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D&D 5E Does the 3rd Tier of Play at Level 11 Make Sense?

Clint_L

Hero
The separation of 5e PC's into tiers of play is one of the many things I find elegant about the 5e system. The designers observed that access to certain spell levels--3rd, 6th, 9th--dramatically expand the power and capabilities of PCs, so they gave PCs without full spell progression power spikes at the character levels--5th, 11th, 17th--that those spell levels are gained.

For the second tier it works great; fly, fireball, spirit guardians, and conjure animals are huge, and they pair excellently with all the fight-y classes getting extra attack. For the fourth tier it works somewhat less well--barbarians' extra brutal critical die and 6th use/rest of rage doesn't compare favorably with, say, the wish spell--but 17th level is still the obvious place for the last tier to start.

The third tier at 11th level is weird, though. The PHB states that:

Well, most fight-y types do get a solid power spike at 11th level that lets them attack more or harder (with some ranger and monk subclasses being a bit dubious).

...but 6th level spells aren't that big a deal. Blasts like chain lightning, circle of death, and disintegrate aren't substantially ahead of their 5th level counterparts in the way that fireball and meteor swarm are above their 2nd and 8th level ones. And the unique capabilities gains--contingency, heroes feast, true seeing--aren't as drastic as fly and conjure animals or wish and true polymorph. And some of the strong 5th level spells, like wall of force and animate objects, are probably better than most of the spells at 6th level. But, weirdly, several class features, such as the sorcerer's font of magic or the warlock's pact slots, cut off at 5th level spells, suggesting that 6th level spells are supposed to be a major step up.

So, what do you think? Is the power spike at the third tier of play a bit off? If it is a bit off, does that matter and, also, why is it designed like this? Finally, if it is off and that does matter, how do you think it could be improved in the upcoming edition?


(fwiw, my bad if this is the wrong forum for this question. The One D&D & OGL forum feels as though it is somewhat less suited for discussing mechanics of late, and this is half a question about whether the 5e tiers work as intended.)
I agree with your point that 6th level spells don't really feel like a huge step up in the way that 3rd level spells do, but then the non-spell casting classes don't get nearly as a big a bump going to 11th level as compared to hitting 5th, so to me it feels like a wash, which seems to be the design intent.
 

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ECMO3

Hero
The separation of 5e PC's into tiers of play is one of the many things I find elegant about the 5e system. The designers observed that access to certain spell levels--3rd, 6th, 9th--dramatically expand the power and capabilities of PCs, so they gave PCs without full spell progression power spikes at the character levels--5th, 11th, 17th--that those spell levels are gained.

For the second tier it works great; fly, fireball, spirit guardians, and conjure animals are huge, and they pair excellently with all the fight-y classes getting extra attack. For the fourth tier it works somewhat less well--barbarians' extra brutal critical die and 6th use/rest of rage doesn't compare favorably with, say, the wish spell--but 17th level is still the obvious place for the last tier to start.

The third tier at 11th level is weird, though. The PHB states that:

Well, most fight-y types do get a solid power spike at 11th level that lets them attack more or harder (with some ranger and monk subclasses being a bit dubious).

...but 6th level spells aren't that big a deal. Blasts like chain lightning, circle of death, and disintegrate aren't substantially ahead of their 5th level counterparts in the way that fireball and meteor swarm are above their 2nd and 8th level ones. And the unique capabilities gains--contingency, heroes feast, true seeing--aren't as drastic as fly and conjure animals or wish and true polymorph. And some of the strong 5th level spells, like wall of force and animate objects, are probably better than most of the spells at 6th level. But, weirdly, several class features, such as the sorcerer's font of magic or the warlock's pact slots, cut off at 5th level spells, suggesting that 6th level spells are supposed to be a major step up.

So, what do you think? Is the power spike at the third tier of play a bit off? If it is a bit off, does that matter and, also, why is it designed like this? Finally, if it is off and that does matter, how do you think it could be improved in the upcoming edition?


(fwiw, my bad if this is the wrong forum for this question. The One D&D & OGL forum feels as though it is somewhat less suited for discussing mechanics of late, and this is half a question about whether the 5e tiers work as intended.)
I always viewed the tiers as the jump in PB. So I would say tier 3 begins at 9th level and 5th level spells are a huge increase (wall of force, Greater Restoration, Synaptic Static)
 

squibbles

Adventurer
I mean, you can make that same argument for 2nd level spells. Is Fireball really better than Invisibility? The former might let you end a fight, but the latter can keep that fight from occurring altogether.
You can, but I think its somewhat less persuasive. Anyway, you've made a solid case that the tiers are working as intended.

