Ponies of the Eclipse – Unicorn Ponies

Unicorn Pony (+32 CP, 63 CP or +1 ECL Total):

My Little Pony-style Unicorns are something of a headache to fit into d20.

That’s partially because unicorn children seem to be far more powerful than most unicorn adults. Even counting Twilight Sparkle as an exception, Pumpkin Cake can break chains, dimension door or teleport, phase through matter, move and animate objects, and fly around – at one month old. In the comics, Sweetie Belle, who certainly doesn’t seem to be a magical genius or exceptionally powerful, accidentally transforms half the ponies of Ponyville into animate fruit, apparently irresistibly. Yes, that seems to be mostly cosmetic (and so could be considered an illusion or a rather minor transformation rather than a major one) – but it’s still pretty impressive for someone who can barely levitate a broom.

Characters that get weaker as they grow up don’t fit into d20 as easily as most. Sure, you can just handwave it in a lot of games – but even if child PC’s are uncommon, kids are very common indeed. It makes it kind of hard to raise tension with a monster attacking a village if the smaller local kids panic-response can be expected to include blasting it with horrific spells. Given that that doesn’t seem to happen, it seems likely that very young unicorns only have mighty magical powers when it’s cute and funny for the audience.

That’s right up there with “The Cutie Mark Crusaders use a vacuum cleaner to suck the colors out of a rainbow, leaving it grey”. So… the winds from a storm have no effect on a rainbow, but the little wind from a vacuum cleaner sucks it dry of color? Across several miles? In seconds? It’s really hard to make that sort of thing consistent with a role-playing setting where the players expect to have at least some notion of what does and does not work.

Honestly, I’ve left this to simmer for days to see if I thought of anything – but there is no way to put “Children have mighty magical powers that only manifest to frustrate their caregivers or annoy others when it will be especially amusing to semi-omniscient third-party audiences outside the settings reality” into a setting in any way that makes sense in that setting. It doesn’t even make any sense as a curse on the kids or even on their caretakers.

I can’t put a cost on “the game master is feeling playful today”; it’s not even a character attribute.

Rather more importantly though… The vast majority of Unicorn adults – unlike, say, Earth Pony farmers or the rather ubiquitous competitive flyers and weather team members – tend to be pretty underpowered. Most of them seem to be capable of sensing magic, of making light, of telekinetically manipulating nearby items pretty much as if they had hands, and of doing something related to their cutie mark, even if it’s just a skill boost – and most of the time we don’t even see that much. After all… Trixie is powerful and versatile enough to make a living doing magic shows in a world full of magic users – and just how effective was Trixie? Under her own power Trixie is a good telekinetic, does firework and light displays, changes hair colors, momentarily shuts up a heckler with an easily-removed “mouth zipper”, creates electrical energy discharges sufficient to be annoying and startling to a Pegasus (cartoon joy buzzer style), and animates a rope.

For ordinary Unicorns we have Claude (who is good at animating puppets – and not giant battle-puppets or sneaky assassin-puppets or anything like that. Just puppets on a puppet-stage), Doughnut Joe (who is good at making doughnuts), Dr Horse (who is presumably capable of using a diagnostic spell and – I’d hope – a few other medical magics what with going through medical school), Fancy Pants (who is apparently skilled at fine control with his telekinesis), Fleur Dis Lee (who seems to have a knack for looking pretty), Flim and Flam (who have bonuses to fast talk and a spell for powering gadgets – if that isn’t an inherent function of the gadget), Jet Set and Upper Crust (who seem to specialize in being snobs), Sapphire Shores (who is good at singing, and might possibly do her own effects or background music), Trenderhoof (a skilled writer), and rather a lot of background ponies and Unicorn aristocrats who are never seen doing anything at all.

So for Basic Unicorn Magic we’ll need…

Occult Talent, Corrupted/these abilities are focused by the Unicorn’s horn; a successful attack on the horn, damage to it, curse on it, or other harmful effect on it, will block the use of this ability until the problem is corrected (or the user buys off this limitation. This limitation is quite obvious, since using their talents causes both the user’s horn and the target to be surrounded by matching glows (4 CP). For an instinctive spell list we have:

  • L0: Dancing Lights (in many trivial variants), Daze (with various special effects), Detect Magic, and (Skill) Mastery (provides a +3 competence bonus on a particular skill for ten minutes per level, +6 if it only covers a limited aspect of a skill).
  • L1) Greater Mage Hand.

