Saturday, October 15, 2011

More Thoughts on Old School Dual Classing

It seems there are two reasons a player would want to dual class: 1) to intentionally obtain the powers of both classes-- become the sword wielding mage, for example, or 2) because they became dissatisfied with the class they started with.

I'm not really interested in 1.  You can do a ton to personalize your characters before needing to slide into another archetype's realm.  Want to be a badass fighting mage?  Research a lesser version of a spell like 1e's Tenser's Transformation, get a magic staff or darts, learn the protective spells that will enable you to enter combat.  Want to be a magic wielding fighter?  Find some potions, protection scrolls, some magic rings and learn how to use them.

1 doesn't really make sense to me either in that you are gaining your experience serially, so if you want the fighting mage you have to plan several levels of one class and then a switch. See here for my personal experience with that.
2 I'm quite sympathetic about.  My players starting out usually have no clue what the classes can do.  Fighters are a straightforward safe bet.  If, after three levels of fighter they realize they are missing out on a lot of cool stuff available to magic-users, and wish they had tried that class many months ago, I am quite tempted to let them switch.

The interesting thing is that the rules seem to assume situation 1.  By raising the bar for dual classing to a 16 required in the second classe's main attribute, it seems intended to limit the occurrence of these potent combined power characters.  And yet, this rule makes 1 much more likely to happen then 2.  Unless you are doing a newer school style of stat rolling, 16's will be rare.  My fighters wishing to switch are out of luck.  The more experienced player who knows the rules will see the 16 when he rolls it and know he can dual class this character.

Another thought is, for situation 2, why not just give them a new character of the class they desire?  I see two sticking points.  One, if they roll up stats the way we do there is no guarantee they will get the numbers needed for that class, and two, they will lose all the experience they gained unless you jump the new character in level.  I hate jumping people up in levels.  Yes I know Gygax did it, yes I know there are con events that play high level pregens.  To me that is like setting up a Jenga game with half its blocks already missing.  D&D is about progression, about the hard-scrabble gaining of power, no one is jumping to third level in my campaign (will I change my mind on this as I become more enlightened, maybe, but it's how I feel now).

Maybe a compromise for me is my player could switch classes and keep their hitpoints and save but nothing else from the original class and ignore the stat requirement.  This would mean all the experience they earned was not wasted, those hitpoints will help buff their feeble apprenticeship in the new class.  That doesn't solve the problem of having appropriately high stats for the new class, but heck, maybe my world needs some dumb magic-users and puny fighters.


  1. Your proposed compromise is exactly what I would suggest, with the caveat that depending on which ruleset you use, their attributes would affect them more or less in their new careers.

    To offset this I would also allow fighters to be based off Str or Con interchangeably, MUs to depend on Int or Cha (on which I have a little article) or even Con, if you allow a kind of "life-essence" magic, and thieves to use Dex or Int. Clerics could use Wis, Cha or Int, or could even get bonuses from low scores in one or more of those attributes depending on your view of the demands of their particular religion (I'm thinking here of Wis as will and the demands of selfless devotion in, say, some branches of Buddhism, rather than making a tendentious Dawkinsian point about religion per se).

    If I sound unusually pompous here it's because I've just been rereading Cugel's Saga and it's affecting my writing voice. Sorry about that.

  2. How much versimilitude do you want? The simplest option for changing class is, if a 4th level fighter wants to become a cleric, she goes on some kind of quest and when it's finished, bam, she's a 4th level cleric. Keep her ability scores and her equipment, but reroll her hit points to match the new class.
    It's not realistic, but it means your players can be the class they like, so I should think they'll be happy to ignore that.

    If that doesn't sit right with you, ask yourself the reasons why. That might help you decide what will work for you.

  3. I just think most class switches defy plausibility, unless you're willing to suspend the campaign for a couple of years while your prima donna goes off to learn the rudiments of magic or swordplay.

    In fact, there's a bit of suspension of disbelief as to why adventuring experience should give magic-users any leg up on their levels at all.

    I'm not sure how I would handle a player with desire to dual-class, except by making the requirements so onerous that they would have to be doing it out of dedication and not munchkinism. But I also think the desire to become more rounded in one's self - to not need the fighter at your front or the blaster at your back - goes against the essential team nature of D&D.

  4. Here are two ideas out of left field, inspired by the AD&D multiclass rules which require experience to be divided evenly between the classes (resulting in an elf-like progression).

    1) Every time the character gains enough experience to level, instead they lose a level in their primary class and gain a level in their new class (this proceeds until the levels are equal). At this point, assuming the character wishes to proceed as the new class, their experience (and abilities) in the old class remains fixed, and they advance as normal in the new class. Rulings will have to be made about things like using magic while in armor.

    2) Just divide all experience between the classes (as in AD&D multiclassing). The early levels of the new class will come relatively quickly. The forced division of the experience will result in a slower progression compared to someone focusing on a single class though. This feels a bit generous to me, so I would probably lean towards option 1), which still allows a mixing of the powers, but also comes with a clear cost.

    Also, though I don't much like training costs for leveling, I love getting players to go on quests. So I would also probably require that the fighter who wants to take up some magic-using seek out a master, or bind a demon, or something.

  5. Oh, and personally I don't bother with required stats to qualify for classes. I like the idea that a character can pursue something with passion that they are not really good at (see Schmendrick from The Last Unicorn fame).

    Word verification: glimml (that's a really interesting sounding word).

  6. Thanks for the great comments. I'm absorbing them and thinking about them.

    One thing, I think there are examples from myth and stories of saintly conversions, so any class become a cleric doesn't rub me the wrong way. Also, my conception of magic is an academic study based magic, but if it were a devil-pact witchcraft type of thing a conversion might be equally logical.