While the various aspects of running a game seem obvious to veterans, it’s a different matter for newcomers. Being a GM is a daunting task, and the pitfalls on the road to a good game or session are many. For this reason, the following section covers responsibilities, habits, and considerations new GMs can benefit from knowing.
The Gamemaster’s Role
The GM’s responsibilities can be broken down as follows*: Present the world to the players. The GM tells—or show—the PCs what their characters experience and see in the world around them. In an e-game, this is handled by sophisticated video processors and soundtracks; the GM’s challenge is to achieve the same effect with voice and props alone. On the other hand, the GM isn’t limited to a mere twenty tracks of music or a single TV screen, and can paint rather more expansive vistas as a result.
- Determine the feasibility of actions. Using common sense as well as the rules in this book, the GM decides what the heroes can and can’t do—and if they can, how easy or challenging those actions are. A human in full armor can’t jump a forty-meter-wide ravine in a single leap; a four-meter jump might be possible under the circumstances, but requires the GM to decide just how difficult the resulting roll will be.
Inevitably, there will be situations where the written rules don’t clearly explain what to do, or when a PC decides to try something not covered in the rules. In this case, it is left to the GM to decide what happens, and whether a proposed action is possible at all.
- Create and roleplay non-player characters. The GM roleplays the villains opposing the PCs, the sidekicks and allies assisting the heroes’ efforts, their rivals and comic relief, and the ‘bit part’ characters—shopkeepers, bartenders, farmers, fishermen, guards, and everything in between. This can be both easy and difficult; while many of the minor NPCs need only a bare minimum of description, juggling a large number of characters—let alone making them memorable—requires a fair amount of effort.
- Design encounters and adventures. The GM determines what challenges the PCs face during each session, and creates a narrative to string these challenges together into an adventure. While it is possible to develop encounters and events on the fly, most GMs plan them beforehand, making notes as to how monsters and NPCs are likely to act and thinking of ways the PCs can overcome the obstacles in their path. Pitching the difficulty at just the right level is an important part of this; a good adventure will be challenging enough to make the PCs work to survive, but not so dangerous that they’ll be flayed within an inch of their lives two steps in.
- Create and play monsters. Arguably the most straightforward of all GM tasks. Coming up with foes for the group is as simple as picking one of the sample monsters in Appendix II or creating a new one using the guidelines in that same Appendix. Running them is essentially no different than playing an NPC, and is ultimately a matter of using the opponent’s intelligence and background as a yardstick for their actions. GMs should also be familiar with a monster’s strength and abilities, and know how they will affect the party before throwing them into battle.
- Reward the group. Much of adventuring is about the rewards the players receive along the way—money, equipment, experience, and intangibles. How much the characters receive for their trouble is up to the GM. The important trick here is to strike a balance between over-compensating and short-changing the players; guidelines for handling rewards are presented later in this chapter.
- Tell a story. The players are heroes of their own story, but its ebb and flow is the province of the GM. Developing a coherent narrative with enough twists to keep the players interested is key to a successful long-term game.
Most of these responsibilities will be looked at in greater detail as this chapter goes on.
The Seven Habits
Every group has its own way of doing things, but there are a few ways to make a session better regardless of who’s playing or running. The seven most prominent of these are given below.
Know the Rules
Before you begin a game, ensure you’ve got at least a firm grasp on the ruleset. As GM, your responsibilities will not only include adjudicating the rules, but also explaining them to your players. The better you know the raw material you’re working with, the more smoothly the game will run when it’s finally time to put it into action.
Know Your Players
Being able to run a rewarding and interesting roleplaying game is contingent on knowing what your players consider ‘rewarding’ and ‘interesting’. Each player has his or her own motivators, and roleplays for different reasons; to create a satisfying experience, it is essential to find out what they are and plan your games accordingly.
Some players may want a straightforward hack-and-slash game; others like to flex their drama muscles and are drawn to deep, complex plots. In general, your groups will have representatives of one or more of these seven player types*: Gamists are at the table to ‘play the game’. They are rarely concerned about factors like character development, and tend to care more about being able to spend time with other people at the table. This lack of engagement can be frustrating if you are trying to build a narrative, but Gamists are easier to keep pleased. Give their characters enough ‘cool stuff’ to do and ensure the game moves at a fair clip, and you’re unlikely to have too many problems with them.
- Achievers play games to advance their characters, acquire more powerful items, and see their alter egos grow in power and renown. The easiest way to motivate an Achiever is to keep XP and treasure flowing at a steady rate, though it’s important to be careful when rationing out rewards; too much generosity can destroy campaign balance and adversely affect the rest of the party. A good substitute is giving the character a little bit of fame—or infamy—in the game world; sometimes, these intangible rewards carry more weight than yet another sword or high-powered item.
