Gun Otaku in the RPG World

August 16, 2015

A few weeks ago, I found myself on the homepage for a group called re:translations. Unlike the manga-translation group that had originally (and indirectly) pointed me towards them, re:translations wasn’t translating manga, but rather light novels (that is, illustrated novels). This caught me by surprise, as I hadn’t realized that this particular media had dedicated translation groups the way that manga and anime do.

In particular, I’d ended up there because they had the light novel version (the original version, as it turns out) of a new manga called Gun-Ota ga Mahou Sekai ni Tensei shitara, Gendai Heiki de Guntai Harem wo Tsukucchaimashita?! Roughly translated into English, this means “A gun-otaku is reborn in a magical world, and creates a military harem with modern weapons?!”

Needless to say, I looked into this series for the same reason that I looked into Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon: the sheer insanity of the title created a “WTF factor” that I couldn’t bring myself to ignore.

Beyond the eye-catching title, however, I found a story that was surprisingly engaging. This was mainly because the main character didn’t have super powers – a welcome change of pace! – and instead had to leverage his knowledge of modern weaponry to survive in a world full of magic and monsters.

I enjoyed the story enough that I couldn’t help but want to draw up stats for the main character, Lute, using the rules for Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

The Story Begins: You Die

The plot of Gun-Ota (as it’s usually abbreviated) begins when Youta Hotta – a young man living in contemporary Japan – is brutally murdered on his way home from work one evening.

…wow, shortest story ever.

Prior to his death, Youta had lived a rather sorrowful life. Bullied in school, he had only a single friend, who was similarly tormented. Things got better for Youta when he entered high school and was transferred to a different class. His best friend, however, was not so fortunate, and his bullying continued. Youta even witnessed it happening, but – fearful of being targeted again – did nothing to help.

Thus, when his friend committed suicide, Youta was shattered by guilt. Dropping out of high school, he took a job as a metalworker, spending all of his free time drowning his sorrows in anime, video games, and – his greatest passion – military weaponry (albeit only in magazine and websites).

That was Youta’s life for the next ten years, until one day, one of his old bullies found him again. Now a low-level thug in a yakuza gang, he attacked Youta while the latter was coming home from work one evening, ranting about how unfair it was that his (the bully’s) life had been ruined when Youta’s friend’s suicide note had indicted him for his abusive behavior.

Blaming Youta simply because there was no one else for him to blame, the bully chased him down and – in a fit of rage – stabbed him to death in a park.

Death was not the end for Youta, however. When he closed his eyes for the last time, he opened them again to find that he had been reincarnated as a baby! Even more strangely, the woman taking care of him had bunny ears!

Reborn into another world, Youta – now given the name “Lute” – still had all of the memories of his previous life. Determined to make the most of this second chance, he vowed that he would never again stand by in silence when someone needed help. Finding out that he had no talent for magic, he instead turned to his knowledge of guns as he prepared to go adventuring…

Lute, 2nd-level gun otaku

Available Character Points: 72 (level 2 base) + 6 (human bonus feat) + 6 (level 1 feat) + 6 (disadvantages) + 2 (restrictions) = 92 CP.

Lute’s disadvantages are Blocked (innate magic above spell level 0) and History (he has an elaborate backstory prior to even being born into that world!). His restriction is to not be able to advance in a magic progression.

Ability Scores (28-point buy): Str 12, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 11, Cha 13.

Built as a 3.5 character, this write-up presents Lute at the end of chapter 49 (e.g. the end of volume 3) of the story. While this is a year or two younger than a 1st-level character should be, his memories of his former life let him advance faster than an ordinary child would.

Majutsushi Human (15 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills for one-half cost (3 CP).
  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Body Fuel, specialized for one-half cost/only as a prerequisite (3 CP) with the Versatile modifier, specialized for one-half cost/only to use hit points (3 CP).

In Lute’s world, everyone has the potential to use magic. As such, that potential is written into his race. Since recklessly using magic is shown to cause physical harm, potentially to the point of death, Body Fuel seemed the best way to go about that.

The series measures how much magical power someone has using a letter-grade system (e.g. someone ranked “B+” has more magic than someone ranked “B,” who in turn has more magic than someone ranked “B-,” etc.). However, those ranked at C+ or below – including Lute (and indeed, the majority of the world’s population) – cannot improve their magical abilities. Such people have the restriction and Blocked disadvantage listed above.

Basic Abilities (50 CP)

  • Light armor proficiency (3 CP), proficiency with all simple weapons (3 CP) and small arms (6 CP).
  • 2d6 Hit Dice (4 CP).
  • +2 BAB (12 CP).
  • +1 Fort, +3 Reflex, +1 Will (15 CP).
  • 7 skill points (7 CP).

God’s Gift to Guns (12 CP)

  • +1 BAB, specialized for one-half cost/only with guns (3 CP).
  • Occult Skill/Craft (mechanical) (3 CP).
  • Skill Focus (Craft (mechanical)) (6 CP).

Lute’s memories of his previous life, with his obsessive love of guns, is the reason he can take Occult Skill here, Craft (mechanical) being from d20 Modern. He then leverages this to create the guns that he and his friends use, being the only one in the world who can do so.

Magic Liquid Metal

For all his knowledge of guns and metalworking, the machinery to create proper gun components simply isn’t present in Lute’s world. However, there’s a work-around: a magical substance called “magic liquid metal.”

Taken from the dead body of a “metal slime” monster, magic liquid metal is, as the name suggests, a liquid metal that can be shaped by magic. The user simply has to touch it while imagining the item they want and channeling their magic into the liquid, and it will form that item. But once so formed, the item can never return to its liquid state, being permanently solidified. If the user’s concentration wavers when shaping the metal, they could very well end up with a defective item.

Most people in Lute’s world find the stuff useless, since it’s rarity makes it unduly expensive, and a single lapse in concentration can ruin the finished product. To Lute, however, it was a god-send, allowing him to make guns piece by piece.

In game terms, magic liquid metal allows someone to make a Craft check to create a metal item as a full-round action. A single dose (enough to make a light weapon for a medium creature) costs 250 gp. A one-handed weapon requires two doses, and a two-handed weapon requires four. Likewise, a buckler requires one dose, light armor or a light shield requires two, a heavy shield or medium armor requires four, and a tower shield or heavy armor requires eight. (This represents a departure from what the source material says magic liquid metal normally costs, but that’s necessary since it uses a different economy than the “standard” d20 market costs.)

For his part, Lute – wanting to make the best guns he could – made all of his guns mastercraft (+2) weapons. Since that’s a +5 DC modifier on a DC 25 check, that meant that he kept using magic liquid metal until he got a 20 on his Craft check…for each separate component! No wonder it took him four years just to make three of them!

Prodigious Dedication (9 CP)

  • Upgrade racial Fast Learner bonus from half-cost to double effect (3 CP).
  • Privilege/wealthy (3 CP).
  • Martial arts (3 CP).

These abilities represent several of Lute’s lesser accomplishments throughout the series. The first bullet point is his overall commitment to learning as much as he can about his new circumstances. The second represents the money he makes from introducing the game Reversi to that world. The third represents his training under Count Dan Gate Vlad on the Demon Continent.

First Among the Talentless (18 CP).

  • 2d6 Hit Dice, specialized for one-half cost/only applies for Body Fuel (10 CP).
  • Efficient modifier to Body Fuel (6 CP).
  • Occult Talent, specialized for one-half cost/does not grant a 1st-level spell, corrupted for two-thirds cost/does not grant free 1/day use each (2 CP):
    • Personal physical skill mastery II: +7 competence bonus to physical skills (e.g. Jump, Spot, Move Silently, Swim, etc.) for 10 min./level.
    • Personal barkskin: +2 natural armor bonus (+1 per 3 levels above 3rd; max +5) for 10 min./level.
    • Personal flesh ward II: damage reduction 3/– for 10 min./level.
    • Personal weapon mastery II: +1 competence bonus to all weapon attack rolls (including unarmed strikes) for 1 min./level.

Lute has no ability to learn spellcasting per se, and cannot learn any inherent magic above level 0. Even with that, he’s unwilling to use less than everything he has, managing to use his meager reserves to create a handful of beneficial effects.

Some clarification on these spells. All are from The Practical Enchanter, specifically (Skill) Mastery (Various) (p. 14), Barkskin (p. 38), Flesh Ward (Various) (p. 66), and (Weapon) Mastery (Various) (p. 14). For the (various) spells, they’re all used at spell level 2, which is the natural spell level of barkskin as well.

So how is he using 2nd-level spell effects when he can’t use anything above level 0? Well, On page 59 of Eclipse, the Transference metamagic theorem has the “Sharing” ability, which allows for a personal-only spell to be used on someone else for +2 spell levels. These spells use that in reverse, being touch-range spells that have been busted down to personal-only (hence the “personal” in the names listed above). Like that, they become 0-level spells that Lute can use! (Even better, since they’re Occult Talents, their caster level is his character level.)

Friends in High Places (3 CP)

  • Contact (1 CP).
  • Occult Contact (2 CP).

The basic contact is with Elle, the bunny-girl healer and retired adventurer who runs the orphanage where Lute was raised. The Occult contact is with vampire Seras Gate Vlad, the matriarch of the prestigious Vlad family on the Demon Continent, where Lute temporarily served as her daughter’s servant/guardian.


  • S&W M10 (revolver; damage (M) 2d6; critical 20; range 30 ft.; weight 2 lbs.).
  • AK-47 (assault rifle; damage (M) 2d8; critical 20; range 70 ft.; weight 10 lbs.).
  • Dagger.

For Lute’s firearms, I’ve used the basic d20 Modern stats for both guns. However, I’ve deliberately left off some of the information, such as the damage type and the critical multiplier. That’s because this information tends to depend on what type of game you’re running – d20 Modern, for example, treats guns as having their own damage type “ballistic,” and so most damage reduction is bypassed, but only has x2 critical multipliers. Pathfinder, by contrast, has guns dealing both bludgeoning and piercing damage, with a x4 critical multiplier being standard. I’d personally go with the Pathfinder interpretation, but either one would probably work.

The March of Progress

d20 Modern grouped technology into several broad strata called Progress Levels (PL) to measure how advanced they were. This was done largely to make a convenient shorthand for what sort of items should be found in what sort of setting. However, I’ve long used a house rule with regards to having advanced weapons and armor versus their less-advanced counterparts.

The rule functions as such: When using weapons and armor of differing Progress Levels, the item with the higher PL gains a bonus equal to the difference between the two. So for example, Lute’s guns are Progress Level 5 weapons (being from the latter half of the 20th century on Earth), whereas medieval-era gear is PL 2; as such, his guns would get a +3 bonus when trying to hit someone clad in the various types of armor found in the PHB. Likewise, if he made 20th-century (PL 5) body armor, it would gain a +3 armor bonus against the PL 2 weapons found in the PHB, etc.

There’s a corollary to this rule, however: magic is the great equalizer. If the more primitive item is enchanted, then that negates the bonus that the more advanced item would receive. So using a PL 5 gun against a PL 2 suit of armor that was enchanted to be +1 armor would not receive a bonus for being more advanced.

This rule ignores a lot of nuance between various types of weapons and armor (e.g. how most modern body armors are made to stop bullets, but wouldn’t protect from a knife very well), but helps to underscore exactly why weapons and armor keep advancing across the ages without armor bonuses or damage dice having to reach stratospheric levels.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 6 (d6 Hit Die; 1st level) + 3 (1d6) + 2 (Con bonus) = 11 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Init: +2 (Dex bonus).
  • Alignment: Lawful Good.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +1 (base) +1 (Con bonus) = +2.
    • Ref: +3 (base) +2 (Dex bonus) = +5.
    • Will: +1 (base) +0 (Wis bonus) = +1.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) + 2 (Dex bonus) + 1 (martial art) = AC 13, touch 13, flat-footed 11.
  • Attacks:
    • Unarmed Strike: +2 (BAB) +1 (Str bonus) = unarmed strike +3 (1d4+1).
    • Dagger: +2 (BAB) +1 (Str bonus) = dagger +3 (1d4+1/19-20).
    • Revolver: +2 (BAB) +2 (Dex) + 1 (martial art) +1 (weapon focus) +2 (mastercraft bonus) = S&W M10 +8 (2d8) or Rapid Shot +6/+6 (2d8).
    • Longarm: +2 (BAB) +2 (Dex) + 1 (martial art) +1 (weapon focus) +2 (mastercraft bonus) = AK-47 +8 (2d10) or Rapid Shot +6/+6 (2d10).
  • Skills: 10 ranks (Int bonus) + 10 ranks (Fast Learner) + 7 (7 CP) = 27 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Modifier Misc. Modifier Total
Craft (mechanical) 5 ranks +2 Int +3 Skill Focus +10
Diplomacy 1 rank +1 Cha +2
Disable Device 1 rank +2 Int +3
Hide 2 ranks +2 Dex +4
Jump 1 rank +1 Str +2
Knowledge (history) 1 rank +2 Int +3
Knowledge (local) 1 rank +2 Int +3
Listen 2 ranks +0 Wis +2
Martial Arts (pistol expert) 5 ranks +2 Dex +7
Move Silently 2 ranks +2 Dex +4
Search 2 ranks +2 Int +4
Speak Language 1 rank
Spot 2 ranks +0 Wis +2
Swim 1 rank +1 Str +2

Lute has fourteen skills here as class skills. I normally assign characters twelve skills plus Craft and Profession as their class skills, but since that’s just a guideline rather than a hard-and-fast rule, and since he’s only over by one skill, I’ll let it slide. Given his massive restrictions on magic that he has, this doesn’t seem like a very big deal.

Lute’s martial art is Pistol Expert, which can be found over here. His current techniques known are Attack 1, Power 1, Defense 1, and Rapid Shot. Lute also knows four languages, thanks to his Intelligence bonus and rank in Speak Language. These are Common, Demon, English, and Japanese.

Further Development

Currently, Lute is something of a glass cannon. Using his magic, he can attack twice a round at +7 to hit, inflicting major damage and likely seriously wounding (if not killing outright) most level-appropriate monsters. But he can barely muster an AC of 15 even with his defensive magic up; given his anemic hit points, anything that gets in close is likely to take him out in short order. Luckily, Lute seems to know that, since as of chapter 50 (e.g. the beginning of volume 4) he’s started making armor and similar support gear.

