Assume I want to have characters defined by classes, archetypes, whatever. And there's no advancement, or at least sufficiently little advancement that the choices made at chargen always define the character.

But I want to have multiclassing. Or, more exactly, I want to have characters with differing numbers of archetypes without imbalancing them.

So a class/archetype can't be a package of mostly or entirely good abilities, because adding another class makes a character better. Thus, the first idea I had was to have chargen start with an "average" set of traits, and each class adds a package of advantages and disadvantages. Works numerically, but I know that "disadvantages cost negative points" systems are easily exploitable. That is, players will try to put PCs in situations that take advantage of their strong points. Only if players and their characters had no control over the situation would "disadvantages cost negative points" be balanced. Thus, having more advantages and disadvantages is generally a good thing. I presume it's for this reason that the Fate versions I've seen don't just give you a pool of points but specify how many skills of what value you must buy in chargen.

So what other options are there?

I recognize that this post is about something very similar, but there's no answer satisfying my requirements.

From the description, Apocalypse World and its derivatives allow for cross-class abilities, but only through experience rather than at chargen. Other suggestions lean toward full point-buy, but that's not what I'm talking about. I don't want complex character generation. And again, I don't want to add abilities from other classes in play, but to have class combination in chargen.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you speak more to how this question isn't a duplicate? If it's only to solicit more answers, this will indeed be closed as a duplicate. We encourage the awarding of bounties to attract attention instead. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 15 '14 at 0:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've marked it as a duplicate to prevent incoming answers muddying the waters. I am happy to remove said marking after clarification of difference. I do encourage you to improve the other question first, however. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 15 '14 at 1:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton So, in my opinion: it's not a duplicate because the other question and its answers are specifically about "I removed levels. So how do 'multiclass' characters advance?" This question is "I've removed advancement altogether. Can I still have 'multiclassing' for pretty-much-static characters?" I don't see a way to get this question to fit into that question without basically copy-pasting three whole paragraphs into an "Okay, but what about this special case?" bounty notice -- that doesn't smell like a dupe to me. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Feb 15 '14 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay, I've edited the title. I've left this on hold because I'm not certain that is what you're asking, @Tristan. If its, comment, and I'll reopen. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 15 '14 at 1:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you want multiclassing to achieve in your system? What purpose is it serving? Why do you want to include it? What aspects do you definitely want to include? What aspects do you definitely want to exclude? \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Dec 2 '14 at 22:37

Well, you can do what some versions of D&D did: define an explicit set of abilities for each "multiclass" combo rather than just saying "you get everything from both classes."

For example, let's say your game includes these character types:

  • Ragebear: +4 Power; abilities: Massive Rage, Fur Armor, Indomitable, Smash Anything.
  • Stickyfingers: +4 Speed; abilities: Shadow-Sneaking, Pilfering, Dirty Fighting, Climb Anything.

For your multiclass Ragebear/Stickyfingers, you could write:

A Ragebear/Stickyfingers gets +2 Power and +2 Speed. She can use Massive Rage and Fur Armor like a Ragebear, and Shadow-Sneaking and Climb Anything like a Stickfingers.

Short and sweet since you're referencing preexisting powers, but now the combination class has its own identity and flavor, as well as a set of abilities you deem balanced and logical rather than just a pure superposition of both character types.

Note how choosing abilities to exclude actually further defines both the multiclass combo and the individual classes. By denying the Ragebear/Stickyfingers the Indomitable power, I'm establishing her as more slippery but less resilient than the pure Ragebear. By denying the Ragebear/Stickyfingers the Pilfering power, I'm creating more opportunities for her to use her Ragebear abilities to fight for treasure (after Shadow-Sneaking and Climbing her way to the treasure, of course).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was just going to say "This reminds me of D&D races". That is, a Half-Orc is mechanically a new race, only the name relates it to the existing Orc. This isn't what I want. \$\endgroup\$ – Tristan Klassen Feb 15 '14 at 22:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TristanKlassen I fail to see the relationship. This is more like D&D 4e multiclass feats, boiling a class down to its most iconic/important features and making a handful of them available through multiclassing. That's nothing like the half-orc being mechanically dissimilar to the orc--quite the opposite, in fact. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Feb 16 '14 at 1:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW, Actually, I feel this answer is closer to 4e Hybrid classes than to 4e multiclassing. Which, considering Hybrids are basically the exact thing the OP is talking about (in the 4e context), makes sense. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian S Feb 16 '14 at 9:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrianS Yes, the 4e hybrid class system is another example of the kind of mechanic AlexP describes. It is also unlike the D&D race mechanic to which Tristan is comparing this answer, which was the main thrust of my comment. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Feb 16 '14 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another benefit of the "curated" approach is that I can do this: "A Stickyfingers/Delusionist gets +2 Speed and +2 Gorm. He can use Pilfering and Dirty Fighting like a Stickyfingers, and Coat of Many Colors and "Hello, Bestie!" like a Delusionist." Now each multiclass Stickyfingers has different powers tailored to the overall class combo. (Or I could decide that Dirty Fighting should be unique to pure-class Stickyfingers and not give it to any multiclass combos.) \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Feb 16 '14 at 17:41

There are a couple of alternate solutions to a mechanized disadvantage system that exhanges advantages for disadvantages or bonuses for penalties.

