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A wannabe full sorceress

A player of the group for which I am DMing is playing a cleric 4/sorceress 6 character: she started as a cleric, and once reached level 5 she decided to multiclass into Sorcerer1. From a plot point of view, this was not a problem at all since her backstory had a perfect hook for this step.

The problem is that she now feel a little bit frustrated, since she really loves this class and moreover she cannot exploit all the features that a full sorcerer could have at level 10: she's got few sorcery points, only 2 metamagic options instead of three, and we decided that the metamagic cannot be applied to cleric spells (due to plot and background story reasons).

Since the player (and actually, all the table) is fond of the character and does not want to take a new character, I decided to allow her to transform her cleric levels into sorcerer levels, which is actually not permitted by the rules, to the best of my knowledge, but I apply Rule 0 here.

I want my players to be happy to play their character and I allow mostly of the optional rules (multiclassing, feats, etc), but at the same time I do not want them to think "ok, let's try this, if it does not work I'll ask the DM to backtrack".

Changes at a cost.

I decided hence to allow this migration at a cost: her character must perform a ritual with some high cleric of her religion, or with a divine emissary of her god, or something similar, in which she asks for such change.

During this ritual, she must pass 3 trials, which consists mainly in saving throws (STs):

  • (a) COS 15: on a success the max HPs are reduced by 5, on a failure by 10.
  • (b) WIS 15: on a success nothing happens, on a failure -1 STR
  • (c) CHA 15: on a success +1 CHA, on a failure nothing changes

At the end of the ritual she will be allowed to migrate their cleric levels into the sorcerer levels, but the feat that she took when reached the 4th cleric level will remain the same.

Down below I enlist the reasons behind this choices and their pros and cons, in my opinion.

Reducing the HPs

This is the major drawback of this change: from a history point of view, the god is a little bit upset at losing one of their devotes, and then they want to punish her and warn the other believers. From a mechanical point of view:

  • pros: making know my players to consider all the consequences of their choices and actions.
  • cons: the sorcerer has already low HPs, lowering the maximum could be very very dangerous. It is true that the party has a barbarian and a fighter and she won't be on the frontline, but in case of failing the ST having lost 10 points of max HPs could make the difference.

Reducing the Strength score

Again, this is implemented as punishment from the god.

  • pros: even the ST is unsuccessful, this ability score is not very important for sorcerers in general. The STR score would become 9, hence providing a -1 on STR ST, ability checks and on weapon melee attacks, which are not really the main focus of a sorcerer. I maybe consider also to increase this malus to -2.
  • cons: the STR ST will have a malus of -1, but spells that require this kind of ST are not so many.

Augmenting the Charisma score

I implemented this since her character did not started as a sorcerer, and she did not plan from the beginning this multiclassing, so the CHA score is a little bit low.

  • pro: if she fails the ST, nothing happens, so no drawbacks other than the possibly previous ones.
  • cons: I fear that this could sound too much as a reward, since the CHA score will increase from 15 to 16, increasing the bonus from +2 to +3. But on the other hand, for a 10th level sorcerer CHA 15 is quite suboptimal.

Other options I considered

I was thinking about different consequences, such as

  • -1 STR and -1 DEX: this sound too harsh, mainly because a malus on DEX score will impact the already low AC.
  • disadvantage on some ST: once thought of this, I decided that it was too severe.
  • disadvantage on some ability checks: again, maybe too severe.
  • I thought just to retcon and say something like ""Your divinity does not answer anymore to your prayers, you do not have access to your divine power, but now you can concentrate on your inner, arcane and wild power!" but it does not feel fair to the other players.

Moreover, I do not exclude some help from the rest of the party (e.g., she can be blessed just before the ritual).

Is this implementation a valid one?

In summary, I want the best for my player(s), and I would like them to enjoy our session, both from a history perspective and from a game experience point of view. For this I am in favor of adapting some rules, but when players make choices that impact their whole history arc and they want to revert them, some consequences should be put in place.

I ask to the collective wisdom of RPG.SE if the mechanism I thought of for managing this stepback from multiclassing is a valid one: is too severe? Is it too much in favor of the player? Should I just retcon?


