FAQ:Q: So, which is the best Tier?
A: In the end, the best Tier is the Tier that matches the rest of your party and appeals to you. If your party is Fighter, Rogue, Healer, Barbarian, then Tier 4 or 5 is going to be the best. If your party is Sorcerer, Beguiler, Crusader, Swordsage, then Tier 2-3 will be best. Really, if you're having fun and no one in the party feels either useless or overpowered, then you're doing it right. Personally, I prefer Tier 3, but I still match to whatever party I'm in if I join after other characters are created.
That said, here's something that might help some DMs decide which tier is best for their campaigns:
Q: Why is my favorite class too low? It should TOTALLY be much higher!
So, I was thinking about the whole "what is the best Tier" thing. And of course it varies by campaign, but I'll talk about it a bit.
Tier 1 is the best tier if you want the PCs to be super powered... similar to an Exalted campaign (the RPG, not BoED). I've heard of one great campaign where the DM made the only character creation rule be that your character had to be evil and be after immortality. They had a Wizard who turned into a Lich, a Druid who used Reincarnation cheese, and so on. When they hit level 20 after having totally thrashed the campaign world, the DM ended the campaign and started a new one. It was 1000 years in the future, and the evil characters were all epic now, and ruling the whole land. The players had to start over as first level good characters and try to defeat their old PCs. Neat. Also, Clerics and Druids can be very nice for newbies because any poor build choices they make early on really won't matter that much later... sure, Weapon Focus Scimitar on the Druid may have been dumb, but you can turn into a Dire Bear so who cares? And if you picked the wrong spells today, that's okay... pick better ones tomorow. That said, I only recommend this tier for veteran DMs who can keep the PCs in line in agreeable ways, as campaigns can be broken very quickly by the unpredictable and powerful tools available to the players. Be aware that house rules or gentleman's agreements will become necessary at this level when the players master their classes, as these classes will become absolutely broken if actually allowed to play by RAW with no limits.
Tier 2... I'm not sure how many people would specifically want this one because it's pretty small, but it does have the advantage of giving you big power spells while still being at least a bit more predictable with your tricks. Newbies who might be overwhelmed with the number of spells constantly available to Clerics and Druids and Wizards might be more comfortable if they don't have to re choose their spells every day, so it might be best for them. Note that because the Tier 2 classes have as much raw power as the Tier 1s, they too will require gentleman's agreements, house rules, or simply players who don't go all out to avoid game breakage when the players learn their classes.
Tier 3 is the best tier for me. Everyone in the party has great tricks and can still throw some big surprises at me when I'm DMing, but everyone else still needs a party to work with them, which makes it easier to make sure specific party members have chances to shine. I like the versitility of players at this level, and power wise they're still managable without flat out saying "no, you can't do that." It's possible to do game breaking things with Tier 3s, but that's much less of a danger as you can't really break the game without trying with a Tier 3 class (whereas any Sorcerer who wanted to make a home base and took Genesis might suddenly say "hey wait a minute, this spell can mess with time traits!" and suddenly break the game with little warning).
Tier 4 is best for a lot of people too. At this Tier you can start predicting what the players will do in a situation, so DMs can better gauge how encounters will go. That Barbarian is going to deal a lot of damage through charging... if you want a hard encounter, use difficult terrain or whatever, and if you want an easier encounter, make sure he's got a target he can charge. The more flexible Tier 4s will be less predictable but they won't blow you away with a sudden trick you didn't see coming... that Rogue may have awesome tricks with his UMD, but only with items that you give him. Plus, teamwork is definitely important at this level. That Barbarian may be awesome in combat, but when it's time for stealth, he's not going to shine, and someone else will. As such, this is definitely a nice tier for beginning DMs who want to have solid control over their parties without fully railroading.
