Review: Mini Six
Today I have a First Look Review of Mini Six by AntiPaladin Games for you. These are my first impressions after reading the rules. I haven't played the game yet but hope to do so soon. Expect some additional thoughts on how this game plays soon.
I will be looking at the Mini Six Bare Bones Edition PDF, which is available for free on DriveThruRPG. But before I go ahead and crack the book open, I'd like to talk briefly about the historical context of this game.
A brief history
Mini Six traces its origins back to the D6 system, which WEG originally published in the 80s. Star Wars D6 is the most prominent D6 game, by far, but many settings were published for various iterations of the rules. The D6 system was part of a trend towards generic systems in the 80s and 90s, alongside other prominent examples like GURPS.
One of D6's distinguishing features was that its mechanics revolved around rolling fistfuls of D6s. While rolling large numbers of D6s was not unheard of (Tunnels & Trolls did that much earlier), it certainly was not the conventional approach at the time.
WEG and D6 changed owners several times in the late 90s/early 00s. Eventually, the latest iteration of the rules, by now split into the flavours, Adventure, Fantasy, and Space D6, was released under the Open Gaming License as OpenD6 in 2010. Mini Six led the way in adapting the system reference document into its own game. And it is this game that I'm looking at today.
What is Mini Six
Although Mini Six was first published about a decade ago, it has many legacies to deal with. The game presents a streamlined and simplified version of the OpenD6 rules while staying true to the core concepts. Originally, this may have been intended more as an introduction to OpenD6, but my impression is that it has been taken up by the community on its own merits and now has a following of its own. I should point out that except for a single Star Wars session many years ago I haven't played any of the earlier D6 games. So I'm approaching this strictly as its own game, not in comparison with other implementations of the D6 system.
Much like its precursors, Mini Six pitches itself as a universal system. It promises streamlined rules drawn from a familiar core of D6 mechanics for fast-paced, cinematic action. There is a lot of emphasis on the system's flexibility and that while it provides a complete game, is also functions as a starting point to build your own. A game building tool kit, if you like, that can integrate other OpenD6 content and be customised as desired.
What's in the book?
Alright, so much for what it says on the tin, but what's actually inside? The PDF weighs in at 38 pages, including the cover, OGL license, and notes on five different settings. It is immediately clear that this is indeed not a complex system. There are two pages describing character creation, one page detailing two different combat systems (yes, two combat systems on a single page) and one page for the remaining core rules. That's it. There are additional rules for vehicles, from sailing boats to capital starships and a magic system for games that need those. The rest is a collection of variant rules, setting information and GM tools.
Let's start at the beginning and take a look at character creation. In Mini Six characters have four attributes, called Might, Agility, Wit, and Charm. Each attribute governs several skills. Character creation uses what is, in essence, a point-buy system. But instead of using a pool of abstract points to buy a variety of things, it uses dice that are allocated to attributes and skills. These translate directly to dice you'll roll at the table. There are no classes to restrict your creativity here. The only limit on the characters you can create is the number of dice you have to spend. By default, you get 12 dice to assign to the four attributes and 7 dice for skills and perks (more on those in a minute). Numbers can be adjusted to suit the setting and tone of the game. Several options for this are presented as variant rules later in the book.
Each attribute is rated in terms of the number of dice assigned to it. So you could start with a character who has 3 dice in each attribute or focus more on one or two of them. For example, a bookish but charming scientist (or wizard) might have Might 2D, Agility 2D, Wit 4D, Charm 4D. Each attribute has to have at least one die and can't have more than 4 (again there are variants to change these limits as needed). You aren't restricted to full dice though. If you like, you can split a die into 3 pips with each pip adding +1. So instead you could go for something like Might 2D, Agility 2D+1, Wits 4D, Charm 3D+2.
With attributes sorted, it is on to skills. You get 7 dice to distribute here. There is a list of skills but which ones are available in your game will depend on the campaign's genre. So discuss with your GM. Again you can break dice up into pips. When you roll dice for a skill check, you'll roll all the dice allocated to that skill together with the dice for the corresponding attribute. So if our intrepid scientist invested 2D into the Science skill, they would roll a total of six dice. Now, you might want to create a character who is particularly good at something that is narrower than a typical skill. And you can! That is where specialisations come in. You can exchange skill dice for specialisation dice at a rate of 3:1. Instead of putting 2 dice into Science, our scientist could use 1 die to start with 3 dice in Science(Chemistry) for a total of 7 dice in Chemistry but only 4 in other Science related subjects.
That brings us to Perks. These are special things your character can do that break the normal rules in some way. General Perks often allow you to double the result of a roll, typically once per session. But you could also acquire a sidekick this way or the ability to cast magic. Perks are also how Mini Six handles non-human characters. If you are playing in a fantasy campaign and want to play an Elf, there is a perk for that. Which perks are available will depend on the setting of the campaign. Perks come at the cost of reduced skills as you have to pay for them with skill dice. For example, if you want the benefits of being a Robot, you only get to spend 3 dice on skills.
