WHAT IS E6?
Earlier this year Ryan Dancey suggested that d20 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 lowmagic 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 the World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game, 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 20 levels to translate characters into the rules, E6 uses only the first 6. E6 is about changing one of d20 fantasy’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.
BENEFITS OF E6
1. Very fast play at every level of the campaign.
2. Focus on planning, not leveling. 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.