After all this talk about variations on Epic 6th over the past few weeks, I thought I’d devote a post to a few modular ideas for improvement I had in the process of writing them.

Bonus Feat Classes

One of the classic problems with E6 is the difficulty it causes the fighter (and, to a lesser extent, other classes that get bonus feats). Once characters have hit their level cap and started piling up additional feats, the character whose class advantage is extra feats starts to look much less attractive next to characters that have a bunch of special abilities and a bunch of feats.

A potential fix for this is that, at level cap, these classes upgrade their bonus feats to also qualifying for better feats. For each bonus feat you got as a class benefit (either a broad choice, small list, or specific feat), you also add +1 to numerical values to qualify for feat prerequisites once you start earning post-cap feats. So, for example, in straight up E6, a Pathfinder character who is a 6th level fighter gains +4 to prerequisites for his four bonus feats. He qualifies for feats that require character level or base attack 10, and treats all his ability scores as four higher for feats with ability prereqs (even a fighter with below-average intelligence can eventually figure out Combat Expertise, and one could be fairly clumsy and still try two-weapon fighting).

This bonus should probably affect Caster Level as well, to allow Wizards to potentially get higher level item creation feats. For multiclass characters, I’d suggest limiting it to doubling the effective caster level (e.g., a wizard 1, fighter 5 counts as CL 2 for feats rather than CL 5).

If the feat has any scaling bonuses, those go off of the actual score, not the modified one. This ability affects availability of the feat, but not its scaling.

For classes like ranger and monk who get access to feats that allow them to totally skip prerequisites, you may wish to not count those particular feats. But it’s probably additional bookkeeping that isn’t much of an actual limit.

Ability Score Retraining

Particularly in a modern game with a lot of downtime, there may be some degree of verisimilitude to be gained by allowing player characters to change their ability choices. Without the regular ability bumps at every four levels, E6-based games don’t really have any way to model hitting the gym.

This system has players keep permanent track of their point buy pool. Over time, you can lower one or more ability scores to return points to the pool and spend them to raise another ability. This can take as much time as the GM thinks is reasonable for a workout regimen. I’d suggest a default of 1 month per point respent (which means one could go from an average score to an 18 in about a year and a half, which seems decently realistic).

As a side effect, this can also model ability drain in a world without access to Restoration: having an ability “permanently” damaged returns its points to the pool, and you have to go through months of physical/mental therapy to restore the damage, but the points aren’t really lost.

If you’re running a version that includes one or more ability +1s from levels that are multiples of four, I’d suggest actually treating those levels as giving the character +4 additional point buy points to avoid having to deal with a weird floating +1. (I’d actually suggest doing this anyway, as it’s a good fix for the laser focus on improving prime requisites to ludicrous levels that’s so common in 3.x).

If a player deliberately lowers an ability score that was serving as a feat prerequisite below the minimum qualification, the player should replace the feats in question (and any feats dependent on them) at the same time. If Intelligence bonus goes down, the player needs to remove the granted skill ranks.

Class Retraining

As mentioned last week, E6 variants can put the spotlight on the differences between NPC and PC classes and what those mean for how much formal schooling you’ve had. Within a 3.x framework, Commoner represents having no formal schooling, the other NPC classes represent merchant apprenticeships, army memberships, and other methods of learning-while-doing, and PC classes represent being taught elite skills from the best of the best.

This leaves open the door that characters should be able to multiclass to a better class once better schooling is available. The farmer that gets called into a militia, finds she has a knack for it and stays with the army for years, then impresses an elite swordsmaster might be a Commoner 1, Warrior 4, Fighter 1. And in normal, uncapped progression, that might be fine. But in a capped progression, that character is now stuck, never able to transcend her peasant roots.

So in a capped game, the GM might allow characters to trade up levels in Commoner for a better NPC class, and in an NPC class for a PC class. This can take time and/or XP as makes sense to the GM, and should generally follow a couple of rules:

  • This isn’t a gestalt: you lose the old level, gain the new one, and retain any choices you’d made previously (e.g., skill points remain spent).
  • The upgraded class should generally be one that doesn’t require losing any abilities. Commoner, by virtue of being terrible at everything, can easily transform into any NPC class. Expert has enough skills that it can only upgrade to rogue, ranger, or other classes with at least six skill ranks per level. Warrior can only go into full BaB classes with at least a d10 hit die. Adept can only go into other caster classes. Aristocrat may require very special handling.
  • Adept spellcasting could prove strange. Ideally, if you know an adept is looking to eventually upgrade, her spell list should be pared of any divine or arcane spells that won’t be available later. Spells per day and known should remain those available to the highest level of adept taken until the PC class exceeds that (e.g., an adept 6 training into a wizard keeps casting as an adept 6 until shifted into an adept 2/wizard 4; at that point, the wizard 4 grants better casting than the adept 6, and the player can ignore the adept levels for spells per day purposes from then on).

As a side note, this system may actually work for 5th edition as well: “NPC” classes become just taking a background plus a generic small hit die and the standard proficiency bonus (e.g., you could be an Entertainer 5, which just means the Entertainer background for proficiencies, proficiency bonus +3, 5d6 hit dice, and no class features). That character can then upgrade to an adventuring class (gaining class features and replacing the d6 hit die with a bigger one, if the class grants it). You might even create a midpoint where the character has an adventuring class but not that class’ selectable template (e.g., you could go from Entertainer 5, to Bard (with no college) 5, to Court Bard 5).