6d6 RPG: Thoughts on Costs and Balance

Note: Below are some of my thoughts on the inner mechanics and game balance of the 6d6 RPG. I don’t expect them to make much sense to anyone but I need to make some notes for my own purposes and I thought I might as well share them with you.

What is Game Balance?

A fundamental principal of the 6d6 RPG is that every action should have a cost. Unlike in, D&D for example, where there is no penalty for making five or even 50 saving throws in a round. In the 6d6 RPG, each saving throw you make uses up some of your dynamic pool cards and when the pool is empty, you are defenseless.

This mechanic allows powerful characters or monsters to be brought down the concerted and well timed efforts of multiple, but much weaker, opponents.

Whilst this is a great and a pseudo-realistic mechanic it does make game balance hard to assess. To use D&D for example once again, a fighter with an AC of 23 knows that a 1 Hit Dice kobold will only hit on a natural 20, e.g. 5% of the time. This makes it easy to calculate game balance (at least in terms of a fight). In the equivalent situation using the 6d6 RPG, the probability of hitting depends entirely on what else the target and attacker have done over the proceeding two or three rounds.

Potential, Force and Efficiency

A starting character deck consists of around 15 cards, each worth 1d6 when played though some may be slightly higher at 1d6+1 and one or two may only be 0d6+2. If a character could play all their cards in a single round, they could score 15 x 1d6, averaging 15 x 3.5 or 52.5.

This is the character’s potential – the amount they could score if they could play all of their cards in a single round.

But life is not that simple. As humans, we cannot bring all of our potential into play at once. My knowledge of RPGs games is no use to me when I’m juggling. Circumstances and the limits of our biology prevent us from delivering 100% of potential in a ’round’ of action.

This bottleneck on our potential is modeled in the 6d6 RPG by the concepts of Flow and Pool. Each round a character can place a number of cards into their Pool. This is the Flow and it is two cards for a starting character. The Pool is limited to four cards for a starting character. In a round, a character can play any, all or none of his cards from his Pool. Once played, they go back to the deck where they can be returned to the Pool using Flow.

So, a character can play two cards every round indefinitely as their Flow replenishes the cards they use. Thus a character can score 2 x 1d6 = 2 x 3.5 = a score of 7 per round on average. This is the amount of Force a character can apply on to a situation.

Efficiency is simply the ratio Force and Potential.

A normal starting character has a Potential of 52.5, and a Force of 7 = 7/52.5 = 13% Efficiency.

Now It Gets Complicated

The ‘Do Nothing’ rule allows a character to do nothing in exchange for increasing their Flow by one. This allows a character to take a breath and gather themselves.

Now a character can Do Nothing one round (Flow of three) and the next round the act as nomal (Flow of two). This allows them to play 5 cards overs two rounds or 2.5 cards a round. Thus their Force is 2.5 x 1d6 = 2.5 x 3.5 = 8.75. The character’s Potential has not increased so a 8.75 / 52.5 equals an efficiency 16.6%.

Making use of the Do Nothing mechanic increases a character’s efficiency from 13% to 16.6% measured over two rounds.

Not All Cards Are Created Equal

The Do Nothing mechanic is not the only way a character can increase their Efficiency.

Skill cards have special mechanic that means when a fumble occurs they can effectively get to re-roll the action. This gives characters with the right skill an advantage over characters relying on pure stats. For example, an unskilled character can attempt to climb a cliff with the Brawn & Toughness cards whereas a skilled character uses their Brawn & Climb cards. Both actions are worth 2d6 but if there is a fumble, the unskilled character plummets to the ground but the skilled character gets a Re-Roll chance using the same cards. Effectively giving the character an extra 2d6 and increasing the characters Force and their Efficiency.

Thus, Skill cards are worth more then non-Skill cards but only a small percentage of the time.

More significantly, some cards (mostly weapons) have the Rotate ability. When these cards are played, instead of returning to the deck, they rotate 90 degrees in the Pool to indicate they cannot be used again this round. At the start of the character’s initiative turn, they rotate back. This saves the character using Flow to put them in the Pool and effectively giving the character a free card every round.

A starting character using a Rotate card can, in effect, play three cards a round – 3 x 1d6 = 3 x 3.5 = a Force of 10.5 and an Efficiency of 10.5 / 52.5 = 20%. A substantial boost over the 16.6% of someone with only basic cards or even Skill cards.

Specialisation Versus Generalisation

What happens if a character improves all their cards to 1d6+1?

Firstly their Potential goes up – 15 cards x 1d6+1 = (15 x 3.5) + 15 = 67.5. Secondly their Force increases – 2.5 cards per round x 1d6+1 = 2.5 x 4.5 = 11.25. But their Efficiency stays the same – 11.25 / 67.5 = 16.6%.

