A Sign of Things to Come

posted by Cyphoderus Original SA post

So I was the guy doing the Defenders of Tokyo write-up, but since then I've lost access to my old RPG books and that one had to be abandoned, unfortunately. Now I will bring to you something entirely (but not quite) different.

Parental Advisory posted:

This game isn't for kids; it's for grownups.

Not _all_ grownups, either.

I mean, it would be a mistake to warn of "mature content" since
that's pretty much the exact opposite of what the game contains,
but . . .

This game isn't for kids.

Of course, if I were a kid, I'd like it.

Wait, what?



Welcome to a hobby every bit as healthy as macramé!

posted by Cyphoderus Original SA post

Welcome to a hobby every bit as healthy as macramé!

Pokéthulhu is a licensed game of the TV show of the same name. For the purposes of this review, I'm going to assume you're all familiar with the source material (the game rewards players familiar with the canon). Like the protagonists in the show, the players take the roles of Pokéthulhu Cultists. The GM Owner of the Arcane Rules overviews the whole affair. It's a really neat game that is eerily similar (both in concept and how it handles characters' and monsters' stats) to Monsters and Other Childish Things. I suspect this is due to Naked Soul Content.

The game is played using dodecahedrons (or d12s, if that peasant nomenclature floats your boat). Preferrably shining ones, to mirror the mysterious artifacts employed by the characters in their quests.

The book opens with a short comic introducing role-playing games. I'm not going to reproduce it in its entirety, but

I love this game's goofy humour

It's an endless summer vacation in the land of the dead

You know how it goes. The world is full of adorable creatures from the icy depths of space, called Pokéthulhu . Adults stay away from them on account of fearing having their soul (and bone marrow) eaten. But kids lack the ability to manifest this primal, stomach-clenching fear. Many become friends with the Thulhu! The ones who really dig the cute little eldritch abominations choose to become Pokéthulhu Cultists . These kids can capture and collect thulhu, and train them to "vent their alien aggression in harmless sporting competition." Good times!

Creating your Cultist

A Cultists is a kid who has made his own copy of the Pokénomicon . This is the book of arcane secrets containing information on the over 400 species of thulhu. But this tome isn't enough. Cultists have their own imprisoned and trained Pokéthulhu, which they keep in a Shining Dodecahedron . In this game, the players take the roll of Cultists. Here is an example using the main character of the series:

This is a Cultist card, and it contains all the information about your character. Age can be anything from 5 to 16 (much older than that and you start losing your ability to deal with Pokéthulhu; more on that later). Home village can be anywhere that you've seen in the show. If you didn't watch it – I don't know, maybe your parents didn't let you or something – here's a map with the relevant places:

The Aspect means what type of thulhu your Cultist is most adept at training. You can pick any aspect you wish; we'll be learning what options there are in a couple of updates when we start creating our own Pokéthulhu. Suffice to say for now that 'squamous' means Randy has a special bond with scale-covered thulhu.

You buy your abilities with 30 points, with a few caveats:
a) Scores are between 1-12. You don't get that first point for free.
b) Grade Level can't be higher than your age, minus four.
c) Grade Level or Pokéthulhu Lore (whichever is highest) plus Sanity cannot exceed 13.
The average for stats is 5 (2-in-3 chance of success in "challenging" tests).
You then circle one of your abilities. That's your lucky ability . You're blessed with extra luck when using it.

The abilities are fairly self-explanatory, but here's what they mean anyway:
Grade Level: Education, smarts and alertness. A higher Grade Level means you're more intelligent, but be careful. It also means your mental stability is more mental and less stable.
Phys Ed: The "body" stat. Used for all things physical. Doubles as the Cultist's HP; when it falls to zero, you've fainted. You may then be eaten and have your soul consumed. Try to avoid it.
Pokéthulhu Lore: Yep, that's how well you know Pokéthulhu and how to train and employ their abilities.
Shoplifting: Sneakiness, manual dexterity and other dodgy behaviour. Cultists are kids, but they are smart kids.
Sanity: Your ability to have a stare-down contest with the abyss when it stares back (spoiler: the abyss will stare back). It generally diminishes as you grow older and "retreat into the comfortable illusions of adulthood". Usually people leave high school with a Sanity of 1. A lower sanity means you scare off easily, especially when facing Pokéthulhu. It's why there are no grown-up Cultists.
Talking Trash: Cultists are notorious for talking each other down at every given opportunity. The cool thing about this ability is not only you can use it to convince cute people to go on dates with you, it also determines who goes first in a Pokéthulhu Match as the competitors call each other names before their pocket elder gods clash in the arena.

Ability Testing

You roll dodecahedrons. If any dice you rolled is equal to or less than your score, you succeed. You roll 3 dice for somewhat tricky things, 2 dice for challenging things and only 1 dice for really hard tests. The exception is your lucky ability: you always roll 3 dice with that one. Pretty simple.

