Almost every long-running campaign has had players changing characters in D&D. “I want to play a warlock now!” Something like this happens a lot, but I am here to help you deal with it appropriately.
In order to change characters in D&D, you need to not make the change too enticing, but not too punishing. There are quite a few fair ways to do this.
We will go over the reasons why changing characters is a potential problem for others and then go over all the ways to go about changing characters in D&D. After rigorous testing, I believe that I have found the best method.
“I want to change into a barbarian since my warrior kind of sucks.”
“Cool! Roll up a warrior since no one wants to see you play a character you don’t like.”
You have opened up Pandora’s Box.
There were no restrictions, you didn’t say what the consequences are when players start a new character, or what to do with the old character. Yes, you do not need to explicitly state all of that to the player but you need to give them some deterrent.
I came from AD&D and character death was fairly regular. If a person kept a character alive they wore it as a badge of honor and loved that character. Not so in my high school 3.5 years.
These people didn’t die every other session and therefore had not played every class at least twice. Since they hadn’t played every class they wanted to try out new classes.
This is understandable, but what if all your fighters want to change to paladins at level 11? How does that affect your campaign? This is also 3.5, the era of powergaming so what happens when people switch classes to optimize for that particular mission?
Now, this is a stretch, but my players did just re-make their characters by getting new ones until they had the most OP min-maxed character possible. What is worse, the players kept getting magic items so that when a character died the new characters inherited the old items.
It was a disaster in one campaign and I had to lay down some ground rules.
The problem with this is that most people do not try to min-max their characters. Most want to try new classes because they genuinely feel that the class isn’t right for them or that they just need to do something different.
But what about the other players that are not changing characters?
Not fair to others.
Changing character in D&D is not fair to others. Or so many would claim.
I see their perspective. A person has built up their character from a lower level, dealt with consequences and not optimized their character to be the best it possibly can. That is okay and part of the journey.
What is not fair is someone else coming in at the same level with the same gear throwing away all those consequences and making a shiny new character that is most likely more powerful than everyone else.
Again, not everyone powergames it but when you get the go ahead to make a new character at level 7, you will have done some research.
I would hazard to say that most D&D players do an associate degree’s worth of research to find out the best ways to maximize their new class.
Aside from the powergaming issue, the player who came into the game doesn’t have a history with their character. Yes, they may have a backstory but what good is a backstory when you compare it to 6 levels of investment and 6 months of real-time in order to get to know the character?
It doesn’t amount to anything and you know it, the new player knows it, and everyone else knows it. That character is just a bunch of numbers that are meant to be an experiment.
This is why you need to figure out if changing classes is even a good idea.
When to change classes
Death is an obvious reason for changing classes in D&D but we will cover that later.
For now, we will be discussing if a player has a live character and wants to change into another class.
If you are changing classes only do so as a last resort option. Usually, there is a different reason why a player wants to change class.
Players can believe that they don’t know how to roleplay this class. They may also think that this class isn’t fun because they are not able to grasp the core mechanics well enough. Even if it is curiosity you need to know.
When a player changes because they don’t know how to roleplay the class it is them feeling unnecessarily responsible.
I know that unnecessarily responsible is a strong term, but it is the truth. A player feels that they didn’t protect nature enough, weren’t kind enough, etc. These players will feel the same issues in a new class and need to learn that not everything is perfect.
A stereotype druid is not what most players play. Players start out trying to be that druid and then turn into something different. Many druids are somehow chaotic and will burn down a forest in order to do slash and burn effect. Just talk to them and try to resolve the issue. Give them a different perspective.
If you are unsure about how to help them I highly suggest this article on roleplaying to help you out.
For those who can’t grasp the core mechanics, they usually state that they aren’t useful or the class doesn’t do anything. This is 90% of the time because they do not understand the class. If you tell them that they can do more than shoot a bow or cast a cantrip their world will be opened up and they will have fun playing that class.
For those wanting change, you should just let them change characters BUT with the best method to do so. You can scroll down to it now but I highly suggest looking at all the other pit traps that people can fall into and why this method is great.
There is also always the option of multiclassing….
Why not multi-class?
A player is unhappy and wants to get a whole new character. They want something fresh and there is no other way to do it than changing characters in D&D! Or is there?