Tier 5 is probably best for new DMs, especially when dealing with veteran players. PCs at this point are getting very predictable. That Fighter with Improved Trip and a Spiked Chain will trip enemies, the Healer will be a healbot, the Monk can run fast and make a lot of attacks, but generally speaking you know what's going to happen in advance, especially in combat. This predictability makes it easy for a DM to guide the plot where he wants without it looking like railroading, as the limitations of the classes provide the railroad tracks for you. If the PCs are supposed to kill a dragon by going in through his cave, that's what they'll do... they're not going to Love's Pain nuke said dragon from miles away and then float ethereally through his lair or something.
Tier 6 is best when what you want is a fun little low powered game. The PCs are very limited, so challenges should be primarily player-centric in nature, since the classes themselves won't create many good solutions to situations. Puzzles that the players must solve, fights that are more about organization than damage dealing, and so on. This tier works very well for veterans who want a challenge and newbies who want more fluff than crunch when playing, as classes don't have many abilities to get confused by (except the Samurai of course). Really, if you want to play at this low power level, you may be more satisfied playing a game like A|State than D&D, but it's worth doing once in a while.
A: Remember, you're probably more experienced with your favorite class than with other classes. Plus, your personality probably fits well with the way that class works, and you probably are better inspired to work with that class. As such, whatever your favorite class is is going to seem stronger for you than everyone else. This is because you're simply going to play your favorite class in a more skillfull way... plus you'll be blinded to the shortcomings of that class, since you probably don't care about those anyway (they match with things that you as a player probably don't want to do anyway). As such, if I did this right most people should think their favorite class is a little too low, whether that class is Fighter or Monk or Rogue or whatever else. If everybody looks at this system and sees that one or two of their favorite classes are a tier or so too low, but most other stuff looks about right, I consider it a success.Q: I totally saw a [Class X] perform far better than a [Class Y] even though you list it as lower. What gives?
A: This system assumes that everything other than mechanics is totally equal. It's a ranking of the mechanical classes themselves, not of the players who use that class. As long as the players are of equal skill and optimize their characters roughly the same amount, it's fine. If one player optimizes a whole lot more than the other, that will shift their position on the chart. Likewise, if one player is more skilled than the other, or campaign situations favor one playstyle over another, classes can shift around. Remember, this is a rough ranking and a guideline, not a perfect ruler.Q: So what a minute, how can I use it then? My players all play differently.
A: First, determine what you'd say is the average optimization and skill level in the group, then make adjustments for people who are noticably different from that. I can't give examples of skill level, but here's an example for optimization. Imagine for a moment that your party has a Cleric with DMM: Persistant Spell, a Fighter with Shock Trooper and Leap Attack, a Beguiler with a Mindbender dip and Mindsight, and a traditional Sword and Board Fighter. Now, the first three are pretty optimized, but the fourth is pretty weak. So in that case, what you've actually got is a Tier 1, a Tier 3, a Tier 5, and a Tier 6, with that second Fighter being Tier 6 because he's far less optimized than the rest of the group. However, if your group is instead a healbot Cleric, a Beguiler who hasn't figured out how to use illusions effectively, a Sword and Board Fighter, and a Shock Trooper/Leap Attack Fighter, then the charge based Fighter is the odd one out. Bump him up a Tier... maybe even 2. So now you've got a Tier 1, a Tier 3, a Tier 5, and maybe a Tier 4. Remember, this whole thing is about intra party balance... there's no objective balancing, because each campaign is different.
Also, a simple way I've used it is this: in my regular gaming group, I've got one player who optimizes like crazy and likes making characters for other players. And then I've got a bunch of people who make their own characters, and they're less optimized. I can therefor tell people that they can be a Tier 4 class if they let him make their characters, or Tier 3 if they make their own. It's worked out pretty well.Q: Why didn't you rank this from best to worst, like Wizard first, Archivist second, and so on? Why tiers?
