Revisiting Pokémon Pearl: The Kingslocke

As we all know, Timey Diamond and Spacey Pearl are coming out in a little over a month, with Legends: Arceus following early next year.  I feel like revisiting Sinnoh, so I want to do a playthrough of the original Pearl version – but not just any playthrough.  I think it’s time to revisit the dumbest Pokémon challenge run ever devised: the Kingslocke.

This is a challenge run I created with basically two aims in mind:

  • That it be more forgiving than a Nuzlocke, with mostly temporary penalties and consequences, as well as fewer unwinnable scenarios, but also…
  • That it be absolutely bat-fµ¢£ insane and require the player to rethink their party and strategy constantly.

In pursuit of these goals, Jim the Editor and I developed a challenge ruleset where the player would regularly draw from a normal deck of playing cards, with each card changing the rules.  The effects of the different cards are very loosely based on a popular drinking game that we call “Circle of Death” in New Zealand (because, at least in our version, the cards are arranged in a big circle around a vessel in the middle of the table), but which is more commonly known in America as “Kings” or “King’s Cup,” hence the name “Kingslocke.” You don’t have to drink to play with these rules, but to be honest you probably should.

Since creating those original rules, I’ve put some more thought into the Kingslocke and decided that its main problem was that it just wasn’t stupid enough, so I’ve expanded the rules to use a tarot fortune-telling deck instead.  A tarot deck has four suits with values ranging from Ace to King, just like a regular deck of playing cards, although the tarot suits have different names (Cups, Wands, Swords and Pentacles) and tarot also has four face cards, with a Page and a Knight in each suit instead of a Jack.  The more important difference is that tarot also has twenty-two unique cards called the Major Arcana – cards like the Tower, the Sun, the Emperor, Death and so on (for those not keeping count, this means a tarot deck has 78 cards, compared to 54 for a normal deck with two Jokers).  And I’ve written unique rules for each of those 22 Major cards.

The resulting rules are, of course, ridiculously convoluted and require a lot of bookkeeping to keep track of exactly which rules you’re supposed to be following at any given time.  This is simultaneously the challenge’s greatest flaw and the entire purpose of its existence.  I think the only way I’m ever actually going to get anyone to understand how it works – let alone balance the atrocious thing – is to document a full run, with a play-by-play of exactly how the different rules interact in practice and what I have to do to comply with them.

So that’s what I’m going to do – play a little bit of Pearl each day and make a short post, perhaps not every day but at least every two or three, to document my progress and explain what the hell is going on.  I’m going to play on an emulator and use the Universal Pokémon Randomiser to tweak the game slightly, so Pokémon that normally need to be traded to evolve will evolve by levelling instead, but otherwise it’ll be unaltered.  It should be fun – with “should” being very much the operative word here.

Anyway, let’s lay out the actual rules.

The basic rules are as follows:

  • Every time you enter an area where you expect battles (routes with wild Pokémon, but also gyms, villain bases and other areas that have no wild Pokémon, but do feature enemy trainers), draw a card and do what it tells you to do.
    • You’ll have to make some judgement calls about which areas count – do you draw multiple cards for multiple levels of caves, for instance, or for multiple zones of the Wild Area in Sword/Shield?  Up to you.
    • You may also choose to start drawing cards only once you have access to Pokéballs.
  • You may only catch wild Pokémon when a card tells you to, but you are free to use Pokémon you receive from NPCs (e.g. your starter, Pokémon purchased from a Game Corner).
  • You cannot use TMs unless a card tells you to.
    • In games that have HMs, you may always use HMs at any time, and a card cannot force you to use an HM.
  • Some cards, when drawn, will tell you to do something immediately (like catching a Pokémon).  Others will describe an ongoing rule, which you have to keep following until another card tells you to stop.
    • Cards in the Minor Arcana (the four suits of Cups, Wands, Swords and Pentacles, Ace through King) tend to have built-in ending conditions.  Usually, if you draw another card of the same value, they cancel out. 
    • Cards in the Major Arcana normally don’t give you an ending condition.  However, only three of these can be active at the same time, on a first-in-first-out basis – if you draw a fourth Major Arcana card with an ongoing rule, the oldest one goes away.
    • There are also several cards (like the Tower) that tell you to end rules currently affecting you.
    • If a card tells you to catch a Pokémon, but there are no wild Pokémon in the current area, too bad – you miss out this time.  If the card has any other effects, those still happen.
    • If a card tells you to catch the first Pokémon you see, you may skip Pokémon of species you already own (although there are several reasons you might want duplicates in this challenge).
  • If following a card’s instructions would ever leave you with no usable Pokémon, you may catch the first wild Pokémon you see in this area that is usable under your current restrictions. If there are none, you may retrace your steps through other areas until you find one.
  • Cards that only have immediate effects are shuffled back into the deck after being drawn.  Cards that have ongoing effects return to the deck only after their rules are no longer active.

