The Problems With Building Anime Characters in Pathfinder.

Pathfinder and other RPG’s are a way to step outside of your usual role and into one more fantastical. You don’t want to be Seth Audit-Bane, you want to be Hakarl, Savior of Westhall and heir to the galaxy. Your dreams may not be that high, but when you’re looking at that “character name” blank on your character sheet you’re imagining a new identity with unique thoughts, feelings, and abilities.

While he doesn't own an axe, his 401k is pretty strong.

While he doesn’t own an axe, his 401k is pretty strong.

Just to pull back on the inspirational hyperbole for a second many character ideas aren’t entirely original, and that is a-ok! Play what inspires you. My wife briefly played Pathfinder as Brienne of Tarth from the Game of Thrones TV series. My kineticist is based off of Mary Seacole, the Jamaican nurse of the Crimea. There are tons of places to draw inspiration for characters to build their identity, but I want to give caution against one source of inspiration in making Pathfinder characters; anime.

A wild Gundam in it's natural environment.

A wild Gundam in it’s natural environment.

I LOVE anime. It’s probably my most consumed form of entertainment on a day to day basis. The first (and as of now only) character I’ve gotten to 12th level in society has been an adaption of Gasai Yuno from Mirai Nikki. In making and playing her, I came to realize the Pathfinder system isn’t always agreeable to anime tropes and abilities. In many popular anime; the combats are done at the speed of light with fighters possessing the strength to throw cars, and the resilience to take cars to the face and recover. Pathfinders ability system makes you choose between agility, strength, and endurance, so you aren’t given the resources to be amazing at them all. Some other troupes  that doesn’t translate well between anime and Pathfinder are; the Limit-Break troupe and the This Isn’t Even My Final Form troupe.

<i>Mirai Nikki.<i/> Writ. Katsuhiko Takayama. Dir. Naoto Hosoda. Chiba TV

Turns out being a serial killer isn’t PFS legal.

Limit-Break

Limit Break is an ability, skill, action, or buff associated with the fulfillment of certain conditions. In anime it usually involves getting the ever loving hell beaten out of you, then you suddenly become competent. Emotional triggers can also fulfill the requirement, like a loved one being in danger. Mechanically in Pathfinder, there’s not many abilities (if any) that activate or improve the more damage you’ve taken. It’s possible to roleplay this by not going all out every fight, but Pathfinder with its CR to party strength system wouldn’t allow you to do that too often.

As an example, below I’ve linked an episode of RWBY. It’s 3D animation, but its basically an anime. Besides actually explaining limit-breaking I think it showcases the issues with limit break in Pathfinder perfectly.

That fight is so cool. Besides setting issues, why wouldn’t you be able to make this in Pathfinder? First off the choices aren’t available in Paizo published material. Secondly, think mechanically with me for a second. If there was a way to quadruple power output when at low health why wouldn’t every Pathfinder wake up, nearly kill themselves, then mutilate their opponents with ease? Imagine trying to balance encounters! The players damage rapidly scaling when the fight should be growing more desperate for them? The monsters you’d face would almost all have to possess the ability to murder a character outright in a turn to even stand a chance beyond a round.

This type of limit break character is popular in anime; Goku from Dragon Ball Z, Simon from Tengen Toppen Gurren Lagann, Eren Jaeger from Attack on Titan, Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul, I could l write this list until my fingers turned to dust. These character happen to be popular protagonists and serve as inspiration for people when making characters in RPGs.

This Isn’t Even My Final Form

This troupe was popularized by Dragon Ball Z, where many of the enemies would “evolve” into stronger more powerful versions of themselves when over-matched. These changes were permanent and one-way, Perfect Cell never reverted to Larval Cell. These changes in Pathfinder usually require intense magic and a permanency spell, and they don’t often make a more powerful version of a person, but instead change them into something else; a lich, animal, magical beast, or a larger version of themselves. Mechanically in Pathfinder this would involve giving templates to increase player CR without boosting class levels, but if you do that then the monster and encounter CR balance is disrupted and you start to descend into the “Kill in the first round or be killed” style of combat found in Wrath of the Righteous. Below is a video showing the troupe with the character Frieza from Dragon Ball Z.

But I Want To Build a Monster!

So did I once upon a time. I wanted to be the strongest and bestest fighter of all time, that is until I played at the table with a group of those characters. In the Philadelphia Pathfinder Society there’s a significant amount of characters who are overbuilt to deal with most threats. I possess one of them and actually feel some hesitation in playing her. At first blasting things away felt cool until I looked at the faces of the people who I was playing with. Their bored expressions told me everything I needed to know about the character. So I adopted some quirks with her to make her more friendly and to give other people a chance to play. Later on I sat at tables with other over-built characters and personally understood their feelings towards such characters. It became such an issue in our lodge that our VC felt he had to send out an open letter reminding people that 4 people play at a table, not 1.

At 10 level Kamilla Crackshot does ~115 damage a round if going all out. Coincidentally shes a lazy glutton.

At 10 level Kamilla Crackshot does ~115 damage a round if going all out. Coincidentally shes a lazy glutton.

Your Lodge is Dumb, I Will Be Naruto!

