And it’s another pony question…
You say that there really isn’t enough canon information on changelings to write up the race – and Queen Chrysalis’s plan seemed unworkable anyway. So what would your speculations look like?
Oh well. The other pony articles stuck closely to known information from the show (and there isn’t much on changelings), but speculations don’t call for a lot of hard information – so I’ll speculate a bit about ponies and changelings.
- It’s quite obvious that ponies produce love.
In general though, creatures don’t produce things they don’t need other than waste products. If love is one of the great powers of Equestria (and no one is being paid to haul it away), then it’s safe to say that love is not a waste product.
Is love different from friendship? What we call “love” often contains elements of sexuality and possessiveness – but then we have “friends with benefits”. Perhaps the most succinct real-world definition that I’ve come up with is that you find the welfare and happiness of your friends important to your own, while you find the welfare and happiness of those you love necessary to your own. They’re different in degree, not kind. Of course, in Equestria… love / friendship is a measurable force, a source of raw magical power, and an actual principle of the universe.
- So do ponies use love and friendship?
Why yes, yes they do. They bind together (huge!) families with it, use it to handle animals, and – if they must – can use it to fuel their natural magic, boosting it considerably. Love lets Big Macintosh bounce around towing a house with no effort at all, restores enchanted friends, and defeats small armies.
- Do ponies produce more love than they need?
Evidently they do; they certainly seem to have plenty to spare most of the time. Look at Fluttershy’s relationship with Angel Bunny or Rainbow Dash with Gilda. It definitely looks like the Ponies are on the giving ends of those relationships – and they’re always ready to add still more friends and family and forgive their enemies.
So, “Love” in Equestria is an emotionally sticky and bonding power reserve that their society can spare a fair amount of if it’s not otherwise being drained. Love attracts creatures and makes them into friends and allies. It’s addictive. It fills you with energy. According to the metaphors you can be sweet on someone, they’re your honey, it’s like drowning in golden syrup…
There are actually an awful lot of similarities there. A swarm of bees can, if given access to plentiful sources of nectar and pollen and sheltered from creatures that want to steal their food reserves, produce a good deal more honey then they need. Enough for the humans who aid and protect them to quietly get a share without hurting the hive. Whether that’s symbiosis, parasitism, or farming is a semantic argument, and really rather unimportant.
So lets think about changelings. At the most basic…
- Changelings are parasites (or possibly symbiotes). What’s more, they’re long-term and successful ones; they weren’t even really noticed for many centuries (although the fact that Candace could name them and not have to explain says that they were at least rumored).
That means that they derive their energy from what their host species can fairly readily spare (or they couldn’t pass unnoticed). Thus, if one parasite even approaches the power level of the host species, then they must be VERY heavily outnumbered.
That fits. Queen Chrysalis almost certainly brought most of her swarm (save, perhaps, for a home guard and the kids) along on her invasion. After all, if she needed their help they’d be no use at home and if she had other major projects going on, why not do the invasion later? Sure, Shining Armor may have been a great source of love – but he was only one stallion. Why take the extra risk of going in without every possible advantage, or of going in to Canterlot at all, when she could simply scoop up a dozen sets of newlyweds from across Equestria at any time? After all, to quote Queen Chrysalis herself.
“Equestria has more love than any place I’ve ever encountered. My fellow changelings will be able to devour so much of it that we will gain more power than we have ever dreamed of!”
That doesn’t sound like Shining Armor was particularly unique even if he was a royal treat. It also says something else that’s very important. It says either “refugees” or “nomadic” – and either of those says “no cities”, “poor”, and more than a bit “desperate”. People don’t become nomads or refugees because all is well and they have plenty of everything.
So. Changelings as a group are vastly weaker than ponies. On an individual basis they get beaten quite readily – and there weren’t enough of them to really swarm and control Canterlot effectively or they wouldn’t need to go in for the random-blasts-and-panic approach. Yet Canterlot is a very small piece of Equestria even if it is the capital. It’s also one of the better defended locations in Equestria.
