Split the Players Handbook into two books: Lower Tiers and Upper Tiers

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Level-based games like D&D usually struggle with high-level play. At first glance, it seems enticing to players to reach the pinnacle of demigod or superhero status, with the promise of incredible challenges and rewards to enjoy. But the reality is that it just makes the game more complex to manage, to run, even to enjoy.

If you are one of those in a group that always gets past 10th level, playing consistently without issues or setbacks within your circle, just know that you are the exception rather than the rule. Not everyone that plays ever gets beyond a certain level in the game, no matter how long they've been playing or how exceptional their group may be. Most people, especially adults with less free time and more real life responsibilities, find it difficult to commit to such long-term endeavors. Others, in fact, choose to avoid high levels altogether as their enjoyment decreases when the complexity of the game increases. These groups represent the majority of players out there, as indicated by various polls, databases, etc.

So why sell more game than most of us will actually use? Everytime I purchase a core rulebook for any game system, I think to myself, how much of this will I actually get to use? How much print space and design space could have been used for more options during the beginning and most-played areas of my games? And if my games ever reach a point where I need more game options and rules to expand it, then I would purchase the next part of the game.

As far as increasing or decreasing demand for higher level support, its not a fluke. The designers know where the vast majority of the market plays. Not everyone gets to high levels, because it is a bigger commitment in terms of time, mastery, and investment. But almost everyone plays from the beginning or low-tier through mid-tier. That is the sweet spots, for the game and the market.
 

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Marandahir

Crown-Forester (he/him)
If you take Tiers 3 and 4 out of the PHB, does Tier 2 start being less supported because everyone focuses just on Tier 1?

I.e., how much of this is stretching and pinching levels? In 4e, enemies that are ~Lv 30 are only ~Lv20 in 5e because of fewer levels…
 

d24454_modern

Explorer
Becoming a god that gains polytheistic worshipers is only one of the possible ways of gaining immortality at level 17. One might become an archfey, a lich, an elemental, a construct, a supersoldier: 4e has many epic destinies to choose from. 5e can add more.

Lolth exemplifies an upper tier character. Something like at level 17 she became a demon, and at level 21 she gained the Spider domain in her "portfolio". At later level, her portfolio acquires the Trickery domain, which comes with the flavor of entangling victims within her web of lies. The community that she formed during the low tiers expanded as she further transformed it during higher tiers. Like how some spider hatchlings eat each other, her treacherous drow followers kill each other so only the strong survive.

Basic D&D has the religiously agnostic mechanic of becoming an "immortal". This is a being of cosmic power. Cultures may or may not perceive such a being as a "god". It could be a powerful nature being or like Star Trek Q or so on.

An immortal at tiers 17-20 and 21-24 can exist in the Eberron setting. Different communities would perceive such a character differently, from different cultural perspectives.
But that’s something that happens entirely separate from Level.

It could’ve happened at Level 1 for anyone who cared.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
But that’s something that happens entirely separate from Level.

It could’ve happened at Level 1 for anyone who cared.
You arent wrong. You can have become epic at level 1 at the age of 20, or even earlier at the age of 13, at level 0.

But if so, you still need to grow up, and learn, and develop, and discover yourself, the people around you, and the world around you. You still need to be a human (or whichever sapient being). Exert effort.

You still need to level up.

Only when you reach level 17 and higher, you attain the power to express yourself and your sense of destiny.
 

d24454_modern

Explorer
The way I see it:

Low-tier full of mooks and grunts: 1 to 8.

Mid-tier full of experts and captains: 9 to 14.

High-tier full of generals and veterans: 15 to 18.

BBEG tier: 19+.
 

Marandahir

Crown-Forester (he/him)
The way I see it:

Low-tier full of mooks and grunts: 1 to 8.

Mid-tier full of experts and captains: 9 to 14.

High-tier full of generals and veterans: 15 to 18.

BBEG tier: 19+.

That's not the core level assumptions in the 2014 MM, at least. That makes more sense if you have levels from 1-30 than if you have levels from 1-20.

In 5e, King Arthur, Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great could have easily been around level 11, low-third tier.

1-4 = saving villages and farms
5-10 = saving cities and kingdoms
11-16 = saving regions and continents
17-20 = saving planes of existence or the multiverse itself

Generals and Veterans belong in Tiers 2 and 3. BBEGs could be all over the map, depending on the scope of the adventure campaign. If it's the Dark Lord of the Abyss, sure, they would be 19+. But if it's the black knight terrorizing the kingdom as the ultimate bad guy of the game? That's easily Tier 2.
 

kunadam

Explorer
If they would flesh out the army/thieves guild/wizard academy/etc part of those tier 3-4 levels, then I'm all for it.
What I miss now is that high level only means more damage, more hp, more spells. Characters can save the kingdom by slaying the dragon. But can they stop an army? Can they feed a city with 100 thousands citizens?

