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Gestalt Characters

Gestalt Characters

In this high-powered campaign variant, characters essentially take two classes at every level, choosing the best aspects of each. The process is similar to multiclassing, except that characters gain the full benefits of each class at each level. if the two classes you choose have aspects that overlap (such as Hit Dice, attack progression, saves, and class features common to more than one class), you choose the better aspect. The gestalt character retains all aspects that don’t overlap.

The gestalt character variant is particularly effective if you have three or fewer players in your group, or if your players enjoy multiclassing and want characters with truly prodigious powers. This variant works only if every PC in the campaign uses it, and it results in complicated characters who may overwhelm newer players with an abundance of options.

Building A Gestalt Character

To make a 1st-level gestalt character, choose two standard classes. (You can also choose any of the variant classes, though you can’t combine two versions of the same class.) Build your character according to the following guidelines.

Hit Dice

Choose the larger Hit Die. A monk/sorcerer would use d8 as her Hit Die and have 8 hit points (plus Constitution modifier) at 1st level, for example.

Base Attack Bonus

Choose the better progression from the two classes.

Base Saving Throw Bonuses

For each save bonus, choose the better progression from the two classes. For example, a 1st-level gestalt fighter/wizard would have base saving throw bonuses of Fortitude +2, Reflex +0, Will +2—taking the good Fortitude save from the fighter class and the good Will save from the wizard class.

Class Skills

Take the number of skill points gained per level from whichever class grants more skill points, and consider any skill on either class list as a class skill for the gestalt character. For example, a gestalt barbarian/bard would gain skill points per level equal to 6 + Int modifier (and have four times this amount at 1st level), arid can purchase skills from both the barbarian and bard lists as class skills.

Class Features

A gestalt character gains the class features of both classes. A 1st-level gestalt rogue/cleric, for example, gets sneak attack +1d6, trapfinding, 1st-level cleric spells, and the ability to turn or rebuke undead. Class- and ability-based restrictions (such as arcane spell failure chance and a druid’s prohibition on wearing metal armor) apply normally to a gestalt character, no matter what the other class is.

A gestalt character follows a similar procedure when he attains 2nd and subsequent levels. Each time he gains a new level, he chooses two classes, takes the best aspects of each, and applies them to his characteristics. A few caveats apply, however.

  • Class features that two classes share (such as uncanny dodge) accrue at the rate of the faster class.
  • Gestalt characters with more than one spellcasting class keep track of their spells per day separately.
  • A gestalt character can’t combine two prestige classes at any level, although it’s okay to combine a prestige class and a regular class. Prestige classes that are essentially class combinations-such as the arcane trickster, mystic theurge, and eldritch knight-should be prohibited if you’re using gestalt classes, because they unduly complicate the game balance of what’s already a high-powered variant. Because it’s possible for gestalt characters to qualify for prestige classes earlier than normal, the game master is entirely justified in toughening the prerequisites of a prestige class so it’s available only after 5th level, even for gestalt characters.

Gestalt Combinations

Because the player of a gestalt character chooses two classes at every level, the possibilities for gestalt characters are almost limitless. The following combinations are particularly potent.


The “bardarian” has two choices in a battle: use a mix of party-aiding spells and attacks, or rage and use inspirational music to urge the rest of the party on as he attacks. Only the bardic music abilities that actually require a Perform check (such as countersong and fascinate) are off limits during a rage. Neither barbarians nor bards wear heavy armor, so gear selection is straightforward.


The barbarian brings that d12 Hit Die to the table, and that’s almost all that matters to the fragile wizard. A good Fortitude save is sure to save the gestalt character’s hide a few times, and a high-Intelligence character benefits greatly from the union of two disparate class skill lists. And as a bonus, you’re literate at 1st level. The only downside? You can’t cast spells in a rage. This combination deliberately tweaks the stereotypes of both classes, so you’ll want to spend some time thinking about your character’s backstory.


This gestalt combination is effectively the mystic theurge prestige class on steroids. You can load up on combat spells as a sorcerer, then prepare utility and protective spells as a cleric-which you can always spontaneously cast as healing spells if you like. As a side benefit, your high Charisma helps both your arcane spellcasting and your ability to turn undead.


With the ranger’s base attack bonus, you’ll be a more effective combatant when you wild shape into a predator. The extra skills of a ranger are welcome, and if you choose the archery combat style, you’ll be ready for both ranged combat and an up-close fight in wild shape form.