Establish Ability Levels
Give every ability 2 levels, and create no binary abilities (i.e. everything must scale). A character with a single archetype gets all those abilities at 2. A character with two archetypes gets all his archetype abilities at 1. The key is making each ability and each ability level matter, and that's going to hinge on your system and core mechanic.

  • Example: In a game of fantasy high sorcery, a fire-water mage's versatility far outstrips the versatility of the fire mage or the water mage, but the fire mage can walk on fire and teleport from pyre to pyre and the water mage can walk on water and teleport from puddle to puddle, but the fire-water mage can only walk on fire and walk on water.
  • Example: In a game of science fantasy, the psionic robot is capable of short-term mind control, line-of-sight telepathic communication, feats of robot strength, and using his onboard computer to astrogate. The psionic can enslave the weak-minded permanently and communicate telepathically with anyone anywhere, while the robot's feats of robot strength take down small structures and his onboard computer permits a 1 km 3-D view of his surroundings.

This is the easiest to grasp but the hardest to implement because of the huge amount of balancing that must be done to make sure no one feels cheated.

Social Restrictions
Have combination archetype characters be treated differently from single archetype characters by the campaign world's inhabitants. This can be mechanized via things like penalties when making first impressions, making friends, or starting romances, but needn't be if the GM is willing to make a serious go of it. Usually, such social restrictions are easily overcome by the player by having his character avoid circumstances that would require such interaction. However, in a carefully managed campaign, such restrictions could serve as suitable limitations. Published examples of this abound, but are rarely formalized; for example, in many Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, choosing orc (or goblin or kobold or xvart) as the character's race or (in first edition) assassin as the character's class carries with it severe baggage that isn't reflected on the character sheet.

  • Example: In a game of fantasy romance, the warrior-burglars, because they were trained never to form close ties to anyone, can't easily begin romantic relationships. While the other characters are off flirting, wooing, and romancing--one of this hypothetical game's major activities--the warrior-burglar is struggling just to flirt.
  • Example: In a game of cyberpunk thieves' guilds, the ninjaborg, because of his cyberware, can't fit in with the other ninja (aw...), and is the first to be blamed for his team's failures by his ninja master. Alternately, in a game of cyberpunk soldiers, the ninjaborg will be looked at askance by his superiors, often held in contempt for swording enemies when he should just be blowin' up crap with his rocket launcher like a good soldier.

If you're planning to publish, this is usually considered lousy game design. The ways GMs interpret the rules you set forth will vary wildly from table to table, so your game won't travel well. However, with a detailed enough background that carefully explains interactions, it can work. If you're not planning on publishing, this totally works because you know how the world should react in general and in weird corner cases.

Role-playing Restrictions
The inverse of social restrictions, instead of the world limiting the character, the character limits the world. His combination of abilities prevents him from taking certain actions or dictates his actions in certain circumstances. These can be mechanized to with a series of bonuses or penalties to various actions, but are usually expressed as a series of Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not statements. The best and probably most controversial published example of this is Dungeons and Dragons paladin class and its code.

  • Example: In a game of fantasy church intrigue the enchanter-acolyte must attempt to convert any unbeliever he meets. The rules supply what attempt, convert, unbeliever, and meet mean. The enchanter and the acolyte have no such binds.
  • Example: In a game of contemporary C.S.I.s, the officer-scientist must accompany officers when officers attempt to arrest a perp the officer-scientist has gathered evidence to identify. Further, if the officer-scientist is mistaken in his identification, the perp can take legal action. The rules need to supply definitions for these circumstances, too. The officer needn't to go on calls, content to interrogate perps at the station after other NPC officers bring them in, and the scientist can putter in the safety of his laboratory.

This, too, is considered poor published game design because unless the rules are very carefully written, players will lawyer their ways out of role-playing restrictions. Further, the consequences for disobedience must be severe enough that violating them hurts but doesn't take the character out of the game permanently. That's a difficult balancing act.

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Create your classes as lists of bonuses and lists abilities.

For a multi-class character, you get the average of the bonuses, and pick some abilities from class A and some from class B. If not all abilities are equal, you get N choices from class A/B sublist 1 and Y choices from class A/B sublist 2.

Going back to AlexP's Ragebear/Stickyfingers example:
Ragebear: +4 Power; abilities: Massive Rage, Fur Armor, Indomitable, Smash Anything.
Stickyfingers: +4 Speed; abilities: Dirty Fighting, Shadow-Sneaking, Pilfering, Climb Anything.

