There's been quite a few homebrews for the d20 system out there that tried to recreate the Fullmetal Alchemist universe, with its alchemy and homunculi and Gate of Truth, but none of them have done it in a format that really captured the fun of the series, nor the feeling. Most of it was throwing together spellcasting or manifesting classes that focused on transmutation spells, but that's nowhere near the way that alchemy in the Fullmetal Alchemist universe works.
For a number of years I have been attempting to create my own system, one which more effectively represented the complexity and depth of the Fullmetal Alchemist, and this here will be my magnum opus of the depth. It's all my work on the system thus far, thrown out here for all others to see and critique.
To clarify, I will be attempting to create a ruleset for playing in a Fullmetal Alchemist-themed, or at least inspired, d20 game. I'm going to have rules for Alchemy, Homunculi, and other aspects of the setting. This is not a reflavoring: this is a new creation to try and catch the fun of the show. Also to clarify, I'm using the manga/Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as my basis, both because I like it better and because I think it has more interesting aspects to it. Most of this should work for the original anime as well, but if it doesn't, well, I'm sure alterations shouldn't be too difficult.
Also to clarify, this document will contain all sorts of spoilers, because I made sure to research my information front to back before making the system. It's impossible to accurately understand the system without knowledge of the story, so I apologize in advance. Once again, so people know, THIS WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK.
The core of Fullmetal Alchemist is that of alchemy, the process by which alchemists are able to transmute one substance into another. But, while informed by scientific notes in the show, something must be made clear: alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist only barely resembles alchemy from history, and further, they use the term "transmutation" completely incorrectly. It would be more accurate to call this "alchemy" a kind of mysticism, or magic, than it would be to call it alchemy.
Why is this? Well, first off, alchemy in the real world was all about quasi-chemical means of changing one substance into another, of purifying objects (to make the fabled Philosopher's Stone), and also embodied a spiritual aspect, that of purifying oneself to achieve immortality.
In Fullmetal Alchemist, alchemy is the process of changing the shape of one object into another, mostly, using energy gathered from somewhere (there is a difference between Western and Eastern alchemy, in that Western alchemy draws on the energy produced by tectonic movement, whereas Eastern alchemy draws on what is known as the "Veins of the Dragon," but which essentially equates to drawing on the energy naturally flowing through the earth, much like the concept of ley lines).
Transmutation in the real world is literally the process of changing one element into another, such as when a radioactive material breaks down and atomically becomes another element. This is specifically not allowed in the alchemy of Fullmetal Alchemist, despite it being called transmutation. Rather, chemical bonds can be broken and formed, allowing someone to, say, break down dynamite into ammonia and other waste material. This is not literally changing one element into another, but is rather the breakdown of the chemical makeup of other compounds into more basic aspects.
The only time this has been done differently in Fullmetal Alchemist is when Edward created gold out of coal and the fact that the law exists in Amestris to not create gold, for fear of economic collapse. I take this to mean that some forms of alchemy do exist which allow for literal transmutation, but that they are difficult, or perhaps are quite dangerous. Just as literal transmutation exists in the real world (we've successfully created gold out of platinum), it likely exists in the Fullmetal Alchemist world as well. But, again, it's likely dangerous (the gold made from platinum was radioactive and decayed within a few seconds, all the while producing dangerous radioactive rays).
I cover all of these aspects first to show something right away: science has to be used to inform the use of this system, but it cannot be understood completely. This is a system inspired by an anime: there are going to be logical and scientific problems with it. But, for the sake of fun, I'm willing to let those slide. I'll point them out and explain my reasoning when I notice them, but I encourage people to ask about aspects I don't cover, so I can more fully realize the system.
I will be using the terms used in the anime here, but feel free to change them if you end up using this system. I probably will when I use it.
The process of transmutation in Fullmetal Alchemist works like this: an alchemist draws a circle (which can be drawn with chalk, etched in the ground, made from a shadow; anything really, so long as it is present in some way), fills the circle with a variety of lines, symbols, words and the like, and then focuses energy through it. Unless Eastern alchemy is being used, the circle must be drawn on the substance to be transmuted, or the object to be transmuted must be placed within the circle (Eastern alchemy gets around this by allowing for the possibility of one circle to connect to another, allowing for some alchemy to be performed over a distance).
