This past weekend on Twitter, I had a short discussion with Aivanther of The Daily Rager about Pokemon and tabletop games. Specifically, his kids had recently enjoyed a fun experience with Dungeons and Dragons and he was looking for a kid-friendly tabletop for the family to enjoy together. Pokemon Tabletop Adventures came up on his radar – it’s a game I’ve played before, and I warned him that in my experience the rules were very complex and could be tough for new roleplayers, particularly kid roleplayers. As a result, he ended up looking around and discovered Pokemon 5th Edition, a hack of the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons by JOEtheDM that allows you to play as Pokemon trainers within that familiar ruleset.
Now recently while looking up various tabletop games online, I discovered another Pokemon system that is similar to and yet distinct from Adventures called Pokemon Tabletop United. This game has some key mechanical differences from the game I was accustomed to, and could perhaps be the best of both worlds – offering a unique system built for Pokemon from the ground up while also not being too complex for new players to handle. Now without a group of players to experience these games with, it would be difficult for me to write a true comparison of the games. However, what I can share pretty easily is a solo process that is built into both games: character creation.
Here’s how it will work. I’m going to take the same general character concept and create it in both games. I’ll then compare the experience with each system and talk about the pros and cons of each one. I am brand new to both Pokemon Tabletop United and Pokemon 5th Edition, so I have no predefined experiences or preferences to influence my thoughts one way or another. The character I am going to create is an ace trainer by the name of Milliarde, or Milli for short. Milli is a determined young trainer who wants to become the gym leader of Cerulean City’s water-type gym. As such, she chose a Squirtle as her starter. She’s athletic, particularly in the realm of swimming, and she’s got a plucky personality to go with her fierce determination. Her Squirtle, Gunner, is more measured and careful, and sees himself as responsible for getting Milli out of the crazy situations she creates with her enthusiasm. Today’s part, part one, will focus on Pokemon Tabletop United. Part two will explore the character creation for Pokemon 5th Edition. Part three will compare the two experiences together. With that in mind, let’s get started with Pokemon Tabletop United!
As we dive into the character creation chapter, the first thing it suggests is to familiarize yourself with what your options are before you start the process. Understanding term definitions and what options you have available to you will help you successfully craft your concept. So I took some time to read through the chapter and get familiar with my options and what all the terms mean. As I do this, I also look over the character sheet to get a good idea of where I’m going to record everything.
The first thing I notice is that this character sheet looks pretty solid. The first page focuses primarily on your current stats, the classes you’ve chosen, and the abilities available to you. The second page tracks the choices you made at character creation and with each level up. You always know where your character began and what choices you made along the way, which is pretty important because the ability to respec your character is a mechanic in the game. This makes it very clear what choices you are undoing/changing when you make the decision to respec.
Now let’s talk terms. Trainers are made up of Stats, Skills, Edges, Features, and Classes. That seems like a lot to juggle, so let’s break it down. Stats define the combat abilities of a trainer in the same terms as Pokemon stats: HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, Speed. These apply specifically to combat scenarios. Skills are the non-combat stuff your character is good at such as being athletic, having education on various topics, or being charming/charismatic. These skills are how your trainer interacts with and influences the world. Edges edit skills to make them better, either by simply increasing the value of the skill or creating some special use for it. Features are the meat and potatoes of your character, these abilities that make two different trainers stand out from each other. Classes are special features; their primary purpose is to serve as a prerequisite for other features. There are some features that any trainer can take, but others which can only be taken by trainers within a specific class.
This all feels a little obtuse, but I have a strong concept which should help me get what I want. Milliarde’s goal is to be a gym leader, which means she’ll need a class which focuses on quality training of her Pokemon or which allows her to catch a bunch of water types. As such, I’ll be looking at either Ace Trainer or Capture Specialist for my classes. I described Milli as athletic and determined, so I see her having high ranks in Athletics, and maybe also skills like Acrobatics or Focus. As I look at the athletics skill, I see an Edge which focuses specifically on swimming, which would be absolutely perfect for her. There’s also a general-use Edge called Elemental Connection which gives the trainer bonuses when working with a specific Pokemon type. Knowing these options are there helps me see what choices I need to make, so let’s go one step at a time through the process.
