Combat system for Pokemon pen and paper game?
June 7, 2011 10:07 PM   Subscribe

Calling all Pokemon masters: looking for some advice on how to handle combat for a pen and paper Pokemon game for my four year old son.

My son loves Pokemon. He has a modest collection of figurines, a couple of plastic Pokeballs to lug them around in, and an old Kanto region handbook, all picked up secondhand at school fairs and the like (thank you, jaded Gen Ys).

Lately, he likes to play 'Pokemon Battles'. This involves lining up all the Pokemon, choosing which ones we'll use to fight (this can take a while), reading about our chosen Pokemon in the handbook, choosing which attack we'll use, rolling a d6 - highest wins the round, describing what happens, choosing another attack, first to three wins the battle.

I'd like to expand on this a little to incorporate his other interests, like collecting lists of things in little folders, or tracking progress with stickers, and to help him with some basic math skills like addition or using tables. I could just get him Pokemon on the Wii or something, but I love the personal interaction we get with 'Pokemon Battles' more than sitting next to each other on a couch and interacting with a TV. So I figured I'd make a pen and paper version of Pokemon.

This wiki contains exhaustive detail about the entire Pokemon universe, and so rather than reinventing the Pokeball, I'm just using what I find there to make some very simple activities he can do each day, loosely following the plot of the game / anime from day to day (choose a starting Pokemon, explore Pallet Town, head to Route 1...). I'll just do up a sheet for each of the 20-something Kanto regions - "Today, you're in x. You can a, b, c or d", where a, b, c and d are the usual things Pokemon trainers do while en route or in a city, and we can do a new sheet each day.

For example, one activity will be trying to catch wild Pokemon. The wiki tells me which wild Pokemon are in which Kanto routes (scroll down a little), and then I just divide all the values in this table by 40 to get a range of values from 1-6 - roll under that value, and yay, you caught it. Different types of Poke-ball give a modifier to the catch rate, all the way up to +6 for Master (always succeeds).

By and large this has been pretty straightforward, and I've been able to reduce the big numbers / complex formulas underpinning the real game into small numbers:

- Pokemon will have ten levels rather than 100, which he can track with star stickers.
- For any trainer encounters listed on the wiki, I just divide the level of the listed Pokemon by 10 (for example, Schoolboy Danny has Level 3 Pokemon, while Cooltrainer Quinn has Level 4 Pokemon).
- Evolution level? Double, divide by ten (so Bulbasaur can become Ivysaur at [16*2]/10 = Level 3, and Venusaur at [32*2]/10 = Level 6).
- Hit points? Divide starting HP on the wiki by 10, and you get 1 + [base/10] per level (so Bulbasaur starts with 5 HP, increasing to 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 22 and 25 as he gains levels) - this lines up pretty well with the HP formulas and ranges for the original game, while keeping the numbers manageable for a four year old (there's no way he can grasp, say, 176 HP).
- Moves? Divide the level for the move by 10, round up or down, Pokemon gets the move at that level. We'll use Gen 1 moves because these line up with his old handbook.

Easy peasy.

Until I get to combat. The complexity of the damage formula doesn't worry me, because I'm not going to use it. It takes forever for two low-level Pokemon to end a battle thanks to all the fractions knocking down the base damage of an attack. For example, a Level 1 Bulbasaur using Tackle (which can do up to 35 damage in Generation 1) would really only do a whopping 4 points of damage to a Pokemon with a similar DEFENSE rating - a Pokemon likely to have 40+ HP. Assuming tit for tat, we're looking at fighting 20+ rounds to resolve one battle - not much like the cartoon, with its quick resolutions. Type modifiers don't help much at this level, either (for example, a Charmander with a x2 Fire modifier against a Grass-type Bulbasaur still needs quite a few hits to win.)

Things aren't much better at the higher levels, even with stronger attacks (for example, it'd take five Razor Leaf attacks for a Lvl 50 Bulbasaur to take out another Lvl 50 Bulbasaur with middle-of-the-range HP, and a Lvl 100 Bulbasaur would still be standing after two direct Solar Beam hits from another Lvl 100 Bulbasaur), although with type multipliers battles are now very short.