A bit fiddly, but not too much worse than a Nuzlocke once you’re done explaining all the corner cases (like whether you’re allowed to use gift Pokémon, or skip duplicates).  The complicated part is what all the different cards actually do – and here they are.

The Minor Arcana

At the moment, the suits don’t matter – the Five of Wands is the same as the Five of Swords; the Queen of Cups is the same as the Queen of Pentacles.  I reserve the right to come up with some way for the suits to matter in the future, if I decide these rules need to be even stupider.

Ace – Waterfall: You cannot switch Pokémon unless one faints or is forced out of play, and cannot reorder your party except at a Pokémon Centre or other healing location.  This rule is overwritten if you draw a Nine/Snake Eyes, and ends if you draw another Ace.

Two – You: You may catch one Pokémon of your choice in this area.

Three – Me: You may catch the first wild Pokémon you see in this area.

Four – Elements: Your Pokémon may not use attacks that get a Same-Type Attack Bonus (unless they have no un-STABed damaging moves; note that moves with fixed damage like Dragon Rage and Nightshade do not have STAB).  Pokémon in your active party with no un-STABed attacks must learn one as soon as they can (use a TM if necessary).  This rule ends if you draw another Four.  You may catch the first Pokémon you see in this area that does not share a type with any of your current party Pokémon.

Five – Guys: You cannot use your female Pokémon (unless you have no male or genderless Pokémon).  This rule is overwritten by drawing a Six/Chicks, and ends if you draw another Five.  You may catch the first male wild Pokémon you see in this area.

Six – Chicks: You cannot use your male Pokémon (unless you have no female or genderless Pokémon).  This rule is overwritten by drawing a Five/Guys, and ends if you draw another Six.  You may catch the first female wild Pokémon you see in this area.

Seven – Lucky Sevens: Draw two more cards and follow the rules for both.

Eight – Mate: Box the Pokémon in your current party that has been with you the longest over the course of the game (this may be a judgement call).  You cannot use that Pokémon again unless another card revokes this rule.

Nine – Snake Eyes: A temporary Nuzlocke: until you either earn your next badge or defeat the Elite Four, immediately box any of your Pokémon that are defeated in battle. They are petrified; you can’t use them again until this rule is no longer in effect.  This rule is overwritten by drawing an Ace/Waterfall, and ends if you draw another Nine.

Ten – Rule Card: An observer to the game may revoke any or all of the rules currently affecting you, and either make up a new rule or change an existing one.  If no observers are available, you may revoke a single rule.

Page – Never Have I Ever: Teach all of your current party Pokémon a new move from a TM (if possible, this must be a move that Pokémon has never known in the past). If some of your Pokémon can’t learn any new moves from the TMs you have, do as many as you can.

Knight – Challenge: Choose one of your current party Pokémon to fight every trainer battle in this area solo.  If it ever loses, it must be boxed and cannot be used again until another card revokes this rule.  If it wins, it becomes your champion and ignores all other rules and restrictions.  Either way, drawing another Knight ends all effects of this card and issues a new challenge.

Queen – A Ship Came Into The Harbour: …carrying a boatload of Pokémon! Keep catching the first Pokémon you see in this area until your party is full (or until you have caught three, if you have fewer than three empty slots in your party).

