either unattractive or outright impossible, the mechanics mostly work well but we haven’t seen new additions in to this type of feat or prestige class in a few years, so hopefully it isn’t forgotten about when the Advanced Class Guide rolls out.
  • Spellcasters: If the goal is to keep a caster’s magic viable, prestige classing is required. If I want to take a dip into bard for versatile performance and nothing else, that’s fine. I don’t care about my spells not progressing because that’s not the reason I took levels in the bard class to begin with. But if I care about my bardic spellcasting, I can’t multiclass. Not at all. The reason is a lack of a unifying mechanic that all spellcasting classes improve. Applied to martial classes, whether I take levels in paladin or fighter or rogue or even wizard, all of those classes have a unifying statistic that makes every level I take in any class work towards improving my ability to fight in martial combat. That mechanic, of course, is base attack bonus. If I multiclass ranger/druid, my druid levels aren’t useless to my ranger’s ability to fight in combat because both classes use the base attack bonus mechanic. If every martial class required me to select which class’s martial level I attacked with in the same way that each spellcasting class requires me to select which class’s caster level I cast spells with, I can assure you that multiclassing would not exist. Spellcasters rely on classes like holy vindicator, arcane trickster, eldritch knight, and mystic theurge to make these multiclass builds an option, let alone viable. And yet this type of prestige class receives almost no support. 

Design Space

In the long run, archetypes and prestige classes share identical design space but very different player ramifications. Archetypes are something your PC has always been. If you take a level of fighter (two-weapon warrior), you’ve always been a two-weapon warrior and are simply getting better at being a two-weapon warrior as your fighter level progresses. An entirely different beast, prestige classes (and multiclassing in general) represent an occupational change that you take during your career: you were a fighter, and then something happened and you decided to become an assassin. There is design space for both prestige classes and archetypes, and prestige classes don’t need to be restricted to campaign occupations.  Prestige classes can function almost as a “double favored class mechanic” by rewarding players who want to invest in two separate classes. Examples of this type of prestige class are the holy vindicator (martial/divine multiclass), the arcane trickster (rogue/arcane multiclass), and the eldritch knight (martial/arcane multiclass). Pathfinder is sorely lacking in options to make certain multiclass builds viable, especially wherever spellcasting is concerned, as we’ve already mentioned. Prestige classes like the master chemist and stalwart defender also prove that a generic prestige class can take a high-level concept and make it work as an occupational shift. Until the investigator is published in the Advanced Class Guide, no other class aside from the alchemist can select levels in master chemist, yet it’s not an archetype. Instead it stands as a shining example of an occupational prestige class that can be placed in nearly any setting. It represents a dynamic change in a character’s identity at high levels of play. As an archetype, master chemist might have altered low-level alchemist abilities, but as a prestige class it allows two otherwise identical alchemists to radically shift their focus around 7th level and beyond and serves as an interesting contrast between two otherwise identical characters.

Slippery Slope

When the Advanced Player’s Guide came out with it’s new base classes, I noticed a new mechanic that would become a trend in Paizo class design; new base classes possessed abilities that were often much more dependent upon the class’s level than prior classes had possessed. Several exceptions exist, most notably the oracle’s curse mechanic, but alchemist discoveries are ranked and filed by alchemist level instead of broad categories like rogue talents, the cavalier’s tactician ability severely limits the number of feats it can share and the number of times it can be used each day based upon the cavalier’s level, and virtually every witch hex is ties its effectiveness to the witch’s level. You’ve probably read this before, but the witch is one of the worst classes to multiclass with in the game for this reason; a witch balances its supernatural hexes with a lower number of spells per day, but hexes almost universally count upon the witch’s level instead of her caster level to determine their power. This means that a multiclass witch, even one who enters a prestige class like arcane trickster or eldritch knight, is severely crippled compared to a wizard who employs the same tactic because she gets less out of the prestige class’s spellcasting advancement. No class, however, is a bigger offender than the gunslinger. Although clearly designed after old westerns, the fact that it spoon-feeds its deeds to the player once they attain a specific gunslinger level makes this class boring to play due to the lack of choice as well as tedious to work with in Iconic Designs.

As you can see, this trend has created a an extremely slippery slope and with the number of classes in recent years that do focus on single classing, it is no wonder that the myth of multiclassing being an obsolete optimization tactic exists in some gaming communities. In truth, multiclassing went nowhere; it never changed. And its effectiveness will never vanish, even if the developers keep producing new archetypes and mechanics that seem to serve no purpose than to try to entice players away from multiclassing. (The new hybrid classes from the Advanced Class Guide playtest document are a huge offender of this.) Also, compare the number of archetypes that exist in Pathfinder to the number of prestige classes. Archetypes modify base class abilities and as a result they are often the centerpieces of many an Iconic Design. But just as often, archetypes are guilty of the “entice to 20” design philosophy, especially if their base class was also designed under this philosophy.

