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Background

Trying to DM a party that has a Cleric, a Druid, and a Wizard (Tier 1 classes) together is pretty much difficult, especially whenever there is always one person that wants to make a Monk (...yes, I know...) and a Fighter.

I have had groups that the same couple of players ALWAYS wants to be a Cleric. I have told them, "Can you try something else? I know exactly what you are going to do (Righteous Might, Two-Handed Power Attack, etc.) and you do it every time."

Typical response is, "Well worshipping a different deity and having different domains is kind of like being a different class." My response to that is, "Righteous Might is not a domain spell, and you running around in full plate with a two handed weapon killing something in one round is something all clerics just do."

Personal Thoughts

Druids sometimes take up so much time at the table - everyone reconfiguring stats depending on the type of creature they Wild Shaped into.

Wizards also take up so much time - often minutes flipping through pages of their spells deciding on what is best to cast.

Clerics are just so brain dead powerful that even a non-optimized one is a powerhouse.

I have never banned a class - although most times I wish I have. I like characters to have fun. But when one person wants to be a Monk, one wants to be a Fighter, one wants to be a Bard, one wants to be a Sorcerer, and then the same person wants to be a Cleric...

Sometimes I even want to ban the really weak classes. "No, don't play a Monk, because you won't kill anything," is what I am thinking.

I spend hours designing encounters to have it all end in 3 rounds with the cleric massacring everything while the others are sitting there staring at him with disdain. At least one person had fun?

Question(s)

Has anyone ever flat-out banned Tier 1 classes? What repercussions have ensued? Dissatisfied players? Boring campaigns?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not a duplicate, but I suspect you might find this useful. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Dec 3 '15 at 4:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't belong in an answer since it doesn't address your question, but are your players really going to be happy with banned tier-1s? \$\endgroup\$ – Aza Dec 3 '15 at 5:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ How is this opinion-based? The answer is "Yes." \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 3 '15 at 6:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ The length of the encounters you described is perfectly normal, actually. 3.5e combat simply tends to end within five rounds. The fact that the cleric is basically soloing the encounters, however, is worrisome. \$\endgroup\$ – Joninean Dec 3 '15 at 10:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question appears to hold, as an unspoken assumption, that the only thing (or at least the overwhelmingly most important thing) that the party does is fight and kill monsters and bad guys. And sure, that's one way to play, but it's by no means the only way to do it. For example, IMO if the Bard is not the most valuable teammate, then either the DM is doing a campaign that's way too combat-focused, or the guy playing the Bard doesn't know what he's doing. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Mason Wheeler Dec 3 '15 at 16:12

12 Answers 12

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It’s quite common.

Banning high-end (and low-end) material is a very common practice. It’s massively more effective and sensible than, say, banning books X, Y, and Z when your goal is to have a certain power level; it gets right to the heart of the issue you’re looking at.

In my experience, however, it’s better to just ban Tier-1 characters. A single level of cleric, while very good, does not make someone a Tier-1 character, but it does enable a lot of other options (Travel Devotion, various Divine Feat options, paying feat taxes efficiently, etc.). Single-level, or few-level, dips in archivist, artificer, druid, or wizard are less frequently desirable, but I can think of arguments for each.

By the same token, it’s pretty common to want players to avoid Tier-5 characters, but sometimes judiciously using a Tier-5 class is appropriate – a couple levels of paladin for Divine Grace, a level of monk for the feats, whatever.

So yes, tell the person playing the cleric that the class is too powerful for the game you’re DMing, and maybe you’ll allow minimal use of it. Tell the player who thinks monk is a good idea that it’s not, and that you need characters to have more power than monk offers in order to be able to make your life easier. A level, to get a punch of relevant feats – fine, if you must. But only if you’re grafting that onto something that could really use it, and be competent.

And it does sound kind of like some of your players are in a place where even allowing minimal usage may cause problems, just because they do seem liable to try to weasel their way into getting more out of you. At least the first time, it may be best to just say “no,” though again I do recommend in general to allow judicious, minimal use of classes outside of the desired tier-band, whatever it is.

