My Concept for a Paper Mario Tabletop

It’s Tabletop Tuesday again, and today I’m going to take some time to tell you adventurers about the second tabletop game I’m attempting to develop: a Paper Mario tabletop.

The Paper Mario series is one of my top favorites, particularly the first two titles: Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. The tabletop game will be based on The Thousand-Year Door, in particular on chapter three and the Glitz Pit. This area felt most to me like it would be a good setting for a tabletop – the arena has all kinds of kooky characters and is a great setting for creating original characters for the world.

Players will play the role of “managers,” hiring fighters to compete in the arena. The GM is the “fight promoter,” organizing the battles and gauging the business needs of the Glitz Pit. The goal of all the players is to keep business booming – if fans aren’t satisfied, the Pit will have to close. Satisfied fans means more money, meaning that the fighters earn more money to buy cooler stuff to be better fighters.

Of course, most tabletops would be boring with nothing but combat. Luckily, the Glitz Pit is a place where a lot of stuff happens behind-the-scenes. Rivalries lead to fighters trying to set traps for one another, the politics of the arena cause backbiting and desperate scrambles for power, the personal lives of fighters and managers get involved – there’s plenty to keep players busy when the arena isn’t open.

Character creation for this game will happen on a point-based system. There are three main types of teams that can compete in the Glitz Pit: singles, partners, and supports. Single teams only have one fighter, but this person has a ton of personality and plenty of power (a la Rawk Hawk). Partner teams have two evenly-matched contenders that work together as a team (think the Iron Adonis Twins). Finally, support teams rely on a strong fighter who needs a little backup from a sidekick (like Mario and his partner characters). Teams have a certain number of points to invest into the fighters’ stats and moves (they have the same amount for both). Singles have 10 stat and move points, both members of a partner team have 6, and for support teams the hero has 8 while the sidekick has 4. You’ll notice that teams with two fighters have more points to spend overall, but fewer points per fighter. That helps keep the game balanced so that singles or doubles can win – it all boils down to strategy, and the luck of the dice.

Dice mechanics in the game will be based around a d10. Whenever a fighter performs one of their moves, they have to roll the Action Command (AC for short). Exceeding the AC of a move means the attack is successful and the opponent suffers the full force of the attack. Failing the AC means that the opponent is able to block, reducing the damage they take and also preventing any secondary effects of the move, such as status problems. Of course, some action commands in Paper Mario are more complex than pass-fail, so for those sorts of moves there will be a graded AC where a higher roll means a greater or longer-lasting effect while a low roll will mean a lesser or shorter one.

Battles in this game will be short and sweet, for a few reasons. One, it reflects the nature of battles in the video games – Paper Mario doesn’t have these crazy, Final Fantasy style battles that take hours to complete. In the Glitz Pit in particular, matches are quick and flashy, but frequent. Two, it keeps everyone engaged. In the arena, only two teams will be able to battle each other at a time. This means that at most, three players will be involved: the two players managing the competing teams, and the fighter promoter. In a game with three or more players, that means that every combat situation leaves at least one person sitting out of the action (they’ll still be playing, though; more on that in a minute). Having short battles means that no one has to sit out of the game for half an hour while only two or three people are playing.

So how do people who are not involved in the battle itself still take part during combat scenes? Well, they get to be part of the audience! Audience mechanics are a huge part of Paper Mario. If the crowd approves of the actions of the fighters on stage, they might throw helpful items, money, or provide points that the fighter can use to get a leg up over the opponent. Of course, they can throw hurtful things too, and audience members might leave if they feel they are being cheated by a match.

In The Thousand-Year Door, the fight promoter gives conditions to the competing teams based on the desires of the audience. These conditions force teams to compete in different ways, adding variety to the battles and sometimes taking a fighter’s strongest tools away from him/her. In the tabletop, the fight promoter and the players not involved in the combat scene will work together to produce this effect. Imagine having a team that relies heavily on special moves, only to find out you’re not allowed to use them! Or perhaps you typically carry an item that comes in handy during your battles, but you’re forbidden from using it during a particularly tough battle. These sorts of situations force managers to think more strategically as their teams fight, and it can make what seems like a one-sided match into a more balanced fight – or flip the sides entirely!

I mentioned earlier that there would certainly be things to do outside of combat. What exactly are those things? Well, while I don’t have all the possibilities figured out yet, I definitely have some ideas. For one, managers will spend time outside of combat buying items for their teams and leveling them up. Every fighter will have a life outside of the arena, and sometimes these lives will cause problems for managers, forcing them to replace teams at the last minute or go to extraordinary lengths to get their fighters back. Plenty of betting goes on in the arena, and managers can place bets on the victory or loss of particular teams in order to try and increase their coins. Managers can also spend money to set traps or interfere with other fighters – these shady bribes can draw some negative press, of course, meaning that care must be taken when ordering a “hit.”

There will be quite a few formats for the Glitz Pit, some more suited to one-off sessions while others are better for campaign play. Non-seeded double-elimination tournaments are great for one-offs or first sessions, as they randomly assign teams to face each other and end with one particular team winning the whole thing. In a one-off, that’s the game, but as the set-up for a campaign, the tournament has now created the ranks for the season. These ranks can be used for seeded tournaments in the future, or they can be used for the more traditional Glitz Pit setup from the game. The fight promoter will decide what teams are going to fight, and if the winning team also meets the fight conditions set by the crowd, they’ll move up in rank, allowing fighters to transition from minor to major league status and even sometimes dethroning the champion! Other¬†changes to these formats include the use of divisions rather than just having all the teams lumped together, using round-robin tournament rules rather than elimination rules, and having managers work together to create teams and then having a draft rather than having each player simply create the teams that they want.

Whereas the Myers-Briggs RPG still has a lot of work to be done before it will have a completed first draft, I have a first draft finished for the Glitz Pit RPG. There’s still plenty of work to be done, particularly on the economical elements of the game and many of the events that happen outside of combat. But progress is being made and I believe that I am definitely on track to have this game ready by the end of the year. I hope you’re excited, adventurers!

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