Thousand Roads

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Chapter 30 Reply

I have to admit that up until this point, I had been kind of frustrated with the pacing of the league tournament: entire chapters consisting of nothing but lengthy pokémon battles, very little plot development and, occasionally, chapter ending cliffhangers that were never addressed again (what the heck happened between chapters 20 and 21?).

Yeah, unfortunately the execution on this arc wasn't great. The tournament really did slow everything down, and while I love writing battles, having such a dense run of them probably wasn't the best decision. I don't know what it is with me and tourney arcs, seeing as one popped up in Clouded Sky at pretty much the same point in the story. At least that time I had the good sense to cut if off partway in (in the original plan, Tobias really did get into the finals of the Lighthouse Tournament)--but this time I went all the way, and I don't know that it was the right choice.

Your mention of cliffhangers isn't something I'd thought about, so thanks for pointing it out. Obviously I find them very easy to follow, since I know the full context and everything in between, so I hadn't realized that they get confusing. Looking back, yeah, the one between 20 and 21 is particularly bad, to the extent that I'm not even sure what I was going for there. I'll think about how I can edit things to make some of those transitions clearer.

After reading chapter 30, though, I understand now that the fights aren't that important in and of themselves; they're more of a way to frame Nanthaniel's relationship with his pokémon as well as the incremental growth the protagonist.

But yes, this is 100% what I was going for. :P I hope that the battles are entertaining in and of themselves, but they're really more about the characters than about the battling per se. In particular I'd hoped they could serve as a kind of barometer for the relationship between Nate and the protagonist, and how that changes over the course of the tournament.

Also, even as someone who hasn't touched the handheld games since Gen IV, this battles in this chapter were a delight to read. Once again, I love the strategy incorporated in these league fights. I love that the protagonist managed to pull it together in a bad situation to cheat intelligently for once, and I appreciate that its internal narration even echoes some of Nate's advice from earlier chapters (something I didn't fully grasp until my latest re-read).

I'm glad you like the strategies! I love writing and reading battles, and coming up with clever tricks is one of my favorite aspects of that. I tried to pull out all the stops for the big, splashy League fights--I won't get much opportunity later in the story--and I'm glad you like the results!

And yes, the protagonist actually learns something from Nate and remembers some of his advice in the later battles. I'm glad you caught that!

First, why did the protagonist choose to be an infernape for the tournament?

De-gamifying some of the battle mechanics also leads to more questions. Mostly, how the protagonist's shapeshift ability works at all.

Your questions in the last part of the review all tie together, I think, so I'll try to explain how the protagonist's morphing capabilities work, and I believe that'll clear things up. I think I should insert an explanation somewhere in the story as well, as I've gotten similar questions (e.g. why the protagonist doesn't turn into a joltik or something else tiny when it's in the air ducts) before, and I think it would help to have things spelled out more clearly so that people understand just what the protagonist can/can't do. Unfortunately I'm not sure where I'd stick that kind of a conversation, and I feel like there's a lot of exposition already, but

The protagonist's morphing abilities are strange because in some ways they're extremely powerful/flexible (deriving from Mew, a legendary with significant power), but they also have a number of constraints that pokémon don't have to deal with due to its human side.

To begin with, I'm using a more anime version of transform, which I think is a bit less constrained than the games. A pokémon like Mew can transform into pretty much anything it pleases, whether or not it has a direct reference available (e.g. Mew can transform into Ho-Oh even if there isn't a Ho-Oh nearby to copy). But more than that, it can also do partial transformations: . It's therefore also able to make one arm a salamence-arm and the other a sneasel-arm simultaneously. This also means that it can modify a form by, for example, adding sandslash-spikes to a charmeleon-body's back or feathers to an aerodactyl. Or it can become a water-type charmeleon with the poison point ability. It doesn't need to adhere to species/type/ability combinations that actually exist by any means.

However, there are limitations. The protagonist is more a human with some pokémon abilities than a true hybrid or a pokémon with human traits. Its "base form" is humanoid, and it isn't as good at shifting mass as a pokémon would be. A ditto can transform into something as massive as Primal Groudon or as tiny as a cutiefly, but the protagonist wouldn't be able to gain/lose so much mass. It hurts to transform, and it hurts more to remodel dense tissue like bone and muscle: it can't deviate too far from a basic human body plan. And while it can alter the structure of its brain to some degree, it has to keep it at roughly the same size, and not change it too radically, or it runs the risk of seriously damaging itself, or at least changing itself into something not recognizably human, in the mental sense.

What this means in effect is that the protagonist is restricted to taking on forms that are roughly humanoid and about its natural size if it wants to be able to reproduce them well. In particular the head needs to be about the same size/shape as a human head in order to accommodate its human-y brain. It's fairly flexible in modifying the limbs it has, but adding/subtracting them is really hard... it could look mostly like a machamp, for example, but its second set of arms would probably be quite small and atrophied. On the other end of the spectrum, something like dragonair would be really tough. It would probably end up as a kind of weirdly thick, weirdly short dragonair with an outsized head. It should be noted that it can take on any feature it likes of a given pokémon, like it could be a humanoid thing but with yellow joltik fluff and joltik mandibles¸ but actually trying to replicate the pokémon's precise form can be very difficult for it.

The biggest restriction on the protagonist's power is that, while it can match the form and gross physical features of a pokémon (within certain limigs!), it doesn't gain that pokémon's unique, inherent powers. Attacks, typing, ability, yes, in line with the game mechanics of transform, but additional powers, no. So it doesn't have access to Suicune's water-purification ability, for example, or the ability to walk through walls like a ghost type. Critically, it has access to psychic-type attacks, but not general psychic-type abilities, like what we see with Mewtwo: the ability to read minds outside the limited abilities afforded by attacks like mind reader, the ability to project emotions into other organisms, the ability to integrate sensory data from multiple other organisms. So, there's your answer for why it can't change into an alakazam to use its telepathy.

