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

squibbles

Adventurer
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.
Exactly!

It all seems like such a clever system, where the designers recognized the pattern of power spikes in D&D's inherited spell list, and then benchmarked the power of everything else to those levels--with attack and cantrip progression, pact magic, font of magic, and arcane/natural recovery all built, in part, around that 6th spell level power spike.

But then they nerfed a bunch of the spells, like disintegrate and flesh to stone, that made the 6th spell level powerful.

Feels like the remedy would be to just make some lackluster 6th level spells stronger.
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Exactly!

It all seems like such a clever system, where the designers recognized the pattern of power spikes in D&D's inherited spell list, and then benchmarked the power of everything else to those levels--with attack and cantrip progression, pact magic, font of magic, and arcane/natural recovery all built, in part, around that 6th spell level power spike.

But then they nerfed a bunch of the spells, like disintegrate and flesh to stone, that made the 6th spell level powerful.

Feels like the remedy would be to just make some lackluster 6th level spells stronger.
And drop some 7th, 8th, and 9th level spells down a level or two.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
While the shift from 5th to 6th level spells isn't huge, it's at level 6 that caster choices begin to deform the game world more and more, where player actions can circumvent wide scale . Planar Ally assumes you know a god or extra planar being who is going to help you. Clerics (at 10) can start getting miracles, etc. Heal and Magic Jar are at this scale, as is (curiously?) Contingency.

Certainly 11 represents a big jump for fighter, rangers, paladins, barbs, and so it is a reasonable threshold for entry to the third tier.

For most casters, though, I think the step from 5th to 6th level spells is not as big as the step from 6th to 7th. At level 13 all of a sudden you have Plane Shift, Regenerate, Resurrection, Sequester, Simulacrum. And while the power level of these is higher (in terms of what they are doing to the world around you), they are behaving similarly to what some 6th level spells do.

(For this reason I have often felt that Plane Shift should be available as a 6th level spell, to mark the tier shift. Most casters can now enter other planes; that is a big deal; it's also an ability I want the Horizon Walker to get at 11 as well).
 

Wait...do people agree with the OP's assertion that spell levels 3, 6, and 9 are a bigger jump, by design, than the other levels?
Not exactly. 3rd Level spells are definitely transformational in a way that makes it feel like the appropriate point for martials to get their second attack, but even that is just the top ten or so 3rd level spells. Wish is transformational for the classes that get it or can get it, in opening up limited access to the whole spell book, but other 9th level spells, while very cool don't differ in power from 8th level spells radically more than 8th level differ from 7th level. 6th level spells, I don't really see it. The rules definitely emphasize 6 and above as being a class far apart from 5 and below (it's where spell slot regaining abilities draw the line), but I don't really see this being born out in the actual power differential between 5th and 6th.

And for my money the most radical shift in (non-Warlock) spellcaster power is level 2 magic, when the number of spells they can cast a day double from a largely symbolic three to a "can meaningfully use throughout the day" six.
 

Quartz

Hero
How about spells that are upcast to 6th level? Are there any interesting effects there? For instance, Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum increases with the cube of the level increase - at 6th level one casting protects a volume 300 feet cubed.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
How about spells that are upcast to 6th level? Are there any interesting effects there? For instance, Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum increases with the cube of the level increase - at 6th level one casting protects a volume 300 feet cubed.
Upcasting over choosing a higher level spell id almost always a poor return of effect per level
It works out that way because the gain per slot for most spells is the same or very close to the gains that the spell had for free with caster level improvement rather than the gains being rebalanced.
That scenario would have nusged 5e to have spells with upcsst rebalanced for impacting 5e mechanics* with new returns that account for the cost of using higher level slots. The only reason old spells had that "oo its good now" was because caster level improved the low level slot spell while higher level slots took on the burden of holding bread & butter spell needs previously limited to low level slots (ie 2nd llevel scorching ray to third level fireball to 4th evel whatever. It was almost universally the nondamage spells that grew to be awesome with caster level gains & continuing to use the same low level slot was a big part of why since it kept those spells from being kinda useless.

*like concentration or excessive number of no cost saves

Edit:Holy heck autocorrect needs cleaning out.
 
