A Streetcar Named Sophia

One of the defining aspects of older console games was just how difficult they were. While not all of the old games were frustratingly hard to beat, many of them were. Quite a few people I know never beat games like Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Battletoads. Certainly, I never did. But there’s another game that I’d rank up as being one of the most impossible to beat: Blaster Master.

Just the story of a boy and his frog.

Combining “Metroidvania”-style platforming with top-down shooter/exploration gameplay, what made Blaster Master so freakishly difficult wasn’t its enemies, bosses, or the doubling-back required to beat the game. Rather, it was that the game had no save features or password system, requiring you to beat the game – playing it through from start to finish – in a single sitting. For an exploratory game, that made figuring out where you needed to go a very time-consuming task, particularly if you died and ran out of continues without having hand-drawn a map or memorized your progress.

Still, the game drew me back in for countless hours, and not just because I only had a few NES games at the time. The game’s two modes of play game it an added level of enjoyment, and finding the correct area for the first time brought a real sense of accomplishment. Not to mention the opening theme was notably haunting.

Although the game’s story was notably different in the original Japanese release, the American version was simple and to the (ridiculous) point. The protagonist’s frog escapes from its cage and hops into the backyard, where it hits a rather inconveniently-placed radioactive container, mutates, and falls into a hole in the earth. The hero falls down as well, hitting his head, and when he comes to (mercifully without injury) there’s no sign of his now-gigantic frog…but there is a conveniently-unattended tank, complete with a battle-suit inside. Donning it, our hero goes out to rescue his frog from the mutant-filled subterranean landscape (which doesn’t look very subterranean at all, but nevermind that).

It was the 8-bit 80’s; “story” wasn’t really a thing in video games back then.

All these features, and yet no cup holder.

Still, the tank he finds is rather cool. Named “Sophia the 3rd,” it’s got quite a few bells and whistles, though its more advanced features have to be unlocked as you play through the game. Even so, it’s a rather nifty little vehicle, able to jump, swim, drive up walls, and even fly for short periods of time. Given that the top-down areas of the game were typically shorter than the platforming required to reach them, you normally spent most of the game rolling around in Sophia.

Given that you spend most of the game driving the tank, I couldn’t help but get it in my head to write up stats for Sophia the 3rd with Eclipse: The Codex Persona. This way, you can have a sweet ride the next time your character decides to rescue a mutated frog.

Sophia the 3rd, Multi-Terrain Tank

To begin with, we’ll select a brown bear as our base creature. Since it has a CR of 4, that means that it has a base Character Point cost of 64 [the rational being that it’s 32 CP x (CR -2)], specialized for one-half cost/may not use natural melee attacks or senses (i.e. low-light vision or scent), does not have reach, loses all feats except Run. So the base cost is 32 CP, with additional costs as per below.

The above is written under the presumption that a character will want to take Sophia the 3rd as a Companion (Eclipse, p. 27). This is cribbed from Thoth’s article on the subject, and indeed we’re going to be lifting most of what’s there and modifying it as needed here.

Durable Chassis (34 CP)

  • Extreme Horsepower: +8 Strength, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/increases one size category, gaining all of the negative effects (e.g. increased penalty to attacks, AC, size-dependent skills, etc.), but the only positive effect is an increased encumbrance modifier (16 CP).
  • No AI: Int 0 (0 CP).
  • Siliconstruct: Con 0 (0 CP).
  • Reinforced Frame: Advanced Finesse/base additional hit points on Str, not Con (12 CP).
  • Armored Coating: Damage Reduction 3/- (6 CP).

The Extreme Horsepower listing allows some wiggle room for the GM, because the wording deliberately makes it ambiguous whether or not the Sophia the 3rd is actually Huge-size, or is simply reaping the negative effects as if it were. This is because the actual vehicle is quite clearly Large-size, and capable of holding only a single Medium-size creature. On the other hand, in an actual game you might want a vehicle that can carry the whole party, and a Huge-size vehicle can carry up to four Medium-size creatures.

Sweet Ride (24 CP)

  • Life Support: Presence (x5), all specialized/cannot be upgraded, the “vehicle” requires a pilot to move or use its “natural” attacks; it can neither move nor attack on its own. Moreover, it must be repaired, not healed (15 CP).
    • Presence/enclosed crew area: those aboard are protected by the equivalent of a tower shield (a minor variant on the shield spell) against attacks from the outside, although they are not considered to be “holding the shield.”
    • Presence/stable platform: those aboard suffer no penalties for “being mounted.”
    • Presence/safety holds: those aboard have places to hold on, and may more around under normal conditions without risk.
    • Presence/basic comforts: those aboard are shielded from most weather, and can expect to remain reasonably comfortable.
    • Presence/draught of air: those aboard can continue to breathe normally as long as Sophia the 3rd is in an appropriate environment and conditions outside are not too hostile (this will work as long as the outside pressure remains more or less reasonable; if it’s no longer reasonable, than the environment is now “too hostile.” This will work underwater thanks to Adaptation, see below).
  • Onboard Medibay: Healing Touch with +2 Bonus Uses, specialized for increased effect/may only be used on occupant(s), each use restores up to (Hit Dice x Strength modifier: 72) hit points (9 CP).

