Now with the Cutie Mark Crusaders done for Champions, the question is “How do you convert ponies from the show for d20?”.
Unfortunately the answer is “generally you don’t” – at least not for a typical game. While there are several versions of the pony “races” out there, and Alzrius made a valiant try at converting Rarity for a standard game, he pointed out specific problems with some of the other mane six. Sadly, the more general problem is that baseline d20 characters simply do not function like cartoon ponies do. That’s the basic difficulty when it comes to Ponyfinder as well. It may let you play d20 with pony characters, but they don’t work much like the ponies do in the cartoon unless you add a few world laws to your setting.
To see why, lets take a look at the upper limits of the things that ponies in the cartoon pull off.
Ordinary d20 characters do a lot of fighting. How durable are the small technicolored equines on the show?
- The Cutie Mark Crusaders are still alive – and are still being allowed to do things that would be insanely dangerous to human children with little or no supervision. That’s saying something right there considering the number of falls, crashes, and accidents they subject themselves to.
- In the first season, Twilight Sparkle, while still a Unicorn and arguably the least physically inclined of the mane six, gets attacked by bees, slammed by doors, falls down stairs, and then gets a flower pot, a large anvil, a hay cart, and a piano dropped on her head in rapid succession from a considerable height. She is somewhat injured, but recovers entirely within a few hours – going from casts to running around madly in that interval. .
- Rainbow Dash crashes through trees, and into rocks, and – at rainboom speeds (implied to be at least twice the speed of sound) – directly into the ground, creating a huge explosion, a mushroom cloud, and (from the amount of debris scattered afterwards) a huge crater with no injury at all. That’s quite tough enough to bounce anti-tank weapons. Even better, fast healing seems to be a thing for Pegasi too (while they never explain what broke it, recovering from a broken wing doesn’t take her all that long) – and probably for Earth Ponies as well given that Unicorns are supposed to be the most fragile of the three types.
- Oddly enough, however, ponies incredible durability does not seem to protect them from actual attacks nearly as well as it does from accidents. That’s a limitation of sorts anyway.
How strong are ponies?
- Pound Cake, as a one-month-old infant Pegasus, flies around carrying Pinkie Pie – a full grown adult or near-adult Earth Pony.
- Rarity hauls around a boulder, apparently of granite, four to five feet across. Some quick figuring gives me an approximate weight of six to nine tons for a rock that size. Now she was “discorded” at the time – but she isn’t when she throws it out of her boutique. And why would a personality-changing spell make her stronger anyway?
- Big Macintosh drags a house around quite easily (according to Google an average house weighs forty to eighty tons, or about sixty pounds per square foot. Even if we halve that because pony houses are smaller, that’s a lot to casually drag around). Sure, he was under the effects of a love potion at the time, but if it’s THAT easy to get super-strength as a side effect, why didn’t we see the royal guard smashing changelings with buildings? How often would such a powerful strength spell have been handy to Twilight?
- Rainbow Dash executes a sharp turn, carrying four other ponies, at supersonic speeds. Considering the kind of forces THAT involves, it’s a lot more reasonable to assume that Rainbow Dash is just so awesome that physics looks the other way when she’s having a moment than it is to try and calculate what kind of strength that calls for (and how tough the ponies she’s carrying would have to be to survive it).
How early in their lives do ponies develop their abilities?
- We don’t see many baby ponies – but at one month old Pumpkin Cake can levitate, phase through matter, use telekinesis (with enough raw power to break chains and padlocks), move and animate objects (handling at least four items at a time), and possibly teleport. We are told that “young unicorns have strange magical surges” of course. Those seem to happen most often when they’re left by their parents, are frightened, or are otherwise seriously stressed… can you say “Defense Mechanism”? Evidently during pony evolution “might die from out-of-control magic” was a much better deal than “WILL die from being eaten” for young proto-ponies. Still, evidently even unicorn magic is pretty intuitive and can show up early. Even without “surges”, rather small pegasi kids can fly – and Rainbow Dash could apparently exceed the speed of sound as a kid. She was also tough enough to maneuver and handle the slipstream at that speed, which isn’t easy. Even more tellingly, other pegasi foals could take being sideswiped and tossed around by her wake when she’s moving at that speed without injury. Not only are ponies insanely tough as adults, but they’re apparently inhumanly durable as children too.
