Using E6

Q: So characters just stop leveling at 6?
A: That’s right. Characters who have reached level 6 have proven themselves, but this extremely rapid growth does not go on forever. Instead, they master specialized techniques, or become more versatile. This stage of a character’s development is represented by gaining new feats.

Q: Does E6 change the stacking rules? For example, can I take Weapon Focus twice and have it stack? Can I take Skill Focus twice and have it stack?
A: The stacking rules remain the same as in standard d20.

Q: What if I want there to be a higher level magical effect, but still use E6?
A: The rules for rituals in Unearthed Arcana are an excellent fit for E6, to support things like opening portals to another dimension, higher-level divinations, and so on. When a spell is a 3-day event requiring 20 mages, it’s more of a plot point than a spell itself, and that maeks it a great a springboard for challenging the players.

Q: As a DM, I like running things on the fly. Can E6 support that kind of play?
A: Absolutely. A DM that knows how to estimate the abilities of enemies in the low-level range can use that knowledge throughout the campaign. Likewise, familiarity breeds mastery – and for feats, spells, and monsters, there is more chance for a DM to become familiar with abilities in an appropriate range to the PCs, even if he is using a diverse selection of monsters. Furthermore, Dungeon Masters can get much more mileage out of their previous work: The stats of a 5th-level sorcerer written for 4th level PCs is still a useful tool months of gametime later against characters who are 6th level +10 feats.

Q: Can you make high-level items as a low-level caster in E6?
A: No, caster level requirements for magic items are treated as hard requirements.

Q: If a character took multiple classes, or prestige classes, suddenly you’ve got a guy with saves that are seriously out of whack. Is this a game-breaking issue?
A: If you multiclass that much, you’re probably doing it to get the saves. In that situation, your saves are your special ability. Moreover, saves are passive abilities; the player doesn’t control when their character uses a save, which gives them limited appeal compared to stuff the player can control. So if a player goes after them like crazy, and succeeds in having really exceptional saves – let them have their fun.
Q: I prefer stopping at around 8th level, does that work for this system?
A: 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.
Q: Does E6 work with a slower progression to level 6? Does it work when characters are created at 2nd level?
A: Yes and yes. I’ve tried both during my playtesting period. I’ll be starting my new game at 3rd level.
Q: I’m not a big fan of experience points. Do you need a strict XP system to make E6 work?
A: An ad-hoc “gain a feat” approach would work absolutely 100% with this system. I used to do that with other systems (power up when the story makes it appropriate) and given the fact that the upper end of the power curve flattens off, that method should go very smoothly with E6.
Q: Can you use prestige classes with E6?
A: I’d recommend taking the same approach you take in your regular d20 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.

Q: With only 6 levels, how do races with a level adjustment work?
A: 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:

+0 32
+1 25
+2 18
+3 10
+4 00

Thus, +LA races should start with zero LA, but use the point buy listed here. Keep in mind the difference between LA and racial hit dice (the two combine to give starting ECL).


Q: Where did E6 come from?
A: E6 was inspired by the article Gandalf was a Fifth-Level Magic User by Bill Seligman. The article was published in The Dragon (which became Dragon magazine) in issue #5, March 1977. When I first had the concept of E6, where we used the first six levels for the whole game, my very first step was pitching it to my players. Some thought it was a great idea, and the rest were willing to give it a try, so I gave it a shot. E6 worked really well for our tastes, and we’ve done lots of playing inside E6 since then. Back then E6 was a lot more convoluted than it is now: there were intricate quasi-gestalt rules and several other little things that weren’t so much about the cap as they were about my group’s thoughts on class balance. Over time, we found that the only rules we were really using (on both sides of the screen) were the feat rules, and that was producing a great play experience. So when I returned to E6 just recently, that’s how I wrote it up: As it was actually played.
Q: Why 6th level for the cap? Why not 12th, or 20th?
A: My experience with the d20 system is that at around 6th level the characters are really nicely balanced, both in terms of balance against other classes, and against the CR system. 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.
Q: How did you arrive at the cost of 5000 xp per feat post 6th level?
A: Originally, I considered that if I wasn’t giving level 7, maybe 2 feats for the same price would be a good comprimise (3000xp / feat). That way they would have this great feeling of advancement without popping the top off the power level.” But in play, the players found it was so fast that they did not have time to enjoy their new abilities. There just wasn’t time in-game for their characters to grow, so I upped the cost to 5000 xp, and it works like a charm.
Q: Why not use [system of character points / experience purchases / incremental gestalt rules] instead of E6?
A: Feats, if they don’t work out in a particular case, are less controversial to tweak than, say, the XP table. If you find out that the XP table, or stats, or whatever else you’ve changed doesn’t work for some players, it’s a big deal to change it because it then affects everyone - and sometimes has effects that cascade through the system.

I have found that if a feat is too good, it’s not that big a deal to say “Hey Ned, I think the feat I made for you is too good, but I don’t want to take it away from you. I think it should have a prerequisite, like Skill Focus (Heal) instead of being straight-up available. I’d like to leave you with it but say that your next feat needs to be Skill Focus, rather than take it away now. We could do that, or if you want you could swap it out for something else. What do you think?”

It’s important to me to keep the rule changes minimal, because players really don’t want to read a lot outside of the game and they get frustrated if there’s too many house rules.
2 years ago (before E6 was called E6) I worked up these complex gestalt XP-buy rules, but eventually my players and I realized that with all the options available all that was really getting used were feat purchasing, because they were so easy to approach.

Q: Why not just stop advancement at 6th, and have characters just not advance after that, or slow experience down so much that you can game for years and never get higher than 6th level?
A: In my experience, players prefer to have characters that can grow – and have that growth reflected in the mechanics of the game.

Q: I like high-magic, high-powered campaigns. Is E6 for me?
A: Probably not. Just as d20 fantasy can’t be all things to all groups, E6 caters to a specific set of tastes.