While Gamemastering a PnP RPG for his lady friends, Sunburst finds himself dealing with one disaster after another.
The cast of Uncommon Bond come together to play a different kind of game... one of the Pen and Paper Roleplaying variety! As the Gamemaster, Sunburst soon discovers a clear disconnect between the player's mindsets and the game world he's created for them. In other words, playing with these ponies is a total pain in the neck.
Meet Moromane the Demon Hunter, Peach the Oni-Blooded Brawler, Roku the Rock Farmer and Sakura Petals the Courtesan as they explore the fantastic world of Ninja Adventures In Neighpon.
"Alright everyone," announced Sunburst to the gathered crowd of fillies at large. "Who's ready to start their foray into the realm... of imagination?"
Seated opposite him at the table, Starlight Glimmer, Trixie and Maud Pie returned deadpan stares. Only Twilight Sparkle seemed excited, clapping her hooves together excitedly.
Trixie rolled her eyes. "Seems kinda... gay. Especially if Twilight's into it. But yes, Trixie is ready to play your board game."
Starlight nodded. "Uhuh."
"It's not a board game, you guys! Pen and paper roleplaying games are a premier form of entertainment among ponies, young and old, and Ogres & Oubliettes is one of the best!" Sunburst pouted.
Starlight scoffed. "Did Twilight tell you to say that?" immediately drawing a bout of sniggering from Trixie.
"Well he's right!" answered Twilight. "Geez, Sunburst, I don't know why you wanted these two to play, they're going to be like this all session. It's like when Rainbow first joined my game."
Maud set her pet rock, Boulder, atop her character sheet.. "Sounds fun... I can realize my dreams vicariously through my character."
“That's the spirit, Maud!" said Sunburst, regaining some traction. "Ever since I saw Twilight running her game for her friends, I wanted to try it myself... And I can't think of a group of ponies more deserving of the action, the adventure!"
Trixie picked up a twenty-sided die, examining it critically. "Well, true we are deserving... But why is Twilight here, then? She already has a group."
"Twilight wanted to take a break from Gamemastering. She wants to sit at the other end of the table for a change. Designing the adventures and playing them out is a lot of hard work!"
Twilight nodded. "That's right! I'm sure you'll do great, Sunburst."
“Thanks! So, as you all know, we're playing "The Tengu's Treasure" from "Ninja Adventures In Neighpon" today. Everypony’s got their character ready to go, so let's go around the table one by one and talk about them. Starlight, you're up."
Starlight glanced down at her sheet, then back up at the assembled players. "Right. My character's name is Moromane and he's a travelling swordspony by trade, exploring the countryside, saving peasants, all that sort of thing. His extensive tour of duty battling against demons has granted him mastery of the Demon Slaying combat tree, including Astral Blade Manifestation, Level 3 Banishment Rituals, and - "
Sunburst's eyes shot up. "What?! Forming an Astral Blade alone requires the severing of twelve demon's heads from their bodies, and then an elaborate ritual that takes a month, how did..."
"Yeah, obviously he did all that before the game started."
"Most people in the game setting have never even seen a demon, let alone had a 'tour of demon-slaying duty.'"
Starlight shrugged theatrically. “Well that just isn’t true at all, that adventure you’re planning on running starts with a bunch of monsters attacking a village and then - “
Sunburst couldn’t believe his ears. “You read the module?”
“Maybe a tiny bit! And even if I have, it says The Tengu’s Treasure right there! We’re obviously not gonna be up against the Evil Magistrate, are we?”
“Now, you said I could write anything I wanted for my character backstory, so I wrote this."
Sunburst sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to be able to take this bull by the horns. "Agh... Alright, anything else you want to declare?”
“Yes, actually,” giggled Starlight, looking positively giddy with herself. “I also dropped the remainder of my points into picking up an Ancestral Heirloom of my own design... It’s a Greater Family Boon with 7 Ancestor Spirits sealed inside it... It was not cheap but it was so worth it.”
“That’s a lot of points to spend on a sword... Won’t you struggle if it gets knocked out of your grip or something?”
Starlight pshaw’d. “If that happens, you guys can get it back for me!”
“So what does it do?”
