Monday, November 21, 2005

Fudgemon: Pocket Monsters

by Morbus Iff (morbus @ disobey .com)

Pocket monsters, or "mons," are quite literally what you'd expect: tiny, living, breathing, and other... natural... bodily functions, that are small enough to fit in a pocket, palm, or purse. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What good are they besides increasing your tab at the local tailor due to their blasted little claws? They barely talk, don't eat lint, and usually cause rashes or worse. A warning to guys in the audience: never forget to feed your mon!

Pocket monsters, or "mons," are quite literally what you'd expect: tiny, living, breathing, and other... natural... bodily functions, that are small enough to fit in a pocket, palm, or purse. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What good are they besides increasing your tab at the local tailor due to their blasted little claws? They barely talk, don't eat lint, and usually cause rashes or worse. A warning to guys in the audience: never forget to feed your mon!

They Didn't Come From Storks, Bub

Where pocket monsters come from is entirely dependent upon your game world as well as how realistic you want it to be. They could be magical constructs, alchemical or created beings, natural inhabitants, aliens, or simply mutated and tinier versions of existing beasties. Possibilities include:

  • Similar to helper monkeys, your pocket monsters could simply be intelligently designed robots. Originally developed for altogether different purposes, such as spying on foreign embassies, eating up oil spills or providing video relay of a dark pipe, they became perverted from their initial intent by enterprising hackers. Today, with programmable robotic vacuums, crazy metallic dogs, and road signs that call out marriage proposals or the crowd favorite "0wn3d", we're not that far off.
  • Magical pocket monsters, however, could also fall under intelligent design. Whether it's a wizard, warlock, or witch scratching an itch with a custom-order familiar, or a fakir and illusionist creating the appearance of a tiny elephant from a ball of dried clay, there is still a singular intent. Unlike robots, however, familiars and fakir-golems can often be destroyed by killing its creator(s). On the other hand, dragons, trolls, and slimes aren't "created" in most back stories, so why should magical mons? They simply exist: as recognizable as faeries and as hard to catch.
  • No magic, no technology, no problem! Pocket monsters are the platypuses of your world: bastard mixes of multiple animals with no rhyme, reason, or intelligible forethought. They could be rare and secretive like the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker, or communal and protective like a town of prairie dogs. Alternatively, your mons were accidentally created, whether by ingestion of sewage or other chemical waste (mutation), through creeping development (evolution), or strong community belief (legend).
  • Ok, so they did come from storks. I dunno what kinda storks are living in your world, but they may have brought pocket monsters from a foreign land during migration, are crossbreeding fools whose every new birth is an entirely new phylum, or who were deemed the dominant life, abducted by aliens, and returned a wee bit "off". Don't worry about the science. The concept of pocket monsters, at the outset, is rather ridiculous, as are talking swords, a missile coalescing from dead air, or the incredible capacity for an inn to be a plot device (how many adventures have YOU started from the local coffee house?)

Representing mons within your game, physically, is quite easy and cheap. Unlike creating embarrassing cardboard swords or forcing your players to wear a Halloween costume, suitable mon designs can be found in pewter game figurines, M.U.S.C.L.E.™ toys ("Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere!"), or already painted models from games like Mage Knight™. These work best when you're not already using same-scale figs for combat or dungeon-delving purposes.

Mon Rarity, Desirability, and The Collectors

Besides the standard traits available in your game, each pocket monster has two additional measures: Rarity and Desirability. The Rarity, ranging from Poor to Superb, is indicative of how common the mons appear in your world. A mon with Poor Rarity is quite common, and you'd be able to find or buy one with only a few hours of searching. Mons with Superb Rarity, however, are extremely "short packed"* - waiting outside a known nest, or even having someone on the "inside" keeping an eye out for you, doesn't guarantee a victory. Often, you'll find yourself paying exorbitant prices, trading a mon of equal value, or going on lengthy and difficult quests. Traveling carnivals or sideshows may occasionally have the most desirable mons, but only locked away behind many layers of glass and protected by a number of condescending guards.

The other trait, Desirability, indicates whether the Rarity actually means anything. Some mons may have Great Rarity because of Poor Desirability: they may be too cranky, have too many faults, are impossible to handle without special consideration, or are simply variants of another strain (an always-blue Retrievimon, for example). A Poorly Desired mon with Poor Rarity, on the other hand, may be as common as a tribble: once they're everywhere, they're quite boring, easily foiled, and merely a nuisance.

Regardless of Desirability or Rarity, there are groups of people, collectors really, that care little for discussions about either trait. To them, every mon has Superb Desirability, and Rarity is merely a measure of how fervent one should be pursued. Their goals of collecting every pocket monster available, Legendary or otherwise, can often be considered a Fault (Obsessed, Devotion, Greedy, etc.), and is usually complemented with a Gift of Tireless, Unfazable, or Wealthy. Collectors will connive, steal, trade a fake (a self-painted blue Retrievimon), or lose sight of the big picture (leaving group combat to run after an escaping mon).

Pocket Monsters Love Pocket Monsters

And not much else. Sure, they like the idea of being fed, petted, and hauled around to locales that their little feets, wings, or wheels could never take them, but it is a bit degrading to be roughly grabbed and displayed to any onlooker at a moments notice. For that reason, some mons deliberately try to avoid hunters, and a GM should assess a +1 or +2 penalty to that monster's Rarity for the purpose of capture. This penalty should NOT be applied to collectors, due to their experience at tracking and the familiar, soothing smell of the dozens of mons probably on their person at any one time.

