I know that people complain about too many tier systems (base classes, PrCs, templates, feats, races, spells...) but I'm just going to go for it. We need a tier system in the community for player & DM capability. Basically, it's a realistic measure of how much a player can handle and it will help players to player and player to DM relationships match better and understand where each is coming from. Thus, I present
The Tier System for Players (and DMs)Players (from the DM's perspective):Tier 1:
He brought a whopper to the table. In fact, you learned a few things when reading his incredibly well-documented build. It took a while, but you had to hand it to him; the concept was clever and the fluff fit. You lean on him when it comes to setting up the battlefield, because he's the only one you can trust to not even think about metagaming. You were proud when he walked into the trap that killed his character that he knew was there. It's okay because he has a backup, you just need a
ten minute break to read over it. In the meantime, he'll be trying to optimize the party's next level up. That doesn't worry you, though. It's his schemes that totally take the do a 180 on you that worry you.Tier 2:
She not only remembers the story, she's the one doing gather information checks. She's got good modifiers and you didn't have to help her with it. Checking over her character sheet was easy because it was all brute-force, although she forgot to site the non-core stuff. She always handles herself and is a solid player, often answering other lower tier players' questions about the plot or even their own charactersTier 3:
He plays his build just fine. Sure, he just does a few things, rinse-and-repeat (swift action buff to charge or move and heal) but he only has to be reminded of plot points. Oh, and he'll need hand-holding for his build next campaign. You're fine with it because he's a normal player. You just with the process weren't so time-consuming when he can't choose quickly for himself.Tier 4:
She's played a few sessions but is absent-minded. "What's my modifiers on attack? What do you mean grapple is touch/hold/pull? What do you mean size modifier rather than just a straight a strength check? I'll just fire my bow," she says as she looks down at the highlighted line you added to her pre-generated character sheet. She hates all the rest of the numbers. It's too "busy" to look at. Players who stay at this tier for a long time probably don't want to be playing this game.Tier 5:
This guy has played RPGs before. Warcraft, AD&D, or M&M. He'll have to be taught, but it will be a quick read. LA is something he grasps quickly, but prepared vs spontaneous castings takes a few repetitions. This is going to take an hour to go through the SRD since he's curious but sometimes bothersome about it. Warlocks fill the pinnacle of power in his high-powered fantasies, but he knows they have too much going on for him to build ... yet. Slows down play while trying to understand parts of his character sheet. Players that aren't new but stay here are either thick or purposely being disruptive.Tier 6:
The complete newbie. Maybe she's heard of D&D before. But she's never played. You'll have to explain the stat scores first. Doesn't understand the generic, English meaning of the word "race". You don't bother showing her the SRD, or even a character sheet. You give her a
sword and hope that she listens when she explains that not everything is a
dragon that needs immediate slaying. Players that aren't new but still treat everything as a nail often have large personal problems.DMs (from the player's perspective):Tier 1:
He does everything your last great DM could do (see below) but this guy laughed at your psion. Not because he agreed that it was overpowered, but because you had called it "the most powerful character you've ever made." He raises your ante by suggesting some better powers and a PrC you've never heard of. You happily listen and are really excited when you realize just how nuts this campaign is going to be. You don't even read his house rules (all posted online) because it’s all common-sense stuff to you after a long, long browse. He even tells you not to hold back, which is a good thing because you feel your pulse pick up every time he tells you to roll initiative. This has to be the time you lose your favorite, crazy character, in a campaign he's adapting into 3e from someone else's
She can tell a story. Normally you stay aware from homebrew campaigns, but the maps drew you in. She's got voices for everyone, knows their family members and the plot twists are a real zinger. She even let you play that cool character idea you had, once you explained that it was just a low-power bruiser type. You didn't even feel bad when your LA-bought off, huge-sized character got pegged into unconsciousness by fliers since you waited to get flight until you had more WBL. You remember your great character lines and hope she's going to run another campaign after this one.Tier 3:
This guy runs a typical game. He listens to what psionics is actually more balanced than magic, but either lets you be an exception to the campaign world or hedges out psionics for "flavor reasons". ToB is tolerated despite the anime. Once you finally get a build accepted, it’s a decent ride though. The roleplay could have been better but you could tell he was trying. He runs the adventure book pretty much straight (you verify afterward) and you had about the amount of fun you expected. Maybe he'll grow into a better DM as you and your friends stick it out. That's normal, after all.Tier 4:
A typical low DM experience fits here. Maybe the DM invents house rules on the fly ... constantly. Maybe mind-controlled PCs happens for entire sessions. Maybe the DM thinks 'gritty low fantasy' weak-as-paper campaigns are all anyone should ever be allowed to play. Whatever the reason, you either forgot to ask, or ignored the red flag just because a buddy was playing. It's no big deal that your DFA 5 was ruled 'too powerful' in a party of wizard 5, cleric 5, druid 5. You won't bother building another character.Tier 5:
"Hey guys I've never DM'd before, but I've played a few pre-gens and it wasn't hard. Running this module will be about the same, right?" Only the most close-knit of friends have these campaigns. If you can call it that. Mostly it’s just a lot of joking around, Doritos and Mountain Dew. Reviewing footage of these games is boring/dumb/an IQ-dropping experience for higher tier players to watch.Tier 6:
The stuff of legends. Whole threads were born of "what was the worst DM you ever had?" answers. No evidence of these campaigns exist due to legal jeopardy and fleeing players. Penny Arcade mockeries made real are this tier.
Oddly, the original tiers thread discussed how parties that are more than 1 tier apart will have a not fun/stressful time. The same seems to go with DM's and players. Tier 3 players would not mind tier 3 DMs, nor matching tier 4 or 5s. But tier 2 players might tolerate tier 3 DMs. Sure, they might not say anything, but it just won't be as good an experience as a tier 2 player with a tier 2 DM. Tier 3 players will still like tier 2 DMs, but they probably won't realize how good they have it and tier 4 players certainly won't. Tier 1 players and DMs are rather rare but will also have their patience tested with tier 3's and flat out tension with tier 4s.
Also, like the tier system, there is nothing 'wrong' with being at any particular tier as a player. We were all new and sometimes you just don't want to play certain games. Most of us have even been 'too much' for certain DMs, even decent ones, to handle. But lower tier DMs seem different to me. I can't actually justify being in a lower tier because the bar is fairly well known. The whole point of DMing is that you can handle what your players throw at you. Yes, tier 4 DM's can technically get away with DMing a fairly smooth campaign if all players are tier 3's but that's usually a rarity. Most groups I see tend to have a tier 4 player, and a tier 2 player with everyone else being tier 3. Yes, the tier 4 could label the tier 2 player as 'a problem' and the campaign might go smoother without that one player, but that still doesn't sit right to punish the tier 2 player. Tier 5's should know better and if they manage to last, they only do so because they're mostly not playing much D&D. I have no comment on Tier 6's.
I should be clear that tier representations are an 'overall picture'. If your Tier 4 DM is a thespian with wonderful improv skills, he might jump to a tier 2 DM for a few moments every session. Also, I'd like to be clear that these tiers are mostly independent of work put in. Due to diminishing returns, it’s entirely possible that the tier 4 DM puts a huge amount of time into making a halfway decent campaign and it still doesn't click for a tier 2 player. And that's no one's fault. It's just the way it is since these things are mostly independent.
Lastly, I haven't discussed multi-DM dynamics much because they don't seem to be common, or at least not discussed much. From what I can see and my own experiences, co-DMs tend to have specialized jobs / division of labor and both DMs tend for form their own little cabal so that they are on the same page. Yes, it gets awkward when they correct each other during play, but the DMs tend to be the ones who want play to run the fastest anyway, so it tends to be so quick it’s hard for players to follow. Since similar groups seem rare, most of this part is drawn from my college, 9 player round-robin group with 2 switching DMs per mini-campaign. Still, having even co-DMs categorize themselves might speed up their synchronization process. I'm eager to hear from others who have had large enough gaming groups to require multiple simultaneous or campaign world-sharing DMs.