“Yes, of course! I’d like to introduce you all to Nyghthorne the Ravenblade, the last word in demon-slaying paraphernalia. It can sense when demons are nearby, creates a sealing circle on each successful attack - and I get two attacks per round - and deals 49 bonus damage against demons.”
“I, ah, think I’ve heard enough! I just hope everyone else has such a good grasp of mechanics. Moving on... Trixie?"
Twilight winced in anticipation. She had her head in her hooves already and it was only 11 AM.
Trixie perked up, happy to be the centre of attention. "Yes! Well! Trixie wasn't terribly happy with the core materials, so she went ahead and dove into the splatbooks. I present to you… Peach, the Oni-Blooded Brawler! Using secrets plundered from ‘Mysteries Of The Far East’ she may be classified as a human but has been granted superhuman strength, durability and an ability to locate and commune with hidden demons!"
Starlight thumped her hoof on the table. "It was Peach who introduced Moromane to all the demons!"
"To decapitate them?"
“You bet!” Trixie and Starlight chorused, right before high-fiving. “And she does it with a custom Martial Art I made for her, which I call 'Art of the Delayed Fist.'"
"Oh… From 'Martial Masters'?"
"That's right! In essence, it allows one to deal more damage with their attack the longer they wait between attacks. I set my damage thresholds and came up with... this much."
Sunburst checked her sheet, and immediately wished he hadn't. "You must have done the math wrong. This says she does 1,000 damage on a regular attack. That's... enough to kill a dragon."
"Trixie does not make mistakes! It was all triple-checked for me by Twilight Sporkle!"
Twilight nodded, reluctant to admit her part in all this as Sunburst continued down the sheet. "Death Blow has an optional charging-period between uses, and Trixie took the largest possible one to get as many points as possible. Peach can only attack..."
"Once a month!” Trixie nodded gleefully. “Every time Peach vaporizes the enemy, we're all going to bed down and not move a muscle until we've rested a full 30 days. I already talked it over with the others."
Maud shrugged. "Monks are cool."
Sunburst looked to Twilight with cautious optimism. “Well, I’m sure at least you made a sensible character...”
"Yeah. Great start, you two, I'm not sure I can top it. Ehem. My character's name is Sakura Petals. She's a courtesan, actually."
Starlight and Trixie made plenty of noise about that, but finally allowed Twilight to continue.
"During that period of history, women were considered secondary to their male counterparts... Men held positions in the government and military that were barred to women, but many women, even those of common descent, were still able to reach impressive positions of power by being on the ears of these men, offering counsel and wisdom. Sakura has been an aide to several great generals and influenced the standing of many major houses, beguiling them with her beauty and appeasing their intellects with her fine words."
Trixie tilted her head. "Okay, but how does she kill shit?"
"She doesn't! I made an entirely non-combatant character, someone the party can rely on to negotiate difficult situations and avoid resorting to bloodshed. She has a vision of a peaceful Neighpon."
"Well, she'll come in handy when we need to explain to the police why we piled up so many dead bodies."
"I suppose that could be one of her functions, but she's heavily invested in bringing about peace between the region's various clans, so... Don't get too horny with the katanas, okay?"
Sunburst nodded. "That's a very interesting character, Twilight. Unconventional, but I'm sure she'll find ways to help everyone out. And you worked in the setting backstory in a lovely fashion. Maud?"
Maud took Boulder off her sheets to start reading over them. "I made a peasant. His name is Roku. He's a rock farmer. From a family of rock farmers."
Sunburst sighed, adjusted his glasses and cracked the module. He soon felt his crankiness evaporating as he took in that ripe 'new book' scent.
“Our story begins in the peaceful hamlet of Tokyoats. While continuing their pilgrimage west, Moromane, Peach, Roku and Sakura have temporarily stopped off here to refuel and resupply. The peaceful atmosphere around the village, its shrines and statues to old gods, soothe your souls and bring you inner peace. You feel truly at home."
"Having assisted the local innkeeper with some bullies, you’ve been offered free rent and board for as long as you stay in town. That's where you all are now, by the way."
"But be on your guard! You hear stories of raiders in the hills lately, bandits and ne'er-do-wells who would seek to disrupt this community’s peaceful way of life."
Starlight looked eager. "Well, that's all Moromane needs to hear! I start breaking down some chairs and tables to make raw materials to board up the windows. We’re gonna have this place tighter than a drum when those bandits turn up.”
