What is RPG Pokemon Black and why did the author, Alex Grisafi, decide to approach the world of Pokémon in a political and environmental key? Let's find out with this interview!

The sons and daughters of the nineties like me grew up on bread, Disney Renaissance, and Pokémon, some more and some less. Personally, I'm one of those people who still jealously keeps their Pokémon sticker album and still has the old playing cards. In between, I learned how to download and run emulators just to play Pokémon on the pc and spend the nights in white during the first years of university.

So, you can understand that for me any role-playing game dedicated to the universe of Pokémon it's a welcome addition. In this case, however, a role-playing game about Pokémon came out with much more thickness than I would have imagined.

We are talking about Pokemon Black, a fanmade and gradual project conceived by Alex Grisafi. You can consult the game on this website and follow its development on this Facebook page. Pokemon Black it is set ten years after Red in victory Red Pokémon, Yellow e Blue, and addresses the human impact on nature. From hunting to Pokémon fights, from increasing pollution due to poké balls thrown around to social tensions due to the unequal distribution of power, Pokemon Black is both a what if, be one political reflection which takes the universe of Pokémon as inspiration.

To better understand the origins, the themes and the mechanics of this role-playing game, we thought of interviewing its creator, Alex Grisafi, who kindly answered our questions! I take this opportunity to thank him further for having lent himself to this interview.

Why Pokemon Black? Where did this idea come from? Why did you feel the need to revisit this franchise?

To be honest, at the beginning I just wanted to make a role-playing transposition of Pokémon. The initial idea came from a person with whom I shared many RPG sessions and whom I want to thank: Antonio Falanga. The idea quickly found fertile ground and I expanded it to what it has become today.

Because? Because we who have grown up with Pokémon are now 25-30 years old ... and it is a world that, while turning to children by choice, has many is not as idyllic as it seems. from Tamers with the whips in the very first games, to the whole plot of White e Black which revolves around a movement that wants to free Pokémon from human slavery.

Everything I've done has been dissecting the elements mentioned by the world far and wide Pokémon or those involved. I asked myself, "What would this world really be, considering that you catch animals and make them fight? What consequences should we expect, what social, political, environmental, economic dynamics? ".

Pokemon Black is my answer to these questions. Because precisely we who love Pokémon are 25-30 years old, and I think we mostly appreciate stories like this. They combine the maturity we have achieved with the irresistible attraction and longing for Pokémon that we will go to the grave, which are indissolubly embedded in our mind. On the other hand, those who have played since childhood has a region of the brain entirely dedicated to Pokémon!

An example of a Pokémon Noir card
An example of a Pokemon Black

Tell us about the game system. Pokemon Black is basically a PBTA, but with more layered rules due to the fact that the player manages both the coach / trice, and the Pokémon. How did you try to make this complexity manageable?

The most striking way at first glance I think is the fact that approaches (the statistic values) belong only to coaches / bulls, and not to Pokémon too. These "inherit" the values ​​of the PCs, improving one and worsening another according to their own Natura - which also gives a strong character indication to help play it.

I want to emphasize that Nature is not fixed and immutable, but indeed there are many events at stake that can lead to change it. Some who represent growth and maturation, while others representing repression and coercion by the coach.

Also, there are no pre-set lists of attacks and abilities. It is one of the major forces of the PBTAs: all possible Pokémon abilities are easily channeled and managed by Mosse. These combined elements mean that you don't have to consult the manual when introducing a new Pokémon or when one of those already in play does something - no statistics or skills tables to consult, and yet each one will be unique.

How Dura-Lande e Not the End, also Pokemon Black uses tools to simplify the life of gambling people and to create interesting situations. Can you tell us about it?

The two tools are very recent (they are less than a week old), I can't wait to try them out!

Il first it is simply an aid to something that could be done even without tools: knowing exactly which Pokémon you can choose the starting one from. This is done on the basis of your character class, and possibly also filtering the Pokémon by Type (Grass, Electro and the like). I think it will give a nice boost to choose Pokémon that would otherwise be snubbed because you forget. Seeing all the images of the options available to you in one place, you will see many Pokémon that you never thought of. And perhaps among these a species will breach your heart and choose it. So maybe there will be some Abra and Gastly less and some Nosepass and Drifloon more.

