As part of our Remix Culture section here on The Round Stable, we like to bring together fan works from all kinds of disciplines. Most are familiar with the music, videos, art, and games that the series’ fandom brews up, but the games produced have been mostly of the video game variety. However, there’s a segment of pony fans who also like traditional pen-and-paper roleplaying games, and I took on the challenge of converting a popular existing system, normally reserved for thrilling pulp tales in the vein of old serial comics, to the world of Friendship is Magic. Join me in this series of articles to find out just how ‘pulp’ Equestria can be.
A Whole New Savage World
The idea for The Savage World of My Little Pony came to me as a joke; I had only been watching the show for a few weeks, and had recently seen a piece of fanart that really caught my eye. It shows Twilight Sparkle deep in a steaming jungle, having recently broken her now-molten shackles, facing down a swarm of loathsome monsters while Spike cowers behind her. The picture was dynamic, powerful, bold! I laughed in amusement while simultaneously admiring it; it was classic Frazetta in pony form. However, it was not the muscle-bound barbarian shielding the scantily clad female from some slithering horror. Far from it, it was the unsuspecting bookworm staring down the shadowy menace with a look of utterly determined rage, horn aglow as if she was ready to make some monster’s day rather short and unpleasant.
Oddly enough, my first thought was that of Frazetta’s depictions of the Puritan wanderer of Robert E. Howard’s tales, Solomon Kane. At this point, I had been playing roleplaying games for several years, primarily Dungeons and Dragons (another fantasy staple), as well as the Savage World of Solomon Kane roleplaying game which used the Savage Worlds system. The system itself is a ‘generic’ system of roleplaying game rules; it can be used to run and play games set in a variety of settings, from Flash Gordon-esque serial comics to alternate history WWII and fantasy high-seas pirate adventures. Part of the appeal of the system is that the rules are simple and straightforward, making it an easy system to learn to play. The game’s mechanics suited the pulpy, action-packed pace of Solomon Kane, which is what initially interested me in the game in the first place; a game with less bean-counting and fiddling with arcane rules and more swashbuckling, skull-cracking action with an emphasis on style and fantastic storytelling over realism.
‘The Savage World of… My Little Pony? That’s a good one,’ I thought to myself in a moment of whimsy. But indeed as the days went on and I watched more of the show, I started to think that it was an idea that could bear fruit. I had already experimented with writing my own materials for other roleplaying game rule systems, so why not? It was going to be challenging to convey what made My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic so special in a roleplaying game, especially one normally based around violent combat and action/pulp clichés. The latter was especially fraught with a lot of sexist tropes concerning the role of women and minorities in such stories, which was also something I planned on avoiding. As much as I love Frazetta’s work, his depiction of women in particular (and indeed their depiction across the entire pulp genre) left much to be desired, to put it lightly. I wanted my vision of pulp to include everyone, no matter their race, gender, orientation, and so on.
I started writing with one ideal in mind: a fast-paced, action-filled game with a heavy pulp influence that was also non-violent and promoted creative problem solving and teamwork over brute force. At this point, a few had tried making their own My Little Pony roleplaying modules based around existing systems (Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, Pathfinder), or their own unique systems. My issue with systems like Dungeons and Dragons was that they placed significant emphasis on slaying monsters, gathering treasure, and mechanically improving your characters by making them more skilled in the arts of combat. On a fundamental level, this did not gel with what I saw to be the theme of Friendship is Magic. In the show, violence rarely went beyond slapstick and even the most menacing monsters were eventually defeated with words and wits, not swords and fireballs. In addition, I wanted the game to be more about character and story development, rather than necessarily becoming arbitrarily more powerful in a physical sense. I decided to write the game in such a way that it used the mechanics of the Savage World combat system, but played out as more of a confrontation of wills between the protagonists (the players) and the various evils they would face. It was from here that I began to write, and it did not take long before I had the barest bones of a game before me.
The first edition of the module I had written was crude, but it set out a framework that carried forward to the game’s current iteration. The most notable feature is the addition of what I called “Contests of Will.” In every other Savage Worlds game, one of the primary focuses was on violent combat with weapons and magic. The “Fighting” and “Shooting” skills were usually very important if your character was to survive, and even more so if you were confronted with an enemy to take care of. The Contest of Will was mechanically similar to an attack, but used skills such as “Provoke” and “Swagger” to represent you taunting, browbeating, or otherwise fast-talking the enemy into submission or distraction. In the midst of a fight, a character could use a Contest of Wills with their Provoke skill to disable an opponent; in the game’s narrative, the character uses a well-timed insult to distract their enemy, who trips and ends up head-first in a conveniently placed bucket before tumbling off-camera. In this way, the flow of combat is mechanically the same as in Savage Worlds, but the non-violent and cartoony aspect of the show is maintained.
In addition, I strove to make the three different types of ponies mechanically equal and each interesting to play in their own right. Fan tropes about unicorns being ‘superior’ to the other ponies, or Earth ponies being treated with condescension bothered me greatly, mostly because it was against what the show tells us and also that there was more to a pony’s character than having wings or magic. Similarly, I did not want to pigeonhole the three types of ponies into certain roles: not all Earth ponies are physically strong, not all pegasi are fast, and not all unicorns are super intelligent. Much like people, the characters should be diverse in their abilities and potential.
To be continued… ■
[Source: 14-bis on deviantart]