D&D (2024) High Tiers = Superheroes

Yaarel

He Mage
have you seen Mike Mylers blog site? He’s done some Marvel write ups using pathfinder that might be helpful.
Hulk is CR 23, and Thor iirc is CR 25. Nightcrawler I think is CR 15
I havent checked that out yet.

Even with a CR around 15, it would very roughly approximate about level 37. Then roughly CR 24 around level 60.

This in any case locates the superheroes into extreme Epic tiers.


That said, the correlation between CR and level is extremely wonky.

I find it painful when 5e refers to "Creature Rating". I would extremely prefer, the monster math only refers to "levels".

Then give a chart with guidelines that tell the DM what levels the monsters need to be, for the player characters at each level.


I am confident, I can represent each superhero Nightcrawler, Thor, and Hulk as a player character between levels 13 and 20. For example, Nightcrawler is mostly a normal D&D Rogue at say level 16, except for his Teleportation power that can be quantified separately.
 
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Yaarel

He Mage
A D&D version of Nightcrawler is something like a level 16 Rogue. He spends three high tier feats to gain and to upgrade his variant Teleportation power. Lets it call Bamf.

Marvel Nightcrawler has Amazing Agility and Excellent Fighting. This suggests a Rogue. A higher Fighting might have suggested a Dexterity Fighter. He seems masterful at the hit-and-run combat tactics of a Rogue.


Bamf: The Nightcrawler Teleportation Power

• Nightcrawler can teleport at-will rapidly.
• He "bamfs" via a "Brimstone Dimension".
• He must know where he is teleporting or there can be mishaps.
• If in a known location or in line of sight, his teleports are accurate and safe.
• His teleport range is roughly 2.5 miles (4 km).

The Bamf doesnt negate any falling acceleration. To travel the sky, he appears for a split second then jumps again before falling, and occasionally teleports to ground to land and jump upward again.


Where is the Brimstone Dimension? Its main feature is reddish grayish cloud with a scent of sulfur. In some illustrations, its land seems like a dry rocky wilderness with a perpetual hazy sunset all around the horizon with dim purplish above. Nightcrawler is a child of Azazel. Azazel is a member of the Neyaphem, a group of ancient Human mutants who exhibit demonish powers, and self-identify with demons. An other group of ancient mutants, the Cheyarafim exhibit angelish powers. These Cheyarafim banished all of the Neyaphem to the Brimstone Dimension. Azazel can escape Brimstone briefly but gets pulled back there.

The D&D version of the Brimstone Dimension works well enough as a dominion in the Astral Sea. Brimstone shares affinity with a Demon plane, such as Carceri as a place of prison.

The Neyaphem and Cheyarafim are Human but exhibit Fiend and Celestial powers, respectively. Possibly this mutant magic is Psionic, being innate with mental themes. Debatable but fair, the Neyaphem are mutant Tieflings, and the Cheyarafim mutant Aasimars. They emerge from within the Human species via mutations that entangle the opposing Astral magics. Nightcrawler inherits this Fiend Ancestry, but he himself is a Human mutant without Tiefling powers. Actually, Azazel engineered the innate teleportation power that Nightcrawler exhibits. It is part of a plan to escape Brimstone.


All in all, Nightcrawler has a variant Teleportation spell, Bamf. It is worth about a good slot 5, when cast once as an Action. But Nightcrawler enhances it to cast it at-will as part of a Move. When Nightcrawler teleports, he is actually planeshifting. He bamfs to the Brimstone Astral Dominion, then bamfs back to somewhere near his point of departure. Plane Shift itself is an excellent slot 7 spell. "You ... are transported to a different plane of existence. You can specify a target destination in general terms, ... and you appear in or near that destination, ... at the DMs discretion." However, Bamf is a limited version of Plane Shift because it can only travel back-and-forth between two points: where Nightcrawler is currently and a location in Brimstone. Also, he has difficulty bringing others with him. On the other hand, he can choose his destination precisely, as long as it is in line of sight or known. In this sense, his power compares closely with the good slot 4 spell Dimension Door. The Door can "arrive at exactly the spot desired" that "you can see" or "visualize", or locate by direction and distance. "You can also bring one willing creature". The range of Bamf is better: around 2.5 miles versus 500 feet. Also Bamf can, via Grappling, pull an unwilling creature with oneself. But Bamf is more dangerous to use. If dimensional-dooring blindly into a solid object, the result is 4d6 Force damage but the spell fails. By contrast, bamfing blindly into an object deals this kind of damage, but succeeds thus lodges the bamfer within the object. This has happened more than once to Nightcrawler. At one point, Shadowcat phased him out of the object and was able to resuscitate him. Nightcrawler hates to bamf blindly but can do it in emergencies. The Bamf spell is worth somewhere between slot 5 and slot 6. Slot 5 Teleportation Circle requires more preparation but has unlimited range, even to any other plane. Because Bamf requires an Action, its combat application is less useful. For me, the question is which spell would I rather have: the ability to cast Bamf once, or to cast Wall of Force once? I have to say, Wall of Force. Thus Bamf is securely a slot 5 spell. It is an upgrade to Dimension Door along with some Plane Shift flavor.