A: There are too many variables in the game to actually rank the classes from best to worst. If the DM allows the Archivist to just research any spell he wants and is including the Divine Magician and Divine Bard varients in his game, plus the other ways for Archivists to get all Wizard/Sorcerer spells, then the Archivist is clearly stronger than the Wizard. If not, the Wizard may be stronger than the Archivist. Factors like that, plus questions of which books are allowed, what the wealth by level is, and what access to magic shops is allowed to the players... these things make it impossible to make a specific ranking of best to worst without assuming a heck of a lot, and I wanted this system to work for the vast majority of games. As such, I ranked them in tiers of power... regardless of the general campaign, an Archivist and a Wizard will be reasonably close to each other in power, and both will be far stronger than a Monk, for example. I do still have to make a few basic assumptions, such as that player skill and optimziation are reasonably close and that for the most part RAW is being played, but that's about it.
Also, the purpose of this system isn't to say "X class is the best!" It's to allow players and DMs to maintain intraparty balance... for that purpose, tiers are specific enough.Q: So what exactly is this system measuring? Raw Power? Then why is the Barbarian lower than the Duskblade, when the Barbarian clearly does more damage?
A: The Tier System is not specifically ranking Power or Versitility (though those are what ends up being the big factors). It's ranking the ability of a class to achieve what you want in any given situation. Highly versitile classes will be more likely to efficiently apply what power they have to the situation, while very powerful classes will be able to REALLY help in specific situations. Classes that are both versitile and powerful will very easily get what they want by being very likely to have a very powerful solution to the current problem. This is what matters most for balance.
For example, here's how the various Tiers might deal with a specific set of situations, cut to spoilers due to size:
Situation 1: A Black Dragon has been plaguing an area, and he lives in a trap filled cave. Deal with him.
Situation 2: You have been tasked by a nearby country with making contact with the leader of the underground slave resistance of an evil tyranical city state, and get him to trust you.
Situation 3: A huge army of Orcs is approaching the city, and should be here in a week or so. Help the city prepare for war.
Okay, so, here we go.
Tier 6: A Commoner. Situation 1: If he's REALLY optimized, he could be a threat to the dragon, but a single attack from the dragon could take him out too. He can't really offer help getting to said dragon. He could fill up the entire cave with chickens, but that's probably not a good idea. Really, he's dead weight unless his build was perfectly optimized for this situation (see my Commoner charger build for an example). Situation 2: Well, without any stealth abilities or diplomacy, he's not too handy here, again unless he's been exactly optimized for this precise thing (such as through Martial Study to get Diplomacy). Really, again his class isn't going to help much here. Situation 3: Again, no help from his class, though the chicken thing might be amusing if you're creative.
Tier 5: A Fighter. Situation 1: If he's optimized for this sort of thing (a tripper might have trouble, though a charger would be handy if he could get off a clear shot, and an archer would likely work) he can be a threat during the main fight, but he's probably just about useless for sneaking down through the cave and avoiding any traps the dragon has set out without alerting said dragon. Most likely the party Rogue would want to hide him in a bag of holding or something. Once in the fight if he's optimized he'll be solid, but if not (if he's a traditional SAB build or a dual weilding monkey grip type) he's going to be a liability in the combat (though not as bad as the Commoner). Situation 2: As the commoner before, his class really won't help here. His class just doesn't provide any useful tools for the job. It's possible (but very unlikely) that he's optimized in a way that helps in this situation, just as with the Commoner. Situation 3: Again, his class doesn't help much, but at least he could be pretty useful during the main battle as a front line trooper of some sort. Hack up the enemy and rack up a body count.
Tier 4: The Rogue. Situation 1: Well he can certainly help get the party to the dragon, even if he's not totally optimized for it. His stealth and detection abilities will come in handy here, and if he puts the less stealthy people in portable holes and the like he's good to go. During the combat he's likely not that helpful (it's hard to sneak attack a dragon) but if he had a lot of prep time he might have been able to snag a scroll or wand of Shivering Touch, in which case he could be extremely helpful... he just has to be really prepared and on the ball, and the resources have to be available in advance. He's quite squishy though, and that dragon is a serious threat. Situation 2: With his stealth and diplomacy, he's all over this. Maybe not 100% perfect, but still pretty darn solid. An individual build might not have all the necessary skills, but most should be able to make do. Situation 3: Perhaps he can use Gather Information and such to gain strategic advantages before the battle... that would be handy. There's a few he's pretty likely to be able to pull off. He might even be able to use Diplomacy to buff the army a bit and at least get them into a good morale situation pre battle. Or, if he's a different set up, he could perhaps go out and assassinate a few of the orc commanders before the fight, which could be handy. And then during the fight he could do the same. It's not incredible, but it's something.
