Multiclassing in 3.5e…

On my D&D group’s board I have a quote in my signature, here it is:

“The essential truth here is that there is no moral superiority or role playing magic that comes from intentionally playing a mechanically weak character. Yes, the thrill of role playing can be its own reward, but in a game system where mechanical representations of role playing choices are built in and trade-offs are the order of the day, it is vanity and false modesty to pretend that choosing less-optimal choices is somehow more true or pure to the role playing spirit. D&D is a mechanical game in ways that freeform, diceless, and storytelling games are not, and using the mechanics is part of the game.”

This came from a Save My Game Artical written by Jason Nelson-Brown for Wizards. I put it there as a reminder for group members that denying yourself a class ability isn’t good RP, it’s moronic and if anything, goes completely against the role of the character. I’ve always argued there is a distinction between a role playing game and playing a part in a movie or play and some members disagreed. I think I went about explaining it wrong.

In D&D you’re playing a role that is defined by your class. It can be much like playing a part in a play, however you don’t ever stop to roll some dice in a play to see how things should work. In that way, D&D is more like improv than real acting. Either way, if you’re given or pick the role of “damsel in distress” and you start playing “the Terminator” you’re not playing your role no matter where you’re talking about playing it; D&D, a play or just some improv game.

Back on track, I’ll emphasize this part here, “but in a game system where mechanical representations of role playing choices are built in and trade-offs are the order of the day” because it’s a fundamental truth to 3.5e D&D. Every choice you make for your character when it advances has a trade off of some sort and it might not always be obvious.

I want to be clear that this isn’t a guide to min/maxing, it’s intent is to make sure people are aware of this underlying cost/gain fundamental and also to make sure DMs are aware of some of the challenges involved when you get a mix of pure classes and multiclassers.

Class/Class

When you multiclass, it appears like you’re gaining a lot of power but in truth, you’re trading away more than you actually get in most cases. If you multiclass and pick another class you are losing power or potential for the original class.

You’re also putting two eggs in one basket and you can usually only pull one out at a time. A member of our group was leveling as a Wizard/Cleric and had a really cool idea for the character. I won’t say it didn’t work, because it did and I think it did because we had another pure arcane caster and pure divine caster, but I did notice he found himself in situations where he had to choose between which ones to cast.

Another cost, especially painful to casters, is he also trailed behind the pure casters in what he had access to. While I (playing the pure arcane caster – a Sorcerer) was using Greater Teleport and Acid Storm he was just getting access to Dimension Door. While the Cleric was nearing the level to cast Resurrection he wasn’t yet able to cast Raise Dead.

Further still, his Caster Level was what ever level he had for that class. Caster Level is used for a lot of things like dispelling magic, durations, potency and bypassing Spell Resistance. While others in the group were getting +15 to their checks, he was only getting +7 or +8.

It’s quite a hefty cost to multiclass a caster.

On the positive side, when we did run into creatures with SR he couldn’t overcome or that were protected by a Globe of Invulnerability, he could still use his Cleric abilities to enhance and heal the party members. As I said above, it did work well with a party that already had one of each. Could you imagine if there wasn’t? Imagine you’re level 10 and your Cleric is also your Wizard and he’s got to keep three (we’ll use the designer’s expected group size instead of my group which ends up with seven players and a DM) other characters up while dealing with arcane situations?

For mundane types the cost is a little less severe however, you have to question the benefit. Do you give up an increase in Base Attack Bonus (BAB)? Do you give up Saves? Do you give up certain skills? Do you give up weapons, shields or armor? Do you give up bonus feats?

What are you really gaining?

Remember that creatures at the higher levels because they will scale up to be more challenging to your group’s average Character Level. Character Level being the sum of your class levels; Fighter 5/Rogue 5 would be considered a 10th level character. It’s important to remember you’re not really a level 10 character, you’re two level 5 characters in one body. Some abilities stack, but not to the extent they would if you specialized in one class. Traps, locks and other skill challenges will also scale up with the expectation of those levels of skill being available to characters.