"Um! First off, nobody really uses chairs in Neighpon. Secondly, the Innkeeper would probably try to stop you."
"Will he now..." Trixie clopped her hooves together, rubbing them giddily, "Sunburst, I sneak up on the Innkeeper and strike him in the back with a Death Blow! That should teach him a lesson."
Sunburst gaped, "T-that would vaporize him for sure!"
Trixie nodded excitedly.
"And you'd be out of commission for 30 days! What about the rest of the adventure?"
"What better place to rest than an Inn!”
Twilight raised her hooves in gentle protest as Trixie began digging for dice in her wizard hat. "Or! Or we could just thank the Innkeeper for his hospitality! Like the Princess always says, better to extend the hoof of friendship than deliver the backhand of judgment."
Maud blinked slowly. "Well... Roku has a strong sense of ethics. He won’t let something like this take place right in front of him.”
“Oh thank goodness...” said Sunburst.
“... So he goes upstairs.”
Trixie was soon rolling, while Starlight cheered her on. "Well would you look at that... I got a 17 to sneak up on the Innkeeper!"
Sunburst checked his notes. "Well... Uh... Just as you're about to exercise your Art of the Delayed Fist on the innkeeper, you hear a clamour from out in the streets. It distracts your attention long enough for him to run to the window, temporarily sparing himself. He calls for you all to come look."
“What a cheap trick!”
Twilight looked relieved. "Well, Sakura Petals will go to the window! What do I see?"
"Thankyou, Twilight. Looking out in the street, you see the village is beset by bandits on horseback, riding down the main street. The villagers, armed with little more than their farm tools, are totally ill-equipped to battle them off."
Starlight raised a brow. "Did you say bandits? I'm pretty sure the first encounter in this module is against the Tengu's demon minions..."
"Well, someone couldn’t keep her eyes off the module, so they're bandits now. Not a demon amongst them.”
"Starlight Glimmer will not forget this..."
A few minutes later, the group were putting the final touches on fighting a very decidedly non-demonic group of bandits.
"Alright, it's your turn, Trixie. What are you doing?"
"Trixie scans the crowd of bandits for the biggest, baddest one. Once she finds him... Kaplow!"
Twilight fussed. "Well... I'm still not sure about using your special ability on the first enemy you see, but... Alright, I'll try to help. Hmm... I got a 15 to locate their leader, Sunburst."
Sunburst conceded it. "Sakura Petals is able to identify the leader of the bandits."
"Roku will help," said Maud. "He uses his pickaxe to dig through any bandits between Trixie and the bandit leader... With a 20 - plus modifiers - I successfully excavate the back of another bandit’s head. ”
“I wish you’d stop referring to it like that...”
But Trixie didn’t seem satisfied. “That’s all well and good, but the one I really need protecting me is Moromane! Starlight, could he help Roku cut a path through the bandits for Peach?”
Sunburst looked over to Starlight. "Well? Your magic sword counts as unenchanted against human foes, but you can still damage them."
"Yes, yes, Sunburst, if only we were all so clever like you are." Starlight rolled her eyes. "Sure, I position myself between Peach and the bandits and start cutting a path through to the leader."
"Excellent..." purred Trixie. "Sunburst?
"Yes, Trixie?" He didn't like that tone in her voice.
"Once Moromane is in front of Peach, Peach charges up her Death Blow, and..."
"... Strikes Moromane in the back!"
"What?" gasped Starlight.
"I'm delivering my Death Blow to Moromane! Aimed so as to avoid any damage to that nice, nice sword, of course! That belongs to Trixie."
"But that’s my sword!”
“Isn’t it obvious? Once Peach uses her Death Blow, she's helpless for the rest of the month. That sword will give me a handy fallback."
"Sunburst! You're not going to allow this, are you?"
"... Sorry, Starlight, it's not like it's against the rules. If Trixie wants to backstab you, she can. Trixie, uh, you don't have any trouble landing your blow against a surprised opponent... Could you go ahead and... Hm, well..."
A vein was throbbing on Starlight's neck. "What?! What were you going to say?"
Sunburst squirmed under her gaze. "Well... Oni-Blooded gives Trixie an extra seven dice and she's already rolling 14... You gave Moromane the absolute minimum score in most of his physical stats to pay for your sword, so... at this point she's rolling more dice than you have Hit Points."
