Save My Game 03/03/2006

Basic Attack Bonuses

This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!

Getting Shorted on Base Attack Bonuses?

What's a DM to do when players with multi-class characters complain about getting ripped off over their base attack bonuses? This installment of Save My Game examines some of the plusses and minuses of multi-classing.

Problem: Why Do Multi-Class Characters Lose Out on BABs?

Say you have 1 level in a class with +0 BAB (base attack bonus) @ first level, say wizard. Next level you cross class into a different class with 0 BAB @ first level, say rogue. So you have a Wiz-1/Rog-1 with BAB: +0. That's a 2 HD PC. Now if you would have taken that 2 HD as either Wiz-2 OR Rog-2, the PC would have BAB: +1. Maybe you could defend above statement with the fact that it takes time to switch professions and skills, I just don't like that response.

-- Deluxe 247 G, Wizards message boards

You have a point there, because it does seem odd that your BAB (base attack bonus) progression should work that way. Before you go too much further, though, you need to think all the way around the problem of 'first levels' for classes, because the issue you raise goes beyond BAB. It also has to do with what benefits a first level should give you when it is your starting character level vs. when you pick up a new class in mid-career.

Some parts of the rules address this distinction. You get maximum hit points only for your class hit die at your first level ever, not each time you take a 'first level' in a class. You get quadruple skill points only for your class at your first level. You get starting money (and bonus equipment if you use character regions) only at your first level.

What about saving throws? Your 'good' saves go up +1 per two levels, your bad saves +1 per three, so we should be able to accumulate our fractional save bonuses across classes using the same logic, right? If you're a 2nd level ranger, your Will save bonus is 2 x 1/3 (rounded down to zero), so when you take two levels of rogue you should add 2 x 1/3 for that. Instead of having both round down to zero, you could add them and end up with 4/3, rounding down to +1.

Either approach would also make prestige classes less annoying to take. You often end up at +1/+4 in your save bonuses at 5th level. What happens if you go into a prestige class instead of taking a 6th level in your starting class? Instead of advancing to +2/+5, you have to start all over with a new save progression. Shouldn't your prestige class fractions add with your base class fractions? You take the same hit in partial-BAB prestige classes -- a 5th level wizard has a 5 x 1/2 BAB, so when she takes her first level in a new 1/2 BAB class, shouldn't her BAB go to +3, rather than getting +0 and having to wait another level to improve?

Let's take the saving throw argument a step further. It's a reasonable assertion that the +2 bonus you get to your 'good' saves at your first class level is a benefit that should be reserved for 1st level characters, like maximum hit points. You could simplify all of the class tables by taking out the save progression and simply indicating a fractional 'good' or 'bad' and noting that characters get a permanent +2 bonus to their 'good' save type based on their initial career choice. After your first level, you could use your cumulative fractional BAB and save progressions.

The same logic could also be applied to prestige classes offering fractional caster level improvement. If I take three levels of Shining Blade of Heironeous (advancement 1/2) and one level of Hospitaler (advancement 3/4), that should be good enough for 3/2 + 3/4 = 2 1/4, or +2 caster levels. As long as it all adds to the same thing (divine caster level in this case), it's all nice and legal.

All of the above makes a certain logical sense and wouldn't be nearly as complicated to implement as it sounds. But that begs the question, do you really want to do it? The differences you're talking about are noticeable, especially at low levels, but are they important enough to warrant rewriting parts of the rules? Maybe they are, if they really irritate you. The existing rules resulted from a decision by the people who wrote the rules, and you don't have to agree with their philosophy on how things should work (just look at the recent Design & Development columns, where the folks in R&D discuss their likes and dislikes of the current design).

But consider this -- Design-wise, there are ways in which the rules reward single-classing, such as making sure you don't miss break-points where you would lose points of save, BAB, caster level, or class ability advancement. There are also ways in which the rules reward multi-classing, such as allowing potentially faster save advancement (by repeating the +2 good save bonus at first levels) and broadening your access to more and different class skills and abilities. In choosing either path, you sacrifice advantages that might come from going the other route. A single-class character has some advantages offensively, while a multiclass character's advantages are more often defensive (e.g., piling up save bonuses while also collecting low-level class abilities such as evasion, divine grace, and uncanny dodge).

If you're looking for an in-game rationale for why the tables work the way they do, you won't find one. The tables themselves are a game-mechanical construct, so any discussion of their purpose cannot help but be a metagame conversation. There's no particular in-game reason for the breakpoints and fractional advancement to work the way they do. If that's important to you, you'll need to invent your own reason, or change the rules to something that fits a rationale that you can live with. Or just say, "Well, them's the rules, what-EVAH!" and get on with the game!

About the Author

Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, son Allen, and dog Bear. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.

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