Eclipsing the Shows – World versus Marketing and My Little Pony

For today it’s some general discussion on setting games in media universes – and then a few specific answers to the question that brought it up. To start with the general theory…

There’s a subtle roadblock in the way of converting shows – whether we’re talking about Star Trek, Survivor, or My Little Pony (which this question was originally about) – into role-playing game settings. It’s simple enough that it’s often missed.

The shows are driven by marketing toys and advertising and details don’t matter, while in RPG settings the details matter a lot – and so they generally strive for internal consistency.

Why is that? Well, consider this situation.

The characters are pursuing a deadly assassin. An hour ago he slipped aboard a train that (the last few times the characters rode it) took ten hours to reach the city where the assassin’s targets live. The party frantically finds the evidence they need to identify him and readies a rocket plane that can make the trip in an hour. By dint of many heroic efforts, the party launches after seven hours. They will beat the assassin there by two hours and can get ready to capture him and/or defend the targets!

And then the game master informs the players that the train trip only took two hours. That might be because he forgot, or because his plot demands that the assassin take out at least some of his or her targets, or “because the train accidentally skipped several hundred miles of the trip thanks to quantum fluctuations”. The targets were all dead hours before the characters got their plane launched, and by the time the characters arrived the assassin had made good his escape.

Does that really sound like fun?

On a show it doesn’t matter if the setting is inconsistent because the writers are in control and things only matter when they want them to. That train travels at the speed of plot and will arrive just when it needs to to make the story work.

In a game where the players make most of the decisions consistency matters a great deal. Even games like Toon are internally consistent; the rules of cartoons may be a bit silly, but they are still rules. Otherwise… players rarely want to invest much time in a setting that they can’t make sense out of.

This can get quite awkward when you find yourself trying to come up with an in-setting reason for elements of the show that were driven by external factors. Since it was what the original question was about, I’ll take my examples from My Little Pony.

Looking at that show from an objective external point of view… major characters generally have:

  • Distinctive Features. They’ve all got easily recognized color schemes and clearly symbolic cutie marks. They inhabit a familiar-looking world full of easily recognizable stand-alone items that can be readily reproduced in bright plastic. A pony family can include almost any subtype of pony, since you want your collectable sets to include as many varieties of plastic models as can be managed. After all, toy sales are a big thing for the My Little Pony franchise.

Fortunately, this one is relatively easily “explained”. We can make noises about recessive genes, about how – in a world of special talents – quick identification of the right pony to handle a threat mattered a lot more than camouflage, about the effects of personal magic on appearance and how every pony has their own specific “frequency” and color, and how cutie marks are expressions of pure personal magic (although this fails to explain why so many of them are of human symbols that shouldn’t mean anything to ponies… Trixies wand? Unicorns use horns! A Judge with a gavel? Shouldn’t that be a hoofstomp? A garden sprayer with a looped pump handle (for hands) and a sprayer wand with a thumb-switch (made for hands and thumbs)? Wouldn’t a foot-pump and a pressure-operated jaw handle make a lot more sense? A gumball machine with a twist knob instead of a button? Scissors with finger-loops?

We can probably get away with not explaining the cutie marks and the horrible ergonomics of various pony tools though. Hardly anyone pays much attention to the “why” of various symbols and tools. Similarly, unless someone is REALLY big on creating artwork for the game details like “color intensity” will never come up – and even if someone is an artist, details can just be dismissed as “artistic license” by anyone who worries about them.

  • Strong – and Straightforward – Personalities. Allied characters like Big Macintosh and Shining Armor (somewhat idealized older brothers) have good and noble traits. Opponents, such as Sombra, Chrysalis, Discord, Starlight Glimmer, Trixie, and Sunset Shimmer, have ignoble traits and/or redeemable flaws (usually the opposite of the elements) – or are just big monsters, like Tirek or the Hydra. Minor characters, like the Flower Trio, tend to be defined by one or two basic reactive traits – in ponies, most often a tendency to overreact, panic, and either faint or run away (thus forcing the focus characters to fix things on their own).

This is the mental equivalent of the bright colors and distinctive features; the show doesn’t have a lot of time when it introduces characters to start with and it is primarily targeting youngsters. Ergo no complex motivations, unsolvable moral dilemmas, or really gray characters. Instead you get relatively simple, immediately apparent, and easy to distinguish motives and personality traits.

This tends to affect any production that has a limited amount of time to introduce characters in, but a twenty-two minute cartoon format tends to exaggerate things. It often passes without notice in actual play of course. After all, GM’s are rarely expert actors and also usually lack game time in which to introduce and extensively develop NPC’s since the focus is always on the PC’s – so most of the world is painted with very broad strokes indeed and the players are left to fill in the details. Still, we actually do have something more to work with in Equestria – where a set of six personality traits have been promoted to the status of cosmic forces. We actually have a good reason why a very limited, broadly defined, and easily portrayed set of personality traits will underlie all sorts of things – including a blatant link to special powers. Lets not waste it.

