During the unveiling of third-edition Dungeons & Dragons, I saw a member of the design team say multiclassing offered tempting options for every character, but that every class offered enough rewards to make the choice to multiclass tough. Ideally, D&D multiclassing strikes that balance. In play, third edition fell short of balancing multiclassing. Classes tended to stack extra features at level 1 and sometimes suffered “dead levels” offering few benefits, so multiclass characters tended to outshine their single-class peers.
In fifth edtion, multiclassing isn’t so optimal. The first level of an additional class delivers fewer proficiencies. Every class level delivers new features or at least more spell slots. So while each class brings goodies, characters that multiclass lose some advantages of focus.
Spellcasters pay the biggest price for multiclassing. The top level in each separate spellcasting class limits the highest level of spell a character can know or prepare, so every level of a multiclass slows progress to higher-level spells. Characters reach spell slots based on the sum of their spellcasting classes, so they may gain slots of a higher level than any spell they know. At most, they can use those slots to boost a lower-level spell. Spellcasters who veer from their main class for more than 3 levels will never gain 9th-level spells.
Most classes leap in power at 5th level. Barbarians, fighters, paladins, and rangers all get a second attack. Wizards and sorcerers gain Fireball. Bards and warlocks gain Hypnotic Pattern. Monks gain Stunning Strike. When single-class characters reach level 5, multiclass characters will fall behind until their main class hits level 5.
At level 4, every class delivers a +2 ability score boost. Until a character’s attack or spellcasting ability reaches 20, these ability boosts stand to improve almost every to-hit roll and to hinder every foes’ save. Multiclassers who stop leveling a class at 1, 2, or 3 miss a key upgrade.
Despite the offsetting drawbacks of multiclassing, just a level or two of a class can enrich a character. For some players, multiclassing yields the flexibility to match a character’s story concept. Other players just want power. Many players seek a unique concept.
Whatever your aim for your character, this list reveals the top 7 classes to add as a multiclass.
Generally, barbarian makes a poor second class. Few martial characters want to avoid armor. Spellcasters can’t cast while raging. Despite the limitations, 2 levels of barbarian make a gimmicky combination with rogue. The Reckless Attack feature lets your rogue gain advantage for Sneak Attack.
For spellcasters aiming to become much more durable, two cleric domains make a good start.
A character who starts as a Tempest cleric gains heavy armor proficiency. At 2nd level, the domain grants Destructive Wrath, which lets a cleric use Channel Divinity to deliver maximum lighting or thunder damage. Most spellcasters can find use a for that.
The Forge domain also grants new clerics heavy armor proficiency. At 1st level, these clerics can use Blessing of the Forge to add a +1 bonus to your armor or to a martial party member’s weapon.
Update: In the comments, Rooneg raises an important point. Heavy armor demands Strength scores higher than any spellcaster needs, so most characters only benefit from the medium armor proficiency granted by every cleric domain.
Unlike other classes that grant armor proficiency, a level of cleric keeps spellcasters on pace as they gain spell slots. As a drawback, your spellcaster will gain little benefit from the 13 Wisdom required to multiclass as a cleric.
At first level, bard delivers light armor proficiency, a skill, and Bardic Inspiration. Most multiclassers continue to gain Jack of All Trades at level 2. This adds half your proficiency bonus to every ability check where you lack proficiency.
Levels of bard combine easily with charisma-based spellcasters.
Characters dip into warlock for 2 levels to gain 2 Eldritch Invocations. For charisma-based casters, the Agonizing Blast invocation upgrades Eldritch Blast from an ordinary, weak, cantrip attack to a powerful option. Devils Sight makes a dangerous combination with the Darkness spell. Mask of Many Faces lets a deceptive character scheme past obstacles and break a few adventures. Ignore the shell-shocked look on your dungeon master’s face; they love it.
When you calculate a multiclass spellcaster’s spell slots, Warlock levels don’t add to other caster levels. Still the warlock class combines especially well with sorcerer. See 7 Dungeons & Dragons character builds absurdly good at one thing.
