Pathfinder, Eclipse, and the Caster-Martial Disparity

October 4, 2015

I’ve spoken before of how I became burned out on the never-ending treadmill of supplements that Pathfinder (like 3.X before it) turns out. Despite that, I still tend to haunt the Paizo forums from time to time. While I’ve lost interest in the speculating that goes on over new products and the discussions over how to interpret various rules, the threads on more general topics still have some interest for me.

One such thread was a recent discussion about the “imbalance” between martial characters and (full-progression) spellcasters. While this particular issue has come up so many times that the regular forum-goers are sick to death of it – and given that this particular topic long predates the creation of Pathfinder, they’re assuredly not the only ones – this particular discussion struck me as being different. That was because, for all of the usual arguing and theatrics that go into these discussions, by the end of this thread there seemed to be a surprisingly large degree of consensus over what the problem actually was, to say nothing about what needed to be changed in terms of practical aspects of martial and spellcasting classes. People even seemed to admit that this wasn’t likely to ever be done in official Pathfinder materials.

Perhaps my single favorite part of the thread was a truly epic rant that one poster went on about one of the reasons why this problem became such an issue in the first place; namely, the idea that martial characters should be limited to abilities that are not magical/supernatural/mystical in nature, instead being confined to the realm of what real people could potentially do. To quote selected excerpts:

“For some people, Conan is the height of what a martial should be. He never does anything particularly outside of what might be accomplished in the real world outside of a few feats of strength and agility, and he’s probably the most badass “mundane” in trad fantasy. However, it’s stupid to try and have Conan as your epitome for a D&D/PF martial, because the most wicked and powerful spellcaster in his world lacks the ability to throw around the kind of power even a moderately potent wizard has in Pathfinder. Making a character like Conan or Gimli the definition of what a martial should be is positively stupid, because neither of those characters displayed any kind of prowess or ability beyond what a 6th level Fighter or Barbarian might have.


The kind of adventures that are had in the Lord of the Rings or that are had by Conan of Cimmeria are low level adventures, and most people who feel that martials are broken aren’t even talking about those levels. But high level spellcasters in PF are above and beyond, and you either have to go to really old school Celtic or Norse mythology to find examples of “martial” characters that match that kind of power, or you have to turn to anime (much of which is actually inspired in its own turn by western mythology and Dungeons and Dragons).

You can bring martials up to the level of Cu Chulainn or you can bring casters down to the level of characters like Thoth-Amon or Gandalf, but trying to maintain a world where Gimli and Naruto are best buddies who go from level 1 to level 20 together is a huge part of why martial/caster disparity exists in the first place. Gimli manifestly does not belong in the world of Naruto Shippuden, and Naruto obviously would have annihilated the enemy forces of the Lord of the Rings.”

All of this is entirely true, and is another way of saying that the d20 System has such a huge spread of power between level 1 and level 20 that going across it essentially (indeed, necessarily) spans genres. Hence why, if you want to have a campaign that covers the full range of levels, you should calibrate your expectations accordingly.

The Solution (At Least, To Me)

While the conversation reached its unexpected point of general agreement regarding what the root of the problem was and what should be done about it, the practical methods of making those changes were largely summarized by another poster:

“So the only realistic solutions are homebrew, 3pp and other games.”

That struck me as a fair statement, particularly in light of the fact that I’ve gotten past these particular problems by using Distant Horizons Games’ book Eclipse: The Codex Persona, a free sourcebook for d20 System games.

For those who don’t know (which likely won’t include longtime readers of this blog, since I’ve come to use this book for nearly all of the characters I post on here), Eclipse is a supplement that allows for characters to be built via point-buy, rather than with character classes.

I suspect that a lot of Pathfinder fans are put off by the words “point-buy,” largely due to the perception that being able to pick and choose what abilities your character has, at least for d20 games such as Pathfinder, is unbalanced. I can understand that way of thinking, but to me that tends to overlook a few fundamental factors:

1) Characters are NOT built in isolation, nor should they be. Tabletop role-playing is fundamentally a cooperative activity. You’re playing the game with other people, not only in the sense that there are multiple participants, but also in that the players are working together; their player-characters are all teammates.

This holds true for character-building just as much as any other part of the game. While a lot of people seem to think that making your character is something that should be done free from interference from other players, or the GM, I think that looking at this as “interference” in the first place is wrong. Considering the other players, the kinds of characters they’re making, and the GM and their campaign world are not undue burdens.

Taking into account that you’re trying to have fun with other people means finding a happy medium between doing what’s good for your fun (e.g. making a character that you want to play) while also taking into consideration what will abet (or at least, not conflict with) everyone else’s fun (e.g. making a character that won’t outshine everyone else’s characters most of the time, won’t be the only evil character in a good party, etc.).

In other words, just sitting down at the same table as everyone else means acknowledging that there’s a “gentleman’s agreement” in effect. Just because you think you can make a character that’s far stronger than everyone else’s doesn’t mean that you should. This nicely dovetails into the second point…

2) The rules are NOT limits to be pushed. “System mastery” is something that a lot of people seem to lionize when it comes to building a d20 character. This point of view is based off of the idea that players will try to create the most powerful characters they possibly can, and that limitations on the choices you can make when designing your character are there to impede this kind of optimization.