King – Vessel: Box one member of your current team and replace it with a new Pokémon of your choice from this area.  The boxed team member is placed in the Vessel and cannot be returned to your active party, not even by drawing a Ten/Rule Card.  If there are ever four Pokémon in the Vessel, those Pokémon immediately become your new party.  They must be used at least until you earn your next badge or defeat the Elite Four; until that happens, no other card can stop you from using them.

The Major Arcana

No more than three ongoing rules from the Major Arcana can be in effect at once.  When a fourth rule is applied, the oldest one still ongoing is revoked.  The Empress, the Chariot, the Star, the Sun and the World do not have ongoing effects, so they do not count towards this limit.

The Fool: Replace the highest-level Pokémon in your party with the lowest-level Pokémon in your PC that is currently usable.  You must use the lower-level one, and cannot use the higher-level one, until either this rule is overwritten or their levels become equal.

The Magician: Your Pokémon may not use physical attacks, unless they have no special attacks.  Pokémon in your active party with no special attacks must learn one as soon as possible (from a TM if one is available).  This rule is overwritten if you draw Strength.

The High Priestess: You may not use healing items (including berries).  This rule is overwritten if you draw the Hierophant.

The Empress: Catch the first Pokémon you see in this area and immediately end one ongoing rule of your choice.

The Emperor: Catch the first Pokémon you see in this area.  That Pokémon ignores all other rules until this one is revoked.

The Hierophant: You may only heal at a Pokémon Centre once after clearing each new area.  You can withdraw “fresh” Pokémon from PC storage, but any Pokémon that you deposit cannot be withdrawn again until you are next allowed to heal.  This rule is overwritten if you draw the High Priestess.

The Lovers: Your party must consist of opposite-gender pairs of Pokémon that share an egg group.  Genderless Pokémon may be paired with a Pokémon of any gender that shares an egg group.  If both the Lovers and a Five/Guys or Six/Chicks are in effect, you can form same-gender pairs, but must still pair Pokémon that share an egg group.  You may catch one Pokémon of your choice in this area that would form a valid pair with any of your current party Pokémon.

The Chariot: You gain two additional “slots” for ongoing rules from Major Arcana cards.  Drawing the Chariot multiple times continues to give you more slots.  These card slots are not lost when your ongoing rules are wiped by the Tower or the World, but an observer can choose to remove them if you draw a 10/Rule Card.

Strength: Your Pokémon may not use special attacks, unless they have no physical attacks.  Pokémon in your active party with no physical attacks must learn one as soon as possible (from a TM if one is available).  This rule is overwritten if you draw the Magician.

The Hermit: You may not have two Pokémon with the same nature in your party.

The Wheel of Fortune: Box the highest-level Pokémon in your current party.  You cannot use it until this rule is overwritten.  You may catch one Pokémon of your choice in this area.

Justice: Catch one wild Pokémon of each species in this area (counting evolutions as the same species).  You must use as many of those Pokémon as possible until this rule is overwritten.

The Hanged Man: None of your Pokémon may evolve, although you may continue to use Pokémon that have evolved already.  You may catch the first unevolved Pokémon you see in this area.

Death: Box any of your Pokémon that are defeated in battle.  You can’t use them again until this rule is overwritten.  Pokémon that are defeated while Death and Snake Eyes are both in effect remain unusable until both effects have ended.

Temperance: You may not use attacks with a base power higher than 80.

The Devil: Catch the first Pokémon you see in this area, then choose a new party of six Pokémon at random from all the Pokémon you own, except for Pokémon in the Vessel.  Immediately revoke any ongoing rules that would make this team illegal.  You must use as many of those Pokémon as possible until this rule is overwritten.

The Tower: Box your entire party.  You cannot use any of them until this rule is overwritten.  However, all other current rules are revoked.  Only Pokémon in the Vessel remain unusable.  If you have no other Pokémon, you may catch one of your choice in this area (or in the last area with wild Pokémon, if there are none here) before boxing your party.

The Star: You may catch one Pokémon of your choice from each of the next three areas.  Areas without wild Pokémon (such as gyms) do not count.  If another card would allow you to catch a Pokémon from any of those areas, you get one extra.  This does not count as an “ongoing” rule, and you still get three Pokémon even if you draw the Tower, the World or a Ten/Rule Card before you can catch all of them.