Wall of Force is a great spell, but ultimately it doesn't really enable you to do anything that Wall of Stone didn't. It blocks more things and it can't be damaged, but ultimately it's a wall. Wall of Stone lets you divide a battlefield and that's fundamentally the same thing that Wall of Force does (just better).
Wait... huh?

Wall of Stone is a 5th level spell too.


I always viewed the tiers as the jump in PB. So I would say tier 3 begins at 9th level and 5th level spells are a huge increase (wall of force, Greater Restoration, Synaptic Static)
That may be true to your experience in practice, but the design definitely intends--via things like cantrip scaling, font of magic, pact slots, and, as @jgsugden noted, the XP progression--for 11th level to be the cut point. Do you think they should change those cut points to be at 9th level in One D&D? There was a thread in the other forum arguing basically that (from which this thread is a somewhat belated spinoff).
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I always viewed the tiers as the jump in PB. So I would say tier 3 begins at 9th level and 5th level spells are a huge increase (wall of force, Greater Restoration, Synaptic Static)

Well like I said earlier, the designers of 5e and most of the community did not have a clear idea what post-level 10 play is if you skip 4e.

So by just copying spells from old editions and converting them, the design would not match the goals.

We can only hope people speak up in the next playtest of next editions, half editions, clones, and spinoffs
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Wait... huh?

Wall of Stone is a 5th level spell too.
My bad, I thought Wall of Stone was 4th level. Just substitute Wall of Water/Sand/Fire. The point still stands, they exist to divide the battlefield. Wall of Force is simply generally better at achieving that end. It doesn't unlock some fundamentally new capacity, unlike Fireball/Heal/Wish.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
My bad, I thought Wall of Stone was 4th level. Just substitute Wall of Water/Sand/Fire. The point still stands, they exist to divide the battlefield. Wall of Force is simply generally better at achieving that end. It doesn't unlock some fundamentally new capacity, unlike Fireball/Heal/Wish.
Notably, Wall of Stone does do something other wall spells don’t: it can be made permanent, so it’s theoretically useful for building structures as well as dividing the battlefield. That’s probably why it’s 5th level.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
The separation of 5e PC's into tiers of play is one of the many things I find elegant about the 5e system. The designers observed that access to certain spell levels--3rd, 6th, 9th--dramatically expand the power and capabilities of PCs, so they gave PCs without full spell progression power spikes at the character levels--5th, 11th, 17th--that those spell levels are gained.

For the second tier it works great; fly, fireball, spirit guardians, and conjure animals are huge, and they pair excellently with all the fight-y classes getting extra attack. For the fourth tier it works somewhat less well--barbarians' extra brutal critical die and 6th use/rest of rage doesn't compare favorably with, say, the wish spell--but 17th level is still the obvious place for the last tier to start.

The third tier at 11th level is weird, though. The PHB states that:
In the third tier (levels 11-16), characters have reached a level of power that sets them high above the ordinary populace and makes them special even among adventurers. At 11th level, many spellcasters gain access to 6th-level spells, some of which create effects previously impossible for player characters to achieve. Other characters gain features that allow them to make more attacks or do more impressive things with those attacks. These mighty adventurers often confront threats to whole regions and continents.

Well, most fight-y types do get a solid power spike at 11th level that lets them attack more or harder (with some ranger and monk subclasses being a bit dubious).

...but 6th level spells aren't that big a deal. Blasts like chain lightning, circle of death, and disintegrate aren't substantially ahead of their 5th level counterparts in the way that fireball and meteor swarm are above their 2nd and 8th level ones. And the unique capabilities gains--contingency, heroes feast, true seeing--aren't as drastic as fly and conjure animals or wish and true polymorph. And some of the strong 5th level spells, like wall of force and animate objects, are probably better than most of the spells at 6th level. But, weirdly, several class features, such as the sorcerer's font of magic or the warlock's pact slots, cut off at 5th level spells, suggesting that 6th level spells are supposed to be a major step up.

So, what do you think? Is the power spike at the third tier of play a bit off? If it is a bit off, does that matter and, also, why is it designed like this? Finally, if it is off and that does matter, how do you think it could be improved in the upcoming edition?