For his personal abilities, he might want to take Reflex Training so that he can use his Occult Talents faster, and maybe expand them to include some other low-level effects (though these will succumb to diminishing returns rather quickly). Likewise, some Luck never hurts for when he needs to make a shot, or a saving throw. A few skill boosters might help as well, especially with regards to his martial art.

Beyond that, I’d recommend some increases to his speed (for keeping away from close-range attackers), hit points (for when things go south), and whatever else he can do to bump up his Armor Class, though that might be difficult without magic.

Of course, given that the rest of his party includes a high-ranking ice-sorceress with a revolver, a vampire princess with a sniper rifle, and a dragon-girl who is a genius at crafting magic items, he’ll probably do alright in the meantime!

Gone With the Windyarm

July 19, 2015

While I was cleaning up some files on my computer, I came across this old stat block I had written up for Telerie Windyarm – the leading lady from Larry Elmore’s SnarfQuest comic series – using Eclipse: The Codex Persona rules. For fun, I cleaned it up and I’m posting it here.

I was introduced to SnarfQuest through its original run in Dragon magazine. While the comic had long since lapsed by the time I started subscribing to it, the father of a friend of mine was tossing out a hundred and fifty or so back issues, and I eagerly scooped them up. To this day, I enjoy leafing through those old magazines as the mood strikes me.

While it debuted in the pages of Dragon, SnarfQuest hasn’t remained confined to it. The very first graphic novel came out decades ago, and I made sure to grab a copy at the time (mostly because it had game stats for the characters in Basic D&D and AD&D 2nd Edition). More recently, a SnarfQuest d20 book was published in 2002, and an all-new adventure with Snarf and company was started in Games Unplugged magazine before (after a few years on hiatus) moving over to Knights of the Dinner Table (another comic that I’ve blogged about). This new adventure was recently published as its own graphic novel via Kickstarter.

Currently, a video game based on the comic is under development, to be released next year. For all the breaks between adventures, it seems that old Snarf and the gang still aren’t ready to retire just yet!

Telerie Windyarm, 6th-level Warrior

Snarf and Telerie

As the song goes, some guys have all the luck.

Telerie is Snarf’s girlfriend, having fallen for him – despite his being a zeetvah, a race known for their unusual features – because of his bravery and selflessness. Given that he’s actually neither of those things, this put Snarf in the awkward position of having to downplay his greedy, amoral nature so as not to spoil her impression of him.

This largely sets the tone for their relationship, as Telerie tends to act as Snarf’s better half, convincing him to undertake adventures that he would normally write off as being too dangerous or too lacking in treasure. Despite this, and quite a few other personality-clashes between them (mostly due to Snarf’s many character flaws), the two of them are devoted to each other…at least until their next fight!

Telerie’s write-up here is based on her stats given in the SnarfQuest d20 book, which had her as a barbarian 1/fighter 5. Here, I’ve tweaked her stats to bring her abilities closer in line to how she’s depicted in the source material.

Since the aforementioned book was published in 2002, Telerie’s stats were for D&D 3.0. Since the Eclipse rules make 3.0 and 3.5 – as well as d20 Modern, Pathfinder, and virtually every other d20-based rules system – transparent, I’ve elected to keep Telerie’s stats as being 3.0 here.

In a practical context, this basically means that she uses the 3.0 skill system, something which I think makes sense from an in-character standpoint. After all, SnarfQuest presents a low-magic, “rogues on the make”-style setting, rather than one that’s D&D-style heroic fantasy. Hence, it seems appropriate that skills haven’t reached the level of refinement there that they have in other worlds.

Available Character Points: 168 (level 6 base) + 18 (levels 1, 3, and 6 feats) + 6 (human bonus feat) + 10 (disadvantages) = 202 CP.

Telerie’s disadvantages are Broke, History (her family was ravaged by the evil wizard Gathgor), and Insane (lacks a sense of modesty, has no racial prejudices). This second disadvantage was bought off for 0 CP in the course of the SnarfQuest comic.

Ability Scores: Str 16, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 14.

Telerie’s attributes are as taken from the SnarfQuest d20 book. Tellingly, these are exactly the same ability scores that she had in her Basic D&D and AD&D 2E incarnations.

Human Traits (9 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills for one-half cost (3 CP).
  • Bonus feat (6 CP).

Basic Abilities (124 CP)

  • Light armor proficiency (3 CP) and proficiency with all simple and martial weapons (9 CP).
  • 1d12 Hit Dice at 1st level (8 CP) and 5d10 Hit Dice thereafter (30 CP).
  • +6 Warcraft (36 CP).
  • Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +2 (24 CP).
  • 14 skill points (14 CP).

I’m keeping fairly close to the source material with regard to Telerie’s basic abilities. This makes her a rather unoptimized character, especially since she doesn’t have much in the way of gear to shore up her weaknesses, though she’s by no means crippled.

Float Like a Butterfly (24CP)

  • Awareness (6 CP).
  • Acrobatics (6 CP).
  • Split Movement/attacking (6 CP).
  • Fortune/Reflex saves (6 CP).

Sting Like a Bee (18 CP)

  • Berserker with Odinpower and Enduring (15 CP). Telerie gains a +6 bonus to Strength, a +4 bonus to Dexterity, and a +3 bonus to Armor Class.
  • Reflex Training/Combat Reflexes variant, specialized for one-half cost/only for using Block maneuvers (3 CP).

Brawny Beauty (36 CP)

  • Augmented Bonus with the Improved and Advanced modifiers/add Strength bonus to hit points (18 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus with the Improved and Advanced modifiers/add Charisma to Armor Class; corrupted for increased effect/only while wearing light armor or no armor; specialized for double effect/only against opponents that would be attracted to her (18 CP).

In her d20 presentation, Telerie’s had 1d12 and 5d10 Hit Dice, along with her 13 Con. From this, she had 63 hit points, which means that with her Con bonus and getting the maximum result for that d12 (since she took it at 1st level), she rolled, on average, all 9’s on her other Hit Dice! That was a bit too cheesy, so I gave her that first bullet point, above, to even things out.

The second bullet point is the old “too sexy to hit” trope. Normally that’s a bit more generous than I’d be comfortable with, but given the low-magic nature of the setting, and Telerie’s unoptimized stats, she could use the boost. Note that this AC bonus does not apply against touch attacks; the same way that Dex won’t help you when you’re flat-footed, looking too attractive does not protect you from people wanting to touch you.


Windsplitter (4 lbs.), chain shirt (25 lbs.), 5 days’ trail rations (5 lbs.), backpack (2 lbs.), bedroll (5 lbs.), entertainer’s outfit (4 lbs.) – 45 lbs. total equipment.*

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 12 (d12 Hit Die; 1st level) + 27 (5d10) + 6 (Con bonus) + 18 (Str bonus) = 63 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Init: +3 (Dex bonus).
  • Alignment: Chaotic Good.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +4 (base) + 1 (Con bonus) = +5.
    • Ref: +2 (base) + 3 (Dex bonus) = +5.
    • Will: +2 (base) + 1 (Wis bonus) = +3.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) + 4 (chain shirt) + 3 (Dex bonus) + 6 (Cha bonus) = 23, touch 13, flat-footed 20 (against foes that do not find her attractive, this becomes AC 17, touch 13, flat-footed 14).
  • Attacks: +6 (BAB) + 3 (Str) + 2 (weapon’s enhancement bonus) = +11/+6 Windsplitter (1d8+5/19-20).
  • Skills: 14 (14 CP) + 9 (Int bonus) + 9 (human bonus) = 32 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Modifier Armor Check Penalty Total
Appraise 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Balance 2 ranks +3 Dex -2 +3
Climb 2 ranks +3 Str -2 +3
Diplomacy 2 ranks +2 Cha +4
Intuit Direction 2 ranks +1 Wis +3
Jump 2 ranks +3 Str -2 +3
Knowledge (geography) 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Knowledge (local) 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Knowledge (nobility and royalty) 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Listen 2 ranks +1 Wis +3
Search 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Spot 2 ranks +1 Wis +3
Swim 2 ranks +3 Str -9* -4
Tumble 2 ranks +3 Dex -2 +3
Use Rope 2 ranks +3 Dex +5
Wilderness Lore 2 ranks +1 Wis +3

*Under the 3.0 rules for the Swim skill, the normal armor check penalties are eschewed. Instead, a character takes a -1 penalty per 5 lbs. of gear carried/worn.

Windsplitter (2-point relic)

Telerie’s sword, Windsplitter, is an heirloom that has been passed down in her family for generations. A +2 longsword, it has been further enchanted to allow the wielder to fend off hostile magic. Folklore (wrongfully) credits this power to the sword’s sharpness, said to be able to split the wind itself. It’s from this that the sword takes its name, and by extension the name of Telerie’s family.

Block/arcane with the Master upgrade, both corrupted for two-thirds cost/does not function against effects that require Will saves (8 CP), as well as the Riposte and Deflections upgrades, both specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/direction of retargeting is determined randomly, this must be done – at the cost of another attack of opportunity – when successfully blocking (6 CP).

This build of Telerie largely has her focusing on avoiding blows rather than absorbing them, while still working fairly well as a melee combatant. In other words, she’s straddling the line between a striker and a tank. A not-inconsiderable part of her effectiveness comes from the the nature of the enemies she usually faces; in a more high-powered world (e.g. most Pathfinder settings), she’d likely find herself overwhelmed in fairly short order.

Of course, what’s not here is the heaping-helping of “plot immunity” that Telerie likely has. After all, when the comic’s creator personally appears in the work to ogle you, you’re probably going to make it through somehow.

Is It Wrong to Try to Stat Up Guys in an Anime?

May 31, 2015

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, then you need no reminder that I’m a fan of anime. While I’m typically willing to give any anime a chance, I’ve recently become aware that there’s a particular category of anime that I’ve been discriminating against: those that are brand new.

This wasn’t something I was doing intentionally, but rather was purely based off of practical considerations. While there are streaming services that will let you watch anime mere hours after it premieres in Japan, I don’t subscribe to any of them. Instead, I watch whatever’s available on Netflix, and occasion I’ll hunt something down online if I’m particularly interested in it.

That latter instance is how I’ve ended up watching one of the new anime of the Spring, 2015 season: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

Is It Wrong to Try to Check Out Anime with a Weird Name?

I originally heard about this anime when a friend in my weekly game group name-dropped it a few weeks ago. While I initially overlooked it due to how utterly ridiculous the title was, I forgot the old expression “there’s no such thing as bad ink.” That is, that absurd label stuck with me, until I decided that I wanted to know what the show was about just so I could put some substance to that bizarre name.

While I could have gone to Wikipedia, or any other anime-specific news site, I prefer – as a general rule – to consult primary sources when making up my mind about something. As such, I figured I’d watch an episode or two to see what the series was about (though I admit that I figured that if it wasn’t completely awful I might as well keep going, since I prefer to finish what I start).

As it turns out, I rather liked the show, to the point of watching all of the episodes that are currently available (which, as of the end of May, 2015, are nine). Moreover, it was amusing enough that I couldn’t resist giving d20 stats to the main character – using the class-less point-buy rules from Eclipse: The Codex Persona, of course – and posting them here.

Is It Wrong to Keep Using These Annoying Header Titles?

…Okay, the answer to this is clearly “yes.” As such, any further headers won’t be phrased that way.

Set in a fantasy world, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? – hereafter simply called Dungeon for ease of reference – is a fairly standard shonen adventure/harem anime. My use of the appellation “fairly standard” isn’t meant to be a knock against the series, since I’m of the opinion that innovation is overrated (at least where art and entertainment is concerned). Rather, it’s simply to note that, if you’re familiar with the style and conventions of shows of this genre, you’ll know what to expect here. The overall tenor of the show is very similar to, for example, The Familiar of Zero.

The background for the series is as follows:

Long ago, on the world of Orario, the gods became dissatisfied with living in the Heavens. Fascinated by the unending joys and struggles of the beings in the Lower World, the deities collectively decided to abandon their celestial realms and instead live among the myriad mortal races.

In doing so, the gods made a pact among themselves to seal their divine powers. Limiting themselves so as to be no greater than the mortals they now dwelt among – save only for retaining their eternal youth and vast knowledge – the deities permitted themselves to retain only a single godly ability: to grant certain mortals divine blessings.

These blessings were given only to those mortals who dedicated themselves to a particular deity, groups of which were eventually dubbed “familia.” Members of a familia had the ability to gain great power, though only if they continually pushed their limits. These powers included great martial prowess, fantastic skills, and even the ability to harness magic itself.

These blessings were given freely to those mortals who dedicated themselves to their deity, save for only a single restriction: that they be used – however sparingly or indirectly – to combat the Dungeon. The Dungeon, a massive tower that not only reached higher than the eye could see, but also pierced the earth to an unknown depth, was the source of all the world’s monsters.

Thus were “adventurers” born…

Operating off of this premise, Dungeon focuses on the goddess Hestia, who has such little name-recognition among mortals that she has a familia consisting of just a single individual. This person, a teenage boy named Bell Cranel, is the hero of the story.

Bell Cranel, level 6 adventurer

Bell Cranel

Wait, he has white hair and he’s not a villain? I was wrong: innovation abounds!

Never having known his parents, Bell Cranel was raised by his grandfather, an adventurer who continued to make periodic forays into the Dungeon despite his advanced age. Bell spent his childhood listening to stories about the incredible adventures that his grandfather had. As Bell became a teenager, his grandfather liked to tease him that the best way to find a girlfriend was to rescue a female adventurer from monsters, since doing so would earn her love in one fell swoop.

One day, Bell’s grandfather didn’t come back from the dungeon. While this was common enough for adventurers, Bell was heartbroken. Determined to carry on his grandfather’s legacy, he went to familia after familia, begging to be admitted. All of them turned him away, not wanting to babysit someone so young. Only the goddess Hestia, herself completely destitute and with no familia of her own, was willing to take Bell in.