My first choice to make is Milli’s background, which defines her hobbies before adventuring and sets her up with specific skill bonuses and penalties. I can choose an existing background or design my own. To keep things simple, I want to choose a premade background, but as I look at the one that I believe makes the most since for Milli – fitness expert – I start to see some issues. Specifically, it knocks down the skills Command and Focus. Command is important if I want Milli to be an ace trainer, and Focus fits her personality too well; the book describes characters with Focus as “intensely driven and ambitious.” That’s important enough for me that I think I need to design a special background, picking and choosing my skills. I need one Adept skill (on a scale of 1-6, adept would be rank 4) and one Novice skill (rank 3), then I have to choose 3 skills to set at Pathetic (rank 1). Given Milli’s personality, I don’t see her having high ranks in Guile, Occult Education, or Stealth – she ain’t subtle and she ain’t creepy. Deciding between Athletics or Focus as her main skill, I decided that her athletic ability is focused primarily on swimming, which is better represented as an Edge. So I give her Adept focus, Novice athletics, and Pathetic guile, stealth, and occult education, noting all of these choices on her character sheet.
Now that I’ve created a background to set my basic skill ranks, I can choose from four different Edges to edit those skills in various ways. Now we already identified one very important Edge for Milli: Elemental Connection. This will give her bonuses on all interactions with Water Pokemon, and is also a prerequisite for the Type Ace class which will eventually allow her to become a gym leader. We also know she’ll have the Swimmer edge for her Athletics skill, which increases her swim speed and the amount of time she can breathe underwater. Looking at the Focus skill, Milli could potentially gain the move Work Up as an edge. Work Up increases the trainer’s Attack and Special Attack, but I don’t see myself charging into battle with Milli directly – she’s a very traditional trainer who wants to fight in a gym environment, so her actual combat skills won’t be that necessary.
I want to make sure there aren’t any other required edges for other choices I want to make. In order to become either an Ace Trainer or a Capture Specialist, I’m going to have to use one edge to increase a skill to Novice level; either Command for Ace Trainer or Perception for Capture Specialist. This is the time, it seems, for me to choose which class I want, and to see if there are any other required edges for features I want from those classes.
Looking ahead at the water type ace specialty class, it looks like I’ve met all the requirements except for having the number of water type Pokemon that I need. So instead of focusing on that, I can focus on which introductory class I want. The ace trainer class focuses on giving bonuses to the trainer’s Pokemon, such as increasing stats during training sessions or shrugging off harm from an attack. Conversely, the capture specialist’s main focus is having a number of different techniques to make capturing Pokemon easier. As an aspiring gym leader, the ability to enhance my Pokemon feels more valuable than having special capturing techniques, so I decide firmly on ace trainer and take the skill edge for Command to increase the skill to Novice rank.
I have two options now: another skill edge to try and round out Milliarde a little more, or a Command edge to increase the effect of that skill. Right now she’s only really good at focus and kind of good at athletics and command, so a new skill would be good, but the power-gamer in me thinks that investing in a command ability could be more valuable. Specifically, by taking Train the Reserves, Milli could double the number of Pokemon she can give extra experience to each day. This is a good ability but at character creation, I only have one Pokemon. I can always take this edge later when it has more value, and use this time to focus on important skills.
As such, I want to consider between survival (for making it out in the wilderness), Pokemon education (to better identify wild Pokemon and know their habits or abilities), or charm (to represent the natural charisma resulting from her spunky attitude). Were I planning this character for an actual game involving other players, at this point I would see what everyone else is doing and decide which niche my character could fill by taking this edge. Without that context, I decide to take the skill edge for charm to emphasize how people and Pokemon are drawn by Milli’s enthusiasm.
