Apokelypse Now

Imagine a nuclear bomb went off in the Pokemon universe. Maybe a meltdown in Cerulean City’s power plant. The once verdant plains become a barren waste. Pokemon have survived, but have turned rabid and savage, some mutated into hideous facsimiles of their formerly cutesy selves. Civilization is in ruin. Team rocket roams the wastes Mad Max style, terrorizing any survivors.

"Houndour, I choose you!"

“Houndour, I choose you!”

In an isolated village, 3 youths come of age. They have heard of the disaster, and felt it in their now polluted fields and sea. There are no fish, and nothing grows anymore. The elders of the village are sick and feeble, soon to die. So the youths depart for the wastes, with six Pokeballs on their belts, and a dream in their hearts. A dream… to catch them all.

This is more or less, the role-playing campaign I attempted to run 3 years ago. It sounds kick-ass, sure, but it was plagued with difficulties. Difficulties arising between my vision and what is feasible – between narrative and gameplay.

I wanted to tell such a story, but I wanted the gameplay to go along with it. So, naturally, I wrote a series of formulae to translate Pokemon’s stats into pen-and-paper RPG stats. I devised rules for turn-based strategic combat with phases for moving, acting, returning/deploying Pokemon, and giving instructions to them as well. A system for each Pokemon’s affection or trust of its trainer was implemented. A random-encounter generator was developed. Areas were drawn, lists were made, and plot arcs were dreamed up.

Warning: Running campaigns can take the form of obsessive behavior.

Warning: Running campaigns can take the form of obsessive behavior.

Certainly, it was going to be a full experience. But all the fun of a post-apocalyptic romp through the Pokemon universe could have been attained without these things. I could have just made it up as I went, or applied D&D rules and systems.

In fact, all these elaborate preparations did was slow down the pace of the game. Every turn involved me checking the rules and doing 4 or 5 calculations. Players couldn’t immerse themselves in the world – the narrative aspects – because so much thought about rules and gameplay were involved at every step. Worse still, because the rules were of my own creation, I found myself pondering during play time whether certain things should be revised, when I should have be focusing on making things fun for the players.

Why are we doing so much math? All I wanted was to catch a radioactive pikachu...

Why are we doing so much math? All I wanted was to catch Chernobyl, the radioactive chipmunk…

The game was bloated, too complicated, and it took way to long to do anything. My group had two 3-hour sessions, which was only enough to get us near the end of the first route. Perhaps three or four random encounters were completed. By this time, I had noticed that the game needed major revisions, but never got around to making them. The stack of papers comprising its existence are squirreled away somewhere, but are likely never to be fixed.

This is the danger with working with other universes and licenses in your own games. You get caught up trying to recreate or translate everything so perfectly, that you lose sight of what is plausible or worthwhile. You can’t let your vision of a ‘complete experience’ get in the way of an incomplete experience which actually works and is fun. At least not if you want to be the very best, like no one ever was.


1 thought on “Apokelypse Now

  1. Tyrell

    Have you ever checked out Risus? http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/risus.htm
    I was using a slightly modified version of Risus this winter for a few games my friends and I played. I’d never dmed before this winter either, so it was a bit of a crash course for me, and with more than one player things tended to get rather scattered, but one on one, it was truly awesome.

    Check it out! It’s free – and the Risus Companion is definitely worth checking out too!



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s