In contrast, we’ve seen prestige classes in two of the five player options-focused rulebooks. I was disappointed that the ‘Ultimate’ guides to combat and magic didn’t even mention prestige classes and frustrated by Paizo’s current stance on the mechanic: prestige classes aren’t worth designing unless they are tied to a specific campaign setting. Since the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game was published, we’ve seen a decent number of prestige classes, but only 12 of the approximately 60 prestige classes published by Paizo have been members of the rulebook line; the other 48 were published in a combination of Golarion player companions and campaign setting guides and of those 48, 36 of them were published in a single product (the Paths of Prestige player companion). Compare that to the 4–5 archetypes per class in each player-focused rulebook and 3–5 archetypes per player companion and even imagining the numerical discrepancy becomes difficult, let alone quantifying it.

We’re Part of the Problem

I’ve spent the last four pages or so slamming Paizo’s developers for their decisions regarding multiclassing, but let’s face it. I’m part of the problem. All Third-Party designers are. Only a very small number of us have published content for multiclass characters. Sure, I designed pact magic with the intention of allowing multiclassing, but did I publish any feats that allowed multiclass occultists to progress the pact augmentation class feature? Nope. When was the last time you saw a prestige class from Legendary Games? Never. How about Rogue Genius Games? I think there was a prestige class that gave non-godlings godling abilities in the Genius Guide to the Godling. Most of the big names do not publish prestige classes or multiclass aids. I need to give a shout-out to the smaller designers and publishers, like Louis Porter Jr., Purple Duck Games, and Interjection Games, which have added new prestige classes and some new multiclassing aids to the game, but its not enough. Until the bigger publishers (Paizo included) also decide to include more multiclassing support in their products, we’re not going to see more of it.

And that, of course, starts with us. The community. The people who purchase these products. Its clear that Paizo is watching; Paths of Prestige reportedly sold well when it was published, and now we have confirmation of new prestige classes in the upcoming Inner Sea Gods hardcover as well as two new prestige classes in the recent People of the Sands player companion. This is a long way from the generic occupational and spellcaster-supporting prestige classes that we should be seeing, but it is a step in the right direction. Regardless of what any employer or CEO says, all businesses are democracies; you just vote with your wallet instead of your words.

And that about wraps up my thoughts on multiclassing for this installment of the Wednesday Rave. What do you think: is multiclassing grossly under supported in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game? Is it too supported? Just right? How would you feel about more player options and supplements aimed at multiclassing such as more prestige classes and feats or a second Paths of Prestige volume? Leave your answers and comments below, and I’ll see you next Wednesday at the Gibbering Mouth.

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune rogue, and his favorite pastime is writing silly tweets to Wes Schneider.  

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6 thoughts on “Merits of Multiclassing

  1. I never liked the prestige classes as much. They were a fun way to add flavor, but I like the idea of archetypes more. If I really had my way, the classes would be trashed and each skill or ability would have a point cost and you could buy what you want and design a character that way. But it would be too cumbersome and hard to use.
    Archetypes seem to be the new prestige class.
    I can live with that.

    • Great article. Underlines a problem I’ve been having in the game I’m playing now – should I prestige-class my wizard? So much flavor in so many prestige classes, but definitely reasons to stay to 20. At the very least, they fixed the one-level-dips that were common with some classes, but I agree that they have gone way to far in the other direction.

      To Ron: Look up Eclipse: The Codex Persona. I think you will be pleasantly surprised; I liked the rules in the system so much I’ve been designing my villains with them. No more endless searching through classes, prestige classes and feats to craft the exact baddie that you’ve imagined – it is one book with endless possibilities!

  2. I really enjoy your writing keep up the great work.
    I for one miss prestige classes and multiclassing support.
    I was hoping your article would give some tips and ideas for multiclassing because I like to read other peoples ideas on these types of things.

  3. The other thing that makes using prestige classes so hard is that so many of them are, mechanically, unviable. They throw in lots of flavor, for sure, but more often than not, you can build a similar character using the base classes that just does it better.

    The only time I ever recommend multi-classing, is if you’re dipping, using classes who’s abilities stack together (such as sneak attacks on Rogue/Ninja with Vivisectionists) or if they really don’t hurt your character at all (like a Fighter/Barbarian).

    In the years I’ve been playing Pathfinder, I can count on one hand the number of characters I’ve seen using Prestige Classes, because many of them, especially the caster ones, don’t really come together until the level 12 and beyond range (looking at you Mystic Theurge), or only function well if the character is a 5th or 6th man in the party.

  4. I know personally the capstones have never stopped me from prestige classing or multi-classing, specially if your DM lets you use 3.5 prestige classes. But that’s because I never expect to get to level 20, almost noone I know plays much at that level so why even worry about it. I’m having great fun currently in a Kingmaker campaign as a bard(court) 4/cavalier(banner barrier) 1/Noble Scion, I only have it planned up to level 15, only to level 11 as far as feats go. He’s almost useless in combat, though his healing has helped the party a little, but he’s great in cha based encounters(which kingmaker has lots of) course having a cohort only 1 level lower than you helps(the same level at 15) Anyway I just wanted to say the Capstones never stopped me from either, though some of the abilities have.

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