Slot 5 spells become accessible at level 9. Maybe, a level 8 feat can grant one specific slot 5 spell per day. (It would be like a level 1 character acquiring a slot 2 spell like Misty Step. Hypothetically, a D&D Nightcrawler originally exhibited a version of bamfing at level 1 or 4, that was more like Misty Step. Then used the subsequent feats to upgrade it when reaching higher levels.) To get the Bamf spell at level 8 is one thing. To cast it at will is something else. For the sake of guestimation, D&D Nightcrawler uses the level 8 feat to acquire Bamf as an Action per day. Assume the feat at each tier has more design space than the preceding tier, just like the spells of each slot are worth more than those of the previous slot. Nightcrawler then spends both his level 12 feat and his level 16 Feat to upgrade his spell effect.

Because of the accumulating investment in upgrades, for the price of three increasingly high tier feats, D&D Nightcrawler is a level 16 Rogue who can Bamf at-will as part of his Move. Similar to the way one can divide a Move into separate moves between other actions, Nightcrawler can Bamf multiple times during a Move.
 

Yaarel

He Mage
DC superhero, Beast Boy of the Titans, wears a D&D shirt.

Titans BeastBoy wears D&D T-shirt.png
 

I'm just going to cut to the chase.

There is no reason a high level heroic fantasy game should not become a superhero/anime-style/mythic hero game. It's the whole point of getting to 17th+ level, let alone 11th+ level where Tier 3 begins. Like, the spells you get at that level are summoning meteors, wishes, mass illusions, all kinds of naughty word. The magic items are swords that cut your head off on a 20 or almighty rods that transforms into OP melee weapons in the hands of a powerful warrior. In other words, you're at the level where you have a capital I Identity, power, reputation, influence, and spotlight. The multiverse knows who you are. You're just that freakin' hard.

I'm not sure how this even becomes a thing for debate still, or why people act like this is out of pocket. In Tier 4, you're not thinking about individual powers anymore, you're thinking about baroque systems of magical interactions that replace traditional logic, a calculus involving the movements of demon lords, the decrees of angels, being hurled into other planes, draining the life of an entire world, and more.

At some point, in a Heroic Fantasy game, you're going to become REALLy Heroic! You go from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings -> Peter Jackson's Hobbit -> INVINCIBLE (as in the Amazon show/comic book series), it's just how it is! Can't see why that's a problem. Capping off levels at 10 and then giving feats instead of level ups or subclass features instead of level ups etc is the alternative if you want to play Joe the Fighter. Venturing into 11th and beyond means we're getting into some freaky deaky naughty word.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Exactly. The Enemies we have for high CR fights are insane. You can't expect to fight a Dragon gestalt conciousness that has connected itself throughout an infinite multiverse with a guy who can be replaced with an army grunt.
 

Yaarel

He Mage
Exactly. The Enemies we have for high CR fights are insane. You can't expect to fight a Dragon gestalt conciousness that has connected itself throughout an infinite multiverse with a guy who can be replaced with an army grunt.
With regard to superhuman Fighter at high tiers, are you comfortable with the concept that they utilize their ki (their bodily lifeforce aura), but not ki points (a particular mechanic)?
 

Yaarel

He Mage
Everything and anything in D&D can be formatted as a spell. Even an attack with a sword can be written up in the form a cantrip with Melee range.

Once everything is converted into spells, it can be compared to other spells, ranked and balanced. Even at the highest tiers.

And viceversa.

Things that are spells can be converted into other formats, including nonspell features.

The trick is, spells use slots and are typically one-offs. For high tier spells, the slot is once per long rest. There are durable spells that last 8 hours, and that point, the spell effect might as well last 24 hours, thus be always-on. Superhero powers tend to be always on. Class features tend to be always on.

Nightcrawler is a great example. A one-off Bamf spell is a solid slot 5 spell. But an always-on at-will Bamf makes Nightcrawler extremely powerful.

Once the relative value between a one-off versus always-on is well understood, everything that exists in the D&D 5e can be understood and balance − even features at the highest tiers − even features in the highest Epic tiers.

Convert it into a spell, and compare.
 


Yaarel

He Mage
Here is look at the feats that a character acquires while advancing. Similarly to how spell slots gain increasing design space while leveling, the feats also gain increasing design space. Notice that the level 0 background feat is less powerful than the standard feat that one acquires at level 4.

