D&D 5E Play Analysis Part 2

Last time, I discussed scope, in this post I am going to talk about power level. This is a generalized list of the power levels in D&D 5th Edition.

Tier 1 (levels 1-4): Characters are effectively apprentice adventurers. They are learning the features that define them as members of particular classes, including the major choices that flavor their class features as they advance (such as a wizard’s Arcane Tradition or a fighter’s Martial Archetype). The threats they face are relatively minor, usually posing a danger to local farmsteads or villages.

Tier 2 (levels 5-10): Characters come into their own. Many spellcasters gain access to 3rd-level spells at the start of this tier, crossing a new threshold of magical power with spells such as fireball and lightning bolt. At this tier, many weapon-using classes gain the ability to make multiple attacks in one round. These characters have become important, facing dangers that threaten cities and kingdoms.

Tier 3 (levels 11-16): Characters have reached a level of power that sets them high above the ordinary populace and makes them special even among adventurers. At 11th level, many spellcasters gain access to 6th-level spells, some of which create effects previously impossible for player characters to achieve. Other characters gain features that allow them to make more attacks or do more impressive things with those attacks. These mighty adventurers often confront threats to whole regions and continents.

Tier 4 (levels 17-20): Characters achieve the pinnacle of their class features, becoming heroic (or villainous) archetypes in their own right. The fate of the world or even the fundamental order of the multiverse might hang in the balance during their adventures.

Tier 5 (levels 21+): Characters at this level can and do challenge the gods themselves.

In my game I tend towards the first two tiers. My campaigns tend to last roughly a year, which is about enough time to obtain 8th-10th level. Occasionally we peek up to tier 3, I think the highest anyone has gotten is around 16th level. In our last HackMaster campaign, the Doombringers of Cotedela, everyone was above 12th level. The big problem with this was the PC’s were for all intense and purpose the most powerful people in the realm and were among the most powerful in the world, even demi-gods thought twice about screwing with these guys and anyone who did, brought an army with them.

As a DM, I like the first two tiers, while the later two become too difficult to deal with. As a player, I would dearly love to play a Conan or Elric like character, who are just ridiculously powered for their environments. I am going to do write ups of both Elric and Conan in the near future. Elric is definitely in the epic 5th tier, he is easily a 20th level Wizard, and perhaps an 8th level Fighter, he fought gods and won. Conan fits nicely into the high end of tier 4, at 15th level fighter and 5 level Rogue. If I get really ambitious, I may do Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser as well, I think these two are excellent examples of tier 3 characters.

It is important to note, that even at the bottom of tier 2, the characters are among the elite of the world. Even veterans soldiers will generally be 0-Level Men-at-Arms, Sergeants and Captains will rarely be higher than 3rd level and even a Sergeant Major or General will be perhaps 4th level and the Captain of the Kings Royal Guard, might be 5th level. In a world were 90% of the population has 3 hit points, a 5th level anything will be a power to reckon with.

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