Throwing himself into the Dungeon completely on his own with reckless abandon, it wasn’t very long before Bell bit off more than he could chew. He was almost killed by a minotaur before being saved by the beautiful female knight – and one of the world’s most famous adventurers – Aiz Wallenstein. Ironically, Bell became completely smitten with Aiz as a result of this, no longer having eyes for any other woman. He vowed right then that he’d never stop until he became Aiz’s fighting equal, since that was the only way he felt worthy of her.

Now pushing himself harder than ever, Bell doesn’t realize that his newfound drive has awoken a hidden power within him…

Available Character Points: 168 (level 6 base) + 18 (levels 1, 3, and 5 feats) + 6 (human bonus feat) + 6 (starting traits) + 10 (disadvantages) = 208 CP.

Bell’s disadvantages are Accursed (“mind down” – falls unconscious if all of his spell levels are spent), Broke (he has very little money or gear, apart from his existing weapons and armor), and History (this has only been hinted at in the show so far, but is related to his hidden abilities).

Ability Scores (25-point buy):

Ability Scores Initial Scores (Point Cost) Bonuses Total
Strength 13 (3) +2 (human) 15 (+2)
Dexterity 16 (10) 16 (+3)
Constitution 14 (5) 14 (+2)
Intelligence 11 (1) 11 (+0)
Wisdom 11 (1) +1 (4th level) 12 (+1)
Charisma 14 (5) 14 (+2)

Human Traits (13 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skill points (3 CP).
  • Bonus Feat (6 CP).
  • Humans get to pick which attribute enjoys the Pathfinder Package Deal bonus – buying off a Corruption worth (4 CP).

Given how that he receives a feat at every odd-numbered level (and “starting traits”), uses a point-buy value for his ability scores that has them default to 10, rather than 8, and gains a +2 racial bonus to an ability score for being human, it should be fairly self-evident that Bell is using the Pathfinder Package Deal.

Basic Abilities (115 CP)

  • Light armor proficiency with the Smooth modifier (6 CP). All simple and martial weapons (9 CP).
  • 1d12 (8 CP) plus 5d8 (20 CP) Hit Dice.
  • +6 BAB (36 CP).
  • Fort +5, Ref +5, Will +2 (36 CP).
  • 0 skill points (0 CP).

It should be noted the stats given in this write-up are for Bell as he appears at the end of the ninth episode of the anime, which is the most recent one aired at the time of this writing. Since the remaining episodes aren’t out yet, and I haven’t read the light novels the show is based on, subsequent revelations and developments aren’t taken into account here.

With a +6 BAB, Bell also has an iterative attack. In this case, we’re going to use an alternative rule for iterative attacks, from Bad Axe Games’ Trailblazer. Under this rule, you gain a second attack at +6 BAB as per normal. However, when making a full attack action, you do not make the first attack at your full bonus and the second attack at -5. Instead, both attacks are made at their full bonus, but with a -2 iterative attack penalty.

At +11 BAB, you do not gain any additional attacks, but rather the -2 penalty that both attacks take on a full attack action drops to -1. At +16 BAB, the penalty disappears altogether.

This alternate rule eliminates the third and fourth attacks in favor of a small penalty to the first two under the idea – which the book backs up via statistical calculation – that these last two attacks are largely useless, except in situations where you need to make as many attack rolls as possible (e.g. situations where you can only hit on a 20, or only miss on a 1). This way actually grants slightly more successful hits on average.

That said, since this is an alternate system of iterative attacks, rather than any sort of overall bonus, it doesn’t cost any CPs.

Drive to Be A Hero (18 CP)

  • Realis Phrase: Mentor with the Prodigy modifier, specialized for double effect/only works while in love with someone, corrupted for increased effect/may not be used for template or racial upgrades (12 CP).
  • Argonaut: Doubled Damage, specialized for increased effect/works in any circumstance, but must be a “critical situation” decided upon by the GM (6 CP).

These abilities are the special – indeed, unique – skills that Bell develops over the course of the series. Both are also somewhat tricky to translate into game terms.

“Realis Phrase” grants Bell additional personal development – described here as the Mentor ability with the Prodigy modifier – so long as he pushes himself because of his feelings for someone else (Aiz Wallenstein, in this case). While the corruption limitation is fairly straightforward, the specialization is rather cheesy, since it’s granting a massive XP bonus simply for being in love.

The best way to keep this in check in an actual game – presuming it’s allowed in the first place – would be to play up the relationship drama with the NPC in question. While the love doesn’t need to be requited, the character with this power is understood to be operating under the assumption that they have a chance with them. If that seems to disappear, this power should be curtailed.

Likewise, the “critical situation” that allows the use of the Argonaut power flat-out stated to be at the GM’s discretion. In the show, it’s usually presented as being when someone Bell wants to protect – or otherwise cares about – is in imminent danger of death. It should be noted that this can be applied to his magic just as easily as a melee attack.

Quick and Deadly (38 CP)

  • Bonus Attack, corrupted for two-thirds cost/may not use a shield (4 CP).
  • Reflex Training/Combat Reflexes variant (6 CP).
  • Block/melee with the Master, Riposte, and Multiple modifiers, all corrupted for two-thirds cost/requires a melee weapon (16 CP).
  • Augment Attack/+1 to hit with daggers (6 CP).
  • Defender (dodge bonus), specialized for double effect/does not work if using medium or heavy armor or shields (6 CP).

Bell is presented as a “striker” character, one who relies on a combination of speed and strategic blocking to protect him while he darts in to slice his enemies. He’s also shown, as the show progresses, to fight with a weapon in each hand.

Blessed with Falna (37 CP)

  • 4 wilder magic levels, generic spell levels variant – Charisma-based, arcane magic, spontaneous – with the components and studies limitation, corrupted for two-thirds cost/no inherent powers (8 CP).
  • 4 caster levels, specialized for one-half cost/wilder progression only (12 CP).
  • Firebolt spell (2 CP).
  • Easy metamagic theorem, specialized for one-half cost/only to use “rapid casting” (3 CP).
  • Streamline metamagic modifier, specialized for double effect/only applies to the Easy metamagic theorem (6 CP).
  • Fast metamagic modifier (6 CP).

Firebolt; school evocation [fire]; level 2; casting time 1 standard action; components V, S; range medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level); Targets special; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw special; Spell Resistance yes.

This creates a bolt of flame that strikes a single target as a ranged touch attack, doing 1d6 points of fire damage per caster level (10d6 maximum) on a successful hit. When cast, the bolt can be made to strike multiple targets, making a ranged touch attack for each one, but this reduces the damage by -1d6 per additional target. Alternately, the firebolt can be spread to affect multiple targets in a 10-foot radius, but this reduces the total damage by -2d6; doing this requires no attack roll, but the targets gain a Reflex save for ½ damage.

Within the setting, magic takes one of two forms. There’s the inherent magic that certain races have, and there’s the magic that can be used by those blessed by the gods. The latter type of magic is known as “falna.”

In the show, Bell’s potential to use falna is unlocked after he reads a grimoire, a powerful magic book that is expended – its pages turning blank – after someone reads it (akin to tome of understanding or similar magic items in Pathfinder). So far, firebolt is the only spell he knows. The spell statistics above are adapted from the blast spell in Thoth’s “Blaster” mutant template.

The above suite of abilities may seem like quite a lot for a single spell, and it is. That’s because the spell needs to accomplish three goals to represent what we see in the show:

  1. It needs to have power tied to Bell’s personal growth, rather than being stuck with a static caster level.
  2. It needs to be able to be cast multiple times, drawing from a finite pool of energy.
  3. It’s specifically noted as being cast without an incantation (though he does have to yell the spell’s name to use it). Given that this seems to be in reference to the speed of casting it, that created a bit of an issue with its casting time.

In order to solve the issue in point #3, I elected to bend the rules for the Easy metamagic modifier, and say that it allowed for “rapid casting” for a +2 spell level modifier. Rapid casting is actually a magic item modifier from The Practical Enchanter that doubles the price, but allows for the item to be used as many times as it potentially be activated in a round, rather than only being usable once per round as a strict limit.

In this case, the results are very similar. For +2 spell levels, a “rapid cast” spell can be used as an “attack action” rather than a standard action. That is, it can be cast with the same restrictions as making an attack, so a spellcaster with a +11 BAB could make a melee attack at +11 to hit, cast a “rapid cast” spell at +6 to hit, and then make a third attack at +1 to hit. Or they could cast a “rapid cast” spell as an AoO, etc. Basically, they can use a “rapid cast” spell anywhere they could make a melee attack.

With the above abilities (e.g. Streamline and Fast), Bell can apply “rapid casting” to any particular casting of a spell that he knows. Thanks to his wilder levels and Charisma bonus, he has a total of 12 spell levels that can be used to fuel castings of firebolt (with each casting costing 2 levels). As such, he can use firebolt six times a day, though the sixth time will leave him unconscious.

Combat Gear

  • Adamantine chain shirt (DR 1/–).
  • Ushiwakamaru (masterwork dagger).
  • The Hestia Knife (relic).

The chest-plate that Bell wears isn’t very detailed within the show, with Bell noting only that it’s very light and easy to move in, presumably while still offering him decent protection. As such I’ve statted it up as being akin to an adamantine chain shirt. Similarly, when Bell has the armor’s maker – who goes on about not liking magic items – forge a minotaur’s horn into a dagger for him, I’m presuming that said dagger (which is named Ushiwakamaru) doesn’t have any magical properties, unlike Bell’s other dagger…

The Hestia Knife (1 CP relic)

Forged by Hephaestus and blessed by Hestia, this dagger relic is meant only for Bell Cramel. Alive – in the sense that it reacts to his life force – the weapon grows in power along with him. For anyone else wielding it, it is simply a non-magical weapon.

  • Imbuement with the Improved, Superior, and Focused modifiers, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only functions when held by Bell Cranel (8 CP).

At Bell’s current level of ability, the Hestia Knife functions as a +1 keen spell-conductive dagger. The spell-conductive ability functions as per the conductive weapon ability, but only for spells, rather than spell-like or supernatural effects.

The Hestia Knife is a weapon that has a rather cheesy specialization and corruption combo applied to it, since they won’t affect the intended user at all. Still, this does prevent anyone else from using it effectively – for good or for ill – and even prevents it from having any appreciable resale value, as Lily found out when she stole the dagger and tried to pawn it.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 12 (d12 1st level) + 22 (5d8) + 12 (Con bonus) = 46 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Init: +3 (Dex bonus) = +3 initiative.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +5 (base) + 2 (Con bonus) = +7.
    • Ref: +5 (base) + 3 (Dex bonus) = +8.
    • Will: +2 (base) + 1 (Wis bonus) = +3.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) + 4 (adamantine chainmail) + 3 (Dex bonus) + 2 dodge (Defender) +1 (martial art) = AC 20, touch 16, flat-footed 15.
  • Attacks:
    • Single Attack: +6 (BAB) + 2 (Str bonus) +1 (Augment Attack; daggers only) +1 (martial art) = +11 Hestia Knife (1d6+3/17-20).
    • Single Attack: +6 (BAB) +2 (Str bonus) +1 (Augment Attack; daggers only) +1 (martial art) = +11 masterwork dagger (1d6+2/19-20).
    • Two-Weapon Fighting: +6 (BAB) +2 (Str bonus) +1 (Augment Attack; daggers only) +1 (martial art) -2 (iterative attack penalty) -2 (two-weapon fighting penalty) = +7/+7 Hestia Knife (1d6+3/17-20) and +7 masterwork dagger (1d6+1/19-20).
  • Skills: 0 skill points (0 CP) + 6 (human bonus) + 6 (favored class) = 12 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Modifier Class Bonus Total
Acrobatics 2 +3 Dex +3 +8
Climb 2 +2 Str +3 +7
Diplomacy 2 +2 Cha +3 +7
Martial Arts (Thousand Bees) 2 +3 +5
Perception 2 +1 Wis +3 +6
Swim 2 +2 Str +3 +7

Bell’s class skills are the six listed above, plus Craft, Disable Device, Escape Artist, Knowledge (local), Knowledge (religion), Profession, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth.

Thousand Bees (None)

What a single cut cannot do, many can; that is the mantra of the Thousand Bees fighting style. Focusing on delivering myriad blows with daggers to wear foes down over time, this martial art is the invention of Bell Cramel. It has no specific teachings yet – or even a formal name – and as such, has no requisite key ability modifier. If it becomes more widely adopted, it will eventually become a Dexterity-based martial art.

  • Requires: Weapon Focus (dagger) or similar point-buy.
  • Basic Techniques: Attack 2, Defenses 2, Power 1, Strike, Synergy (Acrobatics), Synergy (Stealth).
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Blinding Strike, Crippling, Two-Weapon Fighting, Weapon Finesse.
  • Occult Techniques: Inner Strength, Light Foot, Resist Pain, Serpent Strike.
  • Known: Attack 1, Defenses 1, Power 1.

This is representative of Bell’s training under Aiz Wallenstein. Though she only instructs him in fighting for a week, she’s shocked at how quickly he learns. Since their lessons are simply sparring, with no other instructions given, a self-developed martial art felt most appropriate.

Bell is still a long way from his goal of being able to catch up to Aiz Wallenstein. However, he is making excellent progress towards that goal, gaining power rapidly enough to become a local sensation. Moreover, he’s recently started to form a party that can support him when he enters the Dungeon, having signed contracts for the exclusive services of a “supporter” – essentially a retainer – and a skilled weapon/armorsmith.

While his recent fame has been largely beneficial – inspiring several other adventurers to push themselves harder, as well as catching the eye of several local girls – the gods have also begun to notice Bell’s status. While most are happy for Hestia’s sake, not all of them are so benevolent…

Why I’m (Not) Anti-Zebritic

April 16, 2015

I’m not very engaged with the fandom of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Given how many MLP-related posts I’ve made recently, that might sound like a rather odd (if not downright hypocritical) claim to make. However, the fact is that while I enjoy the show a lot, I simply don’t have much to do with the wider fan community that’s sprung up around it. I’ve watched some analysis videos of the series on Youtube, looked into its unofficial Pathfinder adaptation, and even read a fanfic or two, but that’s about it – and given how much fan-material is out there, that’s not very much at all.