Tier 3: The Beguiler. Situation 1: Again, getting through the cave is easy, perhaps easier with spell support. And again, if he's really prepared in advance, Shivering Touch via UMD is a possibility. But he's also got spells that could be quite useful here depending on the situation, and if he's optimized heavily, this is going to be pretty easy... Shadowcraft Mage, perhaps? Or Earth Dreamer? Either way, he's got a lot of available options, though like the Rogue he's somewhat squishy (and that Dragon won't fall for many illusions with his Blindsense) so he still needs that party support. Situation 2: Again, with his skills he's all over this one, plus the added ability to cast spells like charm makes this one much easier, allowing him to make contacts in the city quickly while he figures out where this guy is. Situation 3: Like the Rogue, he can get strategic advantages and be all over the Diplomacy. He's not quite as good at assassinating people if he takes that route (though sneaking up invisible and then using a coup de gras with a scythe is pretty darn effective), but using illusions during the fight will create some serious chaos in his favor. A single illusion of a wall of fire can really disrupt enemy formations, for example.
Tier 2: The Sorcerer. Situation 1: It really depends on the Sorcerer's spell load out. If he's got Greater Floating Disk, Spectral Hand, and Shivering Touch, this one's going to be easy as pie, since he can just float down (and carry his party in the process) to avoid many traps, then nail the dragon in one shot from a distance. If he doesn't he'd need scrolls with the same issues that the UMD Rogue and Beguiler would need. If he's got Explosive Runes he could create a bomb that would take out the Dragon in one shot. If he's got Polymorph he could turn the party melee into a Hydra for extra damage. If he's got Alter Self he could turn himself into a Skulk to get down there sneakily. Certainly, it's possible that the Sorcerer could own this scenario... if he has the right spells known. That's always the hard part for a Sorcerer. Situation 2: Again, depends on the spell. Does he have divinations that will help him know who's part of the resistance and who's actually an evil spy for the Tyranical Govenerment? Does he have charm? Alter Self would help a ton here too for disguise purposes if he has it. Once again, the options exist that could totally make this easy, but he might not have those options. Runestaffs would help a bit, but not that much. Scrolls would help too, but that requires access to them and good long term preparation. Situation 3: Again, does he have Wall of Iron or Wall of Stone to make fortifications? Does he have Wall of Fire to disrupt the battlefield? How about Mind Rape and Love's Pain to kill off the enemy commanders without any ability to stop him? Does he have Blinding Glory on his spell list, or Shapechange, or Gate? Well, maybe. He's got the power, but if his spells known don't apply here he can't do much. So, maybe he dominates this one, maybe not.
Tier 1: The Wizard. Situation 1: Memorize Greater Floating Disk, Shivering Touch, and Spectral Hand. Maybe Alter Self too for stealth reasons. Kill dragon. Memorize Animate Dead too, because Dragons make great minions (seriously, there's special rules for using that spell on dragons). Sweet, you have a new horsie! Or, you know, maybe you Mind Rape/Love's Pain and kill the dragon before he even knows you exist, then float down and check it out. Or maybe you create a horde of the dead and send them in, triggering the traps with their bodies. Or do the haunt shift trick and waltz in with a hardness of around 80 and giggle. Perhaps you cast Genesis to create a flowing time plane and then sit and think about what to do for a year while only a day passes on the outside... and cast Explosive Runes every day during that year. I'm sure you can come up with something. It's really your call. Situation 2: Check your spell list. Alter Self and Disguise Self can make you look like whoever you need to look like. Locate Creature has obvious utility. Heck, Contact Other Plane could be a total cheating method of finding the guy you're trying to find. Clairvoyance is also handy. It's all there. Situation 3: Oh no, enemy army! Well, if you've optimized for it, there's always the locate city bomb (just be careful not to blow up the friendly guys too). But if not, Love's Pain could assassinate the leaders. Wall of Iron/Stone could create fortifications, or be combined with Fabricate to armour up some of the troops. Or you could just cast Blinding Glory and now the entire enemy army is blind with no save for caster level hours. Maybe you could Planar Bind an appropriate outsider to help train the troops before the battle. Push comes to shove, Gate in a Solar, who can cast Miracle (which actually does have a "I win the battle" option)... or just Shapechange into one, if you prefer.