This view always struck me as being an excuse for the abdication of personal responsibility. “The rules exist to restrain my excesses, so with that safety net in place there’s no reason for me not to go hog-wild!” is the thought. The problem with this line of thinking is that it isn’t true.

Even if we accept the premise that the restrictions on building a traditional Pathfinder character are there to stop players from over-optimizing, it’s fairly obvious that this goal is not being achieved under the current game rules. That’s hardly surprising, since limiting “munchkin” outcomes requires restricting choices, whereas Pathfinder keeps gaining more and more choices with every new book that comes out. One does not need to look too far to find examples of Pathfinder characters that abuse the RAW (“rules as written”) to egregious degrees.

But the real problem isn’t with the (rather self-evident) fact that a huge and continuously-growing body of rules can be exploited. Rather, it’s about the line of thinking that this encourages. Seeing the rules as limits encourages pushing against those limits, which means that when these limits are dialed back in order to allow for greater freedom in building your character – such as when using Eclipse – the credo of “optimization in excess” will drive a player to actively try and be disruptive with the character they make.

Saying “I think point-buy is unbalanced” is another way of saying “I think that this much freedom invites abuse.” But when we’re talking about yourself and your game group, that actually means “I don’t trust these guys, or even myself, to not try and break the game.”

Having said all of that, there’s one further point to consider…

3) NOT everything is on the table. One thing that should be made clear right from the get-go when using Eclipse, or any point-buy system, is that not everything in the book is going to be available. Page 197 has a checklist of what options will be modified or disallowed in a particular campaign, and a wise GM will avail themselves of it. Likewise, page 163 discusses mechanisms for what a GM can do if a player-character insists on going out of control.

Overall, if the players are focused on building characters that they find fun and interesting, fit reasonably well with the other PCs and with the game world, and work within the rules instead of trying to break them, then there shouldn’t be a problem.

So with all of that said, let’s look at how at how to build a character in Eclipse that helps to bridge Pathfinder’s caster-martial disparity.

The Basics

Here’s a quick primer for how Eclipse functions. At each level, characters a d4 Hit Die and skill points equal to their Intelligence bonus for free. Everything else, from larger Hit Dice to Base Attack Bonus to spellcasting, costs Character Points. A character receives 24 Character Points per level, including for level 0 (so a 1st level character starts with 48 CP).

What makes Eclipse truly flexible is that anything bought with CP can have a weakness introduced to it in exchange for either a discount on its cost or an increase in its power. A modest weakness (“corruption”) is worth a one-third CP discount, or a x1.5 multiplier in power. A severe weakness (“specialization”) is worth a one-half CP discount, or a x2 multiplier in power.

What degree of compensation a weakness is worth – e.g. if it’s enough to count as corruption or as specialization – is something that should be worked out ahead of time between the player and the GM. In many cases, it will be fairly self-evident (or even mentioned outright in Eclipse), but in others there will need to be an agreement reached as to how much a particular weakness is worth.

It’s important to remember that in the course of reaching such an agreement, both the player and the GM will need to consider the impact on both the player, and the overall campaign. The player will naturally try to downplay their weakness as much as possible, but at the same time should expect that the GM will bring it into play. Likewise, the GM will try to make sure that that weakness does come up over the course of the game – it wouldn’t be worth the discount otherwise! – but will not do so to the point that the player feels unfairly punished.

To put it another way, both the player and the GM should make a good faith effort to keep the PC’s weaknesses interesting and relevant, without being punitive.

A Bigger, Better Martial

The following is a martial character, built using the Eclipse rules, designed around the following ideas that were kicked around on the Paizo message boards:

  1. The character should be flat-out better at martial combat than other character classes. They should be devastating on the battlefield.
  2. Resistance to magic. Martial characters should shrug off magical powers and attacks without undue difficulty.
  3. Leadership. Martial characters should be able to field more, and/or better, minions than a caster can achieve with summon or charm spells.
  4. Command in combat. Martial characters should be able to effectively direct others in a fight.
  5. Movement options. Martial characters should not be effectively left behind when casters gain the ability to fly, teleport, etc.
  6. Out of combat influence. Martial characters should not lose effectiveness outside of a fight. Instead, they should be able to rally the people, without needing magic to do it.
  7. They need to stand up to punishment. Martial characters should not be able to be taken out of a fight easily. Killing them in combat should be damned difficult.

With those guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at the Combatant.

The Combatant

What follows is a 20-level “class” build using the Eclipse rules. There’s no breakdown of what powers are gained at what level, since using a point-buy system means that you can purchase various abilities when you want them (though some do have prerequisites and guidelines as to when they can be used). Instead, this presents several suites of powers, bought with 20 levels’ worth of Character Points.

As this is a “class” rather than a fully-developed character, what follows doesn’t take into account any other sources of Character Points. The feat that a character gains every other level (which is worth 6 CP in Eclipse), for instances, is not taken into account here. Neither is character races, wealth-by-level, or any other “non-class” factors. Only character levels are taken into account…with two exceptions.