Il second instead it is to perform a function that by hand would be very laborious and uncomfortable: randomly extracting extinct or endangered Pokémon Species, based on what is possible for the generations of Pokémon you want to play with.

Pokemon Black tries to deepen the society of his world, highlighting its contradictions and social and ideological tensions. Which are, in your opinion, the most significant and from which problems of our world have you taken inspiration?

I absolutely do not consider myself an expert in this regard, and the game has become markedly more political and social over time. Having said this, let's go back to the main tensions.

Pokémon capture and fighting have been banned, but only when the matter started to touch influential characters directly, like Lance and Sandra. And this happened because all the Dragons have started to develop diseases and are endangered species! Until then, environmentalists had been unheard for years.

And even at that point, the changes were full of contradictions, especially due to the lobbying of Silph SpA Capture is no longer possible, but Pokémon can still be exploited for heavy work, and sold as pets, after genetic modification that makes them harmless. Not only that, Pokémon are still used by law enforcement, and eaten.

So we have on the one hand hard and pure activists who say that too little and bad is being done, on the other hand the bulk of civil society that welcomes the new, moderate legislation. And finally, a non-skippable fringe of people who opposes both forms and continues with the old habits of possession and capture, however in illegality.

Le inspirations from the real world they seem quite transparent to me: animalism, veganism, hunting, environmentalism, exploitation, but also hypocrisy, slowness and political, economic and social injustice

One of the very first images of Pokémon Noir: two Pokémon engaged in a clandestine fight to the death. Note the Gengar with mutations
One of the very first images of Pokémon Noir: two Pokémon engaged in a clandestine fight to the death. Note the Gengar with mutations

A topic that Pokemon Black deals with environmentalism in detail, also dedicating an automatic tool to it. How much impact will issues such as the extinction of certain Pokémon and endangered species affect?

Extinctions and endangered species are part of the lore di Pokemon Black since the dawn, but the idea of ​​making it an essential part of the game, unfortunately, came to me only a few days ago. I can respond with what I expect will happen at the table, but I have yet to test this new part. In fact, making games and testing them, if you write them yourself and you don't have any input in doing it, is much more demanding than I had at first.

In short, at the start of the game each player secretly votes for a choice Indifferent o Ecologist - in voting is representing the lifestyle of large sections of the population. Voting Indifferent extinguishes more Species, but voting as an Ecologist leads to the increase in the prices of Potions and Poké Balls, the main ones responsible for the extinctions.

Since the votes are secret, I expect many will opt for the Indifferent choice to avoid the rising prices of essential items. Sure, you can make up for it with Medicinal Herbs, but they are bitter ... or with the biodegradable Balls produced with Apricorns, but they are scarcer. I expect many will say, “Well, some species will go extinct, never mind. It doesn't affect me, anyway it's just a game ”.

If it weren't for that these choices speed up, throughout the game, the rate at which species become endangered and become extinct. So I expect that at some point it will happen that a person who voted Indifferent, trusting that there would be no repercussions, will find himself at some point with Charmander starting to have respiratory problems. Sooner or later one of his favorite Pokémon will be extracted, one of the Pokémon he owns. And how will he react at that point?

I have implemented possibilities to buffer these problems, but they are very demanding and difficult. They will require gods sacrifices, and you won't get everything you wanted anyway. Some species could perhaps be saved, but further damaging the environment as a whole. Or you can try the way of social, political and economic change, but it is almost impossible without getting your hands dirty between politics and terrorism.

What stories can tell Pokemon Black? In your playtests which plots have emerged?

They play stories of people who own Pokémon illegallydriven by great goals, and who will have to keep their double life together. The stories of the characters will intertwine with each other, it will be discovered that the events of those who wanted to awaken the Legendary Pokémon without knowing what it was doing bind to the Trophy hunter, and to the girl who wants to conquer all the medals of the Clandestine Gyms.

There are, however, two exceptions between the classes. L'Agent to which instead are provided Pokémon legal, which should not be attached and to be returned at the end of the mission. And theIdealistic which is in a hippie commune or Revolutionary Cell where humans and Pokémon are exactly on par, and does not "own" Pokémon: they are companions.

