[Note: This article originally appeared in 2004 as a two-part “Dispatch” on my old Griffon’s Aerie website. It does not cover the few developments in the D6 System after that time, including such innovations as Wicked North Games’ releases under that banner, AntiPaladin Games’concise distillation of the system in Mini Six, or the release of the game under the Open Game License. – PS]
Since its first appearance in 1986, West End Games’ D6 System has undergone refinement through several permutations, from the prototypical and novice-friendly Ghostbusters game engine to its incarnation in the core books for D6 Adventure, Space, and Fantasy. The game’s simple core rule – “roll your attribute or skill dice higher than a difficulty number” – was among the first to use dice pools in an era when most roleplaying games focused on more abstract and complex representations of reality through game mechanics. The D6 System’s popularity developed primarily from its symbiotic relationship with popular licensed settings, from Ghostbusters and Star Wars to Men in Black and Hercules & Xena, which drove high-visibility sales for many years. The combination of an intuitive game engine with well-known settings helped ensure the system’s success.
This essay surveys the various game releases incorporating the D6 System, focusing primarily on system innovations and presentation. It is not a history of West End Games, though some events in that company’s past affect developments in D6.
What Makes A D6 Game?
Official D6 System games originally came from the company that holds the rights to that game engine: West End Games. That corporate identity changed hands several times in the late 1990s due to financial difficulties, and in November 2003 emerged in an incarnation owned by Eric Gibson’s Purgatory Publishing.
D6 games have two core concepts, one focusing on game mechanics, and the other on thematic/presentation elements:
- Attributes and skills are represented by die codes instead of set numeric values, which players must roll equal to or higher than a difficulty number to succeed (sometimes with the aid of bonus dice). All other rules flow from this central mechanic.
- Rules presentation is geared toward newcomers (whether gaming novices or new D6 players) customized to a particular and popular setting (often a licensed media property).
The gaming community generally acknowledges that Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game first used the core D6 System mechanic of dice pools representing attributes and skills. Released in 1986 with a license from Columbia Pictures Industries, the boxed set drew on the popular Ghostbusters film starring Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts. The rules even contained numerous cartoon images of the movie characters adding occasional marginal commentary. Chaosium’s Sandy Petersen and Lynn Willis, with Greg Stafford, designed the core rules system. Such game industry notables as Aaron Allston, Scott Haring, and Daniel Greenberg contributed to the sequel game (Ghostbusters International) and a line of adventures.
Ghostbusters was West End Games’ second roleplaying game line after the cult hit Paranoia, released in 1984. Before that the company produced wargames with high production values: color maps, cardboard counters, dice, and the ever-popular sealed counter trays (which remained much-sought-after items years after the wargames went out of stock). West End brought similar high production values to its roleplaying game components.
As the prototype D6 System game, Ghostbusters established several core mechanics that later evolved into elements current D6 players would recognize. Each character had four traits (attributes), each with an associated special talent (skill). Traits had values from one to seven, while talent increased those. If a character did not have a specific talent to deal with a situation, he defaulted to his trait. Characters could choose talents from an established list (much like a skill list). Difficulties ranged from Easy (with a difficulty number of 5), to hard (20) and impossible (30).
In addition to normal dice, the game included one Ghost Die with the Ghostbusters symbol taking the place of the six – the prototype Wild Die. Players incorporated the Ghost Die in each roll they made and experienced some form of failure (often humorous) if they rolled the ghost.
Each character began with 20 Brownie Points, which served as the forerunners of Character Points. They enabled players to use additional dice to accomplish tasks, but they had to declare their use before the roll. Players could roll as many dice as they had remaining Brownie Points. These also functioned as a measure of success or failure: those accomplishing scenario goals received more points, those hit in combat or failing important rolls lost points. Anyone collecting 30 Brownie Points could use them to improve a Trait by one.
The “How To Play” booklet – what readers first saw upon opening the box – encouraged people to dive into the game by playing the characters from the Ghostbusters film, included on perforated reference cards as a form of pre-generated character template.
