Eclipse – Where the D20 Ponies At? Part I

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.

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13 Responses

  1. A very detailed and accurate accounting of pony traits and abilities! I tend to hand-wave certain aspects of the show as being meta-narrative in nature (e.g. what we see as viewers would not be what we’d see if we were actually there alongside the characters), but that’s sometimes hard to do (Pinkie Pie blurs the line between when this is applicable and when it’s not a lot…especially in the latest episode Party Pooped, where she wreaks havoc on trying to measure the distance between far-flung parts of Equestria).

    I noticed that your summary for how to stat up the ponies didn’t mention the Cartoon template. Was that an oversight, or are the basic cartoon powers going to be subsumed into the final write-up? (For that matter, throw in a minor World Law with regards to ranks in Perform (sing), given how often spontaneous musical numbers happen.)

    It’s also worth noting that what we don’t see – in this case, magic items – tends to be as noteworthy as what we do. Specifically, magic items seem rare enough that it would suggest that normal d20 methods of making them aren’t readily available; however, it’s clearly possible, what with Star-Swirl the Bearded’s dimension-crossing mirror, Sunset Shimmer’s linked books (across planes, no less), the Alicorn Amulet, and the “great mage Meadowbrook’s eight enchanted items” (which are otherwise unspecified). So Create Relic and Create Artifact are the only ones available, perhaps?

    • That is always a problem with conversions. There are always little errors which you pretty much have to ignore – such as when Rainbow Dash momentarily has two heads – but for the most part I tend towards the “take it as literally as possible when the show presents something as real”. That is kind of hard to do with a lot of the song-sequences though – especially the ones with Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich. Personally, I’d guess that the magic of harmony (or heartsongs, or music, or whatever) tosses in special effects to go with the background music in such situations – and that a character in the setting will indeed see and hear it, but would be aware that it was mostly illusions.

      The Cartoon Template – or at least some parts of it – will be subsumed into the d20 writeup. That’s really a setting difference; the Champions writeups presume that the ponies are literal cartoons, pulled into the material world by superheroic magic. As such, they share some qualities with other cartoons, such as the Roadrunner, Bugs Bunny, and similar creations. D20 versions, on the other hand, aren’t going to be embodied chunks of imagination haling from a cartoon which doesn’t exist in the setting; they’re going to need to be a more-or-less “natural” material species from a “real” world.

      For Magic Items, I’d say that you’re quite right with regard to major items – Create Artifact and Create Relic will be about it, and even those are likely to be restricted to fairly high level characters. There does seem to be plenty of minor stuff about though – ranging from the Flim-Flam brothers cider-making machine through Appleblooms potions, video games (presumably magic, since I don’t see an industrial base to support actually building the things anywhere), Tank’s little helicopter, and lots of other stuff.

      Still, that’s mostly setting stuff.

      • I’d forgotten about the minor items you mentioned. I suppose those would be talismans, more than any sort of true magic item.

      • That does seem pretty reasonable given that most of the small stuff has little to no real effect in d20 terms. It just makes life more convenient.

        I suppose it’s possible that the royal guard has a stockpile of “normal” d20 combative magical stuff in an armory somewhere, but who would know? Equestria doesn’t seem to be big on wars, and doesn’t really support adventurers. We might just never see such items since, if we assume “normal” d20 “economics”, who else can afford items like that?

      • It’s very ironic that the one time we see genuine magical weapons that aren’t unique – those being the bows that shoot ice-arrows in Equestria Games, the fourth season’s antepenultimate episode – they’re not being used as weapons at all, but as sports equipment.

  2. Purely for fun, I decided to play with the numbers here to try and figure out what level the Mane Six would be under this system.

    As noted above, everyone in Equestria would be using the Low-Level Hero Template. This grants 2-3 CP per game session up through level six, 1-2 CP per game session through level ten, and 1 CP above tenth level.

    If we average the number of sessions it takes to reach 24 CP, that means that that first bracket (levels 1-6) will require ten sessions to go up a level (e.g. 2-3 CP per sessions would require eight (at 3 CP per session) to twelve (at 2 CP per session) sessions per level, or ten sessions on average), the second bracket (levels 7-10) will require an average of eighteen sessions to gain a level, and the third bracket (level 11+) will require twenty-four sessions per level.

    So in other words, if you start at 1st level, and want to make it all the way to 20th, you’ll need to play a grand total of three hundred sixty-two sessions! (Incidentally, if each session is weekly, that’s just two weeks shy of seven years!)

    So how does this help us for MLP? Well, let’s presume that each episode is a “session” (and, like most campaigns, new episodes are weekly), and plug those numbers in.

