PHB3 First Look: Hybrid Characters

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on January 28, 2010

Hybrid characters, the newest Player’s Handbook 3 debut content, were released as part of Dragon Magazine #383 (DDI subscription required). The concept of a dual classes and how the game designers were going to differentiate multi-classing from hybrids is something I’ve wanted to see for some time. I was very excited to see this update and to get my hands on the debut rules. Based on my first impression with the hybrid system I’m very impressed.

In short, the hybrid system opens up a wealth of new character options for players. While not every option will make sense or be optimized, the hybrid system allows players to tinker with various character concepts and build something unique.

The debut content article has great insight from Andy Collins and Mike Mearls. The designer insight is one of the aspects of the advance previews that I’ve enjoyed. It’s great to get a look into why certain decisions were made. Additionally, you get a sense that many of the idea’s were on the back burner for some time, waiting for the appropriate opportunity in D&D’s evolution to come forward.

In creating a hybrid character you are essentially borrowing elements from two different classes. While experimenting with the system I created a Bard/Swordmage. As a Bard I gain the ability to heal, but only once per encounter. As a Swordmage I can mark my enemies, but there are limits on my ability to do so. Other features of each class are also removed to provide balance. You’re able to regain some of these class features by selecting the Hybrid Talent feat.

What you’ll find as you experiment with the system is if you create a character from classes in two different roles you won’t be as good as a pure class. Your character will be more versatile and if you pick your combinations properly the character you create can be very powerful. In the case of my Bard/Swordmage I feel I’ve created a much more powerful character that is more useful to our party than the pure Bard I was playing previously (I have provided a pdf copy of each version of the character for comparison purposes: Bard | Hybrid). My goal in creating the character was to have him act as a defender (which the party does not have). In the pure Bard version I did this through multi-classing. In the hybrid version I combined Bard and Swordmage. Time will tell how accurate my feeling on this build is, but on paper I like what I see.

The article on hybrid classes suggests combinations for each class. From a mechanics standpoint it makes sense to select two classes that share primary ability scores. Some combinations I’m interested in experimenting with are Ranger/Rogue, Warlock/Sorcerer, Fighter/Warden, and Invoker/Avenger. In three of these instances by staying within the same role I think the combination of abilities would make for a very deadly character. The Invoker/Avenger is one I’m most interested in testing out to determine how those abilities might mesh.

By now you realize that I’m a big fan of the hybrid rules. I really favour them over the 4e multi-classing system. I experimented with the multi-class system extensively with my Bard. One part of the system that never sat right with me was using a feat to swap an existing power with one from the class I multi-classed into. It just felt like a waste of a feat and I really felt that multi-classing weakened a character, rather than strengthening it. I know there will be exceptions to that, but it’s the experience I had.

The hybrid rules provide a fresh set of options for players to experiment with. DMs look out because your players are going to be bringing all kinds of new monster killers to the table. In the end I feel hybrid characters are good for the game and help to keep things fresh. I just hope I have time to actually play all the character combinations I dream up.

What are your thoughts on the hybrid system? Does it add to the game or take away from it? How do you think it will effect the balance of 4e? Are hybrid characters going to end up being too powerful compared to traditional class characters.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Liam January 28, 2010 at 11:56 am

I’ll learn you to bring a monster killers to my table.

I like the hybrid system quite a bit. While I wouldn’t say that multi classing ever made a character weak, I was never satisfied by the amount of blending of classes it allowed. I think that you can produce half half mixes of classes is the real vertue of this system. Where as before you just built you back story and picked feats that best reflected your warden/wizard, now you can make the rules really tailor to your character, as you seem to have done with your bard.

2 Swordgleam January 28, 2010 at 12:01 pm

On the one hand, it sounds cool and I’m really excited about trying it out myself.

On the other hand, I can already tell it’s going to be one heck of a headache to add to my random 4e character generator.

3 Wimwick January 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm

@ Liam
I like that with the hybrid system you can now create the character you really want. We ran several posts about roles and if any flexibility could be found within roles as a system. I think the hybrid rules address some of the questions we raised.

@ Swordgleam
You have your work cut out for you.

4 DanTracker January 28, 2010 at 3:25 pm

the system is pretty sound, but i lament the loss of arcane warding for my eladrin swordmage/wizard. i must now take it as my hybrid feat rather than wand of accuracy.

5 Rook January 28, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I haven’t read the rules yet, but I’m intrigued. I have a few iconic characters that players and I have had forever and I’ve been waiting to convert them to 4e for sometime now. But (1) I’m waiting for the Psion to come out (thank you PH3) and (2) the multi-classing rules were leaving me cold. So these hybrid rules sound like they might just fit the bill.

And to answer one of you questions, I think that anything that allows the player to further customize and tweak your character to fit your vision of that character is a good thing. And making them too powerful is a non-issue, since it’s up to the DM to adjust the encounters appropriately. Unless you mean too powerful compared to the other PCs, which is a problem best handled out of game between the DM and the players.
.-= Rook´s last blog ..4e Magic Item Use: A Compromise =-.