The components in the Ghostbusters boxed set provided a model for presenting games to newcomers and fans of popular films. It included three levels of the rules: a three-page “How To Play” flyer that covered the basics and got gamers playing right out of the box; a 24-page “Training Manual” that served as a basic rulebook, elaborating on the simple concepts in the starter flyer; and the “Operations Manual” which functioned as the full-fledged sourcebook with more examples, scenarios, ghosts, adventure ideas, stats for typical non-player characters, and a random adventure generator. Two sheets of perforated cards contained the stats for the main film characters (pre-generated character templates of a sort) and a host of smaller equipment cards detailing various gadgets and artifacts used during scenarios.
On a visual level such production values weren’t new. In 1982 TSR’s Star Frontiers also contained a similar array of components, including basic and advanced rule booklets, maps, and counters. But it did not focus on a licensed media property and thus did not have a particular tone to promote through the text. (At the time, West End Games was emerging as one of a handful of companies that could offer such high production values as industry leader TSR.) Ghostbusters’ designers and developers already had practice at infusing game rules with the appropriate (and humorous) atmosphere from previous work on Paranoia. Movie characters appeared in the margins to offer comic commentary. In-universe paperwork provided props for “Releases from Damages,” “Temporary EPA Permit,” and the useful “Last Will and Testament” for Ghostbusters characters. Movie stills enhanced the rulebooks’ graphic presentation and reminded players they were running around a world where they could learn everything they needed to know from watching a film.
Ghostbusters would be the last D6 System game appearing in a box packed with all the trappings until the release of the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game in 1997. Although West End Games later published several flagship, non-D6 games as boxed sets – such as second edition Paranoia, Shatterzone, Indiana Jones, and Bloodshadows – the overall expense of producing such high-value components as foldout maps, perforated cards, and special dice became prohibitive. Much of the roleplaying game industry followed this trend, which focused on releasing core rules sets in books rather than boxes to avoid high production expenses and open the way into major bookstore chains, which at that time understood how to market and display books better than boxes.
The Star Wars Roleplaying Game
In 1987 the Star Wars franchise seemed dead in the water. The last film, Return of the Jedi, opened in 1983. In the subsequent years, the avalanche of marketing made popular by the Star Wars movies died off (and certainly held no promise for a product as esoteric as a roleplaying game). Filmmaker George Lucas focused his efforts on obscure projects like Howard the Duck and Willow. The popularity of Star Wars seemed little more than nostalgia for the days of action figures and trading cards.
West End Games established a licensing agreement with Lucasfilm Ltd. to produce a Star Wars roleplaying game and published the two-book set in 1987, ten years after the original movie’s release. Designers Greg Costikyan, Curtis Smith, and Bill Slavicsek refined the D6 System from Ghostbusters into a more substantial game engine suitable for the cinematic action of the Star Wars films. The first edition rules and sourcebook drew gamers and movie fans into the roleplaying universe far, far away and spawned a line of scenarios and supplements that supported an ever-growing consumer base. In 1991 the release of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire – the first original sequel novel in the Star Wars galaxy since Return of the Jedi’s release – re-ignited massive fan interest in the franchise and sent scores of enthusiasts to roleplaying game books seeking officially licensed source material expanding the scope of the galaxy.
A second edition of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game released in 1992, followed by the Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Second Edition – Revised & Expanded (1996), and the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game (1997). (For a detailed comparison of the three main versions, see “WEG’s Star Wars RPG: Which Edition?”) The game line published more than 120 products (including revisions of previously released books and 15 issues of The Official Star Wars Adventure Journal) and was sub-licensed and translated into several foreign languages before West End lost the license in 1998 during its financial troubles.
Overall the Star Wars Roleplaying Game refined Ghostbusters into the familiar game engine incorporating many of the core mechanics that now form the D6 System. Where the earlier game strove to achieve a basic framework for humorous action, Star Wars created a workable and detailed game engine to simulate cinematic drama in a particular, more serious universe. Players needed more rules guidance and character options to fit the conflicts and technology of the Star Wars galaxy.
The Star Wars Roleplaying Game modified a character’s basic stats, changing four traits into six attributes, and one talent per trait into a short list of skills in which everyone had some proficiency (a die code that defaulted to the value of the associated attribute). Various editions of the Star Wars game differed in offering every template the same skills or customizing skill lists to what a character could reasonably know. The game retained the core rule of rolling a die pool equal to or greater than a difficulty number.