Consider that for a moment, you are potentially putting your level 5 Fighter abilities up against a creature aimed a level 10 Fighter. It’s going to be tough to hit, it’ll hit hard and do a fair bit of damage if not extra damage like attribute damage, poison, disease or level drain. You might be trying your level 5 Rogue skills against target numbers that are meant to be challenging for a level 10 Rogue. Does that seem right?

DMs will have to be careful of this and adjust accordingly. You have the added difficulty of balancing this sort of thing if their is a pure class in the same group because if you tone things down too far, you risk it being too easy for the pure class and if you don’t, you end up making it too hard for the multiclasser. Of course, you can design encounters that require cooperation be it requiring two Rogues to disable a vault door or one Fighter to deal with the leader of some Hobgoblins while the multiclass Fighter deals with the weaker minions (a.k.a. Trash Tank :)).

Ideally, if you’re going to allow multiclassing in your campaign, you might want to recommend everyone does it or you will really have to get creative.

Other places multiclassing could harm your character or campaign is when you’re reaching a point where certain spells are needed. If your casters are multiclassed they might not have access to these spells yet. Their advancement is going to be stunted in this regard. Also Saving Throw growth might be slower so higher target numbers for saves could become an issue. Saving Throws are a tricky area because it might appear you gain a benefit here but that’s just an initial boost. If you’re raising your levels as a pure class you’re getting bonuses about every two levels. If you’re a multiclass and raising the levels in parallel to avoid the XP penalty for being too far apart, you might only get an increase about every three levels. You might get a couple level after level, but remember, as the levels get higher, the XP cost to advance gets higher too so this increases will come a fair bit slower than you think.

There are some multiclass combos that work really well together, but it all comes down to situations, group make up and the type of campaign you are playing in. In fact, I’ve seen some combos work well with one character design and fail with another because the reason for taking the other class differed.

Take a good look at what you’re giving up for what you’re getting and consider if there might be another way to get what you’re looking for.

Class/Prestige Class

Prestige Classes (PrC) offer a number of things; they can either enhance your existing class or modify it in some fashion to blur the lines of what role that class performs. PrCs are really risky because they appear to offer a lot and they are really pretty damn cool.

If you multiclass into a PrC that enhances your character role you are usually gaining more than you would if you picked another static class but even then, there is a cost and sometimes it can be pretty severe. The most severe loss in taking a PrC is not advancing in a spell level – yes, this applies to casters mainly. While some melee types that gain a Base Attack Bonus (BAB) increase every level could miss out on this gain, it’s not as severe as losing a caster level because there are more enhancements for BAB than there are for increasing your Caster Level, gaining access to a new Spell Level or even being able to overcome Spell Resistence or dispell an effect.

Be wary of PrCs that change your role slightly, they usually come at extreme cost even if they sound cool.

The worst offender of this that I have in mind is the Dragon Disciple. Man, is that PrC ever neat sounding, heck, you’re evolving into a part dragon! Of course, you’re giving up a lot of spell levels to get some more natural armor, claws, wings and a breath weapon. All of which are easily replaced with some of the higher level spells you’ve delayed getting access to. What good are all these melee focused benefits when they don’t compare to being a pure fighter and they’re costing you spells that could easily replace these effects if not top them by a far margin?

Yeah it looks cool, but then so does casting Shapechange and turning into a real dragon. With this PrC you end up with a hybrid caster/melee that has sacrificed powerful spell advancement for mediocre melee abilities. Consider how many times per day you can use the breath weapon against how many spells and spell levels you would have gained in place of that. Is it really worth it?

No, not likely, unless your DM or campaign world is going to compensate or allow for those abilities to come into play.

On the other hand, a Rogue or Bard who picks up the Shadowdancer PrC is in for a lot of useful abilities. The same could be said for a Wizard or Sorcerer that picks up the Archmage PrC or a Cleric or a Druid that picks up the Hierophant PrC.