I mention that as a caveat, in that it’s entirely possible that I’m misrepresenting the brony community with what I’m about to assert. That said, what I have seen is that the following is generally held to be a consensus viewpoint:

That Zecora, the zebra shamaness in MLP:FiM, is a character of considerable magical power.


“With nothing more than roots and sticks, I left them in awe of my tricks.”

This stance never fails to exasperate me whenever I encounter it, because it seems to run completely counter to what we actually see within the context of the show itself. However, most fans are quite forthright in holding that, while it might be more subtle and indirect than the glowing, unmistakable magic of unicorns, Zecora has magical powers that are comparable to Twilight’s (at least before she became an alicorn).

To be fair, this is a view that the show itself does seem to encourage. In the third season episode “Magic Duel,” Zecora offers to train Twilight in using magic to defeat Trixie (who has gained unparalleled magical power thanks to a cursed item), which implies that she knows more than Twilight does (e.g. you can’t train someone in something unless you possess more advanced knowledge than they do). She even says, in her usual rhyming couplet, that “when it comes to magic, it would be tragic if somepony licked me, especially Trixie.”

So the show is implying that Zecora has notable magic, and the fan community has run with the idea. But if you look at what Zecora actually does within the context of the series, she simply doesn’t have very much to show for her actions.

Let’s take a detailed look at everything we’ve seen Zecora do in the first four seasons of MLP, and see if we can quantify her abilities. Since objective measurements work best using an objective metric, we’ll default to using the d20 System, specifically the point-buy character-generation rules used in Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

Zebra Magic

Herbalism/Potion-making: One of the most common things we see Zecora do is make potions, along with various other tonics, powders, tinctures, etc. These seem to have some obviously-magical effects. In “Bridle Gossip,” she knows the herbal recipe that will reverse the effects of the Poison Joke plant on Twilight and the Mane Six. In “Luna Eclipsed,” she throws powder that makes misty shapes that put on a short play that she narrates. She makes a potion that can fix Apple Bloom’s chipped tooth in “The Cutie Pox,” as well as making a potion to help a rooster crow using a Heart’s Desire flower – a flower that Apple Bloom later steals and inadvertantly curses herself with (becoming afflicted with the eponymous cutie pox). Later in the same episode, Zecora shows up with the Seeds of Truth that are the cure for Apple Bloom’s condition.

In virtually all of these cases, the concoction that Zecora is making is clearly having some sort of magical effect, but in every instance it’s fairly obvious that the actual magic involved isn’t coming from her. Plants like Poison Joke or Heart’s Desire have their own inherent magic (which is not inconsiderable, since the former can do things like shrink Applejack down to a few inches tall!), which she’s simply utilizing via a recipe. Her “mist-play powder” is similar to how we can make fireworks form a picture, but using the magic in the ingredients to make it move. Zecora, like any classical alchemist, is simply utilizing natural resources to create the (relatively minor) effects that she wants.

In d20 terms, this is simply an application of Craft (alchemy). The proviso that only spellcasters can make alchemical items using this skill is waved due to the inherent magic of her ingredients; anyone with the proper training, spellcaster or not, would be able to accomplish this.

Her “plot-device” potion: This one is important enough to warrant its own discussion. In the fourth season premiere, Zecora whips out a potion that, when Twilight drinks it, allows her to witness events long-passed. That would seem like a stretch regarding what magical plants can do, but there’s a fairly major catch here: Zecora out-and-out admits that Twilight’s alicorn magic is needed to activate the potion.

While it’s a fairly major contrivance that Zecora would just happen to have such a potion on her, all the more so since she apparently can’t catalyze it herself, her requiring Twilight’s power here only further dilutes the idea that Zecora is using any sort of magic on her own in brewing these potions.

In d20 terms this one is a little harder to analyze, due to the collaborative nature of what went into creating it. Zecora says of this potion, “I do not dare to use it myself, the results would be tragic. It only responds to alicorn magic.” However, what the “tragic” results of using the potion herself would be are undefined – it could very well be that the “tragedy” would simply be that it went to waste.

To this end, I’d say that this one was an actual potion, in d20 terms; that would explain why Zecora needed Twilight’s help, since in that case some actual spellcasting ability would be required to complete it. In Eclipse terms, this would likely be an instance of Create Artifact, specialized for one-half cost/only for herbal or alchemical magic items. I’d also give Zecora the Enthusiast ability with the Adaption modifier, all specialized for one-half cost/only for use with Create Artifact, in conjunction with this, so that she’d be able to know a given recipe as needed. In this case, Twilight’s alicorn magic (e.g. a point of mana) was simply the last ingredient.

Her “teacup trick”: That line that Zecora says in “Magic Duel” about how it’d be tragic if somepony outperformed her with magic wasn’t tossed out idly. As she says it, she waves her hoof over an empty teacup, and as she does it’s suddenly filled with tea again.

This is apparently supposed to be indicative of her having her own magic. Personally, I found that scene to indicate anything but. This particular trick isn’t anything we haven’t seen in our own world, performed by stage magicians; it’s a feat of legerdemain, rather than eldritch prowess.

In d20 terms, this is a simple Sleight of Hand check.

Personal stability: At this point, Zecora has very few notable abilities left to analyze. We do see her balancing on her head on a pole in “Swarm of the Century,” and easily standing on a single hind leg with her eyes closed in “Magic Duel,” but both of those are simply indicative of very skilled balance. Again, people have performed comparable tricks in the real world.

From a d20 standpoint, these are just good Balance (or, if you play Pathfinder, Acrobatics) checks.

Wisdom of the Woodlands: The last ability of note for Zecora is her knowledge of magical creatures. Interestingly, while she is able to diagnose Spike’s aging in “Secret of My Excess,” she doesn’t know how to stop the para-sprites in “Swarm of the Century.” Oh well, everyony fails a skill check now and then.

The d20 stats for these are self-evidently Knowledge (arcana) and/or Knowledge (nature) checks.

Skills and Stripes

Ultimately, everything Zecora does can be explained by the characteristics of the ingredients she’s using, or by personal skill. Nothing that we see of her indicates that she can control magical forces; even her potions and poultices manage to create only the most minor of effects, compared to the things that unicorns do casually (e.g. telekinetically rearranging things).

Based on the above, were I to write up Zecora with d20 statistics, I’d make her a skill-based character rather than a spellcasting one. Given that she seems to be a little older than the Mane Six, and is notably competent in her chosen area, I’d probably put her as being 2nd level (which is higher than most of the ponies we see). While she has one or two tricks of note (e.g. Create Artifact), that’s all they are: tricks. She’s familiar with, and knows how to utilize, the magic that can be found in nature, but that’s not the same as actually having magic herself.

Of course, Equestria is a land where friendship itself can manifest as magical rainbows of intense power, so maybe the new season will prove me wrong.

Further Musing on Celestial Aspirations

February 28, 2015

An interesting point came up lately on the forums for Ponyfinder – the unofficial Pathfinder adaptation of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

I had started a thread questioning a trend that I’d been noticing recently, that being the presumption that if Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were to be translated into d20-based statistics – such as for Pathfinder or D&D 3.5 – then they would be deities. Naturally, I disagreed with this line of thought.

My central point was that any such translation should focus solely on generating mechanics for the powers that we actually witness Princess Celestia using, discarding presumptions regarding what powers we think she might have or ought to have. In that regard, the vast majority of her abilities can be reconstructed fairly easily (albeit using Eclipse: The Codex Persona) without having to go anywhere near divine-level statistics.

The one ability she possesses that isn’t so easily relegated to low-level game statistics is also her central power – the ability to move the sun. However, this problem was one that solved itself; the second season episode “Hearth’s Warming Eve” stated outright that before Celestia and Luna rose to power, the tribe of unicorns collectively accomplished this feat on their own. Since this was apparently something that ordinary unicorns could accomplish, albeit as a group, then it couldn’t have been too difficult to do; certainly not so difficult that only a god could pull it off. Hence, I rated that ability as being similarly low-level.

What that thread brought to my attention, however, was that there was additional information that I wasn’t aware of…

The Journal of the Two Sisters

The Journal of the Two Sisters is the book that Twilight Sparkle finds in the fourth season episode “Castle Mane-ia.” An old diary – apparently (and rather oddly) kept by Celestia and Luna together – we never actually learn anything specific about what’s in it over the course of the episode.

What I didn’t know was that the Journal has also been turned into an actual publication. While it has some entries from the Mane Six during the events of season four, the bulk of it tells the story of how Celestia and Luna overcame various trials when they were young and eventually became the rulers of Equestria. In the course of doing so, it also provides some further revelations about how the sun and the moon were moved before the alicorn sisters took over those jobs.

While I don’t own the book and haven’t read it, a combination of spoiler-filled reviews on its page and its entry on TVTropes describe the bulk of its contents in some detail, including the section that’s relevant to our discussion here. To summarize:

One day, Celestia and Luna awoke to a darkened sky, with no sun and no moon or stars to lighten it. When they went to the unicorn tribe to ask why they had left the sky empty, they learned the grim secret that the unicorns had been keeping: that maintaining the cycle of day and night had cost them their magic.

Raising and lowering the sun and the moon each day was a job that required six unicorns working together. Even with their combined strength, however, the task was an incredibly arduous one, so much so that after a time the strain would become too great and the unicorns would permanently lose their ability to use magic. Once that happened, there was nothing that could be done except to have a new team of unicorns take over, doomed to eventually suffer the same fate.

While the unicorns had long borne this burden for the greater good, their sacrifices had finally caught up to them. All of the unicorns – save only for the wizard Star-Swirl the Bearded, whose unmatched magical powers had never been depleted despite his being a constant participant in the ritual – had lost their magic, leaving none to begin the day.

In desperation, Star-Swirl attempted to raise the sun on his own, hoping that his vast magical power would let him shoulder the burden for the depleted unicorns. For all of his strength, though, Star-Swirl succeeded only in pushing himself beyond his limits, not only causing him to finally lose his magic, but to prematurely age as well.

With no options left, Celestia and Luna tried to raise the sun and the moon by themselves. Miraculously, their nature as alicorns let them succeed where all others had failed – not only were they able to raise the heavens, but they realized that it had always been their destiny to do so, gaining their cutie marks in the process. The infusion of power was so great that they were able to restore magic to all of the unicorns.

It was the beginning of their reign, and the end of the beginning for the land of Equestria.

Given the information relayed in the Journal – to say nothing of the fact that it’s written by Amy Keating Rogers, who is a writer for the show itself – doesn’t that mean that I’d need to reevaluate the idea that raising and lowering the sun and the moon aren’t a big deal insofar as charting Celestia’s power is concerned? Shouldn’t she have a power-up, possibly one of considerable magnitude, in light of this information?

Having thought it over, the answer that I’ve come to is “no.”

 Magical Logic

The major problem with the story described above is that the scenario it presents – that moving the sun and the moon is so difficult for the unicorns that doing it for too long erodes their ability to use magic – fails to pass any kind of logical consideration. To put it another way, the problem that it has Celestia and Luna solve makes no sense, since it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

The reason the six unicorns that move the sun and the moon eventually lose their magic is due to the strain that this places on them. In other words, it’s the magical equivalent of pulling a muscle, over and over, until that muscle is completely shredded. Between that, and that six unicorns can perform a task that none of them can do alone, this makes it clear that the task of moving the sun and the moon is simply a matter of applying enough magical force to get the job done. In light of that, consider the following questions:

  1. Why does the group that moves the sun and the moon only consist of six unicorns? Why not sixteen unicorns? Or sixty? Or six hundred? In other words, why not increase the number of unicorns performing this job at any given time, so that the strain on each individual member is reduced, ideally to the point where they’re not inflicting serious harm on themselves?
  2. Even if you don’t increase the number of unicorns in the group, why have them keep doing it until they’ve sustained permanent injury? They’re said to lose their magic “over time” due to the strain; why don’t they swap in a new group when the old one starts to get tired, before they’ve pushed themselves so hard that they’ll never recover? Surely rest (and whatever the magical version is of physical therapy) would mean that the previous team would eventually be able to step back in at some point, allowing the burden could be perpetually passed around.

These poke some serious holes in the narrative described above, to the point where the entire premise is seriously compromised. It’s hard to believe that for their entire history, the unicorns didn’t consider either of the issues listed above.

(It’s also difficult to presume that the unicorns were able to keep this a secret. Even if we interpret that to mean that it was a secret from the earth ponies and pegasi – and that all unicorns knew about it – that’s still very hard to believe. As a rule, the more people who know a secret, the harder it is to keep; eventually somebody is going to let it slip, whether due to carelessness, ideological reasons (“you can’t suppress the truth!”), or simply being terrible at hiding things.

It’s not like the tribes were ever really all that isolated, either – the unicorns received all of their food from the earth ponies, and unicorn lands would still need to have weather, which is generated by the pegasi. Even if the tribes were insular and suspicious of each other, there was likely a not-inconsiderable amount of contact between them. That’s all the more reason why somepony should have hit upon the two points listed above – that these solutions were never thought of by anypony is inconceivable.)

“Official” vs. “Canon”

The points raised above make for compelling in-narrative reasons for discounting what we’re told in the Journal. But there’s also a meta-contextual reason that needs to be considered. After all, not only is the book written by one of the show’s own writers – albeit one who usually works on comedy and slice-of-life episodes, rather than adventure or world-building episodes – but the book’s own subtitle says that it’s official. Given that, don’t we have to take what it says to be true, regardless of how illogical it seems?

Again, I find the answer here to be “no.” That’s because there’s a difference between something that’s official, and something that’s canon.

The latter term is something of a loaded one, at least where fandom is concerned, as its definition often depends on whom you’re talking to. Insofar as this discussion is concerned, I’m using “canon” to mean “any information which is definitively held to be part of a given body of fiction, such as a narrative or setting.”