The first edition did not include any rules for a Wild Die. Some might argue the range of results one could roll in a die pool were chance enough for critical successes and failures, while others would say a Wild Die – and one that “exploded” each time a six appeared in succession – added to the heroic cinematic nature of the game. This argument obviously won out with the designers of the second edition, which included Wild Die rules. If a one appeared on the Wild Die, it might simply affect a lower die roll total, or, at the gamemaster’s discretion, signify some critical failure. A six on the Wild Die added to the result and was rolled again as a bonus. Second Edition – Revised & Expanded included the Wild Die, by then a standard D6 System convention, though for simplicity’s sake in catering to a younger market, the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game omitted the Wild Die.
Ghostbusters’ Brownie Points split into two systems to aid character rolls: Force Points and Character Points. To accommodate the role of the Force in the Star Wars galaxy, the game included Force Points representing every character’s innate ability to tap the power of the Force. (Jedi also had access to Force powers based on their capacity for using three Force skills: control, sense, and alter.) When a player used a Force Point – prior to making any die rolls – she could double all die codes for that round only. Combined with the game’s multi-action rules, it allowed characters to undertake amazing and heroic feats in the face of insurmountable odds. Force Points were rarely awarded, though, and were overpowered for boosting less-important rolls. Character Points replaced the standard Experience Point mechanic from first edition, which only allowed players to use them to improve their characters’ stats. Character Points served both the purpose of experience and bonus points, forcing players to decide if they wanted to boost die rolls by one, two, or three dice after their roll, or save them for character improvement later. As with Ghostbusters, accomplishing a scenario garnered Character Point awards, varying by the degree of success.
The Star Wars Roleplaying Game refined the concept from Ghostbusters of playing film characters using pre-generated stat cards. Instead of gamers arguing over who got to play Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca, players customized their own characters based on stereotypical templates that offered similar roles, such as smuggler, minor Jedi, young senatorial, and Wookiee. This gave everyone the chance to pick a template, add some skill dice, and dive into the game, and was particularly important in first edition, which introduced Star Wars gaming. Later editions provided different templates; players always had the option of creating their own once they were comfortable with the system. The concept of pre-generated characters – even ones gamers customized by assigning 7D to skills – still accomplished the goal of making this D6 game a quick start-up for newcomers.
The various editions of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game followed Ghostbusters’ lead in using movie stills for illustrations enhancing the rulebooks as well as incorporating thematic text to encourage a cinematic style of play emulating the films. Many fans hadn’t seen Star Wars movie shots since their old trading card days; their pervasive presence in the first edition rules helped rekindle their interest in Star Wars and stimulate their imaginations about the possibilities of roleplaying in that universe.
First edition included two books (288 pages total), the main rules and the sourcebook, essential for providing the stats for numerous ships, vehicles, droids, and other elements of the Star Wars universe encountered in the game. Although black-and-white throughout with spot full-color insets detailing "in-universe” advertisements for the Imperial Navy, Incom, Industrial Automaton, and other Star Wars corporations, it relied exclusively on movie stills, with no illustrations for the character templates. It still remains one of the stronger visual presentations for the game line. The 176-page second edition compacted rules and universe source material into one book, but its reliance on original line art of varying quality (from mediocre to excellent) and a dense layout (subheads were not well organized and sometimes indistinguishable in magnitude from each other) did not make it stand out from the avalanche of similarly sized roleplaying game books flooding the market in the early 1990s. Graphically its one saving grace over first edition was the inclusion of illustrations with each character template. Second Edition – Revised & Expanded (288 pages) was everything the previous two editions should have been: full-color, comprehensive in coverage of rules and universe information, and packed with color film stills and high-quality, original color artwork.
