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Author Topic: Tier System for Classes  (Read 351447 times)
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JaronK
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Posts: 4039


« on: July 06, 2008, 07:06:10 PM »

EDIT: Note this is not the most up to date version of this system, having been locked due to too many pages of discussion.  The most up to date version can be found here:  http://brilliantgameologists.com/boards/index.php?topic=5293

The following is a repost of something I made over on the WotC forums.  I'm not exactly sure which forum to put it on, as it's intended for a variety of purposes.  It's here mostly because I'd like to get some feedback from knowledgeable minds, but it's also a useful tool, much like a handbook, and available for use.

My general philosophy is that the only balance that really matters in D&D is the interclass balance between the various PCs in a group.  If the group as a whole is very powerful and flexible, the DM can simply up the challenge level and complexity of the encounters.  If it's weak and inflexible, the DM can lower the challenge level and complexity.  Serious issues arise when the party is composed of some members which are extremely powerful and others which are extremely weak, leading to a situation where the DM has two choices: either make the game too easy for the strong members, or too hard for the weak members.  Neither is desireable.  Thus, this system is created for the following purposes:

1)  To provide a ranking system so that DMs know roughly the power of the PCs in their group

2)  To provide players with knowledge of where their group stands, power wise, so that they can better build characters that fit with their group.

3)  To help DMs who plan to use house rules to balance games by showing them where the classes stand before applying said house rules (how many times have we seen DMs pumping up Sorcerers or weakening Monks?).

4)  To help DMs judge what should be allowed and what shouldn't in their games.  It may sound cheesy when the Fighter player wants to be a Half Minotaur Water Orc, but if the rest of his party is Druid, Cloistered Cleric, Archivist, and Artificer, then maybe you should allow that to balance things out.  However, if the player is asking to be allowed to be a Venerable White Dragonspawn Dragonwrought Kobold Sorcerer and the rest of the party is a Monk, a Fighter, and a Rogue, maybe you shouldn't let that fly.

5)  To help homebrewers judge the power and balance of their new classes.  Pick a Tier you think your class should be in, and when you've made your class compare it to the rest of the Tier.  Generally, I like Tier 3 as a balance point, but I know many people prefer Tier 4.  If it's stronger than Tier 1, you definitely blew it.

Psionic classes are mostly absent simply because I don't have enough experience with them. Other absent classes are generally missing because I don't know them well enough to comment, though if I've heard a lot about them they're listed in itallics. Note that "useless" here means "the class isn't particularly useful for dealing with situation X" not "it's totally impossible with enough splat books to make a build that involves that class deal with situation X." "Capable of doing one thing" means that any given build does one thing, not that the class itself is incapable of being built in different ways. Also, "encounters" here refers to appropriate encounters... obviously, anyone can solve an encounter with purely mechanical abilities if they're level 20 and it's CR 1.

Also note that with enough optimization, it's generally possible to go up a tier, and if played poorly you can easily drop a few tiers, but this is a general averaging, assuming that everyone in the party is playing with roughly the same skill and optimization level.  As a rule, parties function best when everyone in the party is within 2 Tiers of each other (so a party that's all Tier 2-4 is generally fine, and so is a party that's all Tier 3-5, but a party that has Tier 1 and Tier 5s in it may have issues).

The Tier System

Tier 1: Capable of doing absolutely everything, often better than classes that specialize in that thing. Often capable of solving encounters with a single mechanical ability and little thought from the player. Has world changing powers at high levels. These guys, if played well, can break a campaign and can be very hard to challenge without extreme DM fiat, especially if Tier 3s and below are in the party.

Examples: Wizard, Cleric, Druid, Archivist, Artificer, Erudite

Tier 2: Has as much raw power as the Tier 1 classes, but can't pull off nearly as many tricks, and while the class itself is capable of anything, no one build can actually do nearly as much as the Tier 1 classes. Still potencially campaign smashers by using the right abilities, but at the same time are more predictable and can't always have the right tool for the job. If the Tier 1 classes are countries with 10,000 nuclear weapons in their arsenal, these guys are countries with 10 nukes. Still dangerous and world shattering, but not in quite so many ways.  Note that the Tier 2 classes are often less flexible than Tier 3 classes... it's just that their incredible potential power overwhelms their lack in flexibility.

Examples: Sorcerer, Favored Soul, Psion, Binder (with access to online vestiges)

Tier 3: Capable of doing one thing quite well, while still being useful when that one thing is inappropriate, or capable of doing all things, but not as well as classes that specialize in that area. Occasionally has a mechanical ability that can solve an encounter, but this is relatively rare and easy to deal with. Challenging such a character takes some thought from the DM, but isn't too difficult. Will outshine any Tier 5s in the party much of the time.

Examples: Beguiler, Dread Necromancer, Crusader, Bard, Swordsage, Binder (without access to the summon monster vestige), Wildshape Varient Ranger, Duskblade, Factotum, Warblade, Psionic Warrior

Tier 4: Capable of doing one thing quite well, but often useless when encounters require other areas of expertise, or capable of doing many things to a reasonable degree of competance without truly shining. Rarely has any abilities that can outright handle an encounter unless that encounter plays directly to the class's main strength. DMs may sometimes need to work to make sure Tier 4s can contribue to an encounter, as their abilities may sometimes leave them useless. Won't outshine anyone except Tier 6s except in specific circumstances that play to their strengths. Cannot compete effectively with Tier 1s that are played well.

Examples: Rogue, Barbarian, Warlock, Warmage, Scout, Ranger, Hexblade, Adept, Spellthief, Marshal, Fighter (Dungeoncrasher Variant)

Tier 5: Capable of doing only one thing, and not necessarily all that well, or so unfocused that they have trouble mastering anything, and in many types of encounters the character cannot contribute. In some cases, can do one thing very well, but that one thing is very often not needed. Has trouble shining in any encounter unless the rest of the party is weak in that situation and the encounter matches their strengths. DMs may have to work to avoid the player feeling that their character is worthless unless the entire party is Tier 4 and below. Characters in this tier will often feel like one trick ponies if they do well, or just feel like they have no tricks at all if they build the class poorly.

