Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Gestalt: A Tale of Two Classes

So first and foremost I feel like I should leave a disclaimer.  This article is about running a "Gestalt" level game.  This involves heavy home-brewing and toying with some of the fundamentals of a system.  I understand this is not for everyone and that's ok.  If you are someone who does not enjoy tweaking and changing mechanics from the ones provided please do not send hate as this article is probably not meant for you.

What is Gestalt? For those that have never heard of it, Gestalt is a gave variant most commonly used in Pathfinder, but in theory can be applied to any system that uses classes.  The core idea is that characters basically embody a hybrid of two classes rather than taking a single class.  In this players have access to all of the class features of both classes, all the skills from both skill lists, the higher of the two's Hit Dice, the higher of the two's number of starting skills or skill points, and the weapon, armor, saves, and tool proficiency of both classes.  This is a set of rules that makes for incredibly powerful characters and is definitely not something for everyone.

Why play Gestalt? So the question comes, "Why would anyone want to play such a drastic house-rule?"  Well the simple answer is, "Why would people want to play a game of super heroes?"  To me a Gestalt game is the fantasy (As I play it using D&D) equivalent of a supers game.  The players can be a bit tougher if built a certain way, but everyone will be more competent.  It also opens up player creativity as they can mix and match themes to become something above and beyond what a single class can define.  I will also say this is a game that can be your min/maxer's dream and be warned that some combos can really become insane, but that doesn't mean you can't do the same.

So how does is work with the newest D&D (5e)? Honestly, I get a sneaking feeling someone in the WotC design team was pretty familiar with Gestalt games when designing this edition.  The proficiency system translates perfectly to these games as there is no longer comparing attack bonuses or which class has the higher saves.  Instead everyone has the same proficiency.  There is also next to no over lap in class features with the exception of "Expertise" between the bard & rogue and the 5th level "Extra Attack" combat focus classes get.  In a standard gestalt game if you have the same feature from both of your classes you only get it once.  I made a modification for 5th as one instance is incredibly niche and the other is so broad it simply punishes players that dont want one of there classes to be a primary caster.  In the odd case that someone chooses to become a bard/rogue when they get Expertise from the bard class they instead get the "Skilled" feat and if a player takes two classes that both gain "Extra Attack" they instead gain a bonus feat.  The only other modification I had to make to the rules was a minor tweak in wording to allow the Barbarian's & Monk's "Unarmored Defense" stack.

Yes I know this changes some of the design choices that were placed in 5th Edition to prevent min/maxing combos, but those combinations are the heart of why people play a Gestalt game and as I said before this is a complete house-rules rule set.  If the idea of letting a monk/barbarian have a higher AC than either would alone upsets you I can safely say these kinds of games aren't for you and that's ok.

Lastly D&D 5th Edition brings a very unique complication to the ideas of a Gestalt game.  The path system is  a stroke of genius that let WotC simply makes slots to modify their core classes rather than floor the system with dozens of slightly different classes.  The problem comes in when someone in a Gestalt game might want to be a Thief/Assassin or Champion/Eldritch Knight.  How would that work with so much of the class being well the same class?  I'll answer that in Part 2... 


  1. One thing I'd recommend to anyone running a Gestalt game, make sure that all of your players are familiar with the regular system and comfortable at normal high-level play in those systems. The biggest disadvantage of Gestalt build games is that players are often presented with so many options and so many unfamiliar rules that they end up frustrated. I was in a Gestalt game in which most of the players were miserable because their character sheets were 6 pages long and they had no idea what over half of their stuff did.

  2. Fully agree, I would never present something this option intense to anyone even removely unfamiliar with the rules.