Because you are absolutely right – DMing for split-tier parties is extremely difficult and frustrating. In fact, avoiding that situation is exactly the stated purpose of the tier system. See JaronK’s tier list for classes, in the intro spoiler:

Thus, this system is created for the following purposes:

  1. To help DMs judge what should be allowed and what shouldn't in their games. It may sound cheesy when the Fighter player wants to be a Half Minotaur Water Orc, but if the rest of his party is Druid, Cloistered Cleric, Archivist, and Artificer, then maybe you should allow that to balance things out. However, if the player is asking to be allowed to be a Venerable White Dragonspawn Dragonwrought Kobold Sorcerer and the rest of the party is a Monk, a Fighter, and a Rogue, maybe you shouldn't let that fly.

(emphasis mine)

The reason anyone cares about tiers at all is to attempt to recognize and address that situation. You are intended to look at the tiers, pick a certain tier or tier-band, and use that as a guide to keeping all PCs on roughly equal footing so that DMing becomes more manageable. So yes, this is “OK,” at least insofar as common wisdom is concerned – it’s actually the whole idea!

  • By the way, if your players are looking for acceptable alternatives to favorite classes, this answer may be a helpful jumping-off point.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I meant “a bunch of relevant feats” when discussing the monk in paragraph four, but that typo is too amusing to fix. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 3 '15 at 13:20
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Whether it's 'okay' largely depends on your players.

The GM makes the rules at the table, but does so through consent of the players in the group. The nuclear option, 'leaving the group', is generally on the table though generally it doesn't get employed - people have subtler ways of expressing dissatisfaction, and even in extremis, most people get the message.

If your players are okay with you banning all high tier classes (nothing you are describing is outside the realm of possibility of a sorcerer, a favoured soul, a psion, or even a well-built tier 3 character), then it's 'okay'. If they're not, it's varying degrees of 'not okay'.

To solve the larger problem, though.

Your issue is not restricted to if it's 'okay' to ban classes, it's a dissatisfaction with the playstyle of at least 3 of your players. They clearly want to play powerful characters, and have optimized towards that goal, albeit not with great skill(cleric using righteous might, wizard not knowing his spells/not having condensed his spell list into efficient murder, druid not having preferred forms etc). They want, as many players/GMs do, to play high fantasy where characters are powerful and magical.

You clearly do not want to play this style of game. From this question, I would infer, although not with certainty, that you wish to play a grittier genre of fantasy, known as 'low' fantasy or 'historically realistic', such as the default setting for ADND and DND 2e.

For this reason or others, you also have trouble challenging high-fantasy characters when GMing.

The answer to this question is therefore more: Whether it is 'okay' or not depends on whether you feel comfortable forcing others to play the genre of game you want to play, rather than the one they want to play.

Postscript: I'll stress that this isn't a black and white question - if you have a strong preference and their preference is marginal or ambivalent, it might be perfectly reasonable to enforce a specific kind of game where you will have fun rather than not having fun. Equally, it might be unreasonable to demand that people do something they don't wish to purely because of your preference.

I'd additionally suggest that you ask another question on this site related to challenging high-tier parties if you have difficulty creating fights that cause them to be able to use their abilities to the fullest.

Also: Tier-1 Monk.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That monk is Tier 3 at most. He's a powerful front-line fighter with access to a small list of high-level spell effects, but he's not "Capable of doing absolutely everything, often better than classes that specialize in that thing." \$\endgroup\$ – MrLemon Dec 3 '15 at 9:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ "They clearly want to play" ... "You clearly do not want to play this" ... "I would infer, although not with certainty, that you wish to play" - Which brings up the Same Page Tool - Do we REALLY know who wants to play what type of game? Along with Tiers, we also need to make sure that everyone is playing hack-n-slash or high fantasy or low fantasy or... if you have different people playing different games... you're going to have a bad time... \$\endgroup\$ – WernerCD Dec 3 '15 at 15:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ The linked "monk" is a completely reworked home-brew class. The tier 1 claim is iffy, but it should play fine with any other martial characters. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Dec 4 '15 at 2:20
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Disclaimer: I have hesitated to actually reply, but I have finally decided to challenge the question somewhat; or at least to bring alternative proposals to the table.