Examples: Fighter, Monk, CA Ninja, Healer, Swashbuckler, Rokugan Ninja, Soulknife, Expert, OA Samurai, Paladin, Knight

Tier 6: Not even capable of shining in their own area of expertise. DMs will need to work hard to make encounters that this sort of character can contribute in with their mechanical abilities. Will often feel worthless unless the character is seriously powergamed beyond belief, and even then won't be terribly impressive. Needs to fight enemies of lower than normal CR. Class is often completely unsynergized or with almost no abilities of merit. Avoid allowing PCs to play these characters.

Examples: CW Samurai, Aristocrat, Warrior, Commoner

And then there's the Truenamer, which is just broken (as in, the class was improperly made and doesn't function appropriately).

Now, obviously these rankings only apply when mechanical abilities are being used... in a more social oriented game where talking is the main way of solving things (without using diplomacy checks), any character can shine. However, when the mechanical abilities of the classes in question are being used, it's a bad idea to have parties with more than two tiers of difference.

It is interesting to note the disparity between the core classes... one of the reasons core has so many problems. If two players want to play a nature oriented shapeshifter and a general sword weilder, you're stuck with two very different tiered guys in the party (Fighter and Druid). Outside of core, it's possible to do it while staying on close Tiers... Wild Shape Variant Ranger and Warblade, for example.

Note that a few classes are right on the border line between tiers.  Duskblade is very low in Tier 3, and Hexblade is low in Tier 4.  Fighter is high in Tier 5, and CW Samurai is high in Tier 6 (obviously, since it's pretty much strictly better than the same tier Warrior).

JaronK
« Last Edit: February 14, 2011, 05:26:30 PM by JaronK » Logged

JaronK
Organ Grinder
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Posts: 4039


« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2008, 07:06:32 PM »

House Rules

So, last time I posted this I was asked about potencial house rules that might help balance out the Tiers a bit more.  This post will be on that topic.  First, some quick and dirty house rules that are easy to impliment:

Option #1: Point Buy modifications. This is a quick and dirty fix that helps a bit. It's not perfect, but it's certainly something. Tier 1s get 24 point buy. Tier 2s get 28 point buy. Tier 3s get 32 point buy. Tier 4s get 36 point buy. Tier 5s get 40 point buy. Tier 6s get 44 point buy. Result? At low levels, their Tiers are nearly reversed, with CW Samurai having awesome stats while Wizards really are weak bookish types. By the high levels, the Tiers are back in order, but the difference is less pronounced through the mid levels. Obviously, you can adjust what the differences are, but this works pretty well, and most importantly it's extremely easy. The big downside is that you really can't allow much multiclassing or else it all goes out of whack. Other similar methods include rolling but letting lower Tiers get extra rerolls or bonuses after the roll, and giving free LA points to low tier classes (so, everyone Tier 3 and below gets 1 free LA, and everyone Tier 5 and below gets 2 free LA).

Option #2: Partial Gestalt. Tier 1s and 2s are normal. Tier 3s and 4s may gestalt their levels with an NPC class of their choice (Adept, Expert, Commoner, or Warrior). Tier 5s and 6s may gestalt their levels with any other Tier 5 or 6 class of their choice, or Adepts. Result? Again, a healthy power boost for the low Tiers. Suddenly the Rogues can have full BAB and lots of hitpoints, and the Monks can have Fighter powers too. Very handy. Plus, multiclassing works... it's just that if you start as a Fighter//Monk and want to take a level of, say, Ranger, that level must have an NPC class on the other side. If for some reason you wanted Sorcerer, you wouldn't be gestalt at all in that level. Lord knows Fighters get a lot better when they can be Fighter//Monks or Fighter//CA Ninjas or whatever.

Option #3: Mass bannings. Clunky method, but simply saying "no, you can't be Tier X and above" does work. You pick the level that you want to deal with (let's say Tier 3, because that's my favorite) and then ban the ones higher than that (no Tier 2 or Tier 1). Some would ban the levels below that too (say, no Tier 5s or 6s) but I actually find that unnessesary... sometimes those weaker classes might work for your build as a dip. Honestly, I don't favor this method, because sometimes players can't find a class that fits their concept just right this way, but it is an option.

And then, here's a much more convoluted bit of house rules, as an example of how you can personalize your campaign while taking into account relative class power.

In my game, I wanted a low magic game, with characters using skills and martial abilities to solve problems instead of spells.  So, I did the following:

Psionics don't exist (not familiar enough with them)

When preparing a spell (or preparing a spell slot, which spontaneous casters must do), you must take 1 hour per level of the spell. At the end, the DM makes a hidden DC 10*spell level check, where any D20 roll equal to or less than the level of the spell is an automatic failure. The skill for the check is Knowledge Nature for nature casters (Druids, Rangers, etc), Knowledge Religeon for divine casters (Clerics, Paladins, etc), and Spellcraft for arcane casters (Wizards, Bards, etc). When you try to cast the spell, if you've succeeded on the check it goes off normally. If you fail, the spell fails and you take a backlash effect, randomly chosen depending on the school of the spell you tried to cast (so failed necromancy spells do things like cause permanent wisdom decreases and negative energy damage, failed conjurations summon powerful things that attack you or teleport you into physical objects, etc). The save DC against backlash effects, if there's a save at all, is 5*spell level. Every time you cast a spell there's a chance of dying. As such, spellcasters are HEAVILY nerfed, and not expected to be played. When creating magic items, the spells required must be cast every day... so bad idea!

No humanoids or monsterous humanoids (which includes all PCs) can use Spell Like abilities, except for those granted by the Binder and Warlock classes (since those classes draw their power from outside sources).

The game is Gestalt.