  • Special 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 they can get into trouble that the rest of the cast can’t just wave a hoof and fix). Kids usually get an incredible ability to get out of potentially lethal situations essentially unscathed, the ability to pop up out of nowhere whenever a plot complication or target for some exposition is needed, and the ability to create incredible messes or assemble massive projects the moment they get offscreen – although these will not usually be counted as “powers” since they exist to complicate the focus characters lives. The same goes for “Magic Surges” in infants; they need SOME way to make trouble beyond dirty diapers or they won’t be of much interest. In any case, good guy allies mostly just get powers because they are good guys – but opponents will usually either be tapping into “dark magic” (what I labeled the Discordant Powers), by stealing power like Tirek, or will have achieved their power through self-development over lengthy periods (neatly establishing that they really worked at being evil without actually having to show very much actual evil).

In RPG’s special powers are a large part of what makes the player characters interesting, so we need not account for their presence in a setting; the game system should handle that detail – but an in-universe justification for how they work and why some characters are more powerful than others is always welcome.

In this case we can simply reverse causation. Marketing gives special powers to major, recurring, characters to help keep them interesting and make their problems dramatic. We can just turn that around, stating that individual NPC’s become major, recurring, characters because they have special powers and dramatic problems.

  • Relationships. A lot of the allies – and likely some of the opponents – will either be a part of a focus characters family or at least strongly connected thereto. This makes it simple to introduce new characters, is a shorthand route to establishing connections with the focus characters, and provides a way to add some easily related to gratuitous complications (and opponents whom they won’t want to actually hurt) to the focus characters lives.

Here we’re fortunate; RPG’s usually have more time available to introduce characters – and all we really need to explain most of the existing relationships between high-powered types from the source material is to make some noises about “powerful bloodlines” or “secret rituals”, or some such. In Equestria, thanks to the Elements of Harmony, we can throw in family traits and traditions as well. Who is to say that Granny Smith’s weird rituals for growing Zap Apples don’t have effects beyond (or instead of?) growing the things? Maybe she’s actually six hundred years old and the Apple families enormous size, unity, and apparent general prosperity is the result of centuries of patient, matriarchal, earth pony rituals and witchery. Who knows?

Hm… now there’s another interesting character concept that I may or may not ever find the time to write up. I’ll see if it’s still sticking with me in the next week or so.

  • Unreasonably Tight Focus: The writers don’t want risk the viewers losing track of the characters – and want to focus on the best-developed and best-known characters because that’s what much of the audience wants to see. Ergo you get ineffectual guards, politicians and nobles who are either useless or obstructive, bystanders who never do anything but panic, get in the way, and need to be rescued, powerful elder mentors who do nothing but provide obscure advice and get readily defeated to establish various threats as genuine, and many similar tropes. You wind up with a small cast of very effective characters, a few specialized allies with potent abilities in very limited fields so they can be called in without overshadowing the focus characters, a bunch of near-helpless responsibilities, and some opposition – which can be slice-of-life and pretty much ineffectual as long as it really annoys people. That’s why Diamond Tiara and Prince Blueblood – an obnoxious child and a narcissistic snob – often outrank King Sombra (the local version of Sauron) and Starlight Glimmer (a grossly overpowered “dark wizard”) on fan villain lists.

Fortunately for our purposes, this one often gets by without explanation because RPG’s tend to assume an unreasonably tight focus on a set of player characters anyway – and if you really need an explanation, you can always fall back on various versions of “you’re just on the high end of the bell curve”, “destiny”, “the chosen ones”, mentor manipulation, or even “you just happened to be the ones in the area who fit the role enough to use the plot coupons”.

  • No Controversies. Shows shy away from anything that might hurt sales – especially in a series, where repeat viewers are are all-important to ratings (and thus advertising revenue) and merchandising. You aren’t, for example, going to find out much of anything about the characters sex lives, or see an episode about severe child abuse, or a school shooting, on a children’s show.

Finally, this one you really don’t have to bother with. A lack of data just means that you can fill in anything that fits the setting reasonably well in your head – and if a group doesn’t want to discuss something you just don’t spend any time on it. You can run a game set in the roman empire without going into detail on just what hideous fates Caligula is inflicting on his enemies families, or how decadent the parties get, or – for that matter – the mechanics underlying flooding the coliseum (and yes, they did that) for a “naval” event.

The writers don’t really bother with in-universe rationales for these decisions of course. Why should they? They’re focused on writing salable material and setting up for future episodes. A bit of world-building may come into that, but it’s generally not going to be the primary objective. Still, while “toy sales”, “targeting kids”, “because they’d bore the audience otherwise”, a double dose of “it makes it easy for the writers”, and “we’d lose money!” may be the actual truth, those reasons really won’t work as an “in the setting” explanation.