A takeover could never work. So what was Chrysalis’s original – and presumably sane – plan?
if Twilight hadn’t fouled things up, Chrysalis would never have been revealed (a pretty basic goal in a species so adapted for infiltration). She’d have “married” Shining Armor and (presumably) gone on the scheduled honeymoon with him – likely with the intent of allowing her “army” to quietly drain all the love being poured out at the reception and of later brainwashing Candace and leaving her to nurse Shining Armor back to health after an “illness”. That would allow her and her swarm to escape with a huge store of love with no one the wiser (after all… being exhausted, having a headache, and needing a day to recover is pretty routine after a citywide party). A resources-raid on a massive scale “to feed her people”. After all, why else keep Candace? And why then stash Twilight with her? Was there any likely reason besides to brainwash them and return them later to preserve changeling secrecy?
Then Twilight pulled the big reveal and that plan went down the drain. Chrysalis then revealed her army and “intention” of taking over Equestria – no matter how obviously impossible that was when we think about it. Why would she do that? Why did her army need to break Shining Armors shield when she could have just had him drop it or let them in in advance? Why were there so few Changelings outside the shield? After all, there seemed to be more blocking the way to the Elements than there were in the entire army that broke in. Were they there in advance? Perhaps Chrysalis’s “plan” wasn’t what it appeared to be? What was she actually trying to accomplish?
Well, announcing that she and her Changelings were there to conquer Equestria would keep the guards focus on defending the city and its people – not on keeping her soldiers from rescuing her or on pursuing her swarm after they were “driven off”. Keeping every ponies eyes on a comparative handful of changelings in the sky would keep them from paying too much attention to her disguised ground forces. In turn, as ponies frantically sought to find, rescue, and protect their loved ones in the confusion those disguised ground forces could harvest vast amounts of love before running. That wouldn’t be a bad backup plan. It would give her a good shot at pulling a clean retreat with a sizeable profit out of complete disaster.
Then she had to engage Celestia, who (quite unexpectedly) didn’t rush off to rally her guard and defend her city. Perhaps Celestia knew about Changelings and was only surprised to actually be attacked by one? Regardless… Chrysalis obviously didn’t think that she’d win that fight. She was taken aback at the prospect of fighting Celestia, was blatantly apprehensive, closed her eyes at first, was blinking in shock when her magic overpowered Celestias, and even ANNOUNCED that Shining Armors love was even more powerful than she’d thought; “it had made her powerful enough to defeat Celestia!”.
That’s a pretty clear statement that she’d thought that she WOULDN’T be able to defeat Celestia – and an admission that “taking over Equestria” had never actually been a part of her plans.
Still, with Celestia down and Luna wherever Luna was the swarm didn’t have to run immediately! New plan! Have the swarm grab every bit of love (and anything else useful) that they possibly could before the inevitable retreat! Now that they’d lost secrecy… the swarm would need every resource it could get since it would have to run a long ways to find a refuge. Why else would Chrysalis send her personal guard to go and feed while she was in a room full of enemies? If she actually expected to hold Canterlot, what was the rush?
Unfortunately, as it turned out, Changelings might eat love, and power their magic with it – but Chrysalis at least didn’t actually understand it, or what ponies could do with it. If she had, how could Candace and Shining Armor have surprised Chrysalis with a rather basic (and thoroughly cliche) “Our Love Empowers Us!” effect? What did Chrysalis say? “What a lovely, but absolutely ridiculous, sentiment!”?
And then said sentiment smacked her and her entire army over the horizon. Evidently it wasn’t so ridiculous after all.
That’s all we see of Changelings until season five, when a single one turns up at Cranky Doodle Donkey’s and Matilda’s wedding (presumably to collect some excess love) – and is only scary to foals. And this is a species that panicked at a rabbit stampede. Evidently the ponies have become experienced with Changelings – likely some were scattered around Equestria undisguised after A Canterlot Wedding – and now find a changeling less frightening than a swarm of rabbits, despite their invasion attempt and Chrysalis’s defeat of Celestia. What could have convinced them of that?
Perhaps they found out that it was true? After all, an intelligent species who’s lives depend on your species being happy, safe, prosperous, and filled with love, is somewhat less than menacing.
Shining Armor attended Cranky and Matilda’s wedding too, and he didn’t care that there was a Changeling there either – and if anyone would have reason to be paranoid about Changelings, it would be him.
So… it’s rather hard to believe that Changelings never discovered ponies before – or would have failed to realize that a land full of them would have lots of love about. Why couldn’t Chrysalis take the quiet route and just harvest love across the land via infiltration? None of the OTHER races seemed to be aware enough of Changelings to stop them. Ergo… whatever was stopping her was either something innate to the land or its inhabitants (in which case we have to ask what suddenly happened to let Chrysalis in) or it would have to be… other Changelings.