All players get the benefits of Vow of Poverty, plus the bonus feats from that are any bonus feat you want (not just exalted), without the drawbacks (you can still use gear). However, there are no useful magic items in the game, so it's all mundane gear. As such, gear is far less important in my game... any random sword works as well as any other, so you can lose all your stuff, punch out a guard, steal his sword, and rock out.

All players heal rapidly when out of sight and no one's after them (fast healing equal to your HD, only when I as the DM decide you're between encounters).

Classes that had casting can, with DM permission, swap out their casting for any one other class substitution ability... for example, the Bard can swap casting for an Animal Companion because of the UA Fey Varient Bard.

Basically, it's a low magic heroic fantasy game. And remember, I like Tier 3 as a balance point. So what do these house rules do to balance?

Well, Tier 1 and 2 are completely gone. All of them depend on spellcasting which is now nerfed, so most of those classes drop to Tier 5-6 (except the Druid, who's Tier 3... yeah, Wild Shape is that powerful). The top tier classes are now the normal Tier 3 guys plus the Druid, except that the Beguiler drops to around Tier 5/6 and the Dread Necromancer does too. Sadly, the Healer and Warmage are also nerfed, but they didn't fit in the campaign world anyway.

The gear changes mean certain specialized equipment dependent builds don't work (Warblade Crossbow archers, for example), and Wild Shape based classes get pumped up (Druids and Wild Shape Rangers) but otherwise changes are minimal as far as balance is concerned.

Healing classes are basically unnecessary, though still handy, so Crusaders are useful to have.

Warlock and Binder invisibility powers are awesome against other humanoids.

Overall, that's about the effect I wanted. The entire party can optimize like crazy and they're still maxing out at Tier 2 if they really work at it, and are usually Tier 3 otherwise.

The current party at this time (we just added two players) is I believe:

Warblade//Swordsage, Barbarian//Swordsage, Factotum//Bard (with a gecko familiar), Binder//Ninja/Rogue, Scout//Warlock.

Conveniently enough, all of them are basically Tier 2-3 (gestalt raises them up a bit).

JaronK
« Last Edit: July 06, 2008, 10:28:51 PM by JaronK » Logged

JaronK
Organ Grinder
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Posts: 4039


« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2008, 07:06:46 PM »

FAQ:

Q:  So, which is the best Tier?

A:  In the end, the best Tier is the Tier that matches the rest of your party and appeals to you.  If your party is Fighter, Rogue, Healer, Barbarian, then Tier 4 or 5 is going to be the best.  If your party is Sorcerer, Beguiler, Crusader, Swordsage, then Tier 2-3 will be best.  Really, if you're having fun and no one in the party feels either useless or overpowered, then you're doing it right.  Personally, I prefer Tier 3, but I still match to whatever party I'm in if I join after other characters are created.

That said, here's something that might help some DMs decide which tier is best for their campaigns:

So, I was thinking about the whole "what is the best Tier" thing.  And of course it varies by campaign, but I'll talk about it a bit.

Tier 1 is the best tier if you want the PCs to be super powered... similar to an Exalted campaign (the RPG, not BoED).  I've heard of one great campaign where the DM made the only character creation rule be that your character had to be evil and be after immortality.  They had a Wizard who turned into a Lich, a Druid who used Reincarnation cheese, and so on.  When they hit level 20 after having totally thrashed the campaign world, the DM ended the campaign and started a new one.  It was 1000 years in the future, and the evil characters were all epic now, and ruling the whole land.  The players had to start over as first level good characters and try to defeat their old PCs.  Neat.  Also, Clerics and Druids can be very nice for newbies because any poor build choices they make early on really won't matter that much later... sure, Weapon Focus Scimitar on the Druid may have been dumb, but you can turn into a Dire Bear so who cares?  And if you picked the wrong spells today, that's okay... pick better ones tomorow.  That said, I only recommend this tier for veteran DMs who can keep the PCs in line in agreeable ways, as campaigns can be broken very quickly by the unpredictable and powerful tools available to the players.

Tier 2... I'm not sure how many people would specifically want this one because it's pretty small, but it does have the advantage of giving you big power spells while still being at least a bit more predictable with your tricks.  Newbies who might be overwhelmed with the number of spells constantly available to Clerics and Druids and Wizards might be more comfortable if they don't have to repick every day, so it might be best for them.

Tier 3 is the best tier for me.  Everyone in the party has great tricks and can still throw some big surprises at me when I'm DMing, but everyone else still needs a party to work with them, which makes it easier to make sure specific party members have chances to shine.  I like the versitility of players at this level, and power wise they're still managable without flat out saying "no, you can't do that."

Tier 4 is best for a lot of people too.  At this Tier you can start predicting what the players will do in a situation, so DMs can better gauge how encounters will go.  That Barbarian is going to deal a lot of damage through charging... if you want a hard encounter, use difficult terrain or whatever, and if you want an easier encounter, make sure he's got a target he can charge.  The more flexible Tier 4s will be less predictable but they won't blow you away with a sudden trick you didn't see coming... that Rogue may have awesome tricks with his UMD, but only with items that you give him.  Plus, teamwork is definitely important at this level.  That Barbarian may be awesome in combat, but when it's time for stealth, he's not going to shine, and someone else will.

Tier 5 is probably best for new DMs, especially when dealing with veteran players.  PCs at this point are getting very predictable.  That Fighter with Improved Trip and a Spiked Chain will trip enemies, the Healer will be a healbot, the Monk can run fast and make a lot of attacks, but generally speaking you know what's going to happen in advance, especially in combat.  This predictability makes it easy for a DM to guide the plot where he wants without it looking like railroading, as the limitations of the classes provide the railroad tracks for you.  If the PCs are supposed to kill a dragon by going in through his cave, that's what they'll do... they're not going to Love's Pain nuke said dragon from miles away and then float ethereally through his lair or something.

