What is a Level Dip in D&D 5e?
For better or for worse, D&D has a lot of mechanics. When you have a lot of mechanics you get a lot of abbreviations and unique terminology to juggle. It’s a lot to keep track of. If you’re new to the character building scene then one such term you might have found popping up in many discussions is “level dip”.
A level dip is a short foray into a secondary class after a certain number of levels in your character’s primary class. You spend a couple of level-ups on this other class, but you have a goal for doing so such as a specific feature or proficiency that’s granted in the early levels of this secondary class.
This sounds similar to multiclassing, right? It is! But a level dip is again, a short foray. You aren’t going to sink much time or resources into this secondary class. It simply serves as a mechanical way to grant you some goodies from another class that will enhance your character.
Like an ability score increase (ASI), level dips are just one way that you can enhance your character during a level-up. Let’s take a look at what make level dips so unique and, to some, controversial.
Why Would You Take a Level Dip?
A level dip is almost always taken because you, the player, want something from another class that your character doesn’t have and can’t get through their own class. In a sense, you’d take a level dip for the same reason you’d multiclass.
However, level dips are concerned about mechanical value over anything else. A level dip is taken because you want a lower-tier feature from a class or even one of the proficiencies that multiclassing into said class grants you.
Let’s face it, by RAW you’d have to pick up a feat in order to gain proficiency in new skills, weapons, or armor. That’s using one of your valuable and limited ASIs to don some heavier armor or use a new weapon. Honestly, that’s a waste.
Instead, you could take a single level and put it into a new class. Depending on the class you choose you’ll get the proficiencies you desire and more! Take a look at the chart below this paragraph to see all of the proficiencies gained from dipping into any of the classes in the PHB.
Not all level dips are equal, mind you, some have a lot more value than others. Think about what you’re looking to accomplish and choose the best class that mechanically suits your needs.
Some of My Favorite Level Dips
Here are a few of my personal favorite level dips that I like to use for my characters. Feel free to leave some of your favorites in the comments!
Cleric 1 – Grabbing even just a single level in cleric can net you heavy armor proficiency depending on which archetype you chose at 1st-level. Not to mention you’ll, of course, gain some cantrips, spells, and proficiency in light armor, medium armor, and shields.
Fighter 1 or 2 – That first level of fighter is chock-full of value. You’ll gain proficiency with every weapon, shields, as well as light and medium armor. Not to mention that you’ll also pick up a Fighting Style and a consolation prize of Second Wind to boot. For some builds, sticking around for a second level may be worth it to grab Action Surge.
Rogue 2– Your initial dip into rogue will give you some fun goodies such as a new skill and thieves’ tools proficiency. However, you’re going to definitely want to stick around at least one more level for Cunning Action! Being able to take a Dash, Disengage, or Hide action as a bonus action opens up your action economy immensely.
Wizard 2 – If you’re looking to add some arcane magic to your character and want some solid features to go with it, a short dip into wizard is the answer to your desires. The War Magic tradition is exceptional for martial characters for example.
Hexblade Warlock 1 – If you choose to follow the path of The Hexblade for half a second, you’ll be well rewarded. At 1st-level, you’ll get some spells, cantrips, proficiency in medium armor, martial weapons, and shields, Hexblade’s Curse, and Hex Warrior which allows you to use your Charisma modifier when attacking with your attuned weapon.
Are Level Dips Pure Powergaming?
Sort of. I mean most of the time when someone is creating a character build and selecting what mechanics will work best with their ideal build they’re going to take dips to optimize or powergame their build. That being said, level dips are perfectly capable of being explained within the lore of the game.
It’s not difficult to justify your character taking a level or two in fighter, for example. Perhaps your character has trained to be more adept at frontline fighting, but it’s not something they’re going to pursue a complete mastery of.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Character optimization, min-maxing, and powergaming don’t force anyone to forego the role-playing aspect of D&D. Characters can be well-optimized machines and still have plenty of role-playing depth.
It’s also perfectly fine to not allow level dips in your games, however that’s certainly something you should bring up during session 0 of your campaign.
For the record, it’s completely legal to just… not have a role-playing reason for your level dip. You as a player desiring the mechanics your character gains from a level dip is totally cool.
What are the Requirements for a Level Dip?
