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How do you help a player that is new to D&D evaluate complex multiclassing options without driving them and yourself crazy? I have people trying to choose between all manners of combinations, from brand new options like adding in artificer, to hexsorcadins.

I have already calculated damage/healing/etc. Showed them what features they would gain or lose. But then I run into situations like battle smith vs hexadin where a question like "Do you want to be a tanky off-support?" doesn't cut it.

Everyone already knows the rules for multiclassing and the downsides because I explained them. I just don't want to scare them or myself off the whole prospect because of the complexity. Especially because many have already decided they want to multiclass, they just don't know which direction to go.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @LouisWasserman Please don't answer in comments (even a frame challenge.) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 26 at 20:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps you could clarify: why are you, the DM, involved in this at all? Character design for PCs is up to the players running those characters, not the DM (outside of prohibiting or altering content from the books). Is there a particular reason they're asking you which "direction to go", rather than identifying for themselves what options seem like they might be fun? \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Nov 26 at 22:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case-StopHarmingMonica because there are countless options and putting it all on them is discouraging for both of us. In addition, I am trying to build a better understanding of optimization for if I need to prohibit/alter content. And if I ever get to be a player again. \$\endgroup\$ – kent Nov 27 at 3:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain why you are not starting the new players at level 1? How many sessions do you plan to have before each level up? MC only happens on level up, if it happens. In other words, for an answer (I think your question is a bit broad, almost too broad) I'd need to get an idea for what level your game starts at. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 2 at 16:29
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Breakdown the priorities of each option, and let them pick their poison.

Ignoring the individual mechanical benefits of certain multiclassing combinations (Hexblade + Paladin, Rogue + Barbarian), almost every class and subclass can be analyzed for specific trends. By pointing out why someone would pick one option over another, for something they find interesting, you can almost guarantee they won't be disappointed by whatever option they choose.

Right now, your players are likely suffering from Decision Paralysis, and the solution is quite simple: Make Things Simple.


The How

Look at each class and come up with two for each lists for each:

  1. What they improve (Why you should choose this class)
  2. Stat dependencies (What you need to invest into this class)

For the items in those lists, organize them based on priority or importance.

Try to accommodate any changes that you might gain from subclasses and features. For example, the Rogue doesn't inherently gain magic abilities, but it can gain the option of manipulating magic items from Thief, or casting magic spells from Arcane Trickster. Try to summarize the class as a whole.

So, for example:

ROGUE:

  • ACTIONS:
    • Stealth
    • Weapon Attacks
    • Non-combat utility
    • Mobility
    • Ranged Combat
    • Combat utility
    • Melee Combat
    • Spellcasting
  • REQUIREMENTS:
    • Dexterity
    • Constitution
    • Intelligence
    • Wisdom
    • Charisma
    • Strength

What this allows someone to do is determine whether or not a Rogue is a valid option for themselves.

Many Wizards might not like the idea of being dependent on weapon attacks, despite liking the idea of a "roguish" caster, and may look to other option to get the solution they're looking for.

On the other hand, a Wizard who's looking to improve their stealthiness and is relying more on attacking (say, a Bladesinger) can easily identify that the Rogue would be a solid option (compared to something like a Monk or Fighter).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this, but it seems that knowing what you gain is only a piece of the puzzle. Knowing what you lose and what you'll delay seem equally important to the process. But then things aren't simple anymore :(. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 29 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that that perspective mostly only applies to casters, due to how stacking spell slots work from different classes. In terms of martial combatants, it really doesn't matter too much whether you have 1-12 levels into Rogue, Fighter, Barbarian, Monk, etc. They all work around the same resource (attacking), so as long as you are aware of the weaknesses of each class (Monks and Barbarians don't do ranged combat), there's not much to really think about when choosing your levels 1 at a time. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Nov 29 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, it definitely applies to all. Delaying primary class progression is an important part of the decision-making process. You can not agree, but then I don't agree :P. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 29 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't think to break it down in terms of actions. This is a better way to organise the lists I make. Even though battle Smith and hexadin are SAD tanky off healer. The how is different. \$\endgroup\$ – kent Nov 30 at 21:39
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The Simple Answer

Simply, you don't. It's the players' responsibility to learn the rules and build their characters. You as DM have enough on your plate without running the players through a dozen sourcebooks and several thousand pages of homebrew/UA content.