When players want something fresh they want something new. I know it sounds like I am repeating myself, but consider multi-classing. It adds something new to existing mechanics which the player is familiar with to add variety and keep interest.
What other thing does this? Video games!
This is a common tactic used in video games and you can use this tactic as well. Just ask them what they want to do or what their character is missing and ask why an extra class cannot provide it.
There is less work for you and the player who is distraught. It is a win-win for both of you.
Multi-classing is a great solution for changing classes, but beginner players should have the opportunity to just change if they are unhappy with a class.
I believe Adventurer’s league lets any player go about changing characters in D&D before 5th level. This is one of the few rules that I agree with and would highly recommend that you steal it in your games.
Think about it. Players are starting their journey as level 1s with new characters and have absolutely no idea how the classes will work or their character’s personality.
Okay, the players will have some idea how classes work but reading about it and then playing the class is completely different. I might think a wizard is pretty cool because spells are awesome only to find out that I hate spell slots and the concentration mechanic.
One other problem with begging characters is your personality. The player could just not be feeling that character’s personality or that character who is lawful good doesn’t fit in with the chaotic neutral group who’s policy is to burn first and run later.
These games can be interesting and make some of the most interesting parties, but not everyone can pull this off. If the lawful good player is not experienced or the party is just against them then they can feel bullied or left out.
In addition to all of this, pre level 5 doesn’t have a lot of mechanics. Learning a whole new class isn’t as difficult at level 3 as it is at level 12 so the repercussions are not as bad. You also have not attained a lot of loot so dying isn’t as much of a problem.
For all these reasons I would highly suggest that you let your players change characters at level 5 and below.
One thing that you never want to do however is force a player to change classes.
“I don’t like wizards so just don’t play one.” Some dungeon masters use this as an excuse for changing classes in D&D.
Personally, I think this is a terrible excuse.
If you have a personal bias against a class and do not tell your players upfront you should not force them to change classes. This can be done in many ways. Telling a player to change their class is not the only way that some dungeon masters work.
Some dungeon masters target a player that they want to die or just don’t give them any items.
I have been in both scenarios.
When a dungeon master says ‘x class never lives long’ or ‘I hate x class’ that means they will unfairly target you and kill you asap. It is unfortunate, but I do not condone this behavior. I think it is abhorrent and shows a personal bias along with a lack of skill in that dungeon master.
If a dungeon master instead of killing the player outright makes their life a living hell by not allowing them to anything, this is when things go very bad.
The player who is the victim can leave, complain, or blow up the game and leave with an air of triumph.
This is where many revenge stories on Reddit and other forums pop up and the player is ALWAYS the one that people side with.
Never subtly sabotage a player. There is no good outcome and they will not just say ‘ok I understand now that my character is gone. I will do what you wish master.’
They will make the same character, be vengeful, or leave your group. Those who leave the group are also not necessarily bad players. They are just leaving because that dungeon master is a pretty terrible person.
I have been very harsh on some dungeon masters who say ‘you can’t play a class’ but there is a way to not have players play a class in a reasonable way.
“Hey, guys. I am making a world that has low magic. If you want to be a wizard your life will be rough and there are no clerics because the gods abandoned this world a long time ago. Magic is dying, and that is part of the setting.”
This dungeon master is telling their players in session 0 something very important. Magic will be hindered and there are no clerics.
At this point, the players have a choice to play the game or not play the game. If the players agree to it then they will understand the challenges that wizards face and that there will be no clerics.
Doing this in session 0 is amazing since you completely avoid any issues with a class that the dungeon master cannot handle or just doesn’t like. This is the way to go about it if you are one of those dungeon masters who have an issue with a particular class.
Do not make them figure out mid-campaign that you are vindictive towards them and force that player to change character. Changing characters in D&D should be a choice later on and never something forced on them.
This way every player is informed, you have solved the issue of changing characters because of biases, and you will solve a lot of character changing issues if you have a problem with a certain class.
If you want to check out more on how to do a session 0 and how vital it is, I would suggest that you read the article.
But now onto the one thing that you have all been waiting for. How to appropriately go about changing characters in D&D.