A Unicorn can use four level zero and one first level effects each day without cost. After that, the spells may be powered by Mana (one point of Mana equates to two spell levels). As usual for the Occult Talent ability the Caster Level is equal to the characters level and no components are required.

Of course, there are a few required secondary powers.

Immunity/Being unable to Concentrate on more than one thing at a time (Common, Minor, Minor – covering up to three tasks and/or spells of up to level three at any one time, 4 CP).

One of the most inhuman things about Unicorns is their ability to pay attention to several things at once – reading while levitating the book and talking to friends, or manipulating several things with Greater Mage Hand at one time, and otherwise concentrating on several things at one time. Minor upgrades to this ability neatly explain why the greatest scholars and such tend to be Unicorns, as well as how Celestia (who also possesses Unicorn Magic) can keep track of so many things at one time.

Upgrade their basic Mana supply with the Spell Enhancement Natural Magic option (2 CP). Since this is just buying off a minor limitation, it’s quite cheap.

Metamagic: Amplify (Specialized and Corrupted/Only applies to Occult Talent abilities, 2 CP).

A Unicorn may spend up to three points of extra mana on a spell to boost its power – thus turning Dancing Lights into a fireworks show, or a blinding glare, or some such, turning Daze into Daze Monster or more, analyzing magical energies, boosting their skill further, or lifting greater weights at longer ranges. Thus – if the Superheroic World Template is in play – the baseline (Con 12) Unicorn can use their Occult Talents indefinitely, while those at Con 14+, 16+, and 18+ can boost them to accomplish a good deal more – and all unicorns have enough of a mana reserve to manage one or two more potent effects in an emergency. While these abilities do take a certain amount of training to use properly there’s no price break for THAT. Random NPC’s ponies may never have learned, but players are not going to cripple themselves by decreeing that their characters did not pay attention in magic kindergarten.

Unicorns get a +2 Racial Bonus to Knowledge/Arcana (2 CP). They may not have undertaken any formal study, but they do work with the basics, and can sense magic, almost from birth. They aren’t going to be unfamiliar with the stuff.

Attribute Shift, +2 Intelligence/-2 Strength (6 CP). A Unicorn’s multi-tasking ability makes them a very quick study indeed. While this doesn’t mean that there are no stupid unicorns, it does raise the average.

Advanced Unicorn Magic is a bit different. Unicorns get a Bonus Feat (6 CP) – but they don’t have to use it to learn further magic. Since young Unicorns tend to be subject to strange little obsessions, they may choose to develop almost anything.

Quite a few will, however, simply develop Improved Occult Talent (Corrupted as the basic version, 4 CP) and upgrade their basic Occult Talent for Increased Effect (additional formulas, +2 CP) – adding another three level zero and three level one spells to their list and increasing their daily “free” uses to 5 L0 spells and 3 L1 spells. This option is simple, practical, and requires only a moderate amount of study – not to mention that it can offer access to higher level spells, although extra Mana will have to be spent to get them down to an effective level of one. For ponies who expect to pursue a particular profession (and who don’t expect to be gaining a lot of levels) this is a fine choice. A few well-chosen low level spells can make life much easier, or make you an excellent doctor, or help immeasurably with many other professions.

The Hedge Magic list is an excellent source for this kind of thing.

There are Unicorns with major talents, but most of them seem to be strictly limited to particular themes – and so their abilities can be handled as forms of Rune Magic; they simply buy a +3 Racial Bonus on the appropriate Casting and Mastery skills (6 CP). In the case of villains, they can also be presumed to have a couple of character levels, and so may have added powers from that For some examples we have….