Each edition focused on introducing new and established gamers to roleplaying in the Star Wars universe. Rules included hints on running games, getting into the mood of the universe, many examples, pages of handy reference charts, and sidebar suggestions on using props, sound effects, and Star Wars toys. First edition’s overall gung-ho attitude and borderline corny suggestions saturate the text like the enthusiasm from a ten year-old surrounded by Star Wars action figures. Second edition generally avoids this tone in favor of language more appropriate to a roleplaying game manual. Second Edition – Revised & Expanded found a pleasant middle ground, giving responsibility for in-universe banter and suggestions to a crowd of original characters like General Airen Cracken, smuggler Platt Okeefe, and Rebellion historian Voren Na’al, who introduced new chapters and offered sidebar commentary throughout the text (much like the Ghostbusters characters in that game).
Each version had differing tactics for encouraging play “right out of the box,” even if they didn’t come in one. First edition included solitaire and group scenarios, plus a handful of adventure ideas with outlines detailing each episode. These appeared toward the back of the book more to illustrate the rules established up front. Second edition buried its several detailed adventure hooks amidst its gamemastering rules, but included no moderate-length group adventure and no solitaire scenario. Second Edition – Revised & Expanded displayed the solitaire tutorial adventure up front for those just diving into the game, with a full-length group adventure later on (and no list of adventure ideas/hooks). The solo scenario, though, appeared in the book’s introduction, before any rules chapters, along with an example of play and a four-page player handout summarizing the concept of roleplaying, basic rules, handy skills, resolving actions, Wild Die mechanics, special statistics, and even in-universe slang.
The Star Wars Roleplaying Game set the standard for the D6 System for almost 10 years before any new developments or settings appeared.
From its origins as an engine for the licensed Ghostbusters game to its long run as the core Star Wars game system, D6 continued to refine itself as an easy system linked to interesting properties that inspired its presentation. Future developments brought D6 in different directions for better or worse.
D6 Versus MasterBook
Before Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir to the Empire renewed interest in Star Wars, and before the strength of such fan awareness was apparent, West End’s sales and marketing staff was convinced the Star Wars license was dead. Roleplaying game product sales were good, but the company had already embarked on games using a new engine: the rules set that would eventually become MasterBook. TORG (1990) was the first such release, followed by Shatterzone (1993), and ultimately MasterBook itself (1994), with the Worlds of Indiana Jones and Bloodshadows as initial settings.
This schism between a D6 Star Wars Roleplaying Game and West End’s other game system occurred for several reasons. In those days management and the design/editorial team wanted a departure from a reliance on Star Wars and its game system. They had stronger faith in their own original game mechanics and an uncertainty/unwillingness to use D6 in any other game. No doubt personalities were involved that reinforced this rift. The design/editorial team at least (if not upper management) was uncertain about the status of the D6 System as a rules set apart from Star Wars. Did West End’s license with Lucasfilm allow it to separate the D6 System game mechanics developed for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game and incorporate it into other original and licensed games with the Star Wars trappings stripped out? (Ultimately the answer was “yes,” but the company didn’t reach that conclusion until MasterBook had gained a stranglehold on corporate affairs).
But the company slowly realized it needed to cash in on its now best-selling game line – Star Wars – which had introduced the D6 System to a large consumer base of fans and gamers. With the resurgence in all things Star Wars, a second edition of the game, mediocre sales of the MasterBook lines (including disastrous sales for such licensed media properties as Tank Girl, Species, and Tales from the Crypt), and the inevitable change in design/editorial personnel, West End determined it owned the D6 System mechanics apart from the Star Wars license. At this time the staff made a conscious effort to aggressively promote D6 as a house system. The D6 System became the default rules set for new licensed games, particularly Men in Black and Hercules & Xena; no further games were released using MasterBook. Stat and rules conversions from MasterBook to D6 became standard handouts at conventions (though they wouldn’t be available online until well after the company’s financial difficulties).
The D6 System: The Customizable Roleplaying Game
West End’s staff realized it needed a core rulebook for D6. Prohibited by time and finances from launching a product on the scale even approaching any version of the Star Wars rules, it assembled The D6 System, an 80-page hodgepodge of rules, advice, and options for customizing D6 to any game setting. The book served more as a D6 roleplaying game toolkit than a full-fledged game system. It suffered from cramming all the trappings of a complete roleplaying game – chapters on character creation, combat, running adventures, and gamemastering – while incorporating new developments into D6. As such it included no sample settings or genre material.
