PCs change depending on who’s building them, but justice is justice.
Welcome to Essential Builds, the blog that shifts the shape of popular culture characters with a bucketful of Essence20 options.
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.
Recently, Jason and I talked about the Star Trek renaissance with shows like Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks. It seems that after the drastic departure from the formula that was Star Trek: Discovery, series that embrace the Star Trek feel and fandom set the slate clean again. But Discovery wasn’t Star Trek’s first black sheep. From 1993 to 1999, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine threw Trek expectations into chaos. And there was one man on that space station trying to maintain order.
Who Is Odo?
Odo was the shapeshifting head of security on Deep Space Nine. Unlike most main characters on a Star Trek series, Odo didn’t work for the United Federation of Planets. Instead, he worked with them as a representative of Bajor, the planet that Deep Space Nine orbited. And before that, he worked for the Cardassians, an alien species occupying Bajor. Deep Space Nine was a military base and mining station called Terok Nor, where Bajorans were forced to work against their will.
The fact that the head of security of an occupying force retained his position after a rebellion chased them out and a relief effort moved in is one of the most interesting things about Odo. He’s rigidly neutral, but unabashedly fair. He won the trust of the Bajorans even as he enforced the rule over them. He was in an unenviable position, and all sides acknowledged that Odo’s involvement kept things peaceful, for better or worse.
Odo earned the position because he was raised by a Cardasian scientist, who treated him like a science experiment. It was later revealed that Odo was part of a shapeshifting species called changelings, who sent 100 larval specimens through a stable wormhole that connected the Alpha and Gamma quadrants of the Milky Way Galaxy. They seeded infiltrators in preparation for an invasion a century later. Odo wasn’t aware of any of this, spending his life feeling alone and trying to fit in.
The season he spent as a solid notwithstanding, there is no Odo build without shape changing powers. This build needed Dark Skies Over Equestria, the My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Adventure Series Book which introduces, appropriately enough, the Changeling Origin. There are other shape-shifting options from Dark Skies Over Equestria that I’ll also be taking, to flesh him out. Er, goop him out?
With his signature power covered, next I need to get across that Odo might be the best law enforcer in the galaxy. Never has the line that separates Origin from Role been clearer.
Then, where possible, I’ll try to convey the ennui that is this shape changer who doesn’t know who he is.
I’m looking forward to this build. As a borderline magical alien in a pseudo-military, every Essence20 setting and sourcebook is a viable option. Time to see how Odo takes shape.
Changeling (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Dark Skies Over Equestria)
This one’s obvious. Not only do Odo’s people share a powerset with My Little Pony’s shape-shifters, the species share a name. And yes, the mythical changelings of lore were the offspring of hags and witches swapped with the children of villagers, with no ability to take on other forms. Well popular culture, like Star Trek and My Little Pony, co-opted the term and used it in a more satisfactory manner.
The Changeling Origin grants a swath of Origin Perks. We gain ↑1 to impersonate a specific creature type, a suite of benefits to pick from (we’ll take the +1 Health, to bolster the Changeling’s meager 1 Health, and a 15ft Aerial movement, since at least once Odo turned into a bird. 15ft of Aerial movement indicates he can fly, but most flying creatures are better at it than him), and, most importantly, Shape-Shift.
I guess it’s a good time to point out that I designed the MLP Changeling Origin. With Shape-Shift, my goal was to go broad and flexible. This is foundational shape-shifting, saving meatier mechanics for higher level options. It gives us the flexibility to deliver on one of Odo’s core concepts without overpowering other level 1 characters who likely won’t have such spectacular powers yet.
Silver Ranger (Power Rangers Roleplaying Game Across The Stars)
Let me start by saying I know nothing about Silver Rangers. And before you say “yes, we get it, you don’t know Power Rangers,” I have some exposure to Power Rangers. I can name a dozen or so characters, ballpark what series another dozen or so come from, and have even watched some seasons with my daughter recently. But I have zero exposure to Silver Rangers.
That said, while I have no evidence to support this, I get an enforcer vibe from reading over this Role in Across The Stars. Moreover, some of the Role Perks, like Power Heal (which lets us heal ourself) and Grid Surge (which lets us conjure tools, reshape our weapons, and increase our Toughness) line up with abilities the changelings demonstrate on DS9. Add in Power Points, Grid Powers, and the It’s Time setting-neutral version of It’s Morphin Time, and the always useful Extra Attack, and we have a Role that works well for a shape changing security officer.
One caveat. Silver Ranger is an Advanced Spectrum. In order to access it, we need to either take the Spectrum Shift General Perk, or get express GM permission. For the sake of this build, we’ll assume our Game Master allowed it, but retraining another Role at level 4 when we can take Spectrum Shift doesn’t impact the build much. Well, OK, a little.
Focus and Faction
Alien Ambassador (Field Guide to Action & Adventure), Earth Defense Command (Field Guide to Action & Adventure)
What separates a soldier from a security officer of equal skill? Their willingness to attack. If I wanted the most combat effective version of Odo I could manage, I’d choose an Infantry or Warrior Focus. But a security officer needs to balance combat capability with diplomacy. That’s why I’m taking the Envoy’s Alien Ambassador Focus from the Field Guide to Action and Adventure. That, and because I’m rarely going to have other opportunities to even consider this for a build. But that’s a lesser factor.
Honestly, Alien Ambassador is practically the Starfleet Officer Focus. The first Focus Perk is even called First Contact, and the 17th level Focus Perk is Universal Translator. In between, we get Understand Intent, which makes us better at picking up on a creature’s intentions, and Able To Adapt, which lets us grant ↑1 for a turn as a Free action. I love how this Silver Ranger/Alien Ambassador Role/Focus combo works together. We can flavour a lot of both options’ abilities to apply to either Starfleet resources or shape-shifting.