Ergo role playing gamers who want a consistent setting must resort to speculative theories – such as the theory from the prior article which prompted this – that, in the My Little Pony universe, strong virtues (and anti-virtues) provide characters with extra power. Of course, none of those theories will ever be explicitly stated, or even firmly supported, by the show that they’re about since they’re trying to map external marketing decisions to internal theories about the setting – but you can often come up with something that will match closely enough to pass.

Now as for the questions about this article that brought this up…

I’m not sure that I agree with regards to Cheese Sandwich. It’s true that he only got his “Cheesy Sense” after he started to emulate Pinkie, but there appears to be a key difference there: Pinkie’s “Pinkie Sense” (and, for that matter, Maud’s “Maud Sense”) is unrelated to her special talent, unlike with Cheese Sandwich.

As a party pony, Pinkie shouldn’t have any particular ability to sense incoming danger (nor Maud, with her fixation on rocks, be able to find things that have gone missing). That’s why Twilight is obsessed with explaining Pinkie’s ability in Feeling Pinkie Keen. (To my eyes, it looks like having a psionic wild talent runs in the Pie family.)

Cheese Sandwich, by contrast, is a party pony himself (even if his cutie mark is a little odd), and his Cheesy Sense lets him sense the direction of imminent parties. That seems like it’s just a (admittedly rather strong) aspect of his special talent. It may also be precognitive the way Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense is, but it’s precognitive in a way that fits with the magic of his cutie mark, and so seems like a different thing that just happens to resemble what Pinkie can do (the same way a lot of psionic powers have magical equivalents).

Also, this article references changelings as possibly being between dragons and ponies, but I have to wonder how Discord’s being a “draconequus” fits in there, even if he does seem like he’s a living inversion of Harmony (perhaps the Discordant Powers should be called the “Elements of Disharmony”?).

-Alzrius

Well, the point there was simply that Cheese Sandwich has abilities well beyond those of a normal earth pony – and apparently acquired many of those talents after working hard to become a paragon of laughter. After all, even if you discount most of the stuff from his musical numbers (wherein he warps reality with even less restraint than Discord does – well beyond the far more common “montage scenes” you get with most equestrian musical numbers), he still produced various things (including a giant cheese wheel, a seal (although it might just be Fluttershys), a hippo, a parade float, and a huge party tank) during the actual party, animated a rubber chicken, and more. It’s not that association with an element necessarily boosts your primary talents (thus the bit about Rarity’s rather exceptional strength). It just seems to let you do more things.

As for “Cheesy Sense”… I really don’t know what it does. Cheese Sandwich stated that his Cheesy Sense told him that his next party would be in Ponyville and told him about Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense – but two one-sentence examples aren’t much to go on.

Maud is another victim of insufficient data. Perhaps she can find rocks, metals, and things in contact with the earth? Or do the equivalent of “Locate Object?”. She also shows enough (reactionless!) strength to toss large rocks over the horizon and kick up mushroom clouds much bigger than hills.

But we didn’t see any of the royal guard tossing changelings over the horizon.

Of course, Maud is… extremely loyal to her friend and relatives, tactless and blunt (the socially awkward form of honesty) and is pretty generous with her time and effort. She’s not especially exemplary when it comes to kindness and laughter, and she’s not really a paragon of any single virtue – but under this (speculative) theory she’d be getting a reasonably balanced boost.

Is there anyone else around who fits that theory?

How about Big Macintosh? He shows pretty much that same package of traits (an “idealized big brother” set) – and he can effortlessly bounce along while towing a house by flexing his ankles.

We see one more pony (a filly with a hedgehog cutie mark) with freakishly supernormal strength (as explicitly called out by Diamond Tiara on the playground) – but I can’t recall any other information about her at all. Just going by the hedgehog… perhaps another prickly introvert like Maud Pie?

And strength is a basic earth pony talent.

Then we have Shining Armor – a loyal captain of the guard who is willing to generously expend every bit of his strength on shielding others, is probably pretty honest (if only because trying to deceive Celestia is probably an even worse idea than trying to deceive the usual superior officer). He probably isn’t all that strong on kindness and laughter though. After all, you can’t afford to be unconditionally kind as a guard – and guard work is often pretty serious.

And he has an absurdly hyped up ability to generate shields that can protect entire cities. True, that’s his particular special talent, but we don’t see that unicorn with a talent for puppetry sending a swarm of giant puppets out to build roads or battle monsters.

Now in reality those talents are the result of marketing and scriptwriter decisions – which means that any in-setting theory is going to be a bit contrived in places – but it fits in well enough since it relates to several of the writers motives. (I must admit that “wild talents” also work perfectly well – especially in d20 systems – but I have a personal fondness for elaborate, generalized, theories with extensive implications. They’re such fun to come up with).