Established Star Wars players seeking guidance on translating their favorite game worlds to D6 snatched up the short print run and advocates of West End hailed it as the beginning of a new campaign to promote D6 apart from Star Wars, but the product failed to soar on its own without an associated setting and an outstanding graphic presentation. It still served effectively as the D6 core rulebook in the absence of any other effort.
The D6 System introduced several new developments, most from the conversion of various elements from MasterBook and the urge to address concerns with the mechanics as presented in the Star Wars Roleplaying Game.
Several skill types required players to pick specific fields. For instance, a character couldn’t have languages 5D or piloting 6D, but had to list languages: German 5D and starfighter piloting 6D. Players could trade in initial character creation skill dice to gain advantages, or take disadvantages to receive more skill dice or offset advantages. The core die roll mechanic remained the same, though the damage system provided a “body points” option (similar to “hit point” rules of traditional fantasy roleplaying games) in addition to the standard “wounds” system. The rules offered a variant round structure besides the traditional initiative-driven one: one in which actions and resolutions were simultaneously or continuously resolved.
Two editions of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game had cemented the Wild Die rules into the fabric of D6, and The D6 System only reinforced its existence.
Since the Force was a concept owned by Lucasfilm, non-Star Wars incarnations of D6 had to find a new term for this popular skill roll boost. Force Points became Fate Points, but still gave characters the same potential for over-the-top cinematic accomplishments and multiple actions. Character Points remained much the same as before, though their use was limited to a maximum of two for any roll.
A “Supernatural Powers” chapter outlined rules for magic, psionics, and superhero abilities. Brief sections gave hints on incorporating them into character creation or advancement and using them in the game. A handful of sample spells, psychic powers, and superpowers provided gamemasters with handy examples and materials for immediate play.
The D6 System offered no templates as examples of possible characters or genres gamers could play. The character creation section did, however, offer a list of various character professions, including typical skills and a brief description of each role.
The D6 System was certainly not presented as a product for novice gamers. The customizable aspect and lack of setting geared it more toward established players who enjoyed tinkering with system mechanics/options and tailoring it to their own settings. The text lacked any tone associated with a style of play because it was not inclined toward any particular genre. The D6 System was a roleplaying game manual, and its organization and language reflected that.
Lack of setting direction also contributed to the wide-ranging themes of the artwork. Although the quality varies and most pieces relate to their associated text in some vague way, the art reflected the book’s hodgepodge approach. As an interesting aside, many pieces included representations of the art staff (beheaded, attacked by a velociraptor, eaten by maggots, confronting aliens) as well as the lead D6 designer at the time.
Further D6 Iterations
Soon after the release of The D6 System West End produced a swarm of licensed D6 games. None found the vast fan and consumer base that fueled the Star Wars Roleplaying Game for so many years. Each one promoted the core game and presentation concepts that gamers had come to expect from D6.
Each game reworked the text to fit its genre but retained most of the core rules with some variations. Players resolved tasks by rolling a number of attribute or skill dice equal to or higher than a given difficulty. In two cases – Hercules & Xena and DC Universe – players used special dice with four success symbols and two failure symbols, with a wild die using signs that functioned as the dreaded one and exploding six. Known as D6 Prime (and later D6 Legend), this simplified system addressed the frequent complaint of having to roll and total too many dice. Of course the Wild Die survived through every incarnation. Characters Points functioned as usual and templates provided gamers with ready-made characters, or at least ideas on creating their own.
Presentation values remained high, particularly on the Hercules & Xena and Metabarons roleplaying games, which included full-color rulebooks. Each game line adopted its own tone appropriate to the license and tailored game terminology to suit the genre. The DC Universe game in particular had to accommodate a superpowers system that had no correlation in previous D6 games.
West End’s design staff actively pursued popular media licenses for subsequent D6 releases. Three notorious licenses stand out that, for various reasons, never reached publication: despite the release of a popular Mission Impossible movie, management refused to pursue a related D6 game license; interest in an X-Files license ended when the approvals process began looking like a bureaucratic and creative nightmare; and the Stargate: SG-1 game died (with half a draft of D6 rules already completed) when the company declared bankruptcy. Despite these setbacks, West End continued releasing other quality licensed D6 games.
