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D&D’s Best Multiclass Combinations With Paladin

More and more Dungeons & Dragons players keep learning a secret: The paladin class rates as one of the game’s strongest. In past editions, the paladin class weighed players with a need to play a faultless, lawful do-gooder who gave away most of their treasure, so the designers made paladins powerful to compensate. Fifth edition frees players of those old restrictions, but the class gets as many powerful features as ever.

As good as the class rates, players look to improve their paladins through multiclassing. The recipe seems strong. Combine the paladin’s martial prowess, armor, and divine smites with a Charisma-based spellcasting class that gains more spell slots to fuel extra smites. Compared to a level-10 paladin, a 10th-level character who mixes 2 levels of paladin with 8 levels of sorcerer or bard gains 1 level-3 slot, 3 level-4 slots, and 1 level-5 slot. The combination yields 24d8 extra total smite damage per day. Plus sorcerers gain sorcery points they can trade for even more slots. Of course, such combinations lack a bounty of paladin features. More on that at the end.

What multiclass combinations work best with paladin?

Paladin + Sorcerer

Multiclass paladin/sorcerers live their dreams by casting a quickened hold person or monster to paralyze a foe, and then following with paladin smites that automatically score criticals for twice the damage dice. Still, the combination suffers drawbacks that careful choices can help offset.

  • Sorcerers only gain d6 hit dice, so a lack of hit points limits characters who need to melee to smite. To compensate, pick the Draconic Bloodline origin for an extra hp per level. Prepare the shield spell and, later, mirror image, which rates as the best defense spell that works without concentration.

  • While paladins can cast their paladin spells using a holy symbol emblazoned on a shield as a focus, sorcerers need a free hand for the components of sorcerer spells. You can avoid this by focusing on the Great Weapon Fighting style, but the lack of a shield diminishes AC. To equip a shield, take the War Caster feat so that you can cast spells while holding it. This brings the added advantage of granting advantage on the Constitution saves needed to maintain concentration.

  • This class combination never gets an extra attack unless you invest five levels in paladin. To compensate, choose either the booming blade or green-flame blade cantrip to add extra damage to a single attack.

  • The class combination relies on multiple ability scores. Draconic Bloodline sorcerers gain in armor class if they focus on Dexterity over Strength, plus a high Dexterity offers more benefits than Strength, but these characters still need a 13 Strength to become a multiclass paladin. That hurts enough for most of these characters to opt for Strength over Dexterity. Half-elves work especially well with this class combination because of their choice of ability score increases.

Paladin + Bard

Multiclass paladin/bards boast one edge: When you join the bard’s College of Swords at 3rd level, you gain features that work in melee. Bards in the college gain an extra attack at level 6. These characters can start with 2 levels of paladin for Divine Smite, switch to bard, and still gain an extra attack at level 8. Plus, these sword bards can use their weapon as an arcane focus. The Defensive Flourish option lets you add a Bardic Inspiration die to AC. Combined with a paladin’s armor, this can yield an untouchable AC, at least for a turn.

For this combination, opt for the paladin’s Defense fighting style and choose the Dueling style available to the College of Swords. Half-Elves make a good choice of race.

Compared to the sorcerer combination, the bard multiclass lacks spells that complement the fighting style. You want spells like shield, but you have to wait for the 10th-level bard’s Magical Secrets feature to gain them.

Paladin + Warlock

The hexblade patron makes warlock a strong combination with paladin for several reasons:

  • Warlocks who choose the Pact of the Blade feature and the Improved Pact Weapon invocation can use their pact weapon as a spellcasting focus.

  • Warlocks who choose the Pact of the Blade feature and the 5th-level Thirsting Blade invocation can attack with their pact weapon twice whenever they take an attack action.

  • Most paladins need a high Strength to power their attack and damage rolls. For a pact weapon or for any weapon that lacks the two-handed property, a hexblade warlock can use Charisma instead. This frees the character from needing a strength higher than 13, the prerequisite for multiclassing. You can focus ability score improvements on Charisma, Constitution, and the Resilient (Constitution) feat that you want to improve concentration.

  • Hexblades get spells like shield that prove particularly useful.

  • The hexblade curse enables critical hits on 19-20, which doubles your chance of getting to roll twice as many damage dice on a divine smite. Plus you gain a damage bonus equal to your proficiency bonus. Plus when you kill your target, you regain hit points.

  • Warlocks regain spell slots after short rests. Often this provides more fuel for smites than comes from a full caster like a bard or sorcerer.

Warlock/paladin multiclass characters divide their loyalties between a sacred oath and, likely, a mysterious entity from the Shadowfell that manifests in sentient magic weapons carved from the stuff of shadow. To some players this presents a roleplaying challenge they feel eager to embrace.

Paladin + More Paladin

Paladin multiclass characters gain attention for racking heaps of smite damage and sometimes beating encounters single handed. A pure paladin can’t flash as often or as bright. Nonetheless, a pure paladin may lift a party’s strength more, creating a more powerful group.

