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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    A bit of a broad topic, but one I was hoping to get some opinions on:


    Given a theoretical setup where PCs are limited to taking a single class level, how balanced are the first levels of 3.5e's base classes in comparison to one another?

    (This can be in terms of combat ability, skill use, and/or more abstract "problem solving" capabilities. Assume all first party WotC content, sans Dragon Magazine and anything module specific, is fair game.)

    - Are there any specific classes/categories of classes that have the potential to be overpowering or fall behind in ways that might not be seen at higher levels of play?

    - Are there any glaring first level exploits that threaten to throw off game balance if not addressed?


    I'd love to hear your thoughts.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    Power Word Pain and Nerveskitter kinda throws off the curve. With that said, it entirely depends on how optimized the caster is
    Quote Originally Posted by eggynack View Post
    What I care about here, though, is that the highest standard of pedantry is upheld.
    Level 6 Dread Necromancers can start the apocalypse
    Level 12 Bards can counter T1 spellcasters and kill Greater Deities

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    1st level dynamics are weird.

    The big thing is that HP and damage are much closer together than they are in the rest of the game. Both hit points and attack damage are roughly "one die + stat", meaning that even if you roll with max HP at 1st level, almost every character goes down in one or two hits.

    Combat in general is much more lethal than it is at mid levels. As noted, a Greatsword hit from a Fighter or Barbarian (let alone a Warblade or something) is basically a no-save-just-die if it hits, and casters get spells like Sleep or Color Spray that can wipe an entire encounter.

    Class balance is probably better overall, but the big thing is that the winners and losers shift around a good deal. Whether a class is good or bad at 1st level has very little correlation with how good it is overall in either direction.

    Martial characters in general are a lot stronger, because they can both survive a hit (sometimes even two hits) from enemies and deal enough damage to kill anything your party encounters. The Warblade and Crusader are actually kind of insane, because they get active abilities that are quite powerful at this point.

    Wizards really feel the pressure of their more limited spells per day at 1st level. Sorcerers are probably better, and Beguilers are just insane. They get all the good 1st level spells, and they get enough skills to do the Rogue's job out of combat.

    Clerics and Druids are a lot like martials at this level, just with better sustain (except the Crusader, who is absurdly tanky). Druids also get an animal companion that is basically as good as an average martial character.

    Looking farther afield, the Incarnate gets to really push the scaling of their soulmelds at this level. In the long run, the damage of Acidic Spittle is kinda crappy, but at 1st level you can get a 3d6 ranged touch attack. Conversely, while the Artificer will eventually gain access to every broken trick that exists, at 1st level they're running around struggling to activate scrolls that aren't even as good at ending encounters as a Wizard's spells.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doctor Despair View Post
    Power Word Pain and Nerveskitter kinda throws off the curve. With that said, it entirely depends on how optimized the caster is
    No they don't. Power Word Pain is a garbage spell for PCs at 1st level. It kills anything you tag with it automatically, but it does so way, way too slowly. Power Word Pain is a death sentence for PCs, but monsters are going to die anyway. 1st level spell slots are way too precious at 1st level to justify using Nerveskitter.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    fully optimized spellcaster will blow all the other classes out of the water.

    for example, i can get a sorcerer to have two animal companions at 1st level and be able to cast power word pain. she can either brute force enemies down with her beefy riding dogs, or she can get a badger companion that burrows into the ground with her after she casts a power word pain, thus being untouchable until the spell kills its victim.

    a non optimized spellcaster however will die to a cat 1v1 fight.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    They're horribly unbalanced, generally in the Muggles' favor.

    If they survive 1st level threats long enough to accumulate wealth, it generally becomes even more unbalanced, still mostly in the muggles' favor.

    Which is the way I like it.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    Quote Originally Posted by newguydude1 View Post
    fully optimized spellcaster will blow all the other classes out of the water.

    for example, i can get a sorcerer to have two animal companions at 1st level and be able to cast power word pain. she can either brute force enemies down with her beefy riding dogs, or she can get a badger companion that burrows into the ground with her after she casts a power word pain, thus being untouchable until the spell kills its victim.

    a non optimized spellcaster however will die to a cat 1v1 fight.
    Expanding on this, here is a wizard that was optimized against a responsively designed fighter.

    In addition to that build, a Sparrow Hengeyokai Wizard with Surrogate Spellcasting using Power Word:Pain or Sunstroke is pretty mean in PvP combat.
    ExFighter: Immunity to Wizard
    Stutter Caster: Eliminate all spell defenses (SR, Save, AC).
    The Clockwork Wizard: All spells in no time.
    Piercing Immunities: Uncounterable Counters.
    Planar Soldiers of Mystra: Invincibility from planar traits.
    A Core Only Fighter 20 that kills things

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Maat Mons's Avatar

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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    Well, at 1st level you can have the Troll Blooded feat. If flaws are in play, you can also have Shape Soulmeld twice for resistance 10 to acid and fire damage. For a 1st-level character facing 1st-level threats, that makes you pretty survivable.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Zanos's Avatar

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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    Ironically level 1 is probably where the game is more rocket tag than at any other point, considering a good hit with any weapon will put down most creatures, a crit can actually one shot you not just unconscious, but actually dead, and sleep and color spray are at their most effective, commonly ending entire encounters. Immunities and other high end defenses are usually not online yet, and the party lacks the resources to remove persistent conditions, like death. I guess you could call this good balance? But a wizard can still 1 shot 4 1st level fighters with one spell with a ~75% chance of success each, while a fighter can typically only 1 shot one wizard per turn. And wizards actually do have access to a good amount of level 1 cheese, an elven generalist domain wizard with 20 int and a hummingbird familiar and martial wizard could easily have +11 initiative and 5 1st level slots a day. There's other, perhaps more specific cheese that comes to mind. Abrupt Jaunt wizards also come to mind.

