However, in all the conversations and arguments I've seen regarding power tiers, I keep coming across the same, inherent problem with this classification system (aside from the fact that it's completely opinion based). The problem is that these tiers do not account for the sheer variety of options you can encounter in a Pathfinder campaign, either in character building, or in the threats you have to overcome.
|Hear that? That's the sound of a thousand keyboards all chattering with rebuttals.|
Point #1: It Doesn't Factor in Number of Encounters
No one who has ever played a Pathfinder game would dispute that a fully-powered wizard or cleric is a force to reckon with. They tend to be big bosses for a reason. However, as anyone who has played a spellcaster knows, you are a big gun with a limited number of bullets. Sure, you may be able to completely destroy an encounter by yourself, but how many times a day can you do that? Once? Twice? What are you going to have left by the time you get to the third encounter, and you're down to cantrips and/or orisons?
|Intimidating the raging barbarian is not a recommended tactic.|
It is a fair statement to say that a wizard, through use of the right spells, can sneak around just as well, or better, than many rogues. However, the time limit on spells, combined with the limited uses you have of them per day, means that when it comes to a dungeon crawl, the guy who can roll reliably all day is the better choice for the job.
Put another way, sure, you can do amazing things with tier 1 characters. But how long can you keep it up for?
Point #2: Multiclassing
One of the biggest issues with the power tier system is that it seems to function on the belief that most characters will take levels of one class, and one class only. As soon as you start mixing and matching, it throws off all the assumptions. After all, if you're a wizard/fighter, then how do we decide where you belong? What if you're playing a barbarian/rogue? Does it matter how many levels of one class you take, and how many of the other? Do your feats come into it? Does your choice of spells?
|The filing system is pretty easily screwed up.|
Point #3: There Are Too Many Options
More powerful tiers are supposed to be inherently stronger than lower tiers when it comes to solving problems, whatever forms those problems take. That's a fine sentiment, but the sheer number of challenges means that different classes (or at least characters with different abilities) will be more useful in certain situations than others.
|Everybody chill. I got this.|
As a for instance, say your party is ambushed by assassins. The sorcerer's area of effect spells would obliterate swarms, or slow-moving enemies, but Improved Evasion means these targets walk through fireballs as if they weren't even there. If your enemies have protection from summoned monsters, then conjurers, druids, and summoners are going to find their usual tactics are nowhere near as effective.
This is true on a campaign level, in addition to on an encounter level. For example, an enchanter will find themselves at a serious disadvantage if they have to deal with mindless undead, plants, and constructs, instead of sentient creatures susceptible to their charms. A paladin who has to fight neutrally aligned mercenaries, vicious animals, or warriors simply trying to stay alive, may find that his smite is taken off the table, and that a number of his spells simply will not avail him in this fight. Rangers who go up against creatures that aren't on their favored enemy list will find they aren't nearly as effective as they are on their home turf, fighting their favored prey.
It isn't just challenges, though. Because there are a huge number of options players can pursue when it comes to their strategies.
For example, the rogue is on a lower tier than the wizard. But a rogue skilled in the use magic device skill, and who is willing to collect and utilize the proper resources, will find that this portable magic is quite useful. A fighter with the Eldritch Heritage feats manifests certain sorcerer powers, and those can often provide a character with a wider range of options and powers during a game. Even the much-maligned monk can often use their supernatural abilities to succeed in situations where traditional sorceries will fail.
Who Gets To Decide What's "Powerful"?
The major problem, when we get down to it, is who gets to say what is and isn't powerful?
For example, the ability to cast a 9th level spell is certainly impressive. But if you have a wizard trying to target someone who's hiding in plain sight, how do they find them? Do you cast hoping to hit the right area the target is in? Alternatively, you may have the ability to cleave an opponent in twain with a single swing of your sword, but what do you do if they're in a tree, or flying in the air? You may be the deadliest pistolero in the world, but what do you do if you need to cross the desert?
|Bring a wand of Create Water, perhaps?|
Too often, as players, we take it upon ourselves to decide that certain powers, and certain abilities, are inherently more valuable to a game than others. However, if we're going to have a, "my favorite class can beat up your favorite class," argument, then we need to set some serious parameters. For example, what is the situation that's being dealt with? What sort of campaign are we talking about? Are we talking pure class abilities only, or are we bringing gear into the discussion as well? Feat choice? Spell selection? Are we allowing only the core books, or anything from Paizo?
For example, it's perfectly acceptable to say that, "in an ambush situation, a diviner is going to be able to act more quickly than any other base class." That's true. But it's situation-specific, and this enables us to make statements that are actually valid. Simply stating, "X class is more powerful than Y class," adds nothing to the conversation, because we have no context. What are they trying to accomplish? Are we talking about damage output? Survivability? Who can discover more about plot-relevant clues? And is this a once-a-day trick that we can do with a minute or two of prep time, or is this something you can do waking up naked in the middle of the night?
That's it for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully I managed to make a case that we can all talk about, and which will help us move away from massive generalities into more nuanced, useful discussions. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a little bread in my jar. If you give at least $1 a month, there's even some swag in it for you! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, why not start now?