Many of the Sorcerous Origins bring appealing perks at level 1. The Divine Soul’s Favored By The Gods feature lets you add 2d4 to a failed save. I like mobile characters, so the Storm Sorcerer’s Tempestuous Magic strikes my fancy. Before or after casting a spell, the feature lets you fly 10 feet without provoking.
Multiclassers add sorcerer to gain the 2 metamagic options available at level 3. Quickened Spell, Twined Spell, and Heightened Spell may rank as the best. Subtle Spell helps in adventures that feature role play and intrigue.
Characters rising in other spellcasting classes can trade spell slots for the sorcery points that fuel metamagic options. Except in the sort of dungeon crawls that exhaust spell slots, most mid- to high-level casters rarely use all their slots anyway.
The first level of fighter ranks as the most useful single level in fifth edition. Characters who start as fighters gain heavy armor proficiency.
Level 1 also delivers a fighting style. The Archery style brings a +2 to ranged weapon attacks and benefits every sharpshooter. The Defense style grants +1 AC and keeps your spellcaster from harm. The Protection style helps save your allies. Protection lets a shield-bearing character impose disadvantage on an attack against a character within 5 feet. First-level fighters also gain Second Wind.
Levels 2 and 3 bring fewer rewards, but the features suit players who enjoy bringing big damage spikes. At 2nd, Action Surge lets fighter take an extra action once between rests. At 3rd, the Champion archetype scores critical hits on a roll of 19 or 20. This combines brilliantly with the paladin’s Divine Smite feature. If you stick with fighter through level 3, you should probably stay with the class to level 5 for the ability score boost and the Extra Attack feature.
At 1st level, the Rogue class delivers Sneak Attack, but the Expertise feature may benefit dabblers more. Expertise doubles your proficiency in two skills. Second level brings Cunning Action, the best prize for multiclassers. Use a bonus action to Dash, Disengage, or Hide.
As a bonus, characters who start as a rogue gain 4 skills while most other classes just get 2.
A level or two of rogue fits with most multiclass characters.
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Honestly, there are plenty of 1 level cleric dips other than the ones that give you Heavy Armor that are worth considering. For example, many types of Wizards can benefit from a Knowledge cleric dip to pick up expertise in thematic skills, some 1st level cleric spells and proficiency in medium armor + shields. Medium armor doesn’t require high strength scores to use without losing movement speed, so you can keep on dumping strength like a good wizard.
Great point. I’ve added an update to the text. This comment makes me think of Tunnels & Trolls, where wizards used Strength to power their spells. Presumably, experienced wizards all looked like Schwarzenegger.
as an aside, Dwarves can ignore the heavy armor penalty even with a low Strength, allowing them to excel with this kind of multiclass.
Depending on character concept, I enjoy taking a level in either monk, or dragon sorceror so I don’t need to cast mage armor. There is a warlock invocation that allows you to cast mage armor at will. Extra levels in monk increase your base speed, allowing you extra movement to reach your target as well as flurry of blows.
I agree I was surprised to not see Monk on the list. Unarmoured Defense can be super powerful for someone like a Ranger or Druid and Marital Arts give an awesome bonus action to anybody fighting with a Monk weapon (short sword/simple melee weapon).
Of my MC 5E PCs:
Rogue (Arcane Trickster)/Cleric (Knowledge) 13/1
Cleric (War)/Warlock (Archfey patron, Pact of the Blade) 14/5
Rogue/Ranger (Hunter)/Bard (College of Lore)/Sorcerer (Draconic Bloodline) 1/8/4/4
Monk (Way of the Four Elements)/Warlock (Great Old One patron, Pact of the Tome)/Cleric (Light) 4/4/4
Fighter (Battle Master)/Bard/Sorcerer (Draconic Bloodline)/Cleric (War) 8/1/1/1
Bard (College of Valor)/Rogue 3/1
I’m probably happiest (in regards to game mechanics) with the Cleric/Warlock. Multiclassing in this instance allowed for being able to attack twice in melee (three with the War Priest feature) as well as being able to cast Counterspell. As for my general play style, I’m probably happiest with the mutt (Rogue/Ranger/Bard/Sorcerer) who functions as a trapfinder, scout, frontline fighter (with no armor), emergency healer, and diplomat. The one that causes the most feedback from DMs is the Rogue/Cleric with a Passive Perception of 33, Passive Investigation of 29, and minimums of 24 in Arcana and Religion (the consensus is that they feel justified in raising the DCs of checks rather than letting the PC auto-succeed).
