The Other Gandalf

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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