Changing Classes

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 14, 2011

If your Wizard wants to dabble in swordplay he can always choose to multi-class in Fighter (assuming you meet the prerequisites). Or, if this is something you decided during the character creation process then you can make a hybrid character that combines aspects of both classes equally. But what happens if, after many levels as a Wizard, you decide that you don’t just want to be a dabbler who multi-classes. What if he wants to give up the arcane arts entirely and become a Fighter? What does he do then?

If you’re following the rules as written then you don’t really have any acceptable options. However, a creative player may be able to convince an adventurous DM to explore other possibilities, especially if they make sense in the context of the game.

Changing classes after character creation isn’t something that the 4e mechanics allow for. However, previous editions of D&D did. It’s not something that happens often so I’m not surprised that no 4e mechanic exists to accommodate this kind of thing. But sometimes there will be a really good in-game story rationale for why a PC must abandon his old class entirely and pursue another. In these cases we need to get creative.

In previous editions of D&D a characters had a couple of options if they wanted to pick up a different class. When it came to multi-classing in 3e you just took a new class and added the level 1 powers and bonuses to your existing character. It was possible for a level 12 Fighter to adventure along side a level 4 Fighter/level 8 Wizard. In fact multi-classing usually presented a lot of powerful synergies so it was more uncommon to find character that stuck to just their primary class all the way through their adventuring career. But in 4e you pick a class and that’s it. You’re stuck with it. You can still multiclass but you are no more than a dabbler, gaining one basic power from your secondary class. In order to get anything else you have to select feats that allow you to swap out powers one at a time.

Another option that was available back in 2e AD&D was to dual class. This is more along the lines of what I’m thinking of now. You decided at some point to stop being your primary class forever. You began anew at level 1 in your second class. The kicker was that you couldn’t use any of your powers or abilities from the first class until reached one level higher in the new class. So a level 5 Wizard could give up his magic to become a Fighter, but he was unable to use any of his magical abilities until he reached level 6 in his new class. It was a painful process, but once you made it those Wizard powers were yours to use again as you wanted. You could never again advance as a Wizard now that you were a Fighter, but you could benefit from all those years spent studying the arcane arts again.

The dual class model from 2e is what I’m thinking of for 4e. How can we use 4e mechanics for this kind of transformation to happen? I’ve given this some considerable thought and I’ve got a solution.

Let’s continue using the Wizard/Fighter example. Assume that the character reaches level as a Wizard. If he abandons Wizardry he cannot use any powers related to that class. This means none of his at-wills, encounter, utility or daily powers are accessible (for now). Any trained skill not normally allowed for the new class no longer gains the +5 benefit that comes with training. Any feats that are restricted to the original class are also barred.

I’ll bet some of you are thinking “How do you lose training in a skill?” Here’s how I envision it. Since the Wizard is trying to learn something totally new, in this case weapons and fighting, he’s not going to have much use for the Arcana skill. He needs to focus all his resources on the new stuff, like the History of battle tactics or the drills that are represented by Athletics.

After figuring out what you don’t have access to let’s look at what you do have access to. You keep your original hit points (as a level 5 Wizard) and just add the appropriate number per level based on the new class. You also continue to get the +1 to all the usual stats whenever the level of the two combined classes is an even number. Ability bumps still happen when the total character levels is 4, 8, 14, 18, 24, 28 as usual. And you can freely use any feat that is available to your new class. I’d even allow you to retrain class-specific feats to something that’s available to your new class (say, trading implement focus for weapon focus).

All numbers including attack scores, damage rolls, defenses, hit points and healing surges will be based on the PCs total level and not one or the other. In order for the PC to advance he’d need to meet the XP requirements for his combined level and not level 2 in his new class. You won’t select a paragon path for the new class until you reached level 11 in the new class. After all you still require 10 levels of experience to for all paragon paths.

When the PC’s level in his new class exceeds that of his old class then he can again go back to using powers, feats and skills trained from his old class. However, you are still restricted to the number of skills you can be trained in. I’d say pick the better of the two classes and use that number.