However, there are ways around this. For instance, in the most obvious case present in the anime, Edward (as well as several other characters later on, including his brother and his teacher) are able to get away with not drawing circles but instead can simply clap their hands together, symbolically forming a circle with their arms and focusing the energy like that.
This brings up a very important point for alchemy in this system: everything is a symbol. I originally thought that the circles themselves were something like an equation, specifying the way the energy moved and how the transmutation would take place. I, at the time, believed that anyone could figure out exactly what a transmutation circle would accomplish simply by looking at it. It turns out this is incorrect.
Take a look at this transmutation circle:
This is, as any fan of the show will tell you, the transmutation circle present on Roy Mustang's gloves. Now, there is quite a bit of actual alchemical symbolism in the gloves. The two triangles on the top pointing downward are the symbol of the element of Earth. The two triangles which point upwards meeting the symbols for Earth are their opposite, namely the symbols for Air. Additionally, the single triangle in the center is that of Fire. Furthermore, a stylized flame is pictured at the top, and a lizard, specifically a representation of a salamander (the elemental creature associated with fire), is pictured at the bottom.
All of these combine together to give Roy the ability to increase the density of oxygen in the air surrounding him, allowing him to ignite it with his gloves, which are made of a material that produces a spark when rubbed together. Hence, it looks like he snaps his fingers and makes fire.
But, here's where things get tricky. Roy learned this from his master, who perfected the technique and tattooed it onto his daughter, Riza's, back. The tattoo was the culmination of his research, and Roy eventually burned the important parts of the tattoo off of Riza's back, so no one else could get the secret. He also altered the original symbols into the one featured on his gloves. Yet, despite the fact that many people have seen his gloves, no one has ever copied him. Why?
The answer is that the circle itself is not enough. The reason that alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist is more like mysticism is because the circles are important, but what is almost more important is the knowledge the alchemist employing the circle has in regard to the circle. Roy can use his gloves because he understands the theories behind what the symbols on his gloves do, but someone who didn't understand couldn't do the same. Those who can perform alchemy without a circle, like Edward, bypass the need for a circle by making a symbolic circle and "filling in the details" in their heads, but that only works for simple matters. For more complex transmutations, such as human transmutations, or binding a soul to a set of armor, a circle is still used.
This also explains why some people cannot use alchemy. If the theories behind alchemy are not understood, then the ability to gather and direct the energies effectively will escape them.
This is not to say that the circles are unimportant. Indeed, they're one of my favorite parts of the entire anime. Transmutation circles are some of the most intricate and fun parts of the alchemy system central to the show, and understanding them allows you to create your own awesome circles. I highly advise DMs who use this system to grant rewards for players drawing their own circles, especially if they draw them well and use actual knowledge. Personally, I would grant bonuses to the actual checks, but do what you feel is best.
Let's get onto the crunch of this system. Really, it's a terribly simple system, but it allows for the variability and fun of the anime, while also preserving game balance. I caution anyone intending to use this, however, that it will require many, many judgment calls on the part of the DM to effectively make use of this system. Basic familiarity with a wide range of subjects will only make this system easier to use.
ADDITIONS & CHANGES
This system adds the Transmutation and Knowledge (Alchemy) skills to the d20 system. Transmutation is used to perform alchemy and Knowledge (Alchemy) is used to understand the theories and concepts surrounding alchemy. Additionally, other Knowledge skills can now be used to recognize the compositions of other materials, which aids in the use of the Transmutation skill.
The process of transmutation takes three steps: Analysis, Deconstruction and Reconstruction. For the purposes of this system, Deconstruction and Reconstruction occur simultaneously.
When beginning a transmutation, first the alchemist must recognize what they are attempting to transmute, and decide what they're attempting to transmute it into. For instance, if Alphonse decided he was going to change a metal bar into a spear, he would first need to recognize what metal the bar was made of, then how he would have to change the composition of the bar to allow it to act like a spear.