But then I wonder how fun would it be to play some kingdom simulation not as a boardgame but as an RPG?
 

Marandahir

Crown-Forester (he/him)
If they would flesh out the army/thieves guild/wizard academy/etc part of those tier 3-4 levels, then I'm all for it.
What I miss now is that high level only means more damage, more hp, more spells. Characters can save the kingdom by slaying the dragon. But can they stop an army? Can they feed a city with 100 thousands citizens?

But then I wonder how fun would it be to play some kingdom simulation not as a boardgame but as an RPG?

Are you going to buy Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn?

Also, if you want to do kingdom simulation, maybe there's rules for a TTRPG version of something like SimCity.
 

d24454_modern

Explorer
That's not the core level assumptions in the 2014 MM, at least. That makes more sense if you have levels from 1-30 than if you have levels from 1-20.

In 5e, King Arthur, Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great could have easily been around level 11, low-third tier.

1-4 = saving villages and farms
5-10 = saving cities and kingdoms
11-16 = saving regions and continents
17-20 = saving planes of existence or the multiverse itself

Generals and Veterans belong in Tiers 2 and 3. BBEGs could be all over the map, depending on the scope of the adventure campaign. If it's the Dark Lord of the Abyss, sure, they would be 19+. But if it's the black knight terrorizing the kingdom as the ultimate bad guy of the game? That's easily Tier 2.
I don’t understand the idea that no one is supposed to be able to achieve higher levels.

Raising the level cap just means that higher levels are worth less.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
The way I see it:

Low-tier full of mooks and grunts: 1 to 8.

Mid-tier full of experts and captains: 9 to 14.

High-tier full of generals and veterans: 15 to 18.

BBEG tier: 19+.
My view is more:

• Lowest tier: (college) students, mooks and grunts: 1 to 4.

• Professionals, experts and captains: 5-8.

• Leaders within a town of 30,000, up to a million-strong metropolis/nation: 9 to 12.

• A leader of several medievalesque nations: 13 to 16.
(Of course, "leadership" can be within a specific area of expertise.)

Crazy stuff: 17 to 20 and 21 to 24.
 

kunadam

Explorer
Are you going to buy Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn?

Also, if you want to do kingdom simulation, maybe there's rules for a TTRPG version of something like SimCity.
Thanks for the hint, I have not yet seen DL: Warriors of Krynn

Birthright (during AD&D 2e) was built around characters being leaders of provinces, churches, thieves guilds, whatever. So such ideas are not new. There characters had some powers that would only have a meaning on a grand scale (institution level)
 

Marandahir

Crown-Forester (he/him)
Thanks for the hint, I have not yet seen DL: Warriors of Krynn

Birthright (during AD&D 2e) was built around characters being leaders of provinces, churches, thieves guilds, whatever. So such ideas are not new. There characters had some powers that would only have a meaning on a grand scale (institution level)

Right, Birthright would be a fun setting to revisit. Or Council of Wyrms, perhaps.
 

pnewman

Adventurer
The business reason to split this into two books would be so that you could cut the page count on the first book by leaving out all the higher level spells and options so that the page count would be lower so you could afford to charge a lower MSRP to increase sales and profits.

So what if fewer people buy the High Level Handbook when it releases later? Adventures sell way less than Core Rulebooks but this does not stop WOTC from making money selling them.
(Some) people would freak out about a thick $75 PHB but be fine with a thinner $50 PHB and, six months later, a thinner $50 High Level PHB.
 

Alby87

Explorer
5E creation rules are so easy and quick to use (respect to other versions) that I'm asking to myself why WotC never released upper tier campaign (T3-T4) with the idea that you can start a new campaign level 10 or more? There are a lot of upper tier levels DDAL adventures, so they can be write. DND 5E is almost 10 years old, so higher level campaign books would be bought by people wanting to start a new campaign who are intersted in higher level. New player have a plenty of adventures to start.