Why play?

This answer will assume that all players, including the GM, are actually willing to play the same game.

If some players are only interested in bashing things without any real danger to their characters, others want gritty and dangerous and yet others want to emphasize role-play and creative solutions, then I am afraid there is nothing I can help with... A Frenzied Berserker and a Saint with Vow of Peace together do not go.

Party Composition

I have found it useful to be more explicit while composing the party.

By that I mean that most of the times I have witnessed parties being described by classes. While it may be useful, however, classes are ultimately building bricks and while they can give a general indication of the power/role of a character I have found it quite useful to have all involved discuss and agree on roles and personalities (*) (of characters) rather than just on classes.

While a Cleric is a powerful chassis, a Summoner, a Healer and a Divine Warrior are vastly different in their contributions to the party.

This matters all the more because... the power imbalance only really shows when there is competition! If both the Monk and Mighty Cleric compete to kill the same foes, the Monk may quickly be frustrated. Why? Because they compete.

As an example, my last born character is a very resilient martial character (based on Crusader) with non-negligible social skills:

  • on social interactions, it could compete with the Sorcerer of the group, however I know the player well and we instead operate together; also, our characters have different interests and thus are not drawn to the same discussions/problems
  • in melee, the GM knows I can soak up damages more than the Barbarian (lower AC) or Druid (lower HP); also my role is complementary, I immobilize, they kill (when the dices work)

My character is substantially more optimized than the rest of the party, which was a fun exercise for me, however it was optimized specifically to fill in a role with no competition in the party, and thus the other players do not mind as I do not inhibit they fun (on the contrary, the Sorcerer and Ranger actually appreciate it).

When characters do not compete, power imbalance may well disappear.

(*) For example, my group's Sorcerer is very reluctant to make any effort and is quite cowardly. As a result, unless really pressed for, the character will seek cover, sling a few pebbles or low-level spells from hiding, ... Thus while a Tier 1/2 in theory, in practice it does not steal the spotlight from anyone.

Adjusted Encounters

If the encounter ends in 3 rounds with only the Cleric really working at it, then the encounter is just not challenging for this party.

I am not saying that 3-5 rounds is not a typical duration for an encounter; it is... when the whole party kicks butts.

You might want to revise/adjust your encounters to challenge the party. It is a powerful party (3 Tier 1 characters after all), so bump the CR of encounters. Also, you might consider diversifying the foes; a mix of Big and Small allows more foes (making it less likely than a single character can handle them all) and a mix of Melee and Ranged (preferably inaccessible, or starting hidden, ...) allows more varied responses from the party (playing to different characters' strengths).

You might also look into dividing the party's attention: when divided, it loses in efficiency and has to use sub-optimal methods to solve its problems, allowing more characters to be able to jump in.

Adjusted Characters

As you mentioned, the Monk (or Fighter) is just too far behind in terms of power compared to its 3 companions.

It is important I think to realize that classes are nothing more than bricks. You can play an arcane caster without playing a Wizard (and actually a Psion is kinda similar) and you can play an unarmed fighter without playing a Monk or Fighter.

Once acknowledged, this is freeing!

So, let's take the example of the Monk. Does the player want to play a monk (aka, lived in a temple) or does the player want to play a martial artist? Does he know about the Unarmed variant of the Swordsage? The Fist of the Forest class? Would he be opened to Changeling/Warshaper cheese?

And most importantly, does the player realize that apart from fighting/skulking a Monk does not contribute much... and skulking will be rare because the other players get bored during skulking panels (because they do not participate)?

This is why agreeing on the genre of the game and the roles in the party matter! Now you can show the player where/when its character will be able to contribute and where/when it'll be boring. If it's fine with the player; let's go! If it's not, it's time still to make some adjustments to the character so it can contribute (even if not shine) in some more areas. A level of Ranger could bring Track on the table...

Adjusted Treasure

Alright, so let's suppose we have a Changeling with levels in Swordsage/Warshaper; it's still not exactly on par with super-Cleric...

... but you may be able to close the gap by providing specific items in treasure drops to address vulnerabilities/gaps of the weakest characters. For example, what about the Gloves of the Unbalanced Hands or an Amulet of Dodge +3?