Following his understanding of what he needs to do, he would have to craft a transmutation circle to perform the intended action. He would need to either draw the circle on the bar, or draw it on a surface and then place the bar on top of it, in order for it to properly work. The actual act of the transmutation composes the Deconstruction and Reconstruction steps, where the matter is broken down and then rebuilt according to what Alphonse desired.
Performing a transmutation requires a Full-Round Action, to create the transmutation circle. Circles can be prepared ahead of time, but they can only be applied to whatever they were specifically crafted for, and so most usually can only be used on simple transmutations (this will be covered in more detail later).
The alchemist is allowed a Knowledge check of the appropriate type to determine what the material they are transmuting is made of, and whether or not the transmutation they are performing is possible or not (this can provide the DCs of the transmutation check) before performing the transmutation as a Swift action.
Spending extra time crafting a transmutation circle allows for more specific and complex circles to be made. For every minute spent crafting a circle, the alchemist gains a +2 bonus to the Transmutation check.
The DC of a transmutation is determined based on the complexity of the original object and the complexity of the desired object. Objects are rated on a scale of 1 to 7 in terms of complexity, each corresponding to a general level of atomic structure and chemical composition. A simple chart is given below.
Now, obviously this list is woefully incomplete and only gives the barest of ideas as to what level of complexity a given object would possess, but that's all it's meant to do: give an idea. Only a rough estimate of the complexity of any given object is required to assign it a complexity level, and that allows the DM to figure out the DC of a given transmutation.
|Complexity Level||Example Object|
|1||Pure Metals (such as transmuting an iron pipe into an iron sword)|
|2||Minerals (such as transmuting a rock into another shape), Alloys (such as transmuting copper and tin into bronze)|
|3||Crystals (such as transmuting a sapphire into a ruby)|
|4||Cardboard (also includes other nonliving, organic-based material, like cloth)|
|5||Tissue (such as transmuting a wound close), Bark (also includes other tough, fibrous plant material)|
|6||Bones (also includes other hard, living organic material), leaves (also includes other soft, living organic plant material)|
|7||Nerves (also includes other highly specialized, small organic materials, such as organs)|
After determining the complexity level of the original object and the desired object, the DM multiplies the two complexity levels together, then adds 10 to that. So, if Alphonse is attempting to transmute a metal pipe into a metal sword, the DM would first make a judgment call about what the metal pipe is composed of. Likely, it is an alloy of some form, so she assigns it a complexity level of 2. Since all Alphonse is doing is transmuting it from one shape to another, the complexity is very simple; the original object and the new object are both the same complexity level. This means that, multiplied together, it equals 4. Adding 10 to that brings the DC up to 14, meaning that Alphonse would need to succeed on a DC 14 Transmutation check to successfully change the pipe into a sword.
But, there are other factors to take into account. First off, how useful the sword is is based on other traits Alphonse possesses. While the actual transmutation is only a single Transmutation check, Alphonse would also need to succeed on a successful Craft (Blacksmith) check to make the sword look and work as intended. Indeed, to perform any specific transformation of one shape into another, the alchemist must make a successful Craft check relating to it; otherwise the transmuted object will end up not appearing as it should.
This is particularly important when making organic transmutations, as a failed check could end up doing more harm than good. If attempting to use a transmutation to heal another person, the alchemist must make a Heal check at the same time; success means that the alchemist as able to heal some of the wounds. Again, doing anything more than simply closing a wound requires some high checks (as setting bones or healing organs are complexity levels 6 and 7 respectively), but it is possible. The Craft or Heal check which accompanies the Transmutation check DC is equal to the DC to normally craft the object or heal the person, or else is equal to the Transmutation check if no other DC is available.
The Law of Equivalent Exchange
Besides additional checks, performing a transmutation also requires a sufficient amount of material to perform a given transmutation. It's simply not possible to change a handgun into a battleaxe; the mass between the two are too far apart.
This is, again, mostly a judgment call based on the DM, but sufficient mass should always be considered when attempting a given transmutation. Making stone spikes appear out of the ground is fairly simple, but craters will be formed around the spikes, as the ground collapses to form a point. Likewise, making a bridge across a canyon or a tower to propel oneself upwards requires mass from the surrounding area, which might destabilize buildings, destroy streets, or otherwise damage the environment.
