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An idea I had for balancing higher level play is to allow characters who are not tier 1 spellcasters to gestalt. The worries I have are

  1. What is the cutoff where a character becomes tier 1? generally spells -> power, but what about characters that "only" get mid level spells like duskblade or bard? How about martial initiators or meldshapers?

  2. Martial characters generally do better than spellcasters in the low levels (except the druid, they are hardcore). making them gestalt might compound this. A possible work around is waiting till mid levels and then go gestalt, either from there on, or retroactively.

  3. What happens if a character is a gestalt low tier character for the first 10 or so levels, then wants to into a fast spell level progression prestige class? ...with Factotum on the other side.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The tier system is unofficial but usually splits into 5 tiers. It is also very fuzzy approach, it is not really going to be possible to come up with equations such as "tier 1 single class character equals tier 2 + tier 3 gestalt character at levels 5-9" - I doubt anyone will have necessary experience or balancing skills to resolve at the level of detail your question is asking for. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Jun 29 '16 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't have to balance exactly. Obviously these are fuzzy calculations. I guess I am looking for more tank like characters to feel like they are contributing as much as the spellcasters. \$\endgroup\$ – kleineg Jun 29 '16 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NeilSlater: We have a few players/GMs with a lot of experience here :) \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Jun 29 '16 at 14:38
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The typical approach that I have used and played under is this:

  • Tier-4 classes can gestalt with tier-5 classes

  • Tier-3 classes can gestalt with tier-6 classes (i.e. non-adept NPC classes)

  • Tier-2 and tier-1 classes cannot gestalt

It’s not perfect, but it seems to work pretty well. The higher-tier classes are still more powerful, even with these benefits, but the lower-tier classes are much more interesting than they usually are, giving players more incentive to play them and more reward, in terms of fun, for doing so. My current character is a smorgasbord of monk, paladin, and spellthief, and I’m having a lot more fun than I would as a wizard, even though the guy who is playing a wizard can ultimately do a lot more than I can.

As for distinguishing between classes, the tier list itself covers most classes, and why each class is in its tier explains how to eyeball other classes.

Tier 1 and 2 are relatively easy to adjudicate: if a class has access to something at most levels that trivializes problems in an overpowered or broken way, it’s tier 1 or 2. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. Generally, this means full-casting: a spell progression that eventually hits 9ths. The cleric, druid, and sor/wiz lists have many, many entries that fit this description. The shugenja and wu jen lists are not quite at that level, but probably have enough. And artificer flies here just because his crafting means he can use any and all of the above, if he’s careful.

It’s important to note that tiers should be level- and optimization-agnostic. A broken 20th-level capstone won’t change the tier of an otherwise-fine (or otherwise-awful) class.1 A particularly broken build that manages to break the game with some shenanigans doesn’t count either.2 The idea is that something about the class itself is, at most levels, overpowered.

The difference between tier 1 and tier 2 is, basically, the difference between prepared and spontaneous spellcasting: can the class change what it’s doing regularly, so that it can cover all sorts of very-different situations, or does it get locked into one set of abilities that, while extremely powerful, leave some room for flaws and vulnerabilities?

The other tiers are somewhat fuzzier. Tier 3 is defined as being excellent at one thing and reasonably competent at other things (e.g. warblade), or being quite good at a lot of things (e.g. bard). Tier 4 is decent, or even great at one thing, but useless outside it (e.g. barbarian), or OK at a lot of things but struggles to excel (e.g. rogue). Tier 5 is OK at their specialty, but not even the best at that and utterly useless outside it (e.g. fighter), or is just so spread out that it struggles to get much done (e.g. monk). Tier 6 is NPC classes (and the Complete Warrior samurai, which is basically a fighter with his feats pre-chosen, and chosen poorly). The truenamer doesn’t get a tier, since it doesn’t even work without a lot of work (a high-optimization truenamer probably functions around tier 4 or 5 in a mid-optimization group).

  1. cf. truenamer, who goes from nigh-unplayable to quite-possibly the most inherently-powerful class in the game when he dings 20th.