You know, Equestria seems to have few border problems. All of it’s monsters are pretty readily handled. The neighbors never try to take over. It’s almost like something subtle and hidden is quietly manipulating the neighboring griffins, dragons, and other races to keep Equestria peaceful and full of love.
Such a force would probably stay well away from Canterlot though; that’s where those ultra-powerful, highly-experienced, and all-too-perceptive Alicorns hang out. Going near them on a regular basis would be an incredible security risk for any secretive group.
And there’s a rational reason for Chrysalis to be making the equivalent of a smash-and-grab in-and-out raid on Canterlot. Equestria is already the territory of one or more other, stronger, Changeling hives who are doing their best to stay secret and keep “their” pony love-bees happily producing as much extra love as possible.
Perhaps Celestia knew more about changelings then they thought – and thus was very startled to be attacked by a changeling; they’d been quietly protecting her borders, slipping her information, and messing up foreign notions about attacking Equestria for millennia while making no fuss at all. Why would they abruptly change that strategy when it was working so well? How was she to know that Queen Chrysalis was an outsider with no stake in the current system?
And thus – at least speculatively – Chrysalis fouled up a strategy that had been working for more than a thousand years. It’s no wonder that Chrysalis has never appeared again. She’s probably in a lot of trouble.
Now, for actual changeling statistics…
- Quadruped / “Accursed” (-3 CP): Changelings only move at half ground speed when they can’t use all four legs. They can use one hoof as if they were hooking a forearm around something, one forehoof and their mouth as if they were a hand, and may use both forehooves and their mouth as if they were a hand-and-a-half (-4 penalty on anything which requires two hands). As some slight compensation, this does provide the usual quadruped bonuses (+10 ground movement and increased carrying capacity, along with a +4 against Bull Rush). Fortunately, rings, boots, and so on adapt to fit anyone – so there are no changes in their behavior for changelings even if they can wear magical horseshoes in their “boots” slot.
- Attribute Shift /-2 Dex, +2 Con: Changelings are fast and coordinated enough, but – when you come right down to it – hooves and mouths just aren’t quite as good as hands when it comes to fine work (6 CP).
- Shapeshift (Specialized, only as a prerequisite, 3 CP), Variants (Specialized, only to alter their personal appearance. While physically-based, this is essentially equivalent to Disguise Self and does not affect clothing or gear – although it does provide a +10 bonus to Disguise (or Deception or whatever the appropriate skill is in the system in use) checks, 3 CP).
This is one of the defining changeling abilities – which makes it all the more annoying that it’s rather unclear as to how it works. On the show changelings imitate various ponies. In the comics they can take small animal forms. That would make infiltration and feeding easy and the invasion pointless, so here it’s ponies and similar creatures (such as the shows versions of griffins and hippogriffs) only. Similarly, if they could interbreed with ponies I’d expect there to be plenty of halfbreeds – so either they can’t or their shapeshifting extends to their genes, and “crossbreeds” are always either true changelings or true (whatever). Importantly, they cannot readily tell the difference between another Changeling in disguise and a pony, as demonstrated repeatedly in the fight with the mane six. That’s also a big strike against the “hivemind” notion, which will thus not be appearing in this writeup.
- Changelings (or at least the ones on active military operations) appear to have fangs, horns, and exoskeletons. They probably share at least a part of other ponies resistance to weather, and they can manifest clothing (and presumably basic tools) as needed. That’s Immunity/having to actually have basic tools, simple melee weapons, mundane light or medium armor, and clothing to gain it’s benefits and/or relevant appearance. (Very Common, Minor, Minor, 8 CP). Proficient with all Simple Weapons, Light and Medium Armor, Corrupted/only applies to items “gained” via this immunity, not to potentially superior or enchanted real items (8 CP). Note that they can’t lend stuff to other people or leave it behind; it’s a manifestation of themselves, not actual items.