My opinion is, do not multiclass unless you carefully look at what you are giving up for what you’re getting. You don’t need to abandon a character concept, but maybe there is another way to get at it. Multiclassing by picking up a complimentary PrC is often safer than mixing two pure classes together.

If the campaign you’re going to play in can handle diluted classes then multiclass until your heart is content.

I’m sure role play focused folks might not like what is being said, but by no means is this disputable. You are making trade offs and most are more costly than most people realize.

I Won’t Lie…

.. I don’t really have anything to say which is why I haven’t posted. I’ve been dabbling in the MMO genre since I consumed Mass Effect in a weekend. That’s a reminder as to why I ended up playing MMOs – they simply last longer. They used to have limiting factors in them like needing a group, but that’s not the case so much anymore.

Here’s what I did over the last week:

WoW subscription is canceled.

LOTRO trial turned into a subscription. Then I canceled it. I’ll dabble in it while the month expires.

VG trial is still underway but I know I won’t go back to playing it. Playing a Dark Elf Dreadknight is kind of fun.

I bought the recent EQ2 expansion because it had some more level 50-85 content (really, I hate DoF and wasn’t too keen on KoS) and subscribed again.

I then realized I accidentally bought the latest EQ1 expansion and subscribed to that instead of the EQ2 expansion so I canceled EQ1 subscription.

I then bought the recent EQ2 expansion and a subscription. For real this time. I’m sure of it.

I ended up making an Iksar Assassin on AB server and got him up to about level 10. I’ll go Jeweler with him so I can make my own spell upgrades and jewelry. I’m trying to fight off the urge to have my Armorer (57) make him a bunch of gear all the way up to the cobalt tier, I sort of caved the other night and made him a suit of iron chain mail stuff and a pair of imbued stilettos. He hasn’t got them yet though.

I took a look at what Smaken has, he’s level 59 Guardian, seems to have all his ability upgrades on him or banked. He’s also got a full suit of Xegonite (including weapons and shield) sitting in the bank next to the raw materials for the next tier of mastercrafted armor. He’s pretty close to 60, I just have to figure out what all his abilities do and then maybe I’ll mess around with him some. Oh and he’s got a nice fiery nightmare mount (and the flying carpet but I think the nightmare is faster). I probably should focus on him and work his way up to the cap and explore some of the newer content.

I also have a Conjurer alt that I haven’t really used. I might use him in off times, but so far I’ve been having fun with the Assassin and I still have a month of LOTRO and EQ1 to mess around with on the off times. And then there is plenty of work that has piled up.

Good times.

The Ogre Interviewer…

Moorgard has flipped the “on” switch for the hype machine pointing to an interview Ten Ton Hammer did with 38 Studios’ R.A. Salvatore.

Okay, so that’s just envy talking – if I was really concerned about ‘the hype machine’ I wouldn’t be posting and further publicizing this to people that might stumble across my blog. Also, if I were Moorgard, I’d be brandishing my affiliation with these folks and the fact that I’m a game designer for a secret MMO quite openly. Instead, well, let’s just say I work for a bigger company (neener neener) but the focus of the software isn’t as fun as games… or all that close really.

That interview got me thinking, “What would I ask people from 38 Studios if I had the opportunity to ask them questions about the upcoming MMO?”

Well, here are the immediate questions that come to mind…

1. What is the target audience? (make liberal use of labels; casual, hardcore, core, soloers, groupers, raiders, etc.)
1a. If you cop out and say “everyone” do you really think you going to deliver enough content to that each member wide audience and be able to keep their attention for years?
1b. If you have to focus more towards a given audience, which would it be?

2. Will there be any emphasis on exploration?

3. Will there be dungeons so large you can go into them half a dozen times and still not have seen everything?

4. Is advancement going to be fast and easy?
4a. Are you going to allow people to turn off XP?
4b. Are you going to allow people to opt out of ‘rest’ XP? (If you have that mechanic…)
4c. Are you going to allow people to opt out of bonus XP weeks, weekends or days? (Other than suggesting they just don’t play…)

5. Are you going to make people fear death?

6. Will PVE encounters, especially boss/named mob encounters, kick my ass? (I am an experienced player that plays their character to their limits, often pushing the envelope.)