  2. cf. Pun-pun’s use of ex-paladin

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Did allowing them to Gestalt really upped their power that much? Given the limitation in the number of feats and the action economy, I would fear it helps a bit, but still does not raise the power much... unless spending quite some time ensuring synergies, etc. (but then it's just optimizing more than the other characters) \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Jun 29 '16 at 14:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. No, that’s a good point: what this really does is make the lower-tier classes more interesting by giving them more going on. That gives the people playing them more to do, more ways to have fun. Incentivizes those classes some in ways they are not natively. Higher-tier classes are still more powerful, though this does help some. A group of players who trust one another and are on the same page is still necessary for success. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 29 '16 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is the benefit of letting tier 3 characters gestalt with tier 6? Aside from warrior or samurai for full BAB... maaaybe expert for the skills, there doesn't seem to be a point, is it possible to allow tier 5 picks? \$\endgroup\$ – kleineg Jun 29 '16 at 14:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kleineg That is exactly the point, all you get is slightly better HD/BAB or skills. You could try T3//T5 and T4//T4 I suppose, but I think the T3//T5 is looking disproportionately attractive. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 29 '16 at 15:13
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For posterity's sake, the tier system discussed is this one. To summarize: tier 1 breaks the campaign every which way, tier 2 breaks the campaign in one way per character, tier 3 is always relevant, tier 4 is relevant at one thing, tier 5 isn't relevant even at their one thing, and tier 6 doesn't even get their own thing.

Cutoff for Tier 1

The cutoff for Tier 2 is 9th level spells, basically. Duskblades, bards, and initiators can never hope to make it past Tier 3 even if they were all gestalted together. Tier 1 is way beyond their reach.

The generally accepted Tier 1 classes are Wizard, Cleric, Druid, Archivist, Artificer, and Spell-to-power Erudite. This is because they don't just get 9th level spells, they get all the 9th level spells.

Melee supremacy at low levels is... questionable

What makes melee guys good at low levels? They get better BAB than casters, and better HP. Gestalting together two classes with good BAB and good HP won't make the BAB and HP better than the maximum. And creatures at low levels have so few HP that it's generally trivial to one-shot them for even a non-gestalted character.

The real gap you should be trying to close is doing things outside of combat. Fighter//Barbarian hits like a truck, but what if the problem can't be solved with hitting? The wizard prepares charm person. If the mundanes try to solve this problem (say, by grabbing a skillful class rather than a second fighting one) then their combat power doesn't go up dramatically, and there's no issue with becoming "too good" at combat.

Casting is good if you build for casting

Let's take the barbarian from before, and slap on 10 levels of Factotum and Ur-priest. His Intelligence and Wisdom are probably rubbish, so he can't benefit from all these new cool abilities. He didn't sink his feats into Font of Inspiration, or Divine Metamagic, so he can't do the coolest stuff these classes do. He can buff himself a little bit, but his caster level sucks so bad that the buffs fall off at the first dispel magic.

So no, Factotum + Spells is not a silver bullet. Let people build what they want.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Who said anything about barbarian? The character could be a swordsage, or bard, or warlock, or binder... any two or any one with a prestige class. the Sublime Arcanamach from KRyan's gish answer starts with 5 levels in tier 3 or lower base classes. 8 levels of factotum gets multiple standard actions a round, warblade patches BAB holes (allowing you to drop Suel and Eldritch Knight)... 9th-level arcane spells, 8th-level maneuvers, Cunning Surge = win. \$\endgroup\$ – kleineg Jun 29 '16 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, like I said - if you build for it then spells win. But it requires way more advance planning than "whoops we hit level 10 and I don't have spells yet!" \$\endgroup\$ – SPavel Jun 29 '16 at 15:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I know what you mean, and you made a great point. I was just suggesting that through the power of multiclassing (read like He-Man talks), you could go fairly low tier at first, and end up fantastic. Compare to the straight classed wizard. Everyone knows what they are up to... Usually. The example I gave for above for a tier 3 being increased suffers from MAD, and would be feat hungry. But use of an "up two tier" prestige class really made a difference. \$\endgroup\$ – kleineg Jun 29 '16 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course up two tier works for everybody, and the wizard can early entry Anima Mage, move into Incantatrix... no one is stopping them short of DM fiat. And even then, with the ability to cast wish as an immediate action once a day, it would take two iterations of "rocks fall, everyone dies" in quick succession. Would they be a -3 tier? cause I want to think so. \$\endgroup\$ – kleineg Jun 29 '16 at 16:03

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