“Oh for pony’s sake!”
Trixie... didn't care. As a matter of fact, Trixie was already scooping up just about every dice on the table. "Ahaha, sorry! That sword is just too tasty to pass up! Trixie will remember your noble sacrifice, though!”
Sunburst swore the table creaked under the weight of the heap of dice landing. Twilight's hair shot up. Trixie spent 8 minutes counting the damage.
"Alright... Well, I can't argue with that roll. Peach turns her 'friend' into dust, making a crater in the ground in the process."
"Trixie claims the Ravenblade! Peach scoops it up and affixes it to her flank."
"Well... I don't know about all that. I'll say with the last of your post-Death Blow strength, you're able to snatch Nyghthorne and cradle it to your bosom. Maud, Twilight, that leaves you to finish off the bandits on your own."
"So, really, just Maud then," teased a smirking Trixie. Starlight continued fuming.
“Sure,” said Maud.
Trixie leaned back, putting her hooves behind her head with a satisfied sigh. "Don’t take too long now~”
... Half an hour later, the combat wrapped up. Roku had been reduced to a sliver of his Hit Points, while Sakura and Peach were largely untouched.
"That's the last of them. What do you do now?"
Maud looked to be thinking things over. "How's Peach doing?"
Sunburst nodded. "Your companion is semi-conscious, laying in the crater that was once Moromane. She's clutching the Ravenblade to her chest."
"Hm. Roku hefts his pickaxe...”
"What!" exclaimed Trixie.
“... And excavates the back of Peach's skull."
"What!" It was Sunburst’s turn to be shocked.
"Nice," exclaimed Starlight. "Exactly what she deserves."
"Well... Peach can’t fight back, of course. So go right ahead.”
“Okay. I keep hitting her until she dies. Or until it stops being ethical.”
“Oh, I don’t think you’re in any danger there...” muttered Twilight.
Trixie slapped her forehead. “Well, my Oni relatives won’t stand for this! Sunburst, I want all her friends and family on this guy’s ass from here on out!”
Sunburst looked at her blankly. “The... same ones you betrayed and decapitated, right?”
Trixie froze, mid hoof-raise, mouth hanging open. Then, she sank back into her chair. "Huh! Well, whatever, I know when I’m beat! I just... really wanted that sword!”
Maud coughed politely. "Once Roku has cleaned the blood from his pickaxe, he tells the villagers they’re safe now.”
"Alright, girls, it's been a week since our last session and Starlight and Trixie have had time to roll new characters. Let's see what they came up with."
Sunburst examined Starlight's sheet. "Hayttori, hmm... Demon slayer, magical demon-slaying swo - Hey, wait a minute! This is just your old character again!"
"Is not! He's Moromane's brother!"
"More like Moreomane,” sniggered Trixie.
"Huff... Well, whatever, your death was very unfortunate, so I'll let it slide. Trixie?"
"Yes! Trixie has prepared a fabulous new character... I went back to my sourcebooks and found a whole section on playing other types of monsters, including Mountain Oni!"
"Mountain Oni," said Sunburst, disbelievingly. "You mean the 20 feet tall ones, with the fire-breathing and the regeneration, and so on?"
"Exactly! Now I know they cost 200 points to play as and we only have 100, but wherever Trixie forays, innovation is never far behind! I found, by stacking enough flaws, I was just able to squeak through!”
“Of course, the book designers had it out for me, so a few... concessions... had to be made. But Trixie is not to be deterred! My new bouncing baby boy had to give up both arms and legs, but once you've given us enough Experience Points, I can put all of them into buying off those disadvantages and regrow the - "
"Uhh... Trixie, I’m all for you having fun, but maybe you shouldn’t play a torso. Maybe you could just play Peach again?”
"Excellent idea, Sunburst~"
"Now then. A few days have passed... Having discovered the bandits were, ah, hired by a local Tengu Warlord - "
"Ha!" crowed Starlight. "Knew it."
"... A local Tengu Warlord who, along with being a considerable threat to the local area also holds sway over a sizable stockpile of treasure, you decided to venture out to free the countryside from the grip of his evil. Well, Roku and Sakura decided it, you two are just tagalongs."
