OK, so, welcome to Essential Builds, right? The blog that totally takes pop culture characters and says “you know what, this would make a mad stupid Essence20 Player Character”.
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.
Today, I’m building Luis. No, I’m not returning the favour and turning Luis Loza into Luis-i-tron 4001. I’m talking about the MCU original character Luis, who I was shocked to realize has only been in two movies. Two! His van was in three!
Building Essence20 Luis
Now, I’m a big fan of the MCU. Despite losing a lot of pop culture currency since 2020, I think of the lead up to Endgame as a triumph of filmmaking, artistic logistics, and commerce. Part of what made the phase 1-3 finale successful was a string of movies leading into it that thread the needle of fitting the MCU mould and standing on their own merits. The heist movie tropes and fun with size shifting played into making the first two Ant-Man movies work, but so did the humour and unique characters. One of the characters that made them stand out was Luis. Michael Peña took a character unlike anyone else in the MCU, one without source material to draw on, and crafted one of the series’ most memorable sidekicks
That said, unusual for Essential Builds, I didn’t start this build with a pop culture character in mind. Today, I started with an option and asked myself what character outside of the Hasbro IP source material could this be used to build. And not just a character that this is a satisfactory fit. I wanted the character who is undeniably the best match for this option.
Who Is Luis?
When Scott Lang gets released from prison, his former cellmate Luis picks him up and gives him a place to stay. Although Scott’s trying to live clean, he struggles to find a job and has to turn to Luis for work that uses his thieving skills. Unbeknownst to both, they’re being set up by Hank Pym, who is grooming Scott to be his replacement as Ant Man. Even when Scott gets a super suit and a secret identity, he still teams up with Luis, whose logistic mind and unwavering loyalty make him both a dependable sidekick and, eventually, the owner of a security business.
Technically, Luis has no super powers, but he is a super narrator. In both of his Ant-Man movie appearances, Luis steals the show with his unfocused, overly-detailed storytelling montages.
It’s that quality that inspired this build.
Spirit of Honesty (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game core rulebook)
I try to mix up the options I use for my builds, with Role being the option I want to avoid repeating the most. Like, I’ve had Inspector Gadget as a potential subject since before I wrote my first Essential Build, but because I already built Batman with the Role I’d most likely give to Gadget, the inspector dropped to the bottom of my list of candidates.
The other day I looked over the Roles I haven’t used yet, specifically trying to find the ones I didn’t even have an idea for. The Spirit of Honesty stood out as the Role I was least likely to use for an Essential Build. I took that as a challenge.
This isn’t my first build with an MLP Role, but I have more room in my word count on this build to share a little insight into how the Spirit of Roles came to be.
I played a fairly important part in setting the dividing lines between what we internally referred to as Essence20’s fashion plates of character creation (Roles, Origins, and Influences). We had ideas for the scope of each option, and comparables from other systems, but there were undefined details for how to apply them to each setting. I put together a document outlining how each of the four settings fit into the three broad categories we were working with (as well as a few additional setting examples to show how Essense20 could expand). So, one of the first ideas established about how My Little Pony would run on Essence20 was that the Roles would each tie into one of the Elements of Harmony.
Thematically, I liked this fit. But then I had to design them. As the name suggests, the Elements of Harmony didn’t lend themselves to adventure, especially combat. They starkly contrast how Roles work in the other settings, which all have a punchy Role, a shooty Role, a leader Role, a smart Role, and a few crossovers of the above.
Finding the mechanical core of a Spirit of Role was easier for some than others. I built Magic like a wizard, and Laughter like a bard with some meta elements. Those were the easy ones. The final four were harder. Generosity and Loyalty have a lot of overlap, and both became Roles that Lend Assistance and provide bonuses, just in different ways. Kindness ended up being one of my favourite MLP Roles, thanks to how the Empathy Skill sets it apart. Conversely, Honesty was the Role I was still tinkering with until pencils down was called. In the end, I think it’s a functional Role, maybe even one of the stronger MLP Roles mechanically, but it ties to its theme the most loosely.
That said, it’s an excellent Role for Luis. At 1st level, the Role lets you designate an Essence Score other than Social to tie into Persuasion for the purposes of Skill Rank investment. So Luis may not be very strong, but he doesn’t need to be when he can talk his way out of things. At 3rd level, he heals Stress through reassuring platitudes, which we definitely see him do in both of his movie appearances. And at 5th level, he gains an Edge on Alertness Skill Tests to see if someone’s lying. Handy, considering the types of people he hangs out with.
The majority of the balance of Honesty’s Role Perks give benefits to Persuasion. As a non-combatant team leader, that suits Luis well. Admittedly, turning into an alicorn at 20th level is an issue, but we haven’t seen where Luis’ canonical journey ends.
Oddball (Power Rangers Roleplaying Game core rulebook)
Honest Oddball. That sums him up. Like, I don’t even feel I have to write any more to justify this decision.
But I will.
What’s funny about the Oddball origin is that thematically it’s for someone who is just different, and yet, mechanically, it rides the baseline. It needs to apply to a wide range of options to cover every deviation from the norm, making it entirely open-ended. That means Luis gets an extra General Perk, and we can increase any Essence Score we want. Since he was arrested for stealing two Smoothie machines before meeting Scott, increasing his Speed and investing in Infiltration feels like a nice way of tying his Origin into his backstory.
1st: Checkered Past (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game core rulebook)
2nd Chatty (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game core rulebook)
3rd Wheel Obsession (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game core rulebook)
I’m struggling more than usual to justify my choices here, not because they’re odd, but because they feel self-explanatory. Yeah, Luis has a Checkered Past. Oh yeah, he’s Chatty. And Wheel Obsession makes sense since Scott often uses him as a wheelman.