The 8 points that can acquire a level 4 feat can be used to acquire two 4-point level 0 feats, instead.

The increasing feat design space has implications for the Fighter class, since its extra feat can purchase a more powerful same-level feat, or multiple lower-level feats, whose total points are equal.

Note, the background feat is called a "level 0" feat because it is part of the "background" before one gains levels in a class. Moreover, it seems conceivable to create a level 0 character that has background a feat but not yet the full features of a class. Among the levels of the zero tier, the acquisition of abilities and skills come before the background feat. A character gains a feat at every fourth level − 0, 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 − albeit the level 20 feat is the Epic Boon. Level 19 and the Fighter class insert extra feats.

D&D TierLevelsFeat
Zero(0)
Zero(0)4 points (level 0 background feat)
Student(1−2)
Student(3−4)8 points (level 4 feat)
Professional(5−6)[8 points] [level 6 Fighter feat]
Professional(7−8)12 points (level 8 feat)
Master(9−10)
Master(11−12)16 points (level 12 feat)
Grandmaster(13−14)[16 points] [level 14 Figthter feat]
Grandmaster(15−16)20 points (level 16 feat)
Legend(17−18)20 points (level 19 feat)
Legend(19−20)24 points (level 20 boon)
Epic(21−22)24 points (level 21-23 boons)
Epic(23−24)28 points (level 24 boon)
 
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Yaarel

He Mage
The thread title, "High Tiers = Superheroes", calls attention to the defacto five tiers:
• Student (levels 1−4)
• Professional (levels 5−8)
• Master (levels 9−12)
• Grandmaster (levels 13−16)
• Legend (levels 17−20)

Prominently, there is a distinctive "mid tier", the Master levels 9 thru 12. This roughly corresponds to the "name levels" of 1e, when a class comes into its own. Before this tier are a quasi historical genres that feel relatable. After this tier are superhero genres that feel fantastical. In between, the Master tier is ambiguous. The relatable world heightens and the fantastical world sprouts.

Each tier has four levels. The proficiency bonus improves at every fourth level. The feat becomes the main class feature at every fourth level. The rest of the character features time and organize around these, to form the four-level rhythm across every class while advancing the levels: from 1 thru 4, 5 thru 8, 9 thru 12, 13 thru 16, 17 thru 20. There are five main tiers.

There are two low tiers: 1−4 and 5−8
One mid tier: 9−12
And two high tiers: 13−16 and 17−20


The five tiers feel distinctive. Each four-level tier is a fantasy genre to itself.

It is possible to create a strictly nonmagical historical period genre, if the adventure setting only has two tiers: Student (1−4) and Professional (5−8). Level 8 is the cap. These Students approximate adult humans of age 20 on up. They are college students, police rookies, underground musicians, and so on. Before all this, the highschool teens and younger are typically in the Zero tiers, but a few precocious students might be advanced enough to function at a college student level. The accomplished adults are the Professionals. Within the realistic or quasi historical setting, Professionals are the individuals who wield the most personal power possible. The Professionals can form their own genre, such as a story about mercenary soldiers or accomplished professors and inventors, or savvy politicians, each group within a world of fellow colleagues and peers.

The action movie genre leans into the quasi-magical Master tier, levels 9 thru 12 (with special effects such as "wire fu"). This tier is when the "rule of cool" becomes more important than the "laws of nature". Relatedly, the Master tier is when the superhero genre starts to emerge. The concept of a "normal human" except "extra", is prominent here.

The heightening of those individuals who are Masters requires the players to indulge a suspension of disbelief. The premise of the genre must allow for narrative plausibility, where at least within the context of the story such individuals can make sense. But the premise of a Master setting can still be taken for granted or vague. "These individuals are unique and rare", "This new discovery causes awesomeness", "The ancient legends turn out to be true", or, "This is happening but we dont understand how". A number of fantasy stories have this last premise, "hanging a lantern" on the fact that people are ignorant about how this magic can happen. But the ignorance continually provokes the audience (the participants, the players) to seek to understand how it is happening, and can result in a story that is ultimately unsatisfying, if the mystery turns out to lack revelation. In any case, the consistency and continuity of the narrative premise is the essence of the success of the fantasy genre at the Master tier.


Note, magic can exist during the "realistic tiers" of Student and Professional. But this "low magic" is never enough to be world-altering.

The historical period cultures − or their speculative fantasy approximates − can and do remain intact. Even a slot 3 spell like Fireball that becomes available during the Professional tier, only has the cultural impact of gunpowder or a grenade. The magic remains within relatable reallife analogies. Even a slot 2 Invisibility spell at the Student tier is not too different from camouflage or the cover of darkness. The citizens of a low magic setting can revere or fear mages, analogous to a weapon wielder or a perplexing stage magician. What defines the setting that features the Student and Professional tiers is, those individuals who are in power over a culture can and typically do lack the magic themselves.

