13th Sage: Multiclass Design Notes


Despite our chatty and occasionally informative sidebars, we don’t get around to explaining all our design decisions in 13th Age. Today we’ll take a look at a 13 True Ways design choice that could use a bit of explanation.

Multiclass penalties

The multiclass system in chapter 2 of 13 True Ways is a tool whose significance depends heavily on the user. I know players who have never read the chapter and never will. I know other players who picked up 13 True Ways, skimmed a bit, then turned to the multiclassing chapter and read every word before even looking at the new classes.

As a game designer, I originally told myself that I wasn’t that interested in multiclassing. Jonathan cared more about it, mostly because he knew we needed it and he was being the responsible one. But I was the one who ended up handling the fiddly and in-depth work, and along the way I carved a multiclassing system that creates characters I enjoy playing.

The key is that multiclass characters sacrifice a bit of power for flexibility. That’s pretty obvious when it comes to classes like the sorcerer and wizard, characters who depend on spells. Getting access to spells one level behind a single class character is an obvious reduction in raw power.

Weapon-users were trickier to handle. With a few exceptions for classes that are all about weapon-use and shouldn’t be penalized (exceptions mentioned at the bottom of page 107), multiclass characters suffer a die-size reduction, using WEAPON dice that are one size smaller. The point is that weapon-using multiclass characters who need to take a hit to their raw power take that hit through dealing slightly less damage every time they attack with weapons. It’s not crippling, since you’re still rolling one WEAPON die per level, but the point is that this damage reduction parallels the damage reduction that spellcasting multiclass characters suffer.

Questions about corner-cases we didn’t handle should consider our design intent. A multiclass character who has found a way to roll a number of damage dice equal to their level, all the time, should probably be taking the die-step penalty unless both their classes are from the classes listed as taking no weapon damage die penalty.

Those classes, again, are the barbarian, bard, commander, fighter, paladin, ranger, and rogue. It made no sense to us to put two classes that are great at using weapons together and produce a multiclass that was worse at using weapons. Happily, game balance works out fine allowing these multiclass characters to keep their full weapon damage. They all take some form of hit from lagging a level behind on class features, the class-by-class exceptions detailed in the chapter curb specific excesses, and their raw power isn’t so great that the increased flexibility of multiclassing somehow pushes them above other classes.



4 Responses to “13th Sage: Multiclass Design Notes”

  1. Josh says:

    “Versatility” in exchange for power never works out right at the table. I’m a DM, not a dev, and I know this to be true, and developers need to stop force feeding us this garbage that one cup of versatility is worth a cup of power. What you are really doing is telling players that they can’t be as awesome as the other players most of the time because they are going be able to be REALLY AWESOME some of the time.

    If the rules reflected this, maybe it would be okay, but really I’m never okay with sacrificing player fun like that. But the rules do not reflect this. They can’t even accomplish that. The 13th Age multiclass rules ensure that the player gets to be mediocre all the time and sometimes, usually once a day (EWWWWWWWWW) they get to be as cool as the other players. How awful is that? A multiclass character should be as awesome all the time as all the other players at the table.

    So please, quit trying to tarnish the legacy of an otherwise great supplement (the multiclass part is the only part of 13 True Ways that isn’t AWESOME IN EVERY WAY) by defending it’s weakest link. The multiclassing rules are the domain of disappointed players and munchkins. At best, experienced DMs will ignore them in favour of eyeballing talent swaps, at worst inexperienced DMs will assume they are a good system and put their players through entire sessions where they are overshadowed by everyone else before realizing how damaging the system is.


    • Andrés says:

      Maybe the problem is that multiclass isn’t versatile enough; I mean I don’t mind if my character lags in power or gets reduced weapon damage but the penalties to armor, or weapon attacks, the need to specify which class is using flexible attacks doesn’t seems to empower the versatility that multiclass is offering. It´s just a little bit of versatility for a lvl of power.

    • Lawrence says:

      “What you are really doing is telling players that they can’t be as awesome as the other players most of the time because they are going be able to be REALLY AWESOME some of the time.”

      tl;dr – I’m not seeing what you’re saying.

      I’m not sure where this rant is coming from, or what constitutes “player fun”, but I can assure you that the rules do in fact support this: “A multiclass character should be as awesome all the time as all the other players at the table.”

      * a Barbarian/Fighter for instance would have all the firepower of a Barbarian (no loss in weapon dice damage) with the flexibility of a Fighter if not more so (can choose between raging and flexible attacks). The only real loss is that their Barbarian melee attacks take a penalty without the appropriate feats while wearing heavy armor. That, and you’re pretty much melee-oriented, since your key stats are STR/CON.
      * a Wizard/Rogue basically do everything a Rogue or a Wizard can do, but with slightly less or weaker spells (1 5th lvl spell/4 7th lvl spells/6 9th lvl spells instead of 3 7th lvl spells/9 9th lvl spells) and slightly less weapon damage (10d6 instead of 10d8). Which is still *MUCH* better than a STR INT Wizard who tries to use daggers [d4s], or a Rogue who talent swaps for a single spell.

      The best way I can describe 13th Age multiclassing is that because I’m class A/B, I can choose to be class A in one round and class B the next, with more or less the only penalty being in how fast I can progress in either class.

  2. Bob says:

    The trick with versatility is that you need to be able to do something nobody else can do. If you’re a Wizard/Rogue in a party with no Wizard or Rogue, you should have plenty of opportunities to strut your stuff. If you have a Wizard and a Rogue in your party, well, it might be tricky for the the Game Master to put you in the spotlight.

    The thing that concerns me is that the casters seem to get a much better deal from multiclassing than is warranted. The “one-level-below” rule is really only limiting on odd-numbered levels. If I’m a 10th level Wizard/Sorcerer, I can cast 12 9th level spells, while a single-class Wizard or Sorcerer can only cast 9.

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