Digging deeper, Checkered Past specifically gives an Edge on looking for weaknesses, flaws in security, and hidden items. That works for Luis, who seems to be the brains of his organization. But more specifically, it reflects his character arc. By Ant Man And The Wasp, Luis founded X-Con Security Consultants, specifically employing his ability to see exploitation points and using them to build better security systems. Because he works with authority figures in this capacity, we’re going to skip the Hang-Up that would make that more difficult for him.
Chatty is as perfect an option for Luis as Honest and Oddball. If I could only pick one Influence, this would be it. And it’s not just thematically appropriate. It lets him substitute Smarts Skills with Persuasion, his primary Skill, because some detail reminds him of a story that eventually gets him to the answer he’s looking for. Conversely, the Hang-Up does hurt the build, giving him a Snag on Infiltration Skill Tests that involve stealth. I know I already invested in Infiltration, which is important to a Luis build, and a blanket penalty like this will hurt him. Still, it makes more sense for Luis than the Checkered Past Hang-Up. And don’t forget that playing into Hang-Ups can net you Story/Friendship Points.
Finally, Wheel Obsession. It’s not as essential to the build, but it does make Luis generally good at managing a vehicle. And, again, his van shows up in more movies than he does. The Hang-Up works too, where he suffers a Snag when he’s in a vehicle but isn’t the driver. I’d have to double check, but I think there’s even a scene in Ant-Man And The Wasp where Wasp is driving and it’s making Luis (wait for it…) antsy.
Essence Scores and Skills
Let’s start with Social Skills. Luis needs Persuasion. All the Persuasion. He needs high Persuasion more than Mega Man needed high Targeting. Since we can invest both Social Essence Score increases and Strength Essence Score increases into Persuasion, we can give him +d8 while still giving him a decent Toughness. I’ll also give Luis +d4 Streetwise. As tempting as it is to go all in and give him +d12 Persuasion at level 1, it’s healthy to have a little Skill selection diversity, and Streetwise is both a versatile Skill and reflective of Luis’ backstory.
Next, for Smarts, Luis needs a decent Alertness. It’s kind of an essential Skill for all builds, but it’s especially good for a leader type character. Not only does it give them a go-to Skill when Persuasion isn’t an option, but it means the rest of the group can go a little lighter on their Alertness investment and put their Skill Ranks elsewhere. We’ll say +d6. Of the other Smarts Skills, Culture feels important since he really gets people, and we see him use enough Technology to call it one of the character’s traits. However, I’ve already spent more than half of the 16 Skill Points on Ranks in three Skills, so I’ll go conservative and only give him +d2 in each.
That leaves us with our physical Essence Scores. Luis needs Driving and Infiltration, let’s say +d4 each. After that, a little combat ability would be a bonus. I don’t think we ever see him use a gun, so I’ll save investing in Targeting for a higher level, even if it would be helpful in game terms. He does knock out a guard at one point, so I’ll invest the rest of my Skill Points into Might. And, doing a little math, the rest of my Skill Points is 1. +d2 Might. Not great, but also not what Luis does.
General Perks and Other Options
Speaking of Luis knocking out a guard, what happened next is one of my favourite moments in any MCU media. It’s a simple scene, one that could have easily been cut. For those who don’t remember, while helping Scott and Hank infiltrate Pym Industries, Luis knocks out a guard. Then, when it’s time to evacuate because the building is about to explode, Luis starts to leave, stops, and goes back for the guard he knocked out.
To reflect this, I chose Compassionate from the My Little Pony Roleplaying Game core rulebook. Thanks to the Oddball Origin, I get my first General Perk at 1st level. If being compassionate makes one an oddball, I don’t want to be normal!
Mechanically, Compassionate works extremely well with our build. It grants an Edge on Persuasion Skill Tests when presenting non-aggression arguments, and it allows for healing through Persuasion Skill Tests. This opens up more purpose for this non-combatant. I will say that, being a My Little Pony General Perk, Compassion got away with lighter limitations for a healing option. In a setting more akin to the MCU, this would need a 1/scene restriction.
At 4th level, I like Photographic Memory from the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game core rulebook. It is always useful, and is another way to represent Luis’ attention to detail.
The last General Perk I have my eye on is Quick Thinker from the My Little Pony Roleplaying Game core rulebook. It grants Free actions based on Smarts instead of Speed. By 13th level, when this build gains the ability to Lend Assistance as a Free action, that will be helpful. It’s an option we can wait until 12th level for.
I like that my first Marvel character is also my least combat focused build to date. If Luis absolutely needs to hurt someone, he has +d2 in a melee Skill and that’s it. Well, that and he can run them over with his car. But with a Persuasion Skill that can elevate quickly, and new uses for Persuasion unlocking as he levels, maybe he won’t need to hurt anyone.
Honestly, this is not the kind of character I normally play. I think I gave him enough options that he’ll be fun at the table, but I’m not really the best judge for that. Eschewing the more traditional leadership Roles in favour of the Spirit of Honesty means Luis doesn’t get to play with action-granting options. However, he can dominate the social scenes. And as someone who has played in groups without a diplomancer, I can say a master of Persuasion in the party is very much appreciated. There’s a reason Scott kept calling on those three wombats when he needed help.
I tapped the fewest resources for this build. Unless I missed some, I believe Luis can be built entirely using only the G.I. JOE, My Little Pony, and Power Ranger core rulebooks. You don’t even need the Field Guide to Action & Adventure for this one. Luis is about 75% pony.