1 She decided to play a sorcerer after a one shot adventure where she played such class and she enjoyed it a lot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Relevant The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising, around 1:28:30 - "So... What happens next?" [...] "Theo, gain a level of the Cantor prestige class." [...] "Gary, you can't remember any of your spells." [...] "I replaced your level of sorcerer with equal levels of cleric." \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 14, 2023 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you quote the rules saying that converting levels in one class to another is not permitted? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 14, 2023 at 23:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Trish: I love that movie, but it's such a dick move by the DM. Someone who wants to play a sorcerer, being involuntarily changed to cleric, a class for which they've almost certainly got terrible stats (because who pumps Wisdom on a Sorcerer?). The DM gets to "tell a good story", but only because we never see that hilariously useless new cleric ever have to function in a game again. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15, 2023 at 0:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FerventHippo There are no rules that explain when or how to do that, in the PHB nor in the optional material, to the best of my knowledge. There is the rule 0, which gives full power to the DM and allows them to change any rule they want. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Feb 15, 2023 at 7:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder to everyone that attempts to help the asker and/or answer the question belong in answers, not in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Feb 15, 2023 at 20:04

6 Answers 6

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This is too harsh

Your player is unhappy because her character is weaker than the other characters.

You're trying to fix this by weakening her character further.

Here is how I handle this

When I run games, I tell my players: "if you're ever unhappy with your character, you can change it between sessions. Change your stats, your class levels, your race -- whatever you want. I don't want you to feel like you're locked into bad choices. We'll alter reality so that the character you're now playing is the character you've always had."

Most players never use this. A few players do use it, when they're unhappy in my game. Using the option makes them happier.

It's not unfair to the other players, because all the characters remain at the same maximum power level. If a cleric4/sorceress6 converts to a sorceress10, that's not unfair to the druid10, because she's not becoming more powerful than him -- she's just catching up.

Consider making it a quest

Several people have noted that this sort of event is something you can build a quest around. Maybe her character needs to awaken the true power of her bloodline by bathing in the Waters of Life, or eating the True Manafruit, or meditating at the center of the Crystal Convergence. This is the sort of player-centric quest that would have special meaning for the group.


Regardless, my advice is to not include any permanent character nerfs -- the final-result character should be as good as a character that was built from the start to be a sorceress 10.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 beat me to it. Would also add that this kind of character change is the perfect reward for a sidequest, if the players want to keep the continuity of previous events, rather than retconning elements of the campaign (which isn't a bad thing per say, but is often seen negatively in how a story is built). \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Feb 14, 2023 at 13:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. Pathfinder (a different but related system) has explicit, optional rules for stuff like this. The mechanics don't map 1-to-1, but the gist is that the character would spend a bit of time (mostly off-camera - "while we're in town for the week, I'm going to spend time with a teacher instead of hitting the spa and such") and gold to perform various rituals to achieve the desired change. It's worked ... okay, anyway ... in the campaign I've seen it used in (the mechanics were clunky, but the basic idea was well-received). \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Feb 14, 2023 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Most of all, why do character nerfs rationalised as "angry god" instead of taking this full crate of story hooks and running with it?! There is so much potential over this change. You could, quite literally, build an entire campaign that follows from it. Or weave it into an existing one. The character itself can grow in the story as well. All the group could be dragged into the whole thing. A warlock might get an urge from their patron in relation to this. A monk might find the self-realisation to align with their teachings. Etc, Instead three rolls that mostly penalise the character? Meh. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 14, 2023 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to vote for the main point of this answer -- no quests, no new plots; just pretend the character was always that way. It's an old time-tested approach. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 14, 2023 at 21:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 You're playing with a small group of people you actually know; there's no need to impose a "cost" to stop everyone doing this all the time (as you would if you were running, say, a giant online video game with thousands of strangers playing). All I've ever had to say was "I want you to have fun so you can rebuild your character if you're not having fun, but I'd like that to be an exceptional circumstance" to stop it from being a "problem". And if it happens we decide together on a case by case whether it's a ret-con or an in-universe change, depending on what seems more interesting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Feb 16, 2023 at 3:08
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You said it yourself, you want your players to be happy to play their character, so find a way to make that happen without punishing them for letting you know how that can happen.

Right now you have a player telling you what they want and what it will take for them to have even more fun at your table playing your game. That is not a behaviour you want to discourage. You have an opportunity in this to show your players that if they have ideas or preferences to make the game more fun for them, that they can let you know and when it is possible without harming other peoples fun or breaking the game you will help to make it happen.