Of course, the other players need drops too; but not as often, and not as massively helpful. Also, they might want to buy very specific items anyway... oh, and you (as a GM) has your say on what they can and cannot buy.

Note: in essence, you may want to adjust the "Wealth by Level" based on the character's Tier. Multiplying the baseline by 1 + (Tier-1)/3 for example would allow less powerful characters to close the gap a bit by sheer equipment.


Note: these last two points address points specific to the OP's description of his group's actions and are less related to the core question.

Always ready

I believe there was a comment about the Wizard and Druid not having sufficient time to buff...

When the party is ambushed, there is no time to prepare. You were sitting calmly around the campfire when a fireball explodes in the middle of the group, do you:

  1. Draw your mirror out of your backpack, assess the damage to your hair/eyebrows, attempt to minimize it, cast 3 buff spells to... ?
  2. Roll toward cover?

In a realistic setting, when the enemy has the initiative, it is unlikely to let you prepare yourself for the fight while it waits for your go (unless it's a Knight).

Actually, that is the very interest of ambushes; as a player, being the victim of an ambush forces you to play it up with an imperfect setup. And remembering how the Orc reacted when you faced it armed with fork in one hand and corn on the cob in the other makes for fun memories.

If some of your players have not understood that the characters will have no round or only 1 round to get ready to fight every so often, then it is time to make them confront reality. You may want to help them assessing exactly which short-term buffs/actions are absolutely necessary and which can be skipped in a hurry.

Homework

Finally, I am afraid that the Wizard and Druid will have to do their homework.

Druids sometimes take up so much time at the table - everyone reconfiguring stats depending on the type of creature they Wild Shaped into.

No!

Wizards also take up so much time - often minutes flipping through pages of their spells deciding on what is best to cast.

No!

Within my group, players are expected to announce their actions as soon as it is their turn. And they should announce their results swiftly. Not ready? It's assumed your character is hesitating and just defending itself (*).

In my case, playing an Initiator, I printed the Maneuver Cards; both useful for keeping track of which maneuvers I have available (ie, readied and granted) and to have a brief reminder of their effect in case I have a memory lapse. I also complemented the cards with Duel of Wills and Demoralize Opponent cards, because those are specific skill uses that I take advantage of so I want the rules at hand.

In the case of your Druid, this implies having the stats at hand for:

  • their animal companion
  • any creature they wish to summon, accounting for feats
  • any Wild Shape form they wish to assume, accounting for their gear

They can prepare those on cards/character sheets as they see fit.

In the case of both your Druid and your Wizard, this implies preparing an executive summary of all the spells they wish to use. I would recommend small cards (like the Maneuver Cards), as it allows only having in front of the player the ones that can be played (ie, prepared and not cast yet) thereby reducing the choices.

If a player does not do its homework? Well, the character will gawk a lot... (**)

(*) Unless you are contributing to the group's well being by making sure the children stay put in bed or by bringing fresh drinks/food to the table, obviously.

(**) Newer players may have more difficulty. This means that (a) they should pick simpler characters (no Wizard for a beginner, sorry) and (b) the group should give them more time... but still a finite amount. I would suggest a melee character as it comes with the "Full Attack" default action.

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Yes, though it begs the question if your table will support the action, which it appears they won't. You could develop a story and some that use characters you largely pregenerated in advance. A solid and engaging story could provide incentive for your players to step slightly outside of their super optimized comfort zones. A campaign could be designed around supporting the teir x<1 characters.

You're players may rebel, and complain. Forcing the issue is ill advised; it will poison the well overall and create some malcontent along the way.

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To be honest, I am not sure that banning Wizard, Cleric and Druid will help much in your case. Why?

  • If you ban the Cleric, the player will just bring up Favored Soul (and since his build depends mostly on individual good spells like Righteous Might and pretending to be an overpowered fighter, it'll be a much stronger choice).
  • If you ban Wizard, the player may just take the Archivist (which gets even MORE spells since he can adopt both divine and arcane spells) or Sha-Ir (he also gets both Arcane and Divine spells).
  • If you ban Druid, the player may just take Wild Shape Ranger, or a Sorcerer with a Polymorph spell, or Egoist Psion with Metamorphosis, or just someone with UMD/UPD and a weird creature type to utilize wands of Alter Self/Polymorph/Dorje of Metamorphosis.