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NotAYakk

Legend
I often talk about how many 5e classes have a "back 10" problem; basically, level 11 to 20 is lackluster in terms of features per level.

This isn't true of spellcasters. While every level 6-8 spell isn't insane, there are lots of spells in those levels that eradicate entire plot lines.

The pre-6 teleportation spells are all "to a specific DM determined destination" or short range. Level 7 teleport is anywhere. You get planar travel that is again not very limited. Contingency. Disintegrate, which vetos most resurrection. Heal. Irreistable Dance (no save and suck). Mass Suggestion. Programmed Illusion. True Seeing. Wind Walk. Word of Recall. Magic Jar. Globe of Invulnerability. Find the Path. L7 and 8 spells continue this pattern.

They aren't "you do more damage", they are about vetoing and imposing hard rules that the DM has to work around, and bypasses hard problems the DM sets.

At T2, there are a limited number of hard T1 problems that spells bypass. At T3, a new set of hard problems is made trivial by spells.

Some Martial PCs do get somewhat of a damage bump at 11, except (barbarians, monks, rangers) -- all of whom have a back 10 problem.

Fighters and Paladins get a decent offensive bump at 11. 12-20 their oomph-per-level isn't great, which leads to them being tempted to multiclass. (Fighters have 7 levels to get AS2 and 9 to get EA3; in comparison it was 2 for AS1 and 5 for EA1, 6 for EA2; the oomph-per-level has dropped off a bunch). Their back-10 isn't as bad as the other 3, but it ain't great.

Artificers are a hybrid whose class features get really fun in the back-10.

Clerics, Wizards, Sorcerers, Druids and Bards all get crazy 6th+ level spells.

...

Building a campaign, in T1 I expect to feed PCs local problems. They have a goal "pre-loaded" by campaign setup, and a set of local ways to deal with it.

T2 is around where I'd put the first major forks. A macro-scale decision where there are at least 2 obvious paths to travel, geographically or temporally separated, where the PCs pick one problem to face and solve and let the other one develop as it may. You might be able to fit 2 forks; 3-6 sub plots where the PCs deal with ~3 of them successfully.

T3 geography stops mattering. Anything anywhere in the world or planes becomes in play. Information (where to go) is the only real barrier, and they even get tools to get better information.

Problems introduced as too big to deal with in T1 can be wrapped up before lunch in T3. So in T2, I should be introducing problems bigger than the T1 "BBEG" plot that make the T1 concerns seem to be schoolyard pranks.

T4 is when spells like true resurrection, wish, true polymorph come online. These are spells where once per long rest a player can create new life or restructure a small chunk of the campaign world. Ancient king with prophesy to return? That is a days work. Gonzo is on the menu.

A big insurmountable problem from 2 tiers ago should be a day's adventure in T3/T4. So as a DM, my job is to set up new problems for later tiers in every tier. Some problems can grow (and should!), but the very nature of the problem has to transform.

In T4, a foe worth fighting has to be one that literally using a wish isn't sufficient to deal with.

It is really easy to punt and just treat T3 and T4 as "bigger numbers". And if you do, you'll look at disintegrate and meteor swarm and think "ok, those numbers aren't that much bigger". But the damage spells aren't what tiers come from.
 

Quartz

Hero
Upcssting over choosing a higher level spell id almost always a poor return of effect per level

Do tell. For me the canonical example is Hunter's Mark where with upcasting you can get it to last all day. Do also remember that multiclass characters may have high level spell slots but no high level spells. A Wiz 9 / Cl 9, for example, will have a 9th level spell slot but only spells of up to 5th level.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
Do tell. For me the canonical example is Hunter's Mark where with upcasting you can get it to last all day. Do also remember that multiclass characters may have high level spell slots but no high level spells. A Wiz 9 / Cl 9, for example, will have a 9th level spell slot but only spells of up to 5th level.
Multiclass characters have a lot of class features a straight caster won't & with 5e multiclass rules the real opportunity cost tends to be close to nil. Fractional casters like Ranger rarely get 6th level spells & even less so when full casters are tuer three11ish pcs. At the end of the day it comes down to the fact that up casting is built for fractional casters and multiclass characters while full casters have a spell list stuck on assumptions made in past editions that are no longer frue.
 

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