Changelings don’t need winter outfits, hammers, saws, trowels, shovels, picks, chisels, knives, lockpicks, breastplates, shortswords, or similar gear. They have pockets (despite not appearing to have any) and can appear with hats, elaborate clothing, and similar fashion accessories at will too. (On duty Chrysalis’s soldiers apparently normally default to a “Breastplate”, “Shortsword”, and basic black under any disguise, but other groups may vary). This is very useful to “normal” changelings. It lets them essentially carry a fair chunk of their civilization with them even as they migrate, ready themselves for war without industries or preparation time, and stretch their cash – but it’s no match for pony magic, strength, and toughness. It also isn’t much use past the first few levels, after which mundane equipment becomes a minor expense at most.
Given that this is Eclipse, Changelings are free to upgrade their Immunity to the Major level (+4 CP), allowing them to add Martial Melee Weapons and Mastercraft Qualities to their “virtual equipment”. At the “Great” level (another +12 CP) they may add Special Material Qualities to their “equipment” and produce Alchemical Items as needed.
- Innate Enchantment: All of these abilities are Spell Level One, Caster Level One, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated (x 2000 GP). With a net cost of 9,400 GP, this costs (10 CP).
- Goo Splat (Conjuration, L1): The caster may project a glob of goo equivalent to a Tanglefoot bag – although it may also be used as normal glue / cement, in which case it’s permanent since it isn’t being splattered over an area. Fire, or almost any form of attack magic, will eliminate the stuff in moments though.
- Goo Mastery (Transmutation, L1): The caster may polymerize a goo splat into a mixture of silk-and-resin composite, forming the stuff into ropes, simple nets and restraints, a gripping aid (gain a Climb speed of 10, the Climb skill bonus also applies to holding onto things, resisting bull rushes, and similar checks), a wall finish, hull patches, storage containers, or similar items. The stuff still will not stand up to fire or attacking magic though.
- Greater Magic Hand: This lets them manipulate objects and pretend to be a Unicorn reasonably well.
- Sustenance: Reduces the need to eat, sleep, drink, and breathe to one-quarter normal. As long as a changeling has enough love, it needs very little other sustenance Unlike the other effects, this is a personal-only ability, costing only 1400 “GP”.
- One first-level spell of choice – commonly Charm Person, Sleep, Color Spray, or some similar effect
- Enthusiast, Specialized for Double Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost: Only for Innate Enchantments, takes several weeks of study to change the spell. This provides 2000 GP worth of Innate Enchantment – enough for another first level spell or a couple of cantrips (2 CP).
For the invasion the army was using…
Kinetic Aura (Evocation, L1): The caster may make a straight-line full move at 5x normal speed., During the move he or she is protected by a glowing force shield (+4 Shield Bonus to AC). Of he or she runs into anything, whatever it is will take 1d6 damage per 50 feet which the caster has moved to a maximum of 2d6 (resilient unanchored things like most creatures), 3d6 (unanchored hard objects or anchored/trapped resilient things), or 4d6 (anchored hard objects). The caster is not harmed by the collision.
A few Changelings learn Ritual Goo Magic (Ritual Magic, Specialized in Goo-Related Effects, 3 CP) – allowing them to make prisoner-containment pods, healing goo, and artificial limbs, to turn excess love into easily stored jellied love candies, and to manage some other low-powered but handy magical constructs and effects – but this isn’t a very big branch of ritual magic. That is, of course, why it’s also so cheap.
- Immunity/stacking limitations when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (common/minor/trivial; only covers level 0 or 1 effects) (2 CP).
- Immunity/the normal XP cost of racial innate enchantments (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).
Changelings are born with their innate enchantments, and need not pay any extra experience for them (or for those they add and drop with Enthusiast). If the Pathfinder Package deal is in use, this cost will not apply – and changelings gain an additional +2 racial bonus to Disguise.
- Adept: Changelings may buy four skills (using a condensed skill list: Deception, Persuasion, Sense Motive, and Speak Language) for half cost (6 CP) and gain a +4 Racial Bonus to all those skills (8 CP).
- Winged Flight: One level of Celerity with the Additional modifier (Flight, 30′ base, perfect maneuverability), Specialized for reduced cost: will not function properly if the user’s wings are entangled, damaged, or otherwise restrained (although, weirdly enough, as long as the user’s wings are free to move, it doesn’t matter if they are actually moving), is subject to dispelling, antimagic, and similar effects, and makes the user magically conspicuous (9 CP).
