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Can multi-classing improve a sorcerer's solo-potential?

And how should I do this?

My friend has started a new series of 3.5 D&D sessions where I have been leveling my half-elf sorceress.

Due to in-game events and elaborate RP, my character has been forced to solo a lot, and will probably keep doing so with only occasionally teaming up with others. She is currently level 6, and the rest of the PC's are level 4. In order to tome her XP-gain down, she has Craft Wondrous Items.

Now, I have been considering multi-classing in order to improve my solo-potential. I can dish out enough damage already as a sorcerer, but I can barely take any hits. I wonder if multi-classing could improve my survivability. For example, taking a level in a healing-class for some self-healing.

However, I have done my research and everyone says NOT to multi-class a caster-class, in order to prevent falling behind. However, because the party has fallen behind instead, would that make multi-classing more viable? If so, what class could successfully fulfill my needs?

Beyond this point, I will explain some details about the situation for those that are interested.

We only use the PHB, the rest is done custom. (I.E. monsters, magic items, etc.)

The setting is custom, just like the bosses. They are no normal monsters, instead customly created creatures that either have a specific way to get beaten or have special abilities that can be countered in a smart way. Their health almost always exceeds 100 HP, but up until now none of them have turned out to be too difficult or easy for us, due to the mechanics.

It is also not sure if we will quit this series of sessions either very soon or far beyond level 20, but we do not plan on stopping at level 20 itself, so it's not like I will lose sorcerer-levels with this decision. I also won't fall behind, because I have two more levels than the rest of the party.

The sessions mainly consist of RP and boss-battles, with surprisingly less dungeon-crawling.


Character: (extremely narrowed down)

Level 6 half-elf sorcerer, chaotic neutral.
STR 8; DEX 18; CON 14; INT 14; WIS 13; CHA 18

Feats can be changed.

Spells:
Level 0

  • Detect Magic
  • Dancing Lights
  • Touch of Fatigue
  • Mending
  • Message
  • Prestidigitation
  • Resistance
  • Detect Poison

Level 1

  • Shield (I have armour that gives no ASF, hence why I choose Shield.)
  • Charm Person
  • Shocking Grasp
  • Feather Fall
  • Grease
  • Identify

Level 2

  • Command Undead (I have a corpse-holding cloak.)
  • Spectral Hand
  • See Invisibility

Level 3

  • Fireball
  • Vampiric Touch

Besides spells, has several daggers at her disposal.


If you need more information, let me know.

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Nothing is going to improve your ability with anything as much as simply getting more and better spells

This is just kind of generally true. You will always be best at whatever it is you want to do by maximizing the number and level of spells you know. More sorcerer levels (or levels in prestige classes that advance sorcerer spellcasting) will always improve you more than levels in anything else.

The PHB, in particular, is really harsh on sorcerers who want to dabble elsewhere

There are extremely limited options. The prestige classes were all written for wizards first: whereas a wizard qualifies for loremaster without even trying, you would have to burn a ton of your very-limited spells known, plus you don’t get enough knowledge skills in-class, so cross-class ranks and entering the class much later are your only options. Archmage is better, but only comes very late, and still puts a sharp requirement on your spells known, while a wizard can trivially fill up his spellbook with whatever he needs to get in.

Furthermore, sorcerers start off a level behind wizards (well, starting at 3rd level), so taking a class that doesn’t advance spellcasting is very painful. As already stated, none of them provide sufficient benefit to justify the move from a purely-optimal standpoint.

The optimal path for your character is just single-classed sorcerer, even though it doesn’t get any class features. The spells are just that good. Between mage armor, grease, glitterdust, fly, solid fog, dimension door, contingency, polymorph, teleport, planar binding, moment of prescience, foresight, gate, shapechange, and time stop, your options for protecting yourself are some of the best in the game. You can boost your defenses, nullify threats, and keep out of harm’s way better than almost anyone.

