Horizons Introduction

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This world is inhabited by creatures....

Large parts of my childhood were spent staring, focused and enthralled, at a tiny, two-tone screen, collecting fantastical creatures. The cartridge was never far from my pocket, and my thoughts strayed with clockwork frequency to the march of types, appearance ratios, and rarities. The thrill of the attentive pets and powerful companions for my imagination was profound; I imagined myself adventuring, triumphing, alongside a pokemon. The charm of the experience was, perhaps, aided by my limited experience with the formulas of RPG gaming; the progression of acquisition and increasing power, and the intellective thrill of customization and strategic deployment. The deep-set hooks of gaming itself, that admixture of gaining skill and applying it, first found their grip in my tender cerebrum with Red and Blue. I returned to the well, in time; Silver is, to this day, slotted into my beloved Game Boy, and Platinum sits atop my much-neglected DS. The question of why I decided to play again the game I had (in essence, if not in specifics) played before had occurred to me, but not with any urgency until I decided to undertake this project.

Ultimately I was unable to reach any single conclusion; the passions we were so attached to in childhood do not bear prolonged examination. They are products of their time. Nonetheless; there are things about Pokemon that are, if not unique to the game, at least well-represented by it. If the game is understood as only a conflict of types, rock-paper-scissors style, it is both simple and uninteresting. A properly executed battle between equal opponents, however, is built on many factors; a cohesive team, adequate training, appropriate timing for the revelation of one's full powers and the deployment thereof. This customization and element of timing and interaction between moves kept me coming back as new moves, and new ways to enhance their use, arose. In addition to these mechanical concerns, the other central pillar of the experience was the idea of a team of faithful and powerful companions; a team of friends. The player, in Pokemon, was never alone, a conceit and an idea I feel still has power. To bring these two ideas to a broader audience and give the world they represent an airing led me to the idea of a tabletop interpretation.

The concept of a pen-and-paper version of Pokemon is not new. The translation of the game's mechanics of collection and advancement to a paper-and-pencil form is, in the main, a difference of degree and not of kind. I had and have, however, no desire to adapt or translate the products of one medium to another. The strengths and limitations of one medium are sufficiently different from those of the other to render such an attempt a fool's errand.

It was therefore necessary to consider not how the idiosyncratic specifics of the games could be transferred to a pencil and paper form, but, rather, how those aspects that enthralled me and kept my allegiance could be brought to the fore and enhanced. The aims of Horizons are focused on the honing of these innate strengths and the expansion of the world contained in the franchises' interactive and screen adaptations, for the pleasure of the players. The changes I have made, and I acknowledge they are at times broad, have been in service of these goals.

It is my hope that, alongside you, my readers and players, I will find success.

What's different and why?

As a further introduction to the Horizons system, it seems advisable to explain two areas of difference. The first is where the assumptions of the Horizons system differ from the Pokemon games in their electronic form. The second is where the system differs from other pen-and-paper games with which the reader may be familiar.

The status quo of the Games themselves has a number of unique features; across almost all presentations- anime, manga, and game. It presents a timeless Utopia of schizophrenic technology, both progressive and stagnant, where adventure is rampant but true danger rare.

By contrast, Horizons posits a historical arc for its setting, with a number of generalized, playable eras; these range from the pseudo-Victorian Age of Conflict, to the anarchic and volatile Age of Adventure, to the settled world of the Age of Order. This last corresponds, in general terms, to the established Pokemon universe.

In an effort to avoid the kind of mental chicanes necessary to accommodate the technological implications of the transformation of matter into energy at will (in the form of the ubiquitous Pokeball) in a setting which fundamentally resembles a present-day or even slightly primitive society, Horizons posits that these phenomena are not, in fact, technology at all. By casting Pokemon, and their associated devices, as respectively spiritual entities and binding rituals, a degree of internal consistency is reached. In addition, this change logically explains the many legendary creatures, inexplicable rituals, and ancient devices present in the movies and series; while 'ancient technology' strains credulity for all but the most gullible, ancient magic has a longer provenance.