Now I get to choose the various features that will make Milli stand out from other trainers. A key thing here is that one of my five options here has to be a Training feature, but I can take it regardless of any of the prerequisites. The smart thing to do here is to look at the training features and see which ones I don’t qualify for. Out of the four training options (Agility, Brutal, Focused, and Inspired), the only one Milli can’t obtain with her current stats is the Brutal training. Although the power-gamer in me says this is the best choice, I don’t really imagine Milli as someone who would put her Pokemon through brutal training. It might make more sense to choose this based on which training goes best with the personality I’ve established for her – in this case, I’m thinking Inspired. She’s driven and charming, and her charismatic approach to training makes her Pokemon want to fight for her to the bitter end. As such, I take Inspired Training for my first feature.
The next feature I know for sure that I want is the Ace Trainer class. This will allow Milli to train her Pokemon for a time in order to give them bonus combat stages to their stats, as well as unlock access to all the other ace trainer features. With that in mind, let’s look at those options! Perseverance immediately comes to mind – it allows Milli to help a Pokemon shrug off an injury, which is perfect for my vision of her. I add that one and keep moving. The rest of the ace trainer features require a feature called Elite Trainer, so it looks like I should take that next if I want to use any of them. Elite Trainer gives me another one of the four training styles discussed above as well as making it possible to train in two of them at once. I like both Focused and Agility training for this, and both fit her personality and skills – if it comes to the point where I don’t find other features I like, I might end up taking both of these. For the purposes of Elite Trainer, I decide on focused training and add it to my list.
With only one feature left to choose, I’m going to take a look at the general features. Right now thanks to Elite Trainer I can give both Focused and Inspired training in advance of battle – the Commander’s Voice feature would allow me to use these abilities as special orders during battle, giving the same bonuses in a temporary way. The only other general feature I qualify for is Let Me Help You With That, which allows Milli to assist an ally by letting them reroll a failed check and add a bonus from her. I like this move as it makes her a bit more versatile, allowing her to provide support to her ally trainers and not just her Pokemon. As such, I decide to go with this as my final feature.
The last thing I need to figure out about Milli is what her stats look like. Combat stats are HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed. Now I’m not particularly invested in Milli having great combat stats, but I definitely need to pay attention to what are called derived stats. These are additional, more specific stats that are affected by my other choices. I need to know which of these I want to be high and make investments based on that.
By default, trainers start with 10 HP and 5 in all other combat stats, with a total of 10 points I could spread around. Attack and Special Attack have basically no value for me and I don’t really see Milli as being exceptional in those areas. I think her athletic nature definitely justifies boosts in Speed and HP, and maybe in Defense. As I look at my derived stats, the HP stat contributes a lot to the character’s maximum health points – it is tripled before being factored in. The higher that number, the more Milli can handle. Speed could be useful for her because every five points contribute to a derived stat called speed evasion, which increases the chances of avoiding certain moves. While it’s a bit power-gamer-y of me to put all of my 10 points into two stats, I feel like they are the most useful and the most justified by Milli’s background. As an experienced swimmer, she’d be particularly agile and healthy. So I dump 5 points into HP for a total of 15, 5 into Speed for a total of 10, and set everything else to 5.
Now I have to figure out my derived stats. An HP of 15 multiplied by 3 puts me at 45 health points, plus my trainer level multiplied by 2, plus another 10 – 57 in total! My overland speed is the average rank of 5, but my swim speed is rank 4, which is double what it would be thanks to Milli’s Swimmer edge. Milli is pretty solid at throwing, with a throw distance of 7, but is unimpressive when it comes to jumping. Finally, her physical and special evasion are both 1 but her speed evasion is 2. And with that, we’ve completed our work on Milliarde the Pokemon trainer. Now, to work on her Pokemon!
Just when it seemed like things were done, there’s a whole ‘nother aspect to the character creation process. Generating Pokemon stats is a whole separate chapter, so I flip to another part of the book and begin to explore. It looks like I need to figure out base stats, nature, abilities, and moves. There’s a lot of details to fill in on the character sheet that look unfamiliar too, so this will very much be like creating a second whole character.
Each Pokemon has a different set of base stats as defined in the Pokedex. Their nature then edits those base stats somewhat. Stats are then increased by the Pokemon’s level +10, meaning that I have 15 points to spread between Squirtle’s statistics. My vision for Gunner is that he fancies himself to be Milli’s protector, watching over her when she gets into trouble because of her ridiculous behavior. I want his stats to be balanced but favor defenses, so as a result I chose the Calm nature, reducing his physical Attack but increasing Special Defense to be his highest stat. I spread around his stats so that he has a good balance, and make sure each defense is at 10 or more so I can have rank 2 in both physical and special evade.