Each game from this period deserves some note, even if they contributed debatable degrees of innovation to the overall D6 game engine.
Indiana Jones Adventures: Although not a stand-alone D6 System game, Indiana Jones Adventures was one of the first results of West End’s campaign to use the marketing recognition the Star Wars Roleplaying Game had garnered for D6. It broke the corporate mindset that non-Star Wars licensed games couldn’t use the D6 System. This supplement attempted to retrofit D6 to the most popular MasterBook license (incidentally a successful Lucasfilm license), with references to basic game mechanics from the D6 System: The Customizable Roleplaying Game. The 96-page book relied on 12 pages of rules that organized skills under attributes, offered a handful of new advantages and disadvantages, listed short stats for various adversaries (from gangsters and Nazis to crocodiles and snakes), and summarized stats on period weapons, armor, vehicles, and adventure gear on several tables. Very little effort was made to make it a complete, newcomer-friendly roleplaying game. The intent was to provide all those Star Wars Roleplaying Game players – who were undoubtedly also Indiana Jones fans – an avenue for playing in that universe without the cumbersome and intimidating MasterBook rules set. To complete the package and give gamers a chance to run D6 characters in Indiana Jones, the book also contained one introductory solitaire scenario, three group adventures, four templates, a blank character sheet, and the MasterBook-to-D6 conversion. (A proposal was actually made for a D6 Indiana Jones Roleplaying Game core rule- and sourcebook of the scale and quality of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Second Edition – Revised & Expanded, but financial limitations, schedule considerations, and marketing concerns prevented pursuing this course.)
Men in Black Roleplaying Game: News of a Men in Black film with stars like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones prompted West End executives to make a bid for the roleplaying game rights, with publication in 1998 around the time of the movie’s release. The game book contained few innovations in the D6 System, repackaging the rules and format into the film universe, complete with solitaire tutorial adventure, group adventure, the standard rules lineup, and a host of templates. In the tradition of past licensed games, it contained movie stills, official film image line art, and some original art, along with shots of various West End Games staffers posing as men in black. A subsequent Men in Black Introductory Adventure Game and an Alien Recognition Guide were not worth the insane and often contradictory licensing approvals hassle, and did not drive satisfactory sales, so the game line was eventually dropped.
Hercules & Xena Roleplaying Game: This D6 game cashed in on the popular Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess syndicated television shows. In the true spirit of the programs the rules rambled on with a casual, often comic tone and the source material offered genre-appropriate information on ancient Greece. Production values were high, with the box packing a full-color Hero’s Guide, two-color Secrets of the Ancient World sourcebook, full-color gamemaster screen, and three slim booklets containing one solitaire and two group adventures. Since the game pioneered the D6 Prime system, it included special dice with symbols from the shows denoting successes and failures. Its publication in the first half of 1998 ensured the game line’s death when West End shut down in July, and planned (and in some cases, completed) supplements died on the vine.
DC Universe Roleplaying Game: No amount of new games, marketing, or sales could save West End Games from bankruptcy in 1998, despite continued strong interest in the Star Wars game (especially with the first prequel premiering in 1999) and a fistful of hot licensed products. After a series of purchases by French companies (Yeti Entertainment and later Humanoids), the company became West End Games/D6 Legend. Its first release was based on a licensing deal that began before bankruptcy, but faded after a year or two beneath the strain of corporate strife. The DC Universe Roleplaying Game and its several published supplements catered to the superhero genre and fans of the comic books. The game more effectively incorporated advantages and disadvantages in the D6 System and explored the scope of interpreting super abilities with the game engine. DC Universe kept the D6 System alive despite West End’s corporate troubles.