Similarly, while the mechanism of 'fainting' maintains the delicacy which electronic media for young children require, Horizons is intended for all ages. Accordingly, creatures soundly defeated in battle may be weakened, exorcised and banished, or in rare cases destroyed. This gradation of consequences for defeat is intended to provide a greater degree of tension while still allowing the player to retain their hard-earned advancement and bond with their familiar spirit.

As a brief note, the assumption in the games is almost always of a full team of six; Horizons, however, focuses on a single hero and a single partner, more in keeping with the animated series adaptations, which prominently feature singular, iconic pokemon.

Horizons also differs from many RPGs in a number of respects; among them its mechanisms of resolution, its varied types of play, and its two-character assumption. These are by no means the only differences from, for instance, Dungeons and Dragons, but they are among the most fundamental.

In resolving tasks in combat and elsewhere, Horizons utilizes a system of assigned static values with modifiers. These values are assigned, in that the player may choose to invest all, some, or none of their total score in a given ability when attempting a task. They are static in that no dice are rolled; the values are simply assigned and compared to their opposition. Most modifiers to a roll are tokens, special benefits representing extra effort or favorable circumstances; some modifiers are 'riders' on their core ability, representing an ancillary effect or special feature of the technique. The resolution system in Horizons is uniformly composed of opposed attempts, as opposed to fixed target numbers; rather than attempting to reach a preset threshold, they must simply outbid their opponent or the environment.

Horizons provides for two basic axes of play; moderated and unmoderated, and cooperative and competitive. In moderated cooperative play, as in most RPGs, the players work together to achieve a goal or goals and are opposed by antagonists under the direction of a single player who drives the overall plot. In moderated competitive play, the players work against each other as rivals or enemies, with a single player providing arbitration and setting. In unmoderated cooperative play, the players construct and play their own antagonists, and the plot is generated as a consensus effort. Unmoderated competitive play sets players against one another, with stakes, setting, and other factors agreed upon between the competing parties. Moderated gameplay is the assumption of most RPG systems, and is well-suited to groups meeting physically. Unmoderated play, whether cooperative or competitive, is a common feature of forum-based roleplaying. The Horizons system provides advice and support for all types of play.

Each player in Horizons controls, at minimum, two characters; a human, or Hero character, and a Pokemon, or Familiar. At times, additional, simplified characters may be added to the party as circumstances dictate. The relationship, both in terms of mechanical function and with regard to friendship and rivalry, is a large part of the Horizons experience.

Design Goals and Guideposts

In any attempt to design a system, it is important to consider what the goals of the system are; what behaviors it is intended to encourage and discourage, what areas it focuses on and which it ignores. As an aide to moderators and those attempting to modify the game, I present here a list of my design goals to clarify my intent.

Flexibility: The system includes a variety of broad abilities, adaptable to player descriptions or alternative explanations of their function. In addition, a number of variant and optional rules are scattered throughout the text to allow a given playing group to adapt it to their tastes with little hassle. The customization of techniques by means of modifiers is also intended to allow players to create unique players that match their personal vision.

Choices: The system's primary mechanic of assigned values is intended to allow the player to make frequent and interesting tactical choices. The system of modifiers paired with techniques is intended to allow yet further customization in terms of degree and type of response or action. The grid-based character sheet, with its limited area, is intended to make choices regarding advancement more meaningful.

Goals: By basing character advancement on the accomplishment of discrete character goals, and rewarding actions that advance those goals with effort points, the system attempts to encourage players to make choices that carry their character forward on their personal journey, rather than simply the most advantageous action.

Where's "What is an RPG"?

Nearly every rulebook includes an introductory section to define the basic assumptions of the Roleplaying genre. This text includes no such remedial material; partially because of my faith in my readers, partially because the conventions of RPG gameplay are ubiquitous, both in electronic form, and in the public consciousness. An utter ignorance of these conventions is exception, not rule.

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Horizons Regions

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