RPG Musings: Pokémon Hexcrawl

This weekly article that no one reads thing is starting to wear on me. But I shall persevere. Gives me something to do at work. The first thing I do to pass the time at work every morning is to hit up dndblogs.com and see if anything interesting comes up. Occasionally, this leads to a rabbit hole of other articles. Today, my wonderland landed me at the Alexandrian, on an article about Pokémon Hexcrawls.

A Pokémon RPG is a Questing beast I have hunted for a while. Its tricky, because the formats that people know of pokemon are universally incompatible with a decent RPG structure. A hexcrawl, though, sounds interesting. And without looking too deeply at the linked article, because who has time for that and these are MY musings, lets see what we can ramble about in relation to this concept. (The items in the article were about ruins and smart pokemon/interactions, I think.)

My first thought on the Pokémon hexcrawl is : Cool, that’s how I’d do it I think. Admitadly, not a very helpful sentiment, but very telling. Out in the wilds of the Poke-Wilderness, you don’t have to worry about things like how civilization depends on pokemon and how the technology could change everything. Instead, we get to venture and explore

A lot of my musings come from Tomb of Annihilation, as wells as older research and musings I’ve had. So, be prepared for that.

1. The Right System for the Job

Whenever I’ve thought about Pokémon RPGs, the system has been kind of on the backburner to world design, but for a hexcrawl, having the exact right system is going to be crucial. Here are some of the elements that I think will be really important. Honestly, I don’t know what system I would use. I think you’d probably have to cobble elements together to make what you would need.

A good chunk of the trouble comes from the pokemons them selves. I’ve not seen a good system (admittedly, I haven’t looked) that lets you level your pokemon at a decent rate without it becoming WAY too mathy. Part of that comes from the games, which were basically a really involved database with equations for determining stuff. Way too involved for what we want.

If it was my job to build this thing, I would probably design it in 5e, because A: I’m familiar with it and B: I think for a hexcrawl, a system based on a combat engine would probably be the way to go. My first instinct it to make Pokémon Types into a race, then design a class with elements for various styles of pokemon. Maybe a blaster class for example. So a water-type blaster class could result in a Blastoise, or a, I dunno, Lapras, while a Fire-type blaster would end up with a charizard.

Wow, this system is actually seeming robust to me. I’m excited. There would be plenty of flexibility, multiclassing would be a thing, basically, it would be a tweaked 5e expressly for pokemon.

Okay, so, that solves part of the next problem, where I would want to make sure Trainers and Pokémon were fighting on a level ground. See, out in the bush, there aren’t handy dueling codes and oddly polite Pokémon. That Houndour will gnaw your bones if he gets a chance. A lone human heading out into the wild would be in trouble.

But not necessarily in trouble. If a tough trainer ran across a weak pokemon, he could chase it off himself. Or maybe catch it and tame it somehow. I dunno. But trainers and pokemon fight together. That’s important.

2. Add on Systems

In addition to the core Pokémon system, there is also bits and pieces that needed added on to make the hexcrawl parts of it work well. Encumbrance is a big part of it, as well as condition recovery, because if we’re going to do Pokémon, we should try to have things like burned and poisoned and such.

We’ll also need some mechanics figured out for catching Pokémon and what that means, because I guarantee our schmucks of players are not going to be satisfied with what they start with.

As part of this, we need to figure out Pokeballs. I am personally against the concept, as I think having to figure out how to get your Venasaur across the (pokemon crocodile equivalent) infested river is a lot more interesting than ‘returning’ the pokemon and going across quickly

(Hmm. I may have to cook up customer trainer classes as well. Having a player being a monk in the above scenario would trivialize it. Maybe. Hmm.)

I think the way to balance it is action economy vs resource management. Pokémon involved in fights/discoveries will split XP (incentive to use few as possible). Maybe it takes an action to summon a pokemon (incentive to have one ready, incentive to not summon more unless needed.) Pokémon who were used through the day require food, which in a hex crawl is an ideally limited resource. Or at least a non-trivial one.

Of course, for a serious hexcrawl, you probably have mounts, maybe with some gear strapped to them, so you’ll have to feed those. But it would also make feeding creatures easier, to have a supply.

Actually, I bet some Grass type pokemon can create fodder. And probably use photosynthesis to get their energy. That’d be convenient.

But yeah, how food works would be a thing that would need figuring out.

3. Adventure sites

Okay, so in addition to the ruins mentioned in the seed article, there are potential for adventure sites. Granted, I don’t know what they are exactly, but they’d be clever places designed around certain pokemon. I don’t which pokemon build things. Maybe a diglett warren? or an abandoned diglett warren, now populated by, I dunno snubulls or something.

Basically, I’d try to design something with treasure, a boss fight, and maybe some lore tidbits to drop.

4. Treasure

What the heck can I give out for treasure? Good question. First, I have to decide how much “fencing” is a thing. Does the party have to get back to civilization to turn it into coin (meaning some things eat extra encumbrance?) Or do I just hand wave into “You found xx GP worth, add it to your sheet.

I can also have things like Pokémon Eggs be treasure. That could be interesting, as well as a reason to go into adventure sites.

Dang, that means we’ll need a mechanic for hatching eggs, so you can get a level 1 pokemon. We’ll probably need to codify dueling, so Pokémon can get some XP, but not actually be able to grind levels from it. Not many levels from it. I dunno. I need to figure that out.

Pokémon are also a potential treasure, if it makes sense with how taming works. Having a rare colored Meganium is probably as status symbol.

I’m going to have to figure out trading and selling pokemon as well. Le sigh.

I also need to figure out an overarching goal. ToA has their death curse plot to give folks a reason to be looking for the lost city. I’ll want something like that. No idea what, though. But once I do, treasure can point to it. Or enable side quests. I’m sure there are some crazy hermits living out there.

5. Dangers of Chult Wherever this is

One of the important things is going to be having a random encounter table, one that is robust, diverse, and, above all, deadly. I don’t want this poke-crawl to be something kids take part of. I want this to be dangerous. The party should be the best of the best and there should be few people out in the wilds to run into.

I’ve learned a lot about how to make a random encounter table from ToA. I think it’d be easy to choose from the vast array of pokemon (culling things like legendaries and the like, of course) and make encounters on the verge of being interesting.

6. Wild Pokémon

A good character builder is going to be kind of necessary for this. I’m picturing an interesting display where you can see the branching decisions that separate pokemon via their choices. I think selecting some traits every level might be how I do it. Wild pokemon have a few more up their sleeve, of course, including one that might make them untamable. Or maybe that’s a function of low charisma? (if you can’t play nice….)

It would be amazing if I didn’t have to sculpt 700+ pokemon by hand for the hexcrawl and could have a machine do it for me. I’ll also have to decide how CR works and how strong wilds are compared to tamed. In game I think wilds were weaker, generally, but the games were a different style of play. I think encounters should matter.

and I need to figure out taming, as I said. what do wilds lose when they get tamed? I know with a player in control, they’ll fight smarter… I dunno. I have to do so much before I could answer that question.

Conclusion

I think its safe to say that I’m not ready to suddenly run a Pokecrawl. I am, however, closer than ever to running a pokemon game. A lot of parts were solidified in my head as I jotted them down here. While this write up may be a tad vague, my thoughts are a lot more concrete. I need a few more story seeds to germinate and I need to analyze a bunch of pokemon and make design that system for them, but that result is closer, as I said, then ever before.

This has been a fun look at the Pokémon world. If people are interested in this kind of article or even, say, a game of this, let me know below, and bug me about it.

Cheers.

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