Magic items are a little bit trickier. I’d say you get to keep all of your items and material goods. This should help keep a more experienced PC closer to the power level of his adventuring companions who are traditional characters. However, if you’re making an incredibly radical class change, many items from the old class likely won’t be help in the new one. A +2 orb isn’t going to be much use to a Fighter.

Since most of us are utterly dependant on character builder this kind of deviation from the rules will present challenges. However, most of these can be overcome by maintaining two character sheets: one for the Wizard version and one for the Fighter version. You’ll need to mark up the hard copy and adjust some of the modifiers, but for the most part everything else will work as indicated on the sheet.

If you’re still with me you’re likely thinking that this is a lot of work for a character that will probably be less powerful than a full on, single classed character of the same total level. And you’re probably right. This isn’t a build designed for power gaming, this is a build that will allow players to try something really different with the 4e mechanics and open up new possibilities for their game.

I keep using the Wizard/Fighter example because it’s this kind of radical change from arcane controller to martial defender that I see as the most interesting and rewarding to play. I imagine the events necessary for anyone to choose this kind of transformation and it make me giddy. This is the kind of game I want to play. This is the kind of long-term adventure arc that screams of intrigue and sacrifice. This isn’t just a hack-and-slash adventure; this is something with real emotion. It’s gamers that want this kind of experience I believe will find this type of house ruled build the most appealing.

What do you think of a 4e dual class build like the one I’ve presented? Do you think it gimps the PC too much to be viable? Does the incredible story and role-playing opportunities outweigh the possible negative combat mechanics enough for you to consider using this build? How many players actually have experience with a PC that abandoned their initial class for a bran new one (possibly in previous editions)? Tell us about the experience and why it worked or didn’t.

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1 Thorynn December 14, 2011 at 11:12 am

I hate to be a naysayer here, but I can’t imagine circumstances in which a wizard would want to become a fighter or vice-versa. If I as a player want to try a different class, I usually just retire the old character, and build a level appropriate new one. This also allows you to use previous PCs as NPCs later in the campaign, or, as I’m about to do in our Scales of War campaign, bring an old friend out of retirement.

To me the example presented seems rare, and rather cumbersome. Interesting concept tho.

2 Sentack December 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I like the idea in terms of a story element but in terms of game mechanics, it seems like a DM nightmare. How do you make things work now when your Controller suddenly decides he needs to act like a Defender. I see the intent. There’s no good support for the “I cast spells for years but now I must put down my wand and pick up a sword for adventures forward!” but how often does it really come up? Might be something best left for a DM to Player discussion about what happens that point forward, or just time for a character change instead.

3 Shawn December 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I’m running an Essentials and newer only campaign, and I’m not using the Multiclass rules. I am allowing people to change classes if it fits their character’s development though. My general rule is you can do it once per tier, and we can tweak stats so that your new main attributes aren’t miserable but that the character should try to be as similar as possible.

We’ve had it happen once so far, when a Hexblade PC pissed off her patron to the point that she stopped being a Hexblade and switched to Blackguard. We moved her Strength and Dexterity around a bit, but otherwise the character stayed more or less the same.

At the same time, one of the PCs changed his race from Human to Revenant, due to the same situation.

4 Ameron (Derek Myers) December 14, 2011 at 3:19 pm

@Thorynn & Sentack
I’m the first to admit that this isn’t something that will come into play very often. However, I’ve read a lot of fantasy stories where this very thing happened.

In Pierce Anthony’s “For Love of Evil” (Book 6 in the Incarnations of Immortality series) the character that eventually becomes Satan was originally a practicing Wizard who has to completely abandon his magic in order to avoid execution. He becomes a full-fledged Cleric for the remainder of his natural life. It’s not until he later becomes Satan that he can once again use his Wizard powers as well as his Cleric powers.

I can also see this kind of thing happening more in some of the established settings like Dark Sun or Eberron. In Dark Sun a Wizard might be a hard core defiler who realizes his folly and changes to a non-spellcasting class. Eventually he learns how to practice his magic in a way that doesn’t destroy the world around him. In Eberron a divine character may be stuck in the Mournland and realize that his powers no longer work as he expects. A crisis of faith forces him to abandon his calling and become a martial or primal class in order to survive.

It’s extremely rare that a player would want to play a character in these circumstances, especially if he’s part of a larger party, but I thought it would make for an interesting discussion. Thanks for the comments.