- Killers take their satisfaction from defeating powerful foes and the visceral thrills of combat. Like Achievers, Killers are relatively easy to motivate—have enough challenging opponents on tap to ensure they have to use their full range of Abilities and make battles a regular fixture in your sessions. Regular, however, shouldn’t translate to ‘unrelenting’ unless the rest of your group enjoys combat as well. Storytellers in particular may resent having to reach for a sword every other hour of play.
- Explorers want to see the world, explore places and meet people. If you are running with an established setting, players of this type are likely to derive particular enjoyment from seeing familiar faces; strategic encounters with major and minor e-game characters or good use of Final Fantasy tropes like airships and Chocobos. The secret lies in spacing out these elements so that they don’t come across as over-used. Once you’ve run into Cloud Strife in a bar for the fourteenth time, it just stops being special.
- Storytellers are in it for the roleplay aspects. They gain the most satisfaction from being able to play their characters’ quirks and foibles and interact with others, and will quiz your NPCs at greater depth and length than the average player. This means having at least a stock background for all notable characters and the ability to improvise if the players go off script. At the same time, be on the lookout for ‘scene diggers’—Storytellers who insist on acting out every little NPC conversation and encounter in full, drawn-out detail. Cut off grandstanding like this at the roots—buying a sword shouldn’t involve a five-minute conversation about the current weather and how the shopkeeper’s grandmother is doing, especially if the rest of the party is more interested in action than acting.
- Party Animals get most of their kicks out of the group dynamic, and enjoy planning and strategizing with others to reach a common goal. When problems loom, the Party Animal is inevitably the first to act, assuming control of the situation and marshaling the rest of the group into developing an elaborate master plan Throw in a whole-team activity every now and then or encourage situations where strategizing has a notable impact, but keep an eye on just how play time these grand schemes eat up. As much fun as planning is, ultimately the show must go on.
- Archetypes enjoy playing one particular character type—young children, Paladins, Mithra—and play it to the hilt, even in situations where that character would normally take a back seat. With Archetypes whose specialized skills see little use in ‘regular play’—Thieves designed for breaking and entering, Mediators geared toward information-gathering and persuasion—you can engineer situations where the character can take center stage without affecting the rest of the group. This may involve splitting them off and sending them on a solo excursion—effective in moderation, but best not done too often unless you enjoy being accused of favoritism.
Of course, not everybody falls into a single neat category. Most players lean towards two or more archetypes, giving you combinations like Gamist-Achievers, Achiever-Killers, Storyteller-Party Animals, or Explorer-Gamists. Keep running notes on your players and what or doesn’t capture their attention over the course of a session—you’ll eventually be in a better position to judge their tastes and preferences and adjust your own adventures accordingly.
Watch the Clock
In most cases, you’ll only have a limited amount of time in which to run your session, so it’s important to maximize what time you have. Factors to bear in mind include*: Off-Topic Chatter*: Roleplaying is about socializing more than anything. As a result, you have to be prepared for a certain level of chit-chat during the course of a session as players catch up with each other on last week’s TV, the latest downloads, and current events in general. While it may be tempting to ride roughshod over the chatter, letting the players get it out of their system before the session starts means they’re more focused on the game itself once things kick off.
You can take advantage of this by budgeting a little ‘social time’ at the beginning and then setting a cut-off point. Depending on the circumstances, you may also want to allot a little period for cooling down at the end of the session and a break near the middle. Of course, having that kind of compromise on the table means the players must respect it, too. If two of your group members suddenly start going off on a tangent about last night’s LAN party in the middle of a major fight, politely butt in with a _"Could you guys wait until the break?""
Dead Air: Of course, ensuring the players don’t get sidetracked means ensuring that there’s no reason for their attention to start wandering. In tabletop groups, the main cause of this is ‘dead air’, a stretch of time in which the player or group has nothing to do. Dead air arises for a number of reasons, but lack of preparation is usually a major contributor; the one thing guaranteed to kill momentum is the GM flipping pages in search of an obscure table or struggling to think up a NPC response while the players sit around tapping their pencils.
In an ideal situation, the truly crucial information needed to run the game will be at your fingertips at any given time. The time it takes to print out cheat sheets of vital formulas or record your monster stats on note cards beforehand will pay off tenfold once you’re actually sitting at the table. By the same token, encourage your players to keep all relevant information pertaining to their characters—equipment, Abilities, Spells, stats, and personal details—close to hand for easy reference for when they need to start looking things up. Make copies of your characters’ sheets if you get the chance; in many situations, having the information to hand yourself can be quicker than asking a player to relay it.
