A young girl in a village beset by monsters feels powerless to help stop the chaos around her. She hides under her bed, wishing she could do something to protect her friends and family in the village. But as she silently speaks her wish, someone is listening.
From the darkness beside her creeps a small black cat with two tails. “I can grant your wish,” the cat says, “for a price.” The girl, already overwhelmed by fear nods her head in agreement just as the monsters break through her door.
Instead of finding a helpless child, the monsters are met with a bright flash of light and the girl, once dressed plainly, now stands before them dressed in radiant magical armor wielding a winged staff. “The pact is forged,” says the cat, as the young girl proceeds to obliterate the creatures that threatened her once peaceful existence.
Today we’re discussing the best possible use of the warlock class: creating magical girl characters in DnD.
Mahō-Shōjo: The Magical Girl
Magical girl anime is a sub-genre of Japanese animation that features young girls (and sometimes young boys) imbued with incredible magical powers to fight the “forces of evil.”
This is often best exemplified in the west by the well known anime Sailor Moon, which was one of the first magical girl anime to make it to a mainstream American audiences. The gene is full of tropes, most notable are obnoxiously long magical transformations, a desire to live a normal life instead of battling evil, cute familiars, the importance of hopes and dreams, and above all else, friendship.
Magical girl anime originally started as manga (Japanese comics) in the late 1960s, but it really caught on in Japan once it was animated in the 70s. For the time, the animations were groundbreaking and really set the stage for a lot of the variations that followed in the coming decades.
Magical girl anime didn’t stop with Sailor Moon, even though very little of it made it to mainstream American audiences. There have been hundreds of manga volumes for various magical girls series over time and a lot of them have become anime of their own.
With changing times, magical girl anime, once light-hearted and full of “good triumphs over evil” storylines, evolved into other darker themes as well. The show Puella Magi Modoka Magica turns the concept of magical girls over and shows the cost of protecting people from evil.
The show still focuses on friendship and magical transformations, but it also explores the concepts of sacrifice in the pursuit of dreams, as well as the cost of exceptionalism. Shows like this also buck the trend of PG ratings and are sometimes quite violent. In Modoka Magica’s case, there are some particularly gruesome scenes.
Today, magical girl anime leans heavily on well-established tropes but is not afraid to dip into all sorts of concepts and genres. And while I would personally love to write another 10,000 words about magical girl anime, I will instead point you to this wonderful Wikipedia article and devote the rest of this piece to Dungeons and Dragons.
Magical Girls in Dungeons and Dragons
Magical Girls are warlocks. This is not a hard argument to make. They often form an alliance with a magical creature that grants them the power to fulfill their wish in exchange for help battling the forces of darkness. If that’s not a warlock, I don’t know what is.
The concept works so well for DnD for many reasons. First off, the pact for magical powers comparison is amazingly direct. This allows you to easily establish a patron, the powers the girl receives, and a goal the patron sets the warlock towards as they progress. It’s an easy fit right out of the gate.
Beyond the obvious pact comparison, magical girls work in DnD because they are designed around the power of friendship. Magical girls often only overcome trials by believing in their friends, so a magical girl easily fits into any DnD party simply by wanting to be friends with them in the first place. The friendships might not always be immediately applicable, but the real treasure is quite literally the friends they make along the way.
Defining Features of a Magical Girl Warlock Character
If you want to really pump up the magical girl stereotypes but still have it work within the confines of what a warlock is, you don’t have to worry. The magical girl appearance is almost entirely in the description. There’s very little you would have to change mechanically to make a magical girl out of just about any warlock you could want.
But the descriptions really have to do a lot of heavy lifting here. The magical girl will have signature moves (spells) that will have names. They’re going to have a stylized appearance that is easily recognizable and flashy. With their unique appearance they will also likely have a magical transformation where they don their armor.
These things are all pretty easy to handle without modification. The transformation gets a little tricky because there are several ways you can handle it. You can use illusion spells, magical equipment, or even just quick-change clothing.
If you are using illusion spells, it is often most common in the rules to have the illusion be something they drop, rather than something they start. This way they don’t need to keep a concentration spell mid-combat and can focus on distributing justice to evil doers.
Now the only other thing that needs some changes would be spell effect appearance. This is simple to do with homebrewed descriptions. Witch Bolt could easily be a beam of pink laser hearts and have exactly the same effect. Don’t worry too much about that stuff because if you’re allowing magical girls in your game already, a paint job on some spells is easily in line with your premise.
An Animal Companion
Another staple of Magical Girls is their animal companion. Sailor moon had a cat, Card Captor Sakura had a small winged bear/lion. Countless other magical girls had similar cute and verbose sidekicks.
