[RPG] What problems could E6 introduce when used for Dungeons and Dragons Fifth edition


Recently I started to think about running a campaign in low fantasy setting, where magic is limited both in number and scope of power. Some time passed and I still think about that idea, so (at least if I am not mistaken) it was not a temporary "oh, that's cool" moment, but an idea for a campaign I would not want to go to waste. The problem started when I wanted to pick an appropriate system for that from those I knew fairly well.

Considering the campaign theme: it was about a group of monster hunters going against what was considered by normal society "monstrous and impossible to beat", as well as having magic in limited form, as well as greatly reduced influence from eldritch beings or otherwordly phenomena.

On the problem

Many of the systems I played just don't cut it:

  • Shadow of the Demon Lord is literally centered around an eldritch being and otherwordly phenomenon (demon lord and his shadow), which is quite visible in mechanics of the system. Not to mention magic in this system is unreal, some spells going on the plot-ending scale. Sooo, no.
  • Cthulhu 7e is similar. Also, it is made around the "detective" part of the mythos and unraveling clues, not fighting. Which in a fight heavy campaign is the opposite of what you want. I do not want my players to make new characters every third session, or deal with mentally broken ones every second one.
  • Fragnarok is a system for one-shots, not campaigns.
  • Neuroshima 1.5 is a system built into the specific, futuristic world, and the world is a part of neuroshima 1.5 ruleset, which in an entirely homebrewed world is a problem. And there are many problems with the system I personally do not like, so no.

Which left me without really other choices but to go to my first, and most familiar system – D&D 5e. But before, you know, an actual question I came here with, the helping question: is there a system, that could work for this idea? I believe Warhammer whatever edition won't cut it – I know nothing of those systems, I never played one, and they seem complicated enough to not wanting to pick them up and work them into what I think I want. I have heard about Witcher RPG, but cannot say if it would be good for such an idea. If you know a relatively quick to learn system, that would fit right in, I would be glad for you pointing me in the right direction. If not, just skip this whole part, and thanks for reading anyway.

The actual problem

Theoretically, the best I would feel when running in D&D 5e. But the problems were quite obvious. Dungeons and Dragons is in no way or form low-fantasy from the mechanical perspective. Some high level spells or abilities are beyond whatever can be sanely called "low fantasy". The world can be made to reflect what I want of it, the problem is with players and their options. But knowing how popular this system is, I knew for a fact someone somewhere had similar problem. So I started digging.

Skimming through the internet I came across something called E6, a variant rule for Pathfinder 1e and D&D 3.5e. I know 5e very well, and I am aware those systems are closely tied, so I thought about running the campaign in 5e D&D with E6. But as much as I know 5e, I do not know much about 3.5, nor Pathfinder 1e or 2e. So my question is: What problems would appear in applying this rule to the 5e system, if any? Would there be problems with the way feats are being treated in 5e in contrast to 3.5e? Maybe something with progression after that 6th level? I can see some, but I'm most afraid I just miss on something big, and problems will start piling up after the start of the campaign, making it a nightmare midway.

Best Answer

Standard E6 is fundamentally D&D 3.5 capped at level 6, with further progression by feats only. This resolves a lot of mechanical problems specific to D&D 3.5 at higher level: combat becomes slow due to options and hit points, arcane casters became overpowered due to the quadratic wizard effect, excessive focus on character build and prestige classing as a source of power, high level characters become invincible, reasonable challenges for specialized characters become impossible to non-specialized characters due to the unbounded numbers, etc.

D&D 5e already solves most of those mechanical issues, making E6 less relevant. You also have the problem that feats are less common and more powerful in 5e, so they're not as useful as a means of progression and character customization. In 3.5, feats made your character unique, and there were hundreds of feats in sourcebooks. In 5e, I could forsee the entire party taking Tough and all the casters taking armor proficiency, resulting in everyone being the same.

However, it sounds like what you're interested in is the thematic element of E6, which is a world where human characters above level 6 do not exist, so the player characters are exceptional even at low level. Now you have a world where, say, CR 10 monsters still exist, but there are no NPCs of high enough level to trivially defend the town from one and overshadow the player characters' ability. You can do that pretty easily with the standard 5e rules.

The challenges I forsee when attempting the E6 approach in 5e:

  • It's hard to bring more resources to a single fight. The limit of one concentration spell per caster means each caster can generally only have one buff spell or summon spell active at a time, and summon spells are not common. There's no Leadership feat to allow you to bring a cohort or allies to a fight.
  • Magic item crafting isn't a standard rule in 5e. You can't craft custom magic items as you might in 3.5. The item attunement cap limits the amount of power you can gain from item loadout.
  • "Solo" monsters are more powerful in 5e, often having legendary actions and other things to make them more powerful against a party.
  • Feats, as I mentioned, are less useful as a post-level-6 method of advancement. Aside from taking ability scores up toward 20, feats in 5e do not generally increment numbers the way 3.5 feats might. There's nothing like Weapon Focus or Weapon Specialization.

In short, 5e is balanced so that you don't need an E6 approach, but that balance also inhibits the ability of an E6 approach to take on monsters who are powerful. D&D 5e is not geared so well for a level 6 party taking on level 10 solo-type monsters.

A previous low-powered campaign world of mine handled it thusly: NPCs above a certain level are largely unheard of, but when the PCs reached the level cap, they were nonetheless able to perform quests to seek out sources of power allowing them to reach even higher level; e.g. invent 4th level arcane magic, perform a service to gain a boon from their deity allowing 4th level magic, etc. Mechanically it was very similar to standard D&D, but thematically it recontextualized the party in a campaign world where they might be the most powerful individuals in the world by level 10, without having to run the campaign until level 20 to achieve that. Fighting a CR 10 dragon as a level 10 party is still legendary when nearly everyone in the world is level 1 and even the king is level 5 and only owns two magic items.

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