How extensive are their abilities and how do they grow?
- It’s hard to say much definite about Applejack: she’s supposed to be amazingly strong, tough, and enduring, she can obviously accomplish enormous amounts of work in a given time, and she has some supernatural agricultural abilities (She kicks a tree and has all the fruit fall off and neatly stack itself into baskets – apparently without bruising the fruit or damaging the tree. Seriously?) – but there isn’t enough detail to really quantify anything there beyond some inherent magic. She does have an odd ability to manipulate things with her tail and to store her lasso… somewhere. It doesn’t seem to be under her hat anyway. We are also told that “only earth ponies can grow food”, which is blatantly weird given that many edible plants grow wild, as shown by the discovery of the Zap Apples. It seems far more likely that Earth Ponies have some inherent agricultural magic, and thus can grow and harvest crops far more effectively than any other type of pony – although individual special talents and massive effort and study may make up the difference in individual cases.
- Fluttershy can fly (quite well when she has to, even if she normally avoids it), control weather, generate lightning (given a cloud), walk on clouds (Hm. Cloud Horseshoes seem pretty practical in the setting…), resist the effects of high altitude and weather to some extent, heal rapidly, manipulate, stabilize, and build things out of, clouds (even if she never uses that ability), communicate with animals, stare down a dragon and a cockatrice with her supernatural gaze, is a skilled herbalist-healer, is apparently an expert naturalist and chorus director (you’ve got to be pretty good to be picked to perform at a royal wedding), and has numerous animal allies. On the other hand, her abilities are pretty much constant; they really don’t change a lot. Sure, she eventually acquires “Rainbow Power” – but that’s not really an ability of hers. Interestingly, when she was a foal who couldn’t fly well, the flight instructors and other students perched Fluttershy on a rather small cloud and made no attempt to rescue her when she went plummeting to the ground. Either they didn’t care (not likely in the setting), didn’t notice (now there is some NEGLIGENCE), or falling out of the sky is not normally dangerous for a Pegasus foal even if they can’t fly yet. Given how tough ponies seem to be, I’d go with the third option.
- “Basic” Unicorns seem to be able to create light and basic lighting effects, use telekinesis to accomplish skilled tasks (albeit often mostly in fields related to their cutie mark), sense magic, provide power to magical devices, and resist or disrupt other magic with their own – although most of them lack the raw power to really accomplish much that way. They may be able to generate some basic protective and utility effects as well, such as resisting weather, purifying water, sealing and sterilizing wounds, and other simple survival-oriented techniques with practice (presuming they’re an evolved species, those are pretty obviously enhancements to their survivability). In most cases any further magical abilities seem to be linked to their cutie marks; Rarity can find gems, manipulate many items at the same time with telekinesis (at least as long as they have to do with sewing and making things), transform trees into topiaries, dress and undress ponies (and presumably other creatures) in an instant, and create light shows and backdrops – fitting enough if you accept the notion that her cutie mark indicates an ability to “find and bring out inner beauty”. Unicorns with magic-linked marks can learn magic easily. It’s more difficult – but not impossible – for other Unicorns to learn new spells, as Twilight teaching Sweetie Belle indicates. Still, a cutie mark seems to stabilize a Unicorn’s magic – allowing small children to do wild and wonderful things that adults apparently can’t.
- Shining Armor shields an entire city against an army, and later shields another against Sombra. Presumably he has the usual abilities of a well-trained Unicorn and royal guard as well, but he hasn’t had enough screen time to really show off very much.
- Twilight Sparkle can teleport pretty much at will, is a telekinetic powerful enough to reassemble a collapsing dam and hydroelectric plant despite the water pressure behind it, and displays a considerable list of other powers even BEFORE she becomes an Alicorn. She’s really the only pony who shows much development though – although it’s more an increase in “number of spells known” than power, which she was apparently pretty much born with.
- Pinkie Pie… Honestly, Loki, Coyote, and plenty of other mythic gods have gotten along with a fraction of the abilities she displays. Sure, it’s limited – but semi-omniscience (pinkie sense, unaccountable knowledge, knowing when people are breaking promises), semi-omnipresence (ability to pop up and vanish pretty much anywhere), and the ability to warp reality (producing items up to a full-size cannon, breaking the fourth wall, being a one-man band with no hands or mouth, using Twilight as a gatling gun, defying gravity) covers pretty much everything I’d want to do. Worse, she can apparently inspire those same powers in OTHER ponies, such as Cheese Sandwich.