D&D core rules mention the Students as "apprentices" (1−4), and the Professionals as "adventurers" (5−10). The adventurer approximates the reallife medieval guild status of a journeyman. Afterward the guild might accept some of the journeyers who prove their skill and versatile expertise as "masters" within the guild organization. The guild and its masters become a reputable cultural institution regarding its area of expertise. However, in a context of D&D, these masters wield personal powers that lean into superhuman. They defacto form their own salient tier (9−12). Life among the masters within a guild can be quite unlike the life among the typical inhabitants outside it. The D&D tiers almost always refer to combat training and effectiveness, whether the weapon of choice is a sword or a spell. But it is possible to use these same tiers to grade the difficulty and impact of noncombat features as well.

The Master tier of levels 9 thru 12 is a blurry overlapping cusp between the realism of the low tiers (1−4 and 5−8) and the full-on magic of the high tiers (13−16 and 17−20).


There are also Zero tiers before these five tiers, and Epic tiers after them. But 5e mainly ignores these befores and afters. The Zeros relate somewhat to those creatures whose statblocks have a fractional challenge rating. The Epics relate to individuals who achieve a pervasive world-changing influence.

There are potentially several tiers of Zero, depending on whether a player character has background features or not, or partial class features or not. At the opposite end, each Epic tier has a proficiency bonus improvement, and each level gains an Epic Boon instead of other character features, the design space of each boon can increase every fourth level.

Mainly the ultra powerful Epic creatures inhabit other planes of existence, to prevent them from directly altering the adventure setting. Alignment can assist here. The Good alignment respects freewill, personal freedoms, and fundamental rights. Thus Epic Good tends to be laissez faire about the Material Plane, while desiring its less powerful creatures to decide their own choices. Meanwhile, Epic Good actively thwarts any coercive influences from Epic Evil. The result helps the narratively relatable Humanoid cultures to govern the setting in Material Plane. Thus they set its themes, tropes, tones, and premises of the world.

5e core rules normally ignore the Zero and Epic tiers, but it is possible to make player characters for these befores and afters.


The high tiers − Grandmaster 13 thru 16 and Legend 17 thru 20 − are full-on magic. These are the tiers of the superhero genre. Magic, by whatever name whether wizardry, psychic powers, mutations, or advanced technology, shapes the world and the player characters. It is a story about marvels and wonders.

The powers that Grandmasters and Legends wield are unambiguously superhuman. Players perceive them to be generally impossible in reallife. Maybe some players can allow scientific technology to make such things possible in the future, or to be miraculous interventions in the past, but these superpowers are far beyond ordinary reality today.


The superheroic cultures whose citizens comprise Grandmasters and Legends are necessarily utopias or dystopias. The superpowers have obvious implications − and their impact becomes implausible for the narrative to ignore. The masses of any reallife culture would necessarily notice and respond to such superpowers.

In this superhero genre, the high-tier utopias can be hidden away from the realistic low-tier cultures. Examples include secret military experiments, the masquerades of vampires and werewovles, the covens or otherworlds of witches, an observer alien colony, the emergent but not yet recognized influence of AI, or so on. In these contexts, the world at large remains recognizably normal, but the world within the utopia is anything but.

Sometimes the utopia is public but self-restraining, such as the Justice League of superheroes, or in the Greyhawk setting the Valley of the Mage whose citizens are typically Human, Elf, and Gnome, who share an isolationist culture of spellcasters.

Whether the containable superhero utopia is incognito or public, the narrative premise must explain how the utopia fails to revolutionize the rest of the world (as the reallife players know it). What is the reason for self-restraint? Why do the masses at large choose to continue on with business as usual?

If the superpowers revolutionize the entire world, the setting becomes a sociological thought experiment. The setting becomes less relatable to the players but can be important in its own right. It speculates about how reallife humans might behave in a scenario where such a superpower is true. It explores the potentials of reallife humanity. Many scifi settings are utopian worlds or dystopian worlds, such as a remote alien civilization or the achievement of a high tech future.

The high tiers are where characters become Grandmasters and Legends. The setting is where the DM explores a hypothetical world, exiting reallife human history, and entering a place "whose only limits are your imagination".


In sum, there are five main tiers.
• The overwhelmingly realistic low tiers of Student and Professional
• The overwhelmingly fantastic high tiers of Grandmaster and Legend

The cusp between them is the ambiguous mid tier of Master. The Masters are where the normal world heightens and the superhero world initiates. Simultaneously.
 


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