Finally, characters are rounded out with complications, quirks of your character that sometimes make life a bit harder and provide some colour. Predictably, you don't have to pay for complications at character creation. But contrary to what you might expect, they also don't give you any extra dice to spend. You get rewarded in-game when Complications come up by earning extra Character Points (Mini Six's flavour of XP).
And that's character creation done. Well, except for equipment. The book does provide a list of typical weapons for different genres, but basically, the rules say to discuss details of starting equipment with your GM.
I generally like point-buy systems, and this is no exception. It allows for a lot of flexibility to create the character you want. I like that you mostly assign dice here, instead of dealing with an abstract character creation currency. Perks are the exception here, but it still works quite well, I think. The direct connection between the points you spend and the dice you roll makes character creation very approachable. But here's the problem: There is no advice on how to build a viable character that you'll actually enjoy playing.
The problem with point buy is that it can easily overwhelm new players. There are just a lot of choices to make, and without a clear idea of how the game works in practice, it is fairly easy to end up with a character who doesn't work as well at the table as you had imagined. This may not be as much of an issue here because the total number of choices is relatively limited, but some concrete character creation advice would be helpful. The sample settings include example characters that can serve as templates, but I'm not sure that they really succeed at teaching character building strategies. For example, if you want your character to be notably good at something you probably want to max out one attribute (that's typically 4D) and an associated skill (another 2D). That gives you 6D to succeed in challenges that your character is supposed to be good at. That is enough to overcome Difficult challenges regularly; with 5D that is a lot harder and you can expect to fail more often not. But that isn't really explained anywhere in the book and may lead to frustrations when you realise that the character you created keeps failing at the things you think they should be good at.
Now that we've covered character creation, the obvious question is, how do characters change over time? The simple answer is that you'll get XP, called Character Points in Mini Six, that you can spend to improve attributes and skills. The rules suggest 3 - 7 character points per session. To raise a skill by one pip, you'll have to spend as many character points as you currently have dice in the skill. For example, if you wanted to raise a skill from 2D to 2D+1, that would cost 2 Character Points. And to go all the way from 2D to 3D would cost 6 Character Points.
Raising attributes works similarly, except that the cost is 10 times higher. Raising our nameless scientists Might from 2D to 3D requires a whopping 60 Character Points. But of course, all Might skills would also benefit from the improvement.
Okay, enough about characters.
What are we actually going to do with all those dice? We roll them, of course! As I briefly mentioned earlier, to make a skill check, Mini Six calls them General Challenges, you take a number of dice equal to the character's skill and attribute, roll them and add them up. There is a handy table of difficulty levels and a brief explanation to give a sense of how hard it generally is for characters to succeed at these. One important detail is that one of the dice is special. This Wild Die will explode on a 6. You'll get to re-roll and add to your total until you get a result that isn't a 6. That's all there is to it, and the rules move straight on to combat.
When it comes to attack rolls and damage Mini Six offers two alternative systems. One is the combat system from OpenD6, and the other is a simplified version recommended for use with Mini Six. This simpler version uses four derived statistics for combat. These are static numbers calculated from the character's Attributes and Skills, namely Block, Dodge, Parry, and Soak. Each is based on a different skill (except Soak which is directly based on Might). To calculate them, you multiply the relevant dice by 3 and add any extra pips you may have. Soak may be boosted by armour or other protective gear the character may be wearing. If you want to work out how hard it is to hit an opponent, you look at the relevant defence. That is the target number you need to beat with your attack roll (which is just a skill roll for the relevant combat skill). If you hit you roll damage and subtract the Soak of the target. Any remaining damage is converted into wound levels. There are optional rules for hit points if you prefer.
Combat is divided (Surprise!) into rounds. Each round consists of three phases. First, everyone declares their actions for the round, then initiative is determined through an Agility roll, and finally, actions are resolved in initiative order. You are free to declare as many actions as you like in a round, but if you try to do more than one thing at a time, this comes at the cost of reducing your die pool for each action. The only exception to this is movement. The first 15 feet of movement are free. You can move further than that by spending an action, and if you do nothing but running during the round, you can move further still.
The approach Mini Six takes to the action economy is interesting. The fact that you get to decide how hard you want to push yourself, and your luck, should make for some interesting decisions. It also provides a payoff for high skills. If your skill is higher than necessary for the current challenge, you can afford to do more things simultaneously. Including, for example, firing several shots in quick succession instead of just one carefully aimed one. I'm not a huge fan of rolling initiative every round, but I can see that announcing your actions before knowing the initiative order can make for some interesting decisions, but possibly also frustration.