Splitting the PHB... I don't think it would the viable strategy. It's one of DND sacred cows, and the last game with more than one PHB (4e) was... controversial. If ever a change of the PHB format is allowed, I think that it can be sold in two ways, at the same time:
- Beginner box with softcover perfect bound books split in:
1) Start Here (Example of play, quick solo adventure like the red box)
2) Character Creation
3) Spellbook
4) Rules of play
5) Dungeon's Master Quick Guide (the base essentials to generate and master Tier 1)
and dices, character sheets (also pregenerated), tokens, rewritable map and DM Screen.

This would be a "pricey product" (like Curse of Strahd Revamped), but would be the perfect entry point of people coming from a starter set (that doesn't have generation rules and mastering new adventures rules), people that have seen/tried the game and more sure to invest a bigger sum of money than the essentials kit. It's like the essentials kit, but what you have at the end is a perfectly usable PHB.

- PHB Hardcover: Then the PHB can be also sold as normaly (Hardcover), without the (1) and (5) parts. That could be used as a reference by experienced players.
 

Mephista

Explorer
Going to level 20 would probably be a sacred cow. I can't see people liking that, simply for tradition's sake.

Personally, I think that making a 5e version of EL 6 rules would be worth looking into. Cap the game at level 10. Work out a way to make higher level spells work as rituals. Set the third subclass gift at level 10 as a class capstone. Bring iconic magic items down from 17 plus levels, rebalance and let the level 10 characters use them.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Going to level 20 would probably be a sacred cow. I can't see people liking that, simply for tradition's sake.

Personally, I think that making a 5e version of EL 6 rules would be worth looking into. Cap the game at level 10. Work out a way to make higher level spells work as rituals. Set the third subclass gift at level 10 as a class capstone. Bring iconic magic items down from 17 plus levels, rebalance and let the level 10 characters use them.
Where the Lower Tier Players Handbook covers tiers 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, then the Upper Tier Players Handbook can mention the variant option of jumping to the epic tier 21-24, instead of continuing on with tiers 13-16 and 17-20.

In 5e, the tiers 9-12 work fine. The gain of new caster spell slots is already slowing down.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
How to simplify the Upper Tiers?

In the video, Mike Mearls and Rodney Thompson present how the 5e designers used the D&DNext playtests and its surveys to create 5e.



The statistical relationship between Complexity and Satisfaction catches my attention. These principles apply to the Upper Tiers too.

• In COMBAT: Simplicity=Satisfaction
• In NONCOMBAT: Complexity=Satisfaction

In other words, during the stress of combat, especially when other players are waiting for you finish your turn, complexity is nonhelpful. To streamline combat makes the greatest majority of players happier. Think more about the choices that players make when they build their character for combat. (Less about extra choices to have during combat.)

Oppositely, in exploration and socializing, when players dont take turns and can relax, players enjoy rummaging thru their character sheets to explore what options they have and to think about the different ways to utilize each.

These two principles have so many deep design implications.

For the upper-tier Fighter: It is good to keep combat simple. But ADD complex options for the social and exploratory pillars.

For the upper-tier Wizard: Simplify spell combat. Separate out the combat spells, and simplify the slot system for them. Turn noncombat spells into rituals that dont use slots.

These two class adjustments can help more players extend their campaigns into higher tiers.



With regard to any complexity: "You can choose to use any of these options or this default option".



Note, at the upper tiers, big-bag-of-hit-points is simple but less appealing as a slog. Especially upper-tier monsters need to have interesting things to do, but each monster need not be too complex. Different monsters can do different things. 4e did this aspect well, with different stat blocks for the different roles of a creature.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Spell points.

It happened in the context of psionic discussions.

In principle, I strongly require psionic to use normal mechanics. That includes normal spellcasting mechanics like Warlock spell slots.

Of course, many 3e psionic fans want spell points. I am a 3e psionic fan but require normal 5e mechanics.

The 5e spell point system in the DMs Guide is an eyesore − awkward to the point of unusuable in gameplay. It still suffers from possible "nova" abuses.

Nevertheless, when looking into an alternative spell point system, it proved so simple and so balanced, I eventually agreed that it would be ok if the 5e Psion class used this spell point system.

Now, I think every 5e spell caster should use this spell point system.

At the upper tiers, the spell slots of the Wizard and other full casters become increasingly cumbersome and complex. A single pool of spell points cuts thru all of this. Upper tier Wizards suddenly become simple and easy to play.



The spell point system works as follows.
• Pool of spell points = full caster level + 1
• Spell cost = spell level of spell
• Each casting cant spend more points than ½(caster level+1)
• Spell pool refreshes after each short or long rest

Notice, one cant spend more points than the highest spell level available.