    The first four seasons had a grand total of ninety-one episodes, and as of the time of this writing twelve episodes of the fifth season have aired, for a grand total of one hundred three episodes so far. That means that the Mane Six have had one hundred three sessions…which, according to the numbers above, means that they’re one session shy of hitting 8th level (e.g. they’ll reach 8th level after this weekend’s episode).

    Given that you mentioned that they’re all +1 ECL races, that would make them ECL 9 characters, altogether, and they’ll remain at that level until early next season.

    Of course, this presumes that all of them are gaining CPs (and equal CPs, at that) for each and every episode, disregarding things like some of the Mane Six not being in certain episodes, or having a session be devoted to relatively mundane activities like going camping or reconnecting with old friends…but this is just a thought experiment.

    This is also overlooking the two movies, and what those would be worth (and whether or not they’d only count for Twilight…it just seems more difficult to hand-wave the rest of the party gaining equal rewards when all they’re doing is waiting nervously for her to return from adventuring on another plane of existence), but those would probably be minor adjustments overall.

    (Ironically, while the show’s internal timeline is played fast and loose with regards to how much time passes between each episode, the outline given above matches very well with how much time the show seems to think has passed. In other words, there’s been just over a hundred episodes shown, and almost two years have passed for the characters.

    We know that thanks to the fourth season premiere being the one-year anniversary of the series premiere, and the commentary for the second movie (between the fourth and fifth seasons) – presuming that time passes on a 1:1 basis between the two dimensions – takes place six months after the first movie (between the third and fourth seasons). Throw in the half-season’s worth of episodes we’ve gotten so far, and that’s closing in on the two-year mark. That’s very consistent with the “one session per week” paradigm, even if it is entirely coincidental!)

    • “The first four seasons had a grand total of ninety-one episodes, and as of the time of this writing twelve episodes of the fifth season have aired, for a grand total of one hundred three episodes so far. That means that the Mane Six have had one hundred three sessions…which, according to the numbers above, means that they’re one session shy of hitting 8th level (e.g. they’ll reach 8th level after this weekend’s episode).

      Given that you mentioned that they’re all +1 ECL races, that would make them ECL 9 characters, altogether, and they’ll remain at that level until early next season.”

      Much to my chagrin, I made an error in the above paragraphs. Since the characters are presumed to start at level 1, rather than level 0, that would mean that as of today’s episode – the one hundred-fourth episode – they’d hit be hitting 9th level, which with a +1 ECL race would make them ECL 10 characters. Mea culpa there.

      • Well, it works fine for me either way – especially since I’d suspect that several levels worth of points have (very appropriately) gone into social contacts and connections, titles, reputation, political influence, and similar things.

        It is always nice when the game system can show a reasonably good match to how the actual source material seems to work though. I’ve seen far, FAR, too many “adaptions” that wind up with the characters and setting being almost unrecognizable after being crammed into a game system that doesn’t offer enough options to accommodate them.

  3. […] Basic Pony Capabilities – and the awkwardness of a d20 conversion when you’re dealing with characters who are basically minor superheroes. Commentary: Notes on Magic Items in Equestria and experience / level gains through the series. […]

  4. […] Powers. As befits a world full of minor superpowers, all adult major characters are going to have at least minor special abilities (if only so that […]

  5. Actually… Quasi-Deities aren’t that big of a deal in 3.5. It’s mostly a matter of spell resistance 32 and DR 10/epic (since most immunities won’t apply for starting adventurers). Sure, that’s harsh for a party of level 1 adventurers, but depending on what the actual creature that has that Divine Rank of 0 is, a party of level 5 adventurers could reasonably take it down. And that’s only if they don’t have abilities that flat out bypass DR and SR.

    As a matter of fact (I think I mentioned this before somewhere), the actual Template that bestows a Divine Rank of 0 doesn’t increase ECL at all (even if it does require 10 levels in rather weak classes).

    • Differing definitions I fear – in this case it’s just fantasy-novel English. “Quasi-Deity” – an entity possessing deific-level powers (generally including near-immortality, a good deal of invulnerability, vast (and mostly undefined) reality-altering powers, and a supernatural awareness of both it’s surroundings and of its areas of interest) but with a relatively limited scope. Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes, Cthulhu and his spawn (at least as Lovecraft described them), and many other creatures all fall into this group. They possess enormous powers on particular worlds, but are not linked with the creation of the universe or vast universal forces.

      In 3.0 and 3.5 pretty much every deity in the Forgotten Realms fell into this group. Only Ao’s mysterious boss might surpass it.

  6. […] Basic Pony Capabilities – and the awkwardness of a d20 conversion when you’re dealing with characters who are basically minor superheroes. Commentary: Notes on Magic Items in Equestria and experience / level gains through the series. […]

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