No, my no-looking-back entry into tabletop gaming had a much more nefarious guide: The Yellow Rat...
Yep...in 1999, I started a stint with AmeriCorps, working with kids who were crazy about Pokémon. It was a great time to be a Nintendo stockholder. Pocket Monsters were everywhere, and the trading card game, while not even played by a lot of the Pokékids getting the product, were a nice cheap buy-in to the Gotta Catch 'em All experience. My roommate (who also worked there) and I picked up some cards to see what the fuss was about, realizing before long that the game was actually pretty fun!
Now, it also didn't take me long to realize that I have some serious concerns with the themes of Pokémon. Call me crazy if you want, but the idea that we should be encouraging kids to trap animals for a bloodsport is a little...off. My favorite take on this aspect is probably the fanfilm trailer Pokémon Apokélypse...well worth a watch if you haven't seen it:
Still, there's something about Pokémon that draws me in to this day...ethically sound or not, Pokémon media are often a lot of fun.
I'm surprised that we haven't seen more of the Pokémon theme (the Mon trope, if you will) find its way into RPGs. It is interesting that World of Warcraft basically made it part of standard gameplay for the MMORPG. I know there's been at least one unauthorized d20 take on the Poké-franchise, and BESM d20 has a Pet Monster Trainer class (with, I think, inclusion in the associated SRD). Also, many of you may be familiar with S. John Ross's excellent (and free!) Pokéthulhu Adventure Game.
Still, wouldn't Underground Elemental Beastfighting be an easy theme for pretty much any RPG that has monsters capable of combat? Give players a troupe of monsters to fight with...emphasize some of the darker edges of the idea...come up with some easy rules for catching wild ones...and there you have it. We can probably even do quick-and-dirty translations of the TCG cards into RPG stats, especially for something basic like Swords & Wizardry White Box. Take Pikachu up there...we can turn his level into HD (divide by 10 and round up), his TCG HP into S&W HP (divide by 5), and his attack damage into d6 damage (divide by 30 and treat remainders as modifiers). Let retreat cost correlate to DEX to affect armor class. Some rough translation of the details and we get:
2 HD (8 HP), AC 13
Attacks: Gnaw +3 (d6-2), Thunder Jolt +2 (d6, 3 in 6 chance of doing d6-2 damage to itself)
Hey, that was fun and easy! So, when Pikachu evolves, we get...
4 HD (16 HP), AC 13
Attacks: Agility +5 (d6-1, 3 in 6 chance of Raichu avoiding all attack effects until next round), Thunder +4 (2d6, 3 in 6 chance of dealing d6 damage to itself)
[Yes, that's the infamously rare Prerelease Raichu, by the way...not mine(!), as I got these images from the excellent Pokémon wiki Bulbapedia...]
If I actually get a chance to run some games in the near future, I might have to pull these out...as monsters to encounter, if not monsters to use in glorified dogfighting.
Ah, heck, one more (continuing the electric theme with one of my old favorites):
HD 4 (14 HP), AC 12
Attacks: Thundershock +5 (d6-2, 3 in 6 chance of causing paralysis for one round), Thunderpunch +4 (d6, 3 in 6 chance of an additional damage, otherwise deals one damage to itself)
This is getting scarily addicting. Gotta stat 'em all?
If nothing else, I'm glad to get this dirty little secret out in the open...