7. Are characters going to fill a given role or are they going to be hybrids with everyone able to do everything?

8.If, when developing your class abilities, you had to choose between being graphically intensive (EQ2) or fun (WoW), which would you choose?

9. Do you want people to be able to log into your game for 15-30 minutes and still feel like they’ve done something or do you want them to set aside time because they’re are no easy achievements or quick thrills?

10. When someone says “content” to you, do you think of housing, furniture that can be crafted and pets (i.e. fluff) or do you think of fantastic places, deep dark caves or ancient ruins to explore, loads of quests of varying goals and tons of different creatures to kill?
10a. If you cop out and say, “both”, which one would you be more likely to drop in a crunch.

These are my questions, I’m allowed to be leading and yes they clearly show my bias. You don’t like my questions? Go ask your own.

Solo, Casual, Hardcore, Grouper…

No, I don’t mean the fish. I’m talking MMOs.

If you skim over my last few posts you’ll get the feeling that I’m bored again with my latest MMO of choice, World of Warcraft.

Why?

Well, I started a character in around Christmas time and I’m already max level, have a complete set of purples for one spec, nearly two and I’ve even started collecting purples for my PVP set. I’ve raided most of the content but feel no urge to continue into Ulduar.

I’m looking for the dungeon delving experience. I want a big deep dungeon that you can go into five times and still be finding new areas. Very few MMOs released now have dungeons like this, in fact, I’ve yet to see one since Vanguard came out and before that it was EQ. And I don’t count dungeons that are max level – I want the opportunity to experience this early.

I want a challenge too. Far too many game designers and developers are catering towards solo players and neglecting group experiences. I’m not saying exclude solo content, I’m just saying it shouldn’t be the majority of your content for a game genre that used to be about gathering people together to fill roles and stepping into deep, dark and dangerous places.

Give me triple Ds!

I want chance of failure. I don’t want to be  handed everything. I don’t want to artificially make things more difficult, I want to play the game as it was intended, be challenged and have a good time. I want there to be a risk; that’s part of the fun, part of the adventure!

What’s adventurous about going to the park and not being able to play on the climber or climb a tree? Where’s the adventure in standing outside some woods looking in but never exploring?

Where’s the fun in zipping through a, so called, dungeon in 30 minutes and having seen all of it?

It can be fun for awhile, until you start to realize you’re splashing around in a kiddie pool instead of swimming in the ocean.

I’m looking at you guys, you game designers… design something large, complex, filled with puzzles, traps and locations of notes. Add in some named mobs that don’t just exchange blows with the tank. Heck, make terrain part of the challenge.

Sure it’s easier to design than implement, but implementing it will make you stand out.

Don’t forget the people that play these games because they love the concept of gathering some friends around them, building a group and delving into a dungeon to explore, get beat up, get lost, be challenged and face the risk of loss. These are the people that play the game because it reminds them of sitting around a table with friends, pretending to be a warrior, priest, rogue or wizard while tossing some dice to determine what the results are.

It’s like I’m paying to play in one great big padded room where I can’t get hurt, there is no risk and if stub a toe there is someone in a white uniform to examine it and give me a pain killer.

Try this, think about a dungeon in a MMO and see what you remember first. Try it for other MMOs.

I thought to myself, “Cazic-Thule maze” and a ton of images and memories popped into my head. All sort of good times and that was a long time ago.

I then tried the same thing, “Uldaman” and my first thought was, “Two-manned it until we got to the bottom and saw we needed three to open the door… then we three-manned it.” Most of my WoW instance memories are just, “Yeah, did it some loot dropped which was replaced in the next dungeon.”