Honestly the justification for this is that it would be just too powerful if the protagonist had access to all the crazy supernatural abilities pokémon have in addition to everything it gets from the various attacks and abilities open to it. In some cases I can give some justification for it: it can't walk through walls, because unlike ghost-types it actually needs its corporeal body to survive. If it went totally insubstantial, its body would be essentially nonfunctional and it would just die. For most other powers, it's just a matter of not wanting to give the protagonist too many options: like, if it transformed into Celebi or Dialga, would it then be able to use time-manipulation abilities? Time travel is something this story totally doesn't need, you know? I don't want to deal with that, or the ability to melt into water/lava or, or the ability to predict the weather. So, the protagonist's pokémon abilities are limited solely to pokémon attacks, abilities, and types. For fun I added the implication that it knows attacks etc. that humans haven't discovered/named yet, but you should only expect to see it use canon attacks and abilities in this story.

So in a nutshell, the protagonist can turn into or take on the physical features of pretty much any living thing. It can do a decent impersonation of humanoid and roughly human-sized pokémon/other animals, but is less good the farther you deviate from the human body plan. It can use any attack, be any type at any time, and have any pokémon ability, and it can mix and match those freely in any combiation it likes. It can't do things like control the weather (dragonair), predict the future (absol/xatu/gothitelle) or bring people back from the dead (Ho-oh).

SO, why did the protagonist choose an infernape form for the tournament? It's one of few pokémon that it can imitate quite well, because it's reasonably human-shaped and around its base size. It woudln't have wanted to pick a form it couldn't imitate well because that would attract too much attention, like, if it showed up as a weird-looking charmeleon, and then maybe it seemed to battle a little strangely... people might start to wonder, you know? The number of pokémon that the protagonist can emulate to a high degree of believability (it's much better at human transformation, though obviously not so good at mimicking appropriate behavior) is actually quite small, and I think infernape is probably the option it would have liked the most out of them, as well as being very versatile and generally being a useful choice. (Dat fighting weakness, though. There are some psychic-types it could have picked that might have worked, like Mr. Mime, but anyone psychic-sensitive would be able to tell it wasn't real because it wouldn't have a proper psychic field. And, tbh, I just like infernape. :P I did consider having a scene where the protagonist was going to do Mr. Mime because of that fighting weakness and Nate was all, "NO. CREEPY. FUCK NO. ANYTHING ELSE.")

Then, there's the issue of strength. i.e., how does that even work with transform?

The protagonist says it's stronger than most pokémon, but how would that translate to something that can shapeshift without reference and has no fixed form?

Well, when the protagonist is saying that it's "stronger than anybody" or stronger than most other pokémon, it's not making a very scientific statement, and ymmv on the degree to which that's true. So, yeah, there's some bragging involved. But, let's go a little into how defining "strength" would work for the protagonist, considering its transforming abilities.

In this 'fic, "levels" refer to the amount of "pokémon energy" a pokémon has relative to the highest known value attained by a member of its species. So a pokémon that's level 50 is basically "50% of the maximum known strength for this kind of pokémon." Different species . That's why a raticate and dragonite can both be "level 50," for example, but in practical terms the dragonite is significantly more powerful.

When the protagonist transforms into a pokémon, its BST can change. Ordinarily transform exactly copies the stats of whatever is being transformed into, but the protagonist can rarely do a perfect transform! So while its BST can change, it's not as straightforward as "change into a snorlax, get a snorlax's stats." It probably isn't going to be able to be as beefy as a proper snorlax, which is probably going to give it a lower HP and physical stats than a real snorlax would have.

The protagonist is quite powerful, with base stats more or less in line with Mew's (so, hundreds all around). It would be rated at around level fifty. And it can change its stat distribution somewhat by adopting other pokémon forms that have a higher BST, though as discussed, it's probably not going to be able to go all that much higher because it won't be able to perfectly emulate the pokémon with the higher BST. So from a purely mechanical standpoint, it's roughly as strong as a lv. 50 "mystical" pokémon (i.e. Mew, Celebi, Jirachi, etc.). That's pretty powerful! For the Indigo League tournament specifically, though, that's "powerful," but there are absolutely more powerful, level-wise, pokémon there, and most everything in play is going to be at least mid-forties, level-wise.

Of course the protagonist's real strength isn't reflected in its stats. Its real strength is that flexibility, the ability to use the best attack for the situation, pull shenanigans with its ability, and so on, and that's very hard to quantify. It's also more effective against single enemies than groups, which is something that kind of came up in the battle where it got ambushed by TR. Against one opponent the protagonist can really tailor itself to the foe so it has the best possible matchup, but if it's fighting a group of pokémon with diverse capabilities that's far less possible. On the whole I'd say it's very powerful and capable of beating pokémon substantially higher than its official level in one-on-one scenarios.

Hope that clears things up! Like I said, I do think I should try to get this into the story more somehow, I'm just really not sure where. The choice of infernape I can elaborate on a little, at least... I tried to imply some of this when Nate's initially skeptical about the protagonist participating in the tournament because he wasn't impressed by its charmeleon impression, and then he's surprised by how much it looks like a real infernape. Adding a couple more lines there, like if he were to ask why it couldn't be a garchomp or something instead, would allow me to elaborate a little on some of the things here.

Anyway, thanks for asking such great questions! It's always fun to elaborate on the mechanics of the story like this, and it helps me clarify my thoughts on these sorts of issues, too.

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