[RPG] Very generally, what is the difference between an Eldritch Knight and a Sorcerer with a dip into Fighter


I'm starting a new character in a D&D 5th game soon. The only D&D I've played is before 2nd edition, plus one session playing a sorcerer in (IIRC) D&D 3.5.

We're starting at 3rd level, to somewhat reduce the likelihood of immediate death. It will likely be two players and the GM, so combat roles aren't going to be strictly divided. And besides, I'm more focused on roleplaying than on optimizing for combat. I don't expect the campaign to run long enough for more than a couple level-ups.

I'm hearing a lot about how spellcasting is different and even Wizards and Clerics no longer have to prepare spells every day. It sounds like the main differences between a Sorcerer and Wizard is the list of available spells, and a Wizard's needs a spell book. So I'm leaning toward playing a Sorcerer again.

I mentioned I was thinking of playing a Sorcerer again, with a level in Fighter to not to be quite as worthless in combat, but got a counter suggestion to look at Eldritch Knight as an alternative. This is a class that as far as I know didn't even exist when I played the one session of 3.5 years ago, so I know nothing about it. The name suggests, however, that it's a kind of fighter with the ability to cast spells as well.

I don't have access to the PHB or other rulebooks until the chargen session, and won't have time to read much even then.

I'm looking to get a jump-start on my character class choice, with a compare and contrast of sorcerer 2/Fighter 1 with Eldritch Knight. I'm not much concerned with optimization, but I also don't want to make a choice that's obviously bad and will get my PC killed in the first battle, either.

What are the general differences between these two choices at level 3 and a few levels after?

Best Answer

I'd like to begin by noting that multiclassing is a dangerous choice, especially for a new player. If you choose any single character class, the 5e rules will generally guide you to a reasonable character that is viable in combat. If you multiclass, it's possible that some of the levels you take will be "deadweight" levels which won't help you significantly in combat, and your function in combat will be that of a lower-level character.

In particular: you've told us that you'd like to play as a sorcerer. As a sorcerer, your function in combat will be to cast spells, and your fighter level will not make you any better at that. So, although your survivability as a multiclass character will be higher, your damage output will be that of a second-level character in a third-level party, and that's a significant drawback.

So the general advice we have for players of D&D 5e, especially for inexperienced players, is to not multiclass.

Let's now talk about details.

  • As a third-level sorcerer, you would have six spell slots, two of which would be second-level. Good second-level sorcerer spells include invisibility, misty step, scorching ray, and shatter -- your four spells known could include two of these. Your AC might be 15 with mage armor or 12 without. When not spellcasting, you'd probably use the fire bolt cantrip, which deals 5.5 damage on average.
  • As a third-level eldritch knight, you would have only two spell slots. But you would have a good weapon attack, you would have heavy armor, and you could use Action Surge, once per short rest, to attack twice. You might have AC 18 and average ten damage per attack (two-handed sword), or you might have AC 20 and average 7.5 damage per attack (longsword).
  • As a sorcerer2/fighter1, you would have three spell slots and they would all be first-level. When not spellcasting, you'd use the fire bolt cantrip for 5.5 damage. But your AC would be 17 without using a spell slot, and you'd have the fighter Second Wind feature for 6.5 bonus hit points on average.

I don't think multiclassing serves you well here.

Now: third level is an unusually bad level to give up to multiclass to fighter, because the sorcerer gains a lot from their third level -- they double their spell slots and unlock a new level of spells. But fourth level is unusually bad too, because the sorcerer gains a lot from that one -- they get +2 to Charisma, which grants +1 to-hit and to save DC. Fifth level is especially terrible because the sorcerer gets fireball then, which can alter the course of whole combats.

What I'm saying is: giving up a level of sorcerer will hurt you a lot.

I'd like to idly note: if you did want to improve your AC, you might also consider multiclassing to cleric. Most of the cleric domains will grant you proficiency with heavy armor -- you wouldn't get that multiclassing to fighter. Cleric will also grant you spell slot progression, so a sorcerer2/cleric1 would have the full six spell slots including two second-level spell slots. It's almost worth it, except that cleric doesn't grant you progression in sorcerer spells known, so you'd still be a level behind in most of the ways that are important.