If a player is committing to the game (as in, they're not new to this and they're willing to commit), it should be mandatory that they've read at least the Basic Rules, and probably the PHB. You're putting in the effort of creating a whole campaign, the least they can do is read the PHB.

If you want to use pre-built characters with a new player, feel free. Have them describe their character, and build a character for them to match what they describe. Let them play the pre-built character. They will "get it" within a few sessions.

5e is probably the most rules-light version of DnD yet. It's easy to learn, and even optimized builds are not that far ahead of straight class builds. There's a good argument that the strongest build in the game at most levels is straight Moon Druid, Lore Bard, or Cleric. Even when this is not the case, straight class builds tend to be stronger across the board except for the last 2-3 levels (when it may be worthwhile to dip Fighter, Cleric, or Rogue instead of taking a crappy capstone ability).

Most "optimized" builds which multiclass dip 2 levels or less early on (Cleric 1/Wizard X, Life Cleric 1/Lore Bard X, Sorcerer 1/Warlock 2/Sorcerer X, Hexblade 1/Cha Class X, Paladin 2/Sorcerer X, etc.). This isn't 3.5 where you're dipping at least a half-dozen classes and prestige classes over the life of a character.

Alternatively, Set an Optimization Benchmark

Some players are better at optimizing than others. The important thing is that all characters feel useful and important, not the overall power level.

Basically, you don't want one player rolling an optimized Diviner 10 and another rolling a Bard 3/Rogue 3/Warlock 4 (or similar).

One option where you have one or more players that are good at optimizing and others who aren't, put the optimizer in charge of helping the other players create their characters.

Alternatively, take your optimizers aside and let them know what power level you want to run the game at. Let them make the appropriate adjustments, and scrutinize their character sheets.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Another option (wrt optimizers): ensure that each character has at least one frequent reason to shine. For example, the Barbarian optimized for tanking will not tread on the Rogue/Warlock toes when it comes to negotiating trade deals, or endearing the party to the local nobility. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Nov 27 at 15:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MattieuM. If all of the characters are mechanically good at what they're supposed to be good at, this is not a problem. In my experience, issues arise where the DM/Players are biased as to what makes characters powerful. Denying a high level Barbarian GWF/PAM when you're allowing Animate Objects or Illusionist 14 (IMO the strongest subclass ability, save maybe Moon Druid 20) into your game is ridiculous, but it can happen because the caster options are core without feats. Ditto with undervaluing Bard in particular. \$\endgroup\$ – James Nov 28 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ "strongest build in the game at most levels is Moon Druid 20, Lore Bard 20, or Cleric 20". What do you mean by "20" here? I assume it is the character level (e.g. "a level 20 Cleric is the strongest class"), but then the preceding "at most levels" doesn't make sense... \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Nov 29 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TylerH When assessing a build in terms of practical optimization, you need to look at how effective a build is from Levels 1 to 20, not only at a given level. Looking at a build only at a given level is fine when doing build challenges on the internet, but it isn't terribly useful when playing the game. L20 Moon Druid, for example, implies that the 'build' takes 20 straight levels of Moon Druid. Sorcerer 1/Hexblade 1/Sorcerer 18 would refer to taking 1 level of Sorcerer, then 1 level of Hexblade, then the rest in Sorcerer. \$\endgroup\$ – James Nov 29 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @James I'm aware that saying "level 20 moon druid" implies that you have 20 levels dumped into moon druid class. What is confusing is that you combine "level 20 moon druid" and "at most levels". If you're covering multiple levels, then you can't specify a single level. If it's only level 20, then it's not covering multiple levels. The two things are mutually exclusive. Naturally a level 20 character will probably be more powerful than any lower level, so I would recommend just replacing the "L20" bit before each class with something like "straight" or "pure" to indicate no multiclassing. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Nov 29 at 19:55
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Don't use mutliclassing; or, use it with some restrictions

Don't use multiclassing

Since you're throwing around words like hexsorcadin that are not in the core rules but are widely used in online optimization discussions, I have to assume that you know what you are doing and generally enjoy optimization. But for players new to D&D, I would strongly advise disallowing multiclassing entirely. It's important to remember that multiclassing rules are optional. I have run one campaign where multiclassing was disallowed (it was my first with D&D 5e and I wanted to get the flavor of the rules down) and am currently running another where multiclassing is allowed, but at 5th level none of the players have so far chosen to multiclass.

