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5E Guide: How to Multiclass

Written by Leonardo Andrade

Leonardo is a writer/narrative designer. He spends most of his time crafting stories or immersed in them. Currently, he partakes in several D&D 5E campaigns and likes messing around with other systems such as Heart, Spire and Rats in The Walls. Here's his portfolio.

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Consider this 9th level D&D party: Thomasin is sneaky, eloquent, and boasts proficiency in most skills. Yndahl can reliably deal ridiculous amounts of damage from a distance with barrages of his favorite cantrip. Orvar is a terrifying, wooly tank who holds the line as a raging direwolf with resistance to most damage types. What do they all have in common? 

Multiclassing—it allows you to take the strengths of another class or two, giving additional proficiencies, abilities, spells, and more. Doing it right can make you nearly unstoppable, but doing it wrong can severely limit your enjoyment. Best do it with some research.

Outside performance, sometimes your vision for a character doesn’t fit a single class, so you reach for others. People multiclass for story reasons, as a gimmick, to specialize, to round out a weak point, or a mix of the above. Whatever the case, not all builds are equal.

A word of warning: multiclassing, as well as feats (which feature prominently in many builds), is an optional rule. Whether or not it is allowed at your table is a good session zero topic

For those unfamiliar, if I write “Cleric 6 / Bard 5 / Fighter 1”, this means that the character is a level 6 cleric, level 5 bard, and level 1 fighter. It’s just faster and easier to write it that way.

For the sake of this article, we’ll assume your DM has given the green light. As such, there are several things to consider before diving in.

Multiclassing requirements

There are Ability score requirements to multiclass, and you have to meet the requirements for your current class and your desired additional class.. If you play a fighter and want to take a level of wizard, you need a Strength (Str) or Dexterity (Dex) score of 13 or higher (fighter), and an Intelligence (Int) score of 13 or higher (wizard).

See the table below, with info from the Player’s Handbook (PHB, pg 163) and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (TCE, pg 10):

ClassAbility Score Minimum
ArtificerIntelligence 13
BarbarianStrength 13
BardCharisma 13
ClericWisdom 13
DruidWisdom 13
FighterStrength 13 or Dexterity 13
MonkDexterity 13 and Wisdom 13
PaladinStrength 13 and Charisma 13
RangerDexterity 13 and Wisdom 13
RogueDexterity 13
SorcererCharisma 13
WarlockCharisma 13
WizardIntelligence 13

What Does Multiclassing Get You?

Let’s get this out of the way first: you don’t get everything from your second class. Here are the things you are not given:

  • The new class’s starting equipment
  • Some class proficiencies, most notably heavy armor (unless you take a subclass that grants it—see our armor guide)
  • Saving Throw proficiencies

Proficiencies

Let’s have a look at what proficiencies you do get in your first level of a new class. 

ClassProficiencies Gained
ArtificerLight armor, medium armor, shields, thieves’ tools, tinker’s tools.
BarbarianShields, simple weapons, martial weapons
BardLight armor, one skill, one musical instrument 
ClericLight armor, medium armor, shields
DruidLight armor, medium armor, shields (druids don’t wear armor or use shields made of metal)
FighterLight armor, medium armor, shields, simple weapons, martial weapons
MonkSimple weapons, shortswords
PaladinLight armor, medium armor, shields, simple weapons, martial weapons
RangerLight armor, medium armor, shields, simple weapons, martial weapons, one skill from the class’s skill list
RogueLight armor, one skill from the class’s skill list, thieves’ tools
Sorcerer
WarlockLight armor, simple weapons
Wizard

Class Features

In addition to proficiencies, you acquire the new class’ features according to how far you progress in it. 

Most class features don’t interact, though some have great synergy and can give rise to all manner of fun combos, and some have special rules meant to prevent game-breaking abuse of multiclassing. These are what I call the complications. Let’s go over them one by one.

Complications

Channel Divinity

If you get Channel Divinity more than once from different classes, you don’t get additional uses of it, only more functions. You gain additional uses only when you reach a class level that explicitly grants them. 

Suppose you’re a cleric 6 (Life Domain) / paladin 4 (Oath of The Open Sea). You can use Channel Divinity twice between long or short rests because you’ve gotten far enough as a cleric to have two uses. 