Next time: Chaos cards and Pokéthulhu!

Feel free to use quotes from any of the translations, the alternate OAV episodes, the comics and even the never-released live-action film, if you've seen the bootleg (and who hasn't?)

posted by Cyphoderus Original SA post

Feel free to use quotes from any of the translations, the alternate OAV episodes, the comics and even the never-released live-action film, if you've seen the bootleg (and who hasn't?)

Last time I mentioned briefly that the game rewards players who know the Pokéthulhu canon. This might seem strange for traditional role-playing games, but I think it works in this one. After all, why would you be playing Pokéthulhu (and how would you even know about it, really) if you weren't a fan of the animated series?

The way the system incorporates the show's canon is through

Chaos Cards

Sometimes in Pokéthulhu weird things happen for no reason. Or, if you prefer, for a greater, unimaginable reason. Convenient coincidences, deus ex machina, unexplicable objects and people out of nowhere or just the freakish appearance of a pile of smelts are all routine occurences in the world of the thulhu. This "special kind of occult good-fortune" is simulated in the game through Chaos Cards.

At the beginning of a session, each players gets two Chaos Cards that they keep to themselves, not letting anyone else know what they are. You can play a card anytime. A card is composed by a trigger and an effect . When you play the card, point to another player at the table and say the trigger out loud. The trigger will prompt that player to quote from an episode of the Pokéthulhu TV show; if the player gets the quote right, the effect of the card happens. If the player gets it wrong, nothing happens.

For instance, say the Cultist I'm playing has cornered a maddened wizard (basically adults with 0 sanity; more on them later) who was terrorizing the outskirts of Muskratonic University. The wizard, in desperation, is about to open a portal to summon a dreaded three-tongued Nyarlathopy. I have no way to stop him, since my Hastursaur is trapped in the other room by a Shub-Poliwrath's Chest Swirl Dimensional Banishment. I look at my unused Chaos Card and realize I have the following:

A-ha! I play the card and point to another player at the table. That player has then to recite the Ritual of Gle'ep, as seen on the show. If they get it right, I can say that the wizard suddenly remembers he really, really needs to pee. Once again a crisis is solved by the occult powers of chaos!

Always keep in mind, however, that many triggers have multiple answers. The Ritual of Gle'ep itself changes slightly from when it first appears in season 2 to when it returns in season 6 (although some theories say it's the fault of a bad translation). The version from the comics is also different. Any of these answers is legal. As long as it's appeared in official material, the answer is valid.

The game comes with 16 Chaos Cards, ready to use. It encourages you to make more, though. It isn't hard!

Here are some more examples of cards.

Next time: what you've all been waiting for, Pokéthulhu themselves!

They're gonna catch you all!

It's something to do with geometry; nobody's really figured it out yet!

posted by Cyphoderus Original SA post

It's something to do with geometry; nobody's really figured it out yet!

Now for something entirely cool. Let's talk about creating Pokéthulhu! You'll see what I meant when I said it's reminiscent of Monsters and Other Childish Things.

This is a Pokéthulhu Card, demonstrating how thulhu and Cultists use different rules (but my verisimilitude!, cries the grognard).

Now here's how you actually create the little things. Come up with a name, two Aspects, a Weakness, a habitat, a smell and a favourite showtune. These can be whatever you want them to be, except for the Aspects. Don't worry, you'll learn all about them in just a second! Now you distribute 20 points between Power, Speed and Hit Points. These range from 1 to 12 like Cultists' stats.

Now it's the fun part, creating attacks! All Pokéthulhu have four kinds of attack and one attack of each category. The fact that any given thulhu cannot remember more than four attacks at a time is a mystery that baffles smart Cultists to this day. For each attack, pick a name and choose an Aspect out of the two you chose as the fundamental nature of your thulhu.

Now you distribute dice among your attacks. More dice is better, as in all cool games. Each attack can have 1 to 3 dice, and a trained thulhu may not have more than 9 dice total to start with. That's for starting, trained thulhu. Wild thulhu you find in tall grass, cemiteries or Elsewhere have only 6 dice to work with and tend to rely heavily on Frighten attacks. Trained thulhu are more powerful than their savage cousins. The game reminds us that there are powerful exceptions, though! Who doesn't remember Thutwo in Pokéthulhu: The Movie?

We'll see why in the next chapter, combat, but there is no useless attack type. You can overpower your opponents and end fights with competing Pokéthulhu by injuring them, trapping them or frightening them off. And dodging is essential for avoiding damage. So you can theme your Pokéthulhu's attacks however your want without gimping yourself in a fight.

