Wednesday, August 31, 2016


I count Pokémon among my many gaming obsessions. I've played the games since they first came out in the 90s (starting with Pokémon Yellow), and was even accused of "tricking" my youngest sister into buying Pokémon Stadium for her N64 so that I could play the gameboy games on a bigger screen. I've played the entire core series, as well as many of the larger console spinoffs, and see no irony in referring to it as the most popular RPG franchise ever.

The recent release of Pokémon Go has started an entirely new Pokémon craze in my house. Within a week of the game's release, my son (who turns 6 in a week) was completely obsessed. Then he learned that the cartoon existed, as was on Netflix. Then his cousin introduced him to the card game. And, of course, it did not take him long to realize that the little games I played in the GameBoy emulator on my phone were also Pokémon (currently playing through Pokemon Sienna while I wait for Sun & Moon to come out).

Two months out from that release my wife is being bombarded with non-stop 24/7 Pokémon references from the younglings. My response:
"This is a monster of my own creation and I make no apologies for it."
My loyal readers (all two of you) will of course note that I haven't posted a damned thing on this blog since Pokémon Go released...

Back in 2012 I created a class for the Pathfinder RPG based on the concepts of Pokémon, the Eldritch Tamer -- which basically mixes elements of the Witch and Summoner classes with a healthy dose of clubbing baby seals. The class has appeared in most Pathfinder games I have run since, and had a few play-throughs by curious players.

A week ago, on a whim, I started playing around with the idea of running a campaign based entirely on the Eldritch Tamer class and quickly stood up an Obsidian Portal Page for it. Of course my ever-curious offspring quickly noticed the page I was on.
"Dad! That looks like one of your D&D games. Why is there a Charmander?! I want to play Pokémon D&D!!!"
So, the game went from "Hey wouldn't this be amusing" to an actual game in about 24 hours. With limited planning time, I grabbed the nearest adventure I had on the shelf and started re-skinning like crazy to make it more Poké-friendly. It turns out, that nearest adventure was a copy of Paizo's Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path -- an campaign that, at the time, was noted for its emphasis on human frailty and coming with a whole lot of trigger warnings, which matter a lot more when playing with a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old (like, literal monsters under kids beds killing their beloved pets)...

Re-skinning Rise of the Runelords was surprisingly easy. The first adventure opens up with the PCs attending "Swallowtail Festival" in the village of Sandpoint, which gets disrupted by rampaging goblins, which are in turn serving as a distraction for some criminals stealing a corpse the local graveyard. A little tweak and we get the Swellow-Tail Festival (which involves releasing a bunch of nursed-back-to-health bird pokémon back into the wild), which gets disrupted by packs of wild pokémon there to eat all the birds (with some house-threatening fire types in place of the torch-wielding goblins), which in turn are serving as a distraction for Team Rocket who are stealing an Odd Keystone from the local graveyard...

Since the whole thing was based off of a single class idea, I ran with that. All characters are human. All characters are Eldritch Tamers. For character creation, I let the kids peruse the various Trainer Classes that exist in the Pokémon games and choose one, I then lined their choices up with a playbook from Beyond the Wall (or rather, my Pathfinder Adaptations thereof) for calculating stats and giving them a sense of backstory. A little on-the-fly re-skinning of their rolls/choices and we got a couple of fairly interesting young Pokémon trainers.