What your paladin level gets you are different ways to use it. In addition to Turn Undead and Preserve Life, your two uses of Channel Divinity can manifest as Marine Layer and Fury of The Tides.

Extra Attack

If you get Extra Attack from more than one class, they don’t stack. This prevents a fighter 5 / barbarian 5 / ranger 5 build from getting three attacks per action at level 15—which a fighter only gets at level 20.

You can’t make more than two attacks with this feature unless you’re an 11th level (or higher) fighter. The warlock‘s Thirsting Blade Eldritch Invocation also doesn’t give you additional attacks if you also have Extra Attack.

Unarmored Defense

You can’t get Unarmored Defense from another class if you already have it. This prevents something like a Dex-based monkbarian (monk+barbarian) from becoming the ultimate dodge-tank with potentially 25 AC before factoring in buffs and late-game magic items. 

Spell-casting

Spellcasting as a multiclassed character is a whole thing. Luckily, we’ve covered this already in our guide to spell-slots. The main thing to watch out for, other than how the spell-slot mechanics work, is that classes that share key attributes tend to go well together. Hence all the love for sorcadins (sorcerer + paladin) and sorlocks (sorcerer + warlock). 

Some people disregard the classes’ key Ability scores, choosing to pick second or third class for the fun of it. I must warn you:


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Beware, for that way lies MADness

You might want to play a mad character, but you likely won’t like playing a MAD one. 

MAD is shorthand for Multiple Ability-score Dependant. A MAD Player Character (PC) is usually a character that dips a toe in a bunch of stuff and isn’t particularly good at any of them or who is only good at a narrow slice of their capabilities. 

The Worst of Multiclassing

An artificer / paladin / ranger is peak MADness: this… thing casts spells with all three mental Ability scores and has reduced spell-slots from being all half caster classes. Their class-features rely on all three Ability scores, too. Even if they manage to get decent Int, Wisdom (Wis), and Charisma (Cha), their other Ability scores will be terribly low (save for astronomically good rolls at character creation).

Good luck maintaining concentration with that abysmal Constitution (Con) or dodging anything with -1 Dex. 

Some base classes themselves are already a little MAD: barbarians need good Con, Str, and Dex to do their thing; monks need good Dex, Con, and Wis. Mixing these two with Int and Cha casters tends to not go particularly well. Hell, barbarians can’t cast spells when they’re raging

On MinMaxing

Some of you may be wrinkling your noses, saying “minmaxing, ewww” right about now. 

Taking MAD into account is, indeed, a big part of minmaxing, but it doesn’t need to be the case. There’s a lot of ground between avoiding sucking at everything and seeking the most powerful damage dealer who can’t even tie their own shoes.

Some MAD is to be expected when multiclassing, and it’s okay so long as you’re aware of it.

Sometimes, embracing a certain degree of MAD is part of the story you’re telling through the PC’s journey. My homebrew campaign has a bardbarian (barbarian + bard) and a wizlock (wizard + warlock) in it, and they’re great fun.

The story goes like so: Logarius grew up bitter at his ineptitude in the ways of wizardry. He took up an eldritch pact to get the magic he so deeply desired. The player behind him focused on Int as a secondary stat because it was important for his vision of Logarius. He eventually took a level of wizard upon striking up a friendship with a most unorthodox teacher.

On that note, multiclassing can be a great way to express in concrete terms what’s going on with a character and how they carry themselves in the world. This takes us to the next section.

How to Use Multiclassing as a Narrative Tool

One of my PCs is a religious gnome fighter gunslinger called Öve Svavarson. He lived as a paladin of Bahamut, just like his mentor, Hallathar. Before setting out into the world, he apprenticed under his uncle Kajus, a gunsmith and follower of Moradin.  

I’ve decided that, after his 5th fighter level, Öve will take three levels of cleric. Forge Domain, from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGE pg 18). Öve has a love of beautiful things made by skilled hands and sees improving his craftsmanship as a way to better serve his god.

Multiclassing into cleric is a way to lean into the religious side of his personality, and the Forge Domain is what makes the most sense. It doesn’t hurt that the Wisdom needed to power his cleric abilities is also something he uses for gunslinger trick-shots. Win-win.