Look at all the goodies a multi-class paladin may lose.

  • Characters who opt for just 2 levels of paladin never reach the ability score enhancement at level 4.

  • Those taking fewer than 5 levels never gain Extra Attack.

  • Quit before level 6 and you never gain that sweet, wonderful Aura of Protection that gives you and every ally within 10 feet a bonus to saving throws equal to your charisma bonus. That aura will make your paladin the party’s MVP of every single session.

The paladin’s benefits at level 7 and higher feel less essential, but multiclassers still miss some compelling features. At level 10, allies within 10 feet can’t be frightened. At level 11, all your melee attacks deal an extra 1d8 of damage. At 14, you can touch yourself and alies to remove spells. At 18, the range of your auras increases to 30 feet. Plus at level 7, if you follow the Path of the Ancients, you and allies in your aura gain resistance to spell damage.

All that, and unlike a 1st-edition paladin, you can keep all your magic items.

7 Best Classes to Add to Multiclass a Dungeons & Dragons Character

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.

7. Barbarian

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.

6. Cleric

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.

5. Bard

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.

4. Warlock

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.

3. Sorcerer

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.

2. Fighter

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.

1. Rogue

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.

Related:
Best Multiclass Combinations With Paladin
10 Ways to Build a Character That Will Earn the Love of Your Party

What must D&D spellcasters do with their hands?

In my last post, I discussed how expanding options and shrinking rounds turned what Dungeons & Dragons characters had in hand into something that mattered. I showed a mindset that avoids making gear in hand into a distraction at the table, but I dodged the area of the fifth-edition rules that leads to the most questions. What must a spellcaster have in hand to cast spells?

In the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, no one worried what magic users could do with their hands. That changed when someone captured an enemy mage—or was captured themselves. Now players wondered if their imprisoned magic user could still cast. The 1977 Basic Set gave an official answer: A magic user “can then throw the spell by saying the magic words and making gestures with his hands. This means that a magic-user bound and gagged can not use his magic.”  The set credits Eric Holmes as editor, but the rules came from Gary Gygax and previewed things to come in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

The Compleat Enchanter

The Compleat Enchanter

By requiring wizards to speak and gesture, D&D enabled plots involving captive and helpless wizards, but Gary elected to go further. In The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague deCamp and Fletcher Pratt, a character explains, “The normal spell consists of several components, which may be termed the verbal, somatic and material.” Even though material components seldom affected play, Gary added them, probably because he relished inventing witty spell components. For example, the Fireball spell requires bat guano because guano once served as a source of saltpeter, an ingredient in gunpowder. Aside from tickling Gary’s fancy, material components only occasional saw play, and then only as a story device. For example, the second-edition Dark Sun setting turned material components into one of many resources players struggled to find in a resource-poor world.

By fourth-edition, material components only applied to rituals, and then only as a means to cap ritual use by attaching a gold cost.  Of all the new changes that sparked protests, no one seemed to morn the loss of material components. Even the most hidebound players happily continued to ignore material components. Nonetheless, as a nod to tradition, fifth edition included material components. Many casters will opt to substitute a spellcasting focus instead.

Class Spellcasting alternative to material components
Bard Musical instrument (Player’s Handbook p.53)
Cleric Holy symbol (PH p.151). Can be worn or emblazoned on a shield.
Druid Druidic focus (PH p.151). May be a staff, which doubles as a quarterstaff weapon.
Fighter – Eldritch Knight Arcane focus (PH p.151).
Paladin Holy symbol (PH p.151). Can be worn or emblazoned on a shield.
Ranger No focus, so Rangers require material components to cast.
Rogue – Arcane Trickster Arcane focus (PH p.151)
Sorcerer Arcane focus (PH p.151)
Warlock Arcane focus (PH p.151)
Wizard Arcane focus (PH p.151)

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ignored the issue of how dual-wielding rangers and multiclassed elves could access material components while fighting with sword and shield. The game used minute-long combat rounds, and a first-level spell only took 6 seconds to cast, leaving plenty of extra time to gather components, repack a bag, and savor a juice box before the start of the next round.  The second-edition Player’s Handbook grants even more wiggle room. “The caster must…have both arms free.” Not hands, arms. It’s all in the wrists.

Players imagine a round as an exchange of blows, making the 1-minute round seem ludicrously long. So in third-edition, the round shrank to a mere six seconds. This seemed more plausible, but suddenly players needed to account for time needed to switch weapons and to being spell components to hand. Mialee, third edition’s iconic elf wizard, wore practical garb covered with pockets for easy access to spell components. (Plus, the midriff-baring outfit can be worn throughout pregnancy.) As a product of the shorter round, drawing or sheathing a weapon became a move action. In practice, few players paid much attention to what their characters held, with no more concern to freeing hands for spell gestures and components than in 1974.

Next: Lawful DM and Chaotic DM answer questions about spellcasting and free hands