Question (dealing with multi-classin) NEWB here

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My friends and i are playing D&D V3.5 and since we are all new to the whole D&D thing i had a question all of us have been scouring the internet for, so here it is, does a character have to be a certain level to multiclass, for example, i am a lvl 1 paladin literally starting from scratch can i multiclass as a fighter, cleric etc. right then and there or do i have to wait until i am at a certain level?

thats my question, now i know i would want to wait or i am sure you have multiclass characters that are "awesome" but really i would just like my answer first lol then you can tell me your opinions and or thoughts (and trust me i'll read them) anyway thanks to you whoever answers my post in advance, though i will thank you again.

 Whenever you gain a new character level, you decide which class to take that level in. If it's the first time you've taken a level of that class, you become a 1st level character in that class and gain the hit points, base attack bonus, saving throw bonuses, skill points and all the class features of a 1st level character of that class. You add those to whatever you currently have from your other classes. If you take another level of that class at a later date, then you become a 2nd level character of that class. Having widely different levels of more than one class will cause you to take an XP penalty.

 At 1st level, you start as one single class. For this example assume you're a rogue (Starting as a rogue gets you crazy amounts of skills). When you reach 2nd level, you can either become a 2nd level rogue, or you can take 1st level in some other class. You decide to become a 2nd level rogue, because you want the new class feature they gain at 2nd level.
You're now a 2nd level character, and a 2nd level rogue.

When you hit 3rd level, you decide to take a level of swashbuckler. You are now a 1st level swashbuckler and gain all the class features and skill points they get at 1st level. You are also a 2nd level rogue, so now you're a 3rd level character who is a rogue 2/swashbuckler 1.
Your hit points are 2d6 + 1d10 and your Base Attack Bonus, Reflex, Will, and Fortitude are the total of a 1st level swashbuckler and a 2nd level rogue.
You don't gain anything new from being a rogue, because you didn't advance a level in that class.

At 4th level, you can choose to become either a rogue 3/swashbuckler 1, a rogue 2/swashbuckler 2, or take the 1st level of another class (rogue 2/swashbuckler 1/ranger 1 perhaps?).

 In general, characters who are spellcasters are better off not multiclassing too much because you lose out on your full spellcasting progression - a 9th level wizard willl have access to a higher level of wizard spells than a wizard 6/rogue 3.

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Just to add to Mad_Jack.  If your DM is playing By The Rules As Written (RAW), there is a XP penalty if your multiple classes exceed a level separation of greater than 1.  So in Mad_Jack's last example a level 6/3 Wizard/Rogue would have a 20% XP penalty (whatever XP awards you are given you take 20% off the top - 1000XP would be 800XP).  But a 5/4 would not have a penalty.  The penalties are NOT retroactive and can be eliminated by restoring the balance.  That same 6/3 wizard/rogue can focus on leveling rogue and by 11th level the penalties go away (6/5).

To counterbalance this each race has a "favored class" where if you multiclass with that race's favored class it does not count toward that penalyty.  So an Elf's favored class is wizard, so that 6/3 Wizard/Rogue would not have a penalty if the character race is Elf.  Humans can "choose" their favored class.

Some DMs are more forgiving and forego this rule to varying degrees. I have played with DMs that forego it altogether (multiclass as much as you want).  I have played with DMs that allow modification of the race favored class (within reason). I have also played with a DM who said you can multiclass with two classes and not incur a penalty regardless of favored class, but go beyond two classes and the penalties are applied.  I am currently playing in a campaign where the DM does multiclassing RAW.

As for opinions and thoughts on the concept.  multiclassing is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand you get more abilities from your two or more classes, but you progress more slowly.  Further, certain classes in combination with others has some drawbacks in 3e.  Multiclass a wizard and if you want to cast wizard spells you cannot wear armor (unless you want to risk spell failure).  That being said, the right combination of classes can be better than any one of them as a stand alone.

 

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