Ashe asks:

You mentioned a while back that if you had your way, Pokémon would have less types, and Water would be one of the types on the chopping block. Can you elaborate more about which types you’d cut and why, and what would remain in your ideal type chart?

It goes through… iterations, depending on how much wild abandon I’m feeling from day to day, and what kind of scope I’m imagining for whatever hypothetical redesign of the Pokémon games that would give me this opportunity.  The common thread of my logic is that (contrary, I think, to a lot of fans) I don’t believe more types actually make the game better. Once you have about seven or eight you’ve probably already exhausted 90% of the strategic depth they add to the battle system (compare the TCG, which originally had just seven, although it was more or less forced to expand to eleven by the introduction of new types in generations II and VI, as well as the proliferation of Dragon-types starting in generation III). Having more just makes it harder to memorise all the relationships, and makes the game harder to get into. Like, I get it because I had the bulk of it seared into my impressionable child brain when I was nine, changes in generations II and VI notwithstanding, but if I picked up my first Pokémon game today, in my late 20s, I’m not sure I’d think that was worth my time (though I admit it helps that recent games in the core series display the type effectiveness of your moves against your opponents).  There’s an argument that more types enable a wider range of creature designs, but I think you can actually achieve the same result with fewer types more broadly defined. But let’s actually take a stab at answering this question.

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Sandygast and Palossand


Before we begin, I want to point out, for the benefit of people who might not usually pay attention to this kind of thing, that Palossand has one of the best French names I’ve ever seen for a Pokémon: Trépassable. It’s a portmanteau of trépas, demise, and sable, sand, but it also sounds like très passable – “good enough,” which is a phrase that everyone who has ever built a sandcastle has uttered at least once.


Anyway. Haunted sandcastles!

Haunted castles make perfect sense to anyone with even a vague familiarity with 19th century gothic horror or its 20th century cinematic inheritors. Beginning with Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, any gothic horror worth the name has a menacing castle on a windswept crag in the middle of a dark forest in Molvania or some similarly dismal place, and said castle is regularly infested with a range of “local colour” including but not limited to bats, vampires, mad scientists, werewolves and, of course, ghosts. Ghosts and castles go hand in hand right down to contemporary fiction, with the entertaining spiritual population of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, and ghosts in the haunting business are commonly depicted as pursuing “unfinished business” or grudges left over from their lives. But a haunted sandcastle might be something of a new one… Continue reading “Sandygast and Palossand”

Mudbray and Mudsdale


Jim the Editor and I had an American friend once who, while on an archaeological dig in Italy, famously infuriated an old Italian man to the point of explosive outrage by repeatedly addressing a dog “ciao, burro” – burro being (as our friend well knew) the Spanish word for donkey, and therefore already a rather silly thing to say to an Italian dog.  Even worse, though, burro is also the Italian word for butter, so an onlooker could forgiven for thinking that someone saying “ciao, burro” to a dog is completely insane.  Years later, this event has only two substantial legacies: first, that Jim now feels compelled to address all dogs “ciao, burro,” and second, that my Mudsdale now has the dreadful misfortune of being named “Butter.”

Let’s talk about Mudbray and Mudsdale.

To start with the obvious: Mudbray is a donkey, and Mudsdale is a horse.  The two species are actually about as distant from one another as horses are from zebras (which get to be their own Pokémon), but I suppose donkeys are not exactly among the most fascinatingly exotic animals in the world, so it’s understandable that for Pokémon’s purposes they would get lumped in with horses as a “close enough.”  Donkeys are proverbially known as stubborn animals, because they have very different fear responses to horses – horses bolt when frightened, but donkeys freeze, and usually give very few external cues to express their discomfort, so someone who only knows horses will often think a startled or cautious donkey is being “stubborn” by refusing to move.  You could probably ask, fairly, whether the same might be true of Mudbray, who merits a description by the Pokédex as “stubborn” and “individualistic” (unlike horses, donkeys are not naturally herd animals) – maybe that reputation comes from inexperienced trainers who haven’t been taught how to handle them.  Mudbray’s… honestly quite disturbing… blank-looking round eyes are probably meant to reinforce this aspect of her personality, making her look a bit vacant and detached – although the unnerving oblong pupils seem to be based on the appearance of a real equine eye.  On account of the rough terrain of their natural habitats, where strength matters more than speed, donkeys are actually stronger for their size than horses.  In Mudbray’s case, this translates to a carrying capacity of “50 times its own body weight” – over 5 tonnes.  As usual, it’s probably best to think of numbers in the Pokédex as more illustrative than literal – even if a Mudbray might not actually be able to support the weight of a fully grown African elephant, after seeing one in action you might believe it.