Use multiclassing with some restrictions

If you do choose to allow multiclassing, use any or all of the following tips:

  1. Don't allow multiclassing until level X (I recommend 5).
  2. Follow Adventurers League rule of Players Handbook +1 resource.
  3. Accommodate the non-optimizers, including allowing character rebuilds as the characters advance in level and the players get more experience with the rules.

1. Don't allow multiclassing until level X (I recommend 5)

With new players—or really anyone who is new to anything—a major part of getting your bearings is to not be given too many choices in the beginning. (This works for small children, too.) Even when optimizing there is a strong case to be made for getting to 5th level in a class (Extra Attack, 3rd level spells, etc.), so there's little downside to waiting to take a new class. But a player can do a lot damage with poor multiclassing choices at low levels.

You could argue for picking a different level (3 isn't a bad choice either), but the main point is to let the new players get their feet wet and focus on having fun now, rather than try to make choices at 1st level about what their build is going to look like at 20th level.

When (and if) you do introduce multiclassing, don't push any player into it that is enjoying playing a single class character. Make sure that your players know that there is nothing wrong with going single class.

2. Follow Adventurers League rule of Players Handbook +1 resource

You will also do your new players and yourself a big favor by following the Adventurers League rule of Players Handbook +1 resource. This both reduces the choice set for your players, and saves you from having to figure out what is the "best" option from among factorially increasing set of permutations.

3. Accommodate the non-optimizers…

The main concern would be the player who doesn't want to optimize (or doesn't do it well) and ends up outclassed by players who are optimizing. You have a few options here. You can be extremely generous about allowing character rebuilds—which, incidentally, I would recommend in any event for assimilating new players. You can encourage an optimizing player to "mentor" the non-optimizer. You can come up with other ways for the non-optimizer to shine in the story, including leaning more on the exploration and social interaction pillars. And depending on how generous you are being with magic items, you can provide a particularly powerful or memorable magic item that just happens to be custom built for the non-optimizer, but gives them some added kick. (This is not that useful of an option if you are showering your players with magic items. Just remember, it's a lot easier to become more generous with magic items than to pull magic items from play if you started out overly generous.)

Conclusion: How to not drive yourself crazy

The way you avoid driving yourself crazy is by not optimizing for your players, and instead focusing on making sure that they are having a good time. If they decide they like optimizing, they will have fun with it and learn how to do it. The most important thing for you to do is to calibrate the challenges to the actual power of the party. If the characters are suboptimal—that is, weaker than typical for a given level—don't treat them like experienced players with optimized characters. If the players are generally making rookie mistakes in play and/or not getting up to speed on optimizing, try running them through modules that are geared at character levels about two levels lower than the party's actual level. But if they get up to speed fast and start optimizing like crazy, up the challenge level.

Good luck and have fun!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I generally disallow multiclassing for the same reason I insist new characters use the Standard Array for their stats: Doing otherwise rewards tedious offline min-maxing rather than RP gameplay. \$\endgroup\$ – T.E.D. Nov 27 at 14:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ As soon as I saw the question, I had the same basic reaction: "If the player is brand new, does he really need to be making complex multiclassing decisions in the first place? Why not tell him to start simple?" \$\endgroup\$ – Lorendiac Nov 30 at 1:51
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Why are you doing this?

Not a rhetorical question.

What is the style of game you and your players want to play? How does "evaulat[ing] complex multiclass options" support this style?

If the primary source of your enjoyment in the game is optimising (in whatever direction "optimise" means for you) the characters, then this shouldn't be "driving them and yourself crazy" because it is precisely the objective of that particular playstyle.

Alternatively, if you and your players are looking for something else out of the game (like, say, actually playing it) then this stuff isn't important and you're spending way too much time on it. If it's distracting you from your brand of "fun"; stop doing it. Or at least, roll it back.

