Today, a new episode of Mistconceptions was released featuring a game called Pokemon Pen and Paper, a fan-made Pokemon RPG created by Eric Shoemaker. I played it. I liked it. Let me tell you about it.
I still remember the Christmas of 1998. Opening my first present to find a cellophane-wrapped cardboard box with Pikachu’s face along with a matching, yellow GameBoy Color. That day I began my journey to become a Pokemon Master.
First of all, thank you to Eric Shoemaker for making this great game. The amount of work and love that went into making Pokémon Pen and Paper is obvious, and as someone who’s played every Pokémon game since Yellow, I appreciate it. Sadly, I haven’t seen much buzz about this game since it’s creation in 2015, so I hope this post serves to introduce some new people to playing it!
The system of Pokemon Pen and Paper itself is easy to quickly grasp. I played it with four relative noobs to RPGs (one being completely new to the tabletop scene) and they all caught on pretty quickly. The rolling system is composed of 2d6 (two six-sided dice) or occasionally 3d6. You have stats as a Trainer and your Pokemon have stats. These numbers are added to what you roll to determine your success or degrees of success. Your Pokemon’s stats are based off of their stats in the videogame series (easily found on Bulbapedia or the lengthy Excel file that can be downloaded from a link in the PDF).
As for your Pokemon moves or abilities, these are determined by your Trainer Boons, which are basically paths you take that unlock moves for certain types of Pokemon. At the beginning you have access to more general moves, but as you advance in levels, you may choose specific Boons that unlock more powerful moves centered around a certain type (Ghost, Dragon, Ice, etc.).
While the system’s greatest strength is its simplicity (and thereby ease to pick up), I also think it is the system’s greatest weakness. The game is overgeneralized to the point where catching additional Pokemon is… kind of pointless. Firstly, all of your Pokemon stats are determined by the stats of your Starter Pokemon. So, that Mewtwo you caught? It has the same stats as your Starter Pokemon: a Bidoof. I understand this was decision made to keep the mechanics light, but one of the great things about Pokemon is catching different companions who are all so different from one another and relishing in their varying strengths and weaknesses. It’s not that difficult to look up the stats of your freshly-caught Pokemon on Bulbapedia or your Official Pokedex Guide (I have many). I will also say, it is REQUIRED that you have internet access to play this game as you will need to reference numerous Google Drive files and Bulbapedia quite often.
I designed a variant Trainer Sheet that allows players to keep track of more than just one Pokemon, multiple Items, Boons, Moves, and other important information. The standard Trainer Sheet provided in the PDF is fine for beginning players or a simple one-shot game. In fact, we used the standard one-page sheet for the episodes we recorded for the podcast, but I would certainly find it lacking for longer games or for those players wanting a little more complexity and variety for their Pokemon adventure.
Another part of the system that didn’t quite jive with me was the system implemented to randomly generate Pokemon found in the wild. I will say, I liked that you could look up your region or “Biome” and roll a d6 to randomly generate Pokemon from a list of Pokemon found in that climate or region. What I didn’t like was the amount of Pokemon generated.
In the system as it stands, a party of Pokemon consisting of five base Pokemon and one evolved (or “boss”) Pokemon spawns for each Trainer. Not only does this weigh down gameplay with unnecessarily long combat (considering you have to roll AT LEAST a 14 on 2d6 to hit anything in the game), but that’s very atypical from the videogames this RPG is based off of, which is surprising for a RPG that tries so hard to emulate the videogames in all its other aspects.
I dealt with this beef very simply, when a random Pokemon encounter was rolled, I generated a number of the base Pokemon found in that rolled slot. I’d also roll a dice equal to the amount of players at the table (here, it was a d4 for 4 players) to see how many of these Pokemon appeared. Then, combat would proceed as normal.
This keeps combat much shorter than it was intended and mimics the one-on-one battles found in the Pokemon games. However, if I a roll had called for the generation of a “shiny Pokemon” (which didn’t happen in the episodes), an evolved form of that Pokemon would have appeared instead. I’ve never been fond of the “my Pokemon is shiny” gimmick. Unless, it was red Gyrados. That thing is awesome.
Those were my main beefs with the system. Otherwise, everything else just makes sense and fits for a fan of Pokemon. There is quite a bit of math involved when it comes to capturing Pokemon, but the formula is very easy if you have access to the spreadsheets or Bulbapedia. The Pokemon detailed in the spreadsheets and random-generation tables do not include the Sun and Moon Pokemon, but they can easily be stated up and added to the game.
I really enjoyed playing Pokemon Pen and Paper. Eric Shoemaker made a great game, even despite my few beefs with the system. You can play with the addendums I listed above, or you can play the game as was intended. Either way, I hope you play this game. I hope you like it. And I hope you thank Eric Shoemaker for the hard work that went into making this game!
Download Pokemon Pen and Paper here.
After you play, let me know what you think of the system in the comments below.
Keep it nerdy, y’all!