Archive for February, 2015

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 Amazon.com 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.

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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
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Defense
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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
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Offense
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Speed 40 ft., fly 30 ft. (clumsy)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 20th; concentration +33)
2/day—telekinesis
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*
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Statistics
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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.
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Special Abilities
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Ancestry (Horn) (Sp) You grow a unicorn horn from your head, allowing you to use unseen servant as a spell-like ability 2/day.
Ancestry (Wings) (Su) You gain feathered wings that, when activated, grant a base flight speed of 30 ft. (clumsy). At sorcerer level 20, the flight ability becomes permanent and activated at will.
Earth-Bound Gain a +2 racial bonus to saves vs Poison, Spells and Spell-Like effects, Endurance as a bonus feat.
Fey Monarch (Su) At 20th level, you become a mortal ruler of fey creatures. You gain DR 10/Cold Iron and a +2 bonus to Diplomacy, Sense Motive, Intimidate, and Bluff checks with fey creatures. Any aging penalties you had are removed and you cease to accrue new ones.
Fingerless Ponies and many other races of Everglow can manipulate any one-handed item with their mouths, despite their lack of fingers. Hand and ring slot items automatically adjust to fit, becoming anklets that otherwise function normally.
Force Ray (Sp) Ranged touch attack for 1d4+10 damage, 14/day.
Magic Focus (Ex) At 15th level, you gain +2 to the save DCs of the magic school of your choice. This stacks with Spell Focus, Greater Spell Focus, and Focused Horn Magic.
New Arcana (Ex) Add a spell to your spells known at 9th, 13th, and 17th levels.
Unique Destiny Gain a bonus feat at 1st level.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Abilities (153 CP)

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

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

Spellcasting (328 CP)

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

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

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

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

Special Abilities (50 CP)

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

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

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

Iliana Unleashed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corona of Life (40 CP)

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

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

Enchantress Nonpareil (14 CP)

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

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

Veteran Campaigner (9 CP)

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

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

Founder of the Empire (27 CP)

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

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

Iliana’s Sanctum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Gandalf

February 8, 2015

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

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

gandalfr runes

In fact, “badass” is the literal translation.

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

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

The Gandalfr Template (64 CP/+2 ECL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • +5 BAB (30 CP).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Monty Oum

February 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loss, by its very nature, is personal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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