Selective Editing: Keeping a game flowing also means stepping in when the pace starts flagging and getting things moving. Don’t waste too much time on scenes that don’t advance the plot—roleplaying an Inquiry check that takes a character all over town in search of an NPC may yield some interesting moments, but can easily eat up an hour of play with no real gain.
‘Selective editing’ means deciding what and what not to show; mundane activities like shopping can easily be resolved in the space of a few die rolls, while conversations with important NPCs are best restricted to the information that directly affect the players’ choices. On the other hand, if the PCs happen to get involved in a funny or striking conversation, let it play out; as long as the players are having fun and stay invested in action, there’s no real rush.
Player Dithering: While dead air tends to be the GM’s fault, the players themselves can bring the action to a screeching halt just as easily when they’re debating their next course of action. While you do want the party to strategize, an hour-long argument on equipment purchases or allocation of healing items doesn’t make for a better session. Put a little time limit on player discussion and be ready to ‘force their hand’ if they dither for too long; forty-five minutes of arguing what to do about that Quadav scout the party’s Archer spotted over the next ridge can be easily—if messily—resolved by having a full attack force charge the laggards.
Rule Debates: Nothing brings sessions to a screeching halt faster than those dreaded moments when one of your players looks up and says “I don’t think that’s how that rule works.” If you’ve taken the time to get to grips with the contents of the Core Rulebook, you’ve already got a leg up in this regard; find the relevant section, re-read the disputed rule, and make a judgment. If it’s not immediately clear how the rule in question should be interpreted, suggest a compromise that tries to accommodate both sides. If there’s a genuine deadlock, offer to settle the matter by having both sides roll a die or flip a coin. The ultimate goal of any rules-related debate is to get it resolved and the game going as quickly as possible; if the discussion drags on past the five-minute mark, you’re already in danger of compromising the rest of the session.
Unfortunately, you may find that some players will go out of their way to keep a debate going, especially when a certain interpretation of the rules works heavily in their favor. Provided the issue isn’t too critical, offer to continue the discussion in one of your scheduled breaks or after the game, then retroactively apply whatever consensus you establish to the game once play resumes.
Ending with a Bang: It’s always smarter to end your sessions on a high note than let the action peter out—it keeps players interested, and leaves everybody itching for the next installment. The easiest way to do this is to cap the proceedings with a high-energy fight or a compelling cliffhanger, then end the session while the players are still enthusiastic. The main problem in pulling this off lies in timing. Due to the complexity of the FFRPG combat, it’s all too easy for events to turn against you, transforming what was supposed to be a quick 30-minute skirmish into a 2-hour behemoth that leaves everybody drained by the end.
Cliffhangers are far easier to deploy, since almost any moment of play can turn dramatic with very little effort. Players exploring the Imperial Palace? Let them barge into the Emperor’s throne room to find his cooling body on the throne. Party flying to a meeting with resistance leaders to trade a vital artifact? Warships suddenly appear on the horizon, intent on blowing them out of the skies. Group doing a meet-and-greet with a local contact? Have a flunky come rushing in, crying that soldiers are on the way and armed to the teeth. While it’s best to have an ending worked in advance, you can just keep an eye on how the game is running and calculate the most dramatic possible way to cap off whichever Scene happens to be in progress at the time once the energy starts sagging. In a worst-case scenario, wait until the game’s narrative flow offers a convenient stopping-place. It’s often better to end a little early than a little late.
Be Firm, But Fair
As GM, you interpret the rules to serve the needs of your game and ensure the game runs under a consistent framework. From character creation to task resolution, your decisions and opinions give you a significant degree of authority at the gaming table. How much authority, though? Be too lenient, and players end up walking all over your carefully-prepared adventures, batting through powerful monsters with barely a shrug. Indulge in your fantasies of godhood and make players’ lives miserable, and you could find yourself with an empty table next week.
Being an effective GM means balancing the two extremes, and keeping an open mind while doing it. While your decision is always final, you can still make a bad call or misread a rule on occasion. Don’t be afraid to own up to to your mistakes, and do try to compensate players if they’re seriously affected by them. At the same time, be ready to put your foot down if your players edge your campaign off the rails. If the homebrew Job you approved at the outset is turning into an unending nightmare, take steps to tone it down. If one player’s ‘wacky’ antics are throwing a disrupting play, make your disapproval known. When it comes to running the game, a little sternness can go a surprisingly long way toward making a better experience for all involved.
A GM is a storyteller first and foremost. Even if your group treats your plots as a disposable excuse to slaughter as many monsters as possible, your descriptions should be detailed enough that your players aren’t forced to ask basic questions like “How large is the room?” or “What does he look like?”