The operative part of this definition is the use of the word “definitively.” This means that, in order to be canon, any such information must be sanctioned by the authority that governs that body of fiction. Now, there are often disagreements over just whom that authority actually is  – should it be the original creator (Lauren Faust, in this case), the people working on it currently (e.g. the show’s writers, even if they state something in a tweet or a blog post without any oversight or approval from their company), or the corporate body that owns the intellectual property rights (e.g. Hasbro)? In this case, we’re going to adopt the latter view. At the end of the day, the intellectual property owners have final say over what is and is not part of the series they own.

So how does any of that speak to a difference between something that’s official and something that’s canon? Because, while all canon materials are official, not all official materials are canon. For something to be “official” means that the authority of that material has formally sanctioned its creation, which is not the same thing as acknowledging that it’s part of the wider body of lore.

That may sound like a completely technical distinction – one that’s too miniscule to take seriously – but in fact this principle is widely understood, even if it’s rarely formally recognized. Consider, for example, Darth Vader’s battle against the Energizer Bunny.

This is clearly official; Lucasfilm Ltd. gave permission to the Energizer Holdings company to use their character in this commercial. But not even the most diehard Star Wars fan would argue that what we see in the commercial is canon.

Where Friendship is Magic is concerned, the best example of this sort of thing is found in the comic books. While officially licensed to IDW by Hasbro, the comics contain contradictions that make them non-canon (e.g. the assertion that Twilight’s mother writes the “Daring Do” novels, which flies in the face of what we see in the fourth episode of the fourth season).

Contradiction in Terms

The above issue with the comics also points out the final reason not to consider the Journal to be a canon resource: it has a few points that contradict the source material. Since the source material is the standard by which canonity is held against, this further undermines the Journal as an authoritative source.

Going by what’s on the book’s TVTropes page, the contradictory points are:

  • Luna writes about having “fun” in the Journal, despite saying in the second season episode “Luna Eclipsed” that she wasn’t familiar with the term.
  • The characteristics assigned to Celestia and Luna in the Journal are aspects of the Elements of Harmony. However, these differ from the Elements that we see each sister using during the flashback sequence in the fourth season episode “Princess Twilight Sparkle – Part 2.”

Cantering to a Conclusion

It’s for these reasons – the illogical nature of its premise, the lack of narrative significance in its “official” status, and the contradictory elements that it contains – that I don’t think that The Journal of the Two Sisters is a reliable resource to draw upon when trying to objectively measure Princess Celestia’s powers.

While it may very well be an entertaining book, it serves to highlight one of the principle points of research: that secondary sources, especially when they venture outside of what’s established by primary resources, should be subject to heightened critical scrutiny.

Because as we all know, candy-colored ponies – and their D&D statistics – are very serious business.

Queen of the Ponies

February 22, 2015

Recently, I wrote up AD&D Second Edition stats (using The Primal Order) for Lashtada, a minor goddess from the world of Everglow, the campaign setting for Ponyfinder. In that entry, I mentioned how the tribe that worshipped Lashtada was wiped out as an indirect result of the actions of Queen Iliana, who was fighting to establish an empire.

In an amusing irony, at roughly the same time I was writing Lashtada up, the author of the Ponyfinder Campaign Setting was also drawing up Pathfinder stats for Iliana. While the original post can be found over here, I’m going to go ahead and copy them below (with some minor changes to the formatting) for ease of reference. (Items with an asterisk (*) denote materials from the Ponyfinder Campaign Setting.)

Queen Iliana
Pony sorcerer 20
NG Medium fey (ponykind)
Init +1 (Dex); Senses blindsense 60 ft., darkvision 120 ft., low-light vision; Perception +5
AC 16, touch 11, flat-footed 15 (+5 armor, +1 Dex)
hp 206 (20d6+124)
Fort +16, Ref +11, Will +21; +2 vs. poison, spells, and spell-like abilities
DR 10/cold iron; SR 18
Speed 40 ft.
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 20th; concentration +33)
Sorcerer Spell-Like Abilities (CL 20th; concentration +33)
2/day—unseen servant
14/day – force ray
Sorcerer Spells Known (CL 20th; concentration +33)
9th (7/day)—mass hold monster (DC 40), overwhelming presence, teleportation circle, time stop, wish
8th (7/day)—binding (DC 34), irresistible dance (DC 34), maze, mind blank, sunburst (DC 29)
7th (8/day)—banishment (DC 28), lesser create demiplane, ethereal jaunt, plane shift (DC 28)
6th (8/day)—cloak of dreams (DC 32), contingency, greater dispel magic, geas/quest, mass suggestion (DC 32)
5th (8/day)—baleful polymorph (DC 26), break enchantment, mind fog (DC 31), symbol of sleep (DC 31), teleport
4th (8/day)—detect scrying, dimension door, enchantment foil, scrying (DC 25), symbol of laughter (DC 30)
3rd (9/day)—dispel magic, haste, magic circle against evil, nondetection, pegasus blessing*, tongues
2nd (9/day)—alter self, arcane lock, disguise other, glitterdust (DC 23), hideous laughter (DC 28), invisibility
1st (9/day)—alter winds (DC 22), beguiling gift (DC 27), charm person (DC 27), feather fall, identify, silent image (DC 22)
0 (at will)—arcane mark, dancing lights, detect magic, detect poison, mage hand, mending, message, prestidigitation, read magic
Bloodline Unification*
Str 8, Dex 12, Con 22, Int 16, Wis 21, Cha 32
Base Atk +10; CMB +9; CMD 20 (24 vs. trip)
Feats Advanced Horn Magic*, Combat Casting, Endurance, Eschew Materials, Focused Horn Magic (enchantment)*, Greater Spell Focus (enchantment), Greater Spell Penetration, Leadership, Master Horn Magic*, Practiced Horn Magic*, Quicken Spell, Silent Spell, Spell Focus (enchantment), Spell Penetration, Spell Perfection (overwhelming presence), Still Horn Magic*
Traits classically schooled, day greeter*
Skills Acrobatics +1 (+5 to jump), Bluff +24 (+26 with all Fey creatures), Diplomacy +40 (+42 with all Fey creatures), Fly +7, Intimidate +16 (+18 with all Fey creatures), Knowledge (arcana) +16, Knowledge (geography) +9, Knowledge (local) +9, Knowledge (nature) +9, Knowledge (nobility) +9, Sense Motive +10 (+12 with all Fey creatures), Spellcraft +27, Use Magic Device +34
Languages Common, Sylvan
SQ ancestry (horn), ancestry (wings), earth-bound, fey monarch, fingerless, magic focus (enchantment), new arcana, unique destiny
Combat Gear robe of the archmagi (white); Other Gear +1 silken ceremonial armor, belt of mighty constitution +6, cloak of the diplomat, eyes of the dragon, handy haversack, headband of mental prowess +6 (Wis, Cha), page of spell knowledge (wish), queen’s slippers*, ring of freedom of movement, ring of inner fortitude (greater), tunic of careful casting, 174,290 gp.
Special Abilities
Ancestry (Horn) (Sp) You grow a unicorn horn from your head, allowing you to use unseen servant as a spell-like ability 2/day.
Ancestry (Wings) (Su) You gain feathered wings that, when activated, grant a base flight speed of 30 ft. (clumsy). At sorcerer level 20, the flight ability becomes permanent and activated at will.
Earth-Bound Gain a +2 racial bonus to saves vs Poison, Spells and Spell-Like effects, Endurance as a bonus feat.
Fey Monarch (Su) At 20th level, you become a mortal ruler of fey creatures. You gain DR 10/Cold Iron and a +2 bonus to Diplomacy, Sense Motive, Intimidate, and Bluff checks with fey creatures. Any aging penalties you had are removed and you cease to accrue new ones.
Fingerless Ponies and many other races of Everglow can manipulate any one-handed item with their mouths, despite their lack of fingers. Hand and ring slot items automatically adjust to fit, becoming anklets that otherwise function normally.
Force Ray (Sp) Ranged touch attack for 1d4+10 damage, 14/day.
Magic Focus (Ex) At 15th level, you gain +2 to the save DCs of the magic school of your choice. This stacks with Spell Focus, Greater Spell Focus, and Focused Horn Magic.
New Arcana (Ex) Add a spell to your spells known at 9th, 13th, and 17th levels.
Unique Destiny Gain a bonus feat at 1st level.

Purely for the fun of doing so, I’m going to take the above stats and recreate them using the d20 point-buy rules from Eclipse: The Codex Persona. There’s no real need to do so, since Eclipse is completely compatible with Pathfinder (and virtually all other d20-based games), but doing so helps to break down how optimized her character is.

Since this is a conversion of a Pathfinder sorcerer, we’ll go ahead and take our cues from Thoth’s article on that topic, making modifications as necessary.

Everglow Earth Pony (32 CP/+1 ECL race)

  • Privilege/treated as fey versus type-based effects (3 CP).
  • Attribute Shift/-2 Dex, +2 Wis (6 CP).
  • Occult Sense/low-light vision (6 CP).
  • +2 to saves vs. poison (3 CP).
  • +2 to saves vs. spells and spell-like abilities (3 CP).
  • Endurance: Immunity/environmental hazards (common/minor/minor) (4 CP).
  • Bonus feat (6 CP). Classically Schooled Trait: Skill Focus +1/Spellcraft. Day Greeter Trait: Skill Focus +1/Diplomacy and Skill Focus +1/Intimidate.
  • Speak Language/Sylvan (1 CP).
  • Being a quadruped grants +10 movement speed, +50% carrying capacity, and +4 on checks to avoid being tripped. This is balanced against minor penalties (much smaller than normal for quadrupedal creatures): their ring and hand magic item slots are combined (as anklets), and they are only considered to have a single hand for wielding/holding things – that being their mouth; this does not prevent comprehensible speech or interfere with verbal spell components (no cost).

Several notes need to be made here. The first is that Pathfinder characters that are members of this race (such as Iliana) gain an additional +2 to Constitution when using the Pathfinder Package Deal.

The second is that Iliana’s bonus feat has been spent on three 2 CP abilities: a +1 Skill Focus on three different skills. These are technically starting traits, but insofar as a point-buy system is concerned, there’s no real difference.

What’s more notable is that these traits normally also make these skills into class skills (though technically Day Greeter only makes one of them a class skill). Since Eclipse characters simply pick the skills that are most associated with their character concept to be class skills (within reasonable limits), there’s no cost for this. Spending 6 CP on skill points in a given skill makes it into a class skill anyway, so there’s no real harm there.

Available Character Points: 504 (level 20 base) + 60 (levels 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, and 19 feats) + 6 (starting traits) = 570 CP.

Basic Abilities (153 CP)

  • Proficient with all simple weapons (3 CP).
  • 20d4 Hit Dice (0 CP).
  • Self-Development/Constitution, only for hit points (x2) (12 CP).
  • +10 BAB (60 CP).
  • Fort +6, Ref +6, Will +12 (72 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/only for skills (6 CP).

Since Pathfinder sorcerers received a not-inconsiderable upgrade from their 3.5 counterparts (in the form of their bloodline abilities), we need to make up for those points elsewhere, hence the use of Self-Development and Fast Learner here.

Spellcasting (328 CP)

  • 20 caster levels, specialized in sorcerer progression for one-half cost (60 CP).
  • 20 levels sorcerer magic progression (260 CP).
  • Shaping, specialized for increased effect/only works for her limited list of level 0 sorcerer spells, corrupted for two-thirds cost/must be free to gesture and speak (4 CP).
  • Eschew Materials: Easy metamagic theorem with Streamline, both specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only for eliminating the need for material components costing 1 gp or less, only for sorcerer spells (4 CP).

Unification Bloodline (71 CP, specialized for one-half cost; 35 CP total)

  • Path/Unification spells (6 CP).
  • Combat Casting: Skill Emphasis (x2)/+4 Concentration (6 CP).
  • Leadership (6 CP).
  • Buy off the specialization for the Easy metamagic theorem (2 CP).
  • Immunity to the distinction between creature types (uncommon/minor/legendary), specialized for one-half cost/only for the fey type, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only with regards to spells and spell-like abilities (4 CP).
  • Upgrade the Shaping ability’s corruption, making it have triple effect to allow the additional use of a single, slightly more powerful, effect – in this case a force bolt (1d6 + ½-level damage, 30 ft. ranged touch attack, 3 + Cha Mod uses per day) (2 CP).
  • Celerity with the Additional modifier/30 ft. flight, corrupted for two-thirds cost/”clumsy” maneuverability (12 CP).
  • Occult Talent, specialized for increased effect/only gains a single 1st-level and 0-level spell slot; may use the 1st-level slot 2/day, and the 0-level slot 3/day (6 CP).
  • 3 additional sorcerer spells known (6 CP).
  • Ability Focus +2/enchantment (6 CP).
  • Damage reduction 5, specialized for double effect/only for physical damage, corrupted for two-thirds cost/bypassed by cold iron weapons (8 CP).
  • Skill Emphasis (x4)/Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Sense Motive, all specialized for one-half cost/only versus fey creatures (6 CP).
  • Immunity to aging (uncommon/minor/trivial)/you do not take penalties for aging (1 CP).

Since they’re being taken as a thematic package of abilities, the entire bloodline can be specialized for one-half cost, as mentioned in the header for these powers. In this case, the specialization is that they unambiguously mark her as having unnatural powers, give her notable physical mutations, and clearly denote her destiny to others.

Special Abilities (50 CP)

  • Practiced Horn Magic and Advanced Horn Magic: Extra Limbs/arms, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/psychic construct, serves only to wield weapons or shields (2 CP).
  • Spell Focus, Greater Spell Focus, and Focused Horn Magic: Ability Focus/enchantment school, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for +3 bonus (8 CP). Persistent metamagic theorem, specialized for one-half cost/only for enchantment spells (3 CP) with the Glory modifier, specialized for one-half cost/only once per day, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for personal-range spells (2 CP).
  • Master Horn Magic: Inherent Spell with one Advanced upgrade, both specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (6 CP); another use of Advanced (telekinesis) with +1 Bonus Uses (8 CP).
  • Still Horn Magic: Change specialization on Streamline from one-half cost to double effect/only for eliminating the need for material components costing 1 gp or less and eliminating somatic components (2 CP).
  • Spell Perfection: Improved Glory, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only when using a particular spell (4 CP). Augmented Magic +3, specialized for increased effect, may be applied to any numerical aspect of a spell/only applies when increasing an existing bonus gained from another ability (9 CP).
  • Spell Penetration and Greater Spell Penetration: Immunity to spell resistance (common/major/minor) – grants a +4 bonus to overcome SR (6 CP).