If you like feats, this is the class for you. Most fighters must choose whether to split their feats between melee and ranged combat or emphasize one kind of attack at the expense of the other. The fighter/ranger can have it both ways, relying on the fighter bonus feats to improve melee attacks and the ranger’s combat style, improved combat style, and combat style mastery to pick up three good archery feats.


Every rogue likes to get behind the enemy and dish out sneak attack damage. With this gestalt combination, that trick gets even better because you have the hit points and Armor Class to survive toe-to-toe with the enemy, you’ll hit more often, and you get more attacks, which just means more chances to pick up a fistful of d6s. You can wear heavy armor, but you’ll degrade some of your better skills and you’ll lose access to evasion.


You’ll probably give up your armor, but you can run around the battlefield in a blur, healing your comrades and putting the hurt on the bad guys with such combinations as stunning fist with an inflict serious wounds spell attached. Once you draw up your new character, note how many great cleric spells have a range of touch. The same Wisdom score that drives your spellcasting also improves your Armor Class.

Monk/Sorcerer and Monk/Wizard

With three good saves, more hit points, and the best unarmored Armor Class, the monk covers up many of the weak points of the sorcerer or wizard. The only downside is that the important ability scores for sorcerers and wizards—Charisma and Intelligence—are the two ability scores that the monk cares least about. This can be a tough combination to pull off, especially if you’re using point-based ability score generation.


Charisma does the heavy lifting for this gestalt combination. Why? Two words: divine grace. Like all sorcerers, you’ll send your Charisma score into the stratosphere with the every-four-levels improvement and the best cloak of Charisma you can afford. Every time you get more spells, your saving throws improve as well. The downside? You can’t wear armor like most paladins.


Unlike most gestalt characters, your hit points, Armor Class, base attack bonus, and saving throws aren’t any better than a standard sorcerer or wizard. But oh, the spells you can cast! Unlike a standard arcane spellcaster, you can afford to use your highest-level spells in most of your serious fights. It’s a good idea to use your sorcerer slots on combat spells (such as the ubiquitous fireball) and the occasional defense or utility spell (perhaps mage armor or haste). Then you can use your wizard slots for spells that are great against specific foes (such as dismissal) or life-savers in specific situations (gaseous form). You can gamble a little more with your wizard spell selection because you know you have all those useful sorcerer spells backing you up.

Balancing Gestalt Characters

Obviously, this variant results in characters who are significantly more powerful than is standard. But how much more powerful? The simple answer-that gestalt characters are twice as powerful as standard characters—isn’t accurate. Gestalt characters don’t have an advantage in the most important game currency: available actions. Even a character who can fight like a barbarian and cast spells like a sorcerer can’t do both in the same round. A gestalt character can’t be in two places at once as two separate characters can be. Gestalt characters who try to fulfill two party roles (melee fighter and spellcaster, for example) find they must split their feat choices, ability score improvements, and gear selection between their two functions.

While a gestalt character isn’t as powerful as two characters of equal level, a gestalt character is more powerful than a standard character. Hit points will always be at least equal to those of a standard character, saving throws will almost certainly be better, and gestalt characters have versatility that standard characters can’t achieve without multiclassing. Furthermore, a party of gestalt characters has greater durability and many more spells per day, so they can often take on six or more consecutive encounters without stopping to rest and prepare more spells.

Your players may be excited by the chance to play fighters with powerful sneak attacks or spellcasters who can cast any spell. But as the game master, you know that the only measure of PC power that matters is the comparison with NPC power. By throwing monsters of higher Challenge Ratings at them, you’ll still be giving them significant challenges. Gestalt characters look superior compared to standard characters, but that’s a false comparison. With this variant, such “standard” characters don’t exist.

Here’s how to build a campaign that can handle gestalt characters.

Challenge Ratings

Gestalt characters can obviously handle more opposition than standard characters. The simplest way to compensate for this is to use adventures with tougher monsters. In general, a party of four gestalt characters can handle multiple encounters with a single monster of a Challenge Rating equal to their average level + 1. If the monster poses a challenge because it forces the characters to succeed on life-threatening saving throws (such as with a medusa or a wyvern), it’s even weaker against gestalt characters, who have few or no weak saves. Characters can handle multiple encounters with such monsters at a Challenge Rating equal to their average level + 2. A shambling mound (CR 6) or a medusa (CR 7) would be appropriate average encounters for four 5th-level gestalt characters. If you take this approach, realize that characters gain levels faster than in a typical campaign, because they’re gaining experience points as if those encounters were harder than they actually are. You’re obviously comfortable with a high-powered game, so faster advancement may be an additional benefit, not a problem. if you rely on published adventures, this is the easiest option.