The Fear of Backtracking

Now lets address your concerns with backtracking. I understand not wanting to set a precedent that the character or player choices do not matter. There are certainly circumstances where a DM too readily changing the past on one players whim can 1) impact the reality of character consequences in the game and 2) the general flow of the story. I understand why as the DM you don't want to encourage your players from making change request willy nilly without considering the impact to the game.
However, in this circumstance I would take into consideration the fact that this player didn't randomly decide one day they want to completely change their character, but instead took the time to dip into a multiclass, discovered they enjoyed the class more, and then asked if there could be a way to arrange for their character class to change. They didn't just decide to try it one day with the expectation that the DM will backtrack like your afraid your players will think. They spent time trying the sorcerer class within the current character built, despite it not being optimized for it, and then discovered that they really enjoy that class. If making this change for this player leads to other players coming to you asking for you to backtrack just to try things, stating you made the change for the player as a reason you should allow their request, you can mention what I have above that this wasn't an out of nowhere request. If they are willing to take the time to trial things in a way that works within the normal game, and still want to make a change, then it may be something to look into depending on the exact circumstances.

As always talk to your players. I can't emphasize this point enough, but if you are considering changing an aspect like this to make your player happy, talk with them (and your other players too)! If your main concern is that allowing one change will lead to a recurring problem with your table, don't be afraid to talk it through with them. You can let them know the considerations you made before allowing this change and the expectations you have before making a major change to the game, or any player.

Finally, if you are really think their needs to be some sort of consequence for the change in class, don't make it a permanent one. If the character has slightly lowered stats as they get used to this change before eventually finding a new normal, that's one thing. If they are permanently held at a disadvantage compared to the other characters that's another. I have briefly played at tables that had these types of permanent consequences, and the key word there is briefly. Very few people want to play a game where they are the only one being held back, especially in the long term.

Remember at the end of the day, this is game that's meant to be fun! Whenever there is an option to make it more fun for the people at the table, pick that option!

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is really a question where answers should follow good subjective best practices. Have you done these things, can you talk about how it went at the table? DanB's answer is a great example of what we're looking for. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Feb 14, 2023 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the first part of the answer, the "fear of backtracking", but the second part is not very useful: I already decided how to make the change, eventually, I am more interested in the mechanical consequences that I planned to implement after the change. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Feb 14, 2023 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage Thanks for the feedback, with that in mind instead of spending time editing that section that isn't helpful to you I'll remove it and focus on the first part \$\endgroup\$
    – gabbo1092
    Feb 14, 2023 at 15:55
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This is too severe

Your proposed reductions to ability scores and hit point maximum appear to be irreversible. While there are many effects in 5e that reduce PC stats or hamper their abilities, they are usually removable. For example, Resurrection has the following rider:

Coming back from the dead is an ordeal. The target takes a -4 penalty to all attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks. Every time the target finishes a long rest, the penalty is reduced by 1 until it disappears.

Mechanics like this penalize players without leaving them forever hindered by past decisions.

The hit point maximum reduction is brutal. As you have noted, Sorcerer is a class already lacking in hit points. A reduction of five may not sound like a lot, but that is roughly the amount of hit points a Sorcerer gains per level. And this is on top of the natural reduction one would experience after trading four Cleric d8's for Sorcerer d6's.

Additionally, granting a +1 to Charisma while leaving ability score distribution alone is not enough to bring this character up to power. A straight-classed, level 10 Sorcerer will have acquired two Ability Score Increases, giving them ample opportunity to increase their Charisma to 201.

Hinging major elements of a character sheet on saving throws is unreliable and hurts player agency. If your player rolls well, consequences lose meaning. If she rolls poorly, she's stuck with a weak character. Either way, she winds up playing something that was given to her by random chance.

The proposed mechanics do not favor the player

Your player wishes to reinvest all of her levels so that she may become a more effective Sorcerer. The mechanics you have outlined will not make her an effective Sorcerer -- they will make her a subpar one.

You mention rolling up a new character, which I will use as a point of comparison. Allowing your player to play the same character with a reworked character sheet is mechanically identical to allowing her to play a new character with a new character sheet. Anything less is a weaker option that will fail to outperform dying and rolling up a new character.

You don't have to retcon

There are lots of ways to make the transition difficult and/or meaningful without directly punishing the player: Maybe they need to go on a special quest to unlock their arcane abilities. Maybe their deity is angered and sends a champion after the party. Or perhaps the transition is dubiously easy, but their newfound power has ties to a sinister organization that will confront the party later. Options like these demonstrate "actions have consequences" without damaging player agency.

