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I'm trying to figure out why Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition designers decided that ASI or feats would be given every 4 class levels and not every 4 character levels.

If I allowed my players to get an ASI or feat at character levels 4, 8, 12, 16 and 19, how would the game balance be concretely impacted? How could the players abuse this?

The peculiarities of some classes such as the fighter and the rogue would be kept: a rogue would still gain an ASI at rogue level 10 and a fighter at fighter levels 6 and 14.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to clarify that you mean 'character level' is taken instead of the 'class level' ASI because by the usual way things are read around here, some people might think you mean to give the ASI in both cases, which means you could multiclass into two additional classes for an ASI each and every level. \$\endgroup\$
    – user47897
    Feb 1 '19 at 16:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ In this proposed system, say you have an 8th level character that has 2 levels in Paladin and 6 in Fighter (for whatever reason). When they reached level 8, did they get two ASIs at the same time (one for being level 8, and another for being a 6th level fighter) or only one? Or does it work some third way I haven't mentioned? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1 '19 at 18:49
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It tips balance towards multiclassing

Delaying the ASI or feat bonus is one of the detriments of multiclassing. It balances out the benefits of multiclassing.

Giving ASI or feat for every 4 total levels incentivises multiclassing, and steps on the toes of the fighter class that gets an extra ASI at level 6.

Multiclass Comparison

In the proposed system, consider something simple and melee oriented such as a level 4 fighter. Compare to a fighter 2 barbarian 2 and fighter 2 barbarian 1 rogue 1.

The system you propose obviates the class feature at level 4.

  • The fighter 4 alone will have features from 3 levels, plus one ASI.
  • The fighter 2 barbarian 2 will have features from 4 levels plus one ASI.
  • The fighter 2 barbarian 1 rogue 1 will have features from 4 levels plus one ASI.

This allows gaining features without sacrificing the cost of ASI or feats. Using the standard rules, only the fighter level 4 would have an ASI.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ actually, I think a fighter rogue barbarian sounds like it could work... \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Feb 1 '19 at 15:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer seems to hinge on "at levels where a class would normally get ASI, they don't get any other features" based on the fighter 4 description. I don't know whether that is accurate, but it seems like an important premise that should be stated rather than implied. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1 '19 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ For completeness, you may want to extent your second paragraph. Fighters get ASIs at 6th and 14th level (in addition to 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th and 19th), and rogues also get an ASI at 10th level. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Feb 1 '19 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KamilDrakari Clerics do increased damage with cantrips or weapons (depending on domain) on level 8. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Feb 1 '19 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ It may also be worth looking at how useful capstone abilities, and more significantly full spellcasting progression, may be, versus what you can get from one or more dips. Both capstones and progression add further reasons to stick with a single class, each one offering a different and similar penalty to ASIs/Feats (casting in particular makes the ASI one more complex). \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2 '19 at 6:54
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Multiclassing would likely become a default

To reward / incentivize AGAINST multiclassing, the ASI feature is based on class progression. The basic way you have more options on when to multiclass, instead of just which class to choose. It also makes it tougher to add multiple classes that require different minimum ability scores. Were that limitation lifted, the character would be able to add new classes and use an ASI to qualify for another class, allowing for more "front loading features" to accumulate. Most classes have multiple features in their first three levels.

If I allowed my players to get an ASI or feat every 4 character levels, how would the game balance be concretely impacted?

If they are solo classed it wouldn't be a change at all. Unless they get really crazy into multiclassing it won't make much of a difference. But it will absolutely lead to stronger PC's than the system intends.

How could the players abuse this?

They could conceivably create class combinations that are limited by the minimum ability scores under the normal rules which, while likely a lot of whacky fun, could lead to very strong combos. The system is that way to limit some of this because you likely have a deficient ability score somewhere to stop you from taking a bunch of classes/dips.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I changed your title per a comment there by MarsPlastic, and did a few tweaks for the prose. Please review to make sure that your answer remains pointed in the direction that you intended. You could also support your points with an example, but I'll leave that to you. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 20 '20 at 17:37
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The other answers have correctly pointed out the front-loaded nature of many classes and game-breaking combo potential. However, it's ironic that this multiclass penalty is significant enough that it reduces player willingness to choose mechanically sub-optimal multiclassing for flavor or role-play reasons.

Depending on how you judge player intentions at your table, I'd suggest one of these compromises:

  1. A little power-gaming: ASI's are based on the sum of your two highest class levels (3rd, 4th dips get nothing)
  2. Split the Difference: +1 ASI is granted for every 4 character levels and every 4th level in a class.

In both approaches, a feat can be taken instead of +2 ASI and class-exclusive ASI's (e.g. Fighter 6) would remain unchanged. These could also be combined.

NOTE, neither approach is nearly as clean as running RAW/RAI! But it could be something fun to try if you want to add some character variety without abandoning all guardrails.

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