DnD 3.5 - Class Balance
This article draws heavily from These three forum posts which discuss the same topic. This article will not address prestige classes, but the third linked post provides a broad and thorough analysis of prestige classes.
Classes by Tier
Capable of doing absolutely everything, often better than classes that specialize in that thing. Often capable of solving encounters with a single mechanical ability and little thought from the player. Has world changing powers at high levels. These guys, if played with skill, can easily break a campaign and can be very hard to challenge without extreme DM fiat or plenty of house rules. These characters tend to eclipse entire parties.
- Archivist: All of the spell options of the Cleric, but considerably better skills in place of the Cleric's ability to wade into combat. While it lacks the offensive power of a Wizard, the Archivist is supremely effective as a Support and Utility character, and is an absolutely fantastic Librarian.
- Artificer: Extremely complicated to play, but very easy to abuse, the Artificer is a personification of how powerful magic items are in 3.5.
- Cleric: With a huge spell list and heavy armor, Clerics are proficient both as spellcasters and as melee combatants. Their access to healing magic makes them essential in any party. Divine Metamagic makes them able to use metamagic feats much more easily than other spellcasters, and Persist Metamagic works fantastically well for many powerful Cleric buffs which normally have rounds/level durations.
- Druid: Druids' three big components are their animal companion, their spells, and wild shape. These three abilities allow them to be fantastically versatile. They get healing spells (though not as many as the Cleric), as well as offensive spells, placing the Druid somewhere between the Cleric and the Wizard in function. Their animal companion is essentially a pet Fighter, and they're often nearly as effective.
- Wizard: Wizards have arguably the best spell list in the game, making them able to solve essentially any problem in the game. Wizards have all of the best save-or-suck options, and can easily end most fights with a single spell at any character level, many of which don't allow saves.
Has as much raw power as the Tier 1 classes, but can't pull off nearly as many tricks, and while the class itself is capable of anything, no single character can do everything at the same time.
- Favored Soul: A spontaneous version of the Cleric. Favored Souls get access to the fantastic Cleric spell list, but require separate abilities to determine their spells per day and their spell DCs, making the Favored Soul very MAD compared to an equivalent Cleric. They don't get turn undead, so they can't use Divine Metamagic, and the Favored Soul's class features are mediocre at best.
- Sorcerer: A spontaneous version of the Wizard, Sorcerers' only advantage compared to the Wizard is more spells per day. Sorcerers get considerably fewer class features, are limited in their number of spells known, and get new spell levels one level behind Wizards.
Specialists are capable of doing one important thing very well while still being useful when that one thing is inappropriate, and generalists capable of doing many things, but not as well as classes that specialize in that area. Classes occasionally have a mechanical ability that can immediately resolve an encounter, but this is a rare exception.
- Bard: The Bard is a generalist, but they are most known for their abilities as a Support character. With a huge amount of support in non-core books, Bards can fill nearly any role in a party, but won't necessarily keep up with a class devoted to that role. Bards are excellent complements to martial characters, especially TWF characters who can benefit from the Bard's Inspire Courage bonuses.
- Beguiler: The Beguiler is essentially a specialized Sorcerer. Limited to a fixed list of Enchantment and Illusion spells, Beguilers can be an excellent Support and Utility caster, and can easily replace a Rogue as a scout and trapfinder. However, the Beguiler is easily crippled by mindless enemies and enemies who are immune to their spells.
- Crusader: A fantastic Defender class, the Crusader is Tome of Battle's Paladin-equivalent. The Crusader has a lot of fantastic options, and their maneuver recharging mechanic allows them to use maneuvers almost constantly. The Crusader even has a few options which make in-combat healing viable. Their exceptional durability and the ease with which they can be optimized makes the Crusader an excellent option for new players.
- Dread Necromancer: Essentially a Sorcerer specialized in Necromancy. The Dread Necromancer is an interesting choice for building armies of undead servants, but lacks any sort of versatility, and Clerics and Wizards can often outdo Dread Necromancers.
- Duskblade: A one-class Gish, the Duskblade is fun mix of arcane blaster spells and a martial character. The Duskblade lacks the ability to learn extra spells beyond what it gets every level, but the Duskblade's spell list is small enough that this isn't severely limiting. The Duskblade's ability to cast in armor helps compensate for the lack of defensive spells, and access to feats like Knowledge Devotion and Arcane Strike make the Duskblade capable of huge piles of damage.