If a player really likes a tactic or a playstyle, there are ways around class bans for him that guarantee either the exact same feature, or something really similar. The problem here are not the classes themselves, it's the players. You really have to work with them to fix these problems.

  • Suggest that your Cleric guy just outright plays an Charger Barbarian so that he still can kill anything in one round, but doesn't cast, or a Paladin so that his play style fits his class... Or maybe, just limit him to the Healer class (Miniatures Handbook). Sure, he'll still be able to take a weapon and swing it around, but it won't be as sufficient.

  • The wizard problem is, to be honest, the easiest one to fix - just either give him a Sorcerer, or any Psionic class besides an Erudite. That way, he'll have fewer options, but still will be viable.

  • The Druid... Is harder. If he likes the naturey aspect of the class, there are classes like Spirit Shaman, or a cleric of a nature goddess. If he likes the shapeshifting part, you may either ask the player what exact forms he'll use in battle and limit him to them and provide stat blocks beforehand, limit him to his Knowledge Nature checks, or just suggest a Shapeshifter Druid that loses Wild Shape and Animal Companion, but gets an at-will transformation into several already set forms.

Through, in the end, maybe just the cleric is really a problem. Try to communicate with the other two players, perhaps they will fix it themselves. The cleric one really needs to shake it up, through, so in his case either pick a class (like Healer) for him, or maybe limit him to non-casters.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Banning Wizard but keeping Archivist is really a bad idea. But I like how your answer shows that easy alternatives need to be kept in mind, and potentially banned as well. Blanket-banning all Tier 1 and Tier 2 (!) classes is probably wiser than banning a few select classes. \$\endgroup\$ – MrLemon Dec 3 '15 at 10:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is, and it still leaves some options on the table (like an item of Righteous Might that costs just about 16200 for a Command Word version that works 1/day, which is less than half of WBL for 9th level, when Clerics get that spell). I'd say, it's best to try to reason with players first, and lay bans on the table if that doesn't work - but yeah, it's better to look into classes and ban those that go against the nature of your campaign than to just say "no tier 1, 2 and 5" \$\endgroup\$ – Baka-Mastermind Dec 3 '15 at 10:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Favored soul is a dramatic improvement in QoL over cleric for a DM, since it means he can quantize exactly what that character has available. Archivist is another Tier-1 class and thus would also be banned. Wild Shape ranger is massively less powerful than druid, and sorcerer is a better deal than druid for the same reason favored soul is better than cleric (by the way, Complete Divine’s spirit shaman is the spontaneous druid-ish class). I think you’re underestimating the effect, and it can get better still by also limiting Tier-2 classes. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 3 '15 at 13:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ When I was talking about "problematic" alternatives, it was mostly in terms of topic starter's problems. Sure, Wildshaper Ranger is weaker than a Druid, but he still brings Wild Shape to the table, which slows the game down. Sorcerer isn't far weaker than Wizard, but taking this class helps if the arcane player in question is way too slow. In terms of party Cleric - yeah, we need a direct nerf, so the classes HE should take must limit him in his gish options. - so, either the noncasters, or some Tier 3-4 spellcaster with limited, not very useful options (hence, the Healer) \$\endgroup\$ – Baka-Mastermind Dec 3 '15 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Archivist is only arguably tier 1. It can pick up any awsomesauce spell it finds, but there's no guarantee that it will find those spells. Still reasonable to ban, but can easily be controlled otherwise. /nitpick \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Dec 4 '15 at 2:27
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While I personally have not been in this situation, I have heard advices from many other DMs, and quite a lot of them have no problem with outright banning classes, feats and sourcebooks (you also ban specific feats, why not classes?). Quite simply, at the table, you have the right to ban anything. With that set and clear, an approach:

First of, announce you want to try something different. You want to test an idea you've had for a while, namely banning certain classes. They might struggle and hesitate, but that is not something you will have to worry about. After the announcement, plan a session 0. Session 0 is a session before the campaign where you sit together with your players and simply discuss the coming campaign and their characters. This way, you will have some direct influence over your player's characters (and prevent the druid from rolling a shapeshifting ranger, or the cleric from rolling a favoured soul with exactly the same spells and build), and you can help them with their new characters. You can also discuss things like the Same Page Tool etc.

