Last Updated on April 4, 2022
Pokémon has been one of my favorite RPGs since long before I knew what the term even stood for.
Whether it was the simple pleasure of diving into a world full of exciting creatures or the complex strategy involved in each and every battle, these games would shape my interests for years to come.
I’ve played almost every generation of the main series games, most of the side games, and even a handful of rom hacks to keep me entertained in the downtime between releases.
Still, there’s always been something missing.
I’ve always wanted to feel like a character in the anime, to have an active role in the story. So why not combine two things that I love – D&D and Pokémon?
In this article, we’re going to be discussing how you would run a Pokémon-themed adventure in 5e’s system. We’ll be going over how things like classes, monsters, combat, and more translate into the world of Pokémon.
The Basics of Tabletop Pokémon
I’m not the first to incorporate Pokémon into a tabletop format, and hopefully I won’t be the last. My goal is not to create an entirely new system though.
Rather, I’m looking to be able to catch Snorlax and Zoroark in 5e without changing too much. To do that, we need to figure out what is important to a Pokémon TTRPG.
Obviously, including pocket monsters is incredibly important. Catching beholders and liches would definitely be cool, but it certainly wouldn’t get the same feeling across.
If we’re going to include creatures like Eevee and Lotad, we need to be able to fix them up with stat blocks akin to 5e’s monster stat blocks.
The format will only have to change a little bit. Our creatures will still have types, abilities, and actions, but they’ll be reskinned to match the feel of a Pokémon game.
Additionally, we’ll need some way to evolve our creatures. Both games use experience points, so we’ll just have to come up with some simple way to give XP to our partners.
Creating our own character is one of the most exciting things in any RPG. In the Pokémon world, we’ll want some sort of analog to the character classes of 5e.
However, aside from a few rare instances, trainers don’t actually fight Pokémon. Instead, they command their partners from the sidelines. We don’t necessarily want Pokémon trainers that can cast a Fireball onto the field.
Still, we want our characters to feel special and to have more interaction with the world around them than simply throwing pokeballs.
Combat is one of the three pillars of the 5e experience, and that definitely carries over nicely into Pokémon.
This has a lot of overlaps with both trainers and Pokémon, but in this context, we need to figure out some more nuanced aspects of the game.
Preserving 5e’s action economy, understanding which actions we can take as a trainer, and understanding how rolls for things like attack and damage work are all incredibly important to having dynamic yet functional combat encounters.
Exploration is huge to both of these games. We can easily notice a lot of overlap in areas like puzzles, overworld navigation, and discovery of new locations.
While all of our exploration is related to our character abilities in 5e, a Pokémon-inspired version should place a lot more importance on the abilities of our creatures.
Incorporating HM moves like surf and strength and overworld moves like dig and teleport along with taking some inspiration from the Pokémon-type interactions of the Pokémon Ranger series should set us up well.
Social interaction is probably the easiest to work with since people talking to each other isn’t exclusive to any sort of game.
Still, 5e has a lot of social skills like persuasion and intimidation that we’ll want to find a place for in our setting.
In D&D, our plot tends to be made up of quests and some sort of larger campaign goal. Plot works in much the same way for a Pokémon game, but we also have a few things most Pokémon games include.
The Pokémon league, complete with gym leaders and an elite four along with some form of sinister team, make up the backbone of a typical Pokémon experience.
We have a lot more freedom to include exciting side quests and anime-like scenarios, but this is our starting point.
This is the start of a series that will culminate in some form of simple PDF for Pokémon-to-5e conversion, so we won’t be going highly in depth with each of these categories right away.
Instead, we’ll go a bit more in depth with these topics and lay out our ground rules.
Turning Pokémon Into Creatures
We’ve come a long way since the original 151 of the Kanto games. With over 800 different Pokémon, we’ll need some sort of simple way to convert our Pokédex into standard 5e stat blocks.
Breaking a stat block up into three sections gives us stats, features, and actions. Fortunately, Pokémon have all three of these main categories, so we just have to convert everything accordingly.
The normal spread of stats in 5e isn’t one for one with what a Pokémon would have.
Instead, we would use the following abilities: HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed.
A Snorlax, my favorite Pokémon, has the following base stats:
Snorlax, The Sleeping Pokémon
Special Attack: 65
Special Defense: 110
Since we want this to work in 5e and a Pokémon can have up to 255 as a base stat, we’re going to divide a Pokémon’s base stat total by 10 and round up.