Considering how a multiclass expresses your character’s personhood and history can elevate it beyond mere optimization and give rise to whole personal arcs. My Dungeon Master (DM) is into this sort of stuff, and I’m excited to see what complications he’ll put in the way.

When you take that barbarian dip (common term for a brief multiclass foray, three levels at the most) with your fighter, why not work with the DM to time it just right to coincide with some heavy, enraging thing happening to them story-wise? This sort of thinking can add a lot to a campaign.


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When should you multiclass?

Now you know the why, the how, and what you get from taking some levels in a different class. But when? Tricky question. Depends on how far you expect the campaign to go and why you’re multiclassing. 

The one piece of evergreen advice I can give you is to mind the power-spikes. At class levels 5, 11, and 17, 5E classes get some of their most powerful features, which is why each of these is the first level of their respective tiers of play (Dungeon Master’s Guide, pgs 36-38). Encounter difficulty tends to jump considerably when a party reaches these specified levels, particularly at level 5. 

It’s best to avoid delaying power spikes; being a full caster without 3rd level spells after level 5 is rough, for instance. Same for missing out on multiattack as a martial character. Hence my choice to start Öve’s cleric dip after level 5. 

What Are Some Fun Multiclass Builds?

A lot of builds online focus on how badass the character will be at higher levels, but most people don’t play much past 10th level. In addition to this, there’s the 5th level power-spike, and the latest you’ll get a subclass is at level 3. Taking these into account, the following builds are all for 8th level characters.

The Eldritch Machinegun

Requirement: 13 Cha.

Start with sorcerer for the Con save proficiency, which you need to maintain concentration on spells and withstand awful stuff. Sorcerous Origin is up to you. Two fun ones are: 

The build really comes into its own at level 5 with a sorcerer 3 / warlock 2 split. By this point, you have:

  • Quickened spell (metamagic): Burn 2 sorcery points to reduce a spell’s casting time from an action to a bonus action.
  • +4 or +5 Cha Modifier (mod): Maxing this out is a priority for the build.
  • Eldritch Blast: Best damage cantrip in the game, particularly suited for quickening—by this point, Eldritch Blast fires two separate beams (cantrips scale with total character level) that you roll to hit with separately, instead of a single stronger spell attack like Firebolt.
  • Agonizing Blast: this warlock invocation allows you to add your Cha mod to the damage.

This is how you reliably deal a lot of damage from a distance: quicken eldritch blast, fire four beams in a turn. If they all hit and you have + 4 Cha, you deal an average of 36 force damage each turn. Well, at least until your sorcerer points last. 

You can trade your two warlock spell-slots for 2 sorcery points per short rest. Added to the 3 you already have from being a 3rd level sorcerer, that’s at least 5 sorcery points per long rest. And you can trade sorcerer spell slots for more. Imagine all the quickening!

Also, fun thing: very few creatures are resistant to force damage. Helmed horrors and Rakshasas are your worst nightmares, but that’s a long ways away at 5th level.

At 8th level, sorcerer 5 / warlock 3, you can trade warlock spell slots for 4 sorcery points per long rest. This is bonkers because the 20th level feature of the sorcerer class is getting 4 sorcery points per short rest. You can also use invocations to power up the eldritch blasts, see through darkness (even magical darkness), get extra utility, yadda yadda yadda


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The Bearbarian (Circle of The Moon Druid + Bear Totem Barbarian)

Requirements: 13 Str, 13 Wis.

Start with barbarian for Constitution Save Proficiency, as you’ll need it to maintain concentration on spells when you’re not Wildshaped, as well as withstand some nasty effects, like poisons and disease. After this, you take two levels as a druid and choose Circle of The Moon (PHB, pg 69).

Choosing the Circle of The Moon improves Wildshape dramatically. While other druids can only wildshape into relatively weak creatures at level 2, limited by a Challenge Rating (CR) of 1/4, Circle of The Moon druids can become CR 1 beasts right off the bat. These include brown bears, dire wolves, giant hyenas. For more options, check out this tool.

They can also heal themselves while wildshaped by expending spell-slots with their bonus actions, regaining 1d8 hit points per spell-slot level.