Training Pokéthulhu

You need to spend time training your pocket elder gods if you want them to become any better at beating each other to a pulp. A Cultist who spends two days training a newly acquired thulhu may take a tricky test of Pokéthulhu Lore. If he makes it, he can increase one attack of the thulhu by one die, to a maximum of 3. Training a thulhu with 9 or more total dice is harder and takes a really hard test instead of a tricky one. Not only that, but the time needed to make the roll increases to one full week of dedicated work!

Not all is lost, however. If the thulhu and the Cultist share an Aspect, the trainer rolls an extra dice when training the thulhu. However, if the trainer's Aspect is the thulhu's Weakness, the training takes twice as long. Life is hard for a kid trying to cross-fit his imprisoned monstrosities.


And that's all you need to make your own Pokéthulhu!

Pretty cool, huh? I bet your mind is swimming with possibilities right now! If I were a reader of this thread, I'd be coming up with thulhu. What are you saying? That it would be cool to stat up Immortals or CTech or Carcosa monsters as thulhu and have them cathartically bite each other's heads off? That's preposterous.

Next time: Combat rules!

Combat: pitching one Furby against another in a contest of merciless ferocity and occult knowledge

posted by Cyphoderus Original SA post

Sorry for the huge delay! Should be getting this back on track now.

Welcome back to

Combat: pitching one Furby against another in a contest of merciless ferocity and occult knowledge

I won't be getting in the specific mechanic details for the simple reason that they are boring. And trust me, there's nothing revolutionary going on here mechanically.

There are two types of combat: the one between Pokéthulhu and the one between Cultists. Naturally, the game fosuses more on the former. We'll start with that.

We start with initiative! This is something that only happens when two Cultists duel with their captive Thulhu. In the case of a trained Thulhu vs. a wild one, the wild one goes first. Period. When the Thulhu belong to two people, however, there's the trainers' ego on the line and that changes everything. In a duel, who goes first is determined by who does the better trash-talking. Your objective is to get your opponent so enraged and distracted that his strategy falters. You do this by bragging, talking down to him, calling his mom fat or whatever other methods you can think of. It is paramount that this should be roleplayed!

The Cultist who loses initiative gets to pick his Pokéthulhu first. He finds its page in his Pokénomicon, holds aloft the Shining Dodecahedron that contain the chosen Thulhu and speaks its true name. The Thulhu is summoned. After that, the one who won initiative gets to pick among his own Thulhu. Once that's done, the battle proper can begin.

The attacking Cultist picks one of the four Thulhu moves (those are Injure, Trap, Dodge and Frighten in case you've forgotten or didn't care). He rolls the number of dice corresponding to the attack - if the defending Thulhu has a weakness to the attack's Aspects, however, the attacker gains one extra die. The attack can be successful or not, depending on the Thulhu's Power or Speed (depending on the attack) and the Cultist's Pokéthulhu Lore – yeah, how much you know about little huggy abominations from beyond really does affect how well you can order them around in a fight. If the attack fails, the Thulhu whiffs or flinches or sneezes (or the Cultist is just plain incompetent) and the turn goes to the other Cultist.

If the attack is succesful, you resolve it and the turn goes over to the defender, who is now an attacker.

Succesful Injure attacks cause straight Hit Point damage. If this reduces the target's HP to zero or below, he must Doge on his next move. If the target is below zero HP even after dodging, then he is unconscious and the battle ends.

Frighten attacks don't reduce HP, but if they are powerful enough that their result dice straight-up exceeds the current HP of the target, the target immediately faints from overwhelming fear and the battle is over.

Traps stop the defending Thulhu from attacking next turn, instead forcing them to break free. Even breaking free uses up a turn. Trapped Thulhu can't even Dodge, so they're helpless and vulnerable to damage in this state. A succesful Trap against an already Trapped Thulhu is a submission, the arcane equivalent of an armlock, and the poor trapped thing must tap out (or its arcane equivalent) and lose the fight.

Dodge in Pokéthulhu is something that works different than most games: it works back in time. A succesful Dodge move means you just Dodged, in the past. That means it reduces the damage done to the Thulhu in the last attack. If you have really great Dodge dice you can use 'leftover' points after negating damage to attempt a counter-attack against the opponent!

If you Dodge without having lost HP last turn, instead you do a Quick Speed Attack. It essentially uses the die result of Dodge as the Thulhu's Speed and Power – it's risky, but sometimes worth it for normally weak Thulhu!

If your Thulhu isn't Trapped or hasn't been forced to Dodge on account of having its HP reduced to zero, you can switch Thulhu at the beginning of your turn. You don't lose your turn, but the new Thulhu arrives in the battlefield surprised and underprepared and must use Dodge for a Speed Attack.

