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I tend to play Wizards, almost exclusively, though I have branched out and played Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, and, at some point each other core class. I would like to play something different for my next character, but don't want to be underpowered. I would very much like to play something on the same power level as the Wizard, but I'm having trouble.

I once saw a forum post in which someone separated a list of classes into "tiers", with Wizards/Clerics/Druids being Tier 1, and others being lower tiers.

Can someone point me to a similar list, or list classes from at least the following sources by power level?

Sources:

  • Player's Handbook
  • Player's Handbook 2
  • Complete Adventurer
  • Complete Arcane
  • Complete Divine
  • Complete Warrior
  • Heroes of Horror
  • Magic of Incarnum
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2 Answers 2

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What are tiers?

Tiers are a ranking of how "powerful and/or versatile" the various 3.5 base classes are, with low numbered tiers being considered more capable than high numbered tiers. It's important to remember that certain caveats apply to the rankings:

  • Tiers assume similar levels of optimization. Someone playing an optimized "weak" class (like a fighter) and using its abilities well may be a lot more effective than a poorly built wizard played by someone who doesn't know how to make use of its options.
  • Tiers attempt to describe power over levels 1-20. Classes will generally be in their listed tiers immediately, though the gaps between tiers tend to be a bit smaller at lower levels.
  • Tiers are based on published material only. Homebrew and house rules can and will modify the rankings of some classes or even just negate the entire ranking system.
  • Tiers are based on relatively high-magic games, as presented as the default in the core rulebooks. In a low-magic setting the rankings will be mostly the same, but the gaps between tiers will get a lot bigger, because magic items tend to be the best way for less powerful classes to cover up their weak spots.
  • Tiers look at characters' ability to solve problems of any sort, not just combat (social challenges, exploration, dungeon navigation, and other challenges presented in published adventures or suggested in the game texts to the DM).

We frown on link-only answers, so I'll go ahead and summarize the full tier list of all published classes, originally from here. Fuller descriptions of why each class is in its tier can be found here.

Tier 1: Wizard, Cleric, Druid, Archivist, Artificer, Erudite (Spell to Power variant) — Can do anything and everything, often better than lower-tier classes that supposedly specialize in that thing.

Tier 2: Sorcerer, Favored Soul, Psion, Binder (w/ online vestiges), Erudite — As powerful as tier 1, but no one build can do everything.

Tier 3: Beguiler, Dread Necromancer, Crusader, Bard, Swordsage, Binder, Ranger (Wildshape variant), Duskblade, Factotum, Warblade, Psychic Warrior, Incarnate, Totemist — Good at one thing & useful outside that, or moderately useful at most things.

Tier 4: Rogue, Barbarian, Warlock, Warmage, Scout, Ranger, Hexblade, Adept, Spellthief, Marshal, Fighter (Zhentarium variant) — Good at one thing but useless at everything else, or mediocre at many things.

Tier 5: Fighter, Monk, Ninja (both CA & Rokugan versions), Healer, Swashbuckler, Soulknife, Expert, OA Samurai, Paladin, Knight, CW Samurai (with Imperious Command), Soulborn — Good at one rarely applicable thing, or mediocre at one thing, or simply too unfocused.

Tier 6: CW Samurai, Aristocrat, Warrior, Commoner — Objectively worse at their specialty than another (often Tier 5) class, without anything else to show for it.

Tier 7: Truenamer — Apparently received no actual playtesting, mechanics as written simply don't work. See this question for more details.

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As the meta has developed, these tiers have changed.

The accepted answer gives a good idea of the general consensus of class power as of the time of the answer being posted, but that was almost a decade ago. More recent analysis has shifted things around a bit; a relevant forum post summarizing a large community project to re-rank the classes can be found at this link.

The method of analysis is mostly similar to what the currently accepted answer by Oblivious Sage mentions, though it is clarified a bit more. Specifically, the classes are rated in terms of what they can do on their own and not what they can bring into a multiclassed character build, and the analysis tends to focus on levels 4 to about 16, rather than trying to equalize every possible level of play. There is also significantly less focus on whether a class has access to game-breaking exploits.