Combat in particular is one area where deploying descriptive detail can make all the difference; even with the most enthusiastic group of players, seven or eight Rounds’ worth of “You hit him with your sword. He takes 8 damage. He hits you back. You take 2 damage.” can really be a drain on the table’s energy level. Take the time to embellish special attacks, critical hits, spells and the like; describe the monsters staggering, roaring, bleeding, and shouting curses like their lives depend on it.
The players, too, should be encouraged to get creative with their actions and play off each other. “Mint attacks!” is short and to the point, but sometimes it’s more fun to see actions like “Mint twines the whip around the Soldier, sending him spinning like a top before delivering a sharp snap as a follow-up blow.” By setting a positive example, the GM can greatly increase the amount of creative investment and description the players are willing to put forth.
Final Fantasy is a game of grand vistas and intriguing characters, world-threatening plots and larger-than-life villains. Keep a steady supply of interesting geographical features, exotic monsters and recognizable characters on hand and design your adventures to showcase them to maximum effect. Most importantly, always keep an eye on what you’re doing and get into the habit of asking yourself, “How could I make this more interesting?” Staging a prison break after one of your players has been kidnapped by the Empire? Make the prison a crystalline tower or place it on gigantic tank treads capable of crushing the heroes underfoot. PCs facing an Imperial general in said prison break? Surprise them with a disgraced nobleman whose right arm has been replaced by a sword, or a burly albino with a penchant for chainguns. Let your creativity shine, and don’t be afraid to surprise players once in a while. At the end of the day, those efforts are what will keep the group buzzing about your sessions months after the fact.
This is, when all is said and done, the most important thing a GM can do. Roleplaying is a hobby, not a job or competitive sport; the aim of each session is for all participants to have as much fun as possible. Keep an eye on the energy level at the table and don’t be afraid to solicit feedback from players after a session wraps up; the things they tell you will ultimately help you build a better game. And if certain rules bother you or are proving to be a drag in actual play, change them. Anything presented in this book can be modified or ignored as necessary, including this chapter. At the end of the day, it’s important that you derive as much enjoyment from running your games as your players derive from playing them.
House rules are tweaks and changes made to the basic FFRPG ruleset for adventures and campaigns. Not every GM uses house rules, but there are times when you’ll want to make adjustments or additions to suit your own needs. In most cases, these will probably be dictated by the needs of your setting. If you’re creating a unique campaign world, the races given in the Core Rulebook probably won’t cover all of your needs, or you may want to augment the equipment tables. If you want to increase player survivability, you may rule that instead of rolling for HP, characters automatically get the highest possible number of Hit Points for their Job. If you want to increase the difficulty of combat, characters can be afflicted with various Weaken-type Status Conditions upon being reduced to 10% of their maximum HP. The possibilities are endless.
Players may also to come to you with homebrew material to approve, or ideas for Jobs and races they want to play. The latter are easiest to deal with—included in this chapter are a number of rules and systems to help you get started on expanding the core material. For anything beyond the scope of this book, it helps to keep two questions in mind*: Is it already covered in the rules?* In many cases, it may be easier to adapt or adjust something that’s already in place than writing something new. For instance, an Impersonation Skill might seem like a good idea at first, but with a bit of tweaking, the same ground could easily be covered by Acting or Disguise. Similarly, that Assassin Job one of your players is clamoring for might be just as well doable by throwing together existing Abilities from the Sneak and Ninjutsu sets.
Is it balanced? Unless everything else is being boosted up to match, any new addition should be on par with the Spells, Abilities, Advantages, and Jobs in this rulebook. they provide a useful yardstick for what is and isn’t ‘balanced’. When compared to other Warrior Jobs, for instance, an Ability that delivers (52 × SPD) + 15d12 damage to a single target for no Initiative Penalty is clearly overpowered, even at Level 64.
Other additions may be harder to make a snap judgment on. You may find yourself approving something that only reveals the true extent of its power after many weeks of play. If there is no way to compensate for this by normal means—tougher monsters, heavier penalties, out-of-character restrictions on usage—the best way to resolve it is to simply sit down and have a talk with the player about adjusting it retroactively.
Gaming vs. Metagaming
Players always know more than their characters should, especially when you are running in a setting the players are already familiar with. Somebody who has beaten Final Fantasy VII four times knows all the ins and outs of the setting, including background, characters, history, politics, and secrets—fine and well until you start a Final Fantasy VII campaign and they declare that the party is chartering an airship to the island where the legendary Knights of the Round materia is stashed.
As tempted as the players may be to exploit outside knowledge to help their characters, it is essential to keep a tight leash on ‘metagaming’. Unless the character actually has an excuse for knowing a particular piece of information—Traits, _Lore_s, background—the response to examples like the above should always be, “Your character has no way of knowing that. Sorry.”
