It’s no secret that getting started as a PTU GM can be hard, whether due to the learning curve on encounter creation, or simply figuring out what to do given the vast possibilities of playing Pokémon in a tabletop medium. So what I want to do here is write posts that are explicitly geared towards helping new GMs get started with the system. This will range from fluff content like this post to more mechanically-oriented posts such as sample characters and early game encounters.
Artwork by SIN
All of the campaign seeds in this post defy the usual expectations of a campaign where the players set out to conquer the Pokémon League, but they are not so far removed from the Pokémon source material that you have to build everything from scratch yourself. These campaign concepts can live comfortably within the existing Pokémon regions you know and love, given some adaptation and modification, and they all heavily emphasize travel or exploration, which is an important aspect of the Pokémon franchise.
Another theme I incorporated into these campaign seeds is the idea that from the very beginning, the players are clearly part of something that will have important implications for the future of their society. Criminal threats are fleeting, and when Team Rocket falls, it’s often not too long before a near-identical criminal Team rises to replace them. Fame and glory as League Champion only lasts as long as it takes for someone better to come along and beat you. But in these campaign concepts, the players are creators; they are building structures, making discoveries, and establishing norms that will affect the world of their campaign for generations to come.
Let’s get started. These campaign seeds are listed in order of the least to the most deviation from a “To Be a Master” campaign.
1. Talent Scouts
Premise: The players’ home region is finally reentering the international community after years of bloody civil war and revolution. The government of the recovering nation has hired them to act as talent scouts, finding the best and brightest Trainers throughout the region to become members of the region’s first official Pokémon League.
But wait, there’s more! Steadfast loyalists still supporting the old government have only been driven underground in the aftermath of the civil war, and they’re now reemerging. These terrorists present a threat to not only the players but the fledgling Gym Leaders and other officials in the League they’re establishing.
I can’t take credit for this idea – it comes directly from a fantastic campaign that Counterbeard ran in our IRC community.
Central Themes and Conflicts: The primary aim of this campaign concept is, of course, to present the other side of the traditional Pokémon journey. The GM can let the players play in their favorite region, building the League the way they would have liked to see it if they had been in charge of making the video games, or they can make a new region altogether. The players wil have to decide how to best choose their recruits, whether by becoming strong Trainers themselves and testing them in battle, or devising other trials for would-be Gym Leaders. Not only that, but they’ll have to make decisions about the role of the League itself. Will the League be purely a sporting organization, meant for entertainment but not much more? Or will League officials and Gym Leaders also be acting law enforcement for their local areas?
Of course, the political aspect of the campaign is important too. The region is in the middle of rebuilding, and areas with an official League presence will obviously get more attention and regrow their economies faster. The PCs will have to think about not only about who deserves to be a Gym Leader but which towns and cities will receive the economic blessing of being a hub for the new League. Every ambitious mayor will push their own city as a candidate for a Gym, and the PCs may well find themselves faced with a political minefield.
Possible Directions: The main decision in where to take this kind of campaign is how much of a focus to give the political backdrop of the game. Some players may wish to delve deep into the history of the region and the reasons for civil war, while others would prefer just to focus on growing the League. Here are some ideas.
- For a more political campaign, the benevolence of the new government and their intentions for the League are called into question, and the players can be made to question whether they’re really doing The Right Thing. Loyalists fight the the PCs using propaganda rather than direct confrontation, and perhaps the PCs may slowly begin to feel their allegiance changing. The League may even become split, with some appointed Gym Leaders choosing to side with the old regime, while others are staunchly in favor of the post-revolution government. Civil war may once more be on the horizon.
- A game focused more on the League itself could expand the PCs’ responsibilities to include the establishment of other facilities for Pokémon Trainers like the Contest Halls, Safari Zones, or academies specialized in teaching Pokémon. This may require the PCs to travel to exotic locations overseas or to visit the more dangerous parts of their home region to find potential teachers for a school or specimens for the Safari Zone. The players may even establish themselves as members of the League and represent their region in international tournaments.
2. The Holon Institute
Premise: The players take on the role of field researchers investigating Holon Island, a large newly discovered island that’s home to some downright bizarre phenomena – Pokémon with altered Types and other odd traits, once-extinct Pokémon roaming the land, and the discovery of Mega Stones for species never known before to Mega Evolve.
Unlike in the TCG portrayal of the Holon Region, Delta Species, the term scientists have coined to describe these odd Pokémon, are not extremely common throughout the region. In fact, they are rather rare, making it difficult to study them and collect enough data to form solid theories and conduct experiments. Not only does this keep special discoveries more exciting, but it makes it a lot easier on you as the GM when you don’t have to make every wild Pokémon a Type Shift or special in some other way!
Central Themes and Conflicts: Aside from the obvious motivation of solving the mystery of the island, be sure to emphasize how the discoveries made on this island impact Pokémon training and society on a broader level. Unique Grass-Shifted Pokémon may spur innovative medical advances, competitive Trainers seek out Pokémon with unusual traits to get an advantage over their peers, and analyzing new Mega Stones could give insight into Mega Evolution that wasn’t available before. Another fun aspect of this campaign concept the players can toy with is deciding how the research team develops. They may decide to create more facilities on the island dedicated to paleontology and hire experts in the field, or they may decide the potential connections between this island and the Dream World are more important and import Dream Machines to experiment with. The important thing is to let them have some control over how the research effort proceeds.