Tier 6 is best when what you want is a fun little low powered game.  The PCs are very limited, so challenges should be primarily player-centric in nature, since the classes themselves won't create many good solutions to situations.    Puzzles that the players must solve, fights that are more about organization than damage dealing, and so on.  I don't recommend this Tier to anyone but veterans though, as it's very limited in a lot of ways.  Really, if you want to play at this low power level, you may be more satisfied playing a game like A|State than D&D.

Q:  Why is my favorite class too low?  It should TOTALLY be much higher!

A:  Remember, you're probably more experienced with your favorite class than with other classes.  Plus, your personality probably fits well with the way that class works, and you probably are better inspired to work with that class.  As such, whatever your favorite class is is going to seem stronger for you than everyone else.  This is because you're simply going to play your favorite class in a more skillfull way... plus you'll be blinded to the shortcomings of that class, since you probably don't care about those anyway (they match with things that you as a player probably don't want to do anyway).  As such, if I did this right most people should think their favorite class is a little too low, whether that class is Fighter or Monk or Rogue or whatever else. 

Q:  I totally saw a [Class X] perform far better than a [Class Y] even though you list it as lower.  What gives?

A:  This system assumes that everything other than mechanics is totally equal.  It's a ranking of the mechanical classes themselves, not of the players who use that class.  As long as the players are of equal skill and optimize their characters roughly the same amount, it's fine.  If one player optimizes a whole lot more than the other, that will shift their position on the chart.

Q:  So what a minute, how can I use it then?  My players all play differently.

A:  First, determine what you'd say is the average optimization and skill level in the group, then make adjustments for people who are noticably different from that.  I can't give examples of skill level, but here's an example for optimization.  Imagine for a moment that your party has a Cleric with DMM: Persistant Spell, a Fighter with Shock Trooper and Leap Attack, a Beguiler with a Mindbender dip and Mindsight, and a traditional Sword and Board Fighter.  Now, the first three are pretty optimized, but the fourth is pretty weak.   So in that case, what you've actually got is a Tier 1, a Tier 3, a Tier 5, and a Tier 6, with that second Fighter being Tier 6 because he's far less optimized than the rest of the group.  However, if your group is instead a healbot Cleric, a Beguiler who hasn't figured out how to use illusions effectively, a Sword and Board Fighter, and a Shock Trooper/Leap Attack Fighter, then the charge based Fighter is the odd one out.  Bump him up a Tier... maybe even 2.  So now you've got a Tier 1, a Tier 3, a Tier 5, and maybe a Tier 4.  Remember, this whole thing is about intra party balance... there's no objective balancing, because each campaign is different.

Q:  Why didn't you rank this from best to worst, like Wizard first, Archivist second, and so on?  Why tiers?

A:  There are too many variables in the game to actually rank the classes from best to worst.  If the DM allows the Archivist to just research any spell he wants and is including the Divine Magician and Divine Bard varients in his game, plus the other ways for Archivists to get all Wizard/Sorcerer spells, then the Archivist is clearly stronger than the Wizard.  If not, the Wizard may be stronger than the Archivist.  Factors like that, plus questions of which books are allowed, what the wealth by level is, and what access to magic shops is allowed to the players... these things make it impossible to make a specific ranking of best to worst without assuming a heck of a lot, and I wanted this system to work for the vast majority of games.  As such, I ranked them in tiers of power... regardless of the general campaign, an Archivist and a Wizard will be reasonably close to each other in power, and both will be far stronger than a Monk, for example.  I do still have to make a few basic assumptions, such as that player skill and optimziation are reasonably close and that for the most part RAW is being played, but that's about it.

Also, the purpose of this system isn't to say "X class is the best!"  It's to allow players and DMs to maintain intraparty balance... for that purpose, tiers are specific enough.

Q:  So what exactly is this system measuring?  Raw Power?  Then why is the Barbarian lower than the Duskblade, when the Barbarian clearly does more damage?

A:  The Tier System is not specifically ranking Power or Versitility (though those are what ends up being the big factors). It's ranking the ability of a class to achieve what you want in any given situation. Highly versitile classes will be more likely to efficiently apply what power they have to the situation, while very powerful classes will be able to REALLY help in specific situations. Classes that are both versitile and powerful will very easily get what they want by being very likely to have a very powerful solution to the current problem. This is what matters most for balance.

For example, here's how the various Tiers might deal with a specific set of situations, cut to spoilers due to size:

Situation 1: A Black Dragon has been plaguing an area, and he lives in a trap filled cave. Deal with him.

Situation 2: You have been tasked by a nearby country with making contact with the leader of the underground slave resistance of an evil tyranical city state, and get him to trust you.

Situation 3: A huge army of Orcs is approaching the city, and should be here in a week or so. Help the city prepare for war.

Okay, so, here we go.

Tier 6: A Commoner. Situation 1: If he's REALLY optimized, he could be a threat to the dragon, but a single attack from the dragon could take him out too. He can't really offer help getting to said dragon. He could fill up the entire cave with chickens, but that's probably not a good idea. Really, he's dead weight unless his build was perfectly optimized for this situation (see my Commoner charger build for an example). Situation 2: Well, without any stealth abilities or diplomacy, he's not too handy here, again unless he's been exactly optimized for this precise thing (such as through Martial Study to get Diplomacy). Really, again his class isn't going to help much here. Situation 3: Again, no help from his class, though the chicken thing might be amusing if you're creative.

Tier 5: A Fighter. Situation 1: If he's optimized for this sort of thing (a tripper might have trouble, though a charger would be handy if he could get off a clear shot, and an archer would likely work) he can be a threat during the main fight, but he's probably just about useless for sneaking down through the cave and avoiding any traps the dragon has set out without alerting said dragon. Most likely the party Rogue would want to hide him in a bag of holding or something. Once in the fight if he's optimized he'll be solid, but if not (if he's a traditional SAB build or a dual weilding monkey grip type) he's going to be a liability in the combat (though not as bad as the Commoner). Situation 2: As the commoner before, his class really won't help here. His class just doesn't provide any useful tools for the job. It's possible (but very unlikely) that he's optimized in a way that helps in this situation, just as with the Commoner. Situation 3: Again, his class doesn't help much, but at least he could be pretty useful during the main battle as a front line trooper of some sort. Hack up the enemy and rack up a body count.