  • King Sombra: Darkness/Negation, including mental darkness – despair, fear, forgetfulness, and compulsion. He doesn’t get enough screen time to really display anything else, but he is supposed to have survived a battle with Celestia and Luna, so presumably he’s got some levels to work with. Fortunately for him, concealing yourself, turning into an incorporeal shadow, and negating incoming attacks makes for some fairly good defenses.
  • Party Favor: Object Conjuration – admittedly, in the form of balloon creations. Still an extremely handy ability since the binoculars and bridge he creates are perfectly functional and there’s no reason to suspect that he’s limited to binoculars and bridges.
  • Rarity: Rarity is kind of tricky. At first glance, her magic is all over the place. Yes, she’s very good at multitasking and telekinesis, but otherwise she finds gems, makes topiary, makes beds, styles manes, repairs mustaches, cleans up messes (a must with Sweetie Belle around), heals plants (reattaching broken branches to trees), adds, removes, and modifies clothing, entertains, makes tea, rearranges furniture, repairs wheels, and creates light shows and backdrops. Rarity is a Hearthcrafter – a specialist in household magic. She can locate what she needs for household tasks, create elegant gardens, care for a household and the appearance and minor illnesses and disasters of the ponies in it, and greatly accelerate the typical tasks of running a household – such as making clothing.
  • Shining Armor: Warding, albeit with some level-based area-of-effect boosts. He obviously has the “protective big brother” thing down pretty well though.
  • Starlight Glimmer: Evocation. Starlight is probably the most directly combative Unicorn seen so far, her “explosive dimension door” can probably be fit into Evocation, and her “equalization” spell has been stated to be the result of long study – and thus not a normal part of her talent. Her telekinesis is pretty good as well. Still, she is the villain of a two-parter, opposed the entire party on her own, and escaped, so a few levels worth of upgrades seems likely.
  • Sunset Shimmer: Fire, including it’s philosophical effects of transformation and fascination.
  • Trixie Lulamoon: Transformations – although she also seems to be good with fireworks and has unusually strong telekinesis.

And then we have Twilight Sparkle, with a theme of “Magic”. That’s way too broad for Rune Magic. She might just be learning a few more formulas or instances of Occult Talent – but that would limit her to fourth level effects, and some of the things she does seem like they’d be over that limit unless she’s stacking on a lot of “free” metamagic. Still, this is Eclipse, and there are plenty of other magical systems she could be using. After all, Twilight is supposed to be the most powerful Unicorn that Celestia had seen in more than a thousand years – and was apparently destined to become an Alicorn. I think that we can safely count Twilight as being special or higher level or both.

This still doesn’t really explain why – looking at the setting – most of the aristocrats seem to be Unicorns. The Pegasi do better in the military roles, the Earth Ponies are better in most of the basic economic production roles, and being good with a particular skill only goes so far. A Unicorn with the proper talent will have an edge as a jeweler, or a smith, or whatever – but versatility has it’s own value. Even worse, while the value of having a master chef in charge of your kitchen is readily apparent, why would that position translate into becoming an aristocrat? While it’s true that individual Unicorns can be extremely powerful, it’s also true that any pony can become extremely powerful (certainly so in d20, and there are hints in the show) – and that that kind of power is very rare. What’s so valuable about having a Unicorn in charge?

Well, what happens in Winter Wrap Up when Twilight steps in to take charge? Sure, she’s exceptional – but she is sort of the essential Unicorn on steroids. Evidently, what with that multi-tasking ability, really smart Unicorns are incredibly good at getting things organized – and that’s something we can buy quite readily.

Executive, Corrupted for Increased Effect (add the user’s Int Mod to his or her effective level of use)/requires 2 Mana/hour to power (6 CP). This gives us the Unicorn Aristocracy. Putting a smart Unicorn in charge of a project or area results in an immediate jump in efficiency and production whether or not said Unicorn really knows what he or she is doing – and the effect is fully compatible with the augmentations enjoyed by other types of ponies. Even better… that gives us an aristocracy based on harmony, mutual benefits, and service to the community, rather than on wealth or military power – and that suits ponies very nicely indeed.

While a Unicorn’s role in a group is obviously “the mage”, in d20 terms they’re a lot closer to a magical thief. Telekinesis can handle a LOT of traps, open many doors, scoop things out of pools of lava, and more. While Runecasters may have combative magic on tap, their specialization makes them far less of a game-dominator than a classical Wizard or Sorcerer. Think Aahz and Skeeve (from the Mythadventures series) or low-end Warlock rather than Wizard.

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8 Responses

  1. I’d have gone with the Accursed disadvantage for modeling how infant unicorns can have their magic run out of control when they’re under stress, since that frees up having to chart levels of power if they’re just magical accidents. Presumably that wouldn’t work because – at least for Pumpkin – such surges virtually always worked to her advantage.

    Of course, I’d also have that disadvantage confined to level -2, or level -1 at the most. At level 0 it should be gone, something the comics apparently disagree with, since they had Sweetie Belle suffering from it, apparently (yet another reason to look askance on the secondary sources).

    With regard to Sunset Shimmer having fire-type magic…I was always under the impression that Sunset was supposed to be a dark mirror to Twilight, as evidenced that in their first encounter, they both teleported around each other while Sunset was stealing the Element of Magic (said teleporting is something we otherwise only see Twilight using, if I recall correctly).

    She does use fire in her demonic form, but I attribute most of that to the Element of Harmony, albeit warped by being used in another dimension (which is like a double mcguffin). Though the special effects in her music video do play towards a firey theme, so there is that.

