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We're running a low-powered campaign. We currently have five characters, with the indicated tiers (as outlined by the Tier System for Classes):

  • Bard - Tier 3
  • Warblade - Tier 3
  • Rogue - Tier 4
  • Warlock - Tier 4
  • Paladin - Tier 5

I would like to look at some ways to help the Paladin's class be a bit stronger, and similarly look for some smaller ways to help the rogue and warlock.

Do you have any suggestions on what the DM can add to (or tweak with) the Rogue, Warlock, and Paladin classes to make them approach tier 3?

Thanks!


Here is some additional information, based on questions asked:

Are all the characters single classed?

  • Bard will be be Bard (6), Lyric Thaumaturge (4), Sublime Chord (10)

  • Warblade is planning on going Warblade (20)

  • Rogue is looking at multiclassing into either avenger or ghost faced killer

  • I don't know the Warlock's plans or Paladin's plans. I'm guessing no PrC, but they might pick something up.

What levels are the characters? Currently level 5. We hope to bring this campaign all the way to 20.

Is wealth by level standard? Yes. We're a little behind on wealth now, but the DM is aiming to keep it near the recommended levels.

What resources can be used to tweak characters? Any splat book, but subject to DM approval. EXCEPT, The tier 1 and 2 classes are banned.

What roles are characters filling now? - Bard is social face / buffer / battlefield control / UMD.

  • Warblade is a hot-headed fighter. Flavored like a swashbuckler.

  • Rogue is a dual wielder / archer, with typical rogue skills.

  • Paladin is a tank / fighter, and mild healer.

  • Warlock is basically an archer with Use Magic Device and other base warlock abilities.

How liberal is the DM in letting characters change now that they've hit the table

Reasonably liberal. The guiding principle is that the story we've told so far has to make sense, and that players shouldn't exploit that to min/max (i.e. change stuff every level to get max benefits each level)

The Warblade is a rework of a swashbuckler, for example. Even though the mechanics changed significantly, the story we've told makes sense, so we're OK with it.

I don't think the other three would like to change their classes; ideally, I'd like to find a few things to add to the class features to help them out.

The tier system makes some broad claims about character power, but those claims are not always true in practice -- it depends on what level the characters are and how good the players are at optimization

The bard is optimized as a caster / face. The warblade is picking good class features and is well built. Those two players tend to enjoy min-maxing, but both recognize that the goal of the campaign is balance.

The rogue is probably going to be decently well optimized, but not to the maximum.

The warlock is going to be reasonable, but not min-maxed.

The paladin is focused on role-playing. He's a long-time player of 3.5 and knows the rule system well, but isn't trying to min-max. For example, his character uses a short sword instead of a long sword.

Have you actually run adventures with this party? Did you find it's true in practice that the paladin is less effective than the bard? Can you give us a gameplay example?

Yes, we play by forum post. We started the campaign at level 1, and these 5 characters have been around since levels 1-3.

Currently things are fine. I'm the bard and I prefer my class because it has more options and choices, but mechanically I'm not outshining anyone. We all have our niche (both in and out of combat) and things are going pretty nicely.

That being said, when the swashbuckler was reworked ito a warblade, he cut into the paladin's combat space a bit.

I'm more worried about higher levels. Up to level 5 things have been basically OK.

Do you want or prefer house rules for balancing the party or is that simply an option?

I prefer house rules.

For example, the DM merged Point Blank Shot and Precise Shot into one feat, which will help the warlock and rogue a bit.

Is the concern primarily combat? That is, is the campaign the ongoing saga of a ragtag group of overarmed-armed home-invasion specialists or is the campaign the hilarious misadventures of insecure socialites navigating the gossip-fraught waters of courtly intrigue?

Both. The DM has been doing a very good job of balancing combat, social situations, skill-based situations, and combinations of the above. Because it's play-by-post, we are also very focused on role-play.

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closed as too broad by KRyan, user17995, Tritium21, Miniman, MrLemon Apr 10 '16 at 9:33

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The tier system makes some broad claims about character power, but those claims are not always true in practice -- it depends on what level the characters are and how good the players are at optimization. Have you actually run adventures with this party? Did you find it's true in practice that the paladin is less effective than the bard? Can you give us a gameplay example? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Apr 9 '16 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Responses to those questions edited into the OP. Thank you. :) – \$\endgroup\$ – JoshuaD Apr 9 '16 at 22:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this should be three separate, but related questions, one for each class. I’d literally just copy and paste this question, but focus on one of the characters in each one. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 9 '16 at 22:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaD KRyan's recommendation is spot on. Suggest you leave the paladin in this one and move Warlock and Rogue each to a separate question, with links back to this one and to each other. That way each question is properly scoped. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 10 '16 at 16:43
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Paladin

Since the paladin needs the biggest leg up, I’m going to just recommend this knight-paladin homebrew fix. It’s awesome, and should slide the paladin to right about where this party wants it.

The concept of the class is to mix the paladin and PHB2 knight together, since they are two very similar classes that are both just a little disappointing. It uses auras to protect allies, and challenges to take on foes.

Two changes I would make to it:

  • Make the spellcasting Charisma-based. Four ability scores is just too much dependency.

    • If the player wants to use Wisdom, I’d direct him to the Serenity feat in Dragon Compendium, which makes all paladin class features use Wisdom instead of Charisma. The feat tax for Wisdom is because Wisdom is more useful than Charisma in general, and because there’s greater ability to use Wisdom for everything (I have a character who adds Wisdom to all saves, twice to Will, to AC, to attack twice, to damage, and to Initiative).
  • Use the Pathfinder smite. Even though this smite works on any opponent, it's still so terribly limited that it's basically a forgettable feature. The Pathfinder version makes the use of smite far more meaningful.