Tier 4: The Rogue. Situation 1: Well he can certainly help get the party to the dragon, even if he's not totally optimized for it. His stealth and detection abilities will come in handy here, and if he puts the less stealthy people in portable holes and the like he's good to go. During the combat he's likely not that helpful (it's hard to sneak attack a dragon) but if he had a lot of prep time he might have been able to snag a scroll or wand of Shivering Touch, in which case he could be extremely helpful... he just has to be really prepared and on the ball, and the resources have to be available in advance. He's quite squishy though, and that dragon is a serious threat. Situation 2: With his stealth and diplomacy, he's all over this. Maybe not 100% perfect, but still pretty darn solid. An individual build might not have all the necessary skills, but most should be able to make do. Situation 3: Perhaps he can use Gather Information and such to gain strategic advantages before the battle... that would be handy. There's a few he's pretty likely to be able to pull off. He might even be able to use Diplomacy to buff the army a bit and at least get them into a good morale situation pre battle. Or, if he's a different set up, he could perhaps go out and assassinate a few of the orc commanders before the fight, which could be handy. And then during the fight he could do the same. It's not incredible, but it's something.

Tier 3: The Beguiler. Situation 1: Again, getting through the cave is easy, perhaps easier with spell support. And again, if he's really prepared in advance, Shivering Touch via UMD is a possibility. But he's also got spells that could be quite useful here depending on the situation, and if he's optimized heavily, this is going to be pretty easy... Shadowcraft Mage, perhaps? Or Earth Dreamer? Either way, he's got a lot of available options, though like the Rogue he's somewhat squishy (and that Dragon won't fall for many illusions with his Blindsense) so he still needs that party support. Situation 2: Again, with his skills he's all over this one, plus the added ability to cast spells like charm makes this one much easier, allowing him to make contacts in the city quickly while he figures out where this guy is. Situation 3: Like the Rogue, he can get strategic advantages and be all over the Diplomacy. He's not quite as good at assassinating people if he takes that route (though sneaking up invisible and then using a coup de gras with a scythe is pretty darn effective), but using illusions during the fight will create some serious chaos in his favor. A single illusion of a wall of fire can really disrupt enemy formations, for example.

Tier 2: The Sorcerer. Situation 1: It really depends on the Sorcerer's spell load out. If he's got Greater Floating Disk, Spectral Hand, and Shivering Touch, this one's going to be easy as pie, since he can just float down (and carry his party in the process) to avoid many traps, then nail the dragon in one shot from a distance. If he doesn't he'd need scrolls with the same issues that the UMD Rogue and Beguiler would need. If he's got Explosive Runes he could create a bomb that would take out the Dragon in one shot. If he's got Polymorph he could turn the party melee into a Hydra for extra damage. If he's got Alter Self he could turn himself into a Skulk to get down there sneakily. Certainly, it's possible that the Sorcerer could own this scenario... if he has the right spells known. That's always the hard part for a Sorcerer. Situation 2: Again, depends on the spell. Does he have divinations that will help him know who's part of the resistance and who's actually an evil spy for the Tyranical Govenerment? Does he have charm? Alter Self would help a ton here too for disguise purposes if he has it. Once again, the options exist that could totally make this easy, but he might not have those options. Runestaffs would help a bit, but not that much. Scrolls would help too, but that requires access to them and good long term preparation. Situation 3: Again, does he have Wall of Iron or Wall of Stone to make fortifications? Does he have Wall of Fire to disrupt the battlefield? How about Mind Rape and Love's Pain to kill off the enemy commanders without any ability to stop him? Does he have Blinding Glory on his spell list, or Shapechange, or Gate? Well, maybe. He's got the power, but if his spells known don't apply here he can't do much. So, maybe he dominates this one, maybe not.

Tier 1: The Wizard. Situation 1: Memorize Greater Floating Disk, Shivering Touch, and Spectral Hand. Maybe Alter Self too for stealth reasons. Kill dragon. Memorize Animate Dead too, because Dragons make great minions (seriously, there's special rules for using that spell on dragons). Sweet, you have a new horsie! Or, you know, maybe you Mind Rape/Love's Pain and kill the dragon before he even knows you exist, then float down and check it out. Or maybe you create a horde of the dead and send them in, triggering the traps with their bodies. Or do the haunt shift trick and waltz in with a hardness of around 80 and giggle. Perhaps you cast Genesis to create a flowing time plane and then sit and think about what to do for a year while only a day passes on the outside... and cast Explosive Runes every day during that year. I'm sure you can come up with something. It's really your call. Situation 2: Check your spell list. Alter Self and Disguise Self can make you look like whoever you need to look like. Locate Creature has obvious utility. Heck, Contact Other Plane could be a total cheating method of finding the guy you're trying to find. Clairvoyance is also handy. It's all there. Situation 3: Oh no, enemy army! Well, if you've optimized for it, there's always the locate city bomb (just be careful not to blow up the friendly guys too). But if not, Love's Pain could assassinate the leaders. Wall of Iron/Stone could create fortifications, or be combined with Fabricate to armour up some of the troops. Or you could just cast Blinding Glory and now the entire enemy army is blind with no save for caster level hours. Maybe you could Planar Bind an appropriate outsider to help train the troops before the battle. Push comes to shove, Gate in a Solar, who can cast Miracle (which actually does have a "I win the battle" option)... or just Shapechange into one, if you prefer.

So yeah, as you move up the Tiers you go from weak, unadaptable, and predictable (that Commoner's got very few useful options) to strong, adaptable, and unpredictable (who knows what that Wizard is going to do?). A Wizard can always apply a great deal of strength very efficiently, whether it's Shivering Touch on the Dragon or Blinding Glory on an enemy army. The Sorcerer has the power, but he may not have power that he can actually apply to the situation. The Beguiler has even less raw power and may have to use UMD to pull it off. The Rogue is even further along that line. And the Fighter has power in very specific areas which are less likely to be useful in a given situation.