GMs also have to shoulder the burden of providing the materials needed to run a session—the bare essentials are at least one copy of the Core Rulebook, enough dice for all players, pencils and erasers, and character sheets. While many players bring their own supplies, it is convenient to have spares along in case somebody happens to forget something. Other things worth having at the gaming table might include*: GM aids: For those with printer ink to spare, the FFRPG has a number of quick reference sheets and tables that condense the most vital information in the rulebook. Depending on the circumstances, you may also want to supplement these with notes of your own.
- A binder: Binders can be convenient for organizing loose leaf papers in an orderly fashion, and are an excellent way to store printouts, sheets, and campaign notes.
- Scrap paper: Get in the habit of having at least one or two sheets of paper for every person present. For players, it allows them to make notes about HP loss and gain, Status Conditions and the like without having to constantly erase and re-write their character sheets. For a GM, it’s a good way to keep track of the dozens of small details needed to run the game. In battles in particular, writing out Combat Statistics beforehand means less time spent sorting through sheets and more time focused on the action.
- Refreshments: As a gaming session can run for several hours, the GM—or whoever else happens to be hosting—may want to provide drinks and finger food for the participants. Chips, pretzels and anything else easily poured into a convenient bowl in the middle of the gaming table is ideal for this purpose.
- Music: Music is one of those like-it-or-leave-it aspects of roleplaying; some GMs swear by it, others find it too much of a hassle to deal with. Picking the right soundtrack presents something of a challenge; ideally, you’ll want music that’s unobtrusive enough for players to talk over it, but atmospheric enough to add something to play.
Raw material for a soundtrack can come from a few places. The most obvious is to go straight to the source. Final Fantasy soundtracks are routinely released on CD in Japan; depending on its popularity, a game may also spawn orchestral or remix albums, giving the original music a significantly more lavish treatment. Several of the more prominent OSTs have seen limited release in the United States; a greater selection is available through import channels, though importing Japanese CDs can often be an expensive proposition for the casual gamer.
For the most cost-conscious GM, movie soundtracks are far easier to obtain, though it is important not to pick anything too recognizable to your players—a blast of Indiana Jones or Star Wars is more likely to inspire cheap jokes than improve immersion at the table.
Finally, ever since Final Fantasy VIII roped in chanteuse Faye Wong to perform ‘Eyes on Me’, it’s also become fashionable for Japanese RPGs to include at least one saccharine, cloudbusting orchestral ballad. If your tastes in music happen to run into J-pop or soundtrack-friendly female artists, you may want to round off your campaign soundtrack by selecting one or two vocal tracks to act as your ‘official theme song’.
Once you’ve settled on a final track selection and sorted them into appropriate categories—battle tracks, suspense music, town themes—the next thing to consider is how to bring them to your players. Depending on your available resources, you have three options: take CDs and switch manually between them as needed, set them up in a CD changer, or simply burn your own CD-ROMs with a tracklist you can run more or less continuously as the game goes on. Of course, CDs aren’t the only viable medium—converting the music to MP3 format increases the ease with which you can access your soundtrack, but usually requires you to bring additional equipment to the gaming table.
Playstation Sound Format (PSF) and Sound Processing Chip (SPC) files offer another interesting alternative for increasing your sessions’ multimedia quotient. In essence, they use the raw instrumental data used by gaming consoles—in this case, the Playstation and the Super Nintendo, respectively—to replicate in-game music. Unlike MP3s and CDs, these will only run through programs capable of emulating the sound core of the console in question; to compensate, they offer three key advantages over more traditional music media.
Firstly, the length of a file can be set by the user, allowing you to loop a piece of music for ten or fifteen minutes. This is both more convenient and immersive than constantly skipping from track to track. Secondly, PSF and SPCs are small in size, and can be found for a wide variety of games; thanks to a vibrant ripping scene, it is now possible to obtain soundtracks for titles that never spawned an OST album. Thirdly, many PSF and SPC compilations also include ambient sounds—cricket noises, the gushing of a waterfall, or the sound of a crowd can provide a surprisingly effective backdrop for characters’ conversations in-game. Links to major PSF and SPC archives can be found on the RGi website.
Illustrations: As the old cliche goes, a picture can be worth a thousand words. E-game veterans may be intimately familiar with the environments, creatures, and characters of a given setting, but for a newcomer, having a little visual reference material at hand never hurts. While a number of Final Fantasy artbooks have seen release in Japan, Western gamers will have better luck turning to the Internet for their needs.
