Continuing on yesterday’s theme, here’s another review of a sub-system from Pathfinder Unchained. Following up on yesterday’s theme of multiclassing, here’s a review of the Variant Multiclassing system presented on pages 88-91. And…it’s a very interesting system. Variant multiclassing lets a character replace every other feat gained with abilities from a chosen class. At 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th, and 19th level, the character picks up abilities from the secondary class.
The book notes that it would be difficult (but possible) to mix this with traditional multiclassing. The only real restriction is that a character cannot take actual levels in the secondary class from which they are gaining abilities at 3rd, 7th, etc. levels. Effectively, this means that a character could gain abilities from three different classes. Basically, the character would just take levels in two different classes and select a third class from which to receive secondary abilities. To build that old school 2nd Edition fighter/cleric/mage, a character could start out as a fighter and select wizard as her secondary class. Then, she would take every other level as a cleric (using the fractional base bonuses system, of course). I’ll take a look at the options, but it seems like fighter is the best plan for an actual class here because you continue picking up feats. I’ll have a look at the cleric and wizard secondary class abilities and decide which makes more sense.
The book provides secondary classes for all the classes in the Core Rulebook and the Advanced Players Guide as well as the magus and the gunslinger. A few thoughts on the classes from the Core Rulebook:
Barbarian: Lets a character pick up the rage ability at 3rd level as well as evasion at 7th. You’re only going to pick up one rage power, at 11th level. At higher levels, DR 3/-- seems attractive as does greater rage, but that’s levels 15 and 19—so not necessarily all that useful. I’m a little bit meh on making this choice.
Bard: Pick up bardic knowledge at level three but get to use character level instead of bard level to determine the bonuses. This is a great start. At 7th level you pick up inspire courage at character level -4, but your rounds of performance is limited to 4 plus Charisma modifier. Versatile performance is nice at 11th level, especially since the ability allows the PC to reallocate skill ranks in the two associated skills. Lore master at 15th and additional performances at 19th are okay, but don’t bring a lot to the table that late in the game. That said, the first three powers on the bard are extremely helpful. This is a solid choice for a secondary class.
Cleric: Not a solid choice. At first level, you have to pick your deity (makes sense) but do pick up spontaneous casting for healing spells if the spell list from your other class has cure spells on it. This is pretty solid. At 3rd level, you get one of your deity’s 1st level domain powers, but do use it at character level. You’re not channeling energy until 7th level and even then for very few times per day, although the restrictions become less onerous at the 11th, 15th, and 19th level power ups. On the bright side, you channel at your character level. Seems like a solid choice to get healing into a party that doesn’t have it. But, this won’t mix well with primary classes that lack access to cure spells. Might be an interesting choice for a bard…
Druid: Learn to speak Druidic (usefulness will vary game to game) at 1st level. Pick up wild empathy at 3rd level, but use it at character level. Must take a companion at 7th level and improve it at 11th level. No wildshaping until 15th level and it’s really limited until 19th level. Not a very solid choice.
Fighter: Pick up bravery at character level -1, and the first two armor training and weapon trainings. This isn’t a terrible pick, but it’s not a great one either. This could be an interesting way to put a thief into better armor but avoid the penalties.
Monk: Restricted to normal monk weapons at first level, even though don’t pick up anything (even Improved Unarmed Strike) until 3rd level. No ki pool until 11th level, either. There’s a note here that limits ki to lawful characters only, which implies that the alignment restrictions don’t apply for secondary class choices. Not much use here, nor is this secondary class that useful. But, this little change opens up some interesting options for barbarians and for paladins.
Paladin: Pick up aura of good, but the detect evil ability only kicks in at 3rd level and it’s frozen at equivalent to 1st level paladin. Don’t pick up smite evil until 11th level and then it’s effectively at character level -4. Do get lay on hands at 7th level. There are some possibilities here, but I don’t love it.
Ranger: This is a decent option. You’re picking up tracking at 3rd level, which is meh. But, you’re picking up favored enemies and terrains at 7th and 11th and quarry at 19th. Is it worth 5 feats…unclear though.
Rogue: Trapfinding at 3rd level, sneak attack at 7th level (that increases by 1d6 every 4 levels), evasion at 11th, and uncanny dodge and improved uncanny dodge make this a solid choice. Definitely worth considering.
Sorcerer: Must pick a bloodline at 1st level but can’t use its power till 3rd level. I’d house rule this restriction away—it’s cooler in the story to have the sorcerer’s abilities manifest and a bloodline can get picked that’s more in tune with what the player has been role-playing. Pick up bloodline powers at 3rd, 7th, 15th, and 19th levels. Pick up a bonus bloodline feat at 11th level. This seems meh to me, but maybe it’s cool to have some sorcerer powers without the spellcasting. Not as good as rogue or bard, but not terrible either.
Wizard: You’re forced to take a specialty school and are basically restricted to powers from that school. You pick up a familiar at 3rd level and otherwise it’s powers from the school. Cantrips as a spell-like ability at will at 11th level seems little and late.
I don’t think many of the options in this system are very appealing, with the exception of the bard and the rogue’s abilities. The others just don’t make up for the 5 feats the character is losing. Cleric and Paladin might make sense if your core class is fighter—losing only a quarter of your feats isn’t as rough as losing half of them. As a GM, I think it’s fine to allow this system. It disrupts very little because you’re essentially designating a pre-determined feat tree. Players just aren’t getting a lot for choosing to do so.