The Moon: You may not check information from any reference resources outside the game (e.g. for encounter rates, move lists or trainer data).

The Sun: Any of your Pokémon that you were forced to box (by Eight/Mate, Nine/Snake Eyes, Knight/Challenge, the Fool, the Wheel of Fortune, Death or the Tower) can now be used again.  However, Snake Eyes and Death are not revoked yet, and you can still lose more Pokémon to those effects in the future.

Judgement: When you draw this card, choose one: you must use Pokémon that are all from the same generation, OR you must use Pokémon that are all from different generations.  If you are playing a game that only has Pokémon from one generation (Red/Blue/Yellow, Black/White), ignore this card and draw another.

The World: All existing rules from both the Major and Minor Arcana are revoked; the slate is wiped clean.  Only Pokémon in the Vessel remain unusable.  Catch the first Pokémon you see in this area.

Some Design Notes

  • Standard Nuzlocke or “hard mode” rules allow you to catch one Pokémon in every area that has wild Pokémon.  Only some Kingslocke cards give you a new Pokémon – the 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, Kings, Empress, Emperor, Lovers, Wheel of Fortune, Hanged Man, Devil and World.  In addition, the Queens, Justice and the Star allow you to catch several Pokémon.  In total, that’s 34 out of 78 cards, slightly less than half, so on average you should have fewer chances to catch Pokémon in a Kingslocke than in a Nuzlocke.  On the other hand, a Kingslocke doesn’t allow you to lose Pokémon forever, so by the end of the game you should still have a respectable number – although it’s anyone’s guess which ones you’ll actually be allowed to use.
  • The interesting part of this ruleset is the kind of thinking you have to start doing when you’re under multiple different restrictions at once.  Sure, it’s easy to play the game without using male Pokémon – but what if you also can’t use special attacks, and your highest-level female Pokémon’s been stuffed in the PC, and you’re not allowed to heal at Pokémon centres, and your impartial observer has made up some bull$#!t rule about not using Pokémon whose nicknames have an E in them?  Sometimes you’ll be able to do almost whatever you want, because there are cards like the World that reset everything.  And sometimes you’ll be stuck with two underlevelled Pokémon who aren’t allowed to use their best moves.  The chaos is the point.
  • The 10/Rule Card calls for an observer to the game to come up with their own rules.  The observer is allowed to cut you some slack by getting rid of some existing restrictions, or add a nasty new one; really it all depends on what they think you deserve at the moment the card pops up.  You can play without an observer – in that case the 10 just revokes one rule of your choice – but I think it’s a lot more fun with one (again, the chaos is the point).  My plan for this run is to give out control on a first-come, first-served basis: after I draw a 10 and post an update, the first person to comment gets to decide what the card does.
  • I’ve tried to make this clear by describing specific interactions, but in case you haven’t picked it up, the Kings are supposed to be special.  Pokémon placed in the Vessel or King’s Cup aren’t affected by rules your observer comes up with when you draw a 10; they aren’t included in the Devil’s random shuffle; they aren’t returned to play by the Tower or the World when the slate is wiped clean.  You can’t use Pokémon in the Vessel until you’ve drawn all four Kings: nothing else trumps that.  Once the Vessel is full, those four Pokémon are the ones you’re using, at least until your next big boss fight, and again, nothing else trumps that.
  • The Nines and Kings both mention earning badges as milestone events that can end their effects. If you’re playing in generation VII (Sun/Moon and Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon), completing trials counts as earning badges. If you’re playing Crystal or Heart Gold/Soul Silver, I would rule that beating Clair doesn’t satisfy that clause; you have to actually get the Rising Badge.

7 thoughts on “Revisiting Pokémon Pearl: The Kingslocke

      1. Also: I wouldn’t put it past Jim to abuse his editor privileges to see when a post is going to go live so he can post the first comment and get control of the 10s.

        I don’t *know* he’ll do it… and I don’t think he’d do it *every* time… but I wouldn’t put it past him.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ll be honest, I kinda want to borrow this idea for a stream in the future. Sadly, I already committed to a regular Nuzlocke on stream for BDSP’s launch but… maybe in the future. I love the pure chaos of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

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