I also have to choose one of two ability options, Overcoat or Shell Armor. Overcoat protects from powder moves (sleep powder, stun spore, etc) as well as weather effects, while Shell Armor protects from critical hits. I waffled back and forth on this one, as both of these are pretty good abilities, but I feel like Overcoat has a lot more strategic value – not being put to sleep or paralyzed by powder is a great advantage, and the weather immunity to things like sandstorms or hail would also be valuable. Critical hits suck, but Overcoat’s versatility ultimately won me over here.
A lot of the stuff on this sheet is just copy-pasted from the Pokedex, such as the Pokemon’s skills, capabilities, and movement stats. Capabilities are unique qualities of Pokemon that allow them to accomplish special things. In Squirtle’s case, its Struggle is a water-type move, it can move in wetlands as if they are basic terrain, and it gains special bonuses from the Underdog trainer class. I was able to fill all this stuff in pretty quickly, and it looks like all I need to figure out now are contest stats and moves.
Contest stats turn out to be pretty easy – they correlate directly with the Pokemon’s other stats. Every 10 points in the linked combat stat raises the appropriate contest stat by 1. In Gunner’s case, he’ll have a 1 in both Tough and Smart thanks to his high ranks in defense and special defense. These aren’t necessarily great for him as ultimately water type Pokemon want a high Beauty stat, but Gunner doesn’t seem like the kind of Squirtle who would really enjoy the contest halls anyway.
Finally, let’s look at moves. At level 5, Gunner has two moves: Tackle and Tail Whip. There are a lot of details to absorb here. Moves have a frequency of use that limits how often they can be utilized within a span of time, an accuracy number which is edited by the evasion of the defending Pokemon, and a number of special effects just beyond dealing damage or whatever else. Tackle, for example, cannot be used if Gunner is stuck but can push the opponent back a couple of meters. Tail Whip has a burst range, which means it hits every legal target in a circle around it. There are lots of special keywords but it appears that you only really need to know the meaning of those which are relevant to the moves you actually possess.
And that’s Gunner finished! I have now successfully created a character in Pokemon Tabletop United, so let’s take a minute to debrief and see how I felt about the whole thing.
First off, I’m really glad I came in with a strong concept for what I wanted. I can imagine paralysis of choice becoming an issue in this game because there are so many options for what you can do as far as classes. However, these options can’t simply be chosen willy-nilly – the book advises you to look ahead and understand what you want before you start choosing skills and such, and it’s very good advice. You really need to be aware of where you’re going so you can plan your early choices appropriately.
The resources given to you are pretty helpful. The rulebook is large but easy to navigate thanks to the large selection of bookmarks that allow you to get very specific about what you’re looking for. The character sheet tracks a lot of useful information that helps you to envision exactly where your character has been and where you want them to go. I think my biggest issue with these resources is that when putting a Pokemon together, things are a lot more complicated – jumping between the rulebook, Pokedex, and Pokemon sheet PDFs was definitely a pain. I recommend filling out the sheet by hand if you have the option, that way you’re only moving back and forth between two books.
The game does a decent job of introducing the various stats as a result of character creation. Each edge, feature, and capability prompted me to look up some keyword or other game mechanism that I didn’t recognize, so I was familiarizing myself with the game while creating my character. At the same time, I feel like there are a lot of mechanisms that I haven’t touched on yet. I know very little about how the game’s combat works, even after making a trainer and her Pokemon.
I don’t want to share too much more here because I want to be able to compare to Pokemon 5th Edition without just retreading ground. I had fun creating Milliarde and Gunner in this system and I think I could certainly enjoy playing them. As someone used to systems with fewer rules to juggle, learning a little bit about a more complex system was educational for me – and I hope it was for you as well, adventurers! Check back next Wednesday for the second part of this journey, as I once again create Milliarde and Gunner but using a completely different set of rules!