As for Discord… well, he seems to be the principle focus of chaos – or change – magic, and was the major reason for labeling the inverse elements the DISCORD-ant powers. In terms of that theory… he shows a fair chunk of the draconic powers – and the Lord of Chaos template I set up earlier is a +2 ECL template and so falls within the limits of a dragon channeling the “Discordant Powers” if he either purchased an upgrade similar to the epic level upgrade for a Bokor or found a way to dump a level of growth in favor of more power. Discord does look even stranger than the adolescent dragons do – but his basic body layout is the same and the changes are probably within the limits of draconic shapeshifting.

Who knows? Maybe Celestia hatched her own dragon as a youngster, tried to meddle with the draconic ability to channel the Discordant Powers, and wound up with Discord. After all… she kept him around and seems inclined to argue with him rather than starting in blasting – and later took the risk of him running amuck again (and possibly hiding the elements effectively first) in hopes of reforming him. That’s not exactly what I’d expect from a reasonably wise ruler who is abruptly confronting a newly-returned satanic figure. It’s a great deal closer to the parable of the prodigal son…

Now that doesn’t fit in with the “he’s Starswirl the Bearded after a badly-bungled attempt at Alicorn Ascension” theory from his writeup – but it’s not like it needs to; both theories are pure speculation. Still, speculation is what the Changeling and Dragon articles were all about.

Ponies of the Eclipse – Dragon Speculations

And today it’s another offline question… “What would Spike (from “Friendship is Magic”, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer) look like in Eclipse?

Well, the trouble with creating a racial template for Equestarian Dragons is that it’s going to be pretty speculative. Yes, we see a fair amount of Spike (although his activities are often rather repetitive since he’s mostly a foil for Twilight and personal mail system) – but we also know that he isn’t entirely typical and other draconic appearances are few and far between. To fill things out a bit, I’m going to see what I can deduce from how Ponies interact with Equestria’s Dragons.

Ponies are the masters of Equestria. They control the sun and moon, the weather, the seasons, and more. They are powerful practitioners of Harmony and Love – the two greatest forces in their universe. Tireks scholarly mentor even outright states that ponies (and Unicorns in particular) have the most powerful magic in the universe. His viewpoint is likely biased, but there’s probably something to it.

Ponies seem to become even more powerful as they attune themselves more closely to the various virtues of the Elements of Harmony. Does it really seem likely to be a coincidence that…

  • Rainbow Dash, a paragon of loyalty, is the fastest (and possibly the toughest, at least judging by the “Rainbomb”) pegasus in all Equestria. What’s more, her abilities can’t be blamed on direct contact with the physical Element of Loyalty without timey-wimey shenanigans since she showed some of them many years before the Elements were reactivated.
  • Applejack, a paragon of honesty, stops stampedes, faces down monsters, and does quite incredible amounts of work. After all, the farm went down the drain in days without her despite everything that Big Mac, Apple Bloom, and Granny Smith could do.
  • Rarity, a paragon of generosity, can carry and toss around multi-ton boulders, outperform a small factory, use far more magical effects than a normal unicorn (including remotely teleporting large objects), is a skilled fighter, and can easily manipulate small swarms of enemies into giving her their treasure.
  • Fluttershy, a paragon of kindness, can stare down cockatrices, communicate with animals and make them all live together peacefully, wrestle bears, model, sing, conduct music, sew, and even reform gods of chaos.
  • Twilight, the “Princess of Friendship”, may be the most powerful mage in Equestria – and certainly demonstrates the desire and ability to make the universe conform to her will that is the essence of magic.
  • And then there’s Pinkie Pie, who can do almost anything.
  • For that matter there’s Cheese Sandwich, who clearly demonstrates that other ponies can tap into such powers without being element-bearers.

Yet we also know that such power is a rare and special thing. How do we know that? Because Equestria has problems AND keeps coming back to the mane six to solve them instead of just letting the general population handle them. Ergo… while ponies are empowered by the forces the Elements of Harmony represent it’s rare for one of them to be enough of a paragon of virtue to get a LOT of power.

And yet… dragons worry even the paragons. In a universe that primarily runs on the harmony of loyalty, honesty, generosity, kindness, laughter, and magic, and secondarily on love, dragons defy those powers. They may appear in small packs as adolescents, but the adults mostly seem to be solitary apex predators. They have a “king”, but their traditional method of choosing one seems to be based on skill in evading traps, competing with each other, raw power, and luck. On their own dragons show distinct tendencies towards…

  • Treachery. Rejecting a kid the moment he disagrees about pointlessly killing something? Spike expects to be betrayed by his “mother” and get replaced by an owl?
  • Deception. The adolescent dragons act accepting and then try to rig their contests? Spike getting their pets and the Cutie Mark Crusaders to deceive the Mane Six?
  • Greed. Spike growing into a monstrous dragon out of greed? Dragonhoards in general?
  • Cruelty. Wanting to smash phoenix eggs? Spike labeling his friends “Hairity, Rainbow Crash, Spitty Pie, Apple Teeny, Flutterguy, and Twilight Flopple” when they’re poisoned and panicked?
  • Wrath. Trying to hurt or kill a toddler for snagging some of your snacks? Inspiring fear the way that they do?
  • Chance: Leaving your kids to roam around unsupervised? Using an obstacle course to decide the potential fate of your entire species?