Altogether, this costs 566 CP out of Iliana’s 570 CP allotment. That’s shocking for how on-target it is; her build is using virtually all of the points that are granted to it.

Given that, it wouldn’t seem like there’s much that we can do to tighten her stat block up under the point-buy rules we’re using. Perhaps surprisingly though, there are. Primarily by way of earning extra character points via introducing various drawbacks into her character – or, more correctly, quantifying the drawbacks that are already part of her character.

Iliana Unleashed

The first thing we’ll do is add a Restriction to her character build/may not wear armor, for an extra 20 CP. This forces her to give up her +1 silken ceremonial armor, but that’s no great loss; it only granted her a +2 armor bonus, which was completely overwritten by the +5 armor bonus from her white robe of the archmagi anyway (and it frees up 1,180 gp as a nice little bonus).

Having also had to administrate a movement, that grew into an army, that eventually became a great empire, we’ll also say that she has Duties to fulfill, and so has earned an additional 2 CP per level, for an extra 40 CP now.

Duties are typically thought of as being a burden that’s only for PCs, rather than NPCs. In fact, duties can restrict an NPC also. Having this means that Iliana often won’t be available when PCs want to meet with her, and so they’ll have to deal with somepony else. It also limits her ability to act – in many cases, she won’t be able to simply show up and “fix it” when things go bad. To put it another way, having duties means that her “screen time” is far more limited than it would otherwise be.

Finally, we’ll give her some Disadvantages, specifically History (she’s waged several wars to unify her empire, including one of near-genocide against the Tribe of Bones) and Hunted (survivors of vanquished tribes, political dissidents, and scheming nobles all want her gone). Together, these are worth 6 CP.

We’re also going to corrupt her BAB for two-thirds cost/does not grant iterative attacks. Given that full-progression spellcasters virtually never take a full attack action – using their BAB only for when they cast touch or ranged touch spells – there’s no reason not to do this, particularly when it grants her an extra 20 CP.

Along with her unspent 4 CP from her original build, these collectively grant her an additional 90 Character Points. Quite a lot! So what can we spend these on? I’d personally buy the following abilities, which I’ve also grouped into thematic packages:

Corona of Life (40 CP)

  • Costly with the Improved modifier, specialized for increased effect/only affects necromantic spells and effects; functions against all types of magic (24 CP).
  • Grant of Aid with the Mighty and double Regenerative modifiers (15 CP).
  • Upgrade her Immunity to aging from trivial to minor (1 CP).

After her early battles against the Tribe of Bones’ necromancers came very close to slaying her, Iliana worked with clerics of the Sun Queen to ward herself against negative energy. This not only made it difficult for necromancy to affect her, but allowed her to heal herself should she be injured, and even extended her lifespan.

Enchantress Nonpareil (14 CP)

  • Mastery/may take 10 even when threatened on caster level checks to beat spell resistance, concentration checks, Bluff, Diplomacy, Fly, Intimidate, Sense Motive, Spellcraft, and Use Magic Device (6 CP).
  • Occult Ritual (6 CP).
  • Buy one additional sorcerer spell known (wish) (2 CP).

Iliana’s Occult Ritual ability is how she can perform powers above and beyond typical spellcasting, such as causing the very earth to bury the home of the defeated Tribe of Bones. Likewise, buying her an additional spell known removes the need for her page of spell knowledge, and frees up 81,000 gp.

Veteran Campaigner (9 CP)

  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for saving throws (6 CP).
  • Defender/dodge bonus, specialized for one-half cost/does not apply when wearing armor or using a shield (3 CP).

Five times per day, Iliana can choose to forgo making a saving throw to treat it as though she’d rolled a 20, or may re-roll a failed save. She also gains a +4 dodge bonus to AC so long as she doesn’t wear armor or carry a shield (which she never does anyway), helping to bump up her otherwise-abysmal Armor Class.

Founder of the Empire (27 CP)

  • Major Privilege/Queen of the Pony Empire (6 CP).
  • Superior Improved Reputation/Iliana gains a +13 bonus on social skill checks towards those who look favorably on the Empire; however, this becomes a -13 penalty on social skill checks towards those who do not (12 CP).
  • Sanctum with Occult Wards (9 CP).

The first two bullet points largely pay for the social advantages she’d be expected to have as queen of a vast empire. The last bullet point requires some further detail, given below.

Iliana’s Sanctum

After a failed rebellion forced her from Viljatown, her capital city, Iliana has kept her distance from the populace. She resides in a small estate to the north, allowing only her most loyal servants and retainers to attend to her. This estate has numerous wards (treat as non-lethal magical traps of CR 10 and lower) to keep unwanted visitors away.

Unwilling to make the same mistake a second time, Iliana has enchanted her estate heavily. It now acts as a nexus of arcane might for her and her followers. While within it, she gains the following benefits:

A note should be made regarding Iliana’s gear. As a major NPC, Iliana should be treated as having PC-level wealth. That gives her a grand total of 880,000 gp to work with. Her original write-up gave her 568,180 gp in magic items, along with 174,290 gp on hand (on hoof?), for a total of 742,470 gp.

That’s 137,530 gp unaccounted for, or a little over one-eighth of her total gear value. Further, as previously mentioned, we freed up 82,180 by removing her +1 silken ceremonial armor and her page of spell knowledge. Finally, let’s go ahead and liquidate 150,000 gp from the aforementioned 174,290 that she has, since there’s no real reason to keep that much money around.

Altogether, that gives us an additional 369,710 gp to work with in outfitting her. Not coincidentally, the benefits of Siddhisyoga that she gains in her sanctum cost exactly 369,000 gp (remember that Siddhisyoga with the Efficient modifier means that the total value of each magic item costs 1.5x its market price). So she can keep the 710 gp left over, giving her “only” 25,000 gp to carry around.

Looking at these various changes and alterations, we can get a better sense of Iliana’s character. We’ve quantified the various drawbacks that she has to deal with, and in turn spent the points from them on various abilities that serve to highlight her history, personality, and current situation. This all serves to underscore the position that she’s in as she tries to maintain the empire that she fought so hard to build.

Of course, as the Ponyfinder Campaign Setting describes, even a queen can only do so much for so long…

The Other Gandalf

February 8, 2015

According to what I’ve read, the etymology for Tolkien’s famous wizard is that it comes from Old Norse. Specifically, it’s a compound of gandr, which means “wand” or “magic,” and alfr, meaning “elf.” So in other words, the name means “wand(-bearing) elf,” or more likely “magic(al) elf.” Pointy ears notwithstanding, that summarizes the character pretty well.

Of course, within the context of the anime The Familiar of Zero (“Zero no Tsukaima”), the near-identical term “gandalfr” means something quite different. Though shown to be written in runes, the name is translated as “left hand of God,” which is considerably more badass.

gandalfr runes

In fact, “badass” is the literal translation.

(In the licensed English translation, this is written as “gundolf,” most likely to avoid the attention of the litigious Tolkien estate; we’re going to quietly ignore that variant spelling here.)

While Tolkien’s Gandalf has had many, many articles written about how he’d look with RPG stats, it’s the other one – the “gandalfr” of The Familiar of Zero – that we’re going to look at here. More specifically, we’re going to determine what stats for the gandalfr would look like using the Eclipse d20 point-buy rules.

The Gandalfr Template (64 CP/+2 ECL)

The Familiar of Zero is set in an alternate world that closely resembles Renaissance-era Europe, save that magic and supernatural creatures are real. The line between the nobility and the commoners is that the former can use magic, whereas the latter cannot (though some magic-users have lost their noble status for various reasons).

One of the basic accomplishments for any student of magic is summoning and binding a familiar, which – as it is in D&D – is typically some sort of animal or semi-intelligent creature. But when Louise Valliere, known among her friends as “Zero” for her utter lack of magical talent, accidentally summons a boy named Saito Hiraga from contemporary Japan to be her familiar, she doesn’t realize that doing so has given him the status of gandalfr.

Since Saito is an ordinary boy that has the gandalfr powers bestowed upon him, rather than being something he learns on his own, we’re going to configure this as a template. The abilities he gains are as follows:

Proficiency with all weapons: The main ability of a gandalfr is instinctively knowing how to use any kind of weapon. Literally, any kind of weapon, from a sword to an anti-aircraft gun; simply touching it confers total knowledge of how to wield it and what it’s condition is.

In fact, this power has an extension that’s showcased – but never directly referenced – in the series: if the weapon is integrated into a larger system or mechanism, a gandalfr can use the rest of it as well. That’s how Saito can instinctively know how to pilot a fighter jet, since it has guns and missiles on board, even though a literal interpretation of his power wouldn’t tell him how to use things like the thrust or the ejector seat.

It’s because of that that this power transcends having purchased, in Eclipse terms, some sort of universal proficiency. Rather, it’s an immunity.

  • Immunity to non-proficiency penalties for weapons and vehicles with mounted weapons (very common/minor/major) (12 CP).

That works just fine for weapons, but it’s slightly awkward where vehicles are concerned. That’s because using complicated vehicles tends to be a skill check, and an immunity to non-proficiency penalties doesn’t help if you’re facing a skill that can’t be used untrained. Since we need this template to confer ability with regards to any vehicle with built-in weaponry, we’ll go for something a little more universal.

  • Double Enthusiast, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for vehicular skills (2 CP).

This grants the wielder of the template 2 ranks in any skill if it’s a class skill for them, or a single rank if it’s a cross-class skill (under the Pathfinder skill system, it grants 2 ranks, and they gain a further +3 bonus if it’s a class skill), ensuring that they’ll have at least some modest ability to use the vehicle in question. Of course, they won’t be able to change the skill this is assigned to for three days, but given that this was shown as being used in a fantasy world where such things were fantastically rare to begin with, that’s not really a major concern.

Skill at Arms: While the anime typically folds this into Saito’s ability to adroitly wield any weapon he holds, the d20 Sytem draws a line between proficiency with a weapon and actual skill at using it. Since Saito is a teenager – and likely right at the cusp of becoming 1st level – he almost certainly doesn’t have any Base Attack Bonus yet. However, we see him deftly defeating various trained soldiers with little problem. Ergo, we’ll add some here.

  • +5 BAB (30 CP).

Damage Dealing: Another aspect of Saito’s power as a gandalfr that’s usually demonstrated but not directly spoken about is that he’s able to deal punishing damage to powerful foes. More specifically, he’s able to harm tough enemies that would normally shrug off a sword strike. While some of this may be due to his wielding the magic sword derfflinger, we’ll go ahead and add a special ability here. Having the ability to land blows doesn’t mean much if the damage doesn’t get through, after all.

  • Augment Attack, +2d6 damage, specialized for increased effect/only to overcome damage reduction (6 CP).

The use of the term “increased effect” rather than “double effect” is to indicate that we’re not using specializing to increase the number of dice. Rather, this is to overcome the normal limits on when Augment Attack would apply (e.g. the enemy must be flanked or denied their Dex bonus; and that this damage wouldn’t apply against foes that are immune to “precision damage”).

That’s rather cheesy, to the point where I’d be very suspicious of this being used in-game. I’d likely only allow it if this ability were disallowed from buying up its damage dice…at least at low levels.

Hard to Hit: It’s remarked several times throughout the series that when Saito is fighting, he moves fast enough to make it difficult to target him. This isn’t shown to be anything like “super-speed,” so it makes more sense that it presents a hightened ability to dodge incoming blows.

That’s somewhat awkward in the d20 System, since dodging blows tends to be represented by a static Armor Class value. Moreover, for a number of effects this instead falls under the aegis of the Reflex save. As such, we’ll need to buy up both. Finally, we’ll give Saito the equivalent of the Mobility feat here, just to make it easier for a gandalfr to move around the battlefield, where they’re most useful.

  • Improved Defender +5 (dodge bonus) (30 CP).
  • +5 Reflex saves (15 CP).
  • Immunity to attacks of opportunity from movement (common/minor/major) (6 CP).

To reiterate, the last bullet point grants a +4 AC bonus against attacks of opportunity caused by moving through an opponent’s space.

Altogether, these abilities cost 101 CP, which puts this a few points into +3 ECL territory. However, we can reduced the cost based on the gandalfr’s major limitation, which comes up several times throughout the anime: that these powers only apply when wielding a weapon. More specifically, it has to be an item designed for combat, rather than being something ornamental or a normal item that’s being used in a fight (and, presumably, doesn’t apply to unarmed combat either, since Saito always needs some sort of weapon to be at his best throughout the series).

Hence, the entire package is corrupted for two-thirds cost/does not apply when only fighting with ornamental weapons, improvised weapons, natural weapons, or unarmed strikes.

That may not sound like a big deal to a d20 character, since many of them are played as essentially never taking off the gear they acquire. However, there are plenty of social situations where insisting on carrying a weapon is highly inappropriate – one does not typically meet with the king while armed, for instance. And if nothing else, it makes sunder and disarm maneuvers much greater threats in combat.

That brings the cost down to 67 CP. We’ll further lower it by -3 via adding the Accursed disadvantage: this template is removed when the wielder dies.

By itself, that may seem slightly ridiculous. After all, you’ve kind of lost everything if you’re dead. The caveat here, however, is that resurrection (or any other sort of life-restoring effect) does not return this template. If you’re brought back, you’ll need to find a separate way to become a gandalfr again.

That’s not necessarily a major obstacle – in the anime, all it took was Louise summoning and contracting Saito a second time, for example – but then, this is only a minor drawback anyway.

This brings the total cost down to 64 CP, which is a +2 ECL increase exactly.

Note that there’s no cost reduction for this template only being applied to a familiar. That’s because the effects of being a familiar (or at least a gandalfr) in The Familiar of Zero have none of the hallmarks that d20 familiars have. Indeed, most of the other familiars seen in the show don’t seem to have any notable abilities as part of their status, meaning that the characters are just taking the Companion ability with no further development (or alternately, they’re simply too low-level to have any of those effects kick in yet).

