[RPG] Why is the “final” level of E6 chosen as 6, not lower


I have just reread the introduction part of the Abridged P6 codex, an implementation of E6 rules for Pathfinder. And I noticed (once again) a very interesting passage:

One way of envisioning the character levels is that a 1st
level character is roughly equivalent to a journeyman
craftsman – a squire just completing their training, a
conscripted farmer just off their first tour of duty, or a
wizard just finishing their apprenticeship. A 3
rd level
character is roughly equivalent to a master craftsman –
well above the peasants, common laborers, and even
craftsmen in most rural villages, but not uncommon in
the towns and cities. Fifth level would include the
renowned master craftsman – one who has achieved a
rare height for their profession; they would only be
found haphazardly in anything smaller than a city and
be few in number for any given profession even in a
larger city. Beyond 6th level, a character or NPC would
be truly epic, the type about whom legends will be spun
unless they work hard to hush them up.

While I understand clearly why is it good to go no further than level 6 (because 4th level spells), my question is:

Why does this game not stop earlier, for example, at 3d or 4th level?

It would probably be kind of unreasonable to permanently stick with a situation where everyone has "just finished their apprenticeship", but being "roughly equivalent to a master craftsman" is already a pretty high position. Not everyone should be "truly epic", achieving the potential of standard Pathfinder level 8 heroes.

I am seeking for answers naming exact disadvantages of low-level play (levels from 1 to 5) compared to level 6 play, not general rant. I also ask to adhere to Good Subjective, Bad Subjective guidelines and support your answer with actual experience.

Best Answer

The official thread for E6 references the idea that 6th is the beginning of the “heroic fantasy quartile” as defined by discussions prior to the development of E6, but this isn’t really the answer because: 1. when answering “why 6th?” this isn’t the answer given, and 2. the entire quartile premise isn’t really accurate. Rather, the designer’s stated reasoning is purely empirical: in their experience, 6th worked best. They don’t specifically offer speculation as to why 6th worked out well, they just tried different things and found 6th most comfortable.

However, there are many reasons why that happened, that we can see from a system-design standpoint. 6th level has a lot of notable advantages to it.

  • Generally, more levels means more toys to play with, more options available, more customization possible. Removing levels from the game thus comes at a cost. So balancing “having enough levels to have a lot of options” against “having few enough levels to avoid the problems of high levels” is a two-way street.

  • In specifics, the biggest single reason is the first iterative attack gained at +6/+1 BAB. Since that is achievable, it gives a rather nice benefit to taking only full-BAB classes—6th is often one of the best levels for such characters. If you never got to 6th, you wouldn’t “lose out” nearly so much if you missed a BAB or two.

  • 6th also bumps both good and poor saves, avoiding any awkward fractions that go unused.

  • You can take your first level in many prestige classes at 6th. Getting to 6th thus allows prestige classes to exist in the game, where otherwise they mostly wouldn’t.

  • As I have discussed, the difference between 3rd and 4th level spells is vast, far more than between 1st and 2nd or 2nd and 3rd. The manageable potency of 3rd-level spells, versus not having spells at all, is a significant factor. While this is kind of the inverse of “why not higher than 6th?” it is relevant because the problems that limiting things to 6th fix are much less severe below 6th. Going lower than 6th thus solves fewer problems than stopping at 6th does.

This list should not be taken as exhaustive, but I do think these are the biggest reasons for not lower than 6th.

There is also another thing to point out: the game changes massively between 1st and 2nd level. It’s almost like playing a different game entirely. At 1st level, the game is hyper-lethal—many characters are downed by a single attack, and almost no one can survive a critical hit. Wealth is massively limited, usually (a lot) less than 200 gp, while at 2nd the expected wealth is 900 gp. A lot of classes (e.g. paladin, ranger) don’t even have their signature ability yet, since the need to avoid overpowering single-level multiclass dips shifts some signature features to 2nd level instead of 1st. Since 1st level is such a completely different game, staying that low brings with it a large array of changes—you’re basically not playing the game that 3.5 or PF represents at any other level.