Changelings can feed on love, or at least Chrysalis directed them to do so and stated that, if they got a lot of extra love, they’d become far more powerful (although exactly what powers would be getting a boost outside of “magic” is never clearly defined). They’re also generally presumed to need some to live and more to use their magic. Sadly, we have no details and only one example; Shining Armor. Worse, that involved Chrysalis feeding slowly and avoiding discovery in a rather public situation, and may well be unusual. Secondarily, Chrysalis had mind-control abilities, but there’s no indication that normal changelings usually do; they had to settle for simple captures. I’d also note that they evidently can’t feed on lust or abstract appreciation; otherwise they’d have no need for the invasion in the first place. A shapeshifter can get plenty of those pretty much anywhere.
In any case, Shining Armor was left very tired, unable to use his magic, and possibly rendered more suggestible – but he was still in love with Cadence and he made a full recovery in very short order (albeit with Candace’s help). Being drained apparently wasn’t really that serious.
- Since we don’t really know exactly what this does, I’m going to buy it as Inherent Spell/Bestow Curse, with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted: target must be experiencing the emotion of Love or Friendship and the effect fades over the next few days whether removed or not (4 CP). That lets “love draining” inflict whatever effects the GM feels is appropriate – and explains why Shiny was so devastated; he’d probably been cursed a dozen times.
- For the power-bump from having lots of love, throw in Physical and Magical Hysteria, Specialized for Increased Effect (runs on “love points” (see below) rather than Power) and only works when the user is at at least 80% of their “love capacity”, only works with “love points” (12 CP).
- Finally I’ll throw in Traceless Changeling Magic, Specialized for Increased Effect (hides that the victims are making saving throws) / only applies to their Curse Bestowing and Shapeshifting (6 CP). That makes their shapechanging pretty much undetectable and keeps feeding victims from noticing that they’re making saving throws and being cursed on a failure.
And that’s about it. We don’t know if changelings have additional magic, or what kind of society they have, or how they reproduce, or if they have non-combatants in their population, or how they learn, or if there are other queens (although my speculation is that there are), or even if (barring the comic books) the entire Changeling Army was simply conjured up by Chrysalis while the real Changelings stayed safe at home. We do know that Chrysalis can mind-control at least four ponies at a time, and – when hyped up on love/magic – can out-blast Celestia (or at least outblast what Celestia is willing to do when in a city surrounded by friends). So she’s better at combat magic than Celestia – which isn’t necessarily saying that much; Celestia is no warlord. Chrysalis can also project energy blasts capable of destroying hats, exert some form of mind control, and had some way to banish Twilight to the tunnels below Canterlot – although that may have been something she did with special preparations.
Overall the basic Changeling Racial Template has a base cost of 85 points – a +2 ECL species (there’s even enough room to throw in Occult Sense / Darksight (6 CP) and another instance of Enthusiast to make them more magically versatile without raising the ECL if you think it’s justified). Changelings, however, suffer from a couple of really severe disadvantages:
- They are cut off from the flow of Mana in the world. They do NOT gain (Con Mod) free mana points to use every round. This… is crippling, and it’s the game mechanical explanation for why the pony races grossly outpower them in the end. Changelings have some neat tricks and can pull equipment out of nowhere. Ponies have an endless font of raw magical power to draw on. It’s James Bond versus Superman.
- They are reliant on draining love to power their magic and survive. For a mechanic, each time they “feed” by successfully cursing someone, they gain 3d “love points”. If the qualifying emotion was true romantic love use d12’s, for true friendship or familial love use d8’s, for crushes and abstract love (groups, comic books, whatever) use d6’s, and for casual affection or lust use d4’s. They can store up to (Chr x Con) Love Points. In general, staying alive costs two points a day – one for their innate Sustenance effect, one for simply functioning. If they’re trying to heal up, it’ll cost another one. Changing forms costs one, as does holding a form for a few hours (three for a day). Finally, using their Innate Enchantments other than Sustenance costs one per five minutes or part thereof.
That reduces a Changeling’s net racial cost to 28 CP – a +0 ECL race. If you’re using them in a world without the Superheroic Template that first limitation becomes meaningless, increasing their base cost to 57 points – a +1 ECL race. Finally, if you eliminate the love dependence (or just make it a roleplaying note), they’re a +2 ECL race.
Overall, this version of Changelings makes for wonderful spies – but getting into a straight fight with Ponies is simply not their thing. The “Invasion” bit was Chrysalis’s last resort – and she was probably pretty desperate at that point.