Saito, by contrast, doesn’t even seem to have that much of a connection to Louise, mystically speaking. This template notwithstanding, the only effects of his status as a familiar are purely political, and even those tend to fade away as people begin thinking of him as an adventurer and a hero.

Remembering Monty Oum

February 4, 2015

(I usually never talk about current events on this blog. I find such topics to be flash-in-the-pan, having a very short shelf-life where interest is concerned.

In this case, however, I’m compelled to break my own rule. The passing of someone for whom I had so much respect and admiration has filled me with such a sense of loss that I can’t keep it to myself; I have to let it out, and this is the best place I can think of to do so.

What follows is an expansion of a piece that I posted on some message boards earlier today. It’s my remembrance of an incredible man, taken before his time.)

By now, everyone has heard of the passing of Monty Oum.

Long-time readers of this blog will doubtlessly know who Monty was, if for no other reason that I’ve referenced his works here twice before. Looking back at these entries now, I worry that they sound too perfunctory, too matter-of-fact when discussing the incredible things that he created. Please know that that was never my intention; I simply felt that Monty’s work was of such incomparable quality – all the moreso for how much of it he did on his own – that any praise I could have offered would have been mere platitudes in comparison.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to talk about how great Monty’s work was. Rather, it’s to talk about what he meant to me personally.

I almost didn’t write this, because talking about how I felt about Monty seemed self-aggrandizing, almost narcissistic, to the point of being disrespectful. After all, this is a time to think about him, not me in relation to him.

Having given it some thought, however, I’ve come to realize that I was mistaken. When remembering someone we’ve lost, the nature of that remembrance tends to be personal, often intensely so. While we tend to lionize people for their accomplishments and their generosity, that’s not what makes us grieve when they’re no longer with us. It’s the personal connection, the sense of how we – who are still here, left behind – now keenly feel their absence.

Loss, by its very nature, is personal.

Truthfully, I’m still surprised that I feel a sense of loss, perhaps even grief, to learn of Monty’s passing. I honestly didn’t expect that I would. After all, he and I never met in person. He never knew my real name, and I doubt he would have remembered my online handle. And yet…knowing that he’s gone hurts.

While it’s one thing to intellectually realize that you can be moved by the loss of someone you never met in person, it’s another thing to actually feel it.

Earlier today, I followed a link that someone posted to a story about tributes that were being made to Monty. I got as far as this picture before I had to close the door to my office, no longer able to keep my composure, something that only grew more pronounced when I read his quote at the end of the article.

I wish that I had some better way of honoring Monty. I wish that I could draw a picture in tribute to the man. But I can’t – I have no artistic talent, in terms of art, animation, or music, whatsoever. All I have is some modest skill at writing, and that doesn’t seem like enough.

It’s funny now, in a morbid way; last Sunday night, before I heard about Monty’s passing, I had tentatively decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time – now, knowing that he’s gone, and his family’s statement that the best way to remember him is to do something creative, that decision seems much more poignant, and important. It’s very little, but I feel like I owe him that much.

My saying that I owe him is not a turn of phrase. While I know that he made his work for everyone to enjoy, as well as for the sheer joy of creating it, it still spoke to me personally. It spoke to me because just knowing that someone was out there, making stuff that I enjoyed so much and asking for nothing in return, brought light into my life. That has value that cannot be measured – all the more so for the fact that I first discovered his works during a time when I was very depressed and struggling with anxiety about my future.

I can’t repay that debt, but I want to try.

I once corresponded with Monty. It wasn’t very much – a single email response to my having emailed him back in July, 2008, along with a donation as a belated birthday gift (I also donated to him the following year, though we didn’t converse then).

I had been posting on his DeviantArt page for some time at that point, in a series of fan-articles that critiqued and analyzed his Dead Fantasy series that I called “Dead Fantasizing.” I was also pushing for a change to one of his not-officially-announced plans for a future episode of the series. (All of these posts can still be found as comments on his page, though it’d require going back through years of posts by everyone.)

Monty had recently posted this image on his DA page (it’s since been removed, as he had some trouble with DA several years ago – the link is to where I’ve since reposted it). To make a long story short – the picture very clearly implied that Kairi’s episode would have her face Sonia, whom was clearly meant to be the character in the background-left (Ninja Gaiden II for the Xbox was just about to come out when he made that picture).

I had seen enough of the game to urge Monty to dump Sonia as a character, and instead go with Momiji (from Ninja Gaiden DS – she’d later appear in other games as well).

The point is, I was very pleasantly surprised when Monty emailed me back. He was very kind and casual, explaining that not only did he read the articles I’d been writing, but also took the time to explain some of the technical critiques I’d made of the series. He also expressed agreement with the idea that Sonia wasn’t a good character, and that Momiji was a better fit. While it’s likely that he would have made the change on his own, I sometimes like to think that I was his inspiration for why he has Momiji fighting in the unfinished Dead Fantasy VI episode that he unveiled a few years back.

I re-read that email last night…and it really rings true just what an incredible guy Monty was. He was eager to reassure me that he did enjoy feedback, even if he didn’t always respond, that he appreciated critical analysis and didn’t mind explaining his decisions, and even just shooting ideas back and forth with someone who enjoyed his work.

He took the time to write to me, just one fan out of so many, and that meant something to me. It still means something to me.

To me, Monty Oum was a star, letting his light shine for anyone and everyone who cared to look at it. And like a star, that light – that inspiration that his creativity and generosity encouraged in myself and so many others – continues to travel forward even after the star itself has gone out.

Goodbye Monty, and thank you for all that you gave.

Hearts and Hooves

January 31, 2015

I’ve been feeling somewhat nostalgic lately…

Like many tabletop gamers, my introduction to RPGs came from Dungeons & Dragons. More specifically, I came to the game with Basic D&D, using the black “board game” starter set, before transitioning to the Rules Cyclopedia.

From there, I eventually made the jump to AD&D 2nd Edition, and in many ways I never really moved on from there. I say that fondly, as I consider 2E to have been the game’s high point when it comes to setting development. Never before nor since has D&D made so many worlds, or developed them so richly (the closest we’ve seen since then is Eberron in Third Edition).

Of course, Second Edition’s mechanics were far less cohesive than those of the subsequent Third Edition. Still, even that was inspirational in a way; less structure meant more freedom in what was presented, and there were some truly inspirational – and bizarre – things to be found across the spectrum of 2E products.

Unfortunately, none of those things included statistics for deities, something which always bothered me. I’ve always looked askance on the idea that statistics for gods are somehow inherently “unbalanced” in D&D, mostly because nobody can seem to come to a consensus what “balance” means anyway (let alone find a way to measure it). Likewise, cries of “but that promotes munchkin-levels of optimization!” are also poor excuses to me – the min-maxers are going to do what they do, regardless of what they have to draw upon.

It also seemed particularly unfair, given that every other edition of D&D has stats for gods. After all, Basic has its Immortals, First Edition and Third Edition have their respective Deities and Demigods books (which are basically divine monster supplements), and even Fourth Edition had stat blocks for gods in various supplements and adventures. Only in Second Edition were we told “gods are beyond stats. Sorry.”

The irony was that, it would be well into the life of Third Edition before I found out that a third-party company named Wizards of the Coast put out a sourcebook designed specifically to address this very deficiency: The Primal Order.

Presenting a universal set of rules with appendices covering their specific implementation in well over a dozen different RPGs – something they called the “capstone system” – The Primal Order remains one of the best (if not the very best) book about how to make gods a natural, tightly-integrated part of your campaign. The insights it presents, and the rules that back them up, are required reading for any GM that wants to make their deities be active, dynamic facets of the game world.

Once I found out about this book, I had to acquire it. Having picked up a used copy of the first printing (the book has since become available for download and print-on-demand, but that’s only for the second printing, which excised the D&D materials) early last year – as well as all three supplements – I’m able to create stats for gods using the AD&D Second Edition rules at last. They may not be “official,” but for me they’re close enough.

As such, since I’ve recently given myself permission to post non-Pathfinder-related RPG materials here, I’ve decided that this post will have AD&D 2E stats for a Primal Order-style deity.

Riding in On a Pink Horse

…which brings us to the ponies (apparently I can’t seem to stop referencing this topic).

Though I haven’t mentioned it since I first started making pony-related posts, there’s a(n unofficial) pony sourcebook for Pathfinder called Ponyfinder, released by Silver Games. Even considering my burnout on Pathfinder supplements, I’m quite fond of Ponyfinder, since I find it fascinating how it takes a more grownup view of what ponies would be like if they were from a world with Pathfinder-based monsters and magic.

Moreover, Silver Games hasn’t sat idle since releasing the campaign setting. Several mini-releases have followed, the latest one being Forgotten Gods of Everglow, detailing two “new” deities for the game world.

As such, this struck me as the perfect opportunity to back-convert one of the deities here and give them AD&D 2E/TPO statistics. As such, allow me to present my own version of:

Lashtada, Goddess of Love

On the young world of Everglow, a particular tribe of ponies were the primary worshippers of Lashtada, the goddess of romantic love. While her status as the patron deity of a particular society guaranteed her a stable body of followers, her lack of cross-cultural recognition ultimately proved to be her undoing.

When Queen Iliana formed her great Empire, it was built on several wars that served to unify – or conquer, depending on whom you asked – the diverse pony tribes. Turning her attention to the minor tribe of Lashtada-worshippers, Iliana offered them a place among the ponies of the Empire. Uncomfortable with how she had used strong-arming rather than kind feelings to bring the ponies together, the tribe rebuffed her offer, though they feared the worst in doing so.

Their fears came true, but not in the way that they expected. Tired of war, the Queen surprised many by respecting the tribe’s wishes, leaving them to their own devices without any imperial oversight…or protection.

Iliana’s wars had not only reshaped the structure of pony society on Everglow, but had the secondary effect of taming the wilds, pushing back the primitive humanoids that had theretofore roamed freely. Forced to look elsewhere for prey, gnoll raiders thus caught the Lashtadans completely unaware, wiping out their society virtually overnight.

With her primary worshippers eradicated, Lashtada’s religion quickly faded away completely, and today the Goddess of Love is all but forgotten, with the dark goddess Kara incorporating love into her portfolio of seduction and manipulation. However, things may be about to change…

Lashtada, demigod C20/B10; AC 6 (-4 Dex); MV 9; hp 78; THAC0 8; #AT 1; Dmg 1d2 (hoof); SA primal powers; SD primal powers, immortality; MR 30%; SZ S (3’ tall); ML 14; AL N.

Detect Noise 65%; Hide in Shadows 45%; Move Silently 35%; Read Languages 40%.

Saving Throws: PPD 1; RSW 4; PP 3; BW 6; S 5.

Attributes: S 15; D 19; C 17; I 15; W 20; Ch 18.

Cleric Spells:

7th (x2): restoration, succor.

6th (x5): command monster (PO:SM), find the path, forbiddance, heal, heroes’ feast.

5th (x7): atonement, blessed abundance (ToM), cure critical wounds, consequence (ToM), magic font, quest, true seeing.

4th (x10): cloak of bravery, cure serious wounds, detect lie, free action, imbue with spell ability (x2), neutralize poison, reflecting pool, spell immunity, unfailing endurance (PO:SM).

3rd (x11): create food and water, cure blindness or deafness, cure disease, dispel magic, emotion control (ToM) (x2), glyph of warding (x2), prayer, remove curse, repair injury (PO:SM).

2nd (x11): aid, barkskin, charm person or mammal, detect charm (x2), enthrall (x2), mystic transfer (ToM) (x2), restore strength (PO:SM), withdraw.

1st (x12): bless (x2), blessed watchfulness (PO:SM), cure light wounds, dispel fatigue (PO:SM) (x2), orison (PO:SM), purify food and drink, sacred guardian (ToM) (x2), sanctuary (x2).

Bard Spells:

4th (x1): emotion.

3rd (x2): slow, spirit armor (ToM).

2nd (x3): bind, ESP, Tasha’s uncontrollable hideous laughter.

1st (x3): friends, hypnotism, sleep.

Lashtada’s Primal Base

Source Amount Notes
Miniplanes 200 Lashtada’s current residence
Rank 300 Demigoddess
Spheres -170 Love sphere, cause/dispel love and matchmaking powers
Evolution 2,500 Five hundred years of life
Servitors -250 Has created five servitors
Minions -10 Has created one minion
Total 2,570 Points of Primal Base

Lashtada’s Primal Flux

Source Amount Notes
Base 257 10% of 2,570 primal base
Worshippers 70 These are dead worshippers in her divine realm
Miniplanes 200 Lashtada’s current residence
Consecrated Ground 2 The “Dungeon of Love”
Servitors -25 Primally supporting five servitors
Minions -10 Primally supporting one minion
Priests -1 Primally supporting one level 1 priest
Total 493 Points of Primal Flux

While the previous exposition makes it clear that the above stats use The Primal Order, it’s worth putting that into a practical context.

Specifically, Lashtada is made under the normal rules for AD&D 2E characters (save that I changed what thief skills were available to her as a bard; things like “climb walls” don’t make much sense for a pony), and then has the TPO rules overlain on her stat block. As such, the materials for what powers and limitations Second Edition gods typically have (as laid out in Legends & Lore) don’t apply here. Since Lashtada is using the TPO rules for gods, we’re not applying any other rules.

(Also, for her spells, note that some have parenthetical notations for where they’re printed. ToM denotes the Tome of Magic, while PO:SM is Player’s Option: Spells & Magic).

As it is, the specific implementations of the TPO rules on Lashtada’s stat block are comparatively few. Mainly, they’ve improved her ability scores and her saving throws, as well as given her magic resistance.

Beyond that, the main implementation of The Primal Order is found in calculating her primal base and primal flux, which grant her an extraordinary amount of power, at least compared to mortals (compared to other gods, she’s very much a bit player). Unfortunately, it would take far and away too much space to reprint what can be done with primal energy, so I’ll briefly go over the major aspects below:

Primal blast: Spending 1 point of primal flux allows Lashtada to throw a primal blast, which always hits, allows no saving throw, and overcomes all defenses (except a primal shield, see below), inflicting 10 points of damage. This can be increased by another 10 points of damage for every additional point of primal flux spent, with no upper limit (save for her total primal flux available).