Available Character Points: 504 (level 20 base) + 20 (restriction) = 524 CP.

The first exception is that this class utilizes a restriction (p. 17). A restriction is exactly what it sounds like, a prohibition on taking/engaging in something. In return for this, the character gets 1 additional CP per level. The Combatant’s restriction is against taking any magic progressions (pg. 11-15).

This may seem slightly underhanded, since that’s something we were going to do anyway, but offering a reward for sticking to a particular character concept is part of the game. Hence why Pathfinder characters receive favored class bonuses.

Speaking of which, the second exception is that this character will take a package deal (p. 18). In this case, he’ll be taking the Pathfinder package deal that I’ve mentioned before. This doesn’t really change any aspect of building this particular “class,” but rather guarantees under the game rules that any character built this way will use the Pathfinder differences over the default 3.5 assumptions (e.g. their race will have a net +2 modifier to ability scores, will gain a favored class bonus each level, etc.). This also presumes that you’ll use the Pathfinder feat progression (e.g. +6 CP at every odd-numbered level, rather than every third level) and get an additional 6 CP at 1st level (for starting traits, which we’re also not factoring in here).

Basic Abilities (330 CP)

  • Light, medium, and heavy armor proficiency, plus proficiency with shields (18 CP), all with the smooth modifier, specialized for one-half cost/only to remove the armor check penalties (9 CP).
  • Proficient with all simple and martial weapons (9 CP).
  • Self-Development/+6 Con for calculating hit points only (36 CP).
  • +20 BAB (120 CP).
  • Fort +12, Ref +12, Will +12 (108 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/only for skills (6 CP).
  • Self-Development/+4 Int for calculating skill points only (24 CP).

For many, if not most characters, their basic abilities – proficiencies, Hit Dice, BAB, base saves, and skill points – will be where they spend the bulk of their Character Points. That’s true for the Combatant as well, but we’re utilizing some different methods of buying these things up more cheaply than normal as cost-saving measures.

Their weapon proficiencies, Base Attack Bonus, and base save bonuses are all purchased normally. Note that the Combatant has all good saves; the better to overcome magic with!

For their armor proficiencies, we’ve taken the Smooth modifier. This allows a character to ignore armor check penalties and arcane spell failure chances. However, since we don’t care about arcane spell failure (since this character won’t be casting spells), we’ve specialized that to cut the cost in half. This way, the Combatant’s skills won’t suffer for his wearing armor.

Insofar as his skills go, we’re giving him 4 skill points per level here, using two options. The first is to buy a sort of “virtual” +4 to his Intelligence score, but only for the purpose of gaining skill points each level. This +4 bonus is not counted for any other effect, such as when making skill checks on Int-based skills, calculating how much Int damage he can take before falling unconscious, etc. That’s 2 skill points per level right there.

The second method is via Fast Learner. This ability normally grants 1 additional CP per level when taken, but in this case we’ve specialized it to grant 2 CP…but only for skill points. Since 1 CP can directly buy 1 skill point, this essentially means that the Combatant gains 2 skill points for free each level, which with the +4 “virtual” Int bonus given above, the Combatant is gaining 4 skill points per level, as mentioned before.

It’s worth mentioning that no classes means no set list of class skills. Eclipse has some suggestions for this, with the one I go for being to allow twelve skills of the player’s choice as class skills (plus Craft and Profession, since everyone should have those), with Perform being one skill while each Knowledge skill is separate. For the Combatant, his class skills will be Acrobatics, Climb, Craft, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Knowledge (dungeoneering), Knowledge (local), Perception, Perform, Profession, Ride, Sense Motive, Survival, and Swim.

Finally, the Combatant’s Hit Dice aren’t being bought up, meaning that he’s only gaining a d4 Hit Die per level. However, much as we did for his Intelligence-based skill points, we’re adding a “virtual” +6 to his Constitution bonus, giving him a “free” +3 hit points per die. Or, in other words, the Combatant’s Hit Dice are 1d4+3+Con bonus per level.

This grants, on average, 5.5 hit points per level, exactly as if the Combatant had a d10 Hit Die. Moreover, this is before adding in his (real) Constitution bonus, any Con-boosting items, etc. We’re essentially trading in never getting any high rolls on a d10 for never getting any low rolls either. Since buying up Hit Dice at each and every level is expensive, this saves quite a few Character Points overall for the same general outcome.

Magic Breaker (59 CP)

  • Improved Spell Resistance, corrupted for two-thirds cost/must not be helpless, does not need to take an action to allow friendly spells in (12 CP).
  • Finesse/use Strength bonus to calculate how many attacks of opportunity the character receives (6 CP).
  • Reflex Training/Combat Reflexes variant (6 CP).
  • Block (arcane) with Multiple (12 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for saves, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only against magical effects (4 CP).
  • Returning, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only to overcome petrification and polymorph after 2d4 rounds (4 CP).
  • 2d6 mana with Resilience (12 CP).
  • Rite of Chi, specialized for one-half cost/requires eight hours of sleep (3 CP).

This suite of powers, together with their base save bonuses, comprise the Combatant’s incredible resistance to magical attacks.

