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Tier System for Classes D&D 3.

5
« July 06, 2008, 07:06:10 PM »

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.

This post is NOT intended to state which class is "best" or "sucks." It is only a measure
of the power and versitliity of classes for balance purposes.

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 in terms of
tier descriptions, 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).

As a further note, some classes have specific variants or options to them that drastically
change their abilities. These classes are noted on multiple tiers. If a variant is not
mentioned, it's in the same Tier as the standard class (for example, the Cloistered Cleric
is not mentioned because it's T1 like the Cleric. The same goes for the Battle Sorcerer
and the Wilderness Rogue). Classes in blue are on the high side of their Tier and can
easily move up. Classes in red are on the low side of their Tier and can easily move
down.

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
with skill, can easily break a campaign and can be very hard to challenge without
extreme DM fiat or plenty of house rules, especially if Tier 3s and below are in the party.

Examples: Wizard, Cleric, Druid, Archivist, Artificer, Erudite (Spell to Power Variant)

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 potentially 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 easily 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), Eurdite
(No Spell to Power)

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. Can be game breaking only with specific intent to
do so. 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 Variant Ranger, Duskblade,
Factotum, Warblade, Psychic 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 contribute 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 (Zhentarium 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
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, CW Samurai (with Imperious Command available)

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 (without Imperious Command available), 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). Highly optimized (to the point of being able to
spam their abilities) a Truenamer would be around Tier 4, but with lower optimization it
rapidly drops to Tier 6.

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 shape shifter 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).

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

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.