So, I'm looking for a system that will result in fast matches, with at most five or six rounds between evenly matched Pokemon. I need it to:

- scale through all ten levels, presumably by using level as a modifier rather than ATTACK / DEFENSE
- use much smaller numbers than the original game (though still drawn from the wiki)
- calculate damage in line with the HP ranges described above
- avoid percentages
- incorporate a d6, and
- not get stupid when type multipliers come into effect (perhaps these could become + / - modifiers rather than multipliers).


Appreciate any thoughts you might have.
posted by obiwanwasabi to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
That sounds like an awesome project. Not sure how I would incorporate numbers from the wiki, but have you checked out Pokethulu? You can download if free here. It has a pretty simple but neat and pretty spot on combat system you could steal some ideas from. It has each Pokemon rated on four types of attacks, Injure, Frighten, Trap and Dodge. It is set up as Price is Right system (highest without going over), but it would be pretty easy to make it into an additive system where you just add the dice up (or have modifiers instead of dice ratings in powers) and add level on top. You can get a type chart from the wiki too and make, say, every .5 multiplier a +/- 2.

Not a solution for you, but some ideas.

Also, you're an awesome father.
posted by Garm at 10:50 PM on June 7, 2011

Seconding Pokethulhu as a cute and simple alternative I've actually played. Surprisingly, to me at least, the Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game seems to still be available new. It is simple too.

For something slightly beefier, comparable to your system, it should be easy to find a copy of Cute and Fuzzy Seizure Monsters (a.k.a. Cute and Fuzzy Cockfighting Seizure Monsters, which differs only in title). It's a supplement for Big Eyes Small Mouth 2nd edition, and it looks great for this, though I've only played BESM itself, not its Pokemon clone.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:09 PM on June 7, 2011

You are an excellent dad.

I think Pokémon card game went through much of the same design challenges that you're facing: It wanted the math simple and the battles fast.

It changes type multipliers into simple bonuses or penalties for the target. So, it doesn't matter who's using a Water type attack on a second-level Charmander. Water moves always do an extra 2 damage (or whatever you decide) to it, which is significant, if he has 6 hp. The higher the level, the greater the type liability. So, if you go with one per level, a level 6 Charmeleon would take an extra 6 damage from Water Gun or what have you. This keeps type damage pretty simple.

As for base damage from a move, I think you can use the Power stat from Bulbapedia, then divide it by 20 or so, then add half the level (rounded down). using your HP progression scheme, I think that should result in Pokémon of the same level getting through about three rounds before someone faints.

You can work the d6 in by using that to see if a move that has less than 100% Accuracy hits. I'd just say all moves that aren't listed as 100% accurate hit if you roll a number equal to or less than your level divided by 3 (rounded down) plus 3. (As this is complicated math, you can draw out a table for him listing levels and to-hit numbers, and perhaps he can learn the joys of making it into another bracket.)

Good luck! I hope you guys have fun on your adventures, and as it said in a dialog box I saw over my wife's shoulder while she was playing Pokémon: "The most important thing is that you become a better person."
posted by ignignokt at 11:32 PM on June 7, 2011

It sounds like you have a great start on this.... This is a little off track but you might want to incorporate some elements of d20. Here's a very simple d20 game that might help you. I know you are looking for something using d6 but you could download a dice roller that has a d20
Basically, d20 combat could be something you're looking for. It's quick and easy. The attacker rolls a die, you add attack modifiers, check it against the defenders defence numbers and the higher number succeeds.

Also, you are an awesome dad. If you come up with an awesome game. Post it online. I can't wait till I can play Pokemon with my daughter.
posted by hot_monster at 5:59 AM on June 8, 2011

Ok, here's what you do:

Base damage is a D6.

If the Pokemon has an advantage, you roll extra dice and take the highest. If the Pokemon has a disadvantage, you roll extra dice and take the lowest. Advantages/disadvantages cancel each other out 1 for 1, you're either rolling keep high, rolling keep low, or just rolling a single die.

This keeps the numbers in the 1-6 range, but weights it up or down according to level/type of damage, etc. I'd probably cap the number of dice being rolled at 3-4, just for simplicity's sake.

I'd probably do like this:

Element attack vs. weakness (+1 Advantage Die)
Element attack vs. strong defense (1 Disadvantage Die)
Higher Level? +1 Advantage Die
Higher by 3 levels? + 2 Advantage Die

Or something like that. If there's some kind of attacks that have limited uses (MP, whatever) I'd just give each Pokemon 1-3 special attack tokens and spend one gives you the special attack.
posted by yeloson at 4:19 PM on June 8, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all!