In addition, transmutations carried out on the wrong material will automatically fail. If an alchemist thinks he's fighting against someone using an iron sword and makes a transmutation circle to destroy said sword, but then it turns out the sword is made of mithral, the transmutation simply will not work. The circle was constructed to deal with iron; since it's not iron, it's useless.
Finally, consider increasing the DC of transmutations to create extremely complex devices. Making a sword might not be too bad, requiring only knowledge of how a sword is made (heating and oxidizing of metal, mixing of alloys, &c), but making a handgun is significantly more intricate, requiring a knowledge of the parts included, how they interact and are set up, and the like. Without the knowledge to back it up, some transmutations will simply make lookalikes that don't actually work.
Transmuting the Immaterial
One of the key ideas in Fullmetal Alchemist is the idea that some immaterial things can be transmuted, namely souls. Edward attaches Alphonse's soul to a suit of armor, many alchemists have produced philosopher stones over the course of history from the souls of living humans, and the like. This is somewhat difficult to represent in game terms, but I treat it as such:
Levels of complexity exist above 7. Those above 7 are the truly intricate physical objects, but also are immaterial and magical substances. It is possible for an alchemist to transfer a magical effect from one object to another, or to bind a soul to an object, but doing so is immensely difficult. Transfixing a soul possesses a DC of at least 66 (a soul in a mortal body is considered to have a complexity level of 8, while a soul in a simpler body is considered to have a complexity rating of 7, thus [8 x 7] + 10 = 66), and changing or moving magical effects are even higher. So, possible? Yes. Likely? No.
Moving right along, one of everyone's favorite subjects when dealing with Fullmetal Alchemist is that of the "living dolls," or "living armor." Alphonse Elric is the most well known of these, being a suit of armor which has a soul transfixed to it through alchemy, but there are other examples. Barry the Chopper, Slicer, the Immortal Army; these all are examples of some kind of nonliving object which has a soul affixed to it.
Objects affixed as such move as if alive. In many ways, they act as animated objects, moving in ways they simply shouldn't be able to, all the while possessing an awareness and consciousness of another soul. It's implied, but never confirmed, that artificial souls can be created and attached in this was, but no way of doing so was ever explained.
There are several things to note about souls affixed in this way. One, they eventually are rejected by the body. It can take a long time, sometimes years, for this to occur, but it does eventually happen. For a soul attached to a living body, this manifests as the body itself rotting while alive. For a nonliving body, this manifests simply as a loss of consciousness for the body.
Two, no matter the object in which the soul is affixed, it possesses some form of preternatural awareness. This appears to be some kind of pseudo-sight, as darkness can still blind creatures in this way, but it does not require any form of simulacrum of a face in order to work. As seen when Alphonse takes off his head, or in the very extreme case of Barry the Chopper being almost completely dismembered, the seal itself acts as a focus for awareness. Alphonse can "see" from his seal, and Barry the Chopper was not only aware that his body was coming over to him (this being when he was a single strip of metal with a seal on it), but was even able of calling out in distress as his body neared and wiped the seal off.
Three, objects unattached to the main body of the seal become lifeless. When Alphonse takes off his head, it no longer is how he sees, and when his legs are cut off he can no longer animate them. Even with his feet cut off, he can move his legs, but he finds it difficult to stand on his stubs. What exactly counts as "attaching" in terms of allowing an object to be animated is unclear, but some clues exist. Obviously, Alphonse's head becomes attached when it is placed in its proper place on top of his body. Likewise, when his limbs and torso are attached he can move them, but when he is dismantled he no longer can animate them. In all cases, so long as he is conscious, he is able to speak. And, since he is always conscious unless his soul has been drawn back to the Other Side, he is therefore always aware.
Fourth, souls can be attached to living beings where they don't belong. Alphonse, when his body was deconstructed as a child, ended up appearing inside the body of his "mother," but was quickly rejected. Likewise, some form of animal soul was placed inside of Barry the Chopper's body, though it caused it to rot while it resided there. Souls affixed in such a way appear to retain their natural psyche, but gain control of the body as is normal for it.