The first bullet point notes that the Combatant has Spell Resistance equal to his character level +10. However, it only functions when the Combatant isn’t helpless; in exchange for this, they do not need to take an action to lower their SR to allow spells that they want to affect them to bypass SR. The narrative function of this effect is that the Combatant is literally batting away, dodging, or otherwise physically defeating/avoiding spells he doesn’t want to affect him.

The second and third bullet points allow for the Combatant to use a number of AoO’s in a round equal to 1 + his Strength bonus. These are largely to set up the Block ability listed in the fourth bullet point. Twice per round, at the cost of an AoO each time, the Combatant may try to actively block a single-target spell directed at him with a DC 20 Reflex save. On a successful save, the spell deals 60 less points of damage than it otherwise would. If successfully blocking a spell that isn’t a damage-dealing effect, then he gets a +8 bonus on his saving throw against the spell’s effect instead.

Note that the DC of the Reflex save made to block an attack can be increased by the attacker. The spellcaster can decrease their BAB on the spell’s attack roll to add to the block DC on a 1:1 basis. If the spell doesn’t use an attack roll, then they can do this for the spell’s save DC instead (e.g. if casting a spell that would have a DC 24 save, then can lower that by 2 points to increase the block DC by 2 points).

The Luck power allows the Combatant to, up to five times per day, either preemptively treat a saving throw as if he’d rolled a 20, or re-roll a failed save. This can only be done against a magical effect.

Returning is normally an “overcome death” power. In this case, it’s been corrupted to only allow the Combatant to defeat petrification and polymorph, two effects that normally take characters completely out of a fight (and indeed, last perpetually unless something actively undoes them). In this case, they’ll bounce back fairly quickly, but determined enemies will still be able to kill them in the meantime if they really try.

Finally, the seventh and eighth bullet points grant the Combatant 2d6 mana points. These points can be spent to defeat ability damage/drain on a 1:1 basis, defeat negative levels on a 2:1 basis (e.g. 2 points of mana defeats 1 negative level), or may defeat mind-affecting effects at a cost of 2/3/4/6 points to overcome a level 0-3/4-6/7-8/9 effect. Mana normally recovers at a rate of 1 point per day, but Rite of Chi allows for an additional 1d6 to be recovered after eight hours’ rest (for 1d6+1 altogether).

Mobile Warrior (39 CP)

  • Reflex Training/may move up to their speed before making a full attack action (6 CP).
  • Celerity/flight plus 40 ft. of flight movement, all specialized for one-half cost/only for 1 minute per point of Con bonus (minimum 1 min.) per day (18 CP).
  • Inherent Spell with one instance of Advanced, both specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (6 CP). One further instance of Advanced (teleport track) with +2 Bonus Uses (9 CP).

This package of abilities is designed to overcome the major limitations on the Combatant’s movement. Reflex Training allows for a specific action to be taken in conjunction with another specific action. In this case, when taking a full attack action, the Combatant may move up to their speed immediately beforehand. Note that this cannot be interspersed with attacks during a full attack action; it must be a move, which is then followed by a full attack.

Celerity allows the combatant to fly at a speed of 60 ft. with perfect maneuverability for a number of minutes per day equal to their total Constitution bonus. This is not inherently magical, but otherwise leaves the explanation for what this power is up to the player (personally, I prefer the idea that the Combatant is literally kicking the air to move themselves around).

Finally, three times per day the Combatant may use teleport track as a spell-like ability. This is a custom spell designed for this particular power, meaning that we don’t need to be concerned with the full specifics of the spell. Essentially, it’s a 5th-level effect (like the spell teleport) that can only be used to follow another teleportation effect used within 20 ft. of the combatant in the last 3 rounds. The Combatant can also bring along one additional willing creature per three levels. Unlike most of these powers, this one has an inherent limit on when it can be taken; the combatant must be at least 9th level to take this power.

Famous Hero (18 CP)

  • Major Privilege/hero of the realm (6 CP).
  • Improved Superior Reputation (12 CP).

These powers cover the Combatant’s social influence. Like most social-focused abilities, they’re necessarily imprecise in terms of what they connote. For the first one, having a major privilege (which, in this case, is that the Combatant is widely recognized as a hero of the land) essentially means that the character is regarded as being a cross between a rock star and a war hero. For the second, it means that the character’s fame and deeds are widely known; when it becomes relevant, they gain a (level x 2)/3 modifier to checks on social rolls (e.g. a bonus to Diplomacy checks for people who like him, and a bonus to Intimidate checks for those who dislike him, and vice versa).

Leader of Men (36 CP)

  • Leadership with Born Leader and Emperor’s Star (18 CP).
  • Mystic Artist/Perform (oratory) (6 CP) with Rapid (6 CP).
  • Reflex Training/activating Mystic Artist abilities (6 CP).

These powers reflect the Combatant’s ability to take command in battle (though they can do the same in other situations).