Props: For those who like to add a more hands-on element to their games, there are plenty of possibilities. Those with deep pockets and good connections in the Land of the Rising Sun can find just about anything, from jewelry and replica weapons to the official Galbadia Bears jersey. The most useful play aids are probably the various Final Fantasy figures and figurines released over the years, though there is a significant difference in scale between the various ranges. When coupled with the difficulty and expense involved in getting hold of merchandise for older games, this rather limits their usefulness.
Building an Adventure
The adventure is the basic building block of the FFRPG—a starting point for GMs and players in getting to grips with the system, and a gateway to running a successful long-term campaign. For this reason, knowing how to structure adventures is an essential skill for any GM. The following section covers how best to tackle adventure design and develop the challenges the players face during the course of their quests.
All adventures have one or more objectives for the party to fulfill, though these may not be known at the outset. The first step in adventure design is deciding what these objectives are and how the party can fulfill them, considerations that will shape how the rest of the adventure plays out. The most common types are*: Fetch Quest: Overcome the obstacles to find a specific item or piece of information and bring it back for a reward. The Fetch Quest is the most commonly-encountered adventure in Final Fantasy games, and generally is used to ‘gate’ progress—items or rewards gained in one adventure are required to get to the next, meaning the story will not progress until the quest has been completed.
- Mark Hunt: Find and defeat a monster or opponent in battle to claim a reward. Missions like these tend to work best as ‘filler’ between more involved sessions.
- Sabotage: Put something out of commission—a weapon, a building, an artifact, a vehicle, a plan. Missions of this type usually involve a significant amount of subterfuge and stealth—as good a time as any to break out those Disguise rolls and make sure your players put a few points into Demolitions.
“If there’s a door, we go in. If there’s anything we can break, we break it! And in the end, we blow this place to smithereens!” —Selphie Tilmitt, FINAL FANTASY VIII
- Escort: Get somebody from Point A to Point B in one piece, fending off would-be assassins or kidnappers along the way. Danger can come from many angles during missions like these—the players will have to think on their feet and learn to trust no-one.
- Rescue: Somebody important to the party has been captured, and now it’s time to bust them out. Like sabotage attempts, rescue bids inevitably involve bombs or disguises, sometimes even at the exact same time.
- Kidnapping: The exact reverse of the rescue mission sees the party tasked with abducting someone, avoiding any and all security along the way.
- Escape: Break through enemy lines, find a way out of a monster-infested forest, or chart a route back to the land of the living—escapes may sound simple on paper, but tend to be anything but in practice.
- Breaking and Entering: The reverse of the escape mission requires the party to find a way into an otherwise impregnable location. This frequently will be combined with another objective.
Once the objective has been set, the next thing to think about is what the players have to do to accomplish it. Obstacles can take the form of combat, physical challenges, interactions with NPCs, traps, hazards, and puzzles, each of which is discussed in more detail in the following sections.
Treat every major complication placed in the party’s path as its own Scene, regardless of type—the easiest way to populate an adventure is to develop several of these Scenes, then string them together to form a narrative. On average, the crux of a good adventure will revolve around three memorable set-pieces, but due to the unpredictable nature of tabletop play, players may bypass events you originally intended to pave the way to the objective. For this reason, it tends to be better to map out your Scenes as a loose web rather than a linear path. That way, if the players miss one connection, you can move them to the next logical event instead.
In the examples given over the course of the rulebook, Rodger led the party through a number of Scenes designed to test their skills—a collapsing cave, a prison break, and a high-stakes air battle. However, these were only a few of the potential turns the adventure could have taken. Rodger had also sketched out a raid on the resistance’s headquarters, an eavesdropping attempt on covert meeting between the Dark Lord’s agents, and a chase scene involving stolen Chocobos racing through the streets of a major metropolis.
The advantage of developing complications in chunks is that anything your players don’t get to can be quietly shuffled into the next adventure. Don’t be afraid of recycling unused content—if the idea was worth using once, it’s definitely worth using again.
As prevalent as combat is in the Final Fantasy series, it’s a seriously time-consuming proposition on the tabletop. Running battles with the same frequency players of the e-games are used to leaves room for little else, meaning you’ll inevitably have to choose quality over quantity when planning your encounters.
How many battles should your adventure have? The determining factor is how your group feels about giving their sword-arms a workout—some relish the challenges and feel happier sticking a sword in a monster than engaging in long-winded conversations, whilst others prefer to leave their swords sheathed and talk things out. Combat-heavy games can get away with about two encounters per session, while more sedate adventures with one encounter every other session.
Even then, you have to plan to sustain your players’ interest. The first factor in this is duration—the longer combat drags on, the higher the risk that people will start getting bored with the proceedings. This is doubly true in situations where the heroes are reduced to simply trotting out the same Attacks and Abilities Round after Round. With this in mind, the ‘average’ battle should last between three and four Rounds, a number you can enforce by keeping an eye on how much damage the heroes are capable of inflicting and tailoring monster strength and composition to fit. Too, not every opponent fights to the death. If the odds are against them and the battle drags on, the monsters could just as easily attempt to flee as carry on.