Fifth, in a strange turn of events, bodies without a soul apparently gain some form of psyche all their own. While an unusual event itself, Alphonse's body, left on the other side of the Gate of Truth, ended up speaking to him, and appeared to possess its own intelligence and mind separate from Alphonse. This psyche was likewise apparently completely overwritten when Alphonse's soul returned to the body (though, whether this was morally right or wrong is further muddled when it becomes known that his body apparently deeply desired to be reunited with its soul, meaning that the intelligence might exist solely for the purpose of reuniting body and soul).
With all this coming together, it becomes clear that the Living Dolls are really just specialized animated objects with consciousness. In pretty much all ways, I treat them as animated objects with roleplaying quirks. Most of the interesting aspects related to them provide no real mechanical changes.
Homunculi are a strange thing in the Fullmetal Alchemist universe. First things first, there are eight Homunculi, all generated from a single, original being. Referred to as Father, his creation method is unknown, but it is known that the blood of a human (Van Hohenheim) was used to create him. Originally a tiny orb of darkness in a flask, he eventually performed a powerful transmutation effect and turned himself into a humanoid form, a living philosopher's stone. It was as this form that he created the seven other Homunculi, each of which was itself unique.
Apparently, each of the other Homunculi had three distinct parts to it. First, each one keyed up with one of the Seven Deadly Sins, as Father was attempting to purge himself of his human emotions in an attempt to become more godlike. Second, each Homunculi possessed some form of supernatural power, apparently possible due to highly specialized alchemy, which Father specifically created and gave to each of them. Third, each Homunculi has a base of a philosopher's stone, which not only serves as its core, but allows it to regenerate constantly, meaning that the only way to kill it is to completely drain the stone at its core.
Other things known about the Homunculi are that they are literally made from Father's flesh, their philosopher's stones being originally part of the stone which composes Father's. Further, Father can stick one of his philosopher's stones into the body of a real human, which causes it to be deconstructed and reconstructed repeatedly, until the body accepts the philosopher's stone or rejects it, which ultimately either kills the human or results in the human's soul being absorbed by the philosopher's stone and the Homunculus' personality taking over (though, there are some cases, such as Ling, who had enough force of will for their soul to avoid being consumed by the philosopher's stone).
In game terms, Homunculi really have no general traits. They're the epitome of human capability in most ways (though some, such as Sloth, are obviously quite superhuman in certain respects), possess some kind of specific supernatural ability, and are generally governed by one specific emotion (while the Seven Deadly Sins were used in the canon, there is nothing to suggest that these seven need be the only ones, and in fact there is evidence that a creature of Father's caliber could easily be capable of separating other emotions off from him or herself to creature other types of Homunculi).
The way I work them is by making a character that sounds cool in my head, then just filling out the traits. There really is no template for this kind of creature; each Homunculi is unique and deserves to be treated as such.
THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE
Again, a key concept in Fullmetal Alchemist, but also in real alchemy, is that of the Philosopher's Stone. No creation such as this would be complete without discussing it.
In the real world, alchemy treated the philosopher's stone as a perfect substance, a way of attaining immortality, of turning lead into gold (itself considered the perfect metal), and a variety of other amazing effects.
In a similar vein, the philosopher's stone in Fullmetal Alchemist is a substance made from living human souls, forced together into a material form. They can be consumed to allow alchemy without any form of circle (as seen by Hohenheim, Father, Father Cornello, and others), they can allow an alchemist to ignore the law of Equivalent Exchange (in a way; really what is actually being done is a soul in the stone is being sacrificed, which is worth more than most physical objects, so the law appears to be violated), and they can grant immortality (if somehow integrated with the body). They also increase the ability of any alchemist who uses them, allowing them to achieve deeds they simply couldn't otherwise.
It's difficult to really represent the philosopher's stone in game terms without basically treating it as an artifact. I would give it the following abilities (I'll come back and clean this up eventually:
+20 bonus to Transmutation checks, allow for an alchemist to ignore the Law of Equivalent Exchange a certain number of times (I'd probably give it a certain number of charges), and grant the ability to use alchemy without using a circle, but doing so would consume a charge. I'd also allow a sufficiently skilled alchemist to "recharge" it by transmuting additional souls into the stone. Obviously this would be a rather taboo effect, so doing so would be looked down upon as despicable by pretty much everyone.