So yeah, as you move up the Tiers you go from weak, unadaptable, and predictable (that Commoner's got very few useful options) to strong, adaptable, and unpredictable (who knows what that Wizard is going to do?). A Wizard can always apply a great deal of strength very efficiently, whether it's Shivering Touch on the Dragon or Blinding Glory on an enemy army. The Sorcerer has the power, but he may not have power that he can actually apply to the situation. The Beguiler has even less raw power and may have to use UMD to pull it off. The Rogue is even further along that line. And the Fighter has power in very specific areas which are less likely to be useful in a given situation.
That's really what the Tiers are about. How much does this class enable you to achieve what you want in a given situation? The more versitile your power, the more likely that the answer to that question is "a lot." If you've got tons of power and limited versitility (that's you, Sorcerers and charging Barbarians) then sometimes the answer is a lot, but sometimes it's not much. If you've got tons of versitility but limited power (hi, Rogue!) then it's often "a decent amount." If you've got little of both (Commoner!) then yeah, it's often "it doesn't."
And of course reversing that and applying it to DMs, you get "how many effective options does this class give for solving whatever encounters I throw at them?" For Commoners, the answer may be none. For Fighters, it's sometimes none, sometimes 1, maybe 2, but you generally know in advance what it will be (if he's got Improved Trip and a Spiked Chain and all that, he's probably going to be tripping stuff, just a hint). For Wizards, it's tons, and they're all really potent, and you have no idea how he's going to do it. Does he blind the enemy army or assassinate all its leaders or turn into a Solar and just arbitrarily win the battle? There's no way to know until he memorizes his spells for the day (and even then you might not see it coming).Q: But what about dips? I mean, I rarely see anyone playing single class characters. What would a Barbarian 1/Fighter 6 be, for example?
A: It's pretty simple. This system is paying attention to the fact that people are more likely to take the early levels of a class than the later levels, either because they simply don't get to a level where they'd see the late levels, or because of dipping. Generally speaking, a mix of classes should end up being as high up as the most powerful class in the mix if it's optimized, or somewhere in the middle of the classes used if not very optimized, and below them both if it's really strangely done. A Barbarian 1/Fighter 6 that's optimized would thus be Tier 4 generally, because it took the best qualities of a Barbarian (probably pounce, rage, and so on) and then made it stronger. Generally, you don't multiclass out unless you get something better by doing so, so you're usually going to end up at least as strong as the strongest class. This isn't always true, but it generally is. Meanwhile, if you do something silly like Wizard 4/Sorcerer 4, you might end up much lower. But assuming you're not doing anything rediculous, a combination of Tier 4 and Tier 5 classes will usually be Tier 4, though it might be Tier 5. Similar examples would be that a Scout/Ranger is probably going to be Tier 4 (though because there's a multiclassing feat for that, it could end up Tier 3), a Monk 1/Druid X will be Tier 1, a Fighter 2/Warblade X will be Tier 3, and so on.Q: My players want to play classes of wildly different Tiers. What can I do about this?