Dragons still seem to be affected by Love, but it, at most, tempers their behavior. Adult dragons obviously aren’t normally filled with love or keeping a dragon egg in a school and using it to test students would have been pretty horribly offensive wouldn’t it?

When Spike, who was raised by Ponies in isolation from other dragons, gives in to Greed he grows immensely in size and power – but he is restored to normal by the power of his affection for Rarity (incidentally demonstrating that the emotion is both genuine and serious).

So the primary behavioral traits – and apparently power sources – of Dragons are the Inverse Elements. Treachery, Deception, Greed, Cruelty, Wrath, and Chance (the inverse of magic – twisting the odds perhaps, but accepting the way of the universe instead of demanding that it do what you want). I’m going to call these traits the “Discordant Powers”.

Harmony may permeate the world – but that simply means that the outbreaks of the Discordant Powers are tightly focused, and very powerful locally – as shown by Discord himself. There are hundreds of times as many ponies as dragons and their overall power is far greater than the dragons – but that’s not a lot of comfort when it’s only a few dozen ponies against a Dragon who is channeling a lot more of one of the Discordant Powers than the ponies are channeling Harmony.

That… gives us a draconic power source, a reason for Ponies to be very wary of dragons, and a set of motivations all in one. It tells us why Dragons are so individually powerful but yet ponies dominate the world.

It may also imply a relationship between Dragons and Discord and between Dragons and Changelings, but there isn’t much support for that so far.

So what do we need to buy to build an Equestrian Dragon racial template?

Dragons:

Are Extremely Tough. They can leap from a height into magma without being hurt, chew, swallow, and digest sharp fragments of diamond, are highly resistant to energy (especially fire, even if you can get them sooty), and can take one of Rainbow Dash’s full kicks – shown to be capable of smashing through four sizeable trees – without injury.

  • Damage Reduction 5/-, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect; Only versus Physical Attacks, not versus Adamantine (12 CP).
  • Berserker with Odinpower and Enduring, Powered by Mana, +15/- Universal Damage Reduction (also protects against energy) (12 CP). That’s fairly expensive – but will allow a powered-up Equestrian Dragon to shed most weapons like drops of rain.
  • Energy Infusion (Fire, 6 CP). Given that ice cream can upset Spikes stomach when rocks can’t… a vulnerability to excessive amounts of Cold doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Eating gems really isn’t especially advantageous, even in Equestria where they’re absurdly common and inexpensive. After all… a modest gem does seem to have enough value to trade it for a substantially larger sandwich even there – and given that Spike sometimes gorges on them, their effective caloric value can’t be THAT high. Elsewhere… it’s just absurd. Eat that gem worth several hundred gold pieces – or use it to get a hundred gallons of ice cream and other goodies? Dragons seem to like those too… Ergo, no cost.

Are Limited Shapeshifters. They can change size and the details of their appearance – although this does not seem to be entirely under their control. In addition, they are naturally armed and armored. They can also dig well (although they don’t seem to have a burrow speed like Diamond Dogs) and seem to have little use for material possessions (or shovels).

  • Accursed. A dragon’s appearance reflects it’s personality, state of development, and (at least to a limited extent) current mood. This makes them extremely distinctive, hard to fit for equipment, easy to “read” (other creatures get a +5 bonus on Sense Motive against dragons), and makes it easy for other creatures to pretend to be dragons with flimsy disguises. After all, a dragon could easily look like that… (-3 CP).
  • Immunity/having to actually have mundane equipment to get it’s bonuses (mundane equipment is Very Common and not having it is a Minor problem for an adventurer. The Trivial level covers basic tools and clothing, Minor covers light and medium armor and simple weapons, Major covers heavy armor, masterwork stuff and martial weapons, and Great covers exotic weapons, materials, and alchemical gear. That’s 4, 8. 12. Or 24 CP. Dragons normally start at (12 CP).

Once again, I could speculate on a connection with Changelings here. After all… a dragon-pony hybrid might well not have a strong connection to either the Elements of Harmony OR the Discordant Powers. If so, it would be an incomplete creature, lacking a natural source of magic, drives, and emotions – and perhaps needing to take those things from others. A bit of a dragon’s natural toughness for an effectively armored insect-like hide, some fangs, spitting mere sticky goo instead of magically charging the stuff to act more like napalm, the draconic shapeshifting… I could even argue that the holes are due to their shapeshifting reflecting their inherent incompleteness. That may not be what this article is about – but I am being speculative here.