Their Leadership power means that they have (level + Cha modifier)x3 levels’ worth of followers, none of which can be higher than the Combatant’s level -3. Moreover, each of these followers has a permanent +1 typeless bonus to their attacks, saves, and AC. They also gain a 6 CP ability (which must be the same for every follower). I’d recommend granting them the Legionary power (everyone with that gains a +1/+2/+3 bonus to attacks, AC, and Reflex saves when fighting with 1-2/3-4/5+ others who also have this power, specialized for double effect/must be adjacent to each other).

The second and third bullet points allow the Combatant to essentially usurp some of a bard’s role, and use Perform (oratory) to direct and guide those they fight with. Thanks to Reflex Training, this may be activated as a free action, and the effects happen immediately. The actual effects they might choose (it’s not a static set of abilities, meaning that there are too many possible choices to list here) are found on pg. 85-87. I recommend that they take their abilities primarily from the Inspiration powers; using Mass Greatness or Mass Excellence to empower your allies will quickly change the tide of battle to your favor (and if you can take Harmonize, from the Synergy list of powers, and use both at the same time, your party will be very nearly unstoppable!).

Unstoppable Juggernaut (42 CP)

  • Stoic with Ferocity (9 CP).
  • Grant of Aid with Mighty and Spark of Life (15 CP).
  • Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for attack rolls (6 CP).
  • Enhanced Strike/crushing and whirlwind (12 CP).

Here we come to the Combatant’s ability to deal out and withstand staggering degrees of damage. Stoic makes the Combatant immune to death from massive damage as well as lets them be treated as “recovering with help” on a successful DC 15 Constitution check to stabilize. The Ferocity modifier means that the character may continue to act normally while at negative hit points, so long as their negative hit points do not exceed their Constitution score.

Having Grant of Aid with the Mighty modifier allows the combatant to heal themselves of damage (which does not require an action). Once per day per three levels (or part thereof), the Combatant may heal 1d8+5+Con bonus hit points OR 1d3+1 ability score damage OR 2 negative levels. Moreover, Spark of Life makes it so that the Combatant can cling to life for (Con score x 5) rounds when their hit points drop low enough to kill them (e.g. their negative hit points equal or exceed their Con score), during which time they can be healed normally. This doesn’t apply if they’re brought down to negative hit points that equal or exceed their positive hit points (or an instant death effect is used, such as a successful coup de grace).

Exactly what the healing from Grant of Aid represents is up to the player. It could be the blessing of a deity, hyper-regeneration, unparalleled physical fortitude, or something else altogether.

The Luck power, similar to its use in the Magic Breaker suite, allows the Combatant to either gain an automatic “natural” 20 on an attack roll (meaning a possibility for a critical hit, if confirmed) or may re-roll a failed attack roll, up to five times per day.

Their Enhanced Strike abilities grant them two combat powers. Crushing allows the Combatant, as a full-round action, to combine all of their attacks into a single attack roll. If successful, he inflicts all of the damage from his multiple attacks at once. Whirlwind allows the Combatant, as a full-round action, to make a single attack at his full BAB against every target within reach.

Both of these attacks may be used once per minute each. However, additional uses within that period may be undertaken, at the cost of 1 point of mana (q.v.) each time. Essentially, these are the “super attacks” that a Combatant has, allowing him to push beyond what an ordinary fighter would be able to do.

Taking Stock

Overall, the Combatant is a class that builds a solid base for a martial character, while paying special attention to various situational and out-of-combat circumstances. While he has several abilities that directly enhance his ability to fight (e.g. Luck for attack rolls, Enhanced Strike, Grant of Aid), he can also maintain his usefulness in unorthodox battles via his special movement abilities and (indirectly) his followers and ability to direct others.

His major suite of powers, however, all deal with his ability to shrug off magic. These are so many and so varied that it’s very hard to affect the Combatant with magic at all, as he can resist it, block it, save against it, heal it, or otherwise defeat it. This is a character that has very little to fear from spellcasters.

Finally, he has several abilities that boost his ability to play a role outside of a fight. His social abilities ensure that he essentially always is exceptionally popular among the populace (though this is not a magical effect, and the player and the GM should work together to determine why this is and how it manifests) and has a powerful reputation to help him with any face-to-face encounters.

And of course, this isn’t the whole of what the Combatant can do. As mentioned previously, he still has 60 Character Points’ worth of feats to spend, plus 6 CP on top of that from his starting traits. Throw in things like a human racial bonus feat or some Eclipse-specific things like taking a few disadvantages (pg. 18-20) or having some duties (p. 17) to fulfill, and there’s still a lot of room for customization (and that’s not even getting into what gear he has).

Of course, that’s overlooking the fact that, as a point-buy character, this entire build can be customized anyway. If you don’t care about spell resistance, for example, but want more of an AC bonus. You can just not buy Improved Spell Resistance and spend the 12 CP on Defender (p. 51), gaining a level-based bonus to your Armor Class.

Since using this book, I’ve found it much easier to build the character I’d like to have, instead of having to check myriad sourcebooks to kludge together a combination of classes, feats, archetypes, prestige classes, and other rules in hopes of approximating my original idea for a character…especially for a martial character that can be as effective, and as useful, as a spellcaster.

With Eclipse, the caster-martial disparity matters exactly as much as you want it to.

