Friendship is Dragons comfortably fills a niche for bronies who love tabletop RPGs. Yet there are those who can’t seem to get enough of their pony RPG fix, and they remedy this by making their own homebrew pony-themed roleplaying game system. And thanks to the comic, it’s easier than ever for said systems to get exposure and attract potential players.
This now makes the second time this has happened, and this time it comes from a good friend of mine. He goes by the handle Stairc, and he made his own system called Pony Tales: Aspirations of Harmony. (Not to be confused with another Pony Tales, an Open D6 pony system. From this point on, when I say “Pony Tales,” I mean Stairc’s game. I haven’t played the other one.)
Stairc organized a game with a few of my regular readers, who’ve been great about sharing recaps of their adventures with the rest of the… Friendship is Dragons community- boy that’s weird to say. Earlier this week, I got invited to create a character and play a game with the established group to try out the system. And now I hope to be a regular player each week.
Suffice to say, I really like Pony Tales, but I feel I should really elaborate on how I feel about the game, if only to satisfy the game designer in my brain.
The first thing, probably the biggest selling point for my audience, is that this game can be played over the internet very easily. Roleplaying itself never requires a whole lot of tech in any system, but a lot of RPGs like D&D rely on a board for combat, which makes it very difficult to play in any way other than in-person. Pony Tales does away with board-based gameplay in favor of something more like old-school Final Fantasy, where both sides line up and take turns dealing damage to each other. The result, a very simple-to-execute fighting system, can be very easily managed over voice chat like Skype.
Despite the combat being very simple on the surface, it still has a whole lot of depth. Instead of the very tactical mechanics of the D&D board (burst, blast, push, pull, charge, line-of-sight, zones, the list goes on), Pony Tales uses resource-building mechanics not unlike the Planeswalker cards of Magic: the Gathering.
Each combatant has a certain number of Power Points, or PiPs. Every turn, you get to use one of your various combat talents (we’ll get to those in more detail later). Some talents raise your running PiP total, but are relatively weak; some talents cost PiPs to use and have decent effects; and the strongest talents in the game cost many more PiPs than you start the battle with. There are also talents you can use outside your turn as interrupts or reactions, so you might save up PiPs so you can use those on your opponents’ turns. No matter what, running out of PiPs is something you want to avoid, but it’s not the end of the world either.
This up-and-down resource system runs parallel with the actual battle – dealing damage, healing others, applying status effects, what have you – so every turn in the game is a very tactical decision on two levels: “What progress am I making towards finishing the battle, and how am I preparing myself for the next round?”
Of course, there’s one major difference between Pony Tales and D&D that makes it all flow smoothly: There’s no hit-or-miss mechanic, no to-hit roll to be made. If a combat talent says you’re going to deal 1d8 damage when you use it, you’re going to deal 1d8 damage, period. Then you’re done, and it’s the next combatant’s turn.
As a result of all this, combat is simple to use, has a surprising amount of depth, and goes very, very quickly. Battles are usually over after 6 complete rounds. It makes for a nice palette cleanser to spread out the roleplaying.
With this system, Stairc seems to have made a statement: “Why should you choose between awesome combat abilities and awesome roleplaying abilities? Why not have some room for both?” At character creation, you get to choose 5 utility talents and 8 combat talents (only 5 of which can be used in any one battle).
Combat talents are the standard actions you get to use in battle; there is no basic attack action that everyone gets, though there are some combat talents that serve that purpose. There are no classes, just groups of abilities with a similar theme, and you can mix and match to create a totally unique combatant. As you consider the PiP modifiers for each ability and figure out the synergies between all the possible talents, you’ll be surprised by how much time you spend agonizing over those 8 abilities.
Utility talents are are a combination of feats and abilities that are mainly useful outside of combat. Some are available to everypony, while many are unique to the three pony races – Earth Pony, Pegasus, and Unicorn. This is where a lot of your character’s flavor comes in, by defining what really cool stuff they’re capable of. For me at least, picking my 5 utility talents was less a matter of “what will be most useful to me” and more “what fits my character concept the best.”
Those two elements are probably the most complex things you’ll have to deal with at character creation – the rest is rather simple by comparison. There are four attributes – Athletics, Precision, Knowledge, and Horse-Sense – and each attribute leads into two or three skills. As opposed to the somewhat complex calculations involved in your average D&D character, figuring out Attributes and Skills is much simpler (7 in Athletics means your Stunts skill starts at 7) and actually provides additional flavor to your character concept. Stairc puts it best in his Player’s Handbook:
Having a high number in one of these attributes doesn’t say anything about who your character is, just what they can do. For example, a pony might be a genius but still not have read much about the world at large – so he or she might have a low Knowledge score. On the other hand, Derpy might have memorized a lot of facts over the years and have a high Knowledge. Similarly, a scrawny character might be so skilled that he or she has a high athletics score and a big brute might not. Feel free to make just about any character you like, these attributes impact what your character can do without dictating what kind of person they are. Your options are wide open.
The character creation process isn’t much more complicated than that, and it’s still all about flavor. You choose your Race early on, but that just offers a few specific bonuses and determines what kind of utility talents you can select from. You also align your character with one of the Elements of Harmony, which provides a very special utility talent.Pony Tales also takes steps to circumvent the “character/Element inconsistencies” argument:
Your element can be anything from a major aspect of your character’s personality to a hidden part that even your character might not know about. For example, even a pathological liar might have an affinity for the element of honesty – the truth might just be a scary thing to her or buried deep down inside. Just about any pony can have an affinity for any element, and the more surprising combinations are often the most interesting – so feel free to choose whichever element you want.
It’s less confusing than an alignment system, that’s for sure.
All in all, because character building revolves mainly around Skills, utility talents, and combat talents, creation doesn’t take too much time but still offers plenty of room to make interesting, flavorful characters. Making characters in Pony Tales is surprisingly addicting, if you’re the type of person that likes to explore many different character concepts. (Me, I’m fine with the one I have.)
Pony Tales has a whole spectrum of critical successes, which is fun. You have your normal “natural 20” success, but getting a natural 20 on your Cutie Mark skill creates a spectacular Cutie Mark Critical success (a concept that Erin Palette should be getting royalties for at this point). Additionally, getting the maximum on any d8, d10, or d12 you ever roll in combat triggers your Special Move, a spectacular combat talent chosen at character creation that has multiple levels of additional effects.
Buuuuut in case you feel like that needs to be balanced out by more critical failures, you can always take the Derp utility talent, which makes you crit-fail on a 1, 2, or 3(!) in exchange for an additional Magic Point per day.
Magic Points are Pony Tales‘ interpretation of Action Points from D&D 4e. Many utility talent actions (including all the Element of Harmony talents) can only be activated by spending a Magic Point. Or you can spend a Magic Point to give +10 to somepony’s skill check roll. You only get one Magic Point per day (with the exception of the Derp talent), so you can’t quite use all your cool stuff all at once.
These are just additional mechanics that add a couple of nice layers to the system. At the core, you still have a simple yet rich combat system, as well as many cool, flavorful talents and traits to build your character with. The balance between those two is what makes me like Pony Tales.
That’s pretty much it. All the resources are publicly available, free of charge. The game is still being developed, refined, and expanded, so keep an eye on it if this interests you. In any case, here’s some resources for you:
There’s a Monster Manual-type document in the works, but Stairc’s intention seems to be to make it a community-driven project. Still, between those two documents, that should be enough to get a group up and running in the magical land of Equestria. I highly recommend it!