For example, you get +2 Power and +2 Speed (instead of +4 to either), and either the (a) or (b) abilities from each row of the following list:
* a) Massive Rage, b) Dirty Fighting
* a) Fur Armor, b)Shadow-Sneaking
* a) Indomitable, b) Pilfering
* a) Smash Anything, b) Climb Anything

Be warned, though, every option you give someone increases the difficulty in retaining cross-class balance. Here we have 2 classes, turning into 8 combinations of ability sets.

You could reduce the combinations to 6 by making ability sets rather than individual abilities, which may aid things. For example, instead of the above (a)/(b) list, you might give the following choices for abilities, allowing one choice (a) and one choice (b):
- a) Massive Rage and Fur Armor, b) Dirty Fighting and Shadow-Sneaking
- a) Indomitable and Smash Anything, b) Pilfering and Climb Anything

This version rules out certain combinations of class abilities, which may be too powerful, or even too weak. Or just problematic because they would interact oddly.

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First and foremost I don't know what kind of system you're working with which will radically change any suggestions I make. So any comments or edits made by OP will reflect later. However, the following systems have some analogous merit:


The obvious herein lies. In D&D, the editions vary greatly in what multiclassing involves:

  1. Splitting all XP evenly over all classes
  2. Picking which class gets the next level
  3. Choosing at char-gen which (up to) two classes you'll have ever, and divide level-based advantages over the two evenly.

All of the above include sharing the ideological restrictions of all classes to retain their abilities but are ultimately full of Ethical Contortionist moments and quickly get discarded as the only mechanical disadvantage to any class except conflicting alignments to get in no matter how the character acts.


L5R is technically a class based system and would most follow the caveat of D&D.2 for splitting classes but its system includes explicit (dis)advantages that can only be chosen at character creation. Some disadvantages can be stamped onto a player for no reward except RP fun. Some advantages can be bought for a steep inflation in play, but all at GM discretion.

Now what sets L5R apart from most class-based systems is that the skills you train don't need to have anything to do with your "class". You can have a character advance through a warrior class and never put points into any of the skills that school starts you with. I have quite literally played a character with a bushi (warrior) school, and put about 3/4 of my XP into social skills because he was supposed to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. My school advanced because characters have "Insight Ranks" that are based on the sum off all traits and skills, not just the ones it puts to use. If I really wanted to, I could have had two schools: the bushi and the courtier and divided the points over the skills as an equally effective method in many respects.


One of the few things that I liked about NWoD (or "New" World of Darkness) is that you could take as many disadvantages as you liked, but you only received the mechanical drawbacks for them. It was considered that you shouldn't cripple your character for points but for the sake of good RP, if a character needed it the rules were there. Otherwise this isn't a class-based system except for what starting template you pick, and you're not (traditionally) allowed to mix templates without dire results.

7th Sea

One thing I liked about 7th Sea is that other than your character's "Arcana", which if anything fills the blank at all is the only circumstance a character can get points back by getting a Hubris - a tragic flaw (note that it can swing the other way for a singular Virtue) However, in 7th Sea they pull the pendulum the other way and (essentially) make you pay for your disadvantages. They have something called "Backgrounds" which are things you can buy as your character's plot points essentially. Nemesis, Lost Love, Hunted, Mistaken Identity, Fear, and Vow are things that cost you points instead of return them. Granted these increase the amount of XP you receive and could be worth more to you in the long run. However, the XP is only granted when your background causes the party problems as part of the story and requires resolution so it's a brute force method of making players earn the points.

In this game there aren't classes per ce because a character's roles tend to be anchored in things they buy at creation. Mostly this is because they rely heavily on advantages bought when the character with the exception of 'Swordsman' Schools which can be bought later. With this game you are fairly branded by how your char gen goes because buying access to things you don't have is quite expensive. This however doesn't mean that the skills are not expansive. As long as you can afford it you can generally have as many different abilities in parallel as you want.

Warhammer Fantasy

Warhammer Fantasy has a very modular class system called Career Paths where you can stay in any given class/career as long as you want but there will be a point where you've bought everything and you need to move on - whether along the same path/tree or if you start something new and work from there. Granted, if you don't finish what you've started you can't access it until you revert to that class and you restore it as though you never left. Ultimately this is designed for long term play and char-gen is the tip of the iceberg rather than the base of the pyramid, but you can switch "classes" almost at a whim but there are barriers to entry.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Note the OP's first paragraph: "And there's no advancement, or at least sufficiently little advancement that the choices made at chargen always define the character." \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Feb 16 '14 at 17:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've tried to note where it doesn't match the slow/no advancement clause but ultimately he was wondering how other games handled multi- and hybrid-classing. As someone who is working on a game personally, I know that you can't just tunnel vision to one thing that perfectly matches your design. My system has underwent severe changes to promote playability over initial vision. I even use the term "analogous" in my own opening paragraph and am always willing to tailor my answer to the OP's needs or actual errors within my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Feb 16 '14 at 17:51

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