Seem to have a good Constitution, but show no other exceptional attributes save strength – which may just be due to size bonuses – and aren’t especially sociable.

  • Attribute Shift: +2 Con, -2 Cha (6 CP).

Are implied to be very long-lived and easily capable of surviving in the wastelands. Spike – despite being at least ten years old – is considered a baby dragon.

  • Immunity to Aging (Uncommon, Major, Major, 6 CP). Dragons can expect to live for thousands of years.

Are apparently magic-resistant when they want to be – or at least the various unicorns around Ponyville don’t seem to have much luck in dealing with Spike when he’s gotten bigger.

  • Spell/Power Resistance II (12 CP).

Are Firebreathers. They can breathe enormous amounts of fire and/or smoke, possess considerable control over that ability – enough to either melt masses of snow or ice or to make toast – and can use it for at least some magical purposes.

Can, at least as adults, sprout wings and fly at considerable speeds and with fair maneuverability

  • Instinctive Dragon Magic: Innate Enchantment (total value 6320 GP, net cost of 7 CP).
    • Enhance Attribute: Str +2 (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
    • Enhance Attribute: Con +2 (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
    • Feathermail (a touch-range Transmutation effect targeting armor, +3 to maximum Dex, -3 to Armor Check Penalty, reduce movement penalty by 10 for 2 rounds/level, Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .7 (Personal-Only) x.8 (“Armor” from Immunity Only) = 1120 GP. Dragons can generally move easily despite their scales.
    • Montage Scene/Power Tool: Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .5 (Only on their internal “tools”) = 1000 GP. Dragons can get a lot more done than would normally be credited – digging like a backhoe, jack hammering through stone, and so on. In general, dragons gets a lot more done than any normal human.
    • Immortal Vigor I (The Practical Enchanter): Provides +(12 + 2 x Con Mod) Hit Points. (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
  • 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). Dragons are born with their innate enchantments, and need not pay any extra experience for them.
  • Immunity to Dispelling effects (Common/Minor/Great, Specialized and Corrupted / only to protect Racial Innate Enchantments, 4 CP).

This stuff just comes with being a dragon.

Learned Dragon Magic: Inherent Spells, all powered by Mana. Unfortunately, all of these require extensive training to use. Dragons must either spend years wandering and working on self-development, seek out “appropriate” tutors and get them to teach them, or simply level up until they can control these abilities without training, before they can use these. Secondarily, inexperienced dragons fairly often have minor “accidents” with these powers. That’s Corrupted for Reduced Cost (36 CP in total).

  • L2: Essence of the Dragon (SC, Costs 1 Mana)
  • L3: Giant’s Wrath (the Practical Enchanter, +2 Size Levels) and Dragonskin (SC)
  • L4: Flight of the Dragon (SC), Voice of the Dragon (SC)
  • L5: Dragonsight (SC), Grand Earthward (L5)
  • L6: Greater Invocation of Flame (SC), Aura of Terror (SC)

Grand Earthward: L5, activates once per round on it’s own, on or off action, blocking 60 points of damage from any one attack as well as any special effects – poison, energy drain, or whatever – that it might have).

A L6 Greater Invocation of Flame produces Fire effects of  up to level five – ranging from making toast and baking on through near-instant alchemical transformations and a wide variety of fire blasts.

Discordant Channeling. The ability to channel the power of the Discordant Powers is advanced Dragon Magic – and, in Equestrian terms, blatant dark magic. It is obvious to unicorns when used, always runs at least a slight risk of loss of control (basically a roll of “1″ on a will save when using the stuff), can provoke reactions from Harmony Magic, and can be countered by Harmony Magic. Any dragon can use, it, but only practice and mental discipline will provide even a modicum of control. It counts as being Specialized.

  • Witchcraft II. Provides the use of The Adamant Will, Healing (Specialized in Self-Healing for Double Effect), and Witchsight (Specialized in Scent, for no cost), with a base Power score equal to (Sum of Physical Attributes/3), and a base Will save DC of (13 + Cha Mod) (6 CP):
  • 1d6 Mana, taken as 3d6 Power. Only usable for Witchcraft (3 CP).
  • Ridden by the Loa with Partial Control, Corrupted/Only to draw on the Discordant Powers (2 CP).
  • Immunity/the one-point-per-hour cost of keeping Ridden by the Loa Running (Common, Minor, Major (up to 30 Power/Day equivalent, Corrupted/cannot normally be turned off to get rid of an inconvenient Discordant Power, 2 CP).