But optimizing isn’t necessarily the goal here

You have ~2 levels to play with, you want to tone down your advantages over the rest of your party, and you’d like to be a bit more survivable. Well, how does an average of 6 HP and +4 to all saves over single-classed sorcerer sound? With the promise of that save bonus increasing as you improve. Paladin 2 gets Divine Grace, which adds your (very large) Charisma to all saving throws. It also has a d10 HD, and gets that juicy +3 Fortitude just for having it as a good save.

This is a common “sorcadin” build, and paladin 2/sorcerer 18, while definitely and distinctly worse than sorcerer 20, does have some nice things going for it, particularly in the saves category. The weapon and armor proficiencies are nice enough (though without access to supplements, mage armor is still your best armor), plus if you really wanted you could go for eldritch knight (not really recommended, another lost level would suck and you don’t get much for it). In theory, arcane archer 2 for Imbue Arrow is also an option, but that’s 5 lost spellcasting levels relative to a wizard, so you only barely get 8th-level spells; Imbue Arrow’s not worth that.

There are, however, two problems:

  • The PHB paladin is Lawful Good-only
  • The paladin has a multiclassing restriction that prevents you from choosing it

Now, when I play, neither of these rules are in force. Because ultimately, what works for the game is going to depend massively on the character and story. Alignment is too generic and broad to accurately suggest precisely what is or is not appropriate for a character or a story; it’s all-but-impossible to truly have a good one-size-fits-all system. Therefore, I strongly recommend considering these kinds of “fluff restrictions” critically, and to make sure that they are actually improving your game. I often find that they would instead have a negative impact, and thus often ignore them. One of my most successful, long-running, and favorite characters was a devout worshiper of a staunchly anti-undead religion – whose primary class was dread necromancer. Why your CN sorcerer would gain divine grace (note the lower case letters) depends on a lot of variables in your game, but ultimately, in my experience, not only can this sort of thing be explained convincingly, determining convincing explanations fleshes out the character and improves the game and story.

Furthermore, there are, in the wider world of 3.5 supplements, numerous options for supplanting both of these problems; there are paladin variants that allow other alignments, that loosen up the multiclassing restriction, and so on. You don’t have access to them, but the fact that they exist should be a good case to make to your DM.

While we’re on the subject of paladin variants you don’t have access to, there is one that trades Smite Evil 1/day for Inspire Courage +1, 1/day, at 1st level. That’s a pretty good trade for someone who isn’t swinging melee weapons. Alternatively, a ranged smite variant exists; that just is exactly like Smite Evil except it applies to ranged attacks instead of melee attacks. In your case, of course, it’d probably be Smite Law though.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've done some reading about alternative Paladins and discussed it with my DM, and I am honestly considering rolling with that idea. The immense save-boost is especially amazing, and the idea of a chaos-paladin fits surprisingly well in the current story-arch. Do you think taking Evasion as a feat with this would be a decent idea? I tend to evade a lot of AoE spells and abilities, but because of my low HP, even half damage is very threatening. \$\endgroup\$ – Joninean May 9 '15 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Joninean Evasion isn’t awful, but even with that Dex and Divine Grace, at higher levels your poor base Reflex save is going to mean Reflex saves are a weakness of sorts for you. On top of that, Reflex-save-allowing damage sources tend to scale poorly; even with a d4 HD, Reflex saves tend to be the least important ones. At these low levels, though, that Dex and Divine Grace mean your Reflex saves should be very good, so it could be a good investment in simply getting through these levels. Up to you if you want to use a feat permanently on something that will be kind of go away on its own. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 9 '15 at 17:20
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The rule to "never" multiclass a caster-type only applies if your goal is to either be an uber-caster of some type, or to be the most powerful character in the game. It is also a rule that comes from the CharOpt and TO communities. (Character Optimization and Theoretical Optimization)

While some people have no use for being the "best" or "biggest" or "maximized" whatever in a game, learning about these tricks and methods can be quite useful in all sorts of games, no matter what the power level. As a GM, knowing all the tricks can be useful both as encounter boosters, and as player-abuse preventative, as well as giving one an additional (extreme edge) comparative base-line to use as guidance.