It hadn't occurred to me to lift stuff from the card game (I don't know the first thing about it). Happily, it quickly solved one of my problems with its simplified Type model (7 rather than 17 - I can ignore Darkness and Metal for Gen 1). After trying to do a 'battle chart' mapping all the weaknesses and resistances I decided to (a) do it from scratch intuitively and (b) just have a single modifier that simultaneously reflects an advantage for the attacker and a disadvantage for the defender. I also renamed three of the Types: Colourless became 'Animals', because that's what they all are; Psychic became 'Spooky', because they're all poisonous / ghosty / psychic Pokemon; and 'Fighting' became 'Earth'.

This meant I could do away with the battle chart and replace it with a loop or cycle. Imagine a clock: 12pm Animals > 2pm Grass > 4pm Water > 6pm Earth > 8pm Lightning > 10pm Spooky > 12pm Animals. Fire sits in the centre of the circle, with an arrow up to Animals at 12pm, and an arrow in from Earth at 6pm. A Pokemon gets a bigger bonus against targets one step ahead of it in the cycle (say, +2), and a smaller bonus (+1) for something two steps ahead. I like the 'extra dice' thing too - maybe rerolling / 'extra dice keep the highest' could work instead of a modifier.

For example, Animals might get a +2 (dice?) against Grass and a +1 against Water (they eat one and drink the other); going around the cycle, Grass drinks Water and covers Earth, all the way round to Lightning hurting Spookys (yay Ghostbusters) and scaring Animals. In the middle, Fire scares Animals and burns Grass, while being covered by Earth and quenched by Water. I'm really stoked with this because it's nice and symmetrical, easy for a kid to follow, and is broadly aligned with the official type chart without looking like a random mosaic. It's much more like rock-paper-scissors now - yay!


I liked Pokethulhu's simplified overview of a monster, so lifted its idea of only having four powers at once. Later I stumbled across that being an actual limitation in the original Pokemon game, so that all worked out nicely. I'm thinking about:

- option 1 - doing away with Types for Moves - they'll just inherit the type of the Pokemon, or
- option 2 leaving them in and having the Type cycle above be for Moves rather than Pokemon, or
- option 3 - like option 2, with Pokemon also getting +1 for using a Move with the same type as them, even if it's not against a target normally vulnerable to that Type. This would be like the same type attack bonus (STAB) in the original game. For example, a Bulbasaur using Vine Whip would get +1 against a Charmander, even though Fire Pokemon aren't weak to Grass. This could be a cumulative bonus - eg Charmander using Fire Fang against Bulbasaur would get +1 for attacking Grass and +1 for own Type.

I've changed the formula for when a Pokemon can get a new move to match the evolution formula - [wiki level x 2] / 10. This means, for example, that a Bulbasaur won't get its most powerful moves til it's almost fully grown at Level 8. I'll add a randomiser for which Move a Pokemon gets to count towards its total of four powers. Thinking about stretching the Pokethulhu powers a bit further and saying that a Pokemon can have one Move matched to its type (like Vine Whip), a basic physical attack (like Tackle), a status Move (like Growl), and a Move that is of a different Type. Tokens are a cool idea.

Thanks for the suggestion about Pokemon Jr Adventure - we ordered it straight away. I'll definitely upload all this once I've made some concrete progress, maybe as a MeFi Project. In the meantime I'll keep updating this post.

Thanks again!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:43 PM on June 8, 2011

Response by poster: Actually, I think I like 'Scary' better than 'Spooky'...
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:58 PM on June 8, 2011

Response by poster: Dunno if anybody's still checking this, but after some play testing, this is what seems to be working out:

Starting HP = [wiki HP * 2] / 10; +2 HP per level

d6 + level for initiative (if same level, just d6)

Moves do [wiki damage / 10], drop any remainders / fractions (so 35 becomes 3)

All moves have 100% hit rate

Roll initiative, winner declares a move, determine the result

Statuses (sleep, poison etc) have a 50% chance of lifting each turn (coin toss, just like the card game)

Bonuses to damage are +2 for types ahead of you in the circle, +2 for 2 steps; these also count as resistances going the other way (so lightning attacks do -2 to earth Pokemon); same type bonus is +2
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:10 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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