I freely admit that I do not plan these characters out in advance. I have a general idea of what I want a character to be able to do, and that rarely is found in a single class.
I play a moon druid with 1 level of barbarian, and it has served me well. All those bear’s hit points are effectively doubled (vs slashing, piercing and bludgeoning), I can buy them back with spell slots, and unarmored defense even helps a bit with the bear’s AC. The one fly in the ointment is that raging breaks concentration, so I rarely bother with spells.
Good Article – multiclassing is great!
A few comments as to things to add:
Barbarian: Level 3 bear barbarians get resistance to every damage type other than psychic. This is a massive draw to dipping barb for just about any non-caster (and even some casters).
Wizard: Wizard MC gets a bad rep because everyone dumps INT, but 1 level gives a familiar (instance source of frequent advantage!) and ritual casting (dispel magic, identify, comprehend languages, etc!), while 2 levels can get some amazing abilities – especially in Divination (2 portent rolls a day!) and War Wizard (at will +2ac or +4 to any save reaction).
Sorcerer: It should really be mentioned that the main benefit of Subtle Spell is that you’ll never get counterspelled at an important moment again. Super underrated ability.
Warlock: In my view is easily the most powerful dip, with an amazing amount of stuff gained out of 2 levels, plus short rest spell slots. With limited spell slots, a Warlock is almost designed to Multiclass. Even a barbarian can make great use of Warlock multiclass by using non-concentration spells such as Armor of Agathys or Mirror Image, which remain while raging. The new Hexblade patron is especially frontloaded, giving an ability to crit on 19 or 20 with only a single level dip.
Finally, one thing missing in the article overall is that Multiclassing allows you to switch your starting Saving Throw proficiencies – something that becomes EXTREMELY important at later levels where failing one WIS or CHA save means being permanently out of the fight.
I’m curious how you switch your starting saving throw proficiencies by multiclassing — based on the rules in the SRD/Player’s Handbook, you only get a limited selection of starting proficiencies from your multi-class, and save proficiencies are not included among them.
Perhaps “switch” was the wrong term to use. The idea is you get to pick from more than one choice. If you’re playing a Fighter, you save proficiencies are STR & CON. If you’re playing a Fighter/Cleric/Rogue, you can pick between STR&CON, WIS&CHA and DEX&INT by deciding which of those classes you take first.
Other than a Moon Druid, casters really don’t want to dip into Bearbarian. That awesome damage resistance is only applicable while raging, and raging prevents both casting AND concentration. You’re essentially shutting off the caster side of your character, which is the opposite of synergy.
1. XGE was bad playtested. Now we have Bladelock, Paladin, and two melee oriented Bard’s archetypes.
And Warlock and Bard are fullcasters and need Charisma to cast and they needed Str to hit.
But now. 1lvl dip for Bard or Paladin in Hexblade and they get possibility to decrease MAD.
MAD’s a term I’ve never seen before, despite being a multi-class nut who should’ve seen it before.
But that aside, I feel MC’ing is the kind of thing that requires more DM chiseling than RAW adjustments. It’s just such a mess. Unless you got a gestalt campaign, multi-classing is a risk.
MAD – Multiple Ability-score Dependancy.
Despite being a MC fan, never bumped into that one.
But yea, MCing is ripe for that, especially for players that prefer flavor over practicality to a debilitating degree.
Eh. Unless you do [half-]Gestalts or have the GM tweak, MAD and other stacking problems can cause issues. Multiclassing is great flavour, though, as it shows adventurers as curious and distracted, eager to learn, but not able to focus. Which makes sense, as a properly focused Magic User belongs in a nice tower with all the books, where the magic is at.
But that’s me. I’m a MC nut. Love it. I tend to encourage Gestalting, archetyes (in PF) and even offer boons to give characters some charm. After all, the fighter with a blinding and charm spell up his sleeve or a rogue who does a spin attack with a claymore are the kind of characters you remember regardless of reputation score.