"Tagalongs! Those are the best!"
"Once we're on the road, Hattori immediately starts eyeing off the magic sword Roku is wielding,” said Starlight. “Of course, recognizing it as his brother's sword, he immediately - "
Sunburst raised a hoof. "Alright, let me stop you right there. Roku isn't proficient with swords so he's just been keeping it in his bag. The only weapon you see on him is his pickaxe."
"Now then. Arriving at the Tengu's castle, you're surprised to find the entire area is walled off behind 50-foot high walls. And with the inner compound crawling with dozens of demon guardians, you're not likely to survive a frontal assault."
"Well, obviously one of us just needs to sneak in and quietly open the gate for the rest,” said Twilight. “I'm a courtesan, so I can't... Who has sneaking skill?"
A resounding silence immediately answered Twilight. She felt like she'd tipped forwards into an abyss.
Starlight suddenly had an overwhelming urge to examine her hoof. "Spent all my points on my demon-slaying sword, weren't you paying attention?"
Maud’s perpetual frown never left her face. "It would have interfered with roleplaying an honest rock farmer... I want to play my character correctly, Twilight.”
Trixie shrugged. "Mountain Oni get a +4 racial modifier to Sneaking, but someone couldn’t help plucking that opportunity from Trixie’s grasp...”
"Oh, really? And what’s the penalty for not having legs, Trixie?” groaned Twilight.
"Seriously?” said Sunburst. “In a game called Ninja Adventures in Neighpon, none of you took Sneaking?”
Trixie tapped her nose. "Sounds like your adventure just has fundamental problems you need to work out... The wise and merciful Trixie would have made sure to design a castle assault with multiple ways in... and access ramps for disabled Mountain Oni, too!"
But Starlight was undeterred. "There has to be some other way in aside from sneaking, right? Check the map again."
Sunburst flipped through the module's pages. "Hmmm... Ah, you're right, it looks like there's a canal passing through the castle. The water is flowing rather fast, but Roku should be strong enough to beat the current and get inside."
Sunburst positively beamed at the girls. They, on the other hoof, looked less than enthusiastic.
"Running... through the castle...?"
Trixie was the first to break the atmosphere. "Oh my gosh! He wants us to swim in poop water!"
Starlight wrinkled her nose. "Sunburst, I am willing to put up with a lot for my friends, but this...? This is going too far.”
“This has to be some fetish thing, right?”
“That’s so not okay!”
Maud looked as put out as the other two. "Roku's only worked with rocks, not livestock... He won’t be very good with poop..."
"What! No, I... Twilight, help me out here."
Twilight... took a deep breath. She firmly laid a hoof on Sunburst's shoulder. "Sunburst, I appreciate you Gamemastering for us... but it's not okay to make us swim in poop. I’m going to have to ask you to provide another way into the castle."
"Even... Even you..."
Maud had been leafing through one of the game books, and now promptly set it down. "That aside, we're still in the region of Tokyoats, aren't we?"
"... Yes? Why?"
Maud had opened the Ninja Adventures In Neighpon Setting Book to the page on Tokyoats, pointing directly at a page detailing information on farming and trade. "Tokyoats is an area renowned for its soft soils and frequent rain. This wetlands-like environment causes constantly shifting of the sedimentary layer... and I can dig through it.”
"With my Rapid Strikes prowess, it should only take a few minutes to dig a person-sized hole. I can also ensure there’s no guards on the other side with Earth Sense. Can someone keep watch for me?”
"Oh, well thank goodness for that. Good work, Maud, we can keep going."
Maud looked sad. "Sure, but..."
"I'm sorry you couldn't see Roku covered in poop like you wanted, Sunburst."
"Ehem... Well, having battled your way through various demonic patrols thanks to Hayttori's handiness with his sword Bladenyght, you now stand before the Tengu and his treasure pile. He speaks as follows: "Foolish adventurers! You dare intrude upon my lair? Now face the wrath of my strongest, most powerful minions!""
Sunburst paused to put some models on the table, one a rather large Oni and the other a giant Tengu. "Two granite statues in the room, hitherto unnoticed, both roar to life with a terrible grinding of stone.”
“They’re both about 20 feet tall. The first one is a horned Oni wielding a great stone club... The second, a Tengu Statue that soars through the air on great wings of magically-enchanted stone about 50 feet overhead. Watch out!”