- Factotum: The Factotum is specifically designed to be good at everything. They get every class skill, access to all Wizard spells as spell-like abilities, and a pile of cool abilities which let them address any number of problems on the fly. Factotums also have the unique ability to grant themselves bonus actions.
- Ranger (Wildshape Variant): Access to Wild Shape reduces the Ranger's MAD significantly, and opens up a lot of great combat options depending on which form you choose. The Ranger sacrifices their combat style, but Wild shape is certainly worth the trade. Wild Shape also opens up prestige classes dependent on Wild Shape, many of which are very powerful.
- Swordsage: Perhaps the weakest of the Tome of Battle classes, the Swordsage is lightly armored and highly MAD. However, the Swordsage gets more maneuvers known and readied than any other Initiator, giving it more versatility than many Fighters.
- Warblade: The Warblade combines good elements of both the Barbarian and the Fighter. With access to nearly every school of maneuvers, and the ability to recharge maneuvers simply by attacking, the Warblade can get a lot done and is capable of sustaining themselves in long fights, and has considerably more versatility than a Barbarian or Fighter.
Specialists are capable of doing one thing quite well, but often useless when encounters require other areas of expertise, and generalists are capable of doing many things to a reasonable degree of competence without truly shining. Classes rarely have any abilities that can completely resolve an encounter unless that encounter plays directly to the class's focus.
- Adept: Despite being an NPC class, the Adept is surprisingly good. It is limited to 5th-level spells, but the Adept spell list includes many of the best core spells.
- Barbarian: The Barbarian is a very simple combat class. With no bonus feats to select, they are a great option for new players. Rage is a great buff at any level, but beyond level 2 many Barbarian abilities are lackluster, which often leads to people dipping into Barbarian, then switching to another class like Fighter. Much like the Fighter, Barbarians tend to only be good at running around and hitting things, and without the Fighter's access to feats they have problems learning new tricks. Of course, the Barbarian is really fantastic at running around and hitting things.
- Fighter (Dungeoncrasher Variant): The Fighter flirts with the line between Tier 4 and Tier 5, and Dungeoncrasher pushes the Fighter over the line. Unfortunately, Dungeoncrasher doesn't scale past 6th level, so you will want to change classes at level 7. Dungeoncrasher provides the fighter with an excellent mechanic to reposition enemies without sacrificing damage output.
- Hexblade: The Hexblade is a martial class with a debuff mechanic. The Hexblade's other abilities, including its spells and familiar, offer a lot of great options. Unfortunately, Hexblades are feat-starved, and they are limited to light armor, making them difficult to keep alive.
- Ranger: Rangers are decent scouts, but can't replace a Rogue or Scout because they lack Trapfinding. They are decent combatants, but can't compete with a Barbarian or Fighter because of their d8 hit points. Rangers don't excel at anything in particular, but they have a good mix of every skillset, including an excellent and versatile spell list.
- Rogue: The Rogue is the iconic scout and trapfinder, and is defined in combat by Sneak Attack. While it has a lot of problems (MAD, Sneak Attack is difficult to use, too many skills and not enough ranks), the Rogue is a solid class capable of doing a lot of things very well. There is a ton of excellent support for Rogues in non-core books which can make the Rogue effective in situations in which the core Rogue is completely worthless.
- Scout: Similar to the Rogue, but less skilled and more mobile. The Scout can apply Skirmish more reliable than the Rogue can apply Sneak Attack, but the damage is considerably lower. Scout synergizes very well with Ranger due to the Swift Hunter feat, which fixes a lot of the Scout's biggest problems.
- Spellthief: The spellthief combines the Rogue with some mediocre spellcasting ability, and falls short of every other class which does the same thing. Rogues are better at Sneak Attack by a long shot, and have better skills. Beguilers are better with skills, and are miles better with spells than the Spellthief. The Spellthief functions best in a campaign which is filled with enemy spellcasters, and even then can be largely replaced by Dispel Magic. The Spellthief makes it into Tier 4 largely because their spell list is good.
- Warlock: The Warlock is a flying laser turret. Eldritch Blast provides constant, reliable damage with no limitation on uses per day. The Warlock's invocations duplicate some fantastic Wizard spells, and are usable as often as you like. Unfortunately, the Warlock's damage falls off very quickly, and the Warlock can't match an average archer build in terms of damage output. The Warlock's biggest draw is that they can use their abilities any number of times per day, long after the Wizard has stopped to rest.
- Warmage: The Warmage is like an evocation-specific Sorcerer. They can cast spells in armor, and get some sudden metamagic feats for free, but are largely defined by their spellcasting. Because they spell options are largely limited to blast effects, Warmages can't hope to keep up with spellcasters which rely on save-or-suck spells.
