So far, this blog has had little tabletop content- something that needs rectifying considering this is the reason why most of you are here. Semi-regularly (i.e when I have games available and playtested) I shall do a 'spotlight' on a particular game, similar to a review, and follow up with some in-depth looks at particular aspects of the game such as expansion sourcebooks or my experience with races and classes.
Today's spotlight is on Pokémon Tabletop Adventures. A few things will go through your head on hearing that title, and the people I tell about it generally have one of two reactions; either 'Pokémon is awesome, how have I not heard of this before?!?' or 'lol Pokémon's for kids, how would a tabletop game of it work?'.
So, What is it?
Pokémon Tabletop Adventures (PTA) is a fan-made game that looked at the various pokémon abilities and settings and thought 'this could make for a pretty decent tabletop roleplaying game'. It addresses the fact that there will never be a console game directed to an older audience, nor will there ever be an official tabletop game.
What do Trainers do?
Trainers are the player's avatars in the game. They share the same stats as D&D characters: Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis and Cha. They also have classes such as Ace Trainer, Martial Artist and Breeder, as well as feats to help specialisation. Feats include how effectively you can hatch eggs, special 'tricks' you can perform in battle like commanding a pokémon to close it's eyes, avoiding certain moves etc. Levelling up is versatile, essentially being awarded for how often you perform certain actions. You can level up from catching a certain amount of pokémon, winning badges from gym leaders, or by simply performing a great enough accomplishment that the GM feels you're worthy to level up. Levelling up grants access to advanced features of your class, or you can choose to cross-class.
What do Pokémon do?
Pokémon are obviously the main focus of the game. They serve as willing thralls to their trainers, provided they're treated fairly and with kindness- though it's up to GM's discretion if ruthless slavery is allowed. Pokémon are used as tools for overcome skill challenges, such as using a vine whip as a ladder, and as weapons for defending against wild pokémon or battling other trainers. Whilst pokémons' stats, moves and abilities are adapted from the video games, tabletop introduces capabilities- this covers how far a pokémon can move per turn in certain environments (overland, underwater etc) as well as how heavy an item they can lift, how intelligent they are (which can affect ability to follow commands or how much abuse they're willing to suffer), and any special abilities they may have, such as telekinesis or egg-warming.
What's the aim of the Game?
Many games are run similar to the video games, a simple quest to collect badges and become champion of the region. However the greatest fun comes from thinking in terms closer to other role-playing games- looking at legendary pokémon's abilities and thinking how they may pose a threat to the world, either under the control of an evil trainer or through their own free-will. For inspiration it is recommended GM's look at the various pokémon movies- Mewtwo has a vendetta against mankind, someone's attempting to harness the legendary birds' power, Deoxys has crash landed... Or there's the option of basing your game on the side-games like Pokémon Conquest, a feudal era setting where warlords vie for control over a region; or do away with trainers entirely and be based on Mystery Dungeon where players can control a single pokémon to represent themselves. This game is hugely versatile in terms of what style of game you wish to play.
What do I need to Play?
All you need as a player is this website: http://pokemontabletop.wikidot.com/
This contains everything you need to play the game, and is updated when any changes come along (currently it looks like a couple of months before Gen VI is added though). Alternatively there are pdfs available here: http://www.mediafire.com/?c5cpr5p5z3ybca3 You will also need these pdfs to be GM, as they have handy references for capture stats, experience drops, and information on legendary pokémon.
Everything is completely free, and there are tools available for random stat generation etc. Most of these can be found on the PTA forums: http://forums.pokemontabletop.com/index/
Also bear in mind that this game is still in Beta, so there may be the occasional balance issues that need addressing. If you do encounter any issues when playing, please bring them up on their forums so they can be discussed.
When I discovered this game, I asked a few of my friends what they thought and ended up with a group of 4, plus me as GM. The group consisted of my partner, a huge Pokémon fan and long-time roleplayer; a guy who enjoyed Gen I pokémon but has little roleplaying experience outside of video games; and a couple who had little to no experience of pokémon at all, but a lot of roleplay experience.