Metabarons: After its acquisition by Humanoids, West End Games/D6 Legend produced a D6 game based on the parent company’s hyped comic book property,Metabarons. A pseudo space opera on the grand scale of Frank Herbert’s Dune with gratuitous graphic violence and sexual content only the French could condone, the Metabarons graphic novels were hugely popular in France but only marginally accepted in America. The game directly translated mechanics from the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, adapting various game concepts such as the dark and light sides of the Force to such Metabarons terminology as Aramax and Necro-Dream. A hastily designed system to simulate the rather ill-defined psionics shown in the comics encouraged gamemasters to determine skill difficulties based on variables of what one wanted to accomplish (range, effect, duration, number of people). An Honor Code system helped define characters’ motivations in relation to the universe. The rulebook followed Revised & Expanded’s format, including full color throughout, chapter introductions from in-universe characters, a solitaire tutorial adventure, and a group scenario. A lack of available and approved source material on the universe directly translated to a deficiency of such information in the rulebook, though a setting sourcebook was later published in France. The game did poorly in the United States, where few comic book fans latched onto the Metabarons license. After Metabarons released in 2001, interest in West End and consequently D6 dissipated.
Psibertroopers: This stand-alone product managed to carry the D6 torch a little farther. Having left the hybrid Humanoids/West End Games, former owner Scott Palter set out on his own, managed to obtain a license to use the D6 System, and pursued his own game universe through his company, Final Sword Productions. With Ron Fricke he co-authored Psibertroopers, the first of several planned releases in a series called Dead Night of Space. The setting merged elements of the giant mecha, psionics, and space opera genres, with universe information and fiction vignettes. In the absence of an official D6 rulebook it contained an eight-page quickstart rules section up front. Psibertroopers continued the tradition of including the rules summary, a handful of templates, and two detailed adventure hooks. It used the Honor Code system introduced by Metabarons as a tool for classifying character motivation and further developed the psionics system from that game, tailoring it to fit the Dead Night of Space universe. Psibertroopers’ most significant game innovation, the chesspiece goons system, defined expendable adversaries as pawns, knights, bishops, or rooks, each with predetermined target hit numbers, damage thresholds, and attack/damage dice suitable to their levels.
A New Beginning: D6 Adventure, Space, and Fantasy
In late 2003 Humanoids sold most of the West End Games assets to Eric Gibson of Purgatory Publishing Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These included much of “old” West End’s non-licensed properties, including the popular TORG roleplaying game, Shatterzone, and the D6 System (rights to the cult favorite Paranoia reverted back to its original creators).
Work began to develop The D6 System for publication for both old West End Games fans and new gamers. The approach consisted of three core rulebooks, each interpreting The D6 System into a popular genre: adventure, space, and fantasy. The company later released several supplements further elaborating on game mechanics and settings for each genre.
This latest incarnation of D6 retains the core mechanics developed over the years: a basic die pool roll to determine success or failure; Character and Fate Points to boost rolls; the Wild Die; numerous customizable character templates. The D6 System further refined the idea of advantages, disadvantages, and special abilities, building them into a more elaborate, point-based character generation system for those seeking such structure. The systems for magic, metaphysics, and psionics drew on previous mechanics, particularly those developed in the DC Universe game and the general outlines from The D6 System Customizable Roleplaying Game.
Two elements stood out in The D6 System, though they weren’t particularly core concepts. D6 Space offered a system for creating a ship based on mass and energy output. The addition of energy units generated by a craft’s engine and used to power various systems smacked of the old classic Star Fleet Battles, but infused the system with a degree of realism (and bookkeeping) for those who wanted it. Gamers who prefer the old Star Wars style of quick-and-dirty starship action without keeping track of energy units could easily ignore the system.
One page in each book offered a solution to one of the core criticisms of D6 detractors: the game sometimes requires players to roll and count too many dice. (Personally I’ve never seen this as a problem – there’s something of a power trip to rolling two handfuls of dice and waiting pensively as one counts them to see if, or more frequently how much one achieves success.) The “Die Code Simplification” tables provided two means of going easy on the dice: roll 5D (including the Wild Die) and add a modifier based on the large die code, or roll the Wild Die and add a different, higher modifier. For instance, to roll 20D damage, roll 5D and add 53, or roll one Wild Die and add 67. It still involved math (sorry, folks), but effectively eliminated the “too many dice” argument.
Each of the three core rulebooks was a 144-page hardcover. Line them up in order side-by-side and the covers formed a contiguous triptych. Obviously elements such as layout and artwork directly reflected each genre, and game mechanics (skill names, magic/psionic systems, vehicles) were tailored to each setting. Although each rulebook stood as its own game, they offered little in the way of setting material.