The second factor is tactics. Avoid staging all-out slugfests—players should be forced to think before they act, rather than just blindly slashing away with their most powerful attacks Round after Round. A few ways to shake things up include*: Mix and Match: Grouping together monsters with drastically different attack forms, weaknesses, and strategies is an easy way to keep the party on its toes—couple physically powerful monsters with spellcasting ones, direct damage dealers with Status-causers, Ice Worms with Fire Flans.
- What’s My Weakness?: Intelligent use of Elemental Weaknesses and Immunities can turn otherwise straightforward combat into a potentially dangerous guessing game for the party—especially if the party relies on Elemental attacks for most of its damage output. Avoid making a monster’s Elemental properties too obvious, however—Water Giants, Fire Lizards, and other creatures may have their counterparts in the games, but don’t require a lot of gray matter to vanquish. Keep your players guessing and teach them the importance of Scan and Sensor in the process.
- Counter Tactics: Reactions are a powerful tool for GMs, especially when triggered by a party’s more common attacks. Smart use of Reactions not only punishes players who take the obvious approach, but forces the party to figure out what triggers a counterattack—and what they can use to avoid or circumvent it.
- The Guardians: The players aren’t the only ones capable of protecting weaker allies. When battling a mixture of monsters—or a Boss monster with Slave Parts—make your players cut through a number of ‘protectors’ to get to the opponents they want to target.
- The Right Tools for the Right Job: As the game progresses, your players will amass a significant number of ways to hurt specific opponents. Every once in a while, plan an encounter that will let them do exactly that—a few Zombies to sharpen those Undead Killer Weapons on, or an Ice Dragon for that new Firaga. Giving players the chance to make effective use of specialized equipment can help wallpaper over less inspired battles.
- Buff vs. Debuff: Used at the right moment, Barrier and Enhance-type Status Conditions can have a significant impact on the flow of battle. For this reason, their management can make for a few interesting situations in combat. Beginning a fight by having the opponent cast positive Status Conditions forces the party to spend Actions and resources to counter their effects; conversely, a situation where the party’s _Protect_s, _Haste_s, and _Regen_s are constantly being nullified by monster intervention encourages strategic thinking rather than blind reliance.
- Unusual Situations: In Chapter 7, you’ll find a number of ways to spice up any encounters, including terrain effects, weather conditions, and timed battles. Don’t be afraid to drop a few of these additional complications into your combats every now and then, especially if there is nothing else distinctive about them.
Even the best-planned battles can fall down in actual play, however. Combat may be the most straightforward task awaiting a GM, but that does not make it simple by a long shot. Running a battle means making many decisions, and keeping track of a significant amount of information on both sides of the table. For this reason, Appendix V has several worksheets designed to make the combat process run that much more smoothly. The most notable*: Vitals Sheet*: This worksheet collects the most important information needed during combat in one place. ACC, M. ACC, EVA, and M. EVA can be quickly referenced to determine the success and failure of specific attacks, while having HP, MP, ARM, and M. ARM at the ready allows for faster damage calculations. By the same token, the spaces given for recording SPD decrease the amount of time taken to resolve Initiative and Initiative conflicts. Finally, space is provided for listing character Abilities as well as effects provided by Support Abilities or equipment.
How this sheet is used is a manner of personal preference. One GM might decide to list Ability names and costs only, letting the players tell him what effects the Abilities have. Another GM might choose to write down all of the salient details. A third GM, meanwhile, might just use the Abilities space to list Support Abilities that would affect monsters’ attacks, and rely entirely on the players to report the costs of their actions.
Round Tracker: This worksheet allows the GM to keep track of Initiative order in the Round, as well as any Statuses inflicted upon characters and monsters, Item use and other useful details. Changes in Initiative as a result of CT and other factors can also be noted on this sheet.
These two sheets can be supplemented or replaced by personal notes as needed. As far as combat is concerned, the more information a GM has at their fingertips, the better.
Anything that requires the players to use Skills and Attributes through Task Checks against inanimate objects can be defined as a ‘physical challenge’. Examples include successfully scaling a fortress wall, running across a crumbling bridge before it collapses, or holding onto Ultima Weapon for dear life as it roars through the skies.
