E6: The Game Inside D&D (new revision)
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    Ry's Avatar

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    E6: The Game Inside D&D (new revision)

    This is E6’s fourth iteration here at EN World; there’s been an explosion of interest in it lately, and I have revised it again here. Enjoy!

    E6: The Game Inside D&D

    What is E6?

    Earlier this year Ryan Dancey suggested that D&D has four distinct quartiles of play:

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

    There’s been some great discussion about how to define those quartiles, and how each different quartile suited some groups better than others.

    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. There seems to be a lot of lively debate about E6, and some real interest in how it works, so I've revised it here.

    How E6 works

    Like D&D, E6 is a game of enigmatic wizards, canny rogues, and mighty warriors who rise against terrible dangers and overcome powerful foes. But instead of using D&D’s 20 levels to translate characters into the rules, E6 uses only the first 6. E6 is about changing one of D&D’s essential assumptions, but despite that it doesn't need a lot of rules to do so.

    In E6, the stats of an average person are the stats of a 1st-level commoner. Like their medieval counterparts, this person has never travelled more than a mile from their home. Imagine a 6th-level Wizard or 6th-level Fighter from the commoner's perspective. The wizard could kill everyone in your village with a few words. The fighter could duel with ten armed guards in a row and kill every one of them. If you spot a manticore, everyone you know is in terrible, terrible danger. Against such a creature, the wizard or fighter may be your only hope. E6 recognizes that 6th level characters are mortal, while providing a context where they are epic heroes.

    Levels 1 to 6 was the period where a character comes into his own, where a crash course in action and danger transforms them from 1st-level commoners into capable fighting men (or corpses). Once transformed by their experiences, a character’s growth is no longer a continuous, linear progression. There are still major differences between the master warriors and the veteran mercenaries, but it's not a change of scale.


    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. A diverse selection of feats should be made available in any E6 campaign, however, feats with unattainable prerequisites under this system remain unattainable.

    For the purpose of experience awards, treat each 5 feats as +1 CR (or level), to an upper limit of 20 feats. After this, a ratio of 10 feats to 1 CR can be used, as it becomes more and more difficult to bring all a character’s feats to bear in a given situation. Alternatively, and at the GM’s option, player-characters with more than 20 feats can simply be always treated as if they were level 10 for experience and challenge purposes.

    For the GM

    E6 isn't just a change for the players: Monsters are presented differently than in d20. Just as level 6 parties in D&D aren’t expected to tangle with monsters higher than CR 10, the mighty monsters of E6 require special consideration for presentation in-game. E6 characters aren't intended to go up against high-level D&D threats under the same circumstances as high-level D&D characters; those creatures, if they are defeatable at all, require the kind of resources and planning far beyond the typical D&D encounter.

    In terms of raw rules, CR 7-10 monsters are an excellent guide for what E6 characters can handle. As they rise to around the 20-feat range, the range is more like 7-12. Beyond that, a DM should take monsters in the CR 7-12 range and use feats (and to a lesser extent templates) to advance them. Hit die or class-based advancement beyond CR 12, or base monsters above CR 12 should generally be avoided as straight-up fights.

    Of course, not every monstrous encounter is a straight-up fight. For example, insane horrors from another age might be a reason to run, and there is little a character could do in the face of an angry Titan. But these situations don’t call for direct confrontation, except with some special resource or amazing circumstance. Perhaps, in a special ritual with the presence of 20 mages, a Titan can be bound to the mortal realm (lowering its stats to an Aspect of Kord), with whom the players can do battle. Again, that's far from a straight-up fight with a CR 20 creature, but we can console ourselves with the fact that it's probably a very memorable encounter.

    If, as a result of the restrictions on items, an item cannot be created, then it should not be distributed as normal treasure. Like high-level monsters, such items should be placed carefully and built to make sense in the context of your game. For example, a +4 sword can’t be made by a human wizard, but it could be crafted by a Titan (which makes for great god-stats). That's a sword that no mortal can make.

    E6 will always inherit D&D's balance issues at the same level, especially issues that result from scenarios where those characters D&D characters have long periods of downtime. The best approach is to be cognizant of these issues when considering what feats to allow in your E6 game.

    On Allowing Feats
    There are 3 philosophies on what feats to allow in an E6 game, each more generous than the last:
    1) The Cautious Approach
    2) The Gestalt Approach
    3) The Lean Upward Approach

    The Cautious Approach is exactly what it sounds like – a GM chooses what feats to allow in his E6 game very, very carefully. This GM does not make exceptions or new feats to accommodate players chaacter concepts - he chooses what feats to allow and the players agree to work within that framework.

    The Gestalt Approach dictates that if an ability can be learned under 6th level, then it’s learnable via some chain of feats. The Gestalt Approach usually means all WotC sources are available, as well as a few extra feats to provide ways to learn class features. These can be done on an ad-hoc basis for a given player or they can be gathered from sources like the Book of Unusual Feats. The Gestalt theory is the one used in playtesting.

    The Lean Upward Approach looks at the Gestalt Approach and says “6th level plus many feats is clearly more powerful than 6th level. Thus, it won’t be game-breaking to allow feat chains that bring characters from 6th level to 8th level, although this progression should be quite slow.” GMs who like the Lean Upward approach might have feats to bring BAB to +8, or to gain 4th level spells, or 8th level class features, additional hit dice, and so on.

    Benefits of E6
    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.
    9. E6 is a great system for on the fly GMing. If you’re reasonably familiar with what a 2nd level threat looks like, power-wise, you can probably get away with running it without stats handy.
    Last edited by Ry; Saturday, 14th July, 2007 at 12:11 AM. Reason: trimmed for readability

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