Filling in the role of animal companions for us will be the warlock’s Pact of The Chain feature, which allows them to summon a familiar. As opposed to your standard familiar, magical girl familiars fulfill a slightly different role: that of the mentor.
Most magical girls don’t fully understand their powers, why they have them, or how to fight the forces of evil. That’s where their familiars come in. These little critters not only tell them about their powers, they tell them what they’re doing to fight evil. It might even make sense to give a magical girl warlock their familiar at level one without any of the other familiar perks and have them act as a wise NPC that guides them in the way of the magical girl.
While the animal companions that follow magical girls do offer helpful advice, in many cases their advice is missing critical information, actively misleading, or fully mysterious. This is usually done in an effort to obscure the true nature of magical girls’ powers or patron.
A Patron Fit for Magical Girls
Typically a magical girl draws their powers from somewhere else. This can be from a concept, like the moon, or from a literal being. Some even draw their powers from wise magical casters of the past. You have a lot of room to mess around, but you should ensure you fulfill two criteria with a magical girl’s patron.
First – the patron’s wishes are conveyed through the girl’s familiar.
Second – the patron does not interact with the girl directly.
These rules are two sides of the same coin, but one of the most frustrating things about any magical girl anime is figuring out the rules through which they use their powers and how they are actually meant to fight evil.
The patron not only works mysteriously through the familiar, but the familiar is also often vague and withholds vital information. While they are mentors, they will often omit things that would reveal the true nature of the patron and exactly why they’re fighting in the first place.
Evil Never Triumphs
Magical girls will almost always be lawful good. They have a code of conduct, a strict ethical line, and their enemies are often cartoonishly evil. Magical girls value love, respect, friendship, and peace. In contrast, most of the forces they deal with don’t get the same considerations that others do.
Magical girls are known to dispatch enemies that are evil in nature without a second thought. They often don’t notice the grey area in their actions and don’t tend to question the violent means that they use to protect peace and justice.
With their bend towards justice, magical girls will often go out of their way to help others, because that’s the right thing to do. They will medal in affairs where evil may be present and generally will take it upon themselves to distribute their own brand of justice.
DMing a Game with a Magical Girl
Magical girls are fun warlocks to have in your game. They have a lot of aspects of paladins baked into them with a more magical twist. They give you easy access to an NPC that can help guide the story, and they set you up to betray the party easily for good dramatic effect.
When you’re running a game with a magical girl and you really want to get the full magical girl experience, you will need to focus on creating character growth. Magical girls are powerful and impose “justice” on the world. This is something that often needs to be challenged as the character progresses on their journey.
You should seek to create scenarios that have them question how their power affects their friendships. You should try to create scenarios that push them to ask if they’re really enacting justice or if it’s just plain vengeance. And finally, you should always have them come to question their patron.
Perhaps my favorite trope in magical girl anime is the revelation that their powers come from something that at best is a neutral force in the universe. In Modoka Magica, there are many confrontations with the animal companion that are unsettling and leave big questions unanswered. And when you do get answers, they’re not touchy-feely, heartwarming ones.
In other shows like Magical Girl Raising Project, the source of the girls’ powers is indifferent to them and they actually end up having no evil to fight. Even in Card Captor Sakura the source of the Clow Cards is generally hidden knowledge and Sakura is forced to wonder if she’s doing the right thing at times. These are all good things to explore in your campaign.
How can you explore these things yourself?
Let’s go back to our example from the beginning of the article with the story of the girl fighting monsters. What if the cat was what brought the monsters in in the first place? What if the patron was seeking to acquire a new warlock and required sufficient motivation for someone to accept the pact without question?
These revelations would be troubling and force the character to think about their life and decisions. In this scenario the patron is actually evil and the Magical Girl is being manipulated to achieve something they can’t understand or don’t actively know about.
You can easily go more neutral by having the patron not care about good or evil and be a force that draws its energy from fulfilling wishes. In this case the magical girl needs to confront the truth about the world and themselves in having projected their own values on the world, condemning evil as they saw fit rather than as it actually was.
If you don’t want to go the route of betrayal or truth, you can have the patron be a force of good. But character growth here will come from understanding the fortitude that comes from accepting the responsibility of being a force of good.
Challenges should start to outpace their individual power and require them to work together with others. In these cases you can also work to make sure the Magical Girls flaw is exposed, central to some part of the plot, and examined as a key part of the story that must be dealt with to succeed.
Magical Girls are the Best Warlocks
Magical girls offer a ton of fun for your games. They’re packed with strong, reliable tropes that can be called on in an instant while still being mechanically just a warlock. The biggest change to your game comes in the form of visual descriptions. But other than that, it’s just normal DnD story telling.
Magical girls are the perfect fit for your game, especially if you’re under your rainbow and laser heart quota for the year.