The Best Method
I know it has been a bit and I usually give the best answer right off the bat but you needed to know what it took to get here so that you don’t make some of those mistakes as well.
The best method to changing characters in D&D is to let them swap whenever to the current party level, but do not give them any items!
LET ME EXPLAIN!
If a player wants to swap characters because they want to overpower their character, changing characters is not the way to do it. They will not have any items for their new character and 7,8,15 levels worth of items are generally more powerful on a moderate character than a brand new character is.
If you’re swapping out old characters, have their old character die AND take all their items with them. Do not let them trade items or whatever else to keep the old items. If they keep the old items there is no penalty. Losing all the items is a huge issue that should not be minimized. If your players are trying to get around it by selling the items, tell them they cannot change characters if they do so.
This is to add a penalty and make the player be very sure before they switch classes. If they really need something new then they can try out a new class, but there should be a penalty for switching characters. It is unfair to other players if you come in with a full set of gear when they have done all the work for every piece of equipment.
This penalty is steeper as the character’s level, but it is designed to be so. Just think, do you want someone swapping from a level 15 fighter to a level 15 wizard? They now have to learn a whole new system, won’t play it to the classes fullest, and the player will not have enough time to unlock its full potential.
The reason why you want to be at the parties current level is for two reasons.
- To not leave them behind and make them useless.
- To make them not feel too penalized and leave the option open.
Losing all your gear is a huge loss and not something that a powergamer would ever want but some players genuinely want to change their class since they are a bit bored of it. For these players, the option should still be open.
In order to keep this option open you need to make sure that the penalty is also not too steep. If you are level one and have no items in a level 6 campaign, join a new game.
If you are at the parties level you will be able to be useful and actually contribute. You will not be as powerful as those with a full 6 levels of items, but you will still be able to do something.
This way, the price isn’t too steep to change characters but it also isn’t too small so that players are encouraged to swap.
There are also those who unfortunately end up changing characters because they died.
“Jimmy you take 20000 pts of damage as the lady slaps you with her glove. As your head flies off your neck you contemplate how this happened.”
Character death happens.
Not quite as ridiculous as above, but it happens. I would argue that if you don’t have character death then there is no real threat in D&D or a way to lose. When this happens I get extremely bored with the game since I cannot lose and I have found that others do too.
Character death can be a whole other topic so I won’t get into it too much here. I will, however, get into what to DO with a player that has lost their character.
When a character dies a player has to go about changing classes in D&D in the most unpleasant manner. Some may be grieving for their character and others may be looking forward to a new experience.
The important thing is to treat this as you would a normal character swap with some leniency if you so desire.
I give all my players a special background item that has some sort of utility purpose. When a character would swap out as described in the best method section they get no items. My players who die (without forcing it to get a new character) get this background item.
I have given them the cube and many different background items like a poker that tells if food is poisonous, a portable alchemy lab, and more.
You can give a player who changes characters due to character death a magic item or two as well, but don’t go overboard. Perhaps one item of the highest magic tier or something.
Again, this part is purely optional but there should still be a penalty for death. The penalty should I believe be lessened if a player died doing their best to survive and play a character instead of just wanting to try something new.
Implementing the changes
You have read the article, the best method, and decided that this is the best way to handle character death but there there is a problem. Your group is already playing.
You can’t tell them about how you want to deal with changing characters in D&D because you have long passed the session 0 era. What should you do?
This is a damage control article to help you in your current game so there is a simple solution.
Talk to them.
Talk to your players and say why you are going to implement this method. Tell them the benefits and reasons before a session begins.
Preferably this is before a character death occurs, but even if one has just happened this is still the best way to go about changing your character swapping policy.
I guarantee that your players will understand and be fine with it even if you are mid-campaign. That is of course unless they have been benefiting off of changing characters without penalty.
If you find an easy way to break the system it is hard to give it up but you need to be stern in order to save your game.
I hope that I was able to help you with changing characters in D&D.
I had a hard time with this for a decade.
On one hand, players really do want to try new things and you should let them have a chance to do so.
On the other hand, you do not want them to abuse your kindness and create the most powerful monsters with 5 characters worth of items.
It took me years to refine ‘the best method’ and I personally think it was one of my most tested and successful home rules on how to deal with changing characters.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!