Primal shield: Lashtada can raise a primal shield by spending 1 or more points of primal flux. Each point allows the shield to stop 10 points of damage, or five spell levels (for non-damaging spells) – this is an ablative effect, so if a 1-point shield stops 10 spell levels, it then collapses unless given further primal flux. A primal shield also stops all forms of passive information-gathering spells (e.g. true seeing) without compromising the shield’s integrity.

Spells: Lashtada can cast any spell by silent act of will by spending a number of points of primal flux equal to the spell’s level. This is separate from her personal spellcasting ability (e.g. the spells listed in her stat block) and allows her to use any spell on any spell list, though she must know what the spell is first. Spells cast in this manner always hit, do not allow saving throws, and overcome all non-primal defenses.

Primal Lacing: When casting spells normally (e.g. from her spells listed in her stat block), Lashtada can “lace” a spell with a single point of primal flux. Doing so causes the spell to affect its target(s) without any to-hit roll or saving throw, and overcome all non-primal defenses.

Immortality: Lashtada cannot be slain so long as any of her primal base remains intact. Removing her primal base requires attacking her with primal abilities, or otherwise undermining her divinity (e.g. causing her to lose her demigod status).

Cause/Dispel Love: Lashtada can create or destroy romantic love between two individuals, though doing so requires her to spend 40 primal flux. These feelings are not artificial, as the love between the targeted individuals grows (or decays) naturally over time.

Matchmaking: By spending 30 primal flux, Lashtada can instantly determine whom the perfect romantic partner for a particular individual would be.

Song of the Sirens

December 28, 2014

Recently, Netflix uploaded Rainbow Rocks, the second movie for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Needless to say, I not only watched it immediately, but once again can’t help but blog about it in conjunction with my habit of translating characters from various media into d20 stats using the excellent point-buy character-builder that is Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

A direct sequel to Equestria Girls, Rainbow Rocks has several things going for it that make it a better movie than its predecessor. One of these is that it highlights the now-repentant villain from the first film, Sunset Shimmer, as she tries to atone for her previous actions. Her personal quest for redemption is a central aspect to the movie, and it’s stronger for it (particularly since this has only lightly been touched upon for previous redeemed villains, such as Luna and Discord).

Another notable strong point for the movie is the music. While they’re not all winners (“Tricks Up My Sleeve” and “Awesome as I Wanna Be” are sub-par, to my mind) the vast majority of the movie’s songs are not just catchy, but quite masterful in their presentation. This is especially true for the songs sung by the Dazzlings (the band formed by the villains), which were appropriately captivating.

The Sirens - Adagio, Sonata, and Aria

Clearly they’re monsters that have to be stopped.

It’s these villains that form the remaining strong point in Rainbow Rocks. While the trio of sirens – Adagio Dazzle, Sonata Dusk, and Aria Blaze – have a far simpler plan than Sunset Shimmer did (wanting only to be adored by the masses, rather than desiring domination and conquest), they’re by far more charismatic characters, at least in terms of being bad guys.

A large part of this is due to their singing, which as I noted above, is wonderful to listen to (I’m honestly starting to think that Kazumi Evans, the voice of Adagio – as well as the singing voice of Rarity and Luna – is simply incapable of singing anything less than heavenly). However, they also have a degree of aplomb that Sunset never did. Notwithstanding their sisterly sniping at each other, the sirens never lose their poise, keeping the heroines on the defensive throughout the entire film (at least before the climactic battle at the end).

It’s on that note (pun intended) that we’ll present stats for the leader of the sirens:

Adagio Dazzle, level 5 equestrian siren

Banished to Earth millenia ago by the unicorn wizard Star-Swirl the Bearded, Adagio – along with the other sirens – loathes her life here. Unable to draw much power from the negative emotions of non-magical beings, and therefore incapable of manipulating people on a grand scale, Adagio is tormented by her inability to attain the adulation to which she feels entitled.

It’s thus with dark glee that she notices that magic from her native Equestria is being used at a local high school. Now that a source of magic is finally within reach, Adagio will stop at nothing to restore the sirens’ full powers, and make everyone on Earth adore them!

While the stats below are for Adagio, Sonata and Aria are virtually identical to her. The only differences are likely to be their ability scores (except for Charisma) – Sonata has definitely made Intelligence her dump stat! – and their skill ranks (except for Perform (sing)).

Available Character Points: 144 (level 5 base) + 10 (disadvantages) + 12 (levels 1 and 3 feats) + 6 (human bonus feat) = 172 CP.

Adagio’s disadvantages are Accursed (Mystic Artist abilities that require skill level 15 or above – as well as the Conditioning modifier – cannot be used, unless they have used Rite of Chi with a group of people that have magical powers within the last 24 hours; see below), Showman (Adagio often sings exactly what she and the other sirens are doing with their songs), and Unarmored (wearing armor imposes arcane spell failure chances on their use of mystic artist each round).

Ability Scores (25-point buy):

Ability Scores Initial Scores (Point Cost) Level Bonuses Total
Strength 10 (2) 10 (+0)
Dexterity 11 (3) 11 (+0)
Constitution 10 (2) 10 (+0)
Intelligence 13 (5) 13 (+1)
Wisdom 13 (5) 13 (+1)
Charisma 15 (8) +1 (4th level) 16 (+3)

As the above point-buy total makes clear, Adagio is being built as a 3.5 character, rather than using the Pathfinder rules.

Human Traits (9 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills (3 CP).
  • Bonus feat (6 CP).

Originally, the sirens had bodies that were like that of hippocampi. However, as with all Equestrian natives that come to Earth (save, apparently, for dragons, which become dogs), their bodies were changed to that of humans. As such, they have the physical characteristics of humans.

Of course, having been on Earth for several thousand years, it’s likely that the sirens are, in fact, the original sirens from Greek mythology! They’re likely also the basis for several others mythological creatures as well.

Basic Abilities (87 CP)

  • Simple weapons proficiency (3 CP).
  • 5d8 Hit Dice (20 CP).
  • +2 BAB (12 CP).
  • Fort +1, Ref +4, Will +4 (27 CP).
  • 25 skill points (25 CP).

The vast majority of their basic abilities are purchased under the assumption that they must have developed some minor skills over the last few millenia, rather than anything we see them do in the course of the film.

Elder Evil (6 CP)

  • Immunity to aging (uncommon/minor/great) (6 CP).

Like many of Equestria’s power-players, the ravages of time simply cannot touch the sirens.

Unparalleled Performance (23 CP)

  • Perform (sing) 8 ranks (8 CP), with Skill Emphasis (3 CP), and Skill Focus with double Mastery (12 CP), all specialized for double-effect/may only be used with Mystic Artist, and corrupted for increased effect/may not be used without enchanted gemstone.

The 8 ranks in Perform (sing) taken here are separate from the 25 skill points that Adagio purchased as part of her basic abilities.

When the sirens are defeated in the final battle, their mystical gemstones shatter. This not only prevents them from using their song-based powers, but leaves them completely tone-deaf. Between that, and that they apparently never tried to use their singing to gain fame via mundane means, we can confidently say that their ranks in Perform were artificially inflated via the corruption and specialization given above.

Enchanting Intonations (42 CP)

  • Mystic Artist (Perform (sing)) (6 CP).
    • Basic Ability modifiers: Amplification (x9) (54 CP), Echoes (6 CP), Enduring (x10) (12 CP), Projection (6 CP), Rapid (6 CP), Whispers (6 CP).
    • The Path of Whispers modifiers: Subliminal (6 CP), Conditioning (6 CP).
    • Art of the Occult modifiers: The Hidden Way (6 CP).
    • All of these powers are specialized/uses of Mystic Artist must be recharged via Rite of Chi, and corrupted/may not be used without enchanted gemstone, for one-third cost (except Mystic Artist itself, which is for triple effect).

As listed in her skills table below, Adagio has a +48 bonus in the type of Perform skill that’s the focus of her Mystic Artist ability. As such, she has thirteen basic Mystic Artist abilities, in addition to the modifiers purchased above: (inspiration abilities:) emotion, (manipulation abilities:) fascinate, hold audience, suggestion, emotional auras, freedom, mass suggestion, alter attitudes, puppet master, (synergy abilities:) block, group focus, amplify, harmonize, rule the horde.

Tripling the effect of the basic Mystic Artist ability means that it can be used three times as often, which for Adagio is 3 rounds per level per day, or 15 rounds per day in other words. However, rounds that are used are not automatically restored each day, but must instead be regained via Rite of Chi, below.

Spiteful Convalescence (10 CP)

  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, corrupted for two-thirds cost/may only be used when in the presence of a group of people who are angry or upset, specialized for one-half cost/results are minimized results unless the crowd has magical powers (4 CP).
  • Reflex Training/may use Rite of Chi whenever in proximity to an angry group of people (6 CP).

While Rite of Chi normally recovers mana, spell levels, or psionic strength points, it’s not too much of a stretch to use it to restore rounds of Mystic Artist. In this case, we’ll say that a typical use recovers 2d4 rounds’ worth of Mystic Artist. Of course, in conjunction with the specialization of the above ability, this will only ever return 2 rounds’ worth each time it’s used, unless the crowd it’s used on has magical abilities. Together with their Accursed disadvantage, these are the main reasons why the sirens are unable to wield their full power on magic-poor Earth.

Pinnacle of Power (4 CP)

  • Inherent Spell (6 CP, specialized for one-half cost/only as a prerequisite) with the Advanced modifier (6 CP, specialized for one-half cost/may only be used during an instance of Mystic Artist). Both corrupted/may not be used without enchanted gemstone.
  • Eldritch/when using Rite of Chi with creatures that have magical powers, Adagio may manifest small, cosmetic changes to her personal appearance (e.g. pony ears, hair-tail, glowing red eyes, etc.) (0 CP).

The inherent spell used above is summon construct V (The Practical Enchanter, p. 85), using the “pre-specified construct” option to make it effectively a 4th-level spell. In this case, the construct uses the following options from Menu A: fly (x3), knockdown (variant that affects stored spells only), semisentient, and spell storing I (x2). The spells stored are five instances of lesser shout – a 2nd-level variant of the basic shout spell that cannot deafen or shatter objects, and deals 3d6 sonic damage to creatures with a save for half damage.

These are the copies of the sirens’ original bodies that they manifested during the final battle.

The Sirens’ Gemstones

The core weakness of the sirens is their reliance on their gemstones, without which they not only cannot absorb negativity and turn it into magical power, but can’t even sing.

Shattered at the end of the film, the sirens are said to be reduced to “ordinary teenage girls” without their gemstones (albeit ones who will likely live forever). However, that discounts the possibility that they could ever find a way to make new ones.

In game terms, the sirens’ gemstones have no powers unto themselves, serving only as a focus for their powers via corrupting a large number of their abilities. Creating new gemstones requires either Create Artifact or Create Item (wondrous items).

That would explain why the Mane Six feel so confident that the sirens’ power is beyond repair. After all, in a world as magic-poor as Earth, where could they possibly find someone that can create magic items? Of course, as the Mane Six themselves demonstrate, sometimes magic can be found where it’s least expected…

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 8 (d8 1st level) + 18 (4d8) = 26 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Init: +0 (Dex bonus) – 3 (showman disadvantage) = -3 Initiative.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +1 (base) + 0 (Con bonus) = +1.
    • Ref: +4 (base) + 0 (Dex bonus) = +4.
    • Will: +4 (base) + 1 (Wis bonus) = +5.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) + 0 (Dex bonus) = 10, touch 10, flat-footed 10.
  • Attacks: +2 (BAB) +0 (Str bonus) = +2 unarmed strike (1d3 nonlethal).
  • Skills: 25 skill points (25 ) + 8 for Perform (8 CP) + 8 (Int bonus) + 8 (human bonus) = 49 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Modifier Misc. Modifier Total
Bluff 3 +3 Cha +6
Concentration 3 +0 Con +3
Diplomacy 1 (2 points spent) +3 Cha +4
Gather Information 2 +3 Cha +5
Intimidate 3 +3 Cha +6
Knowledge (arcana) 1 +1 Int +2
Knowledge (geography) 1 (2 points spent) +1 Int +2
Knowledge (history) 1 (2 points spent) +1 Int +2
Knowledge (local) 1 +1 Int +2
Knowledge (the planes) 1 (2 points spent) +1 Int +2
Listen 3 +1 Wis +4
Perform (sing) 24 (8 points) +3 Cha +21 (Skill Emphasis and Skill Focus) +48
Sense Motive 1 (2 points spent) +1 Wis +2
Speak Language 2
Spellcraft 3 +1 Int +4
Spot 3 +1 Wis +4
Survival 2 (4 points spent) +1 Wis +3
Swim 3 +0 Str +3

For the sake of simplicity, we’re giving Adagio twelve class skills – Bluff, Concentration, Gather Information, Intimidate, Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (local), Listen, Perform, Speak Language, Spellcraft, Spot, and Swim – as well as Craft and Profession, though she hasn’t taken any ranks in the latter two.

In terms of Adagio’s languages spoken, the only language she uses throughout the movie is English. If we presume that she’s been on Earth for several thousand years, however, then it’s likely that she knows at least a few others. Given her Intelligence bonus and her ranks in Speak Language, she should know three languages plus English. Since, as mentioned above, she’s likely the source of the mythological sirens, I’d recommend Greek, Italian, and Latin.

Overall, Adagio – like the other sirens – makes for a very poor combatant. In this regard, she’s very similar to the Elite Beat Agents, save that she uses her musical powers to exploit others, rather than coming to their aid.

Having no martial skills worth noting, her power is entirely focused on manipulating those around her. If things were to come to blows, she would likely use the power of her voice to either beguile her attackers, or charm bystanders to do her fighting for her.

Like many villains, Adagio has achieved a great deal of power by taking multiple shortcuts (via her many specializations, corruptions, and her accursed disadvantage), something which ultimately comes back to haunt her more than once. Now, with her power broken, it’s unlikely that she and the other sirens have learned anything, instead trying to figure out how she and her companions can come back for an encore attempt at captivating the world’s attention.


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