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: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. If everybody looks at this system and sees that one or two of their favorite classes are a tier or so too low, but most other stuff looks about right, I consider it a success.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. Likewise, if one player is more skilled than the other, or campaign situations favor one playstyle over another, classes can shift around. Remember, this is a rough ranking and a guideline, not a perfect ruler.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.
Also, a simple way I've used it is this: in my regular gaming group, I've got one player who optimizes like crazy and likes making characters for other players. And then I've got a bunch of people who make their own characters, and they're less optimized. I can therefor tell people that they can be a Tier 4 class if they let him make their characters, or Tier 3 if they make their own. It's worked out pretty well.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:
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 noticeably 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.Q: Why does it matter if a class has broken abilities? Won't a DM just nerf that anyway? Shouldn't you just ignore broken abilities when ranking classes?
A: It actually matters a great deal if a class has broken abilities (such as flowing time Genesis, Planar Binding Wish loops, and so on). This system is designed to help DMs and players know what kind of power is coming their way, and if a DM is blindsided by something broken that's a serious problem. I'm not going to tell someone that a Sorcerer is weak because I'm assuming their best spells are all nerfed... I'd rather warn them that Sorcerers have overpowered abilities, so that they look more closely at the character sheets of Sorcerers that are playing in their game and watch out for such stuff. Remember, not everyone has the same opinion of "broken" and nothing ticks a player off more than having a DM tell them their neat trick that they were counting on is overpowered and suddenly banned. Ever seen a Sorcerer who took Shivering Touch and Spectral Hand and has been holding those in reserve for a few levels suddenly use those on a Dragon, only to have the DM suddenly say "no, that's broken, you can't use those spells?" It's not a pretty sight, and I'd like to avoid that.
So again, this is a system that ranks classes before such nerfing. Tier 1 and 2 class can easily do game breaking things, and DMing for those classes does require checking to make sure the player won't do anything silly (with good players, this is a simple matter of asking them to use their judgement. With munchkins, you have to be firm). The fact that they're Tier 1 and 2 is supposed to warn you that some house ruling may be necessary to avoid broken campaigns if your players go a little nuts.Q: What assumptions were used in making this system?
A: I tried to use as few assumptions as possible, to ensure the system would apply to as many games as possible. However, I had to use a few. The primary assumptions are equivalent player skill and equivalent optimization level. If one class is heavily optimized (taking the best available options, whatever best might mean in this case) and another example of the same class is not very optimized at all (taking a bunch of random options without regards to power) then obviously the same class would have two very different power/versitility levels. Likewise, an incompetent player (or one who's simply not trying) will do far less with a powerful class than someone who's creative and knows the rules well. I simply can't measure those factors, so the system assumes it's the same.
As far as books available, I assume that the core books are available, as well as whatever book the class appears in. Obviously, few people play a Dread Necromancer without Heroes of Horror. For all other sources, I tried to count them based on how commonly used I thought they were. For example, the Complete series of books are very often used, so I factored in the Barbarian's access to the Lion Totem with the assumption that it would usually be available. However, 3.0 books like Book of Exalted Deeds are far less likely to be used, so I didn't really factor in the Healer's ability to cast Consecrated Spells out of that book much when ranking that class. Usually this doesn't actually matter all that much (a Core Wizard is to a Core Rogue as an all books Wizard is to all all books Rogue), but for some classes it matters a great deal... these classes are listed separately (such as the Binder, which gains a TON of power with access to the online official WotC material, and is thus listed at both Tier 2 and Tier 3).House Rules
The first time I posted this I was asked about potential 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 implement:
JaronKWhy Each Class is in its Tier
Hopefully I'll eventually expand this post, but for now I can at least link this resource: http://brilliantgameologists.com/boards/index.php?topic=5070.0