A: Well, this will be a test of your DMing skill. The easiest solution is to convince them to play classes that are similar conceptually but different in power. For example, if they're currently going with Paladin, Druid, Monk, Illusionsist, then maybe you can get them to try out Crusader, Wild Shape Varient Ranger, Unarmed Varient Swordsage, Beguiler. That would make your life a lot easier. But if they're attached to their classes or feel that their class choice bests fits their character, then you've got a few options. One is to see the house rule section above and try something like that. Another is to simply provide extra support for the weaker classes... for example, perhaps more random magic items that drop are useful for unarmed strikers, while Wildling Clasps just don't seem to exist in your game. Maybe allowing more oddball "broken" tricks for the Monk (and perhaps Paladin) while being much more strict with the Illusionist and Druid. You can also allow more PrC options for the weaker guys... Monk 6/Shou Disciple 5/Unarmed Swordsage 4/Master of Nine 5 is fine for that Monk, but Illusionist 10/Earth Dreamer 5/Shadowcraft Mage 5 is not acceptable, and Druid/Planar Shepard is right out. You can also make sure that the challenges being put forward suit the strengths of the weaker classes. Something that makes good use of the Monk and Paladin's diplomacy would be advisable, for example. A challenge where being able to run really fast is handy might work too. And finally, you can bring the Druid and Illusionist aside and tell them the answer to the next question.Q: My party mates all want to play classes of wildly different Tiers. What can I do about this?
A: First... see if you can get them to play something closer together, as above. If that won't work, okay. Now, if the class you're playing is noticeably stronger than everyone else, try focusing your energy on buffing your party mates. Channel your power through them... it helps. If you're a DMM Cleric in a party with a Monk and Fighter, try persisting Recitation, Lesser Vigor, and Righteous Wrath of the Faithful instead of Righteous Might, Divine Power, and Divine Favor. You're still very powerful, and definitely getting results, but since you use your party mates to get those results, they feel useful too. Also, let them shine in their areas. If they're melees and you're a Cleric, don't turn into Godzilla and smash Tokyo. It's not polite. Focus on the other areas a bit more. If one of them is playing a Rogue, using Divine Insight to beat him on skills isn't nice. Let him have his fun, and save your spells for other areas if you can. If, however, you're playing a weaker class, then optimize optimize optimize! A CW Samurai is going to have a lot of trouble in a party full of Tier 3s and up, so maybe try being a Necropolitan CW Samurai 10/Zhentarium Fighter 10 with Imperious Command, Eviscerator, Improved Critical, and a pair of Lifedrinker Kukris. Carve out a niche where you're the king... they can have everything else. Also, make sure you've got something to do when you do have to sit out. Give your character a drinking habit or something.Q: Why does it matter if a class has broken abilities? Won't a DM just nerf that anyway? Shouldn't you just ignore broken abilities when ranking classes?
A: It actually matters a great deal if a class has broken abilities (such as flowing time Genesis, Planar Binding Wish loops, and so on). This system is designed to help DMs and players know what kind of power is coming their way, and if a DM is blindsided by something broken that's a serious problem. I'm not going to tell someone that a Sorcerer is weak because I'm assuming their best spells are all nerfed... I'd rather warn them that Sorcerers have overpowered abilities, so that they look more closely at the character sheets of Sorcerers that are playing in their game and watch out for such stuff. Remember, not everyone has the same opinion of "broken" and nothing ticks a player off more than having a DM tell them their neat trick that they were counting on is overpowered and suddenly banned. Ever seen a Sorcerer who took Shivering Touch and Spectral Hand and has been holding those in reserve for a few levels suddenly use those on a Dragon, only to have the DM suddenly say "no, that's broken, you can't use those spells?" It's not a pretty sight, and I'd like to avoid that.
So again, this is a system that ranks classes before such nerfing. Tier 1 and 2 class can easily do game breaking things, and DMing for those classes does require checking to make sure the player won't do anything silly (with good players, this is a simple matter of asking them to use their judgement. With munchkins, you have to be firm). The fact that they're Tier 1 and 2 is supposed to warn you that some house ruling may be necessary to avoid broken campaigns if your players go a little nuts.Q: What assumptions were used in making this system?