So yeah, that's really what the Tiers are about. How much does this class enable you to achieve what you want in a given situation? The more versitile your power, the more likely that the answer to that question is "a lot." If you've got tons of power and limited versitility (that's you, Sorcerers and charging Barbarians) then sometimes the answer is a lot, but sometimes it's not much. If you've got tons of versitility but limited power (hi, Rogue!) then it's often "a decent amount." If you've got little of both (Commoner!) then yeah, it's often "it doesn't."

And of course reversing that and applying it to DMs, you get "how many effective options does this class give for solving whatever encounters I throw at them?" For Commoners, the answer may be none. For Fighters, it's sometimes none, sometimes 1, maybe 2, but you generally know in advance what it will be (if he's got Improved Trip and a Spiked Chain and all that, he's probably going to be tripping stuff, just a hint). For Wizards, it's tons, and they're all really potent, and you have no idea how he's going to do it. Does he blind the enemy army or assassinate all its leaders or turn into a Solar and just arbitrarily win the battle? There's no way to know until he memorizes his spells for the day (and even then you might not see it coming).

Q:  But what about dips?  I mean, I rarely see anyone playing single class characters.  What would a Barbarian 1/Fighter 6 be, for example? 

A:  It's pretty simple.  This system is paying attention to the fact that people are more likely to take the early levels of a class than the later levels, either because they simply don't get to a level where they'd see the late levels, or because of dipping.  Generally speaking, a mix of classes should end up being as high up as the most powerful class in the mix if it's optimized, or somewhere in the middle of the classes used if not very optimized, and below them both if it's really strangely done.  A Barbarian 1/Fighter 6 that's optimized would thus be Tier 4 generally, because it took the best qualities of a Barbarian (probably pounce, rage, and so on) and then made it stronger.  Generally, you don't multiclass out unless you get something better by doing so, so you're usually going to end up at least as strong as the strongest class.  This isn't always true, but it generally is.  Meanwhile, if you do something silly like Wizard 4/Sorcerer 4, you might end up much lower.  But assuming you're not doing anything rediculous, a combination of Tier 4 and Tier 5 classes will usually be Tier 4, though it might be Tier 5.  Similar examples would be that a Scout/Ranger is probably going to be Tier 4 (though because there's a multiclassing feat for that, it could end up Tier 3), a Monk 1/Druid X will be Tier 1, a Fighter 2/Warblade X will be Tier 3, and so on.

Q:  My players want to play classes of wildly different Tiers.  What can I do about this?

A:  Well, this will be a test of your DMing skill.  The easiest solution is to convince them to play classes that are similar conceptually but different in power.  For example, if they're currently going with Paladin, Druid, Monk, Illusionsist, then maybe you can get them to try out Crusader, Wild Shape Varient Ranger, Unarmed Varient Swordsage, Beguiler.  That would make your life a lot easier.  But if they're attached to their classes or feel that their class choice bests fits their character, then you've got a few options.  One is to see the house rule section above and try something like that.  Another is to simply provide extra support for the weaker classes... for example, perhaps more random magic items that drop are useful for unarmed strikers, while Wildling Clasps just don't seem to exist in your game.  Maybe allowing more oddball "broken" tricks for the Monk (and perhaps Paladin) while being much more strict with the Illusionist and Druid.  You can also allow more PrC options for the weaker guys... Monk 6/Shou Disciple 5/Unarmed Swordsage 4/Master of Nine 5 is fine for that Monk, but Illusionist 10/Earth Dreamer 5/Shadowcraft Mage 5 is not acceptable, and Druid/Planar Shepard is right out.   You can also make sure that the challenges being put forward suit the strengths of the weaker classes.  Something that makes good use of the Monk and Paladin's diplomacy would be advisable, for example.  A challenge where being able to run really fast is handy might work too.  And finally, you can bring the Druid and Illusionist aside and tell them the answer to the next question.

Q:  My party mates all want to play classes of wildly different Tiers.  What can I do about this?

A:  First... see if you can get them to play something closer together, as above.  If that won't work, okay.  Now, if the class you're playing is noticably stronger than everyone else, try focusing your energy on buffing your party mates.  Channel your power through them... it helps.  If you're a DMM Cleric in a party with a Monk and Fighter, try persisting Recitation, Lesser Vigor, and Righteous Wrath of the Faithful instead of Righteous Might, Divine Power, and Divine Favor.  You're still very powerful, and definitely getting results, but since you use your party mates to get those results, they feel useful too.  Also, let them shine in their areas.  If they're melees and you're a Cleric, don't turn into Godzilla and smash Tokyo.  It's not polite.  Focus on the other areas a bit more.  If one of them is playing a Rogue, using Divine Insight to beat him on skills isn't nice.  Let him have his fun, and save your spells for other areas if you can.  If, however, you're playing a weaker class, then optimize optimize optimize!  A CW Samurai is going to have a lot of trouble in a party full of Tier 3s and up, so maybe try being a Necropolitan CW Samurai 10/Zhentarium Fighter 10 with Imperious Command, Eviscerator, Improved Critical, and a pair of Lifedrinker Kukris.  Carve out a niche where you're the king... they can have everything else.  Also, make sure you've got something to do when you do have to sit out.  Give your character a drinking habit or something.
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« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2008, 07:47:59 PM »

Only suggestion I have is to move healer up to tier 4 because they can heal quite well, maybe not as good as some tier 1's but they still do a good job at it and is their only real function (IIRC they have gate too, so they do have the capability to compete at higher levels.).  I think they may be the definition of your teir 4, but I could be wrong.
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« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2008, 07:50:47 PM »

First off, nice to see you here.