Chimeras in Fullmetal Alchemist are a term given to any creature which is created by merging two separate beings into one. Most often this is accomplished by mixing two or more animals together (as seen right in the beginning of the anime in Lior, where a lion-lizard hybrid chimera attacked Edward), but it is also quite common to see human-animal hybrids, such as most of Greed's gang is comprised of.
Once again, there really is no set information that can be used to create a template for this type of chimera. Most often, it seems that the chimera ends up taking on the capabilities of both its original creatures, but it also appears that the alchemist fusing the two has some control over the fusion process. It is also true that human chimeras retain their memories post-chimerization, causing some problems for them.
There seems to be three different types of chimeras. The first are animal-animal chimeras. These are animalistic, often possessing of extreme aggression (though, whether or not this is inherent or intentionally included is unclear), and generally seem extremely obedient (again, possibly because that was specifically included). They are often very powerful, possessing of the useful traits of the donor animals, and set as guard-dogs. It's also unclear whether or not two is the limit of fusing animals together or if it would be possible to mix more in.
The second type of chimeras are the animal-human hybrids. I separate these from human-animal hybrids because of what they are capable of. Animal-human hybrids are those like Shou Tucker's wife and daughter, where they appear mostly animal-like but possess human-like intelligence, as well as speech and some of the memories of their human forms.
Human-animal hybrids are those chimeras which are basically human, but possess some animal-like traits. It appears that this classification can actually be further broken down, because some Human-animal chimeras are monster-like in appearance, such as Bido, one of Greed's chimeras, who was mixed with a gecko and possessed strange looking, hairless skin, as well as a large tail, but other human-animal chimeras are basically human in appearance, such as Dolcetto, who was mixed with a dog, granting him great speed and a sense of smell far beyond the norm.
But, more than that, some of the human-animal chimeras are capable of going through some form of metamorphosis from a completely human appearance to a highly monstrous appearance, and then back again. While they retain superhuman resilience in both forms, they are much more capable while in their monstrous form. Examples of this are Greed's companion Roa as well as the four chimeras Kimblee brought with him, Darius, Heinkel, Jerso and Zampano.
What we end up with is a set of creatures all grouped under the heading of chimera but which are only really similar in that they were all mixed with some other creature. In terms of traits, it appears that there are just general size and ability score increases, as well as the capabilities of the two forms combined. Honestly, they really look like lycanthropes and tantric creatures. I'm once again of the opinion that making a template for this would be insanely difficult to do accurately, and so I say it would be easier to just add abilities that seem prominent to those characters you enjoy.
I also want to put it out there that, based on the fact that memories are retained post-fusion, but that the instincts of the animals can be mixed in as well, it would seem possible to make a human-human chimera, which would mix the memories of the two together. Nothing like that appears in the anime itself, but it never was specifically decried either.
Honestly, I think that covers pretty much everything I wanted to cover. If I'm missing anything, I'll be sure to add it in when I become aware of it. I realize this is actually a hell of a lot of fluff more than crunch, but I firmly believe that this is a system that could only exist in such a way to mirror how the anime and manga work. The open-ended nature has to be present. Plus, it just sounds like fun.
In terms of classes, I decided against making a class, but that's mostly because I myself no longer play with classes (I've homebrewed D&D into something else). I had had the idea that a class would possess "Specialties," which essentially just granted bonuses to certain types of transmutations, such as with certain materials or into certain shapes. So, Mustang would have an Oxygen Transmutation Specialty, allowing him to use his trademark, and Armstrong would have something like Artistic Specialty, allowing him to more easily shape his transmutations into certain shapes. Maybe also give him a Stone Specialty, since that was one of his focuses.
I'm not sure how this would best be added to the rest of the game. Probably allow certain classes to access the Transmutation skill, and make a feat to allow others to access the skill. A Rogue with this would be a beast, what with all of his skills, though I could see a Wizard being pretty beastly also, with Intelligence being high and all of those Knowledges.
In any case, I'm pretty happy with how things turned out. And, I accomplished what I set out to do. Took me nearly four hours to think this all up and write it down, but damn, it's purdy. Thanks for taking a look!