A: I tried to use as few assumptions as possible, to ensure the system would apply to as many games as possible. However, I had to use a few. The primary assumptions are equivalent player skill and equivalent optimization level. If one class is heavily optimized (taking the best available options, whatever best might mean in this case) and another example of the same class is not very optimized at all (taking a bunch of random options without regards to power) then obviously the same class would have two very different power/versitility levels. Likewise, an incompetent player (or one who's simply not trying) will do far less with a powerful class than someone who's creative and knows the rules well. I simply can't measure those factors, so the system assumes it's the same.
As far as books available, I assume that the core books are available, as well as whatever book the class appears in. Obviously, few people play a Dread Necromancer without Heroes of Horror. For all other sources, I tried to count them based on how commonly used I thought they were. For example, the Complete series of books are very often used, so I factored in the Barbarian's access to the Lion Totem with the assumption that it would usually be available. However, 3.0 books like Book of Exalted Deeds are far less likely to be used, so I didn't really factor in the Healer's ability to cast Consecrated Spells out of that book much when ranking that class. Usually this doesn't actually matter all that much (a Core Wizard is to a Core Rogue as an all books Wizard is to all all books Rogue), but for some classes it matters a great deal... these classes are listed separately (such as the Binder, which gains a TON of power with access to the online official WotC material, and is thus listed at both Tier 2 and Tier 3).House Rules
The first time I posted this I was asked about potential house rules that might help balance out the Tiers a bit more. This post will be on that topic. First, some quick and dirty house rules that are easy to implement:
Option #1: Point Buy modifications. This is a quick and dirty fix that helps a bit. It's not perfect, but it's certainly something. Tier 1s get 24 point buy. Tier 2s get 28 point buy. Tier 3s get 32 point buy. Tier 4s get 36 point buy. Tier 5s get 40 point buy. Tier 6s get 44 point buy. Result? At low levels, their Tiers are nearly reversed, with CW Samurai having awesome stats while Wizards really are weak bookish types. By the high levels, the Tiers are back in order, but the difference is less pronounced through the mid levels. Obviously, you can adjust what the differences are, but this works pretty well, and most importantly it's extremely easy. The big downside is that you really can't allow much multiclassing or else it all goes out of whack. Other similar methods include rolling but letting lower Tiers get extra rerolls or bonuses after the roll, and giving free LA points to low tier classes (so, everyone Tier 3 and below gets 1 free LA, and everyone Tier 5 and below gets 2 free LA).
Option #2: Partial Gestalt. Tier 1s and 2s are normal. Tier 3s and 4s may gestalt their levels with an NPC class of their choice (Adept, Expert, Commoner, or Warrior). Tier 5s and 6s may gestalt their levels with any other Tier 5 or 6 class of their choice, or Adepts. Result? Again, a healthy power boost for the low Tiers. Suddenly the Rogues can have full BAB and lots of hitpoints, and the Monks can have Fighter powers too. Very handy. Plus, multiclassing works... it's just that if you start as a Fighter//Monk and want to take a level of, say, Ranger, that level must have an NPC class on the other side. If for some reason you wanted Sorcerer, you wouldn't be gestalt at all in that level. Lord knows Fighters get a lot better when they can be Fighter//Monks or Fighter//CA Ninjas or whatever.
Option #3: Mass bannings. Clunky method, but simply saying "no, you can't be Tier X and above" does work. You pick the level that you want to deal with (let's say Tier 3, because that's my favorite) and then ban the ones higher than that (no Tier 2 or Tier 1). Some would ban the levels below that too (say, no Tier 5s or 6s) but I actually find that unnessesary... sometimes those weaker classes might work for your build as a dip. Honestly, I don't favor this method, because sometimes players can't find a class that fits their concept just right this way, but it is an option.