Turning player requests into plot hooks has worked wonderfully for my group. I get story material, Boblin leads an epic quest to find Excalibur, everyone wins. If Boblin's player isn't interested in the quest, maybe it isn't worth our time.

In summary

The proposed mechanics are punishing and will leave your player with a weak character. While not explicitly precedented by officially published material, allowing a full character rebuild is completely within your rights as a GM, will not cause major balance change, and doesn't have to hurt your story.


1Assuming standard array and at least a +1 racial bonus.

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I think I can summarise the other good answers that say "this is harsh" quite simply:

Once you have established a narrative reason for a radical change to a character, that results in a changed character that is still balanced for play in your game, then there is no need at all to combine that with any further mechanical consequences.

What you appear to be doing is attempt to simulate a cost to the ritual, to make it somehow hard to achieve, or for the change to be somehow "meaningful" mechanically as well as narratively. However, this has consequences to further game play that achieve very little for your game. There's no need.

In my opinion, just make the ritual somehow special in the narrative - only available via achieving some goal for the church, or maybe because the character is "the chosen one" in some prophecy related to the religion. Whatever fits nicely depending on your setting and ongoing campaign. Then let the player rebuild their character stats for the sorcerer.

I would expect a character rebuilt in this way to retain their original backstory, and game history up to this point - at least anything from that history that has affected play meaningfully. Also equipment should only be changed if that can fit the narrative of the change - although that's easy to arrange if you and the player have a shared goal of the end point for the change.

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Whether the implementation is too severe depends entirely on your campaign.

I don't think it is too much in favor of the character if what you want to do is facilitate a story-driven change. Whether you should retcon it depends on how much you and your players would prefer a retcon to a story-driven change.

I offer some suggestions on how to implement this below, but I think there are three questions that you and your players need to answer that will determine what path you should take:

  1. Would you and your players enjoy (or does your game already have) random permanent benefits or penalties?
  2. Would you prefer a retcon that doesn't alter the game rules, or a story-driven change that requires homebrew rules?
  3. If story-driven, would you prefer the change to be immediate or gradual?

Regarding question 1, the first thing to point out is that if the dice rolls go poorly, your player could have -1 STR and -10 hit points. If they go well, your player could have +1 CHA and -5 hit points. Are these changes a lot? I don't think so, but it's a matter of opinion. This is a game with the Deck of Many Things, which can give you 50,000XP and a wondrous magic item, or cause you to lose 10,000XP, take a -2 penalty on all saving throws, or get imprisoned in a place that can only be discovered by wish, the most powerful spell in the game (and then they have to figure out how to get you out of there).

There's also the issue of randomness. Your player may be OK with there being consequences, but may not be OK with having the outcome depend on three saving throws! My recommendation would be to develop a consequence that the player is comfortable with and apply it, without there being saving throws.

For question 2, it sounds like you would prefer a story-driven change rather than a retcon. I have allowed characters to retcon minor changes that don't require significant story alteration. A player with a 5th level Arcane Trickster who hadn't really seen the character conception go the way he wanted became a 5th level Scout with the Magic Initiate feat. But, I would be loathe to let a player who had played four levels exclusively as a Cleric retcon it that, no, they were actually a Sorcerer all along. I think this is a fine choice, and your players may be on board with it as well, so the question becomes how to implement it.

Regarding question 3, D&D 5e has been moving consistently in the direction of greater flexibility, but with gradual change. Many spellcasting classes let characters switch out one spell known when they gain a level. Tasha's Cauldron of Everything added things like Martial Versatility, Cantrip Versatility, Bardic Versatility, etc., that lets characters switch out which options they selected for certain class features (when those choices used to be permanent), but only at certain class levels. This isn't quite the same as switching out an entire class level, but its on the path.

It's worth noting that AD&D's dual-classing for humans allowed characters to add new classes. There was no sorcerer in AD&D, but if there were, the rules would be as follows (and would actually follow your player's story progression somewhat):

  1. Player advances to Cleric 4.
  2. Player decides to add Sorcerer levels. They must stop using Cleric class features and act only as a Sorcerer. (They still have their Cleric hit dice, but don't add Sorcerer hit dice. Don't worry about it, it's AD&D.)
  3. When they reach Sorcerer 4, they can now use their Cleric class features, but they can never add a level of Cleric again.

