Pokémon has become a hot topic lately, with a Pokémon live action film coming out on May 10th, 2019, Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee releasing last November, and new updates and features coming to Pokémon Go. Some might say that there’s too much Pokémon going around, and others might say that there’s no such thing. For those who are in the second category, I have good news for you: there are two unofficial Pokémon RPG tabletop games that you can play. One is called Pokémon Tabletop Adventures, and the other is called Pokémon Tabletop United. As a disclaimer, I’d like to add that these two games are labors of love for the game and aren’t sanctioned by Gamefreak, the Pokémon Company, or Nintendo.
In this article, I will focus on Pokémon Tabletop Adventures. It is important to note that, at first, Adventures was the most well known game, but then United came out and fixed many of the problems with Adventures. There was later an update for Adventures, and it became a much better version of United, fixing a lot of the problems with both systems. The game features a d20-system much like Dungeons and Dragons.
Character & Pokémon Creation
Like many RPG games, players can create their own trainers which include choosing their own trainer classes. These classes consist of options that you would be able to find in the game like Breeder, Ace Trainer, etc. Pokémon Tabletop Adventures features new classes that you can’t find in Pokemon games like Bard and Underdog (aka the Ash Ketchum class).
Much like Pokémon, Trainers have their own HP, attack, special attack, defense, special defense, and speed. Their stats are just much lower than Pokémon (a normal person is not going to be nearly as physically strong as a Machamp). These stats determine what feats you can take, what trainer classes you can multiclass into, as well as what sort of skill checks your GM might have you do.
Players start as level 0 trainers with no classes. Obtaining your first Pokémon gives you your class based on your two highest stats. These classes grant bonuses to trainers. For example, the Ace Trainer allows your Pokémon to deal more damage, and the Type Ace lets your Pokémon’s damage overcome the resistance of a chosen type. There are other requirements to taking certain trainer classes. For example, if someone wishes to become a Type Ace, that trainer must have enough Pokémon of the same type registered as owned in their Pokedex (I was well on my way to becoming a Fire Type Ace).
“Feats” are an aspect that allows players to customize their characters to become the exact trainer they want to be. Some feats are class-specific, like the Ace Trainer’s “Break Through” which negates immunities once per day. Others can be used by any trainer class, such as “Aim for the Horn” which allows the attacker to bypass immunities and deal neutral damage to an opponent if you roll a 19-20 on the attack roll. As you can see, some of these feats are call backs to the games and anime.
Now, when you choose your starter Pokémon, the Game Master determines who you’ll be allow to start out with. Typically, you can provide your wish list to the GM, but the GM ultimately has the final say on what you’ll be allow to choose. The Pokémon’s Nature and gender are also chosen by the GM.
Leveling up differs from Trainer to Pokémon in Pokémon Tabletop Adventures. Trainers level up by milestones, such as obtaining Pokémon in your Pokedex in certain intervals determined by your GM or gaining gym badges.
Pokémon level up by experience points. The GM’s guide has a handy chart on experience points gained by every Pokémon in the game. Simply multiply by the level of the Pokémon defeated to determine how many experience points to give out. The Game Master is also allowed to alter how leveling up works depending on his/her game and certain situations.
Another cool thing about this is when your Pokémon levels up, the player can choose where to put their stat boost with limitations depending on in-game factors like Nature.
The game plays like any of the other Pokémon games. As a player, you start out with a Pokémon. You train and battle them as if it were the actual game. Players can run around the map challenging other trainers to matches and trying to catch Pokémon.
As I played Pokémon Tabletop Adventures, it felt like there wasn’t much of a direction. We had the options of challenging trainers to a fight; however, this was simply a one shot made to test the mechanics, so it didn’t affect my overall view of the game. In a longer game, Trainers will have their goals that they wish to accomplish, and the GM helps (or hinders) them on their way to those goals.
The biggest difference between this Tabletop and mainline games is that the trainers can fight as well. For example, if a swarm of Spearows attacks you, you could potentially punch one in the beak, dealing enough damage to faint it. Is that a good idea? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on your luck. All trainers deal the same die of damage that goes up at certain levels, unless they take feats to increase that die damage.
Combat in Pokémon Tabletop Adventures plays out the same way the video game does. As mentioned earlier, trainers can enter combat unless it is an official match. Most Pokémon, with the right training and trainer class, can potentially take on a Pokémon they couldn’t otherwise defeat in the video game, e.g. Pikachu vs. Rhydon. You have free range in the fights, and you can control your Pokémon.
Some downsides to combat that I found include:
- The game is too number crunchy for combat – the amount of dice that are rolled and the amount of math that is involved can get overwhelming if the players have trouble understanding the nuances between attack and defense.
- At low levels, Pokémon with high defense become nearly untouchable and fights can drag on because of this. This is due to the fact that many Pokémon with high defense at low levels tend to have lower attack stat so that they do not become overpowered.
Pokémon Tabletop Adventures doesn’t only focus on combat, but contests as well. Sometimes trainers may not want to be battlers, and that’s okay. My group opted not to take this path, so I am not well versed in the mechanics, but the GM guide and players handbook have guides and trainer classes for contests if you so choose to go this route. Not everyone wants to be the league champion. Some just want pretty ribbons.
Game Master’s Job
While that’s said and done, there are a few things that GMs have to look out for. Preparation is key to running Pokémon Tabletop Adventures. Unlike Dungeons and Dragons, there isn’t a random encounter table you can roll on. Each challenging Trainer must be created as well as their Pokémon.
That being said, there is a chart to show what Pokémon can typically be found in what terrain, and there is a section of the guide that tells how to make quick and easy higher level Pokémon. Plus, there is a lot of content out there thanks to the main games, anime, and manga.
The GM can choose to start players on in the pre-existing regions like the Kanto region. If you’re like my own GM, we started out in a region he created with its own unique Pokémon inhabiting different areas.
Overall, this game is meant to be played out as if you were watching the television show or reading the manga. For those who have played the video games countless times, but have wanted something different, this game might be for you. This system allows you to travel along side your friends in the world of Pokémon, much as the protagonist of the television shows would, but gives you the freedom that the video games don’t allow.