Some ideas on how to do this:

  • No multiclassing: multiclassing is optional to start with anyway.
  • No complex multiclassing: 2 classes only.
  • Please don't involve me: Your player's need to work it out for themselves. So long as they make a legal character, they can do what they please.
  • Taste it and see: A supplement to the "Please don't involve me". They make a character, they try to play the character. If they like it: great. If they don't, then they remake the character and try something else.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ agreed if you are not playing wargame style, which it sounds like your not, what you should really be asking the players is what kind of character they want to play and then help them build that. \$\endgroup\$ – John 2 days ago
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There are absolutely resources for these kinds of questions—but they aren’t compiled by DMs for their players. They’re vastly too much work for that. They’re compiled by experts, posted online, and picked over by other experts to ensure their accuracy and thoroughness. After an exhaustive iterative process, you have—you might have—something authoritative to say on the subject.

It’s not just numerical calculations, either. Numbers are the easiest part, but in most cases you’re comparing apples to oranges so the numbers don’t tell you all that much.

Because this process is an enormous undertaking, in most cases efforts are focused on particular options—usually particular classes. You can find “fighter handbooks” or a “barbarian handbooks” or what have you. These will usually be fairly-comprehensive discussions of the myriad options available, often with some kind of ranking or rating system to highlight the best options. Often the “top line” conclusions—especially if focused on a particular aim—can be summarized in a reasonably-digestible form—your best options are X, Y, Z—, but that necessarily requires a lot of trust in the one doing the summarizing. And vetting that person, in most cases, requires digging into the underlying evidence and seeing where they are coming from.

To compare and contrast, then, you have to read—and fully understand—the available resources for both, and then draw conclusions about their relative merits. Even when just contrasting “top line” summaries, you are often talking about apples and oranges. Only in a few cases—say, barbarian vs. fighter, or perhaps battle smith vs. hexadin—are those conclusions even remotely straight-forward.

And new players, by definition, lack the context to make the judgments necessary here. If I say a foo can deal 30% more damage than a bar, as long as X, Y, and Z, you have no concept if that means foo is better than bar or not—because you have no way of knowing whether or not it’s reasonable to assume that X, Y, and Z are true. And that’s the relatively easy case of pure numbers, damage. When you get into more utility options, you don’t even have numbers to work with. What is the value of teleportation? Divination? How do you compare that with the ability to take and deal damage? There are—or can be—answers to these questions, but they aren’t necessarily easy answers.

Ultimately, the really important thing about this, is that this information is not easily transferred. Nothing I do is going to reasonably allow you to work with the same expertise I have. Even if I answer a question, it will be much more giving you a fish than teaching you to fish—because “learning to fish” in this case requires familiarity with, basically, all the answers out there. So until you have asked and I have answered every question—or more realistically, you have consumed the same resources I have and performed the same playtests I have—you aren’t going to have the perspective I have. Which is to say, there’s no way that I can make this “easy” for you.

So, quite frankly, most DMs don’t offer this kind of assistance to players. Figuring out what’s best for a player character is that player’s responsibility, and DMs tend to have more than enough on their plates as it is. Even if the DM has plenty of expertise, the perspective that allows them to understand the relative value of options isn’t something they can just give to players. They can offer advice, but it’s all-too-easy to slide into the trap of telling players what to do—and giving players the impression that they are incapable of making decisions for themselves, in the process.

Instead, most DMs just let players figure it out. Perspective is most rapidly gained by trying, after all, and if anything gets really out of whack, the DM can always fix things later (e.g. give the struggling character an overpowered “blessing,” apply some balancing “curse” to an overpowered character, etc.—you should be clear about what you’re doing out of character here, these are just narrative tools for explaining out-of-character decisions about balance in-character).

Finally, this is also why balance in a game system has value—you have less risks when making your own decisions from inadequate information. The ideal is for players to be able to just choose the options that sound cool to them—and they will be. Few games actually achieve that, but by-and-large D&D 5e isn’t too bad about it—and some of the worst-off situations are fairly obvious even to new players (multiclassing into wizard when you’ve got 11 Int is pretty obviously a weak choice, no matter how new to the game you are—yes, I know the game doesn’t even let you do that, it’s more the principle that I’m discussing).

