Welcome to Essential Builds, the blog that adapts pop culture icons into Essence20 Player Characters.
I’m Ryan Costello, one of the designers of the Essence20 system and an author on the G.I. JOE, Transformers, and My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebooks. As of this writing, I’ve written over 300 000 words for Essence20, contributing to over a dozen products and counting.
But that’s not all! Since August 8th, 2022, I’ve been writing the classic fantasy online comic Looking For Group. And with LFG unfortunately coming to an end in a few weeks, the window of opportunity to cross promote my writing projects is closing. So, I bring you: Richard!
Who Is Richard?
LFG’s breakout character for the past 17 years, Richard, Chief Warlock of the Brothers of Darkness, Lord of the Thirteen Hells, Master of the Bones, Emperor of the Black, Lord of the Undead, Lord of the Dance, and Mayor of a little village up the coast.
Richard is basically what would happen if Deadpool became Sorcerer Supreme.
Wait… That sounds awesome. Someone get me Marvel Comics, I have a killer idea for a mini-series, and my comic-writing schedule just opened up…
Like Deadpool, Richard’s all about the lols, and he doesn’t care if he has to break all four walls to get them. And like Dr Strange, Richard mastered the mystic arts, casting spells that destroy lives and property, and occasionally help. Unlike Deadpool and Dr Strange, but more unlike Strange, Richard is undead. Since Essence20 hasn’t picked up the Operation: Monster Force license yet (but how amazing would that be?), finding an Origin that fits will be this build’s biggest hurdle.
Building Essence20 Richard
Below are some suggestions for creating Richard as a level 1 Essence20 Player Character.
Enigma (Power Rangers Across The Stars)
Like Batman last time, I’m dipping into Power Rangers for my build’s Origin. I suspect this will be a recurring theme. There are two advantages to Power Rangers Origins when it comes to adapting pop culture characters to Essence20.
First of all, the themes are broader. Because Power Rangers are canonically picked for their attitude, the Power Rangers RPG Origin options tend to be about who the person is more than what they are, unlike MLP, where Origin represents creature type, or Transformers, where Origin represents chassis. Really, unless a build specifically calls for being a mythical creature or a shape changing robot, I don’t expect a lot of Essential Builds to use MLP or TF Origins (a real shame in this case, since Stan “The Touch” Bush himself performed the LFG theme song). Some Power Rangers Origins reflect the character’s experience, similar to G.I. JOE, although the G.I. JOE Core Rulebook Origins specifically relate to military or applicable training. Cobra Codex goes a little broader, but all Power Rangers Origins are that broad.
Second of all, mechanically, a lot more Power Rangers Origins grant a General Perk at 1st level. Some character concepts depend on General Perks to fulfill their purpose, especially when we’re trying to cram as much of an established character as we can into a 1st level build. Richard is one such example.
Richard needs spellcasting at launch. Right now, there are only two ways to gain the Magical Perk at 1st level: Be a Unicorn (Richard is not, despite being the mayor of Pretty, Pretty Unicorn) or take an Origin that grants a General Perk at 1st level.
Not only does Enigma grant a General Perk, its mysterious theme works as a substitute for Richard’s undead ancestry. Coincidentally, we find out that later that what made Richard undead also made him a warlock (there was a ritual sacrifice, family betrayal, a body swap, a magical doll, it was a whole ordeal), so gaining the Magical General Perk from his Origin fits his story.
I considered taking the Young Dragon Origin from the My Little Pony bonus material. It doesn’t give spellcasting at level 1, but it does give a scalable fire power that doesn’t cost Spellcasting downshifts, as well as fire resistance, and cheaper than normal access to the Magical General Perk at 4th level. Here’s the problem: Richard’s definitely not a dragon. The laws of reskinning forbid me from taking this, despite it working mechanically! Oh, and Richard’s not Small. Normally…
Spirit of Laughter (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)
If I wasn’t going to take a My Little Pony Origin, I was definitely taking a My Little Pony Role!
Now, if Essence20 had a fantasy RPG setting, Richard would absolutely be a warlock, or, failing that, a sorcerer, witch, or wizard. Some kind of arcane caster. And lo, My Little Pony has a Spirit of Magic. Yet I went with the Spirit of Laughter. Why?
Well, although Richard is a warlock and he uses a lot of magical attacks, his true versatility is his ability to make anything a joke. The Spirit of Laughter is based largely on its most iconic example, Pinkie Pie, the Deadpool of MLP. It’s even been suggested that her antics are magical in nature.
The Role gains a pool of Cheer Points, and a selection of Laugh Tactics. These let Richard do things like use Performance in place of Persuasion, Deception, or Infiltration Skill Tests involving disguises, deal damage with a Perform check, and even use Intimidation in place of Performance. That last one, called So Funny, It’s Scary, is key. It costs no Cheer and turns the Role’s theme into Dark Comedy. He’s a spooky Spirit of Laughter.