Capable of doing only one thing, and not necessarily all that well, or so unfocused that they have trouble mastering anything, and in many types of encounters the character cannot contribute. In some cases, can do one thing very well, but that one thing is very often not needed. Has trouble shining in any encounter unless the encounter matches their strengths.
- Expert: 10 class skills of your choice can make the Expert surprisingly good. Iaijutsu focus is very easy to abuse for damage, and UMD is hugely powerful. Beyond skills the Expert is fairly useless, but skills can do quite a bit.
- Fighter: The Fighter hangs around at the top of Tier 5. With a huge list of available feats, the Fighter is capable of filling nearly any combat style. Unfortunately, that is all that the Fighter can do. As the Fighter improves, they tend to pigeon-hole themselves into one combat tactic, and when that tactic stops working they can be completely worthless.
- Knight: The Knight is a dedicated tank, but lacks almost any sort of offensive abilities. If you can find some way to make enemies focus on killing the Knight, they can be very effective, but there is little to make enemies do so, even with Knight's Challenge. Fighters will outdo the Knight in nearly every capacity.
- Monk: The Monk is one of the most tempting, but least effective classes in the core rulebooks. It is hugely MAD, its abilities conflict with each other, and despite huge amounts of options in non-core books the Monk really isn't good at anything. Even unarmed combat, which is the Monk's signature focus, can be done much better by a Fighter or Swordsage.
- NinjaCA: The Ninja combines all of the issues of the Monk with all of the issues of the Rogue, and Sudden Strike is miles worse than Sneak Attack. The Ninja's abilities to turn invisible and eventually to pass through walls are cool, but spellcasters like the Beguiler and the Wizard can do the same things much better.
- Paladin: Paladins are very survivable and make great solo characters, but they suffer from the same problems as Fighters. Their abilities are flavorful, but often not terribly effective. The Paladin spell list has a lot of very interesting Paladin-specific options, but their limited number of spells per day makes them difficult to rely upon.
- Swashbuckler: The Swashbuckler is like a lightly armored Fighter, but with almost none of the bonus feats. The Swashbuckler is MAD, has bad AC, bad saves, can't do damage, and all of their important skills rely on abilities which the rest of the class doesn't need. The only way to make the Swashbuckler useful is as a class dip or with the Daring Outlaw feat to make a Sneak Attack-based Striker.
Not even good at what they are intended to do. These are generally reserved for NPCs because they are not intended to be used as player classes.
- Aristocrat: Highest starting gold of any class, and good with social skills, but no actual class features.
- Commoner: It's a commoner. They're literally the worst.
- SamuraiCW: An absolutely awful class, the Samurai is a TWF build that gets all of the feats 5 levels late. The Samurai's class features are mediocre at best, and are easily resisted. The best thing about the Samurai is that you can stop being a Samurai and become a Ronin.
- Warrior: Basically a fighter without the bonus feats.
Suggestions for Adjustments
The below table includes suggestions to buff/nerf each class. You might consider adding these adjustments to handle specific players, or you might consider using them as static house rules. The intention is not to use all of these suggestions, but to use one or more per class as you see fit to reach the level of balance that you desire.
|Class||Strong Nerfs||Weak Nerfs||Weak Buffs||Strong Buffs|
|Archivist|| || || || |
|Ardent|| || || || |
|Artificer|| || || || |
|Barbarian|| || || || |
|Bard|| || || || |
|Beguiler|| || || || |
|Binder|| || || || |
|Cleric|| || || || |
|Crusader|| || || || |
|Dragonfire Adept|| || || || |
|Dragon Shaman|| || || || |
|Dread Necromancer|| || || || |
|Druid|| || || || |
|Duskblade|| || || || |
|Factotum|| || || || |
|Favored Soul|| || || || |
|Fighter|| || || || |
|Hexblade|| || || || |
|Knight|| || || || |
|Monk|| || || || |
|Ninja|| || || || |
|Paladin|| || || || |
|Ranger|| || || || |
|Rogue|| || || || |
|Samurai|| || || || |
|Scout|| || || || |
|Sorcerer|| || || || |
|Spellthief|| || || || |
|Spirit Shaman|| || || || |
|Swashbuckler|| || || || |
|Swordsage|| || || || |
|Warblade|| || || || |
|Warlock|| || || || |
|Warmage|| || || || |
|Wizard|| || || || |