Snorlax’s stats, in order, would now be 16, 11, 7, 7, 11, and 3. That’s a pretty dismal speed, but it makes sense for my sleeping friend.
The actual calculation of each Pokémon’s stats depends on so much more than the base stat values though.
Level, nature, EVs and IVs, and more all have an effect on what a Pokémon’s stat spread looks like. This makes for some very complicated equations written into the code of each game.
In 5e, we avoid complicated equations as much as we can, so we want a simpler way to make each Pokémon unique.
I propose treating a Pokémon’s base stats in two ways. The first is simply the template for any wild Pokémon we encounter. The second is as a set of “racial” modifiers.
A wild snorlax then, would simply have the stats listed above. If we catch a Pokémon though, we’ll roll some dice and then add the associated modifiers (using 5e’s modifier layout) to those to determine a partner Pokémon’s actual stats.
Since a score of 26 would give our Pokémon a +8, a d12 (or 2d6) is the perfect way to start off our Pokémon’s ability scores. This echoes the 3d6 method of stat generation in 5e but accounts for larger racial modifiers.
Obviously, there are some more things to figure out, like experience gain, AC and HP, and how skills work for Pokémon, but we’ll be covering those in future articles.
Fortunately, Pokémon already have features; they just happen to be called abilities. For Snorlax, our favorite sleepy boy can have a few different abilities.
Immunity prevents Snorlax from being poisoned, reminding us that status conditions are important in a game of Pokémon.
Thick fat reduces the damage of Ice- and Fire-type moves.
Snorlax also has a hidden ability, Glutton, which allows it to eat held berries sooner than a normal Pokémon would.
Each Pokémon will have various different abilities that help it in combat, much like a creature’s features in 5e. If these seem confusing right now, don’t worry. Abilities get much simpler once the surrounding rules are cleared up.
We need actions for combat to function. There are plenty of actions in 5e, but by far the most important to us is the attack action. This is how our Pokémon will actually deal damage to each other.
Since Pokémon don’t typically cast spells or carry long swords around, we need to create an entirely new list of actions for Pokémon to use in battle. Sike! Pokémon already have fully fleshed-out movesets that make our lives very easy.
A move is composed of a few different pieces that will be important when we nail down how combat works.
We need to concern ourselves with type, power points, accuracy, power, and description, as well as whether it is a physical, special, or status move.
Let’s look at a couple moves my Snorlax typically has.
Body Slam is a physical-normal-type move with 15 PP, 85 power, and 100% accuracy. It has a one in three chance of paralyzing its target.
Rest is a psychic-type damage move with 10 PP. It restores its user to its maximum HP, putting it to sleep and replacing any volatile status conditions (such as paralysis or burn).
Moves are nicely laid out for us to use as actions in 5e. Descriptions that affect our actual calculations will have to change, but most of it will stay the same.
If you’ve played the games, you’re probably aware that Pokémon are based on a leveling system that goes up to 100.
D&D 5e, on the other hand, is based on a 20-level system for characters and a CR system for creatures that goes up to 30.
Pokémon levels, and therefore experience, don’t fit nicely into our base 5e system at all.
That might sound awful, but it’s actually kind of nice. This means that rather than reinventing the wheel of how levels work in 5e, we can just add Pokémon levels into the mix as a new mechanic.
The way experience and leveling actually work in Pokémon is very complicated. Since they’re run by computers, there are huge equations that take in a Pokémon’s level, species, and more.
Pokémon also level up at different rates based on their species with some Pokémon leveling up fast at lower levels and slow at higher levels, some leveling up evenly from 0 to 100, and more.
It’s a complicated mess that works for computers but doesn’t work for a few friends sitting around the table with pen and paper. Our goal then is to make the process much simpler.
We won’t finish the process here and now, but we can start thinking about how it would work and fine-tune it when we go more in depth on Pokémon in a later article.
It makes sense that defeating Pokémon rewards XP; that much doesn’t need to change. It also makes sense to use a system similar to how CR-based XP works.
To figure out how much XP to reward, we first need to figure out how much XP a creature needs to get to the next level.
In my experience, facing about 20 Pokémon of the same level is often enough to level up your Pokémon.