Drawing on the Discordant Powers generally provides +2 levels of Growth (96 CP) and 35 CP related to the particular power being channeled – the remaining 32 CP plus a disadvantage. It’s no coincidence that the “particular powers” match the basic structure of Mysteries. In fact, a Bokor in Equestria can also learn to channel the Discordant Powers – although they won’t get the “Growth” function. That’s another reason to regard them with fear and suspicion (as if another reason was needed). Perhaps, in Equestria, Bokor are the equivalent of basic d20 Sorcerers – ponies and zebras who just happen to have a dragon ancestor somewhere.

What about Lust? Well, you can include Lust as a perversion of Love or Harmony – but I doubt that the powers it grants require any real game rules. I may throw something in just to make sure that I cover everything – but it certainly isn’t necessary.

In any case… all of that comes out to 126 CP – a +3 ECL race. Of course, in a standard game, without the Superheroic World Template to provide a steady supply of Mana to work with, you’d probably want to invest another 32 CP or so in buying Mana and Rite of Chi with Bonus Uses to replenish the stuff.

Next time around on this topic I’ll see about the Discordant Powers.

Shadowed Galaxy Character Setup II

I thought that I’d put this up long ago – but apparently I hadn’t. So here it is now.

General Notes: All characters are stellar explorers – and must be able to function as a part of a close-knit group aboard a small ship. Characters who cannot work in a group, insist on keeping piles of deadly secrets, are actually possessed by horrible alien forces, are utterly insane, are too crippled to be recruited, or are otherwise incompatible with working with a group are automatically weeded out before they ever get aboard. You can’t play one.

You can play very difficult characters if you want, but if you go overboard you probably won’t be taken on the next trip. Be sensible.

Character Advancement is being handled by direct awards of character points, at a rate of two points per session to start with. After level four this is reduced to one point per session. Logs and contributions are usually worth an extra 1 CP per session.

Skills and Equipment:

Equipment is handled through the Equipment Skills – which cover acquiring, operating, maintaining, and repairing various types of gear. You are automatically considered proficient with anything you buy through an Equipment Skill. Such skills include:

  • Armory (Str): Armor, Power Armor, Shields, Life Support, and similar.
  • Biotech (Con): Organ Implants, Surgeries, and Genetic Modifications.
  • Gadgetry (Int): Sensors, Computers, Tools, and Utility Items.
  • Logistics (Chr): Supplies, Subscriptions, Licenses, and Lifestyles.
  • Vehicles (Wis, Occult): Vehicles. Note that this is an occult skill (basically, there’s a 3 CP
  • Weaponry (Dex): Weapons. These are almost as popular as Armor.

Action Skills bend reality a bit to allow heroic feats. Unfortunately, each time you do something major with an Action Skill, it’s value is reduced for the rest of the session. Consider them your “Special Effects” budget. They include:

  • Bullet Time (Con): Pull flashy tricks, evade damage, and take immediate actions.
  • Erudite Focus (Int): Act ;ole Mr Spock or Gilligan’s Professor, get hints, and resist some mental attacks.
  • Narrative (Chr, Occult): Detect narrative influences or buy Whimsy Cards.
  • Sensitive (Wis): Detect psychic clues, resist mental influences, gain Power, and be a generic “Psychic”.
  • Stealing the Scene (Con, Occult): Invoke cliches and tropes.
  • Tough It Out (Str): Resist attribute damage/drain and various conditions through sheer grit.

Equipment and Action skills generally cannot be used unskilled.

Other Skills:

  • Idiotic Technology (Wis, Occult): Basically the Shadowed Galaxy version of “Use Magic Device” – allowing the user to fiddle with Idiotic Technology, make deductions about it, keep a few such devices ready to use, and use them. This is not especially safe, but it’s sometimes necessary.
  • Faith (Wis): Measures the intensity of your religious beliefs – and how much control you can exercise over Spacefield Effects.
  • Networking (Chr): Your ability to manipulate organizations. Commonly purchased with bonuses with particular groups to represent rank within them.
  • Minions (Chr, Occult): Recruiting minions – and making sure that they do what you’d want them to do when you’re not there.

Special Ability Notes:

Unlike most settings, the Shadowed Galaxy doesn’t forbid many abilities. The limitations fall more under how they work. Thus it’s wise to consult the GM on your character design. Things that are generally functional within the setting can be tweaked.

For an example take Returning. Some Spacefield Template Effects can provide it. In such cases the Spacefield Effects include storing the user/victim’s mind and reconstituting a body if they’re physically killed. A few Informational Effects basically turn the “user” into a free spirit, and let them manifest a new body after they’re “slain”. Biotech can provide some impressive regeneration. Psychic Powers have (very, VERY, rarely) been known to allow for body-hopping (likely in conjunction with some additional ability), and – given the lack of success with cloned bodies and “braintaping” – only computers and androids can back themselves up microtronically.

So humans in general may…

  • Employ up to 4 CP worth of Relics if they should happen to acquire any.
  • Buy up to 3d6 Mana – whether as Mana, Generic Spell Levels, or Power – without it counting against the limit for various special abilities. Beyond that point, it does.