The tiers are listed as such, with each class having a ranking according to the mean voted power level of the class:

Tier 1 (S)
Druid: 1
Sha’ir: 1
Cleric: 1.05
Wizard: 1.09
Archivist: 1.13
Shaman: 1.12
Wu Jen: 1.17
Artificer: 1.28
Spontaneous Druid: 1.31
Urban Druid: 1.36
Death Master: 1.49
Tier 2 (A)
Generic Spellcaster: 1.66
Spontaneous Cleric: 1.74
Erudite: 1.78
Psion: 1.78
Sorcerer: 1.81
Evangelist: 1.88
Beguiler: 2
Mystic: 2
Dread Necromancer: 2.15
Warmage: 2.2
Ardent: 2.2
Favored Soul: 2.29
Spirit Shaman: 2.49
Mystic Ranger: 2.49
Tier 3 (B)
Wilder: 2.55
Shugenja: 2.84
Bard: 2.91
Trickster Spellthief: 2.95
Jester: 3.07
Totemist: 3.08
Swordsage: 3.12
Warlock: 3.20
Binder: 3.21
Crusader: 3.22
Warblade: 3.26
Dragonfire Adept: 3.28
Healer: 3.33
Psychic Warrior: 3.32
Duskblade: 3.34
Lurk: 3.4
Psychic Rogue: 3.4
Wild Shape Ranger: 3.47
Tier 4 (C)
Incarnate: 3.5
Factotum: 3.51
Wild Monk: 3.51
Rogue: 3.79
Shadowcaster: 3.82
Barbarian: 4
Generic Expert: 4
Generic Warrior: 4
Scout: 4.15
Spellthief: 4
Paladin: 4.19
Ranger: 4.28
Ninja: 4.33
Savant: 4.37
Fighter: 4.48
Marshal: 4.49
Tier 5 (D)
Adept: 4.54
Truenamer: 4.56
Sohei: 4.58
Hexblade: 4.65
Battle Dancer: 4.73
Divine Mind: 4.75
Monk: 4.78
Dragon Shaman: 4.81
Mountebank: 4.84
Samurai (OA): 4.85
Magewright: 4.94
Soulborn: 5.01
Knight: 5.02
Noble: 5.05
Swashbuckler: 5.07
Soulknife: 5.22
Samurai (CW): 5.26
Tier 6 (F)
Expert: 5.73
Aristocrat: 5.76
Warrior: 5.8
Commoner: 6

Some of the stand-out changes include the following:

  • Healer was moved up to Tier 3. It's not clear why the Healer was ranked so low to begin with, and it certainly never had any business being lower than the Adept. At the levels where pure healing starts to fall off, the Healer gains access to a unicorn companion that can eventually be traded out for companions with potent divine spell lists of their own.
  • Truenamer is ranked at the top of Tier 5, right next to the Adept and just a stone's throw away from the Fighter. While there are issues with the Truenamer, the class is significantly more playable than most give it credit for. Reasonable assumptions can be made about how the class works, and thus it can absolutely be ranked. That said, of course, the class is still has a glaring lack of good mid-level utterances.
  • Having incredibly specific power is generally less favored. For instance, the Adept and Expert have both dropped a tier because they are one-trick ponies who quickly run out of things to do when push comes to shove. Classes like the Paladin and Beguiler, however, are ranked a tier higher than before because they can lean into a range of strengths and can avoid over-specializing fairly well.
  • Similar to the above, Erudite drops a tier even with spell-to-power considered because most of the power in that variant comes from cheesing the way spells are converted. A lesser version of this effect can be seen in how the Cleric and Druid are both ranked (slightly) higher than the Wizard, where the original list is ambiguous about their relative power levels and seems to imply that the Wizard is the strongest among them.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I, for one, find a lot of the analysis in that link deeply questionable, and find the original tiers—while certainly not perfect—generally better. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 16 at 18:09

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