Guk? I think of all the time exploring, the excitement of seeing the Minotaur Lord spawn and kick our butts because we were already fighting five other mobs, the elemental room, the Ghoul Lord, the false floors, giggling at a SK friend who we brought down there for his first time and he completely paniced, got lost, was terrified of my pulling skills…

“Gunbad,” the WAR dungeon, I think of everyone throwing themselves off the top to see how far down they could get and reaching the very bottom with some big mob there. The delve was fun, even though it was a warband of guildies, but that made the memory more than the content. Those folks were fun.

The memories. WoW seems more like a checklist and to be fair, most other MMOs now seem like that. My memories of EQ2 are pretty similar to WoW with the odd exception because there was a guy who just stood out when you were grouping with him and I chuckle everytime I think about his Gnome Brigand drowning in a puddle in the sewers. Hehehe.

DDO? Meh.

LOTRO? It appears to have potential, but I’m not sure when the dungeons start. I’ve explored a spider cave that was neat, but quite small and soloable. Moria looks big, but it also seems to be much higher level.

VG had some great dungeons, you just leveled so fast you didn’t get to spend too much time in them (and it was pretty easy). Vol Tuniel was a lot of fun, delving right down through to the Salamanders or up to one of the named in a great big throne-like room. Greystone, Trengal Keep, Nuisbe Necropolis… good stuff.

*sigh*

Feist Needs to Make a MMO…

I just finished reading his latest book, Rides a Dread Legion, and it was quite good. I devoured the book and absolutely loved it. Someone needs to make a MMO based on Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia world. I love the history of it, I love the locations, I love the factions with their complexities and I love how you can just grab a small portion of the world and have something happen in it.

I think it’s becoming clear that I’ll move on from WoW. The more I think about it, the more I feel like I’ve done what I can in WoW and I clearly see that I can do the rest if I’m willing to sink the time into it, but the steam (or gas) has been let out.

I’ve started poking around with LOTRO and it seems decent enough, but I don’t think I’m going to focus on playing it next. I’ll be content with having tried it out and moved on without dropping any cash on purchasing the game or playing it too far.

I do have to give LOTRO some credit, it is a decent game, it looks decent (aside from the character models) and I’d compare the environments to Vanguard, especially with all the bells and whistles turned up to max. Again, the models are a bit boxy and the animations are not very smooth, aside from some of the combat attacks – those are decent and quite good. Run and jump animations? Eep.

Still, that’s not enough to completely dismiss the game. I’m on the fence, maybe I’ll give it a go, maybe not.

I fully expect to get involved with Champions Online in some fashion (my son won’t let me skip it) and I believe I can hold off until July 14th. After that, I’ll likely try out Bioware’s Star Wars MMO. I’ll end up finishing off Fallout 3 (I was close, then something happened and I lost my saved games) and probably grab Mass Effect now.

Limbo, here I am.

WoWFail and LOTRO Trial…

Okay, not as a clever as Darkfail, but I wasn’t going for clever. I just noticed I haven’t logged in to play WoW since Saturday morning. Is that telling me something? I guess there just isn’t much more for me to achieve in that game that isn’t a shallow achievement (as much as doing something in a video game can be considered an achievement).

There is something to be said for taking a game and playing it at a leisurely pace.

There is probably something wrong with me because I did the unthinkable. I downloaded and tried out LOTRO last night. They have a 10 day free trial. I admit, I gave it the Eurogamer Review and only played for about 2.5 hours (please don’t check the server logs on me… I might not have gone the whole 2 hours).

I have to admit, there was a minimal amount of waiting for the game content to download. It gave me the basics, worked on the Tutorial in the background and then downloaded the whole game content (about 10gbs of it) over night.

I started it up, no crash (unlike DDO) and it noted my OS and card were DX10 capable and asked if I wanted to use it. I said, “sure,” then pressed the Yes button. Once it started up (in really low, non-fullscreen resolution) I was disappointed by what I saw in the character creation screen. Textures were bad, the models were okay, but the graphics weren’t what I was expecting for all the praise they were getting.

Yes, I know, it all comes back to having the minimal download… at least that’s what I’m hoping. In the graphics options I couldn’t really change anything – I could set it to Max, but the drop down would just flip to “Unavailable” which should mean I didn’t download the higher quality textures and what not. I’ll take a peek at it tonight at some point.