Okay, I get that! I get wanting to be great at combat and I get wanting to have the power of anime characters, but its not feasible. Alex Augunas gets tons of requests for builds for Iconic Design and some happen to be anime characters. Alex watches anime, but when he gets a request from one he hasn’t seen or wants clarification he’ll sometimes consult my anime-brain. I specifically remember him asking me about One-Punch Man. If you’re unfamiliar, its a recent anime where an invincible guy has the ability to beat every enemy with one punch. Alex asked me why anyone would want to play that at a table, or even watch the show. He saw One-Punch Mans ability as boring, something that takes the stakes out of dangerous situations. We talked about it and discussed that One-Punch Mans ability is treated as a curse in the anime as the main character feels bored at the lack of real danger he faces. Alex got that, we watched a few episodes which he enjoyed, and after we were done our sitting he told me something along the lines of “This would be fun, not in Pathfinder though”. Below I’ve linked a trailer for One-Punch Man, the main characters name is Saitama, hes the bald one. The shows great, if you haven’t you should watch it.

But I Want to be Naruto!

And you can be Naruto! The ninja class exists and you can cross-class to get the best approximation you can in Pathfinder, but you’ll never be the Hokage. Anime has too many abilities which are strong for plot reasons and appear as deus ex machina to problems and situations. There is hope friend! You can’t be Naruto, but with careful enough selection you can choose anime characters that’d work in the Pathfinder ruleset. Matsushida 5th Dan from Angel Beats, Rin from Ao No Exorcist, Shizuo Heiwajima and Sonohara Anri from Durarara, Spike from Cowboy Bebop, Saber from the Fate Series, Lelei la Lalena from GATE, Megumin and Aqua from Konosuba, Kurusu from Kabaneri, Lupin from the Lupin Series, and even Kirito from Sword Art can all be made in the Pathfinder system and be table useful characters. There is no shortage of balanced anime characters you can bring to your Pathfinder table.

These are all those named anime characters in order.

Everyone here is build-able in Pathfinder.

But I Wanna Be Naruto…

Fine! If you want to be Naruto, don’t play Pathfinder. This isn’t said sarcastically, there are RPG systems out there that allow anime style characters to be built and thrive. GURPS allows you to do pretty much anything, and I’ve had a blast running my group through Big Eyes Small Mouth which is a roleplaying system dedicated to replicating all genres of anime. There’s even rules for cooking and slice-of-life anime characters and storylines! I personally like Big Eyes Small Mouth for anime style games as dexterity, strength, and constitution is merged into one easy-to-use meta stat called “Body”. Body combines with the other stats “Mind” and “Soul” to give your derived stats like HP, Energy, and Base Attack Bonuses.

As far as Pathfinder goes, temper your anime dreams and with enough finesse, flexibility and mirth, you can play your favorite anime character at your table. Have any anime-based characters or anime-rpg stories? Tell me in the comments below, I’d love to hear stories of Big Eyes Small Mouth as all I can find is 5 year out of date forum posts. You can also follow me on twitter @Mortunodos.

James Ballod

James blossomed into geekdom like a piranha plant in the crack of a sidewalk. Watered by the muscle-brained lore of Warhammer 40,000 and nurtured in the rough bosom of World of Warcraft, tabletop RPGs came late in life to James. The rich lore and real-world influences in games like Pathfinder inspire James to explore them from every angle. When not being an annoying anime-fanboy he can be found discussing the history of various cuisines and over-analyzing real world influences in works of fiction.

7 Comments

  1. Great article. I feel the same way, and this articulates my feelings on the subject pretty well. It can also apply to some of the flashier video game protagonists that often inspire characters.

    As you said, there are plenty of team-oriented characters than can be crafted to better suit the game and a team based strategy. Dragonball Z alone has a fair share of examples. Dende is a healer. Roshi could be a Sensei Monk. Reconstructing the team dynamics of the Ginyu Force could be incredibly fun for a group of players that go all-in on it.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been writing a tournament arc campaign for my players and re-watching all the anime tournament arcs I can find for inspiration. Getting some of those tropes to function is really hard in the system because it seems like the drama in those shows come from the characters not knowing what they’re capable of, which doesn’t happen in pathfinder.

    Generally, I’ve seen players use their best and all out abilities first in an encounter, which is the opposite of what happens in anime. A player would have to intentionally hold back.when it looks like they’re going to loose, THEN they can throw out the new highest level spell they just learned.

    • So, I’ve been wrestling with this. Barbarians rage is the closest you get reliably get to a power-up. Thematically you may need to shift “rage” to “determination” but it works.

      If you’re playing in a home game environment, Hero Points can serve as a buff. I’ve had GMs hse them to give extra actions, add hit chance/damage, or even stave off death. Limiting when players can use hero points and giving them out may be a helpful mechanic. Far from perfect, but helpful.

      • Actually, the Kineticist served the purpose rather well. Energy blasts act as your special power, while Burn allows the character to “go all out” at an appropriately dramatic moment. And Gather Power can even allow you to ham it up with the visual spectacle.

        Best of all? Elemental overflow. Once you begin to spend burn, your element becomes a visible aura of power. Not unlike an SSJ transformation. You can eventually get a size bonus to physical stats as well, allowing you to get Super Kineticist 2 form and Super Kineticist 3. Or whatever crazy titles you wnt to give your ascensions.

        Bonus if you give special attack names to your infusion combinations.

  3. I think Naruto could be done, but you are going to need to be a mythic campaign pretty quickly.

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