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Adamfrolick asks:

Really love your blog! I was wondering if you could clear something up between the relationship of a pokemons type and there relation to a pokemons physicality or physiology. Like, rock types are weak to fighting cause they are made of rocks and with enough strength, someone could shatter one. But in the case of, lets say, a ground type, it isn’t necessarily made of ground? Like, Hippowdon is just a sandy hippo, so why would it be weak to grass?

Ground is… tricky… I tend to sort of recuse myself from attempting to explain anything to do with the Ground type because I don’t think it actually makes sense and I’m not sure there’s a good reason for it to exist.  You could probably explain those particular relationships by positing that they have sort of porous exoskeletal plates which can become waterlogged very easily, and from which Grass Pokémon can also drain water effectively (that being notionally the same reason Grass is strong against Water).  Honestly, though, I’m not totally convinced there is a consistent relationship between type and physiology.  We know that the same type can encompass Pokémon with radically different biology, and we know that Pokémon within a type do not necessarily share a common ancestor.  I kinda lean towards thinking that “type” is just something humans came up with to describe how Pokémon behave in battles and create a heuristic for which of two Pokémon is likely to be favoured in any given match-up, not a real biological phenomenon.

Anonymous asks:

Obviously, any regular reader knows that you’re a champion of the Grass type. One thing that occurred to me recently – any thoughts on why is there only a single Grass/Ground type? Wouldn’t that seem an obvious combination to be exploited? Roots would presumably feature heavily. It seems that flavour wise, at least, this one would seem natural.

I think maybe the fact that it seems so natural is actually part of the reason.  Ground is, let’s face it, a poorly thought out mess of a type.  Pokémon can be assigned to the Ground type because they have powers related to earth and soil, or because they happen to live on the ground, or sometimes, it seems, just because they’re generally tough and resilient.  It’s a really vague set of traits, most of which also apply to pure Grass-types.  If most of the things that define Ground are also essentially inherent to Grass anyway, there’s never any need to add Ground to a Grass Pokémon, unless you come up against something like Torterra who’s associated with the earth in a much more elemental sense than most Ground Pokémon.

Turtwig, Grotle and Torterra

Turtwig.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; that is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even Nintendo may die.Okay; Diamond and Pearl.  The last three starters (since I’ve already covered Tepig, Snivy and Oshawott).  I’ve always liked these three; the designs are quirky, they’re all pretty powerful (if I had to use a whole trio on a single team, this is probably the one I’d go for, although the Ruby/Sapphire ones give them a run for their money), and the way they interact with each other is pretty interesting in itself.  Let’s take a look at Turtwig and see how he measures up.

As you’ve probably read by now, I love all the Grass-type starters.  However, I think Torterra is the only one whose design potentially equals or betters Venusaur’s.  Turtwig, Grotle and Torterra are based on the old mythological motif of the ‘world turtle,’ who appears in several places around the world, but most famously in Hindu legend as one of the avatars of Vishnu, his shell serving as a pivot when the gods and demons together churn the ocean of milk using an upturned mountain to produce the water of life (it… was just that kind of Friday night, okay?).  The world turtle motif is directly referenced in the Pokémon world’s corresponding ancient myth that an enormous Torterra lived deep beneath the earth.  The design includes elements of every part of the natural world – earth, water, plants and animals.  Turtwig originally hosts a tiny sapling on his head, which grows into twin rows of bushes on Grotle’s shell of compacted soil, and finally into a huge tree on Torterra’s immense carapace, accompanied by great spikes of moss-covered stone.  Grotle often carry smaller Pokémon around on their backs over long distances, and Torterra becomes so large, and his foliage so luscious, that entire communities of Pokémon can be found on a wild Torterra’s back, creating a pocket ecosystem in which some Pokémon spend their whole lives.  Turtwig, Grotle and Torterra also have some minor powers related to water, completing their miniature world.  All Grass Pokémon, logically, are very reliant on water, but the designers seem to have wanted to drive it home with these three; they always live by lakes and rivers, drinking causes their shells to harden and grow strong, they have the special ability to sense sources of pure water, which they use to lead other Pokémon there, and wild Grotle are said to protect hidden springs.  These Pokémon aren’t just parts of ecosystems, they are ecosystems.  I love this design.  It’s detailed and fascinating, drawing on a well-known mythological motif combined with symbolically significant traits and powers to give Turtwig, Grotle and Torterra an interesting place in the world of Pokémon.  I don’t think it would be at all bold to say that Torterra is one of the best-designed Grass Pokémon in the entire history of the game.  My one minor gripe here is the scale; as Pokémon go, Torterra is pretty massive, more than two meters high and about five meters long, but I can’t help but feel that he (and perhaps Grotle as well) should be even bigger, to realistically fit their portrayal as supporters of whole communities.  At some point, though, it would become ridiculous to talk about using these things in a battle in a stadium.  Besides, we never see wild Torterra in the game; all of them are given out as starter Turtwig or hatched from eggs – who knows how old they get in the wild, or whether they ever stop growing?