I created two characters; a Dwarf Champion (for me) and an Elf Hunter (because my son wanted a Hunter and thought the Elf looked cool).

I ended up playing the Elf Hunter for a bit. You seem to be handed the first few levels, which is fine I guess.

The UI was sort of simple yet ornate at the same time. There is just something about the way they do their UI that irks me. It’s unbalanced in its polish. You have this attempt at being intricate and detailed for the lower bars but then the tool tips and other dialogs that pop up look quite plain. I can remember that being the case with AC2, DDO and no LOTRO. It’s like they took the code and copy/pasted it in each of the game. There is something to be said about reusing code, but can they at least get some art assets to tweak it a little?

One other thing seemed a little off to me, the movement. It didn’t feel as smooth as in other games I played, but I’m wondering if that is due to the minimal graphic settings or something. If you’ve played Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and had ridden a mount, it almost felt that like to a lesser extent. Now that might have been my keyboard setup so I’ll have to take a look again.

Gameplay was about what you would expect for a MMO. I had three attacks to start; Quick Shot, Barbed Shot and some melee attack. Quick Shot seemed fast but if you used it after Barbed Shot, there was actually a casting bar to it? (I seem to remember a certain blogger ranting about casting times in WAR for things like throwing axes or knives – why is there a casting time for Quick Shot? :P)

I was happy to see the starting area was tailored towards being an Elf and not a central starting area like Turbine did in DDO. After working my way through it, I learned another ability, which I can’t remember the name of. It fired a bunch of shots in succession and did lots of damage (it also had a casting time, but that’s okay, because it’s not supposed to be “Quick Shot”). I did a few quests in the area and had to stop because my son was losing interest and wanted to go play Lego Indiana Jones.

It’s probably for the better, when I give it a look the next time, it should be in all its glory since the rest of the game downloaded over night.

I also did a quick search around this morning and noted Mass Effect for the PC was only 19.99$ on Steam. I think I’m going to have to buy that one finally and give it a go though maybe after fiddling with LOTRO for a bit.

NOTE: I started on Arkenstone or something like that… I believe Scott from Pumping Irony actually plays on that server but I could be wrong.

A Picture of Weird…

Driving in today, I noticed something really odd.

There was a lady riding on a bike, a mountain bike. She  had long hair, big ass Terminator sunglasses and a green dress suit on. She then took a drag from her cigarette.

Dress suit.
Big sunglasses.
Mountain bike.
Smoking a cigarette.

The dress suit screams successful woman, the sunglasses screamed “I’ll be back”, the mountain bike made me question how successful she was but then I thought she might have chosen to ride a bike to be healthy… up until she put the cigarette to her mouth and gave it a good pull.

All sorts of weird.

D&D Insider?

It’s been awhile since I talked about the Wizards D&D Insider and all the awesome apps you get for making your 4e experience better and enabling you to play online with friends!

That’s because they haven’t delivered.

And it sounds like it’s no longer in development.

If you look around their site, you no longer see COMING SOON banners for the Character Visualizer (or what ever the virtual miniature creator thing was) or the virtual table they had plans for.

Do I feel duped for having bought a one year subscription to this?

Yes and no. I’m disappointed they won’t deliver on one of the tools I thought was going to be great, but looking at the price of what I paid (which amounts to 5$ a month) it’s not a bad deal for two (online) magazine subscriptions; Dragon magazine and Dungeon magazine. Unfortunately, I don’t play 4e and my group has decided against it so both this magazines aren’t going to be used in their given form.

Oh, I will likely nab some ideas or thoughts and read the articles, but I won’t be using them as is because they’re 4e.

The Character Builder is useless to me. It was put together really well and gets some fairly regular updates, but I’m not playing 4e so what good is it?

I should have known better with the failure of their previous attempts at creating (or outsourcing the creation) of software tools.

Ah well. I’ll likely put the 4e books right up next to my games from Turbine CDs.