Pocket monsters communicate with each other in a series of unintelligible noises that are usually specific to each individual type. While every pocket monster can understand every other pocket monster regardless of their sound or type, we've yet been able to determine what they're really saying. Mons are expressive, however, and it is very easy to tell how they're actually feeling, be it sad, angry, ecstatic, etc.

Mons can and do mate with each other (which inevitably creates a new breed of some sort; if this child does not continue the line, Rarity jumps to Legendary and it earns a Gift of Unique) and can occasionally be violently territorial. Many a pocket has been destroyed due to a mon accidentally placed in the wrong location with the wrong companions at the wrong time. Thankfully, there are usually outside forces that cause this behavior, and careful attention to training and team-based mon interaction can reduce this threat.

Some Example Mons

Herein lies the rub: why would anyone want to keep a tiny little monster, full of animal, mutant, or electronic thoughts, tucked away in a pouch as if it were a stick of gum or copper piece? For every negative aspect of a filthy beast calling your linens home, they make up for it by their very nature: they're small, easily hidden, easily forgotten and, for enemies, nearly always a nasty surprise. Here are three examples of the veritable hundreds available:

  • Retrievimon (Fudgedex #24; Rarity: Good; Desirability: Good; Gift: Faithful; Fault: Irritable Hook Syndrome). The chameleon-like Retrievimon suffers in the Desirability department because, for full effect, you really need at least five to accomplish much of anything. At rest, the Retrievimon is a flattened globe, like a piece of wrapped sampler cheese. Put enough pressure on either of its flattest sides however, and up will pop a barbed hook which impales the intrusion. A number of Retrievimon scattered on a walkway will impale the foot of the first person to step on one, which usually causes the person to fall forward onto the rest of the mons scattered about for further entanglement. Being Faithful like a dog, the Retrievimon will dutifully return the "stick" to their owner (which is why quantity is important: the more mons, the quicker they return). Unfortunately, their Irritable Hook Syndrome causes sudden and involuntary flexes of their stabber which can cause quite some consternation to the owner of a pocket who has been impaled.
  • Splitbeemon (Fudgedex #138; Rarity: Great; Desirability: Good; Gift: Stinger; Fault: Unreliable). So dubbed because of the Split Bee Troupe, the team that first discovered and trained the mon, its ferocity is hard to beat. Once instructed, the Splitbeemon will slam itself again and again into its target, using its sharp Stinger to inflict small amounts of damage in large quantities. Each successful sting injects a tiny amount of tranquilizer - individually, the amount is harmless, but combined with hundreds of payloads, is enough to cause a grown man to be lulled into a sense of complacency, unwilling to stop further attacks or circumstances. While incredibly effective, the user can expect absolutely nothing roughly half of the time: the same venom that causes indifference in its victim runs through the veins of the mon as well. Be sure to have a backup plan ready when your Splitbeemon just isn't willing to perform.
  • Frlockmon (Fudgedex #176; Rarity: Great; Desirability: Superb; Gift: Eats Wood; Fault: Untrainable). When it comes to feeding mons, there can be nothing better than finding one without the picky tastes so many collectors and trainers have lamented. The Frlockmon eats, nay, devours, wood which is naturally and readily abundant. It also is an excellent lock picker, able to slide its spindly arms into the smallest orifice, manipulate the tumblers, and unlock a door or chest in comparable time to any master thief. Insanely Desirable by any but the most principled adventurers (and many justify their ownership with "concerns" about being locked out of their own homes and treasure), the Frlockmon has one big problem: in most cases, locks are surrounded by wood. Wooden chests, wooden doors, wooden boxes, wooden what-have-you. Combined with its Untrainable Fault and uncontrollable appetite, you'll be able to unlock doors with a minimum of fuss... with the difficulty of concealing the fact that the lock itself has fallen to the floor due to consumption of the surrounding wood.

Episode Guide

What follows is a partial Now Playing (from Carnivore Games) episode guide for the show "Fudgemon-o-theism" on your local cable network. Oddly, the show takes its mature cue from Japanese animation and, though bubbly and humorous, deals with complicated themes not normally suitable for children.

  • 101 - The Hatchling. A team of well-liked investigators discovers an egg in the middle of a pasture, with a human female claiming to be its virgin mother.
  • 102 - Can or Able? Faced with the apparent suicide of a pre-teen child, the team has nothing to go on until another egg is found. The virgin mother returns, holding a newborn mon and claiming the second egg as a gift from above.
  • 103 - And Baby Makes Three. The two mons, now hatched and each three weeks old, mate. A third egg is laid and begins to hatch. Whither the virgin mother?
  • 104 - Exsanguinating Circumstances. The baby, appearing unlike either of the two mother mons that laid it, cuts it own throat. Instead of blood, forth hundreds of mons do swell.
  • 105 - Frightened New World. The virgin mother returns, and is carried to the east by a cadre of Retrievimon piercing every few inches of her body. Facing downward, her blood leaves no trail, and our team is called out on other duties.
  • 106 - Invasion, Part 1. With dozens of unaccounted mons, our team of investigators is sent to catalog and collect each one for further study.

Fudgemon-o-theism is currently awaiting word from above regarding its future.


* - "Short packed" refers to the inclusion of a low number of collectable items (such as action figures) shipped to stores, in comparison with the quantity of other figures from the same collection. If a company shipped out ten each of Ratman, Sparrow, and The Poker in every case, but only included three Piddlers in expectation of lower sales of that figure, then the Piddler was "short packed."

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