The games nicely catered to both newcomers and experienced gamers. A very short solitaire tutorial adventure started each book after the perfunctory “what is roleplaying” sections. Sidebars summarized basics of character creation, skills, difficulties, and most elements needed to start play. A handful of character templates in the back offered a few ideas for players, though experienced gamers had everything they need to customize their own. Individual chapters for character and combat options avoided cluttering the main rules with variants. Charts stood out in sidebars and forms for spell creation and starship construction helped organize information.
The D6 System was the first West End Games release to finally enjoy decent web support. The company experienced financial troubles just as the internet came into its own in the game industry. From the mid- to late-90s, a fan site called WEDGE (West End Dedicated Game Enthusiasts) offered various game tidbits and the first of any widely disseminated D6 materials. The site was infrequently updated with fan-contributed adventures and rules variants, and served as the first (and initially the only) place to find West End support on the web. After West End’s bankruptcy, D6 material and its variants increased on the internet, including a plethora of unofficial Star Wars-related game sites and free fan games heavily incorporating D6 elements.
West End Games’ last incarnation was the only one to offer any reliable web support for The D6 System. The company website finally provided free PDF downloads that included rules systems reference sheets, character templates, blank character sheets, and flyers on gamemastering, writing adventures, and introducing people to roleplaying games. Such offerings seemed mundane in this internet age, but remained key to satisfying a core gamer base and attracting new players. In the years since numerous fan websites and social media communities have brought D6 gamers together to create and share new material.
[Note: I wrote this epilogue in December, 2015, as I revised the old article for uploading to a new Griffon Publishing Studio website. The final paragraphs of the old article have, unfortunately, become obsolete, but I wanted to briefly address the “current” state of the D6 System in a vastly changed landscape, both in terms of companies using the system and fans sharing new material.]
The D6 System will never see the same sales numbers as the Star Wars Roleplaying Game without a fabulously successful and lasting licensed setting or two (and those seem hard to come by these days). The game will never recover from the blow dealt by West End’s bankruptcy in 1998 and the subsequent absence of regularly released product using the game engine in the intervening years.
The last incarnation of West End Games has since faded from the game publishing landscape, but not before the owner bequeathed the legacy of the D6 System to loyal gamers. Eric Gibson of Purgatory Publishing released the system as OpenD6 under the Open Game License (OGL) – the same license that enabled gamers and companies to release d20-compatible materials when Wizards of the Coast relaunched Dungeons & Dragons third edition in the early 2000s – enabling gamers and publishers the ability to use the D6 System rules framework in their own original creations. This generous move enabled several designers to create and release new games under the banner of OpenD6.
In 2010 AntiPaladin Games released Mini Six, a cinematic roleplaying game in only 36 pages distilling the core D6 mechanics into a concise rules set with five sample settings which, despite most being only two pages long, managed to demonstrate how gamers could adapt D6 to nearly any genre (something the earlier D6 System generic rules sorely lacked). I briefly discussed Mini Six over at Hobby Games Recce before; it remains available as a free PDF and still stands as one of the best versions of D6 for experienced gamers to customize.
Wicked North Games adapted the D6 System into its Cinema6 RPG Framework to produce two games, a fantasy roleplaying game setting called Azamar (2011) and the science-fiction, steampunk-western game Westward (2013); other games remain in development. The company also took on the infrequent publication of d6 Magazine (originally produced by fans) to provide occasional new material for D6 gamers through free PDFs.
Final Sword Productions released a D6 Epic rules set, which it is using for an Honor Harrington roleplaying game I’ve heard is under development; I regret I’ve not been able to find more information about the company’s recent developments with D6.
In addition to these publishers creating new D6 material a host of fans have gathered on website and social media platforms to help ensure the system’s legacy lives on for past, current, and new fans. The internet has helped keep interest in the system alive, supporting new publications as well as communities of fans. Unfortunately the roleplaying game market has produced numerous innovative games catering to different mechanics and styles of play. The interest in “Old School Renaissance” retro-clone games has, to some extent, increased awareness of and appreciation for the D6 System, but its viability as a commercially successful game system remains in the hands of a few publishers who admire the system and hope to cater to nostalgic fans.