I decided to keep things simple at first, playing an adaptation of FireRed almost word for word and seeing what happens. The classes chosen were Ace Trainer, Capture Specialist, Breeder, and Psychic. Each trainer was given their starter- something that wouldn't be overpowered but not too weak either. In game-terms, these were the default starters as well as any pokémon the players could justify owning as a family pet. This resulted in Charmander, Squirtle, Psyduck, and Eevee.
We weren't keen on the character sheets supplied, and ended up making our own which was simple enough- the main problem was a lack of space for inventories and feats. I don't know if the provided sheets have changed in the meantime, as I've used our own sheets ever since.
I had heard that early encounters could be extremely difficult, but we didn't have too much trouble- a lot of GM discretion is needed to judge what a party is capable of. We did encounter our first major problem at this point though, which is how much info are trainers allowed to have? My partner could list every type advantage and had a good idea of stat-lines just by looking at a pokémon, and had trouble segregating player knowledge from character knowledge. I decided to give the others a chart of type advantages, but I didn't want them to know the types of pokémon they saw- it would be more fun to figure it out themselves. This had mixed success, as the couple new to pokémon couldn't resist looking things up in bulbapedia on their phones at every opportunity. Ultimately I decided it wouldn't matter too much about what they knew, as capabilities meant pokémon were capable of different things than they are in the videogames, but it was a pity they weren't willing to play blind.
Our next problem was with the amount of pokémon being captured. One player in particular wanted to capture everything he encountered, which brought the game to a halt as we listed off relevant stats for everything, and between sessions I was using a lot of ink and paper to print out sheets for them all. I had to insist that he make a choice as to whether a pokémon would be used or not, just to speed things up, which he was understandably disappointed by- it's nice to have the freedom to use anything you want.
Nevertheless, we were having fun and streamlining things as we went. We soon came to our first gym battle vs Brock, the Rock type gym leader, and this is where we realised tabletop really excels.
In the video games, you pay barely any attention to a pokémon's nature, or the conditions of a gym battle. So it would be perfectly acceptable for this player to use a Sickly Pidgey against a Rock type, if only to gauge how strong his opponent is or scout moves. However, in tabletop; Brock is a soft gym leader, who appreciates the love that goes into raising pokémon and can't stand seeing them injured for no reason. His gym floor is also littered with rocks, giving him a small advantage to compensate for his lack of type versatility. Even moreso, he has several Trainer levels as a Type Specialist, which help compensate for his weaknesses. So when this Sickly Pidgey is sent out against him, he is not impressed. He gives the challenger a chance to reconsider, but the challenger refuses. One hit and the match is over. Brock berates the challenger for using a pokémon he knew would fail, and lectures him on how being a trainer means loving your pokémon and not using them simply as tools. The player felt ashamed and went off to sulk for a bit as he lost his gym battle where the others had a hard-fought victory.
At this point, our opinion of the game was good, but there were a few things that could be changed...
The game is extremely fun, but certainly has its flaws. There is a lot of paperwork involved, and it can be difficult to keep track of all the different mechanics; personally, I believe there's too much emphasis on trainers and not enough on pokémon. The trainers appear to develop into superhumans when you have enough levels, which I feel is wrong for a pokémon universe. Playing a straight port of the video games doesn't work, but it helps you understand how the game works and makes good practise for when you're confident enough to make your own world. Possibly the most surprising finding, is just how dark this game can be; The early game can involve many pokémon deaths when following standard rules, and when you actually think about some pokémons' abilities they are horrible- 1000 year curses, eternal burns, soul-stealing... and in tabletop, all of these can be plot hooks that will turn a cartoony kids game into a Call of Cthulu-esque setting. And that is awesome.
In my next post, I shall describe some of the homebrew changes I've made, as well as show off my own region.