On topic, I really like this system. I think it has been in place for a while. It wasnt written down, but people who have been playing for long enough know the wizard is better than the monk. But this points it out to those new to the game.
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« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2008, 08:49:38 PM »

Only suggestion I have is to move healer up to tier 4 because they can heal quite well, maybe not as good as some tier 1's but they still do a good job at it and is their only real function (IIRC they have gate too, so they do have the capability to compete at higher levels.).  I think they may be the definition of your teir 4, but I could be wrong.

The thing is, Healers are only good at one thing for the first 16 or so levels... healing.  Specifically, in combat healing, because a lot of other classes are much better out of combat healers (Clerics and Druids with the Vigor line, Dread Necromancers in groups healed by negative energy, Binders with Buer, Crusaders, etc).  In combat healing, however, isn't terribly useful... as a rule, it's better to spend that spell getting the enemy dead faster and then healing later than wasting actions healing with spot heals while your enemies use their actions to deal more damage than your cure spell.  Obviously the Heal spell changes that, but until that point in combat healing tends to be a bad idea (Crusaders obviously are a strong exception).  As such, Healers fall in the catagory of "In some cases, can do one thing very well, but that one thing is very often not needed."  They do in combat healing very well, but in combat healing usually isn't the best idea anyway.  They're like Monks in that respect... sure, Monk run speed is incredible, but high ground run speed is not something most parties actually need.

So yeah, the only thing they really do well is in combat healing, which isn't important.  As general healers, they're not as good as the guys that can do more efficient long term heals... and that's actually a lot of classes these days.

Now, when a healer hits level 17 and gets Gate, the whole ballgame changes... but so few games are actually played in the 17-20 range that I didn't want to rank them higher just for those few levels.

First off, nice to see you here.

*wave* Thought I'd finally come over, the forum outages were getting a bit much.  And I figured I might as well come in with something useful.

Quote
On topic, I really like this system. I think it has been in place for a while. It wasnt written down, but people who have been playing for long enough know the wizard is better than the monk. But this points it out to those new to the game.

Yeah, too many people who are just starting out think Monks are awesome (oh my god, so many class features!) and Sorcerers suck (The Sorcerer of course is cursed with being right next to the Wizard in the book).  I don't know how many times I've seen people suggesting house rules to make Sorcerers stronger or Monks weaker.  And this is partly there to help with that issue.

JaronK
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« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2008, 09:34:36 PM »

yeah your probably right, it just doesn't bode well with me to see a spellcaster capable of 9th level spells right next to a soulknife.

do you have suggestions for where to place Wu Jen, and shugenja's.  I was thinking Wu Jen would be tier 2, and I've never realy looked over shugenja's (or seen them mentioned on min-max boards) so I would assume they lay between dread necros and war mages in terms of power so tier 3ish maybe.
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« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2008, 09:56:39 PM »

yeah your probably right, it just doesn't bode well with me to see a spellcaster capable of 9th level spells right next to a soulknife.

I know, sad isn't it?

Quote
do you have suggestions for where to place Wu Jen, and shugenja's.  I was thinking Wu Jen would be tier 2, and I've never realy looked over shugenja's (or seen them mentioned on min-max boards) so I would assume they lay between dread necros and war mages in terms of power so tier 3ish maybe.

Those are two classes I've never played or played with or had one of my players play, which is why neither are on the list.  My guess would also be Tier 2-3, just because they're relatively flexible 9th level casters, but without the whole Big 5's gaining of new spells with every new book.  But yeah, having never actually played with them I can't place them.  I'm hoping people with experience can make decent guesses as to where they go, in which case they'll be placed in itallics.

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« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2008, 10:13:45 PM »

You know what else doesn't bode well for Healers?  I've made a monk that's better at in combat healing than them.  And out of combat.

As for Wu Jen, I'd say tier 2, because their spell list isn't as abusive as the sorcerer/wizard, but it's still very powerful (and they're prepared casters from a book, like wizards).  No play experience though either.  It happens with fairly obscure classes.

And welcome Jaron, your presence is a good one.
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« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2008, 10:55:45 PM »

First of all, congratulations on your effort. I'm sure it will help many people get a good feel of the game's power levels. However, there are some things that  I feel should be pointed out.

1) This guide only addresses the classes as a whole, taken from level 1 to 20, at least as far as I understand it. This is a dangerous approach -- while the Wizard, Cleric and Druid clearly can and will break the game into tiny shards beyond recognition by themselves at level 20, properly built characters of lower tiers (sometimes with the aid of a prestige class and sometimes not) can be just as damaging. Also, some classes can be slightly less broken (almost going as far as moving DOWN a tier) if access to certain materials is forbidden. For example, the DMM Cleric. Clearly one of the most popular Cleric "builds", it falls apart when access to DMM is either restricted (i.e. no Persist) or outright forbidden. Ditto when Nightstick stacking is forbidden. By comparison, the Fighter can almost move up a tier with Caelic's Jack B. Quick build (AKA 6 hits to 1).

2) You might want to move Rogue up a Tier if anything because of UMD alone. That skill is outright DANGEROUS. And, as mentioned above, with the right PrC(s), the Rogue can kick LOTS of rear.

3) As for the Shugenja, you'd probably have to cathegorize them by element. Fire Shugenja are almost only blasters -- pretty much everything in their list is designed to hurt in some way, for example. Water Shugenja are almost wannabe Favored Souls. Earth Shugenja are wannabe Abjurers while Air Shugenja are wannabe Illusionists. Seriously, the only reason you'd GO for a Shugenja would be if you wanna be one of those things, use divine power rather than arcane, and use Charisma as your casting stat without Favored Soul kinda-sorta MAD getting in the way -- and even so, their short and never updated spell list seriously hurts their effectiveness at said roles.
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« Reply #10 on: July 06, 2008, 11:16:54 PM »

1) This guide only addresses the classes as a whole, taken from level 1 to 20, at least as far as I understand it. This is a dangerous approach -- while the Wizard, Cleric and Druid clearly can and will break the game into tiny shards beyond recognition by themselves at level 20, properly built characters of lower tiers (sometimes with the aid of a prestige class and sometimes not) can be just as damaging. Also, some classes can be slightly less broken (almost going as far as moving DOWN a tier) if access to certain materials is forbidden. For example, the DMM Cleric. Clearly one of the most popular Cleric "builds", it falls apart when access to DMM is either restricted (i.e. no Persist) or outright forbidden. Ditto when Nightstick stacking is forbidden. By comparison, the Fighter can almost move up a tier with Caelic's Jack B. Quick build (AKA 6 hits to 1).