And that should be about it! Run a campaign with these new rules, and write down the results and reactions of the players. Does it work, stick with it. If it doesn't... Try something else.

The protesting players might become a problem. If a player acts like a child and refuses to try a class that's is not their favourite, you might want to treat them like a child. Reason with them first, help them by explaining your intentions and offering alternative classes with a similar play-style, but if they remain stubborn, too bad. This is the way it will be right now, and if he won't cooperate, he doesn't have to join your group for this adventure. It might sound harsh, but that kind of behaviour is simply unreasonable and unacceptable.

On the other hand, there is a blog that has written a piece about this subject (the first question is relevant only). I will sum it up for you:
A player constantly playing the same kind of character is not a problem. If you tell him to step out of his comfort zone, you are basically telling him he is having fun the wrong way, and he should have fun the way you think he should have fun. You can figure out yourself this sounds like something a DM shouldn't say, I believe.
I am not implying this is the case here, but I would like to point out that this should not be the problem you're trying to solve, because it is no problem. However, the cleric that is constantly soloing the combat without leaving room for the others to shine, is. Unbalanced parties with classes from both tier 1 and tier 4 also is.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Upvote for the last paragraph. Might be worth softening and rolling in to other answers. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Dec 4 '15 at 2:28
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If you simply ban a class out of personal dislike, and it affects a player because the player actually likes the class, you create unnecessary tension.

If you want to ban classes, do it due to the setting. If magic is unknown where your characters grew up, they can't be a wizard. If deities don't intervene in an area for some reason, there won't be any clerics.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Sadly, this doesn't answer the question of topic starter. He doesn't have anything against the Tier 1 classes themselves, it's either the players that play them create unhealthy atmosphere in the game (the gish cleric that's too strong for his own party) or greatly slow the play at the board (the wizard consulting with his vast spellbook for several minutes on each turn, or the druid that has to recalculate his stats during each Wild Shape). \$\endgroup\$ – Baka-Mastermind Dec 3 '15 at 12:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Through, your answer has one good point in it - to decrease tension because of these bans, the DM might just introduce players to a new, low-fantasy setting where only cherry-picked by him classes are allowed \$\endgroup\$ – Baka-Mastermind Dec 3 '15 at 12:59
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The effect of banning the tier-1 classes will depend on whether or not you adapt your campaign to match the increased difficulty. If you make the appropriate adjustment there should be little to no effect, as other answers have mentioned.

Rather than banning the things your players seem to like, I would suggest a different approach: Why not run a one-shot or short campaign with them where you give them predefined characters?

This way you can show them the appeal of other classes besides the ones they are used to which can motivate them to roll something different for a change. Give the guy who always runs a melee fighter a ranged class or a caster. Give the guy who always plays a caster a melee class. Set things up in such a way that you get to highlight the fun but different ways that this new group of characters would approach and solve problems.

I'm setting up to do something similar for my current group, in our main campaign everyone is playing more or less the sort of characters they usually play, but we've convinced each other that it might be fun to shake things up for a change - not just in the setting but also in the party composition. For me it's obviously easier since I have buy-in from the fellow group members but I think the same can apply to your situation.

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If you are a game master, it is absolutely okay for you to ban any class you want from your games. Remember Rule #0: The Game Master has final say in everything within the game. However, before you go banning anything, you ought to talk to your players about your frustrations. They may not realize how much they are trivializing your encounters. If, after explaining yourself and your reasons, one of your players (such as your Might-Cleric) throws a fit about it, it's within your right to exclude him from your games. If he can't handle not playing exactly what he wants, maybe he's not a good fit for your table anyway.

But, if you don't want to outright ban your players' favorite classes, there are a myriad of ways to deal with the problems you listed.

