Wrath & Glory Designer Diary: Tiers
Today’s designer diary is all about power. Warhammer 40,000 possesses a depth of scope and scale that, in and of itself, is one of the defining characteristics of its setting. The grim darkness of the far future is home to creatures ranging from Gretchin to towering Hive Tyrants, from a Tech-Priest up to a Squiggoth and even that is just the tip of the iceberg. What I’m trying to get across here is that there are a lot of power levels to keep in mind when you’re designing an RPG for Warhammer 40,000.
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory keeps its focus on individual heroes—the player characters. While this helps narrow the scope a bit, there is still a staggering amount of variety and options to choose from. Some very popular character types include the superhuman Space Marines and the all-too-human soldiers of the Imperial Guard. One of the most common questions I have been asked about the design of Wrath & Glory is, “How do you balance things so I can have different types of characters in the same group?”
The answer is simple; we have designated certain “Tiers” of play, ranging from 1-5 (with options to expand that range). Each tier represents a particular power level, and considers various factors: what kinds of character archetypes are appropriate, what kinds of challenges those characters will face, and what kinds of limits are imposed on dice pools. In Wrath & Glory, the players and the Game Master decide what kind of Tier they wish to play for their campaign.
Tier 1, for example, represents a power level appropriate for characters who are not epic heroes—these are the Imperial Guardsmen, the Inquisitional Acolytes, the Hive gangers, the Eldar Corsairs or the Ork boyz. Tier 1 characters are expected to deal with appropriate challenges. This means that the dice pools and the kinds of enemies they are likely to face are also calibrated according to the Tier. A Tier 1 enemy might be a group of cultists led by a crazed mutant, or a single genestealer might be the “main villain” at the climax of a session.
Once more, to clarify: Tiers indicate a particular power level in terms of the game experience. Tiers limit archetypes, dice pool limits, and enemies to what is appropriate for that power level.
A Tier 3 game, by contrast, is calibrated for a much more powerful and capable group of heroes. Power Levels are not necessarily graded on simple combat ability, either. Psychic powers, authority, access to particular wargear, and other factors are involved in what determines an archetype’s starting Tier. A Tactical Space Marine is a Tier 3 archetype, as is an Eldar Warlock, as is an Imperial Commissar. At Tier 3, a genestealer might be just one of several nameless enemies they encounter during a mission, whilst something like a genestealer cult patriarch would be likely a named, climactic adversary.
Higher tiers also involve larger dice pools, increasing both the reality and the instinctual ‘feel’ of a greater level of power and impact on the game. The experience of a Tier 3 game is substantially different than that of a Tier 1 game, and that is reflected in the game rules.
While all of this information on tiers is important, it is just one piece of the puzzle. There is another, partnered mechanic that I will get into next time that delves into how a lower-Tier character archetype can take part in a higher-Tier game and engage with the rules on the same playing field as a Space Marine or an Eldar Warlock. Put simply, part of our design allows for this, and taking a Tier 1 Inquisitional Acolyte and ascending them to a Tier 3 game is very possible—and means that the character has a reason to be there.
– Ross Watson, Product Line Manager