Option #4: Targetting nerfs. Go through and find all the stuff you'd consider overpowered and remove or weaken each thing. This takes a LOT of work and requires knowing the initial balance point of each class (something the Tiers were designed to help with). For example, you could remove the Polymorph line entirely, disallow the use of planar traits with Genesis, remove Planar Binding, and so on. This method takes a heck of a lot of work and is easy to do incorrectly (and thus create even more balance issues) so make sure you know how strong each thing is before you start doing it. For one example of a person's attempt to do this, see here: http://brilliantgameologists.com/boards/index.php?topic=3288.0
And then, here's a much more convoluted bit of house rules, as an example of how you can personalize your campaign while taking into account relative class power.
In my game, I wanted a low magic game, with characters using skills and martial abilities to solve problems instead of spells. So, I did the following:
Psionics don't exist (not familiar enough with them)
When preparing a spell (or preparing a spell slot, which spontaneous casters must do), you must take 1 hour per level of the spell. At the end, the DM makes a hidden DC 10*spell level check, where any D20 roll equal to or less than the level of the spell is an automatic failure. The skill for the check is Knowledge Nature for nature casters (Druids, Rangers, etc), Knowledge Religeon for divine casters (Clerics, Paladins, etc), and Spellcraft for arcane casters (Wizards, Bards, etc). When you try to cast the spell, if you've succeeded on the check it goes off normally. If you fail, the spell fails and you take a backlash effect, randomly chosen depending on the school of the spell you tried to cast (so failed necromancy spells do things like cause permanent wisdom decreases and negative energy damage, failed conjurations summon powerful things that attack you or teleport you into physical objects, etc). The save DC against backlash effects, if there's a save at all, is 5*spell level. Every time you cast a spell there's a chance of dying. As such, spellcasters are HEAVILY nerfed, and not expected to be played. When creating magic items, the spells required must be cast every day... so bad idea!
No humanoids or monsterous humanoids (which includes all PCs) can use Spell Like abilities, except for those granted by the Binder and Warlock classes (since those classes draw their power from outside sources).
The game is Gestalt.
All players get the benefits of Vow of Poverty, plus the bonus feats from that are any bonus feat you want (not just exalted), without the drawbacks (you can still use gear). However, there are no useful magic items in the game, so it's all mundane gear. As such, gear is far less important in my game... any random sword works as well as any other, so you can lose all your stuff, punch out a guard, steal his sword, and rock out.
All players heal rapidly when out of sight and no one's after them (fast healing equal to your HD, only when I as the DM decide you're between encounters).
Classes that had casting can, with DM permission, swap out their casting for any one other class substitution ability... for example, the Bard can swap casting for an Animal Companion because of the UA Fey Varient Bard.
Basically, it's a low magic heroic fantasy game. And remember, I like Tier 3 as a balance point. So what do these house rules do to balance?
Well, Tier 1 and 2 are completely gone. All of them depend on spellcasting which is now nerfed, so most of those classes drop to Tier 5-6 (except the Druid, who's Tier 3... yeah, Wild Shape is that powerful). The top tier classes are now the normal Tier 3 guys plus the Druid, except that the Beguiler drops to around Tier 5/6 and the Dread Necromancer does too. Sadly, the Healer and Warmage are also nerfed, but they didn't fit in the campaign world anyway.
The gear changes mean certain specialized equipment dependent builds don't work (Warblade Crossbow archers, for example), and Wild Shape based classes get pumped up (Druids and Wild Shape Rangers) but otherwise changes are minimal as far as balance is concerned.
Healing classes are basically unnecessary, though still handy, so Crusaders are useful to have.
Warlock and Binder invisibility powers are awesome against other humanoids.
Overall, that's about the effect I wanted. The entire party can optimize like crazy and they're still maxing out at Tier 2 if they really work at it, and are usually Tier 3 otherwise.
The current party at this time (we just added two players) is I believe:
Warblade//Swordsage, Barbarian//Swordsage, Factotum//Bard (with a gecko familiar), Binder//Ninja/Rogue, Scout//Warlock.
Conveniently enough, all of them are basically Tier 2-3 (gestalt raises them up a bit).
JaronKWhy Each Class is in its Tier
Hopefully I'll eventually expand this post, but for now I can at least link this resource: http://brilliantgameologists.com/boards/index.php?topic=5070.0