6 Zamrod January 28, 2010 at 10:56 pm

I never was a big fan of multiclassing, it almost always resulted in a character that was at a vastly different power level than the rest of the party, no matter what edition it was in. This made it nearly impossible to build encounters as a DM that challenged the party equally and made each player feel like they contributed.

I disagree that this is best handled between the DM and players. I’ve tried resolving it this way and it almost always ends up the same: The character with the extremely powerful character doesn’t want to give it up or tone down his character, and why should he? He is playing by the rules. The rest of the group likes the role playing aspects of their characters and don’t want to make more powerful characters. Either that or they ALL want to make up new characters and it ruins any ongoing storyline that you have set up.

I once spent an entire 2e campaign running a game with a 19 strength fighter because I allowed a race with +1 strength. He also rolled really high for hitpoints. The difference between his bonus to hit and damage when compared to the closest PC was so great that most of the other players would skip their actions and not even help during combats because they felt it was a waste of time. The other PCs all agreed it was better to give him the best weapons and armor they found since he’d use it better than they would. I tried to throw more and more powerful monsters at him until I accidentally killed 3 other PCs in a combat when he was still at full hitpoints.

I find that the Hybrid rules are closer to balanced, but still create varied enough characters to cause issues. Part of what I like about 4e is that it’s impossible to make a truly BAD character with a couple small rules. The Hybrid rules open up the doors to actually bad characters. There are warnings in the article about this. Part of why I like DMing in 4e is because I don’t have to vet every character to enter the campaign. I can say, “Make characters with any power, feat, race, or class from all published material” and be assured that everyone would show up with a character that was within reasonable limits of the rest of the PCs. The hybrid rules require that I look at every hybrid to make sure someone didn’t make an Archer Ranger/Swordmage. This kind of character requires too many different high stats to be viable and will likely spend a lot of actions switching back and forth between weapons while the rest of the party gets in attacks.

However, my other issue with hybrids is that they don’t actually feel like a hybrid. Your powers don’t combine in any way. Instead you play 2 different characters each of which have half the amount of powers as usual. From a roleplaying standpoint, I like the idea of a rogue who uses spells to sneak attack or a wizard who enhances his own strength with magic to attack with a sword. However, the hybrid rules don’t do this. I think that kind of concept is best served with new classes.

7 Richard February 2, 2010 at 9:52 am

With early experimentation that our group has had (some powers have changed), we’ve made some really powerful characters by making hybrids. We had a Warden/Barbarian that was pretty strong, but I think the one that proved the strongest was a Paladin/Sorceror our friend made.

I really haven’t allowed hybrids into my campaigns yet, mainly because its still experimental, and my group tends to find ways of finding holes in the system to make overpowered characters. Once they have it officially released, I will start to allow them.

With the normal multi-classing feats, the only main reason my group uses them is to gain paragon paths mostly, or access to other feats (my group multi-classes into fighter a lot to gain access to the Kensei paragon path). I’ve been recently experimenting with the bard to see what I can make with all his multi-classing options.

8 megamanrocx March 6, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Ok I am one of those players who really doesn’t like the current multi classing rules. Mainly cause I didn’t like how you couldn’t trade 1 at will for one of the class you cross classed into. well not will out making it an encounter a friend tells me.

From what I’ve seen, I like the Hybrid rules better. I can’t wait to try my two weapon fighter/ranger and see how well it runs in combat.

I agree fully with Rook managing the game and how balance the PCs are compared to each other rests with the DM, so if a character is overpowered then the DM needs to take the time to talk to the player(s) about the issue.

9 Zamrod March 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm

It isn’t a DM issue, though. It’s impossible for a DM to keep track of the balance of the party. Especially in something as complex as 3e/4e. Even as far back as 2e, however, you’d say “You can be anything from any book” and you’d suddenly have someone find the one race that gives +2 to Strength and then stomp over every encounter you have planned.

This happened to me only to talk to the player in question who said that he was having loads of fun playing the game and didn’t see what the problem was. He said if I was having an issue with how powerful he was, I should just use more powerful monsters. Which I did. And ended up killing 3 other people in the party before he killed them all without really taking any damage.

I tried banning his race, but he said I was ruining his fun and the group split up over it. Compare that to my 4e game where I currently just say “Make up any character you want” and everyone shows up with balanced characters.

10 asouthern February 23, 2011 at 12:05 am

Is there a hybrid character generator i can download?

11 Wimwick February 23, 2011 at 8:05 am

@ asouthern
The only thing available is the Character Builder from Wizards of the Coast.

12 A Guy August 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Try a Dwarf Invoker/Druid hybrid. I don’t have hybrid rules yet, but It looks like it could be a great controller, everything matches up. Especially with Druid’s “Cold Wind” Power to keep enemies away.

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