I do have one problem with these combat rules and, as in character creation, it comes down to lack of player advice. While the rules themselves are clear and reasonably simple, although a bit more complex than the rest of the system, there is no real explanation of how combat is supposed to work in practice. I think that the way it is intended to work is that the focus is on dramatic stunts described by the players and GM to produce exciting action scenes. Swinging on whips across deadly pit traps, jumping on tables, twirling lightsabres.
The problem is, the rules don't mention any of that. There is nothing in the rules to directly support the cinematic action the game promises. The rules mostly care about dice rolls, not about all the stuff that happens in between. Which is fine, I don't really need rules to regulate how cool my character is allowed to be. In many ways, it is better for the rules to get out of the way and let the players be creative with their descriptions. But I think you need to tell players (including GMs) that this is what they are supposed to do. Otherwise, every combat round will be "I attack" over and over again because there aren't really any other options.
Other Notable Rules and Systems
As a game that aims to cover many different settings, Mini Six has to cover a lot of eventualities. Three parts of the rules stand out in the attempt to provide a complete set of systems for a large variety of settings.
Firstly, and maybe most universally useful, are rules for combat between opponents of different scale. Whether it is a group of adventurers taking on an eldritch god or a swarm of pixies, a handy table helps you figure out how the difference in scale affects defences and damage. The gist is that larger combatants can dish out more damage and absorb more of it before taking wounds. At the same time, their smaller opponents have an easier time avoiding attacks altogether and have little trouble hitting that large target in front of them.
Secondly, there are rules for incorporating vehicles into your game, whether sailing ships, motorbikes, or starfighters. This includes rules for chases and combat, and yes, there are rules for ramming, too. Vehicles have their own stat block and make use of the scaling system and generally seem to integrate nicely with the rest of the rules. There is a page of example vehicles to get you started designing your own, but there aren't really any rules for vehicle creation. You'll have to trust your instincts and common sense here.
Finally, there is a simple magic system. Casting a spell requires a skill check and should you fail you have to deal with the fact that your spell didn't go off and incur a penalty to future attempts to cast spells until you get a chance to rest. This is accompanied by a reasonable collection of spells to choose from. All in all, it is a fairly generic magic system that you can drop into your setting. It will save you the trouble of creating your own, but I find it a tad bland. A few examples of potions and magic items round out this chapter.
Mini Six comes with a fair bit of advice for GMs on creating their own settings and how to tweak the rules to their liking. There are two pages densely packed with optional rules and rule variations to pick and choose from, as well as instructions on how to convert Mini Six into something that plays more like OpenD6.
The advice on setting creation and customisation is sorely needed because the included sample settings are, for the most part, only sketches. They may make a good jumping-off point if you are looking to run a game in a similar setting but don't expect a completely developed game world here. The only one that is a bit more detailed is Imperium in Revolt (Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off) which gets twice as much space and includes descriptions for various planets.
So what do I think? I appreciate the simplicity of the system. The mechanics, for the most part, are quite straightforward. There aren't a lot of exceptions and special rules to learn. The player-facing part of the book is quite short, so the barrier to entry is low. The only thing I really have to say about the core mechanics is that I'm a little worried about the number of dice involved. I like the idea of rolling more dice as your character gets better. It adds a tactile component to character growth, and there is just something very satisfying about picking up and rolling a fist full of dice. But having to add up all the dice is bound to slow the game down. I find that dice pools work a lot better with success counting.
What about the rest of the rules? There are some areas where I find them to be overly terse. One example of this is skill specialisations. The character creation rules say that you can convert 1 skill die into 3 specialisation dice. That seems pretty straightforward. What is less clear is how much flexibility there is. Can I split that die into pips and distribute them amongst two or three specialisations? Can I just convert a single pip, or does it always have to be a full die? As far as I can tell, rules as written, the answer is that you have the option of converting exactly one skill die into 3 specialty dice. It is less clear whether these have to be assigned to the same specialty, but the rules don't seem to prohibit splitting. The rules regarding specialisations in character progression are also a little terse. It is clearly possible to improve existing specialisations, but no mention is made of acquiring new ones.
Another area where I find the book lacking a bit is player advice. There isn't much to indicate how this game wants to be played. I've pointed out above how this affects character creation and combat. In general, there is a focus on bare rules with the assumption that players will know what to do with that. The result is that Mini Six turns out to be less approachable than it could be. That is a bit of a shame because a relatively simple and streamlined system like this would otherwise make a good introductory game.
There is a good amount of advice for GMs on creating their own games and adapting the rules to their own setting and tastes. This is sorely needed because the included settings are, for the most part, only sketches that need a lot of fleshing out by the GM. So, despite what it says on the back cover, you should probably expect to put some work into tweaking the parameters of your setting before you are ready to run the game. I would have preferred to see fewer but better developed settings here.
I think you get the general idea. Overall I feel that Mini Six is a solid game but has taken the minimalism a little bit too far for its own good.
Now for the only question that really matters. Do I want to play it? Absolutely! In fact, I have a game lined up already, and I can't wait to get started.