Dark Sunstroke

September 27, 2015

AD&D Second Edition remains my favorite edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Well, sort of. I find the concept of “favorites” for an RPG to be a term that’s too broad to be used easily, since it encompasses multiple aspects which should be judged independently.

It’s more accurate to say that I think that, of all of the editions of D&D released to date, Second Edition had the best flavor attached to it. Specifically, its myriad campaign settings. I have virtually all of them, and each of them is enjoyable for what they offer.

Of course, there are still some I like more than others. While it’s not my most favorite, I do like the Dark Sun campaign setting quite a bit. I’ll often catch myself pulling an old book for it off the shelf and perusing it for a minute or two, just for kicks.

Unlike most Dark Sun fans (or at least, most fans that I’ve talked to online) I didn’t get into the setting by way of its initial boxed set. Rather, I was introduced to Athas (the Dark Sun campaign world) via the first set of novels for it, Troy Denning’s five-book Prism Pentad series. Those novels are highly controversial among the fans nowadays, because they introduced sweeping changes to the world. Moreover, they were changes done by a group of NPCs, as part of the setting’s meta-plot. To many gamers, that’s a cardinal sin.

I personally didn’t mind it, but that’s because I wasn’t able to get a regular group together until college, and even then we didn’t play in that campaign world. Between that, and that those novels were my first exposure to the world, I simply took the stories for what they were, and found them fairly enjoyable.

While the initial novel is the story of the heroes liberating their city from its dreaded sorcerer-king, the remaining four books can be said (in a massive simplification) to be the story of them preparing to face the Dragon of Athas, the most powerful foe in the world (or so they think). The second, third, and fourth books are basically the story of them collecting the weapons, magic, and psionics, respectively, that they’ll need to fight it on even terms. The fifth book is the actual battle.

It’s the third book I want to look more closely at, here. In it, a half-elf sorceress named Sadira goes on a quest to have her magical powers enhanced to the point where she can match the Dragon’s magic. By the end of the book (*spoiler alert*) she’s become able to draw energy directly from the sun, enhancing her magic drastically…but only during the day.

Whereas the physical and psionic methods of fighting the Dragon are based around obtaining powerful artifacts, Sadira’s magical enhancement is unique to her, at least as it’s presented. Thus, while any character could theoretically find and use those artifacts (as presented in Psionic Artifacts of Athas), that’s not the case for Sadira’s powers.

Instead, the closest we get to seeing game rules for her powers are found in Beyond the Prism Pentad, a short game supplement meant to help bridge the gap between the novels and the original campaign setting (in preparation for the revised campaign setting that came shortly thereafter).

In that book, we get two stat blocks for Sadira; one for her unenhanced powers (e.g. her “normal” stats, used during nighttime), and one for her enhanced form, which is called a “sun mage.”

The differences are quite dramatic; as a sun mage, Sadira’s level as a preserver (a type of wizard) skyrockets from 10th to 18th level. She also receives some enhancements to her strength, physical toughness, and even a slight boost to her mental defenses. It’s a fairly unique build, if a straightforward one in what boosts it grants her. That’s not unusual for AD&D Second Edition, of course, which inherited the attitude of previous editions with regard to unique powers, abilities, items, etc. popping up when it served the game to have them.

Of course, Third Edition had a very different take on that particular stance, and its preference of standardizing the game mechanics had an elegance all its own…though to me, that particular aspect of game design didn’t reach its zenith until the publication of Eclipse: The Codex Persona, which allowed for the freedom of character creation that best utilized that unified game system.

It’s in that spirit that I’ve decided to write up Eclipse stats for what it means to be a “sun mage.”

Sun Mage Template (133 CP/+4 ECL)

A sun mage is a spellcaster that draws the power for their spells, not from ambient or diffuse sources, but from the sun itself. Because this grants great power during the daytime, but leaves them vulnerable at night, only accomplished spellcasters are allowed to undergo this transformation. That way, they at least have some power to fall back on (via their traditional spellcasting) if attacked after nightfall.

Solaric Enhancement (246 CP)

  • Eight wizard spellcasting levels (112 CP).
  • 8d4 Hit Dice (64 CP).
  • +4 BAB (24 CP).
  • Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +4 (30 CP).
  • 16 skill points (16 CP).

Power Bleed-Over (26 CP)

  • Innate Enchantment; spell level x caster level x 2,000 gp x0.7 personal-only modifier (23 CP).
    • Mage armor (1,400 gp).
    • +6 enhancement bonus to Strength (21,000 gp).
  • +2 Will save vs. psionic attacks (3 CP).

The strength that a sun mage draws upon is so vast, so incredibly potent, that it doesn’t stop at simply enhancing their spellcasting. Though the majority of the energy drawn forth is used to strengthen their magic, parts of it leak out, enhancing their body and their mind as well.

Altogether, the entire template costs 272 CP, or +8 ECL, which makes sense, since this is basically encapsulating eight levels of wizard (with a couple special abilities added in). However, the entire template is specialized for one-half cost/only functions during the daytime. That brings things down to 136 CP. To better match with the novels, we’ll add the Accursed disadvantage. When using the sun’s power, a sun mage’s skin turns as black as obsidian (the better to absorb solar energies with), and as a side-effect of this, their eyes turn solid blue, and their breath is visible as black fog. That brings the final cost down to 133 CP, for a +4 ECL modifier.