1) Make sure all your casters have their spells picked out ahead of time. And they should also have any major stat changes written out ahead of time as well. A summoning wizard or a wild-shaping druid should also have a list of summons or animals they intend to use, along with the stats that go with them.

You can enforce this with a time limit. If it takes a player more than, say, one minute to take their turn, you can skip them. Just make sure your players are aware of this going in.

2) Limit the sources your players have access to. If you're playing 3.5 or Pathfinder, there are dozens of source books they can choose from, and most of the more powerful spells are in the supplemental guides. If you limit their choices to just the core books, you can severely cut back on the power your casters have access to.

3) Play to your other players' strengths. Not every encounter needs to be about killing everything in sight. Include some skill checks for your monk, or a roleplay-heavy hostage situation for your bard. Add environmental effects that dull the casters' potency, or hazards that must be dealt with during the fight.

4) Encourage your players to mix up their strategies. Once your players reach fifth level or so, they are going to get noticed by the in-game powers that be. If they rely on a certain set of spells or feats in combat, have their foes spy on them and find ways to counter their strategies. Slowing and shrinking spells work wonders against heavy hitters, ranged damage is a good counter to melee damage, and don't be afraid to use Counterspell if need be.

In the end, it's up to you how you want to fix this problem, but don't just let it simmer in the back of your mind. Tabletop roleplaying is ultimately about having fun. If you aren't having fun, something has gone wrong, and it needs to be fixed.

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There is one more option not mentioned so far. You can try to balance the tiers at least a little bit through magical items and races. To avoid allegations of unfairness though make sure you explain anything you are doing ahead of time.

The basic idea is that if players pick a lower tier character then they get fancy racial abilities, stats and items to compensate. As the game progresses weaker characters will get magical items better tailored to them than the stronger ones will, etc. Once that's clear with your players see if they still wants to be a cleric...and if they do let him because the rest of the party is on the same level.

Obviously you will need to increase the difficulty level of encounters accordingly as you just increased the power of the party.

For example if tier 1 classes are restricted to the basic races (or even ones worse than that) whereas tier 2 classes might have access to up to stronger races, tier 3 classes even stronger, etc.

I'm familiar with Pathfinder not 3.5 but you could even allow whatever the 3.5 version of templates is, let the monk be a half-fiend minotaur (Pathfinder link but you get the idea) while the cleric is a human.

This can be hard to balance but basically look at the final stats in terms of damage per second, hp, ac, etc that they can achieve and see if they are in the same ballpark...but remember that there is a cost for flexibility. Fighters can't do much except hit things so should do more damage than casters who can do a lot of other stuff.

On magical items never drop cleric items, he has to shop for them. On the other hand though great items for the party rogue can drop regularly.

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In my campaigns I banned bards and rogues because they were too weak. My players put up with it but I did get some cranky comments. They would say: "Oh no! What if we run into traps?" and I would explain that rogue-disarmable traps aren't a major part of my game, but they never really seemed to believe me.

I avoid the problems you describe by avoiding high-level play. When the players get to level nine, I draw the campaign to a close and start another one.

I also make an effort to give the party multiple fights per day. Casters are less powerful if they can't nova all their spells in one combat and then ask the party to sleep for the night.

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Suggestions are in bold, pros/cons and personal experiences are underneath each.

1. Allowing only a certain tier or tier range. For example, running a 'Tier 3 only' game or 'Tiers 3 and 4 only' game.

This can result in an a knee-jerk reaction ("What, so there's no Clerics/Wizards at all? That doesn't make sense/this is supposed to be D&D! It's not D&D without Clerics!").

But on the other hand, as most tier 1/2 classes have a 3/4 counterpart you can justify it thematically because those roles exist in the world, simply with different mechanics. This is the approach I recommend most.

  • Cleric to Paladin, Healer, Divine Bard
  • Druid to Ranger, Wildshape Ranger
  • Archivist to Bard, Factotum
  • Wizard/Sorceror to Warlock, Warmage, Beguiler, even Duskblade or Hexblade
  • Psion/Erudite to Psychic Warrior/Lurk

For the optimizers at the table, I've found that once they find a mechanic they can intensify (e.g. Optimizing bardic music, Ranger's TWF, Psychic Warrior's lion pounce, etc.), once the combats start rolling it can be quite successful. They can even fall in love with the tier three level.