The fact that they remind me of dinosaurs has nothing to do with why I like them.  Honest.

 Grotle.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

Turtwig is the only Grass-type starter who gains a second type upon evolving, becoming Grass/Ground, appropriately enough, upon reaching his final form (Bulbasaur is Grass/Poison to begin with, and the others stay pure-Grass all the way through).  This is interesting because it’s part of the way Game Freak decided to play with the traditional Grass/Fire/Water paradigm in Diamond and Pearl.  Normally, Grass drains Water, Fire burns Grass, and Water douses Fire, and this is the way Turtwig, Chimchar and Piplup work as well, but when they reach their adult forms, they mix up the usual strengths and weaknesses a little bit.  Torterra is a Ground-type, so even though he’s still vulnerable to Fire attacks, he can smack Infernape with a pretty nasty Earthquake.  Empoleon is a Steel-type, so he is no longer particularly weak against Grass attacks, but he’s almost as frightened of Earthquake as Infernape is.  On the flip side, Torterra’s second element makes him even more vulnerable to Empoleon’s Ice Beam than most Grass-types, and strips him of his resistance to Water attacks.  Finally, Empoleon can still hammer Infernape with Water attacks, but also has to be wary of Infernape’s Close Combat, since Steel Pokémon don’t like Fighting attacks one bit.  Essentially, the game starts with a traditional Grass-beats-Water-beats-Fire-beats-Grass setup, but by the end of the game all three have some pretty devastating guns to level against each other.  I suspect that quite a lot of thought went into this; it’s an interesting change to the usual dynamic and part of what I like about the fourth-generation starters.  It’s sort of a shame Black and White didn’t continue this – Emboar can smack Samurott around with Grass Knot or Wild Charge, if you have the appropriate TMs, and Samurott can give Serperior a Megahorn to the face, but they seem to have forgotten to give Serperior anything to hurt Emboar (as usual, Grass-types Don’t Get Nice Things).  Oh well…

 Torterra.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

The mechanics changes of Diamond and Pearl opened up the possibility of physical Grass attacks, so why not kick things off with a Grass-type physical tank?  Only two previous Grass Pokémon had ever shown a significant bias towards physical attacks over special attacks – Parasect and Breloom, whom, let’s face it, we use for Spore, not for their attacks (Breloom less and less as the generations passed, but Spore is still his biggest advantage) – so Torterra blazed new ground… and boy, did he blaze it.  Torterra is the slowest of all the starters, but possibly the toughest, and also one of the most powerful.  Curse is an obvious choice to emphasise those qualities since Torterra isn’t going to outrun anything that cares anyway, but if you want something a little less predictable you can try Rock Polish, to bring Torterra’s speed up to something resembling respectability, or even Swords Dance if you’re reckless enough.  Torterra’s primary attack, of course, is Earthquake; sadly, Grass attacks don’t combine particularly well with Ground attacks, since they share all of Ground’s offensive weaknesses.  If you do want one, you have two options; Wood Hammer is stronger than Seed Bomb, but Seed Bomb doesn’t cause recoil damage.  Rock attacks, on the other hand, do mesh very well with Earthquake, so Stone Edge is a good place to go.  Torterra’s other main offensive options are Crunch and Superpower; Superpower is much more useful for actually killing stuff, but the penalty it inflicts to the user’s physical attack and defence is particularly undesirable for a slow, bulky Pokémon like Torterra.  Leech Seed gets you a trickle of healing, though Torterra, with his large HP total and relative inability to stay in control of a Leech Seed/Substitute scenario, is not really an ideal candidate for using it; Synthesis is weather-dependent but probably your best option.  There are also a few support moves to mix things up if you feel so inclined; Reflect and Light Screen for team defence, the ever-present Stealth Rock is available from a TM on Diamond and Pearl if you don’t have a team member who can use it yet, Roar is always welcome on a slow, tough Pokémon for messing with your opponent’s strategies, and for a particularly defensive Torterra you might use Stockpile, a hereditary move from Carnivine or Victreebel, which boosts both defence and special defence together (it has other effects, but they are irrelevant and distracting).

It’s not all good news, of course.  Grass/Ground is a fairly poor defensive typing, with two resistances and an immunity to four weaknesses – including a crippling double-weakness to Ice.  Torterra is very easily dealt with using a good solid Ice Beam, and he’s too slow to do much about it.  He also has difficulty handling other Grass-types, who are largely unperturbed by most of his offensive powers.  In short, although he’s a perfectly respectable Pokémon, he has some crucial flaws, and is much less versatile than a Pokémon like Venusaur, which makes him a lot easier to stop.  However, if you play him to his strengths, Torterra can flatten some powerful enemies, and with some of the coolest flavour I’ve ever seen in Pokémon, he’s easily one of my favourite starters.