(fwiw, my bad if this is the wrong forum for this question. The One D&D & OGL forum feels as though it is somewhat less suited for discussing mechanics of late, and this is half a question about whether the 5e tiers work as intended.)
The single 6th level slot added at level 11 isn't that big of a deal. IMHO the but you quoted from the PHB & some of the abilities targeting that goal is off the mark. I say that because they are still trying to invoke or match past editions where instead of 4/3/3/3/2/1 spell slots & 16 prepared spells an 11th level caster might have 4/4/4/3/2/1 spell slots each preparing a spell that is now useful due to caster level or worth preparing due to spell prep options gained in other spell levels. Don't get me wrong though... there are definitely some stand out 6th level spells that can shine... if there is a situation where they shine... and they are known/scribed... and they are prepared when that situation comes up... and that slot wasn't used previously but that's a moment of gameplay behind a tenuously long list of a lot of ifs & ands.

With that said it's a power level that does not make sense narratively or provide for an interesting story if actually honored. That narrative role is the realm of what are generally interchangeable one dimensional isekai MC's sporting storybreaker powers. Once again old editions had a thing that somewhat mitigated that by having monsters that required those jacked up power levels to handle while in 5e it's simply a point where the PCs blast past bounded accuracy so they wind up standing shoulder to shoulder with Saitama without the benefit of support for a genre deconstruction plot that makes for interesting story.
 

Stalker0

Legend
5th level is by far the biggest jump in capability in the game, for many reasons:

1) +1 to almost everything (ie proficiency bonus). Many characters never get another bump here

2) 2nd attack. The martial DPs literally doubles.

3) 3rd level spells. Both the power and versatility.

4) durability. The HP at 5th level is getting to the point where even at 0 hp monsters can’t enough damage in a single swing to kill you. That is a huge boost in durability.


No other jump in the game is really the same.

I would argue 9th level is the next closest. 5th level spells to me are more transformative than 6th. You get your teleports starting, your high level divinations, wall spells that can just nullify entire sections of the battlefield. Further, it’s the frequency. There are still several rituals at this level, and casters can cast 2 5ths…but only 1 6th until very very high level. So that makes a difference.

Case in point, the gnome wizard in my game during downtime hung out next to his Paladin buddy and ritually cast contact other plane over 50 times in a week (with only in 1 in 400 chance to go insane). That’s just not something you can do with 6th level spells
 

...but 6th level spells aren't that big a deal.

Maybe not, but they're designed to be. They always have been, too.

Old D&D capped out at 6th level spells. 6th level spells are the first spells you get beyond name level. They used to be so special that you got 5th level spells at level 9, and then you got 6th level spells at level 12. B/X also capped at 6th level spells, and that went to 14. It was in many ways supposed to be the endgame spell level. Spells for levels 7-9 are stuff that happened much later. In nearly every AD&D campaign I played in, 7th level spells and higher were the exclusive domain of NPCs. And, realistically, that's how the game was designed. The XP tables got too fat at high level to realistically keep adventuring.

Even in 5e, 6th level spells are designed to be endgame stuff. It's the first spell level Warlocks get that isn't short rest recovery. It's the first level of It's the first spell level that doesn't really increase in daily use. Spell levels through 4 and 5 quickly ramp up to 2 or 3 per day. You get your first 6th level slot at 11, and your second comes at level 19. 6th level is also where nearly all spell level recovery and spell storage items end. Wizard's Arcane Recovery and Circle of the Land Druid's Natural Recovery cap at 5th level. It's the first spell level that Sorcerers can't create with spell points. Ring of Spell Storing is up to 5 levels. The game goes out of its way to prevent any one character from getting a second 6th level spell for a very long time.

The fact that the spells themselves at 6th level are almost universally lackluster, especially compared to how bonkers insane so many of the 7th level spells are, is kind of irrelevant to the design of the rest of the game. Everything in the game except the actual spell descriptions themselves treats 6th level as the start of something different.

The truth is just that spell descriptions are undercooked in 5e. It's pretty clear they didn't spend very much time on much of anything after level 11, and essentially nothing after level 13. The design of the game is set up for 6th level spells to be singularly amazing. They just didn't actually do that. They moved all those singular effects to 7th level, which is why level 13 is when the game stops being much fun.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Notably, Wall of Stone does do something other wall spells don’t: it can be made permanent, so it’s theoretically useful for building structures as well as dividing the battlefield. That’s probably why it’s 5th level.
True, but there are Tier 1 & 2 spells that are useful for building structures (Mold Earth, Fabricate, Stone Shape) so it doesn't actually bring anything fundamentally new to those tiers in that sense. Though, certainly, having a single spell to cover both walls and building is undeniably beneficial.
 

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