The crusader from Tome of Battle is also an excellent solution, being one of the best-designed and tightly-balanced classes they ever wrote.

Rogue

To make the most of using both dual-wielding feats and ranged feats, the rogue should try to use throwing weapons. To do that, though, he’ll either need bonus feats or the relevant feats need to be cut down.

  • Give the rogue Weapon Finesse, as well as Dex-to-damage-instead-of-Str, as bonus feats, say at 1st and 3rd. Pathfinder did this with the rogue unchained.

  • Combining Point-Blank Shot and Precise Shot is a good start, but you’d need to go further. I’d consider adding the ability to avoid provoking with ranged attacks.

  • Combine Two-Weapon Fighting, Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, and Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, to just make it let you make an offhand attack for each main hand attack you would otherwise get.

  • Combine Quick Draw and Far Shot, since the only people who really want Quick Draw are throwers, and they desperately need the extra range (and no one else does).

A single level in fighter, using the hit ‘n’ run tactics variant from Drow of the Underdark, also helps with feats, plus gives +2 to initiative and the ability to add Dex to damage (again) when the target is flat-footed. Flat-footed is necessary for ranged sneak attack, so the rogue should already be looking for ways to do that.

The rogue will also need a decent way to throw weapons without losing them. The returning property is traditional, but expensive; the blinkback belt from Pathfinder is much more economical. An alternate approach that I have used was to allow the character to “attune” to one weapon, and as long as that weapon was on their person (usually hidden away), any weapons of the same type (e.g. daggers) would gain the magical and material properties of the attuned weapon. That way you only have to magically enhance one dagger, and then throw regular, cheap daggers (or whatever).

Now that the rogue can use his combat style, he needs to be able to apply his damage, i.e. sneak attack. An easy first-pass change is to reduce, dramatically, the number of creatures immune to critical strikes. Pathfinder did a reasonably good job here, and I recommend using their version: only elementals, incorporeal creatures (unless the rogue uses ghost touch or similar), oozes, and swarms are automatically immune to critical hits and sneak attack.

Also, out of avenger and ghost-faced killer, avenger is much better, but I am going to recommend this cunning assassin over either. It is a little bit better at magic, and its death attack is a little more useful, which will go a long way for this character.

If the character is interested in utilizing fear, a combination of fearsome armor from Drow of the Underdark and the Never Outnumbered skill trick from Complete Scoundrel is more effective than frightful strike, and far cheaper.

If the character is interested in poisons, per the poison use ability he’ll get, Master of Poisons from Drow of the Underdark is a must, and then he’ll want to read Arsenic & Old Lace: The Poison Handbook.

If the character is interested in stealth, Darkstalker from Lords of Madness is basically mandatory.

As for skills, the rogue really should invest in Use Magic Device. Yes, the warlock will always be better at it, but it’s still a great skill, and having two people who can activate those items is a good thing.

For that matter, another thing that can be useful to rogues, or really to everyone but rogues are likely to care the most, is consolidating the skill list. The 3.5 skill list is massive, and simply cannot be well-covered even by an entire party. Pathfinder consolidates some skills, but I would argue it doesn’t go far enough. My list looks like this:

  • Acrobatics (Dex) covers Balance, Escape Artist, Jump, and Tumble.
  • Athletics (Str) covers Climb, Jump, and Swim.
    • Yes, Jump is under both Acrobatics and Athletics. People can use whichever is better for them to jump, and to meet requirements for Jump ranks.
  • Disable Device (Dex) covers Disable Device and Open Lock.
  • Linguistics (Int) covers Decipher Script, Forgery, and Speak Language (learn a language for each rank in it).
  • Perception (Wis) covers Listen and Spot.
  • Stealth (Dex) covers Hide and Move Silently.
  • Use Esoteric Device (Cha) covers Use Magic Device and Use Psionic Device.
  • I also often allow broader skill usage, e.g. Knowledge (arcana) in place of Spellcraft to identify arcane spell effects.

On some level, this waters down the rogue’s high number of skill points (since there are fewer things to spend them on, and more people can hit all the skills that are relevant to them), but in my experience it helps rogues far more than it hurts them. They are simply more broadly capable, more likely to be able to put their major focus (skills) to good use.

Warlock

For the warlock, I think the biggest thing the warlock needs is more invocations. I like to give 1 invocation/level, plus 1 additional each time a new tier of invocation (Least, Lesser, Greater, Dark) is gained (i.e. 24 invocations known at 20th level).

I also like to give the warlock the ability to cast multiple invocations a turn as a full-round action. Doublecast at 8th, triplecast at 15th, quadcast (and standard-action doublecast) at 20th. This option can’t be used with eldritch glaive, which remains its own separate full-round action.

Oh, and give the poor thing 4+Int skill points per level. No one but wizards and other Int-focused full spellcasters deserve 2+Int skill points per level.

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Persuade the Paladin to be a crusader instead.

The crusader is a holy warrior whose role is a tank with minor healing abilities. Roleplay wise, they can be played the same way as a paladin.

This will give the player options in combat, put them on par with the rest of the party, especially the warblade, and give them a class that is effective no matter what their build.

Don't worry about the rogue and warlock. They're on the stronger end of tier 4 thanks to Use Magic Device. Leave them unless you actually have problems.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Without even a ret-con, simply going into the Ruby Knight Vindicator PrC (with maybe a level of Crusader first) could also help the Paladin. Full BAB and 8/10 spellcasting advancement is not bad. Of course, RKV will have to be adapted for whatever divinity the paladin is actually serving. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Apr 10 '16 at 11:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. Would you like to put this comment into your own answer? Answers don't have to be long, and if you focus on just the Paladin your answer may answer the querent's needs. (If this gets reopened, of course). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 10 '16 at 16:40

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