- On the other hand, ponies generally aren’t big on epic-level or even high-order magic, you don’t see anyone bench-pressing mountains, and they do try to avoid serious attacks. There are some high-powered bits – but they tend to be VERY specific, such as Celestia’s moving the sun, or Shining Armor protecting a city. Those are very impressive stunts – but they’re still one-trick ponies.
How often can ponies use their abilities?
- There isn’t a lot of hard evidence here. Given that the episodes are only about twenty-two minutes long, ponies really don’t have many chances to show off their endurance – but it apparently takes days of hard labor on very very little sleep to exhaust Applejack and she can applebuck all day long. Twilight Sparkle can cast practice spells all morning, then fight an Ursa Minor, and still be fresh and happy. We see four Earth Ponies pulling a train through a desert for a day and a night (and resisting being knocked over by buffalo, one of whom is dazed by bouncing off a far smaller Earth Pony), a feat calling for massive strength and equally massive endurance even if they’re just supplementing the locomotive. Scootaloo hauls her friends all the way to the crystal empire, fast enough to beat a train. Rarity sees to be limited by lack of sleep, rather than by how much magic she can use. All in all, ponies simply do not seem to run out of magic under normal circumstances. Instead they seem to be limited by simple physical exhaustion.
What kind of adventures do ponies go on?
- There are slice-of-life episodes with social difficulties (suitable for d20 characters of any level) – but the very first episode / adventure puts the main six – a fashion designer, a farmer, a magic student, an athlete, and the town clown – up against a quasi-deity capable of bringing about eternal darkness. The series presents Hydras, Manticores, Chimera, and adolescent Dragons as minor opponents – obstacles to delivering pies in one case. For major ones they have dark lords, elder dragons, and chaos gods. What sort of characters join forces and go up against a quasi-deity for their first adventure? It ISN’T starting-off d20 characters in any “normal” campaign.
Are our ponies hunting for money and equipment? Or, for that matter, experience points?
- In general, no. Applejack mentions needing money a few times – but it’s certainly not the real focus of things even in those episodes. Mostly they’re opposing the bad guys, and doing good deeds, because that’s what good guys do. There isn’t a lot of worrying about their jobs or supporting themselves.
Do they kill a lot of things?
- Certainly not. Fatalities are vanishingly rare to (depending on if Sombra is actually dead or just on another epic time out) nonexistent.
Other attributes are a bit more nebulous… but ponies seem to have a fairly normal (perhaps slightly above normal, but not enough to matter in d20 terms) distribution of intelligence, they’re usually quite alert (although little more so than humans with similar cultures), they’re certainly cute and make friends easily, and they show considerable endurance (although so do healthy humans when they’re in good shape). They probably run a bit faster than human beings too; while there’s no direct standard of comparison they are little horses and the basic equine defense mechanism IS running away.
At it’s base, Friendship is Magic is a semi-utopian cartoon set in a world where pretty much everyone has at least limited super-powers. Yes, Ponies are better than non-cartoon people. In many cases they are WAY better. And they tend to be a lot nicer too. Simply making them higher level helps some – but doesn’t fit in well with the “have quite a lot of their powers even as kids” bit.
So… ponies generally have highly specific powers, which they use without any solid limit, but which do not change much with experience, they are incredibly tough, don’t worry much about background details, are brightly-colored, are easily identified since they always look the same, and they even have superhero-style names. Sure, the major characters can probably be presumed to be at least a bit exceptional – that’s stated outright in several cases – but lesser characters make some pretty good showings too.
That simply isn’t how baseline d20 works. We could approximate it by making ponies a high-ECL species, but most of the options there would still tend to run out of power too quickly.
In this case we’re probably going to want a multi-pronged approach – probably about a +1 ECL species to cover their baseline abilities, the Low-Level Hero Template to keep their developing powers from overshadowing their baseline abilities too much, and the Superheroic World Template to give them a continuous flow of Mana to power their abilities with.
When I next get back to this, it will be time to do the three major pony races.