When, as a PC, I decided to reign in my inner optimizer, I did this to myself, picking low tier classes to fill the same role or concept of my character who could have used a higher tier... and have barely left tier three since.

2. Play gestalt, but set a minimum tier 'spend'. If you set a minimum spend of 7 points, a Wizard (1) would have to gestalt with commoner (6), yet your Fighter could gestalt with barbarian or hexblade or some similar class. It won't solve the power play but it's worth trying out.

Of course, this means the extra paperwork of actually playing gestalt. If your wizard has gestalted with commoner, and the hexblade with barbarian, it actually means disproportionately more work for the PCs less into optimizing, which is somewhat counterproductive

3. Ask each player to make two characters, at least 3 tiers apart, or one caster and one non-caster. State that you will decide which of their two characters will be played. (The other may become a backup character).

I did this successfully, but actually for the opposite problem, for a very low-op group who all wanted to be fighters or rogues. This way I ensured at that there were different classes in play, and at least someone was was a caster.

4. Shift your magic down. 9th level casters now have the Bard's spell progression, to a maximum of L6 spells.

This may not solve how powerful many control and buff spells are, but it might be worth a try. The Bard could be shifted down to the Ranger/Paladin's spell progression. The Paladin and Ranger are so weak you may as well leave them as they were, or just say that 1-4 level spells are now 0-3. Simply changing the charts is easier than trying to fix every single spell.

5. Ditch feats entirely (maybe allowing the Fighter to keep bonus feats), or restrict feat chains by tier. For example, tier 1s may only have the PHB feats. But the Fighter may choose feats from PHB2 and Complete Warrior (which help quite a bit, actually).

This may not solve the inherent power of spells, but at least it rules out metamagic stacking through to locate city bomb. However, less customizability is kind of frustrating for a player. Better to ask everyone to player tier 3-4 and keep feats etc. open for them.

6. Restrict spell options. The Spell Compendium in 3.5 is abhorrent. My brother's cleric had a significant power boost after finding Girallon's Blessing and Ice Axe - don't allow it. (I nerfed Ice Axe to 1d12 damage only, as that's powerful enough without being 2d12).

As it's almost always the spellcasters which are a problem, limiting certain problem spells like the ones mentioned above, or polymorph and wish at higher levels, can keep your casters on the same power level as mundanes. However, it means analysing and justifying every single decision. You might have a player turn up with a shortlist of 20 spells, half of which must go. Communication and good relationship with your players is key for this one, and its a lot more work than some of your other options.

7. Restrict the nature of buff spells. Perhaps borrow 5th edition's concentration mechanic.

This helps enormously with Clerics, not so much with Wizards or Sorcerors, though.

8. Restrict monster manual forms available for wildshape, polymorph etc., if form shifting is being a problem

Just compare the Fleshraker to the MM1 options and you'll see why! It's acceptable to determine certain creatures cannot fit into the ecosystem of your world. Just as it's acceptable to explain the problem with the form they may be using already. Or both.

Restricting the form instead of the class will probably meet less player resistance. No dinosaurs is easier to handle than no Druids.

9. Change to 5th Edition

I know it doesn't answer the question per se... But here's my experience. I've run 3.5 myself up to 15th level with a tier-1 optimizing PC, and played in a high-op brutal campaign so unbelievably brutal we had to be ridiculously optimized to survive (our melee man was a Feral Half-Minotaur Proto-Goliath) I loved 3.5, I really did. But I'm not going back. This isn't the place for a full discussion on 5th's balance, but as a last resort for the most difficult group, it is an option.

I know that last one doesn't solve "How do I act on this problem in this game", but at the same time, if the game you're playing is inherently not suited to your group or campaign, it may be worth trying a change. Just my experience.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you add some more information about the side effects or results of various of these ideas? We're looking for detailed experiences, not just idea dumps. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Feb 4 '16 at 23:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Apologies, both taken on board. \$\endgroup\$ – Rob Stening Feb 5 '16 at 19:27

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