I want to know if there are melee builds, i.e. characters designed to use either melee or ranged weapons in combat, that can keep up with/compete with/or be useful to competent tier 1 casters (Wizard, Druid, Erudite, Cleric, Archivist).

Also, obviously, this does not include characters from those classes choosing to buff and fight in melee or use ranged weapons ('gish' characters) - this question is solely aimed at tier 3 and below classes that fight in melee or use ranged weapons, and are as effective as well-played tier 1 casters.

This question isn't just about Combat, although this is for DnD 3.5e, so clearly Combat is a big part of it. Usefulness outside of Combat is important as well.

I want to know

  1. Which specific character builds can be effective in comparison to tier 1 caster classes.
  2. Do you have any specific experience in playing or witnessing one of these builds in an actual game, and how did it go?

I am defining 'competent caster' as 'picks and uses the best spells, employs them in an intelligent manner, may have a beneficial prestige class, doesn't lose lots of caster levels for no reason'.

To be clear, I am not asking for melee or ranged tier 3 or below characters that can challenge a Truly Optimized Wizard. The Tippy Wizard or Omnicaster, Omniscificer or Pun Pun, none of those can be challenged by anything with full BAB. That's fine.

I'm more thinking of the 'competent, intelligent, but not ridiculously optimized' tier 1 caster, who uses spells intelligently but doesn't chain metamagic and prestige class abilities to be ridiculously powerful.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Since in 3.x, magic equates to power, I'd be inclined to say no. Anyway, since the tiers are based on the idea of competent optimisation, any melee class that can match a tier 1 class would be in tier 1 already, I think. I'd really like for someone more competent in optimisation to prove me wrong, however! \$\endgroup\$ – Dakeyras May 27 '14 at 23:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm provisionally leaning towards 'yes', myself, as 'competent' caster is not the same as 'most highly optimized'. I'm interested in what specific builds people are aware of that can reach those lofty heights from humble tier 3 and below beginnings, though. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 May 27 '14 at 23:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ hmm. since you specifically mention no Gish and Tier 3... How much of a build are we talking about? There aren't a lot of optimized Builds that involve Tier 3 Classes only. Edit: Do you accept Prestige Classes? Dips into better then Tier 3 Classes? Caster dips of any kind? \$\endgroup\$ – Andy May 27 '14 at 23:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused about what you want. Your opening sentence is confusing: a ranged weapon build isn't melee. I'm also confused by your exclusion of gishy characters: bards are melee and ranged fighters, but also use magic to help them. What are you after? Builds that can use ranged as long as they still use melee? Mundane builds that don't use magic at all? Just any tier 3 or below class, so as to exclude someone who answers with a wizard (tier 1) who fights primarily with a sword? (If it's the no-magic-at-all one, are wands and Use Magic Device ok?) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 28 '14 at 0:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, this seems too broad to me - "what builds of dozens of classes at arbitrary optimization levels might compete with some other builds of some other dozens of classes at mid, I guess, optimization levels?" I'm going to put this on hold for some workshopping. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil May 28 '14 at 4:01

A low tier character can be useful to a tier 1 character, although possibly not at the very highest optimization levels.

Remember, the definition of tier 4:

Capable of doing one thing quite well

Many tier 4 characters and some tier 5 characters will have a niche in which they are effective contributors to the party.

For an example of highly powerful, but low-tier characters, take:

  • A standard charger (usual feats: Shock Trooper [Complete Warrior], Leap Attack [Complete Adventurer], Headlong Rush [Races of Faerûn], Battle Jump [Unapproachable East], and others)
  • A diplomancer (a Diplomacy score high enough to turn a creature into your Fanatic follower when interacted with)

Each build is likely to completely wreck encounters in which their niche is applicable. It is often not fun to play, as the outcome of encounters tends to be binary (completely overpowered or completely useless) as far as these characters are concerned, but they can definitely be useful in a party that includes a tier 1 character.


What no build in existence can do is resolve the inherent differences between the tiers. Take note of the first line of the tier 1 definition:

Capable of doing absolutely everything, often better than classes that specialize in that thing.

A low tier build can't do that, by its very definition. Were it possible, the class wouldn't be in that tier.

Which allows us to address some :

  • Can a low tier character keep up with a tier 1 character? No. A tier 1 character has more strengths, and a lower tier character can't do anything about that.
  • Can a low tier character compete with a tier 1 character? No, not in general. They can "compete" with the tier 1s within their chosen niches (if they have one), but generally no.
  • Can a low tier character be useful to a tier 1 character? Absolutely. See the builds outlined above for examples.

As for specific experience with mixed-tier parties - I have plenty. The results have run the gamut from being entirely OK (specialized characters' niches being necessary but not sufficient to solve most encounters) to being entirely awful (flip a coin as to whether your character will be awesome or useless in this encounter). I would not recommend large tier gaps in general.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that this is true if we assume equal optimization. A theoretical optimization tier 5 might outperform a moderately optimized tier 1. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 28 '14 at 2:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Though, on the other hand, those Wiz 13 vs. Ftr 20 matches suggest that maybe not even then. Might be worth bringing up here, @Ernir. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 28 '14 at 12:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, well, the whole tier system starts creaking at the seams if equal optimization levels aren't assumed. Still, this answer isn't supposed to assume much knowledge of the system, so it might bear mentioning... \$\endgroup\$ – Ernir May 28 '14 at 20:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a note, a Diplomancer is a viable tier 1 focus build that sees some use in games allowing 'TO' play. You will not be able to compete with a real Diplomancer as a non-spellcaster masquerading as a diplomancer. The same is true for the rest of the niches you might choose to hold: you will not be able to compete with a tier 1 character who also chose that niche as a focus of their character, though you, as noted, might maybe be able to compete with a tier 1 character who did not focus on your specialty at all below high levels of optimization. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 6 '14 at 4:24

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