Solar Analysis

The above template is, in all honesty, a fairly artless one. It updates the 2E stat block that has Sadira gaining eight levels – including better hit points, THAC0, and while not explicitly written, likely better saves and proficiencies as well – to model her increased spellcasting ability, along with a very small number of other enhancements.

The end result is highly straightforward in what it presents: literally eight wizard levels, that only work half of the time each day, and so only have half the cost. It’s very workmanlike in terms of its presentation.

…but then again, that fits on a harsh world like Athas, where form follows function as a necessary rule of survival.

Get Your Ship Together

September 14, 2015

Having been on quite the anime binge recently thanks to my new Crunchyroll subscription, I’ve recently come to realize that “mystic military girls” is one of what’s probably several new (sub-)genres that anime has pioneered. While the actual name for these type of shows is doubtlessly something else, “mystic military girls” is what I’ve come to call them.

In these shows, there’s a group of (usually young) girls that have special/magical/super-science powers. Unlike superhero-style shows, these powers aren’t highly individualistic, instead possessing only minor variations between the characters. Said characters will also be organized into a military or paramilitary unit(s) to face an enemy that presents a significant – if not existential – threat to humanity.

Success is Fleet-ing

Destroyer Fubuki

Meet the new face of naval warfare.

One such series in this genre is Kantai Collection (or just “KanColle” for short). In this case, the special abilities that the main cast members share are based around them all being “reincarnations of (historical) battleships.” Literally, these kanmusu (“fleet girls”) are battleships that have been reborn into human bodies. Working together in naval units, they fight against the “Abyssals”; monstrous humanoid-battleships of unknown origin and motivation that are intent on keeping humans out of the seas.

…Don’t worry that none of that makes any sense. It’s magic.

Having said that, the idea of a human with the power of a battleship is such an odd combination that I couldn’t help but wonder what that would look like under the d20 rules. Given that the characters’ abilities are inherent, rather than something that can be actively gained and developed, that and their uniformity would suggest that being a fleet girl is a template, rather than a collection of personal abilities.

As such, let’s chart what powers the kanmusu have and see if we can come up with d20 statistics for them. Of course, making something this outre will require a great deal of flexibility, and as such we’ll be using the class-less character-generation rules from Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

Kanmusu Destroyer Template (192 CP/+6 ECL)

Superior Firepower (93 CP)

  • Heavy Artillery: Inherent Spell with two uses of the Advanced modifier, all specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (9 CP), plus the Advanced modifier (artillery barrage) (6 CP) and twelve instances of Bonus Uses (18 CP).
  • 20 caster levels, specialized for one-half cost/only for Inherent Spells (60 CP).

Inherent Spells don’t require caster levels to be purchased, instead typically requiring that the character’s level be [(spell level x 2) -1]. Since this template is being applied to teenage girls who are unlikely to be higher than level 1, the use of caster levels in this template is to “pay” for that particular requirement (as well as the fact that this Inherent Spell is operating at a very high caster level anyway).

As for what this Inherent Spell actually is…that was tricky. There were extremely few d20 resources that dealt with the damage inflicted by battleships, and among the ones that did, most changed the sub-system used, since normal d20 combat is meant to deal with tactical skirmishes between small groups of individuals.

Ironically, the best resource I found in this regard was over on Thoth’s blog, which utilizes a sub-system alongside typical d20 combat mechanics, the latter including damage, to outline naval combat. Insofar as we’re concerned, the relevant mechanics are that WWII-era naval destroyers are “level three” ships (e.g. 10d6 base damage from their weapons) of “massive” size (e.g. a x4 multiplier to damage, representing the entire barrage of guns/torpedoes/other weapons fired).

So that means we need an inherent spell that can (at caster level 20) deal 40d6 damage. Such a spell would probably look something like so:

Artillery Barrage; School evocation; Level sorcerer/wizard 6; Components V, S; Range long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level); Target 1 creature; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance yes.

This spell conjures multiple instances of military ordinance, launching them at the target creature in a flurry of destructive power. You must make a ranged attack (not a ranged touch attack) to hit. A creature struck takes 2d6 points of damage per caster level (maximum 40d6).

Damage reduction and hardness apply against this damage. Because this damage is inflicted by multiple hits landing simultaneously, DR and hardness are applied at four times their normal value. This ordinance is treated as a magic weapon for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.

This is essentially a disintegrate spell that has had its saving throw removed in exchange for changing it from a touch attack to a normal attack. Likewise, the application of four-fold DR/hardness, and the removal of the various special functions that disintegrate has (such as automatically disposing of the body of a creature it kills, defeating objects made of force, etc.) are exchanged for a longer range.

Will to Stay Afloat (263 CP)

  • Innate Enchantment (236 CP).
    • Immortal vigor IX; [(caster level 17 x spell level 9 x 2,000 gp) x 0.7 personal-only modifier] 214,200 gp.
    • Waterskate; [(caster level 5 x spell level 3 x 2,000 gp) x 0.7 personal-only modifier] 21,000 gp.
  • Damage Reduction 6 (15 CP).
  • Improved Defender x2 (12 CP).