This is character specialisation. Instead of increasing the number of cards they have (the Potential) they increase the strength of the existing ones allowing them to deliver more Force in a given situation.

By contrast, what happens if the character purchased more cards instead of increasing their existing ones? This would give the character three extra cards (based on our current character generation / improvement system). This increases the character’s potential – 18 cards x 1d6 = 18 x 3.5 = 63 but it has no effect on the amount of Force they can apply and consequently the character’s efficiency falls – 8.75 / 63 = 13.8%.

This is character generalisation where a character buys more cards in the hope of being able to do something in most situations instead of doing a smaller number of things better.

Ignore Everything Above

The point of everything above is to indicate two things:

Firstly, the fairly obvious idea that different cards and different game mechanics have different benefits in terms of Force, Potential and Efficiency to the character.

Secondly, that calculating the actual benefits is incredibly complicated and dependent on any number of factors. For example, calculating Force based on the character starting with an empty Pool gives a very different result from the idea that they start with a full Pool.

Thus the table below, is not the result of careful calculation but instead ‘eyeballed’ based on some assumptions.

Card Mechanic / Keyword Character Point Value Notes
Default 4 Default card behavior: 1d6, Flow, Flow-To-Dynamic, Play-To-Deck
Discriptive Keyword 1 In game keywords such as Knowledge, Race, Language, Body or Stealth that describes the type of card rather than effecting the mechanics of the game.
Skill 1.5 Only useful in Fumble situations.
Rotate 4 Enable an extra card per round to be played
+ x + x accumulative Increase card value, e.g. 1d6+1. A +1 increase costs 1 Character Points (CP), +2 costs 2CP over and above the cost of getting to +1, +3 costs 3 CP plus the cost of getting to +2 etc etc.
Flow-To-Static 1 Card goes into the unlimited Static Pool rather than the limited Dynamic Pool.
Life 2 The card can be used to absorb damage.
Head Shot 20 Zombies and similar can only be hurt by a roll of a 6 on a dice. Effectively this Keyword neutralises 5 out of 6 of the opponents cards.
Range 1 The card can be used at range but -1 to the score for each 5′ square.
Range (x) (x) As per Range except that the -1 penalty only occurs after x 5′ squares.
Pin [Specify] -4 To use this card, the specified card must be pinned, making unavailable for use. This is a reduction in the character’s Potential and has a effect on Force because the pinned card needs to be placed their with Flow.
Play-To-Stack 4 Used in magic, when a card is played the entire action is placed in a Stack but the stack can then be used in an action. The cost / benefits of this are highly complicated but at a minimum allow the card to played again without a cost in Flow.
Persistent 20 Persistent cards remain in the pool ready to be used again. In theory a character could use them an infinite number of times in a round. It is up to the setting’s writer and the GM to prevent abuse of this keyword.
Passive 1 Some equipment or powers do not require conscious thought to activate, e.g. Armour. In itself this is not that advantageous but it is normally combined with the Persistent keyword.
Proxy [Specify] 1 Magical or technology that allows the character to supplement the actions of a 3rd party with their own abilities. Does not increase the amount of Force a character can apply but changes where it can be applied.
Play-With [Specify] -4 Some cards can only be played in conjunction with other cards. E.g magic requires at least three different cards to be simultaneously to work. This has no effect on the level of Force the card is applying but reduces the character’s Potential.

No One Is Reading This

As I said, none of this will make much sense to anyone except me and few of the more mechanically minded play testers but it has been useful.

It points out a flaw in the current Stealth versus Awareness mechanic because Stealth cards are persistent and should cost considerably more than Awareness cards. The process has also confirmed my suspicion that armour is too powerful for its current cost.

Now I need to get back to the game and dealing with the implications of these insight. And if you are still reading, thank you and don’t worry – you won’t need to understand any of this to play the 6d6 RPG.


  1. Appreciate the final note that none of this is necessary to play the game.

    However, do you intend to provide these mechanics as part of the rulebook (or other publication method)?

    I’m reasonably new to the site, so I’m not aure whether you have a particular setting or genre in mind for the game, but I do recall reading that GMs would be encouraged to create cards on the fly. As such, access to the underlying mechanics of the system will provide a sound logical basis for extensibility (genre-specific or otherwise) that I am certain many GMs would appreciate.

    1. Yes, this information will be available online.

      As you note, GMs are encouraged to create new cards and so a knowledge of the underlying mechanics will be useful but it is not vital.

      Most of the cards a GM will want to create will be modifing or building on existing cards, requiring little knowledge of the system’s underlying mechanics. Only those creating brand new material (effectively brand new games) will need to know this much arcane detail.

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