"This isn't good, you guys. I'm down to 3 HP," groaned Starlight
Maud doodled on her sheet with a pencil. “I'm still half-full..."
Twilight looked sheepish. "Well, full HP here, but I don’t know what good it will do... I seriously didn't know this adventure was going to be all fighting. Maybe I can persuade the Tengu to go easy on us?"
"Fat lot of good that will do us,” said Trixie. "And I'm on full HP as well."
Sunburst rolled some dice. "Well, it's looking grim. The Tengu Statue hits Roku for 13 damage and the Oni Statue hits Sakura for 9 damage... It might be curtains unless you have a back-up plan."
"Hmm..." murmured Maud.
Starlight Glimmer shrugged. "Oh, the statues are demons, right? I just need to put more Sealing Circles on them to banish them."
Sunburst clucked his tongue. "Unfortunately, that won't work. The Sealing Circle is designed to work on human-sized opponents... As most you'd only be able to stop it using a limb for a few seconds, like an arm or a leg.”
"Oh..." Starlight groaned, slumping in her chair. "Well, I give up then, unless anyone else has any bright ideas."
"Alright," said Maud, after some heavy thought. "Roku draws Nyghtblade.”
Starlight looked over at her: "Oh, sure, now you give it back... Little late for that now, Maud!"
"Roku lifts the sword back over his head and targets the Tengu Statue's wing."
"Wh - "
"... Then he throws it at the spot where the Statue's wing joint connects to its shoulder.”
“Alright...” said Sunburst. “With that roll, you’re able to embed the sword in the Tengu Statue’s wing. It reels from the blow, losing a few feet of height, but recovers quickly enough. Now what?”
“Now, I’d like Hayttori to put his sword in the other shoulder joint... If you would, Starlight?”
“What are you... Well, not like we have anything else to do at this point. Fine, I hit the other shoulder.”
“Well...” said Sunburst, exasperation creeping into his soft voice, “If you two are done goofing around, maybe we can...”
Maud took a deep breath. “Earlier, you said the statues were made out of granite, defined under the rules as a heavy-category substance... Falling from a height of 50 feet, multiplied by granite’s weight category, works out to... here. I went ahead and calculated it.”
“32d6 damage...?” asked Sunburst.
“To the object itself, and anything it falls on. When is convenient... since the Oni Statue is directly under it.”
“But it’s not falling.”
“Only because Hayttori hasn’t activated his Sealing Circles yet. You said that would disable a limb.”
“...” said Sunburst.
When the dice were done clattering across the table, Sunburst surveyed the damage. "Right... Well, as the demonic magic flowing into the stone of the Tengu's wings suddenly falters, it, appropriately, drops like one. It plummets out of the sky and lands on top of its brother..."
"When the dust clears, both statues have shattered apart into a dozen pieces each, making a carpet of crudely-scattered arms and legs and beaks and horns. The Tengu looks appalled that his minions have been crushed."
“What in the hay, Maud?! That was unbelievable.”
"We close in and finish the job," said Maud.
"Wait!” said Sunburst. “Before you can do that, the Tengu turns to implores you to spare him. He says no reward is too high if you're willing to let him go."
“Great!” said an exuberant Twilight. “Leave this to me, girls. I’m gonna work him over, take him for everything he owns... First, make an Oration skill, with a +4 House Bonus for Tea Ceremony, to negotiate the terms of his surrender. Then a Seduction roll to pump him for the location of a secret storehouse or treasury ro - ”
“Deeeeaaaath Bloooow!” shouted Trixie, scattering piles of dice across the table, and with it Twilight’s hopes and dreams.
When the storm of dice was over, a very ruffled Twilight was, for the first time since the game had started, speechless.
“Auuuugh...” She buried her face in her hooves. Suddenly, Gamemastering again didn’t seem so bad.
Meanwhile, Trixie grinned ear-to-ear as Sunburst went on at length about how badly she’d messed the Tengu up. When he was done, she glanced over to Maud. “Hey, Roku killing me earlier turned out to be pretty helpful... Wanna bop Trixie on the noggin with that pickaxe again once we’re out of here?”
“Sure,” replied Maud. "... I meant to ask... Do I get experience points for that?”