Other Role Perks include gaining Cheer Points when you make your GM laugh, drawing items from Hammer Space, and distracting targets with your antics, costing them actions on their turns. If you’ve ever wondered why Richard’s victims wait after the setup no matter how obvious it is that the punchline is their death, it’s because he used Laughtracting.
One challenge of using MLP Roles is that the setting isn’t included in the Field Guide to Action & Adventure, and it doesn’t follow the format of the other settings’ Roles to easily reverse engineer adapting the Role to other settings. Luckily, in this case, the Perks that tie into the setting still work for Richard. Friendship Circle specifically ties into different moments from the comic in which Richard shared his power with Cale. The only Perk that doesn’t work is Princess of Laughter, in which Richard turns into an Alicorn. But, hey, there’s still two weeks left of LFG. You never know!
- Nobility (Field Guide to Action & Adventure)
- Checkered Past (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)
- Violent (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Cobra Codex)
I wonder how many other Spirit of Laughter characters take the Violent Influence?
Going down the line, these Influences are as thematic as they are mechanically useful. In addition to the long list of titles Richard’s given himself (see Building Essence20 Richard), Richard was a noble human before becoming undead. Mechanically, it works best to designate the citizens of Pretty, Pretty Unicorn those who recognize his nobility. As the name suggests, it’s full of the animated remains of the citizens who lived and died under Richard’s noble family. The servant granted by the Influence could be Maikos, who watched after Pretty, Pretty Unicorn in Richard’s absence, or any of the minions Richard keeps in his purse. From the Purse Dragon and Scooter the Kraken to Cha-Cha and Murder Dog.
Checkered Past covers Richard’s transition from noble human to undead warlock. Gaining an Edge on Smarts Skill Tests to look for weaknesses because he’s an outside the box thinker gives Richard something to do during scenes that don’t involve killing (ew), and the Snag on Social Skill Tests when dealing with authorities is something a Richard player should be roleplaying anyway.
Finally, Violent. Not only does it give Richard greater lethality with his unarmed attacks (which is a nice way of translating his clawed fingers, even though they’ll do Blunt damage per the mechanics), but the Hang-Up also applies. Richard suffers ↓1 on Skill Tests when taking actions in combat that don’t deal damage. It’s perfect!
Essence Scores and Skills
Intimidation +d6, Might +d4
Initiative +d2, Targeting +d4
Alertness +d4, Culture +d2
Animal Handling +d4
Determining Richard’s Essence scores takes two more steps than usual. First, we need to rank his Essence Score progression. Unlike in Power Rangers, G.I. JOE, and Transformers, My Little Pony Roles don’t set your Essence Score progression. Instead, you decide the speed at which they advance. In Richard’s case, I prioritized Social, but not for the reasons you might think. Because I plan on taking So Funny, It’s Scary at 2nd level, Richard doesn’t need the traditional Social Skills, not even Performance, which would normally be key to Spirits of Laughter. I want him to have a high Cleverness. So, other than a few ranks in Animal Handling to coax innocent creatures into his open arms, I’ll mainly be using Social increases to improve his Spellcasting. Which brings us to the second additional step.
Per the My Little Pony Spellcasting Rules, the Spellcasting Skill isn’t tied to an Essence Score. Characters can invest a rank into Spellcasting whenever they increase any Essence Score. Richard needs Strength and Speed for combat Skills, so he can use some Smarts and most Social increases to improve his Spellcasting. That is, until he gets the Fearsome General Perk.
General Perks and Other Options
Fearsome from the My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook treats Intimidation as both a Strength and Social Skill, and gives ↑1 on Intimidation Skill Tests. That means whenever Richard increases Social or Strength, his two fastest Essence Score progressions, he can increase Intimidation or Spellcasting, his two main Skills. After that, he can choose General Perks that improve his Spellcasting, like Extra-Effective Spell and Experienced Spellcaster.
Speaking of Spells, Richard will focus on mastering Beam Spells, the damage dealing Spell School. Richard’s a blaster warlock, and a bunch of Beam Spells gives him a lot of blasting options. Because he has Spellcasting d6 at 1st level, he can choose Elementary and Superior Spells. Hello Energy Beam and Explosive Beam.
So, anyone running an all-in Essence20 game? Because I really want to try out this build. Honestly, in addition to a little cross promotion, I chose to build Richard to see if I could build Richard. I had no idea how easy it would be. This is a straightforward, effective build that looks like a tonne of fun to play.
Also, even though I obviously needed to do this to gain access to spellcasting, I love how many options I drew from My Little Pony. For Pony!