Silas chose to be a Cooltrainer, for which we used the Village Hero playbook. Petra chose the Lass trainer class, for which we used the Nobleman's Wild Daughter playbook. They chose to use their real names for their characters (which saves confusion) and also chose, after the fact, to have their characters be siblings. I also let them choose their starters from the first stages of any three-stage Pokémon. A few rolls later and we had a pair of backstories (using familiar names and elements from the first season of the Anime where possible to help the kids grok it)...
Silas and his sister Petra grew up in the town of Sandpoint. Their mother, Nurse Joy, ran the local Pokemon Center and their father, Nicholai, designs and sews costumes for both humans and Pokemon (especially knit pikachu hats).*
As a child, Silas was an extremely empathetic young man and a good listener, making him well-liked and a sought-after confidant by his peers. When not playing with Petra, he spent a lot of time with the older kids and grown ups playing games.
Growing up, Silas was a favorite student of Professor Oak, a famous pokemon researcher who lives in Sandpoint. Silas would often hang out with the Professor, learning everything he could about Pokemon and Pokemon battling.
Last year, shortly after receiving his first pokemon, Machop, a drought struck the village. Silas saved the day by having Machop perform a Rain Dance to restore the drought-stricken crops*. The local farmers were so pleased that they awarded Silas with a special jacket — dark blue with long tails like a Swellow (the town’s mascot pokemon) — and a Flag to show that he has the town’s support during pokemon competitions.
Silas’s childhood friend, James, recently disappeared, leaving Silas a note that he had run off to join the infamous criminal gang, “Team Rocket”! Silas has not told anyone yet, worried that if they find out his friend is a member of Team Rocket, everyone might think that he’s a criminal too…
* To increase their initial survivability, I let Silas roll twice on the initial "who were your parents" question (which has the largest ability score boosts). The rolls came out "Your parents ran the local inn. You grew up playing tricks on the many travellers" and "You worked the loom, cutting and twisting as the Fates". By equating "Inn" with "Poké Center" we came up with the first hilarious conceit of the game -- the kids are the offspring of one of the Nurse Joys.
Petra and her big-brother Silas grew up in the town of Sandpoint. Their mother, Nurse Joy, ran the local Pokemon Center and their father, Nicholai, is designs and sews costumes for both humans and Pokemon (especially knit pikachu hats).
Even as a small child, Petra never met anyone who didn’t like her. She was a great help to her mother, Joy, always assisting with chores that needed to be done around the Pokemon Center while her brother was off listening to Professor Oak. A month ago, while tidying up for the upcoming Swellowtail Festival, she found an unclaimed egg someone had left at the Pokemon Center. When no one came to claim it, her mother said she could keep it to raise on her own…it is close to hatching.
While not the Ace that her brother is, Petra has learned quite a lot about pokemon herself. She and her Squirtle trained in the more practical aspects of pokemon battling under Lieutenant Surge, who mastered electric-type pokemon during the last war. Several months ago a group of thieves from Team Rocket snuck into Sandpoint, intent on mischief. Petra was the first to notice and shouted an alarm, rousing the other townsfolk to drive off the miscreants.
One year ago today, during the last Swellowtail Festival, Petra entered her Squirtle in a pokemon tournament. Eager to show off what they’d learned from Lieutenant Surge, Squirtle accidentally killed her opponent’s pokemon in the first round, disqualifying her. Since then she has been working with Silas to learn restraint.*
* Among my many rules for myself when running games for my kids is to not pull punches in terms of story. When Petra rolled the option "You accidentally killed your first foe and then withdrew. The friend to your right helped you practice so you would not make the same mistake again" in the Nobleman's Wild Daughter playbook, I was not immediately sure how to handle it. Given that tournaments are a regular thing in Pokémon, which basically boils down to supernatural cock-fighting, I decided to just roll with it. Combined with "You learned how to fight grom a gruff sergeant at arms who teased you too often" it quickly made sense that Petra's starter pokémon would have a bit of a vicious streak. Her squirtle has an upgraded bite attack, which does significant damage for their level, and has accidentally killed at least two other pokémon since we started playing.

Petra's reaction to this last bit throughout the game has been great. Both kids are well versed in what it means for an animal to die and think quite a lot about the ramifications. In-game, she clearly loves the squirtle, and when an encounter starts almost instinctively yells "Squirtle go!" Which, after the second accident or so, has been followed by a pensive look and a sighed "Squirtle return." She has more than the requisite six pokémon now, but always keeps squirtle in her active party, but keeps him at arm's length refraining from using him in battles -- clearly putting some thought into the fact that her beloved pet is a vicious killing-machine that needs to be restrained.

Anyways, this is yet another game that is happening now. You can look forward (or not) to some play reports from this in the near future, as well as updates on the other campaigns which are still rolling despite the Poké-distraction now that I'm writing again.