Humans fighting each other or humans fighting Thulhu

The former is a bad idea. The latter is a terrible idea. Even so, it might happen. Combat rules are the same as above, except:
Pokéthulhu always go before humans. The poor, poor human.
Humans can only Injure or Dodge and all their attacks have the Aspect listed in the Cultist Card. Their attacks depend on their Phys Ed stat instead of Power/Speed and Pokéthulhu Lore.
The Phys Ed score works as a Cultist's hit points.
Frighten attacks by Thulhu against people work if they beat their Sanity score, instead of HP. Realize now why grown-ups and Thulhu don't mesh very well?


Damage heals quickly. After a fight is over, roll a Shining Dodecahedron (a real one, not a game one) and heal that many HP or Phys Ed points. After that, one hour of rest or one day of activity heals 1 HP.

To finalize, here's the answer to the question on the minds of every reader:

Next time: Some excerpts from the fabled Pokénomicon itself!

...in which pork and foul weather combine to bedevil our heroes, and darkness is well serv'd (with cole slaw).

posted by Cyphoderus Original SA post

It's been a while! We're wrapping things up.

in which pork and foul weather combine to bedevil our heroes, and darkness is well serv'd (with cole slaw).

The last part of the book is, of course, an introductory adventure! It shares the same name and general plot with fan-favourite Episode #80: Over Cold Mountain, but of course it's been modified to fit an RPG framework better. Try to not worry about it if you're a Pokéthulhu purist!

Over Cold Mountain

In battle with a fellow Cultist, the player characters find that a bully named Joey Curwen has been terrorizing Cold Mountain with a pack of Tan Jenkins. To cross the mountain, they'll have to defeat Joey, discover the secret of the increasing storms in the area, and keep reality from tearing itself in two. All in a day's work!

Scene One: None Shall Pass

The players' Cultists are on their way to Nameless Harbour (no doubt to face the Eldritch Four, who have a summer camp there). The only thing left to do is cross Cold Mountain. But something's wrong… the adults they find on the road are even more prone to running away screaming at their sight than normal.

While storm clouds gather over Cold Mountain, the Cultists are stopped by a red haired girl in a bridge spanning a misty gorge. The girl is Gemini, a fellow Cultist, and she challenges them for a fight! She's a dog cat fungous person, so her favored Pokéthulhu is an Olaus Worm.

No matter which way the battle goes, Gemini takes a liking to the Cultists and walks with them. She lives in Nameless Harbour, and has no way to get home. The road is blocked by a brat, Joey Curwen. If they ask her about him, Gemini gets angry as Joey's Thulhu made her favourite Nine-Tailed Ftaghn disappear, vanish from thin air. Joey's Thulhu are weasel-like creatures with humanoid but furry faces and hands. If the players haven't encountered a Tan Jenkin before, it takes a Really Hard test of Pokéthulhu Lore to identify the rare beast. To make matters worse, it seems Joey has several of them under his command!

Scene Two: Sturm und Drang

Meanwhile, a storm is brewing! It starts to rain and lightning crackles.

In the outskirts of Cold Mountain village, the players find Joey has taken over the village and driven the villagers away. The players can challenge Joey if they want to, but he has a special green Shining Dodecahedron which carries an unlimited supply of mutated, reality-shredding Tan Jenkins! They have a special move that makes anything defeated by it vanish completely. Joey is an asshole and will refuse to return any vanished Thulhu.

If the Cultists defeat Joey's Tan Jenkin, he'll whine loudly about it and summon another one. The fight will continue until at least one Thulhu's captured. Then… BOOM! Lightning strikes, and burns the fighting Thulhu to a crisp. Everyone gets knocked unconscious. When the Cultists wake up, Joey is gone, and so are the onlooking crowds. It starts to hail!

Scene Three: Schemes in the Fitch House

The players and Gemini run for shelter from the hail, and the first house they stumble into is the house of Ledora Fitch, Famous Witch (you might remember her from Episode #11: Rats in the Malls ), who happens to also be Joey's aunt.

The players explore the house, and find, among other things, a pig's ass concealing a secret passageway, dancing pig wallpaper, frozen pork chop dinners, a cot Joey used to sleep on, pig-shaped duster cover, dusty tools of evil magic, and a squat, pig-shaped cookie jar. When they reach Ledora's bedchamber and lab, the players are attacked by a pair of wild, unmutated Tan Jenkins. After the fight, they notice a book - The Grimoire of Ezekiel Fitch – open to a certain page:

The players can turn the page ("that would make them smarter than Joey, who never bothered") or there could be a sudden wind current. Then there's:

This is the last entry in the grimoire, but the ritual of Yug can be found among the earlier ones. It requires the Green Dodecahedron itself as well as "any amusing statuette of a barnyard animal".

Next time: the exciting conclusion to Over Could Mountain, and a campaign seed!