What is E6?
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 d20’s first two quartiles, and focuses on continuously delivering exciting heroic fantasy, even in a very long campaign. Like d20, E6 can be adapted to a wide variety of settings, from high-magic action-adventure where magic takes the place of technology to low-magic worlds where sorcerers are spoken of in frightened whispers and dragons are the stuff of legend. E6 keeps all the benefits and familiarity of low-level d20 games: Fast-paced combat, quick prep, and an incredible wealth of third-party material that can be used with the game. E6 has been playtested extensively, and its rules can be explained to veteran d20 players in under a minute.
How E6 Works
Like d20, 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 d20’s 20 levels to translate characters into the rules, E6 uses only the first 6. E6 is about changing one of d20’s essential assumptions, but it doesn't need a lot of rules to make that change.
To understand E6, imagine the perspective of the average medieval peasant in a d20 game. This person has the stats of a 1st-level commoner, and while they might not know their stats explicitly, they know their relation to the rest of the world. Our peasant knows that he can be killed quite easily by maurauding raiders, enemy soldiers, or even wild animals. He’s not mighty, he’s not organized, and he doesn’t have any special skills to bring to bear when danger strikes. He worries about drought and flood, and the welfare of his livestock. His extended family likely all lives within a mile of his birthplace. To him, a trip to a town ten miles off is an expedition into the unknown.
Imagine you are this peasant, and you meet a trio of 6th-level adventurers. When you address the wizard, you are speaking to someone who could incinerate your home and slay all your livestock with a few words. The fighter has prevailed against a dozen orcish skirmishers and slain them all – and he could do the same again. The cleric is a man so holy that the gods themselves have granted him the power to cure the sick and heal the wounded. These are epic heroes.
Now consider the powers of a CR 5 manticore. To the peasant, the appearance of this manticore near the village isn’t a nuisance: the beast can, and likely will slay you in seconds if you draw its attention. You, your livestock, and your entire family are in immediate danger of violent death. Even if you were well armed and gathered a large peasant militia, your village faces heavy losses and no guarantee of success. Against such a creature, adventurers may be your only hope. E6 recognizes that 6th level characters are mortal, while reframing the game’s perspective to create a context where those same 6th level characters are epic heroes.
What Levels Mean in E6
Levels 1 to 6 are a period when a character comes into his own, and a crash course in action and danger transforms them from 1st-level commoners to veteran adventurers (or corpses). Once transformed by their experiences, a character’s growth is no longer a continuous, linear progression. Instead, they specialize or broaden their abilities: There are still major differences between the master warriors and the veteran mercenaries, but it's not a change of scale. This change in progression, which we see frequently in fantasy literature, is modeled through the acquisition of feats.