Arcane Game Lore

Roll for Initiative!

Tiers of Adventuring

Most recently Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition codified tiers of adventuring in a RPG based on relative player character power and ability: Heroic, Paragon and Epic. The tiers were predicated on character ability and class level.

Tiers in adventuring have been around the RPG hobby for decades. Basic/Expert D&D as well as Star Frontiers had them codified into the successive boxed sets. However in these old school games the tiers were based on what the PCs did. In Basic D&D the action focused on dungeon crawls where as the following tiers focused on wilderness adventuring, ruling a dominion, striving for immortality. Star Frontiers involved low to mid level adventurers catching rides on star ships to go do things and high level adventurers operating space ships to go do stuff.

Personally I never really agreed with the spheres of activity in the old Basic/ Expert tiers of D&D dungeon crawls vs wilderness adventures as Basic level characters were fairly fragile and I always felt that the wilderness was more survivable for low level characters than a dungeon crawl. In a dungeon crawl the characters were confined by the architecture of the adventuring area where as in the wilderness I generally found it much easier to allow for areas of strategic recovering when the adventuring party had been mauled by their opponents. In a dungeon the players have to retreat from the dungeon to the wilderness then return to “town” for rest and recovery.  I tended to reverse the activity for those tiers of adventuring when game mastering Basic and Expert D&D.

The problem with Star Frontiers was that sometimes players objected to the idea of having to scaled the heights of player character power before gaining “their own space ship”. Space ships are typically part and parcel to most science fiction genres that denying them to the player characters was generally a quick recipe for player disengagement. For this reason I typically used fan rule adaptions of Star Frontiers to allow for earlier player character operation of space craft.

However all the adaptions of the tiers in the old school games really led to dismantling of the tiers. I can see the value of having a tiered gaming experience but never wanted the concept to get in the way of having fun.

I think its possible to actually craft campaign specific tiered gaming. For example, in a fantasy RPG the game referee could craft a new tier of gaming by introducing a story line of the player character joining the ranks of the gryphon knights. They quest to obtain gryphon eggs, which are hatched and raised. Once the PCs have joined the ranks of the gryphon mounted knights their adventures will change to incorporate the new mount which would be unsuitable for a dungeon crawl. Tactical board game style play enacting aerial dogfights could be introduced into the story lines. The new tier of Star Frontiers gaming in space ships came with a complete “board game” for space ship combat, you always knew that Knight Hawks tier of SF gaming was going to include an encounter played out as a board game at some point. I would simply adapt/borrow/steal ideas from science fiction to the fantasy game to play out the story lines involving the PCs as gryphon knights.

I suppose the biggest benefit of changing tiers in RPG gaming is that the players realize a sense of the character growing and changing in setting that is much more tangible and interesting than a simple number on a sheet of paper, “My character was 5th level but now he’s 6th.” Compare that to: “My character just became a gryphon knight.” I’m all for tiered gaming as long as it doesn’t get in the way of having fun and because it creates a sense of building toward something. It does not have to be about relative power or action and activity but could equally be about the story and be unique to the campaign at hand.

Types of Tier changes:

Power or ability increases

Vehicle or mount duels (I would include battle systems and massed battle sort of gaming in this as the mechanics tend to shift to board game or war game style of play)

Administration or ruling a kingdom (could equally apply to managing a mercenary company or band or merry men)

Activity changes


Categorised as: General



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