    As a note, you mentioned “Thus – if the Superheroic World Template is in play – the baseline (Con 12) Unicorn can use their Occult Talents indefinitely, while those at Con 14+, 16+, and 18+ can boost them to accomplish a good deal more.” But the baseline Constitution would be 14, due to the base pony build having Attribute Shift (-2 Dex/+2 Con) and an enhance attribute Innate Enchantment for +2 Con.

    • I thought about Accursed, but even Twilight’s surge during her entrance examination wound up strictly to her benefit – and kids never seem to surge except when other ponies have time to deal with it and the writers need a character-development arc or filler. A disadvantage really ought to cause the character problems – while asking characters to pay for a power that never really seems to be of any actual use doesn’t seem fair either.

      Eventually I gave it up up and posted; I simply couldn’t think of any satisfying way to handle the occasional “rule of funny” episode within an otherwise fairly consistent setting. Hopefully somebody else will; everyone has their own approaches to things.

      As far as Sunset Shimmer goes, I’m afraid that I’ve never actually seen the primary source material on her – but most of the stuff in her wiki entries talked about fire, transformations, and light effects, so I went with that. Presuming she has a few levels, she can certainly have a variety of other tricks at her disposal.

      I’d probably peg her and Twilight’s “Teleport” as “Dimension Door”* – which can be squeezed into Occult Talent; you just need to spend four mana each time – three to reduce the effect to level one, and one for the spell itself. Only a rather skilled Unicorn with Constitution 18+ can afford to use it very much though – and there are much more useful spells for most non-adventurers. Why waste so much power and a valuable spell slot when it only takes a few moments to walk that far?

      *There’s no good indication of how far Twilight can teleport. Most of her jumps seem to be pretty short range. She does a group jump in Dragon Quest – but the best that can be said there is that it was a considerable strain, and that it was to a slightly different area of the wilderness. A few thousand feet might well suffice to cover it.

      Finally, “Baseline” is kind of misleading isn’t it? I was kind of thinking of Con 11- = “Rating 0, Handicapped”, Con 12-13 – “Rating I, Baseline”, Con 14-15 = “Rating II, probably professional”, and so on. That should have been explained better.

  2. Twilight wouldn’t need a high Con, just Augmented Bonus (Int bonus adds to Con bonus for purposes of Mana. Less powerful unicorns might have the same thing but specialized and corrupted to be only for effects related to their Cutie Mark.

    As for Infant Unicorns being powerful when funny, maybe that is just the same Chaos magic that Discord uses and Unicorn society conditions young Unicorns to not use it.

    • That would work for Twilight – although it’s fairly common for Augmented Bonus to be on the “GM Permission Only” list in Superheroic settings. It’s just so easy to boost one or another attribute massively (usually through Berserker and Hysteria) that allowing easy use of Augmented Bonus gets out of control. Unfortunately, unless you allow that kind of attribute boost it’s very hard to build bricks, speedsters, and similar types.

      I’d give her a high constitution anyway, what with “Feeling Pinkie Keen” and similar episodes. She takes a LOT of punishment.

      As far as the kids go… I did consider Chaos magic (and a curse from Discord on the entire species), but we never see random child magic in times of danger, or when anypony has anything important to do, it never does any real damage, and it’s obviously rare – otherwise raising kids or running a school would be near-impossible. That’s awfully selective.

      Hm. Discord can presumably be an omniscient audience if he wants… Maybe it’s just some minor aspect of him (which presumably escaped being stoned due to harmlessness) that occasionally empowers child-chaos just to mess with people. It seems like something he would do.

      That’s actually not a bad explanation, although it would be something on Discord’s character sheet, not the kids.

  3. […] Well, first up, she’s supposed to have the combined powers of all three major pony types – Earth, Pegasus, and Unicorn. […]

  4. […] Unicorn Ponies and their Build, Child Surges, and the reasons for the “Unicorn Aristocracy”. Commentary: Sunset Shimmer, Discord and Child-Chaos. […]

  5. […] This idea was first brought up with the introduction of the Cake twins, way back in the show’s second season. While it makes for some amusing antics, and creates the conflict in the current season’s premiere, this particular quirk of unicorn physiology is somewhat awkward to model in d20 terms. As Thoth put it: […]

  6. […] Unicorn Ponies and their Build, Child Surges, and the reasons for the “Unicorn Aristocracy”. Commentary: Sunset Shimmer, Discord and Child-Chaos. […]

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