Combine this with the fact that the Rage and Unarmored Defense from the barbarian level can be used while wildshaped and you can be a giant hyena with 14 AC, 45 hit points, and resistance to all bludgeoning/slashing/piercing damage. This hyena deals 2d6+5 damage per successful attack and can heal itself with a bonus action. It can also rampage (see linked statblock). 

Taking the build to level 8, with a druid 5 / barbarian 3 split, you can choose the Bear Totem (PHB, pg 50) at your 3rd barbarian level.

Thanks to this, you now have resistance to all damage types except psychic when raging (or be resistant to everything if you’re a kalashtar from Eberron, Rising from The Last War) and can benefit from the Reckless Attack feature while wildshaped. You have plenty of druid spell-slots to keep yourself standing on the frontline by constantly healing, and when you get another druid level you get CR 2 Wildshape options

The Skillmonkey (Rogue + Bard)

Requirements: 13 Dex, 13 Cha.

We have the high damage caster and the tank, time for a less combat-focused build. This one is aimed at letting you be good at almost everything.

You achieve this through a combination of rogue and bard levels, plus of background to match. 

You get 4 skill proficiencies from the rogue list, with Expertise (double proficiency mod) on two of them, as well as proficiency with thieves’ tools. From bard, you get proficiency in any 3 skills, with half-expertise (Jack of All Trades) on all other skills, and become proficient with three musical instruments.

This is neat because the flexibility afforded to you by the bard’s choice of skills lets you zero in on whatever background feels appropriate to your backstory, without risk of retreading. From a background, you get another 2 skills. 

This means you can be proficient in half the game’s skills—and half-proficient in the rest—by level two, if you’re so inclined.

If you want to really lean into the “I’m good at everything,” you can take the scout rogue subclass (XGE, pg 47) and College of Lore (PHB, pg 54) as your bard subclass to get another 5 skills (two of which are Survival and Nature, with Expertise). That would be a bit of a weird combination to justify in roleplay (RP) terms, but hey, you get to be proficient in 14 of the game’s 18 skills.

For something more thematic with a little more combat synergy, I suggest a mix of swashbuckler rogue and College of Swords bard (both from XGE, pages 47 and 15, respectively). Now, you can be a bit of a gish as well as the party’s skill monkey. 

The most effective way to do it by level 8 is delaying the roguish archetype until level 9, however. The split is Swords bard 6 / rogue 2. This way you can be ridiculously skilled, but also have:

  • A Fighting Style: Either Dueling or Two-Weapon Fighting.
  • The College of SwordsFlourishes: spend Bardic Inspirations to buff your offensive, defensive, and mobility capabilities.
  • Extra Attack: which comes at level 6.
  • Cunning Actions: dash, hide or disengage as a bonus action.
  • Sneak Attack: the rogue’s cornerstone feature; deal an extra d6 of damage to enemies if you attack with advantage or there’s an ally of yours adjacent to the target. 

The swashbuckling swords bard is a skirmisher with a great selection of support and utility spells. When they do take the swashbuckler archetype at level 9, they also get an extra d6 of Sneak Attack damage and:

  • Rakish Audacity: add your Charisma mod to initiative rolls, get Sneak Attack when the only creature adjacent to you is the target.
  • Fancy Footwork: during your turn, suffer no opportunity attacks from any creature you’ve hit with a melee attack.

Summary

With any luck, this post will cover all your multiclassing needs. To quickly summarize:

  • Multiclassing is an optional rule.
  • You need to meet a minimum Ability score requirement of 13 to be able to multiclass both into and out of a class. From fighter to wizard, for instance, you need 13 Dex or Str for the fighter, and 13 Int for the wizard.
  • You don’t get a class’ starting equipment unless you take your first level in it. You don’t get heavy armor proficiency (save for specific archetypes) or saving throws from multiclassing. 
  • Channel Divinity, Extra Attack, Unarmored Defense, and spellcasting have special multiclass rules.
  • Being MAD (Multiple Ability score Dependant) usually makes a multiclass build weaker
  • Multiclassing can be a way of expressing a PC’s personhood and history.
  • It’s generally smarter to multiclass after a power-spike. These usually come at class levels 5, 11, and 17. 
  • The opposite of MAD is SAD (Single Ability score Dependant), and SADness makes builds strong, which is why sorlocks are badasses. Also, Bear Totem druidbarians are dope, and rogue + bard makes a highly proficient character.

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