This sounds harsh, but because of the geometric XP progression in AD&D, a character could race through low levels of a new class while their mid to high level adventuring party eked out 1 or 2 additional levels. It didn't make a whole lot of sense, but that's AD&D for you.

My suggestions based on what you've told us and my own play preferences are as follows:

  1. Remove the bonuses and penalties to ability scores and hit points (but if you retain them, definitely remove the randomness).
  2. Create a story-driven way to accomplish it. The god/church hierarchy may let the cleric go, but require a quest to do so (a voluntary geas would be appropriate). Following AD&D rules, the character could be forced to not use Cleric powers as part of the geas!
  3. Make the change gradual. Let's say every time the character levels, they add a level of Sorcerer and switch a class level from Cleric to Sorcerer. (Essentially, two steps forward in Sorcerer, one step back in Cleric.) You could shift one level immediately when the quest begins.

Regarding the mechanics of the changes, I would leave ability scores as is. I would have the character lose all class features associated with Cleric levels, including whatever feat they got at 4th level!

  • In older editions of D&D it used to be much more common to play characters with ability scores slightly mismatched to their character classes, and playing a lower charisma sorcerer is fine. Frankly, older used to have a lot more riding on ability scores (like how many spells you could learn or cast per day). Now it's primarily attack bonuses and saving throw DCs. If you're playing a story-driven game, the loss of having non-optimized ability scores is just not that great.
  • If the 4th level feat was an ASI, losing an ASI in Cleric probably means losing two points of Wisdom, but since Clerics and Sorcerers have the same ASI/feat progression (4, 8, 12, 16, 19) it will be made up for by gaining an ASI in Sorcerer which can go to Charisma instead. If they took a specific feat, you could "force" them to use their next Sorcerer feat to backfill the same selection, but frankly, that is such a minor degree of retconning I would not be worried about, and the benefit is that when the transition is done, you have a full Sorcerer without a possibly irrelevant feat. And, let's face it, in the real world, people do forget how to do things that they don't practice.
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Changes without any cost at all.

Note. The choice I made for the game, depicted in this self-answer, is built on the precious help provided by the other answers: all of them opened my eyes and made me understand that I would have been too severe if I implemented what I originally planned.

I decided to get rid of all the permanent modification to the PC's stats that I thought to implement as consequences of the ritual.

Instead, we hade a pure, beautiful role play short session in which the (now ex-)cleric/sorceress talked with the High Priestess of her religion, where she explained the reasons behind her will to abandon her creed and fully embrace the wild magic. The Priestess questioned the player when hesitation appeared in her voice, leading her to reveal her deepest motivation.

The sole mechanic consequence that I maintained was a temporary one: due to the psychological stress of the talking, I made the player make a WIS saving throw with a relatively high DC: she failed and then she suffered from a 1 level of exhaustion until the next long rest.

The suggestion of making it a quest was really interesting, but it would have taken too much time, both in-game and IRL: the players would like to proceed with the main plot, including the sorceress player.


Reading all the above answers made me clear that the modifications were really severe and they weren't needed at all.

In particular, RuralAir's answer clarified weakening characters could be mechanically valid, but not permanently, just temporary.

Neil Slater pointed out in their answer that there are no mechanical needs to be implemented, once the general balance of the game is preserved.

RedGeomancer in their answer made be think about the in-game timing: I found very interesting the idea to switch class levels each time the party gains a new level, and I believe that this way reflects a realistic gradual change. But I feared that this needed too many sessions, and I wanted to make my player happy as soon as possible.

The above points are truly valid, but what really made me think was this passage in gabbo1092's answer:

However, in this circumstance I would take into consideration the fact that this player didn't randomly decide one day they want to completely change their character, but instead took the time to dip into a multiclass, discovered they enjoyed the class more, and then asked if there could be a way to arrange for their character class to change. They didn't just decide to try it one day with the expectation that the DM will backtrack like your afraid your players will think.

Indeed, this campaign has been running for 4 years and a half so far (and maybe it will go for another one, one and a half), hence the player took her time in learning and combining both classes abilities, and finally she found what suits her gameplay better. Hence, I believe that I would have been a bad DM if I punished her for taking her time in building a complex (and interesting) character and for asking for such change after careful (and long!) experimentation.


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    \$\begingroup\$ Sometimes, all our answers combined crystalize into a beautiful self-answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Apr 28, 2023 at 14:15

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