In my campaigns there have been Porygon with the need to infiltrate government IT systems and leave the signature of their passage. Then a talking Mr. Mime who pretends to be human and is climbing Team Rocket. And Sabrina's Alakazam, paralyzed and in a wheelchair, because the radiation from the machines to exchange Pokémon is harmful.

There was a noble extraction Pokéfanatica stalked and blackmailed by the boy his parents wanted to marry, while participating in the illegal Pokémon Beauty Contest with mask and costume without her knowing. There have been rituals with the Unown to summon Celebi to the Bosco di Lecci and ask to heal the Dragons. There was a run-up between the PC Scoprirovine and a rival to awaken the Legendary Cresselia, which ended on the Moon. There was the Legendary Zygarde irritated by the work on the mine, which sent its cells around the city to graft themselves into humans and Pokémon and control them telepathically for its purposes. And the Abra of a PG was maneuvered by Zygarde from the beginning, but it turned out only at the end: he had a green cell under his paw!

There were those who played, secretly from his wife unaware of the possession of Pokémon, the daughter with her Clefairy. When the daughter talked about it, the mother said it was fantasies, an imaginary friend. When the PC's Clefairy died sadly, and her daughter asked him to be able to play with Clefairy, he replied that it was time to grow up, and to abandon imaginary friends.

The cover of one of the two versions of Pokémon Noir: Guards!
The cover of one of the two versions of Pokemon Black: Guards!

I have read with pleasure a note on inclusive language in Pokemon Black, and I can only congratulate you. What strategies did you use to make the language as neutral as possible and what were the biggest obstacles?

I tried hard to find neutral formulations for all the Background and Class Paths, and I did it (with a single exception). For the names of the Classes themselves, unfortunately, in three cases it was not feasible.

I have tried to use paraphrase like "Who's GM" instead of "The GM", and I often spoke to the female rather than the male. In many sentences, however, "Who is GM" sounds artificial, so the realization is "spotty", and not systematic. Also because the main difficulty was in how to make the "player" neutral, and I found the "player" too alienating. In addition to being not entirely conclusive, in any case having to choose between "the players" or "the players", or in the long run "the playing people".

The purpose is to be able to write an entirely neutral manual when I translate it into English (spoiler for the next question: P).

What will be the next step for Pokemon Blacki.e. when do you think the complete manual will be available?

Although there are certainly various details to file (which I hope to be able to file with future playtests), I finally consider the game complete and presentable.

I am not sure I want to give it the shape of a manual because I am a dog to paginate, and the place has the advantage of being comfortable, accessible and constantly updated. I know that many people still play a very old version based on Fate, for example, because they have not looked for new versions of the pdf that they had downloaded. With the site this problem will not occur: people will always have the most updated version.

On the other hand, I could change my mind if I found a feasible way to paginate. There are people who have offered to help me lay out the manual, but it's a big job, I can't pay them and I don't want to exploit them.

What I know for sure is that after the next playtest campaign and having graphically beautiful cards, I will translate the game into English - certainly on a site, perhaps also in the form of a manual.

Some conclusive thoughts

I had heard of for the first time Pokemon Black when it was still in its old version with the FATE system. This new version interests me both because in general I really appreciate PBTAs and because the issues Alex wanted to approach are very close to my heart.

Pokemon Blackin this sense, it seems that it gives many opportunities for explore the contradictions of societies of the world of Pokémon and, at the same time, of expand worldbuilding proposed by Alex thanks to the different extinctions of Pokémon. I think it is a role-playing game that offers the possibility to face many unresolved issues and that allows players to put their own. Definitely, creepypasta lovers of Pokémon they can indulge themselves.

Predictably, I am not disturbed by the political and environmental cut of the game, also because I believe that stories and worlds like that of Pokémon can be a source of inspiration for deeper reflections. The very fact that they can bring this kind of game to life shows how quality products are. The franchise of Pokémon himself has not often shied away from tackling thorny issues, such as free choice and environmentalism. However, Pokémon, especially as a videogame series, it is a product that wants to be attractive to as many people as possible, therefore it must necessarily dilute your issues, in many situations.

Pokemon Black he must not obey these restrictions and therefore I believe that it can be an excellent product, capable of bringing us back among the little monsters of our childhood (and not only), but treating us as the mature and adult people that we have (perhaps!) become. So me personally can't wait to play it.