To be absolutely clear, the “enclosed crew area” Presence means that characters riding inside Sophia the 3rd do not have line of effect to creatures or objects outside of it, and vice versa.

Tricked Out (36 CP)

  • Enhanced Systems: Innate Enchantment (minimum caster level as appropriate; personal-only where appropriate; 14,600 gp value): Specialized for one-half cost/needs a pilot to operate its systems (8 CP).
    • Structural Augmentation: immortal vigor I (+12 + double Str. mod hp; 1,400 gp).
    • Antigravity Pulse: jump (1,400 gp).
    • Gripping Treads: spider climb (personal-only; 8,400 gp).
    • Overdrive: personal haste (2,000 gp).
    • Smart-Locking Doors: hold portal (personal-only; 1,400 gp).
  • Hydraulic Depressurization: Adaptation/aquatic climates (6 CP).
  • Weapon Systems: Shaping, Pulse of the Dragon, and Heart of the Dragon, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/only to use diamond spray, lightning bolt, magic missile, and searing light at will (18 CP).
  • Fully Mechanical: Immunity to dispelling and antimagic (common/minor/minor) (4 CP).

Given that Sophia the 3rd will be an NPC companion, there’s no need to purchase Immunity to the XP cost for having Innate Enchantments. Note also that the Immunity to dispelling and antimagic also protects its Path of the Dragon abilities. The Path of the Dragon abilities are all treated as being caster level 6, and diamond spray and lightning bolt have a save DC of 14 (10 + spell level + Wisdom modifier). Technically, the base creature’s Wisdom is 1 point too low to allow for 3rd-level spells, but since these are specialized and corrupted for triple effect, this is allowable.

Propulsion Boosters (34 CP)

  • Inertial Dampeners: Immunity to the limitations on Jump (very common/minor/trivial). This allows Sophia the 3rd to ignore the running requirement for jumps, may double its result for long jumps and quadruple its result for high jumps (4 CP).
  • Rocket Thrusters: Celerity with an Additional movement mode/flying, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/may only be used for a number of rounds equal to its Hit Dice, requires refueling after each use (6 CP).
  • Nautical Engine: Celerity (x2) with Additional movement mode/swimming (24 CP).

With regard to the fuel needed for the rocket thrusters, my off-hand recommendation is that 1 round’s worth be created via a DC 20 Craft (alchemy) check, taking 1 hour and costing 100 gp. This is fairly easily made even at lower levels. Even if stocked up on, this keeps flight at the tactical, rather than overland, level. (Of course, this is a departure from the game, where fuel is dropped randomly by defeated enemies, but there’s little that can be done there.)

Adding all this up, we have a 32 CP base creature with 128 CP worth of augmentation. That means that if you’re buying Sophia the 3rd as a Companion, you’ll need to purchase two levels of Template at 6 CP each, for a total cost of 18 CP. Not a bad price to travel around in such style!

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 27 (base creature) + 12 (immortal vigor) + 96 (Strength bonus) = 135 hp.
  • Carrying Capacity: 6,384 lbs. (light), 12,792 lbs. (medium), 19,200 lbs. (heavy).
  • Speed: 70 ft., fly 60 ft. (perfect), swim 60 ft., climb 40 ft.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +5 (base) +0 (Con) = +5.
    • Ref: +5 (base) +1 (Dex) = +6.
    • Will: +2 (base) +1 (Wis) = +3.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) +1 (Dex) -2 (size) +5 (natural armor) = 14, touch 8, flat-footed 13.
  • Ranged Attacks: +4 (BAB) +1 (Dex) -2 (size) = +3 ranged.
  • Feats: Run.
  • Skills:
    • Climb: 0 (base ranks) +12 (Str) +8 (climb speed bonus) = +20.
    • Fly: 0 (base ranks) +1 (Dex) +8 (fly speed bonus) +8 (perfect maneuverability) -4 (Huge size penalty) = +13 (Pathfinder only).
    • Jump: 0 (base ranks) +12 (Str) +16 (speed bonus) +10 (jump spell) = +38.
    • Swim: 0 (base ranks) +12 (Str) +8 (swim speed bonus) = +20.

Further Development

As a vehicle, Sophia the 3rd isn’t much in the way of an siege machine. Its attacks are comparatively weak, even if they have some nice variety to them and can be used indefinitely. Likewise, its armor is abysmal; its durability comes from its DR and comparatively high hit points, but even those won’t protect it against higher-level threats. Rather, Sophia’s usefulness comes in terms of its ability to take its owner almost anywhere, and to provide a relatively safe environment while doing so. The fact that it can heal a notable amount of damage, and retreat from a bad situation at impressive speeds, certainly helps.

Going forward, buying off several of the corruptions and specializations (particularly with regard to Life Support and the Rocket Thrusters) will be a priority. Some further defenses would be helpful, but buying up the attacks is likely to yield diminishing returns very quickly (though an Overrun or Trample attack to just plow through mobs of low-level foes might be useful). Sensors and communications systems might help to make the tank feel more like an all-purpose mobile base.

Of course, having a pet frog is entirely optional.


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