    Then there's stuff that's just weird and not really functional, like 1st level spells with 1 round per level durations being effectively worthless. Like summons.

    A lot of people do skip level 1, in my experience. Taking a longbow crit on the first round of the first combat of the first session of your first 3.5 campaign and outright dying from the x3 crit isn't a great experience. And yeah, this happened to someone in a game I was in.
    Last edited by Zanos; 2020-12-02 at 09:50 PM.
    If any idiot ever tells you that life would be meaningless without death, Hyperion recommends killing them!

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zanos View Post
    A lot of people do skip level 1, in my experience. Taking a longbow crit on the first round of the first combat of the first session of your first 3.5 campaign and outright dying from the x3 crit isn't a great experience. And yeah, this happened to someone in a game I was in.
    is why you stay in a box 24/7 as your animal companions do all the fighting for you.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zanos View Post
    a crit can actually one shot you not just unconscious, but actually dead, and sleep and color spray are at their most effective, commonly ending entire encounters.
    Orcs are especially bad for this. They crit surprisingly often, and they do double-digit damage on a crit.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    Depends really strongly on your optimization level. If you take a random printed level 1 NPC from a random Dungeon adventure the martials beat the casters well in excess of 50% of the time.

    If you play "all optional rules on" at Theoretical Optimization levels, "balance" loses some meaning

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    The thing with level 1 is, it's very swingy, to the extreme. Much more so that lvl20. At least at those levels, you get some interactions between preps and contingencies before you die. At lvl 1, you just die. More often than not without rolling any dice at all (exept maybe initiative) There's no: 'this class is generally beter' or 'this class will generally perform worse'. There's the 1 roll that matters, and the outcome is either good or bad... The end.

    If the tread antrowwhale linked (which was great fun) taught me anything it's that initiative is key at that level. Not getting initiative often means dying without getting an action. After that, the specific build matters a lot. Either you are immune to whatever is thrown at you (and you win), or you're not and you die. this is very much regardless of class and build.

    So whilst statements like 'wizards wil generally do better' or 'beatsticks generally do better' might be true, they don't really matter in an actual game up until the point where you intend to play the same builds hundreds of times. If it's just a one of, it's more up to the dice than up to anything else. (And that alone would be enough for me not to play that particular game. There's better 'pure dumb luck' games out there.)

    Another thing about lvl 1 and it's swingy nature is that 'being swingy' is very much a disadvantage for people invested in their characters, whilst the disadvantage for a DM is much smaller, as he has a lot more disposable characters/monsters. So never mind the balance of classes compared to one another. The balance vs DM is going to be gone.
    Last edited by Twurps; 2020-12-03 at 03:14 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Beheld View Post
    Wholly Crap! Did someone just make an argument based on the actual rules text! You clearly don't belong in this thread.

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    Rogues that aim to key off DEX uniquely suck assuming the absence of things that would give them finesse options (no BAB means they canít take finesse outright and most finesse replacements are buried in feats or are gear the rogue wonít have).

    Youíre a D6 hp in light armor that gets a d6 extra damage on their shortbow if you go first in initiative. Youíve got skills but thatís quite literally all youíre good for.

    The Druid has a bear

    The fighter is some flavor of one touch death, as is the barbarian and paladin (though fighter can do it from range with terrifying consistency)

    Wizard/sorc end encounters with a spell.

    Bards donít have any real spells yet, so theyíre mostly skill support and squishier than the rogue besides.

    Clerics are well rounded and naturally health dispensers.

    Monks...

    Rangers one up the rogue in most cases.
    By the metric of being wholly dependent on the GM for noncombat interaction Fighter is an NPC class.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: [3.5e] How Balanced are Classes at Level 1?

    So for melee characters warforged and dragonborn water-orcs with Mind(ex) are very powerful. Initiative is king! Power Attack is not great but not horrible

    • Rogues, factotum, and Monks are probably the worst choices at level 1
    • Ranger, swashbuckler, artificer, dragonfire adept, dragon shaman, warlock, totemist, and hexblade are slightly better than Rogue/Monk but still on the crappy end
    • Sneak Attack Thug Fighter is an interesting choice
    • Paladin and Knight are both decent but slightly worse than barbarian and Fighter
    • Whirling Frenzy Lion Spirit Totem Barbarian very powerful
    • Shapeshift Druid is quite powerful at level 1
    • Wizard/Sorcerer/Beguiler are very dependent on spell choice and initiative so have a large swing
    • Warblade and Crusader are really good
    • swordsage is middle of the road

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