Amen. Preach it, brother.
The idea of “Tiers” works for something like Call of Duty, where the tier 1 gun is alright, the tier 2 gun is better, and the tier 3 gun is best. But no matter what the Hypothetical Optimizers on the Interwebs say, as long as you have a DM who doesn’t suck, you can run a Sword and Board Fighter and a Batman Wizard in the same party without one constantly overshadowing the other.
Yes. It’s called roleplaying.
Sure, maybe your Cleric has the ability to cast Divine Might and go to town in melee. And for the next few minutes, he can fight as well as a Fighter. But here are the problems with that: First, he’s a Cleric, not a Fighter or a Paladin, for a reason. As a DM, I expect you to know that reason and RP it. This means that most PC Clerics I’ve seen have had one reason or another not to go into melee unless the situation is dire.
I’ve also had a few Battle Clerics, who built characters both stat-wise and RP wise to let them wade into melee. And when that happened, do you know what happened? The Cleric would start out the day out-damaging the Fighter. After the first few fights, he’d be low on buffs, and have to sacrifice some buffs in order to heal between fights. By the end of the day, the Cleric would be doing half the damage the Fighter was and unable to cast crowd control or debuffs to boot.
The great thing about D&D is that anyone can do anything.From sword-swinging Wizards to plate-wearing Rogues, every concept is in fact possible, as long as you don’t care about squeezing out every last +1 and helpful effect.
Oh, come ON! A Fighter is a one trick pony? Really?
The biggest problem with the Tier System (And Theoretical Optimization as a whole) is this: It assumes a number of ridiculous things:
- That you’re playing in a campaign with only CR appropriate encounters, the DM never house rules or fiats action sequences. Further, every day consists of 4 CR appropriate encounters.
- The most important thing about play is getting that last +1 To Hit out
- The DM is a completely uncreative computer, and that his campaign is incapable of change.
Allow me to explain and demolish all three assumptions.
- The Tier system says things like, “A Wizard of proper level NEVER runs out of spells, because he gets so many every day” or “If, by chance, a Wizard SHOULD run out of spells, all he needs to do is cast Rope Trick and rest inside”. These things are true, assuming that the campaign is the “4 encounter per day, 12 encounters per level, exact wealth by level” campaign detailed by the DMG. This NEVER HAPPENS. Days with 4 encounters per level are the easiest days, second only to travel days we skip over. When the party REALLY needs everyone at the top of their games is when you have ten, thirteen, fifteen encounters in one day, all at or over CR, with a boss fight at the end and a ticking McGuffin that prevents the players from resting. And this happens at least once per adventure, and many many times throughout the campaign.
- The Tier system assumes that a Wizard is inherently better than a Fighter. If you’re after every last +1, this is true. If your goal is to enjoy the role playing aspect of the game and to have fun, this is false. How many times can you play a Wizard? Sheesh.
- Here we come to the biggest flaw with the Tier system. Check your definition. What is a Tier 1 Class? It is a Class capable of breaking the game in multiple ways. Thus you have the Cleric and their Divine Metamagic Nightsticks, or the Druid and their “turn into a bear who rides a dire bear who summons fiendish half-dragon bears, then casts Bite of the Werebear on them all and massacres everyone”, or the Wizard and their abuse of Divinations, Clerity, Wish, Time Stop, etc. etc.
What is a Tier 2 Class? A class capable of breaking the game in only one way. Thus, the Sorcerer falls here; he can only cast the spells he knows, which are far more limited than the Wizard’s, so it is safe to assume that he can only break the game in one way.
What is a Tier 3 Class? A class capable of doing very well in some areas and passing in others. I find this ridiculous. The Bard is listed as a Tier 3 class. I’ve seen Bards who can do everything well. Once, as an experiment, we kept track of how damage a certain Bard was doing. Every time his song or buff added 1 point of damage, we counted that; if the attack would have missed without the buff, we counted all of the damage. Turns out the Bard was doing more damage than everyone else, Cleric and Wizard included. Further, he could hold up to anyone but the Fighter in a straight fight, and even the Fighter if he was allowed to use trickery.
Now, before we discuss the lower tiers, let us point out why Tier 1 and Tier 2 do not, in fact, exist. The answer is simple: Both involve Breaking the Game ™ in their definition. Obviously, no sane DM is going to let some of the party members break the game. So while overpowered in some form of hypothetical scenario involving an AI DM who doesn’t care if you break his game as long as it’s rules legal, both tiers fall down to match Tier 3 in any real game.
What is a Tier 4 Class? A class that can do one thing quite well and sucks at everything else. Let’s look at some examples. From FinnAgain’s link, we see that the Rogue, Barbarian, Warlock, Warmage, Scout, Ranger, Hexblade, Adept, Spellthief, Marshal, and Fighter are all Tier 4. But the fact is, with some clever playing, all of these classes can fill multiple roles. Rogues can, obviously, sneak and scout. But they can do much, much more: They can handle themselves in a fight, thanks to a decent-to-high AC, not too shabby hitpoints, and bonus sneak attack damage. They can cast Buffs or even Debuffs, thanks to Use Magic Device (And who would have more extra gold than a thief?). Let’s look at a Fighter or Barbarian. Yes, they dominate the field of battle, but they do so in more than one way. A Fighter or Barbarian can serve as a tank, as crowd control, as a heavy hitter, as a mobile attack force (with a mount), etc. Clearly, all of these classes can do much more than just one thing as long as their player is creative. Further, even if, hypothetically, you built a Rogue who was too fragile to be in battle at all and could only sneak around, make the occasional sneak attack, and disappear again, would that be a bad thing? After all, you’re still contributing, and having fun. And out of combat, you have many uses: Assassin, scout, trapsmith…
What is a Tier 5 Class? A class that can do one thing, and not necessarily well. Let’s have a look: Monk, CA Ninja, Healer, Swashbuckler, Rokugan Ninja, Soulknife, Expert, OA Samurai, Paladin, Knight. A Monk does indeed have its problems, mostly because it doesn’t work as intended. But that’s a problem with the Monk’s balance against itself, not his balance with other classes. A Paladin can do multiple things well. He can fight, in multiple ways, just like the Barbarian and Fighter, and he has a Mount, which is helpful too. A Swashbuckler is one of the funnest classes I’ve ever played. I honestly do not know why they would put it down here.
What is a Tier 6 Class? A class that cannot do anything well. Aristocrat, Warrior, Commoner. Great, 3 NPC classes. The CW Samurai is also listed here, but like the Monk that’s a problem with the class’s design as opposed to balance.
Are some classes more powerful than others? No. Some builds are more powerful than others, of course; and some of classes lend themselves to more powerful builds much more easily. But here’s the thing: In the end, it doesn’t matter who can outdamage who, because at the end of the day, the party is a team. The DM isn’t letting anyone break the game, be it an Ubercharger Barbarian who can do 12,000 damage with a single swing or a Wizard who spams Time Stop over and over again. The only use for the Tier system is for DMs who don’t like Wizards and Druids and who want to arbitrarily ban them. But you don’t need a tier system for that, you just need a setting that doesn’t have those classes.
Sorry for the long, rambling post; I told you not to get me started on Tiers, Finn!
ETA: And it seems I’ve been Ninja’d a few times while posting… Time to read!