E6: The Game Inside D&D
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    Ry's Avatar

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    E6: The Game Inside D&D

    There is an even newer version of E6 here. Please post to that thread instead of this one.

    What is E6?

    Earlier this year EN World engaged in a great discussion where it was put forward that D&D has four distinct quartiles of play, each of which suited some groups better than others:

    Levels 1-5: Gritty fantasy
    Levels 6-10: Heroic fantasy
    Levels 11-15: Wuxia
    Levels 16-20: Superheroes

    E6 is a game about those first 2 quartiles, and as a result, it has fewer rules, a low-magic flavor, and it is quick and easy to prepare. I have playtested the system extensively with my crew, and it works as intended. Previous discussion indicated that this approach has some appeal for others, so I've revised it here.

    E6 was inspired by the article “Gandalf was a Fifth-Level Magic User” from Dragon magazine issue #5.

    Features of E6:
    Fast play
    Low magic
    Easy to prepare
    It’s still D&D and everyone knows how to play.

    E6’s Rule Change:

    Character progression from level 1 to level 6 is as per D&D. Upon attaining 6th level, for each 5000 experience a character gains, they earn a new feat.
    Feats with unattainable prerequisites under this system remain unattainable.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Do you allow feats from outside the core rulebooks?
    Yes. Absolutely. Having a diverse and interesting selection of feats is how characters can grow. I recommend allowing all WotC 3.5 books as sources, and Phil Reed’s Book of Unusual Feats is another excellent source.

    In E6, do attacks, spells, saves, etc. improve after level 6?
    They can be improved, but only through feats. A character does not gain any more levels once they have reached level 6. Characters who have reached level 6 have proven themselves; but this extremely rapid growth does not go on forever. Instead, they learn new techniques or become more versatile.

    Does E6 change the stacking rules? For example, can I take Weapon Focus twice and have it stack?
    The stacking rules remain the same as in standard D&D. Look to other feats to provide exciting and new combat options.

    I allow races with level adjustments, but if there are only 6 levels, how do they work?
    If you use races with a level adjustment, the 6th level cap is a big issue. Use the point buy rules in the DMG as follows:
    LA Point buy
    +0 32
    +1 25
    +2 18
    +3 10
    +4 00

    That seems close, but isn’t there room for abuse in situation X?
    Many LA races can be spun into a small loss or a small gain over the point buy. Them's, as it were, the breaks. The system above doesn't solve LA's problems - it just gets closer to doing so for E6's purposes.

    Is there any way to gain stat points in addition to feats?
    In a previous version of E6, players could buy a stat point upgrade by spending XP equal to 500 * the next value. So going from STR 11 to STR 12 was 6000 exp. I didn't include this in the first post because it hasn't seen much use in actual play (a few odd to evens around 10-14 range, that's it). I think 2 feats would be superior to this rule, so that stats can only be upgraded by +2. For example:

    ’Ability Feats’
    Ability Training
    You spend time honing one of your Abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma.
    Benefit: Choose one Ability; you qualify for the Ability Advancement feat for that Ability.
    Special: You can gain this feat multiple times, its effects do not stack. Each time you take this feat it applies to another ability.

    Ability Advancement
    Your training pays off, and one of your Abilities increases.
    Benefit: Choose one Ability. You gain a permanent +2 bonus to that ability.
    Special: You can gain this feat multiple times, its effects do not stack. Each time you take this feat it applies to another ability.

    I prefer stopping at around 8th level, does that work for this system?
    The system will probably work about as well at 8th level, but note that “Epic 6th” characters do end up being more powerful than regular 6th level characters. Epic 6th may be what you want for a game that sits at the power level for Level 8, and Epic 8th may cater more closely to Level 10 style play.

    Do you allow Prestige Classes?
    I’d recommend taking the same approach you take in your regular D&D game. If you allow Prestige Classes there, feel free to allow them here. Of course, characters capped at 6th level can usually take at most 1 level of a Prestige Class.

    My player wants to play a Tattooed Monk, but now that won’t be available. What should I do?
    The biggest issue here is what your player wants to do with that character. Ask him what he wants to do in purely non-mechanical terms, and then talk about what kind of feats he could use to do that. For example, if the player is just looking for fantastic saves, get him to get serpent, panther, and bear tattoos corresponding to Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, and Great Fortitude. If he wants one of his tattoos to be “looking out for him” have him take Improved Initiative and Alertness, as his character gets a tattoo of the unseeing eye.