On a more basic level, this campaign concept puts the players in the shoes of researchers like the Professors in the franchise. While the PCs should definitely do a lot of field work themselves, a fun mid-game twist may be to put them in the position of selecting new potential Pokémon trainers and giving them their first Pokémon to start their journey and help with the expedition into Holon Island. Like Talent Scouts, this campaign concept has a lot of room to let the players see the other side of the traditional Pokémon adventure.
Possible Directions: Of course, the core decision you have to make while GMing this campaign is why all of these weird phenomena are happening and how far they will go. You should go into the campaign with a basic idea in mind, but don’t be afraid to change it in order to suit how the players react and what they find interest in. Here are some ideas.
- A time rift has pulled in both extinct Pokémon from the past and alternate possibilities for existing Pokémon from other parallel timelines. As the PCs dig deeper into the mystery of the island, the time-based phenomena get weirder and weirder, and the stability of the island itself is threatened. The PCs may even run into alternate universe versions of themselves as they seek to unravel the cause of the time rift, whether it be a Legendary Pokémon with power over time like Celebi or Dialga, or something else entirely.
- A potent source of supernatural power is simply changing all nearby Pokémon and humans alike on a fundamental level. The players will discover the latter as members of their expedition begin to develop powers such as those of the Supernatural Classes in the Core book or the Elementalists in the Game of Throhs supplement. The source of power could be a strange meteor from outer space, an artifact somehow drawn out of the Dream World, or even an egg holding a never before seen Legendary Pokémon.
- The island is actually the secret site used by a criminal organization like Team Rocket to conduct their experiments. As the campaign goes on, members of this criminal organization may try to turn the PCs to their side, or they may infiltrate the research team to manipulate and turn their fellow NPC researchers. It will be an arduous task for the research team to even uncover the fact they aren’t the only ones on the island. And once they do, even as the cruel and immoral nature of these experiments is revealed to the PCs, the contributions to science and society that come from them become greater and greater. Should the research team turn a blind eye and continue to let society reap the rewards of this experimentation, or should they put an end to the criminals’ plans?
3. The Last Caravan
Premise: Set in the aftermath of a “quiet” apocalypse, this campaign concept drops the players into a large caravan of Pokémon Trainers searching for a place to settle down and restart civilization. This campaign concept can take place in any canon Pokémon region, though a wave of resource shortages and the slow and steady march of environmental degradation driven by modern society has taken its toll and left humanity scattered and scarce. This isn’t your deserts and raiders post-apocalypse like Mad Max or Fallout. Nature has run its course and recovered, and people have managed to stabilize their small communities, with a few modern conveniences they scavenged from old ruins.
However, that’s just not good enough for everyone. The players take on the role of influential members of a large caravan of Trainers trying to recover what’s left of civilization, to restore lost technologies, and to bring humanity as close to the old golden age as possible. So far as they know, they’re the only ones among the scattered pockets of humanity around them that are up to making such an organized endeavor. There are a lot of resources poured into this dream, and yet not everyone left in this post-apocalyptic world believes in it.
Central Themes and Conflicts: Exploration and (re)discovery is central, of course. This is where you get to stretch your creative writing muscle as a GM and figure out what happened to your favorite Pokémon region after the apocalypse. Maybe Sootopolis City is completely submerged now, needing a special diving team to excavate it. Maybe Viridian Forest expanded throughout the entirety of where Pewter City once stood, and now to get at the Pokémon research tools that might be found in the remnants of the Pewter Museum of Science, the players will have to work their way through a labyrinth of bug hives and spider webs.
When one thinks of the post-apocalypse, the mind immediately jumps to resource shortages and scavenging just to survive. While that’s a common theme, I’d recommend against focusing too much on tracking how many days of food are left, or whether there’s a good supply of clean water for everyone. In fact, a large part of why this concept is written with a quiet apocalypse in mind is to head off this train of thought. Instead, it would be more interesting to focus on how gather specific Types of Pokémon could be useful when rebuilding civilization. Magnemites and Voltorbs help bring old machines back online, Grass and Poison Types provide the basis for medical technologies, and a powerful team of Fire Types may be necessary to melt down a glacier blocking access to a cave or ruins.
Possible Directions: It’s easy to see a variety of directions this can be taken, and you might not need to do anything complicated at all to keep interest going. One question you and your players will need to answer, however, is whether this caravan is meant to continue into perpetuity, always looking for more to uncover, or whether the goal is to find a suitable site to settle down and properly begin to rebuild civilization.
- The caravan finds the most well-preserved city anyone has discovered yet, and everyone decides to settle down there. Discovery and exploration doesn’t have to end here though. Each PC could take a particular part of the city under their care and seek out supplies to repair and maintain it. However, a whole host of other challenges crops up once you have a proper city in the post-apocalypse. People will want to immigrate, and establishing a government and other institutions becomes more important. The caravan may continue to exist, now carry merchant and goods from settlement to settlement and facilitating trade between the disparate parts of humanity.
- Someone – or something – really doesn’t want humanity to recover and rebuild modern civilization. Perhaps it’s another faction of humans who want to preserve their peaceful way of life and fear that bringing back modern technologies will incite conflict and warfare, or perhaps it’s a Legendary Pokémon that believes humanity can’t be trusted with dominion over the planet again.
- The hollowed shells of human cities aren’t all the caravan discovers in its expeditions. The dynamic changes to the world since the fall of human civilization have revealed ruins even pre-apocalypse archaeologists never discovered. They may contain lost relics of a civilization even more advanced than pre-apocalypse humanity, but they may also contain ancient guardians that threaten to eradicate what’s left of the human race.
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