5 Philo Pharynx December 15, 2011 at 11:44 am

I have a way of doing it that will fit the mechanics better and can even eventually work with the character builder.

When you decide to change classes, make a new character that’s a hybrid, but keep the old character in the builder. You get hybrid class features and you can swap out 1 at will and your 1st level encounter and daily. Since the character builder enforces the rule on parity between powers for hybrid characters, you use the power cards from the old sheet for higher level powers. Each level after that, you can retrain up to three powers/skills/ability increases until you reach parity. If you are looking to swap classes completely, then you can keep swapping things out until you have none of the powers of your old class, where you drop the hybrid features and just use the new class. I’d still suggest that they keep the old class at least as a multiclass feat.

This lacks the “I’m just not going to do X anymore” effect. IT’s a more gradual change which seems better to me.

For faster changes, I can see a couple of ideas. One is to have this be done through magic – divine/diabolic/fey intervention (espeically for warlocks and divine classes), an epic level ritual, being possessed by an ancient spirit, visiting the dawn of creation, etc. The other is to do it when the characters have some downtime. “After the long winter, the heroes met again in Castle Arrrgh. Delwyddion stepped in, but he wasn’t in his usual robes. His shirt had no sleeves and they could all see the bulging muscles. He wore an axe at his belt and a shield at his back.” This way you could go to hybrid in a few months of intense training.

6 William December 16, 2011 at 10:32 am

This is a fun idea and a very interesting implementation of it. I like that you went back to previous editions for inspiration as dual classing is one of the few things I miss from 2E.

Because of the logistics issues with character switches like this, in our games we generally just say “play what makes you happy” and allow free character changes at-will. It doesn’t come up that often, but when it does it’s as simple as recreating your character with a new class or whatever. We explain whatever needs to be explained through story telling and let the obvious mechanical changes go by without mention. That does break immersion a little bit, but when everyone agrees that’s it’s better for the game for all of the players to enjoy it, it’s easier for those players to turn a blind eye to glaring inconsistencies like “I used to shoot fire from my eyes, now i swing a sword” etc.

@sentack: As for role balance, it’s really not important at all. It seems important to have all four roles covered, especailly if you come from MMO gaming, but it’s honestly not necessary in 4E. We’ve run 2 campaigns (a paragon and an epic) with a 4 person party, both parties lacking one of the roles, and we steamrolled encounters built for a “balanced” 5 player party. Losing a controller is especially easy since defender and leader both have control powers, and striker kills things quickly enough that you won’t miss those AOE slows, etc.

7 Keith Davies December 18, 2011 at 5:02 am

Hi Ameron,

That’s not how I remember For Love of Evil.

Perry stopped using magic because of another magician, allied with Lucifer, who was hunting magicians. It was not that he was incapable of using magic so much as he was unwilling. In fact, even before he died he used magic several times.

* defeating the evil magician (used a spell to reflect the magician’s curse back on himself; he used the same spell to defeat Lucifer)

* teaching spells to a peasant girl (I think he actually used different spells, but I believe during that scene he used spells)

* convincing a ‘heretic’ to sign a confession (though I don’t remember if he actually used an illusion, or if it was Lilith shapechanging)

I don’t recall how much power he gained from being a priest; I have the impression it was largely temporal power rather than divine power. Even untrained people could benefit from holy icons, if they were pious enough and believed.

For what it’s worth, in Echelon it’s pretty simple. As you gain new talents you may be able to spend them on different character facets. The lack of prerequisites (made possible by having each talent incorporate the things ‘you should be able to do at this level’) means you can relatively easily grow into a new area.

The wizard who wants to become a master swordsman may have to spend time and talents at the right levels (there are some limitations), but it can be done without having to ‘start over’.


8 Kurtis Trimbo March 20, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I had a player that wanted to switch between Paladin and Monk when they finally released the official Monk class. Luckily he was playing a homebrew warforged, specifically a Dwarven temple guard. So after a dramatic fight between a young dragon and the group, his character was severely injured. We brought it to story that he had basically been reprogrammed from the damage. It made for some interesting roleplaying and he enjoyed his new class.

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