Only SHORT RESTS can make the spell point system work in a balanced way. It allows the number of points to remain small, and the ability to cast the highest level spells available a maximum of two times, which depletes the entire pool, and then requires rest to refresh. A caster can still rely on cantrips and rituals meanwhile.

The smaller short-rest spell point pool can even be used for to cast spell level 9 spells. It can only happen twice, and then caster is out of spells for the rest of the combat.

The short-rest Warlock class can use this spell point system naturally. It is roughly equivalent to the Warlock slots converting to points. While leveling, the points advance smoothly while the slots lumpily, but the difference is a wash. It is balanced.

The long-rest caster classes including Wizard, Bard, Druid, Cleric, and Sorcerer, must instead adjust to a short-rest refresh schedule. Otherwise, getting excessively many spell points at each long rest becomes broken, when casting the highest level spells available many times during a "nova".

The spell slot system keep the spellcasting classes balanced and simple to use. Anyone who knows how to use hit points, knows how to use spell points. The smaller number of spell points because of short rests also keeps the math simpler.

There is no need to distinguish between slots 1-5 and then 6-9 separately. This simple spell point system can handle any slot in a balanced way.

We can stop using the term "level" to mean both class level and differently spell level. There are only points. Fireball is a 3-point spell.



The upper tier spellcasters suddenly become easy to play.
 

Mephista

Explorer
Where the Lower Tier Players Handbook covers tiers 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, then the Upper Tier Players Handbook can mention the variant option of jumping to the epic tier 21-24, instead of continuing on with tiers 13-16 and 17-20.

In 5e, the tiers 9-12 work fine. The gain of new caster spell slots is already slowing down.
Okay, gotta ask. Where you getting those levels? Because 5e is broken into four tiers 1 through 4, 5 to 10, 11 to 16, and 17+. Breaking up the established tiers is odd. Especially for warlock players.

Either way, still doesn't change that going to level 20 is very likely a sacred cow and not something a core book wants to abolish without very good reason. No matter if you consider it balanced or not, its something you need to consider in the game design. And if there will be more outrage over it or not.
These two principles have so many deep design implications.

For the upper-tier Fighter: It is good to keep combat simple. But ADD complex options for the social and exploratory pillars.

For the upper-tier Wizard: Simplify spell combat. Separate out the combat spells, and simplify the slot system for them. Turn noncombat spells into rituals that dont use slots.

These two class adjustments can help more players extend their campaigns into higher tiers.
While there are solid arguments for and against Fighters getting stuff to do in exploration pillar, and how (feat monkey versus the rogue's skill monkey), that has little to do with extending into the higher tiers; its something that needs to be considered from level 1.

Ultimately, the fundamental problem is that Fighters and Rogues are limited by being non-magical classes and there is a more than subtle bias that says that purely physical classes should be limited by purely mundane ability. Whereas magic classes lack that caveat. A level 16 fighter needs to walk to get around. A level 16 wizard just teleports. A level 16 artificer builds a flying mount. These are not equal by nature of their very classes.

Likewise, not using spell slots is terrible balancing for spellcasters. A huge chunk of being a wizard is spell management. Knowing when to use that sole level 6 slot on True Sight or save it for Disintegrate or Mass Suggestion. Turning everything utility into a ritual means True Sight is always on AND you still have a pocket Disintegrate. This is just going to ensure caster dominance at higher levels and make martial characters feel even more useless.
At the upper tiers, the spell slots of the Wizard and other full casters become increasingly cumbersome and complex. A single pool of spell points cuts thru all of this. Upper tier Wizards suddenly become simple and easy to play.
....
The upper tier spellcasters suddenly become easy to play.
Complexity of spellcasters has never been the issue here. Or, rather, this kind of complexity has never been an issue.

The fundamental problem with high level casters is the breadth of possible abilities makes it difficult to plan a game around. Let me give an example. I remember that an adventurer writer for D&D made a level 12 adventure about a temple full of fiends. The party's job was to clear the place out. If the group had a cleric? Forbiddence. Level 6 spell. Could cover the entire building, prevent teleports, and rather quickly killed all fiends in it. Quest over.

That's the problem - not only can high level casters do things like this whereas high level martials can't, but DMs need to plan entire adventurers around these abilities that will trivialize the story. And that's not always easy. And that's just one spell - there's multiple game changing spells between the cleric, druid and wizard lists that need consideration.
 

Mephista

Explorer
I mean, its great that you're putting such serious thought into the lack of high level play issue, but I feel like you are so completely misidentifying the actual problems with high level play that you are accidentily compounding the actual problems rather than solving anything.
 
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