    Why 6th level for the cap?
    My experience in D&D is that at around 6th level the characters are really nicely balanced, both in terms of balance against other classes, and that the CR system is a good guide of difficulty at around this level. Also, there was an element of setting assumptions; each class is strong enough that they're well defined in their role, but not so strong that lower-level characters don't matter to them any more.

    With this cap, some combinations are better than others; how do you deal with that?
    I try to make sure that there are appealing feats available for everyone. For example, I make sure Extra Spell is available to ensure Sorcerers are able to diversify.

    Do you handle magic items differently in E6?
    Only to coincide with the cap; that is, if for some reason there is a magic item that requires a level higher than 6 to create, then I usually substitute it for something else, unless I’ve placed it there for a reason. For example, a +4 sword can’t be made by a human wizard, but it could be crafted by a Titan. And that's a big deal. That's a sword that no mortal can make.

    Can I add my own feats to E6?
    Absolutely; it’s your game, and I recommend adding any feats that you think you would allow in standard D&D. For feats of your own design, I’d recommend basing them around other abilities that could be gained by level 6. The reverse of this is also true: If a class feature is available by 6th level, then you can write some kind of feat chain to that ability. In the case of very powerful abilities, though, in addition to stringent requirements I'd make at least one "filler" feat, like Ability Training, above.

    How do you clear negative levels?
    I would allow a feat such as the following, and have some NPCs have it:

    ’Restoration as a Feat’
    New Feat: Restoration
    Prerequisites: 6th level, ability to cast Lesser Restoration, Wisdom 18.
    Benefit: You can use Restoration, as the spell (paying the material component), with a casting time of 1 day.

    How do you raise the dead?
    If you want to raise the dead, I would recommend making a feat chain towards that balanced for your campaign. In my campaign I use an action point mechanic to reduce lethality.

    Class X or Multiclass possibility Y is weak under these rules, what should I do?
    First off, I’d check to make sure X or Y is really a part of your campaign – just to see if it’s worth the effort. If it is, then I would recommend making a feat that shores up the weak character.

    I like high-magic, high-powered campaigns. Is E6 for me?
    Probably not. Just as D&D can’t be all things to all groups, E6 caters to a specific set of tastes.

    I love this idea! How do I convince my group to switch to E6?
    A lot of players agree that the real sweet spot of D&D is in the level 6-10 range; this system keeps you in that range while still letting your character grow and develop over time. If they’re worried about challenges later in the campaign, emphasize that the rest of the world is playing by the same rules. For example, an enemy general might be a renowned fighter, but he still has a Base Attack Bonus of +6. Once players realize that the world they live in isn't massively stratified, they start really busting out, the way 6th level characters who work together can really bust out.

    Are there any other benefits of E6?
    Here is a summary of what I see as the biggest benefits:
    1. Very fast play at every level of the campaign.
    2. Focus on planning, not levelling. To defeat the black dragon Zolanderos, the CR 10 terror of Staunwark Island, the heroes will need help, special resources, and information. I want to further encourage party-directed adventuring, and if the heroes want to take on something 4 to 6 CR above them, then that's what they will require.
    3. A low magic game that everyone knows how to play.
    4. Never a need for meaningless encounters. The players can be involved in a dozen or so major combat scenarios (perhaps more than one encounter each) and have proven themselves and made a major accomplishment. See Lord of the Rings movies, or most fantasy novels.
    5. Classic monsters stay classic throughout the campaign; Chimeras and Aboleths start scary, and stay scary. Dragons are always exciting encounters.
    6. Even legendary heroes remain mortal; while a 6th level fighter who has taken toughness several times can take on a good mob, he isn't invulnerable. The sorcerer's 6d6 fireballs are phenomenal, but not so powerful that he can destroy a village and not fear retaliation.
    7. Quicker prep. Make a 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6th version of a sorcerer, and now you have a whole sorcerous dragon-cult that can last you through your whole campaign.
    8. You can put what you've learned of the rules to good use. It's hard to know every 4th through 9th level spell out there; they're the ones we see the least. But we've seen 0th through 3rd level spells many, many times, and mastery over them is relatively simple.
    Last edited by Ry; Saturday, 7th July, 2007 at 02:22 AM.

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