For our Faction, we’re going to slightly rework Earth Defense Command, also from the Field Guide to Action and Adventure. Depending on the setting, this could be the Bajoran Militia, or really any alien species military. The only rule we’d need to tweak is the “non-human creatures” mentioned in the Earth Defenders Perk. Otherwise, it provides some Starfleet appropriate benefits. Heck, it even makes us better at operating space ships, something we see Odo do like it’s nothing, and yet I didn’t intentionally factor into our build.
1st: Security (Transformers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)
2nd Not From Around Here – Mercurian (Power Rangers Roleplaying Game Across The Stars)
3rd Outsider (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Dark Skies Over Equestria)
As established, Odo is in charge of security on Deep Space Nine. The Security Influence lets us ignore some of the penalties of being surprised. On theme, easy to implement, not covered by the rest of the build. I’ll take it.
Now we need to stop and appreciate Mercurian. This variant of Not From Around Here lets us play an alien made of silver goo. Like, what? I had no idea this option existed! It’s exactly how changelings work in Star Trek. Moreover, it gives us an Edge on Athletics and Acrobatics Skill Tests related to squeezing into places. So this is another 1000% on point option that is somehow 000% redundant to our build. Odo definitely goos through the Jefferies Tubes when he needs to get around, and we don’t have that covered anywhere. And then there’s the equally perfect Hang-Up! When you are Defeated, you fall into a liquid state. Liquid is Odo’s natural state. He literally sleeps in a bucket. And while that’s a hefty penalty, remember that as a Silver Ranger, our Odo can heal himself.
Finally, there’s Outsider from Dark Skies. It’s designed with Thorax in mind, the first changeling that showed the creatures to be nuanced, and uncomfortable with their reputation.
From the first episode of DS9, Odo established that he knew nothing about his past, and later episodes explored how hard he works to fit in with solids. The benefit, where the insight he gained studying humanity nets him Smarts and Social Upshifts, embodies some of Odo’s speeches explaining how he outsmarts station criminals (mostly Quark). And the Hang-Up, giving him a Snag when dealing with fellow changelings, is a major plot point from season 3 until the finale.
Before I move on, shout out to Spy on the Renegade Game Studios Discord server. They compile lists of Essence20 character creation options, and I used their All Character Options list repeatedly to save a tonne of time on this build. Being able to search “Security” on a single PDF and finding the Transformers Influence saved me having to sift through every sourcebook that had Influence options in it. If you ever want to make elaborate Essence20 builds like these, you need to grab Spy’s lists.
Essence Scores and Skills
This build’s Essence Scores progress strangely, but not inappropriately.
Our two highest Essence Scores at 1st level are Smarts and Speed. Smarts is our slowest progressing Skill, followed by Speed. Maybe I put too much weight behind needing my Culture Skill to be at least as high as my Social-based Skills, but I made Culture our highest Skill. The build actually allows a lot of Upshifts to physical and Social-based Skill Tests, so fulfilling our Culture needs felt justified. Also, dumping Social out of the gate only for it to increase steadily over time mirrors Odo’s arc on the series.
I gave us Culture +d8, and Alertness +d2. Yeah, that Alertness isn’t great, and maybe +d6/+d4 is the better split at level 1. Either way we end up +d8/+d4 by 4th level. And between the two Skills, it’s safer to assume someone else on the team will have a decent Alertness. Also, by then we’ll be able to use Deception, Intimidation, or Persuasion to determine a target’s intent, thanks to Alien Ambassador, so Alertness isn’t super important for us.
These are mostly standard Speed investments. +d4 Targeting, +d2 Initiative. I went +d4 Infiltration, because more than anything, Odo uses his shape-shifting to sneak around.
I gave Odo +d4 Athletics, but that’s an experiment. If we don’t end up using our Mercurian powers much, we don’t need to go any higher than this. The other two Ranks went into Might, for melee effectiveness. As we level up, I suspect we’ll want to invest in Conditioning.
I went super cheap with Social Skill investments. Just +d2 Deception and +d2 Persuasion. As I said, we have multiple ways to bump these Skills up on the fly, and we’ll be getting plenty of Social Skill boosts from our Role.
General Perks and Other Options
I often skip this section unless the options carry a lot of weight, and let me tell you, this Odo build needs the General Perks and Other Options section.
First of all, we may need Spectrum Shift, depending on how agreeable our GM is to letting us use the Silver Ranger Role. If they agree and we can skip it, we get Object-Shift as our 4th level General Perk. It lets us Shape-Shift into an inanimate object. Other than going from goo to solid and back, the only other shape-shifting we see Odo do involves changing into objects.
Later we can take Camouflage Hide to gain an Edge on Infiltration Skill Tests. Both of these General Perks come from Dark Skies Over Equestria.
For Grid Powers, I liked Rapid Morph from Power Rangers Roleplaying Game A Jump Through Time. Odo changes shape when he needs to, so getting to do so as a Free action fits. It also pairs nicely with the Security Influence.
I can’t believe how perfectly this worked out. Any time I build a character of a creature type other than one explicitly covered in an Essence20 rulebook, I need to justify and interpret a lot of options. Here, we get multiple different shape-shifting abilities at 1st level, including literally turning into a liquid form. There are G.I. JOE characters I couldn’t recreate as faithfully as I managed to get this Odo build. Considering I didn’t have any kind of plan beyond “I should make a shape-shifter” when I sat down to write this, I’m awestruck.
I do need to reflavour the surprising amount of silver options I chose. Obviously, I need to make them copper. Odo is a constable, after all.