For now, let’s say that Pokémon reward XP equal to their level. Then, in order for a Pokémon to get to the next level, they need XP equal to 20 times their level.
We can workshop this later. Maybe we’ll decide to go for some form of exponential growth, like “XP needed to level up equals 10 times a Pokémon’s level squared (XPNeeded = 10 x L2).”
Whatever we decide to go for, it should be easy enough to do with no more than a few clicks of a calculator, and it definitely shouldn’t look like an equation on Will Hunting’s board at MIT.
Naturally, in a game based entirely around the ability to catch and train the many magnificent creatures that inhabit the Pokémon world, we need to be able to catch Pokémon.
The simple way to do this is to use the many types of pokeballs already at our disposal.
When catching Pokémon, it makes sense to have to roll above some DC belonging to the Pokémon.
Rolling on a d20 would be simple enough, but with the wide variety of Pokémon and levels, maybe we could put percentile dice to good use.
There are many ways to make catching Pokémon easier. Having a higher-leveled Pokémon, inflicting status conditions, and simply dealing damage are all better ways to improve your chances.
There are also different types of balls that make it easier to catch certain Pokémon.
Our CC, or catching class, will have to first be determined by the difference in level of our Pokémon and then account for other variables.
While I’m a huge advocate for making things as simple as possible, this bit needs to have some complexity.
If we were to just give each Pokémon a set value out of 100 or only account for one of the many catching factors, we would be losing so much of what makes catching Pokémon thrilling – the strategy involved.
To make this as easy as possible, let’s say that the CC starts at 0 + the target Pokémon’s level with us having to roll over. Then, we add 2x the Pokémon’s level.
If we didn’t throw this in, level 50 Pokémon would automatically have a 50% catch rate, which is ridiculous.
That gives us the base catch rate, but we’ll modify this as we go more in depth. Any factors that give us an edge on the Pokémon, such as higher levels, status conditions, or better pokeballs, will lower the CC.
Anything that helps the Pokémon, such as high level, legendary status, or being beyond a 1st-stage evolution, will increase their CC.
There are quite a few factors to consider, but we can easily incorporate them with a little bit of work. By the time it’s all figured out, it shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to easily determine a Pokémon’s CC.
Creating Trainer Classes
The last bit that we’ll cover in this survey article is the classes of trainers we’ll be able to choose from in character creation.
Having a character with special abilities is a huge part of a D&D experience, and while we can’t give our trainer superpowers, we can at least make them unique.
There are two things I want to attempt to include as we figure out which trainer classes to create.
One is that I want the progression to feel much more modular than the classes we have in 5e.
The goal is that as your character levels up, you’ll be able to choose features and abilities that excite you without having to worry about the complexities of a multiclass build.
The second is to use “classes” inspired by the anime and games.
Bug catchers, pokefans, ace trainers, psychics, and many more trainers you might come across in your adventure can give us a really fun way to make each character feel unique while still tied to the source material.
The plan is that you will choose a background inspired by the source material that will give you your skill proficiencies, features, and more. This concept is like an amalgamation of what class and backgrounds actually are in 5e.
Then, as we progress and level up, new abilities will become available to us.
Since I imagine we’ll have a lot of “Trainer Backgrounds,” they’ll all only get one exclusive feature. The rest of the features that you can get at various levels will be up for grabs much like feats are in 5e.
For right now, I’m going to go over a couple of backgrounds and features that I’ll fine-tune at a later date. These are just to give you an idea of what a character will look like in Pokémon 5e.
Hikers can often be found with a full set of camping supplies and a team of Pokémon fit to aid them on long outings. Their love for the outdoors draws them to adventure.
Hiker’s Aids – Hiker’s lower the CC of all ground, fighting and rock type Pokémon by 10.
Cave Dweller – Once a day, you can turn any 5 pokeballs into dusk balls.
Mountain’s Resilience – Ground, fighting, and rock-type partner Pokémon get a 20% bonus to HP. An additional Pokémon on your team may benefit from this feature if you have 3 or less Pokémon that would receive the bonus normally.
The hikers in games tend to have favored Pokémon types, like many trainers.
Many backgrounds will have similar features that incentivize using a specific type or types of Pokémon, while others will focus on different aspects of living in the Pokémon world.
I hope this is as exciting of a venture to you as it is to me. Combining two of my favorite games into one is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I hope you join me in this process.
As always, happy adventuring.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.