Cover art © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved.
By Christian L. Christiansen (@Lemuraben)
Welcome back to the world of fiction, munchkins! If you missed it, last time we covered how to come up with a central concept for your character without getting too bogged down by mechanical talk. This time, we look at how to find class features for that concept and narrow them down to a useful class split.
Determining class features: kill your darlings
When determining which class features will enable your munchkin concept, it helps to abstract them a little bit. Think about what you want your character to be able to do and let that guide your search. Some goals can be reached by several avenues, so make sure you look at both spells, class features, feats, and racial or background traits. As an example of this, if you ignore the threat of counterspell and the limitations of a barbarian rage, what is the real difference between a feature with X uses before a long rest and a spell consuming a spell slot? Don’t sweat the class flavor too much. By the time we harmonize the class features in step 4, it is likely that one or more of them bear little resemblance to their description in RAW. That is part of the goal. Consider the following examples:
If you want to make a jedi-inspired character who can do a force push, how do you go about that? There are cantrips like gust and spells like thunderwave and gust of wind that you can get at low levels. The Battlemaster archetype (or the Martial Adept feat) can give you a Push Attack. The Way of the Open Hand allows you to knock back with Flurry of Blows. These are different in power level and recharge rate, but functionally they perform the same role and can give you the same feeling of doing what you want to do.
If you want to make a slippery, extremely mobile character who is hard to pin down, where can you get that? Goblins get Nimble Escape, rogues get Cunning Action, and monks get Step of the Wind. All of them allow you to Disengage as a Bonus Action. There is the ranger spell zephyr strike, which makes you completely immune to opportunity attacks, and the level 1 Storm Sorcerer feature Tempestuous Magic, which allows you to fly 10 feet safely as a bonus action whenever you cast a spell. Monks get increased speed, as do barbarians and Swords Bards to a lesser extent. You can also get that from the longstrider and haste spells and the Mobile feat. Again: Different power levels, different recharge rates, but you get the same effect.
Seeing how many different ways you can go about doing what you want to do, you’ll likely find that there are far more useful features than you will have room to put in a single character, unless you get permission from your GM to do some Gestalt tweaking. Unfortunately, you will need to leave some on the cutting room floor.
When “killing your darlings”, some of the cuts will be easy to make just by looking at the level requirement: You can only have level 11+ features from a single class, and the more classes you combine, the fewer features you get from each. Others can be made by considering the action economy. For example, you are unlikely to pair up a monk with the Two-Weapon Fighting Style, since you will already have a way to attack effectively with your Bonus Action. More difficult is deciding whether a Mastermind/Monk would be fun, since the decision every turn between making 1-2 extra unarmed attacks or taking the Help action as a Bonus Action might be interesting for you. A third option is considering ability scores: If you have already picked up a couple of monk features and are looking at either druid or sorcerer for the same spells, the druid might be more appealing (all else being equal) because it allows you to focus on Wisdom for two of your classes.
Finally, you might decide that two features are so similar that going into both classes becomes too costly or simply redundant: Do you take 5 levels of Mountain Druid or 5 levels of Storm Sorcerer to give your Tempest Cleric access to lightning bolt? Do you do 3 levels of Kensei Monk and 3 levels of Swords Bard just so you can stack up two different AC bonuses when you hit with your attacks? Do you spend 5 levels on College of Whispers to get 3d6 psychic damage with each Inspiration die when 5 levels of any rogue archetype will give you that many dice in every Sneak Attack? You might, and the fiction will probably inform your decision to do so, but these are the kinds of questions to ask yourself when weighing class features.
If you have not done so already, this is also when it becomes useful to consider what ancestry your character should have, since that affects their ability scores. Depending on how many classes you end up picking, you may end up MAD (Multi Attribute Dependent), so it is important to pick something which gets you bonuses to at least two of the ability scores you need.
In my experience, you usually end up with a small handful of different combinations that would all make sense for the concept, each of which could make for a perfectly viable and entertaining character to play all the way to 20th level. If you have not yet decided, run them parallel through the next steps until one starts to win out.
Deciding on a level split: the most mechanical thing you’ll do
If I recall correctly, according to Wizards of the Coast only a tiny minority of players ever get to play 20th level characters. I would venture a guess that a much larger portion of the player base have tried making a 20th level character. Imagining what you might have access to in the end is a fun thought exercise, and with multiclassing it is extremely important: Every level you take in one class is a level you cannot take in another, every feature is earned at the cost of another. Figuring out how to get what you want without sacrificing too much is the point of this part of the process, and there are a few tips to keep in mind as you do so. Much of this already comes up in the podcast, but I repeat it here for ease of reference:
Redundancies. Certain class features do not stack. The most notable of these is the Extra Attack feature and its variants in the bard subclasses – the warlock Extra Attack is an invocation that you can fortunately substitute with something else. As such, if you take more than one class level that gives you such a feature, you need to consider if it is worth it. There might be a 6th- or higher-level feature you really want in two martial classes, in which case you’ll be forced to accept the “dead feature” as a cost.
Ability Score Increases. Since ability score increases are tied to specific class levels, you can easily miss out on them if you multiclass carelessly. Especially if you have made a Multi Attribute Dependent character, which is very common with multiclassing, you’ll be spread even thinner if you don’t get all your ASIs.
Milestones. Having milestones in mind for each of your involved character classes is a good way to avoid too many small adjustments in the early stages of determining the split. If you know that you need to get to Rogue 7 for Evasion, Sorcerer 5 for fireball (and other 3rd level spells) and Lore Bard 3 for Cutting Words, you only have 5 levels that you need to noodle obsessively over, until you realize that getting to Lore Bard 6 will get you fireball as a Magical Secret and you consider tossing out Sorcerer and starting over, except you really want that Subtle Spell Metamagic for your suave, spell-slinging swashbuckler. Hey, I never said this would be easy or straightforward!
Once you consider these elements, it becomes easier to land on a “sweet spot” where you feel like you get what you want from a class without spending too many levels going for something out of reach or getting redundant features. Come back next time, when we iron out some of the seams between the different classes in our split and figure out where to begin to make sure we have fun playing it as early as possible.
If you missed the first post and want to catch up be sure to check out Part 1 of this 3 part series!
When not teaching high school or theory crafting munchkins, Christian Christiansen writes adventures and other supplements for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons on both Dungeon Masters Guild and DriveThruRPG. His works include For Academic Purposes, Rage from Beyond, and Morpheus’ Guide to Rest and Relaxation. He is also a contributor to vol. 2 of Through the Veil.