Almost as tricky as figuring out the damage potential of battleships-turned-humans was figuring out how well they resist taking damage. The show depicts them agilely avoiding incoming shots, but we do see them taking damage and shrugging it off (though on at least one occasion a single hit is enough to sink – that is, kill – them).

Given that we do see the kanmusu taking so much damage on more than one instance, and since battleships are massive, heavily-armored floating fortresses, giving them a gratuitous amount of extra hit points, and a large degree of hardness, seemed to be the best way to go about it. They do have a boost to their AC as well – particularly since a shot that inflicts a large amount of damage (or even a critical hit) – can still kill them in one shot.

Of course, these extra hit points are woefully deficient in terms of placing these girls on par with actual battleships, but that can’t be helped. The magic that’s imbuing their bodies can only go so far, and trying to grant them the degree of resilience and physicality that actual battleships have is beyond what it can do. At the end of the day, kanmusu are still humans, albeit extremely tough ones.

The waterskate spell is a variant of water walk, save that it only functions on water (rather than any liquid) and does not cause a submerged character to be borne up towards the surface. In exchange for this, it adds a +30 feet enhancement bonus to the character’s movement when on water.

Battleship Senses (20 CP)

  • Improved Occult Sense/radar (12 CP).
  • Immunity to the distance barriers when communicating (very common/minor/major), specialized for one-half cost/utilizes radio frequencies, which are vulnerable to detection, disruption, etc. (6 CP).
  • Profession (fleet girl) 2 ranks (2 CP).

The fleet girls have the ability to communicate with each other, and sense their enemies, over long distances, at least when they’re using their equipment. Likewise, they seem to have an instinctive understanding of how other ships function, and can recognize similar types of kanmusu on sight, which seemed best represented by some inherent bonuses to Profession skill checks.

Altogether, this template costs 376 CP, which is a +11 ECL modifier. Ouch! However, the entire template is specialized for one-half cost (except for the Damage Reduction, which is specialized for double effect)/these abilities only function when a fleet girl is wearing her “rigging” (a set of mechanical accouterments which, when worn, do not allow her to wear armor), cannot have this template’s hit points restored except via expensive and time-consuming repairs (essentially bathing in a special restorative solution), and may not directly improve on this template’s abilities except via further template levels.

That brings the cost down to 195 CP. Finally, we’ll add in the Obligations disadvantage – fleet girls are part of their country’s navy (presumably via compulsory service) and must function as per military officers – which brings the cost down to 192 CP, or +6 ECL exactly.

Kanmusu Carrier Template (192 CP/+6 ECL)

Not all fleet girls are equipped with artillery weapons. Some are aircraft carriers, firing arrows that – after being shot – become a half-dozen or so miniature fighter planes (piloted by cutesy-looking dolls).

For a kanmusu girl that’s a carrier ship, rather than a destroyer, modify the Destroyer template as follows:

  • Heavy Artillery is replaced with Aero Arrows: Inherent Spell with five instances of Advanced, all specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (24 CP), and one further instance of Advanced (aerial squadron) (18 CP) with plus eight Bonus Uses (12 CP).
  • The Carrier template only uses 17 caster levels, specialized for one-half cost/only for Inherent Spells (51 CP).
  • The Carrier template does not use grant Improved Defender (-12 CP). Aircraft carriers are meant to stay back from the front lines, launching their fighters into battle from a safe distance, counting on the destroyers to defend them if things get bad.

The aerial squadron spell is developed via the summoning spell template in The Practical Enchanter (p. 104). It summons 4d4 miniature planes – treat as CR 5 creatures – which sets the spell level as being 7. Increasing the duration to one hour per caster level raises the spell level by +3. Finally, the spell level is lowered by 1 due to it being unable to summon anything besides fighter planes.

Using a 9th-level spell to summon a small horde of CR 5 creatures might seem wasteful, but the kanmusu are 1st-level (or so) characters using a +6 ECL template. Keeping that in mind, a squadron of CR 5 creatures can prove to be a legitimate threat, even if they’re individually weaker.

Assigning Admiralty

The kanmusu templates grant a great deal of firepower and durability – and even a few utilitarian abilities – but pay for this with a huge ECL modifier. This is a feature rather than a bug, however, as it makes it unlikely that too many PCs would be interested in taking such a template (especially if the attendant disadvantage is played up properly).

This calls into question what practical uses these templates could be put towards. In fact, the answer is right there in the source material: fleet girls work best as part of an existing military hierarchy, which is to say, fleet girls function great as NPCs that answer the question of “how does local law enforcement/the military keep the peace in a world full of dangerous monsters and high-level characters?”

In this way, the kanmusu function as background characters that help to make the game world feel a little more internally consistent, much as antimages do. Even a small group of fleet girls can fend off quite a few overt threats through sheer firepower, without being so powerful that they can defend against less obvious threats or higher-level antagonists…which is where the PCs come in!

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.


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