This thing is actually designed to deal with the concept of multiclassing.  Basically, if you take a Tier 1 class and put it with a strong PrC, you're going to get something that's Tier 1 or stronger.  A Barbarian/Fighter mix ought to be in the Tier 4/5 range.  But notice the mention that with enough optimization you can go up a Tier.

Basically, the assumption here is that all classes are being played with the same levels of skill and optimization.  Obviously, a Jack B Quick Fighter is going to do much better compared to a relatively restricted Cleric than a Cleric that's as optimized as Jack B Quick (which is some serious optimization).  Now, I certainly wouldn't claim that loss of DMM drops the Cleric by a Tier... he's still got Miracle and a variety of other super potent spells at his command.  I mean, we're talking about a class that can Shapechange into a Black Ethergaunt and gain Wizard casting (assuming he has Animal Domain)!

Quote
2) You might want to move Rogue up a Tier if anything because of UMD alone. That skill is outright DANGEROUS. And, as mentioned above, with the right PrC(s), the Rogue can kick LOTS of rear.

Yeah, but look at what's right above him.  Rogues are Tier 4.  Tier 3 includes Factotums and Beguilers, both of whom do the UMD thing better than Rogues (Factotums can add their class level to their skill when they need to make it count, and have their own native casting, while Beguilers combine UMD with native casting so sometimes they have the spell on their list already).   Now, I love Rogues.  I really do.  But they have some very distinct weaknesses (such as against enemies with sneak attack resistance... remember that not all campaigns allow you to just buy truedeath crystals and such all over the place).  The Tier 3 classes don't ever have that whole "I guess I should sit this one out" thing going on.  But when the party is battling some elementals, that's often what Rogues have to do.  Now, some PrCs can fix this, but I'm trying to rank things based on what the class itself gives you.  Combine a Tier 1 PrC with a Tier 4 class and sure, you'll get something higher than Tier 4 if you did it right.  That doesn't change the fact that the Tier 4 class was Tier 4.

So yeah, there's no way I'm putting the Rogue up there with Beguilers and Factotums.  Sure, UMD is awesome, but it's not the be all end all, and it's VERY campaign dependent.  Without a Ye Olde Magic Marte available you're unlikely to actually get stuff worth UMDing.  And other classes do that better than a Rogue.  Meanwhile, his other abilities tend to be situational (sneak attack) or overwhelmed by spells (Open Lock vs Knock and Arcane Lock, for example).  It's a decent class, but it's not exactly all that strong.

Quote
3) As for the Shugenja, you'd probably have to cathegorize them by element. Fire Shugenja are almost only blasters -- pretty much everything in their list is designed to hurt in some way, for example. Water Shugenja are almost wannabe Favored Souls. Earth Shugenja are wannabe Abjurers while Air Shugenja are wannabe Illusionists. Seriously, the only reason you'd GO for a Shugenja would be if you wanna be one of those things, use divine power rather than arcane, and use Charisma as your casting stat without Favored Soul kinda-sorta MAD getting in the way -- and even so, their short and never updated spell list seriously hurts their effectiveness at said roles.

See, that's the problem... so few people actually want to play Shugenjas since they really don't do anything unique.  And as a result, I have no idea how to classify them because I've never seen them see play.  But that Charisma thing would make them great with the divine adaptation of Anima Mage... Shugenja 4/Binder 1/Anima Mage 10/Tenebrous Apostate 5, perhaps?  My gut says put them in Tier 3, but without more information I don't want them in there.

JaronK
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« Reply #11 on: July 07, 2008, 12:09:32 AM »

This list is as good as ever.
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« Reply #12 on: July 07, 2008, 04:22:13 PM »

Does anyone want to take the role of Aelryinth and derail this thread?  Smirk
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« Reply #13 on: July 07, 2008, 04:55:58 PM »

You just did...
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« Reply #14 on: July 07, 2008, 05:48:31 PM »

Woot!  Big Grin 

Why is Monk in tier 5?  I would have put it below any of the other classes in that group.
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« Reply #15 on: July 07, 2008, 05:50:43 PM »

I almost died of heart attack when I saw him saying that a Cleric would probably beat a Fighter.
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« Reply #16 on: July 07, 2008, 05:51:49 PM »

Sword and board fighter could kick a clerics @$$!!!

Just kidding! dont hit me!  Hide
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« Reply #17 on: July 07, 2008, 05:52:25 PM »

*smite*
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« Reply #18 on: July 07, 2008, 06:11:17 PM »

Woot!  Big Grin 

Why is Monk in tier 5?  I would have put it below any of the other classes in that group.

Because it's clearly better than Warriors, Commoners, and the CW Samurai, basically.  Also, remember that Monks do make great dips, and are the foundation for a number of potent builds (such as Monk 6/Shou Disciple 5/Unarmed Varient Swordsage 4/Master of Nine 5, for example).  Those First two monk levels are great... two bonus feats (which, if you count the UA varients, encompass a wide variety of useful feats), +3 to all saves, evasion, wis to AC unarmoured, and so on.  Plus, Monks have Diplomacy on their class list, which is quite handy, and have decent observational skills.

They're not great, but they're not at the level of suck that is the Warrior or something.

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« Reply #19 on: July 07, 2008, 06:47:12 PM »

I've put those two monk levels to amazing use.  On its own it's an amazing dip class, but take more than 6 levels and you start gimping yourself (more than 2 and it's not amazing anymore, just decent).  Basically it's a balance of taking as few monk levels as possible and getting 20th level damage.
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