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I've heard a number of people reference an apparently common set of houserules for D&D 3.5e and Pathfinder called E6.

What do these variant rules entail? What problems are they intended to solve?

If there is an "official" ruleset for it somewhere, where can I find it?

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E6, or Epic 6, is a variant ruleset for D&D 3.5e invented on the ENWorld forums and “officially” collected in this thread. There is also a PDF version with explicit reference to Dungeons & Dragons scrubbed. And someone did a bit of work porting this to Pathfinder with this “P6 Codex”.

The concept of E6 is superficially similar to the rules of the Epic Level Handbook (hence the name), in that it provides a way for characters to continue growing indefinitely after the “final” level. The similarities end there, however: while the Epic Level Handbook picks up after 20th level, the usual limit for 3.5 and PF, and provides yet more levels to gain, E6 sets 6th level as the final one, and for E6 it actually is final. Instead of gaining more levels beyond 6th, characters instead gain bonus feats as they gain XP above that which is necessary to reach 6th. This allows the game to continue, and characters to continue to grow and evolve, but without gaining additional levels.

The above-linked documents also have rules for the XP thresholds at which characters gain bonus feats, new feats appropriate for such an environment, tweaks to existing feats for such an environment, and so on and so forth. None of these, however, is really core to what makes a game E6—in common usage, any 3.5 and/or PF game that stops levels at 6th and gains bonus feats from then on is an E6 game, whether they use the “official” XP thresholds and tweaks or not.

The official documents do offer useful insight, however, into why a game might want to stop leveling early:

Earlier this year a fellow named 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 at EN World and elsewhere about how to define those quartiles, and how each group eventually finds the quartiles that suit them best.

E6 is a game about d20’s first two quartiles, and focuses on continuously delivering exciting heroic fantasy, even in a very long campaign.

So E6 was imagined as a way to maintain a heroic fantasy game in 3.5, which it more-or-less does. Ultimately, however, E6 has grown some from its roots (and, in fact, I would argue that “gritty fantasy” really only applies in 3.5 to 1st level, if that, and “heroic fantasy” may well land primarily in the 2nd-6th range). It has been widely recognized that D&D 3.5’s design flaws become more and more significant problems as one increases in level. And, as it turns out, 7th level is something of a cut-off point:

Q: Why 6th level for the cap? Why not 12th, or 20th?

A: 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 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.

The author does not go into detail here, but the primary big new thing at 7th level is the advent of 4th-level spells. Those are a major upgrade from 3rd-level spells, in some very important ways.

Lower-level spells are undoubtedly powerful, but for the most part, they can be handled or mitigated by a lot of characters—characters with good Reflex and Balance can ignore grease, characters with capabilities that benefit fighting blind are much less affected by glitterdust, fly is a relatively short-duration spell, and so on.

This becomes less true with 4th-level spells. Solid fog allows you absolutely no recourse unless you can teleport. Enervation is extremely difficult to defend against (unless you have death ward, which is also 4th-level), and absolutely devastating in effect. Divine power allows a cleric to basically turn into a barbarian on top of his spellcasting. Dimension door and freedom of movement are the beginnings of spellcasters’ “get out of jail free” cards. Polymorph is just basically cheating. And divination, lesser planar ally, and scrying can completely change the nature of game.

And, of course, you might look at that and say “well yeah, 4th-level spells are better than 3rd-level spells; that’s how things are supposed to be.” But the real problem is that non-spellcasting classes do not get any such power bump. What 4th-level spells offer are a series of attacks that are exceedingly difficult to defend against without 4th-level spells, as well as a series of defenses that are exceedingly difficult to penetrate without 4th-level spells. The rogue gaining another +1d6 sneak attack damage, the barbarian gaining DR 1/– (the fighter and the ranger getting literally nothing), those are just small incremental improvements, not a whole new league of power the way 4th level spells are.

And it gets worse, much worse, from there.

In short, while the four quartiles suggested by Ryan Dancey exist, they are not accessed equally by all classes. In fact, some classes never graduate to wuxia or superhero kinds of play.

So E6 has become not just an idea for maintaining heroic fantasy, but also a very well-regarded variant for simply improving the overall design quality of the game. Since D&D 3.5’s design problems get worse as levels go up, just stopping is an effective measure for reducing the number of problems you have to deal with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 29 '17 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Again: chat, tangential questions, and discussion can be pursued in the chat room opened for the purpose. The discussion there appears to be active, so please consider joining the ongoing discussion in the room rather than posting another discussion-y comment. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 29 '17 at 16:56
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I run a variation of E6 in my campaign where PCs progress into Gestalt instead of buying additional feats(I call my system Approach6). Works out to being a bit stronger than E6 normally is, especially health pools, but my experience should be fairly comparable to E6, in contrast to "Vanilla" 3.5(3.5 without E6 or Gestalt applied).

  1. In E6, monsters never need to be rescaled based on party growth. There'll be marginal variation in PC power, but HP, AC, Saves, and Skill Checks do not variate as significantly as in Vanilla. This saves prep work, as a powerful Dragon introduced early in a campaign will never stop being a powerful dragon. Mooks sufficiently strong to threaten your party will remain threatening mooks forever, too.

  2. Due to having more resources relative to their HD, PCs don't suffer from 3.5's usual "dysfunctional weakness" problem that I hate so much. Casters are squishier than Gishes and Barbarians, but HP pools don't vary by orders of magnitude. Less variation means an easier time calibrating expectations.

  3. Non-casters are stronger prior to level 7, and thus, if you hate the caster-bias of 3.5, E6 appeals to that. Specifically, at levels 1-2, buying a greatsword and charging is a far better plan than most of what the caster can do. Outside of high-optimization, I'd rather fight a Wizard than a Barbarian prior to level 5.

  4. Feat taxes are not as significant an issue when Feats are more plentiful. E6 gives you significantly more feats than a typical vanilla character, and thus, open availability for highly-taxed concepts to flourish. Spring Attack, for instance. Building Captain America is far easier when you have relatively easy access to IUS, SUS, and INA without having to worry about dipping Monk or competing with 4th level spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 1. Welcome to the site, thanks for taking the time to try to help! 2. Take a look at the Tour, this site is different than you may be used to. For example, answers are required to really answer the question asked, not just discuss something related—which leads me to, 3. This doesn’t answer the question asked, which means this is a poor answer, not matter how detailed you are about your A6. Sorry, but this isn’t the place. Introducing your own variant might be acceptable as a footnote to a complete answer, but not like this (cf. I play an E6 gestalt variant too, but didn’t bring it up here). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 19 '17 at 16:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't necessarily agree (casters really are better than warriors, even in E6, even at 1st, though the gap is much smaller), but that’s neither here nor there. For the answer to hold up, you have to actually discuss E6, not A6 and expect readers to know it also applies to E6. So please do that, and I hope you stick around—I’d like to chat about A6 and the variant I use, compare notes. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 19 '17 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree this is not an answer to what E6 is or why one would use it. It's a tangential discussion point to share homebrew, which is not what answers here are for, given that we are not a forum — please do check the tour that KRyan linked to understand how we work. You're welcome to continue to engage on this site within our guidelines though, and when you reach 20 rep you can join us in Role-playing Games Chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 19 '17 at 16:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @godskook I've also thrown an upvote on here, which I believe should bump you over the chat threshold if you're not there already. Welcome to the site! Lotta playground refugees around these parts :) . P.S. It looks like the two links from before are to the main lobby for stackexchange chat - if you're looking for the one specific to this site, it's at chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/11/rpg-general-chat \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Apr 19 '17 at 18:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @godskook Me three, and I like the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 19 '17 at 18:18

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