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Let new players walk before they are expected to run

New players are still learning the systems, so let them learn. It's not just about learning the rules and what ability combinations are most powerful, it's also about strategy, and how to use those abilities. The most highly optimised character in the world will still be sub-optimal if the player plays it sub-optimally.

If you're a group where experienced players like to optimise their characters and dominate the action, make sure that as a GM you help redress the balance by finding a way for less well optimised characters to share the spotlight and feel like their actions have a non-trivial impact.

Don't be afraid to give new players advantages over experienced players

Once your player has more experience, let them respec their character.

Who cares if that gives them an advantage over experienced players who got it right the first time, they already had the advantage of their experience.

Sometimes a little bit of unfairness can be the most fair thing of all.

Make a story out of it

An in-character excuse for a respec can be a great story.

When you think they're ready, give them dream tempting them into a quest to correct their past mistakes, full-fill their true destiny, or remove a curse they've unknowingly suffered since before their birth. Give them the option to rebuild their character from the ground up given their in and out of character experiences, and the play style they've developed.

If they opt not to 'optimise' their character, grant them an extra level from their quest for self improvement as a reward for sticking with their otherwise 'sub-optimal' character.

Coda

Remember that tough though it may be to admit, there is something wrong with a game if every player doesn't feel like their character is central to their story. As a GM, we should always do what we can assist in this.

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Help them define what they want to play

What's the concept?

First and foremost, before you can help them with decision-making, you should help them understand what they're trying to achieve. At this point, they (may) have a character concept in mind. Get them to explain it to you. Work together to create a list of what they want their character to be and do. This baseline will help everyone determine a guideline for builds and help them in making decisions they may need to make later.

Campaign levels

THe next consideration is what level the players are currently at and what level they will achieve in the campaign. Understanding this will help immensely during any upcoming decision process. Creating a 'build' that comes online late or after outside of the range you're going to play will immediately become unhelpful. Helping to make sure they've got a concept that they understand is playable for a good percentage of the campaign may help increase their fun.

Build decisions

Here is where it starts to get trickier. Multiclassing is generally about making trade-offs. By opting to multiclass, you are delaying your primary class progression and potentially cutting off certain milestones depending on how deep you dip and how long the campaign will go on for. This is where your role really comes into play. Helping players guide their decisions to fulfill their concept without handicapping themselves to an extent where they aren't 'keeping up' with others is going to be a consideration.

How do you help?

This is the trickiest. Understanding the classes yourself is a good first step. But as you help guide them into the decision-tree of what they'll get, and what they'll delay and lose, may take some more work. If they're not savvy enough, then you'll need to be - or you'll have to be willing to retcon and change things if they're not working out and folks aren't having fun. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • What's the end-level for the campaign?
  • What level range will most of the campaign take place at?
  • What abilities does the player want?
  • If choosing to dip, what will they lose in their primary class?
  • If choosing to dip, what ability scores/feats will they miss out on?
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Let them fail

It doesn't matter if your players make mistakes. If they make a bad choice, then they get to experience the consequences. Next game hopefully they will make better choices.

Support their choices. If they make a really bad choice and want to change, help them change with ingame justifications and retraining that isn't free or easy, but is possible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My first character back in 3.5 was an awful bard/ranger multiclass. It was terrible, I contributed nothing, but it was a good learning experience. Thankfully that was a oneshot so for the next game I played I had a much more effective character. \$\endgroup\$ – John Montgomery Nov 27 at 18:15
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Focus on the fantasy

Optimized characters are optimized to do something specific. An optimized rogue is going to sneak attack and hide each round. The player playing it will feel good because they deal a lot of damage each round and stay safe while doing it. Focus on these moments of what each build is trying to do.

Also, it sounds like you are driving a lot of the optimization of these characters. You might just want to build a couple different character sheets for your players and have them just pick between them. Don't sweat the small stuff, players mostly only care about the big moments their characters partake in.

Disclaimer

I understand it's possible to get stuck in this situation where a newbie player is being introduced to a group of power gamers who are already optimized.

But if that's not the case, feel free to just not use powerful multiclass combinations. I also feel they are more of a headache than they are worth at my game table, and tend to limit in combat options and make encounters more deadly and less fun.

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