The requirements for being able to do a level dip are the same as the prerequisites for multiclassing. If you wish to take a level in a class outside of your base class, you need to have a minimum ability score of 13 in one or more ability scores depending on the new class you wish to dip into.
You also need to have a minimum ability score of 13 in the ability scores required for your initial class if you are going to multiclass out of it. This does force us to stretch out our ability score budget if we’re using point buy, but generally, this is worth the investment.
Check out the chart below this paragraph to see all of the prerequisites for the official classes in the Player’s Handbook.
A Level Dip vs. Multiclassing
Think of level dipping vs. multiclassing as the “square vs. rectangle problem”. A square is a special type of rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square; just as a level dip is technically a form of multiclassing, but not all multiclassing is a level dip.
Multiclassing by definition is a character that has two or more classes. This is typically not considered to be the norm for characters in D&D. These characters are generally not masters of a single type of combat or aspect of the game, but instead, take lower to mid-level features from classes and combine them.
Multiclass characters are extremely unique due to this unorthodox style of character build.
A character with a level dip into one or more classes is technically multiclassed, but typically we’d refer to them as just having a level dip in X class. They don’t put a lot of resources or time into their class, but they have picked up some of the novice-level features from it.
Part of the reason for this distinctive terminology is that a true multiclass character tends to have both (or more) of their classes as the focal point of their identity. In the case of a character with a level dip, their additional class(es) tend to take a backseat to their primary class in terms of their character identity.
When is a Level Dip Considered Multiclassing?
So at what point do we consider a quick dip into a class no longer a dip? As the name implies, a level dip is supposed to be short, sweet, and to the point.
Basically, we rush into the class, get everything we need that’s easy to grab off the shelves, and get the hell out.
I would say that a level dip should be considered as anything between 1-3 levels in a class. Anything more than that and you’ve multiclassed.
Of course, this does depend a bit on the game you’re playing. For example, if you’re making a level 5 character for a one-shot and your character is Paladin 3/Sorcerer 2, those sorcerer levels are not just a level dip in the context of the situation.
The Downsides of Level Dips
The issue that a lot of people have with level dips is that there aren’t many downsides to them. I mean take a look at a level dip in fighter. We gain a ton of new proficiencies, a Fighting Style, and Second Windfor the price of one level and ensuring that we have either 13 Strength or Dexterity.
And let’s be real, Dexterity is so powerful in 5th Edition that having a minimum of 13 isn’t by any means detrimental to a character. Even if Dexterity is nowhere near close to their secondary ability score as they’re in heavy armor and don’t get the +AC benefit.
There are a couple of less quantifiable downsides to level dips, though. For starters, it slows down your character’s progression. If you have two rogues in your party and one goes pure rogue and the other goes rogue 19/fighter 1, one rogue is going to be just behind the other in terms of their progression.
For example, the rogue that took a level dip will have less Sneak Attack damage every other level compared to their pure rogue ally. The trade-off, though is all of the awesome fighter benefits they received from their level dip.
The other downside to a level dip is that it removes your character’s ability to gain their primary class’ capstone ability. This can only be gained at level 20 in a class and since D&D 5e only goes up to a total level of 20 you’re out of luck if you’ve multiclassed at all.
The good news is that it’s very rare to go from 1-20 in a campaign. Also, there are some classes with some garbage capstones.
Are there downsides? Yes.
Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Absolutely.
Level dips are a powerful tool in a powergamer, min-maxer, or optimization fanatic’s toolbox. A well-timed and thought-out level dip can be more valuable than any feat or ASI due to some of the proficiencies and features you gain when initially multiclassing into a class.
There are a few prerequisites and draw-backs to level dipping, but the majority of the time these aren’t a hindrance.
Level dips definitely have earned a reputation of being a bit too powergamey. I don’t think the reputation is necessarily unwarranted as some classes/archetypes such as the Hexblade Warlock are exceptional level dips for a plethora of character builds. Seriously, it’s a meme at this point to recommend a dip into Hexblade because of how much value is packed into its initial levels.
I’m all for level dips. Some are more powerful than others, but it’s a cool way to experiment with a bunch of different mechanics that don’t normally interact with each other. Even a small one or two-level dip can make an enormous impact on your playstyle!