In a game that uses only a limited selection of the Core, such as yours, these concepts are useful in the 'interesting ideas' department, and may be useful for inspiration, even if not used literally or exactly.

In this light, I suggest the following "X Stat to Y Bonus" thread from the MinMax community: http://www.minmaxboards.com/index.php?topic=4369.0 I hope you will find it useful and inspirational - the community is quite friendly overall, and most of them are not power-hungry game-destroying people, by the way. Think of them more as a group of gamebusters and extreme testers in the vein of mythbusters and destroy-build-destroy.

This thread lists every possible known way in 3.x and 3.p of applying a particular stat mod to a given bonus. Some of the things covered are how to apply your CHA to the various kinds of AC, Saving Throws, Attack rolls, Hit Points, certain skills, other stats, allies, damage, initiative, and more. You may find it useful in inspiring ideas to logically apply your strengths to your weaknesses in context of your campaign and GM's wishes.

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Arcane builds certain can be complimented by rogue levels. There are prestige classes for it, such as Arcane Trickster.

However, I personally am unconvinced if 2 levels of rogue would give you any more survivability in a what so far is a solo campaign. It does give you evasion, so if you're encountering a lot of other mages perhaps that is something. Rogues, I find, are generally a complimentary class however. They gain sneak attack when flanking which will not help you much when soloing or unless you're in melee when with your group and/or when you get a drop on a monster (when they're flat footed) but even if you build for this (improved invis, sniping, prestige) with 2 levels you'd just get an extra d6. They also have trap finding but as you level up that's not going to scale nor will stealth skills (unless you intend to compliment them with gear and/or magic but often you can do that without the skill ranks).

If you DO intend on taking a prestige class rogue/sorc, my general experience is take as many levels as you need to get access to the prestige class as soon as possible (whether that be 2 or 5 or 1). Then you can choose whether the prestige class is better than the core classes (often is, because most caster prestige classes allow you to continue advancing spell progression while leveling in the prestige class).

From your post it sounds like you understand the cons of taking away from a casters casting level/progression, esp sorcs who advance slowly, so I won't go on there.

Hope that helps!

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This is a great example of how online optimization advice comes from a very specific perspective that does not take context into account. Yes, you never want to lose a spellcasting level if you want maximal casting power, but if you are in a position where you solo a lot, you need more survivability, and another sorcerer level might not get you that.

The trick is what to take that complements, or at least doesn't take away too much from, your existing sorcerer levels and stats.

For survivability, you want AC and HP. You already have some kind of no-ASF armor that is probably as good as you could do with light armor with ASF-reducing tricks. You seem to indicate your problem is getting hit via AC.

Multiclassing Base Classes - Not So Great

If you take a level in pretty much any martial class (fighter, ranger, barbarian) you'll get some hp and a longbow proficiency to complement that high DEX. You don't get any additional benefit from the armor prof, though, and you're only going to get an extra 3 hp on average out of this. Might as well just take Toughness at that point.

Taking a level of a healing class might be better, druid or cleric, mainly to power wands of CLW etc. And a couple extra hp and two save bumps. Not bad, but one level doesn't necessarily help a huge amount with soloing and you don't want to multiclass more than that.

Prestige Classes - Semi OK

If you take a level in Dragon Disciple, you get d12 HD, +1 natural armor, and a bonus spell. That's not terrible. May not be available if you're serious about PHB only. And really it's not as good as your next choice...

Double Down On Sorcerer

It's probably best for you to go full Sorc and plan better for soloing. As a solo sorcerer, you can get swarmed by enemies. So take Levitate or Fly so you can murder orcs safely from on high. Or just Invisibility so you can control your horde of undead without being targeted yourself. Or Mirror Image, you get the idea.

You have a good Con, use that crafting feat to make a CON boost item (Amulet of Health, etc.) that'll get you way more hp than a level in a martial class - both now and over time. The spell False Life will give a good hp boost and align thematically with your necromancy.

Taking a little Use Magic Device to power wands of CLW etc. will get you all the postcombat healing you could want.

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