As for specific power sources…

Biotech: Humans are pretty good at medical skills, understanding their own biology, implanting synthetic organs and tissues, correcting genetic flaws, fixing up damaged bodies, and so on. They have free access to the Biotech skill and may opt to take various adaptions (even as bonuses to the equipment skills with an immunity to having them taken away) starting off – but modifying such things after an organism matures is extremely difficult. Humans simply do not seem to be able to solve the problems inherent in active adjustments, such as shapeshifting. Note that this also bans the “partial shapeshift for big attribute bonuses” trick.

Psychic Powers: Humans may develop up to 36 CP (plus Pacts) worth of Witchcraft Powers (or actual psionic abilities of up to level two) – which is actually quite a lot. Unfortunately, a fair number of the advanced Witchcraft abilities are either limited (although this does reduce their cost) or simply do not work.

  • Aegis only provides the “care” function rather than destroying diseases, etcetera (3 CP).
  • Apparition is possible, but will kill you without some special ability to avoid having your body shut down while you’re focusing on a temporary one (2 CP).
  • Ashen Rebirth is very likely to kill you when used (2 CP).
  • Birth of Flames works, but creates a purely intangible entity that cannot materialize. It’s still an effective scout though (3 CP).
  • Blessing cannot bestow a permanent benefit. Given that this is very rare anyway, this does not change the cost.
  • Bones of Iron mostly works, although Iron Lung doesn’t work well (No change).
  • Breath of Life only lasts for a minute of concentration at most (2 CP).
  • Breath of Peruza works VERY briefly (2 CP).
  • Covenbond is Ritual Only, and so is only (3 CP).
  • Darknsense can cause serious confusion in the user (3 CP).
  • Dismissal cannot banish entities since the Shadowed Galaxy lacks true outsiders, elemental, and outer planes and it’s only options for being selective are disrupting hyperspace-related entities, subspace-related, or informationally-powered entities (3 CP).
  • Divination covers low-end detections only – nothing above level two (3 CP).
  • Flesh Like Mist is VERY dangerous and often fails (2 CP). If you’re taking this, a bit of Luck may be in order.
  • Grounding is messy, since the energy has to go SOMEWHERE (4 CP).
  • Hag-Riding works, but the victims need to have some psychic ability (4 CP).
  • Leaping Fire only works in part; it cannot provide rapid healing, eliminate fatigue, or eliminate exhaustion (4 CP).
  • Light of Truth has no holy-energy combat applications beyond causing flash-blindness (4 CP).
  • Longevity is a bit more limited, but not enough to justify a cost change.
  • Master of the Sabbat does not work.
  • Master the Elements does not work,
  • Mouth of the Earth works, but causes backlash (3 CP).
  • Nightforge will not work.
  • Possession is generally not possible without something that sustains your existence without a body (3 CP).
  • Ridden by the Loa can tap some low-powered entities, but they’re more like Vestiges than anything else – and generally lack any major powers (3 CP).
  • Sanctify can give areas moods and such, but not much more (2 CP).
  • Seize the Wandering Soul is generally short of targets (3 CP).
  • Siphon will not work.
  • Sleep of Stone mostly works (being reassembled rarely does, 4 CP).
  • Spirit Binding is very temporary at best (at least for humans) and the advanced command stuff won’t work (3 CP).
  • Spirits of the Deep generally has no power source to use, and so does not work.
  • Summoning is very limited for lack of targets and there are no sources for borrowed magic. It is normally a ritual, and is Specialized and Corrupted for (2 CP).
  • Sympathetic Link is generally limited to planting bits of yourself to use (3 CP).
  • Tenebrium’s coin works, but you need to do something like run a psychic hotline and “money” means very little in the Shadowed Galaxy (2 CP).
  • The Sight is never controllable (3 CP)
  • The Inner Fire generally does not work.
  • The Secret Order does not work.
  • The Umbral Form allows blending with shadows, not becoming insubstantial – although you can move within them easily (3 CP). Most psychics just use Shadowweave unless they didn’t take it.
  • True Prosperity only works on a few plants or a garden patch at most (3 CP).
  • Venomed Touch does not work
  • Warding provides a +3 Luck Bonus to Saves and a +2 Luck Bonus to AC, but no other bonuses.
  • Weathermonger only allows data-collection and steering things a bit (3 CP).

Informational (or perhaps Conceptual) Abilities are quite limited. Humans simply are not capable of handling more than 24 CP worth of active informational powers (6-: Novice, 12-: Initiate, 18:-Master, 24-: Grandmaster) with one major exception: Informational Powers built as Witchcraft may have their cost reduced by Pacts.

Spacefields are generally beyond humanities ability to sense or manipulate in any detail. The only known interface is the Faith skill. Characters may request a +1 ECL Spacefield Template, but the details are up to the game master.