If you want to keep level advancement at the standard average of thirteen encounters per level, reduce the Challenge Ratings of all the monsters and NPCs in your campaign by 1 (or by 2 if they rely on failed PC saving throws to pose a challenge). The shambling mound and the medusa would both become CR 5 monsters, and the gestalt characters gain levels at the usual rate. Monsters with a Challenge Rating of 1 become CR 1/2, and other monsters with fractional Challenge Ratings have their CRs cut in half (kobolds become CR 1/6, in other words). Many staple low-CR monsters don’t work well against a party of gestalt characters, even 1st-level gestalts.

Adventure Design

Once you adjust the Challenge Ratings, you have one more subtle factor to consider when you design adventures for gestalt characters. You must take into account the greater “adventure stamina” of gestalt characters both when you’re preparing an adventure and when you’re at the gaming table running the adventure. Because gestalt characters have more hit points, better saving throws, and deeper spellcasting lists than standard characters, they can safely tackle more encounters in a row before they run low on hit points and spells.

Gestalt characters can, for example, delve deeply into a dungeon on their first foray, when the dungeon denizens may not be expecting them. The defenders of any site in a site-based adventure can’t rely on wearing out a party of gestalt characters. They have to pose enough of a threat that the gestalt characters retreat because they’re worried about their hides, not just because the wizard is almost out of spells.

In event-based adventures, gestalt characters can wreak havoc with timetables because they have more resources at their disposal. For example, a 10th-level gestalt wizard/sorcerer can easily teleport the entire party four times a day-without resorting to scrolls. That means two round trips to visit the wizened sage who’s an expert in rune translation, each in the blink of an eye.

At the gaming table, you may want to plan longer gaming sessions because rest periods for the characters are natural stopping points for the players, and gestalt characters have fewer rest periods. if you do stop in the middle of the action, encourage your players to take careful notes of which class abilities they expend, which spells they have active, and other relevant information. Gestalt characters are complex enough that relying solely on memory is a recipe for trouble.


An important aspect of most campaigns is verisimilitude—which is centered on the notion that everything in the campaign world is obeying the same set of rules. Accordingly, any important NPCs in your game should also be gestalt characters. It’s probably not necessary to have low-level noncombatant NPCs pick two classes, but any NPCs above 1st level should be constructed as gestalt characters. (NPCs with levels only in NPC classes-adept, aristocrat, commoner, expert, and warrior-can remain standard characters.)

Prestige Classes

The high-powered nature of the gestalt character variant gives you more room to create unique prestige classes. First, you can create narrowly specialized prestige classes, and they’ll still be compelling choices for PCs because the characters can simultaneously advance in a regular class while taking levels in the prestige class. Players won’t feel shoehorned into a very specific prestige class if they have another class they’re also advancing in. Second, you can create truly outrageous prestige classes-but add the additional cost that such classes take up both class choices for gestalt characters. For example, a prestige class that offered a d12 Hit Die, +1/level base attack bonus, two good saves, full spellcasting, and a host of class features would be completely unbalanced in a standard game. But if it takes up both “class slots” for a gestalt characters, it’s no more powerful than taking a level in the barbarian/wizard gestalt.

Campaign Pacing

Once it is adjusted as outlined above, a campaign that employs gestalt characters isn’t that different from a standard campaign. Gestalt characters don’t gain access to key campaign-changing abilities faster than their standard counterparts. No gestalt character can use teleport or raise the dead under her own power before 9th level, and no nonmonk gestalt character gets a second melee attack in a round before 6th level. Gestalt characters get to tackle monsters a level or two ahead of time, but they’re still fighting gnolls at low levels, rakshasas at middle levels, and balors at high levels. Perhaps the only noticeable difference in terms of campaign pacing is that gestalt PCs are “something special” from the beginning. They are far more powerful than typical 1st-level commoners even at the beginning of the campaign. Again, this difference only matters for a level or two, because standard 3rd level characters are also far more powerful than 1st-level commoners.