Multiclassing to use Reckless Attack to trigger Sneak Attack is… not great. RA only works with strength melee attacks, and SA only works with finesse and ranged weapons. You can use strength to swing a rapier or a dagger and meet the qualifications- but a rogue who’s invested enough into strength to make that worthwhile is going to suck at practically everything else.
It’s particularly wasteful considering the myriad ways rogues can qualify for sneak attack. The Inquisitor in particular should be able to sneak attack on practically every swing.
My Halfling Barbarian/Rogue would disagree. Two short swords do plenty enough damage and provide multiple chances to proc sneak attack. Xealot makes up for the missed 1d6 in SA bonus. Damage reduction and Uncanny Dodge make him persistent.
I’ve had great success with my recent campaign and multiclassing. I started half elf acolyte MONK way of the open hand, and took that to level 6. Then I went 3 levels rogue and took assassin. then 3 levels fighter and went battle master. I have 2d6 sneak attack, cunning action (saving ki), assassinate, expertise (x2 stealth + perception) thieves tools, poison/disguise kits. Thieves cant. With fighter I got martial weapons, dueling (+2 dmg with weapons), second wind, action surge, and maneuvers: footwork/disarm/precision. Our DM loves feats and allowed us to start with one and get another every 5th level (5,10,15) so I started with observant allowing me to read lips and get +5 to perception and investigate, then I took elven accuracy for a +1 dex and reroll a die when you have advantage on attack. Then at lvl 10 I took alert (can’t be surprised, hiddens don’t get advantage, +5 to initiative) I speak common, elvish, dwarvish, celestial, sylvan, and thieves cant. Have 20dex+wis, 18con… lvl 15 I’ll take mobile (+10 movement, dont provoke opportunity attacks, and upgraded dash). My plan is to get lvl 7 monk for evasion and then get 2 more levels in rogue for the 3d6 sneak attack and uncanny dodge (use reaction to halve damage on a hit against me). Then return to monk till it’s maxed out. My ally went pally/warlock… he’s quite beastly. Between us and our wizard/cleric (3man party) theres little we haven’t been able to kill, but we are often at the brink of death as we are fighting CR15 frost giants at level 10 and worse…
I’m just curious as to how long you folks play a campaign to get so many levels. I have been in a campaign for 6 months and just recently hit level 5. I can’t begin to imagine how long it would take to get 15 total levels to MC and get the perfect build. Are you guys just starting at higher level or is this all theorycrafting?
Why to bother with strenght for armor? Go for mithral.
Monk way of shadow to lv. 6 fallowed by warlock pact of the blade to lv. 3 and rouge to lv. 11. Monk gives you a teleport 60 ft for free and thee warlock gives a mahic weapon you can use and a few spells to cast darkness with. Finally rogue for the sweet sneak attack. If you start with rouge take variant human and the acter feet you suddenly have a great spy and mask of many faces works amazingly well with this
Hexblade warlock is probably number 1 in my book:
martial weapon proficiency, light, medium armor and shields.
use cha for melee attacks with 1 weapon, best cantrip in the game. 1 reusable spell.
Toss it into ANYTHING and it becomes much more viable:
Bard, Paladin, Sorcerer.
Even fighter & rogue.
Charisma is probably one of the better stats in the game, since it allows you to influence the plot by way if interaction checks like persuasion, deception and intimidation.
It is patently absurd and the only reason why is because mr. Mearls likes this archtype.
I don’t know how effective it’s going to be, but I’m playing a Conjuration Wizard (Noble Knight Background) thats going to take three levels of Chainlock for the extra familiar options Spell Mastery is cool, but it can be replaced a little bit with certain invocations. I’d go Celestial so I have a little bit of healing if absolutely necessary and I’d be good to go. She’s a good aligned character and her mother runs a vacation business for the planes. Any elementals who want a vacation are the ones that turn up when she conjures them (though I’m not at that level yet) and they help her out as payment for the holiday (as well as help pay for the components for the higher level conjuration spells and the planar binding to tether them to the prime material plane)
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