As Task Checks are relatively fast and easy to resolve, physical challenges can be introduced without too many problems—a description and a Conditional Modifier, and things are good to go. Because of this, moderation is important—too many rolls for too many trivial tasks, and the players will start feeling put upon. Consolidate Task Checks where possible, and save the rolls for when the results are dramatically interesting or important. It is also essential to make challenges appropriate to the party’s composition and strengths. It should be obvious from the get-go that challenging an all-Mage group to clear a landslide of adamantium ore by hand is only going to result in miserable failure.
Due to the speed with which they are resolved and the large number of potential ‘safety nets’ players have at their disposal in the event of failure, physical challenges should not yield XP or Gil. Rather, they are best treated as obstacles to be overcome on the way to a greater reward.
A smart group of adventurers doesn’t get in a fight with every living thing they meet. Unfortunately, there are times when others block the way forward—uncooperative guards, recalcitrant informants, enemy spies, and prowling monsters will test the characters’ bartering, sneaking, and roleplaying skills to the limit. Unlike physical challenges, social challenges should hinge on what a character says as much as low they can roll. If a PC attempts to use a persuasive Skill like Seduction or Negotiation, make the player act out the attempt rather than simply have them roll for it—the end results are far more dramatically interesting, and force the player to think about their character’s approach. Good performances should net the player a bonus or waive the roll entirely, assuming this is in character; no amount of smooth talking on the player’s part can compensate for a 20 in Negotiation.
Because many social challenges take the form of Opposed Task Checks, the PCs’ opponents must have Skill Ratings of their own. If there is no time to draw up detailed Ratings, decide how proficient the opponent is in the Skill being rolled for, then use the table below to determine what Skill Rating they will be rolling at.
Against monsters, the monster’s Intelligence is the most important factor. Creatures with an Intelligence rating of ‘None’ cannot be bargained or argued with unless the party happens to be dealing with the creature’s controller. Otherwise, any rolls for Negotiation, Etiquette, Seduction, or the like will fail automatically. Creatures of Animal Intelligence cannot be bargained with through normal Skills, but can be manipulated with Animal Training. In this case, the opposing Skill Rating is equal to the monster’s Level. For all other Intelligence grades, use the table below to find the most appropriate Skill Rating.
As with physical challenges, overcoming a social challenge rarely yields Gil or XP. The rewards for success here tend to be more intangible, usually taking the form of information or assistance from NPCs. The effects of failure depend on the stakes; attempting—and failing—to intimidate a powerful political figure, for instance, could well land the entire party in jail indefinitely.
In some cases, characters may decide to part with a few Gil or an item to sway an NPC’s opinion in their favor. If so, make a judgment as to whether the bribe is adequate, generous, or insulting. An adequate bribe offers a +10 bonus to the next relevant Skill roll made against its target; a generous one a +20 bonus. Insulting bribes impose a -10 penalty on top of any Conditional Modifiers already in place. Particularly moral or upstanding characters will be offended at the very idea of bribery, regardless of the amount offered.
If you are expecting your players to act out their bargaining, questioning, and threatening, you will naturally be expected to provide responses in kind. The main objective in doing so is to coax better performances out of the players—this means creating characters both interesting and memorable for the party to interact with.
But how do you make an NPC memorable? Unless you’re shooting for a character you know will be appearing on a regular basis, don’t try for subtlety; the most successful approach is to go over the top and play the character as broadly as possible. Focus on a few memorable vocal tics and speaking habits—one character might have a tendency to clear her throat at dramatically important moments, another the unfortunate habit of forgetting the topic of conversation after about three sentences. Outrageous laughter—particularly when using outlandish syllables like “kyu kyu kyu” and _"mu mu mu" _—is another useful shorthand for identifying characters, especially evil ones. By assigning every major villain a distinctive ‘sinister laugh’, you can make antagonists almost instantly recognizable
The same principle applies when giving descriptions of NPCs. Rather than try and shoot for a lot of detail your players won’t remember an hour later, boil the NPC’s ‘image’ down to a few key attributes—a strange hair color, a certain dress sense, a prominent piece of jewelry or tattoo, scars, or physical deformities. As with vocal mannerisms, going a little over the top is almost recommended, if not essential. The more outrageous the character’s appearance, the more likely it is that he or she will stick in the players’ minds.
Traps & Hazards
Traps, terrain hazards, and other dangers of the wilderness can give a party plenty of headaches without ever straining their sword arms. For this reason, the next few pages are devoted to a simple but flexible ‘construction system’ capable of generating all three with a minimum of fuss. If overcome, traps and hazards reward the party with Experience Points; for this reason it is essential to keep track of the XP modifiers given for various options during the creation process.
There are a few things to keep in mind when adding traps and hazards to an adventure. First off, challenges like these should be used sparingly during the course of an adventure. With most of a Job’s Ability Set geared towards combat, favoring traps over combat encounters removes most of the opportunity to use many Job-defining features. Traps should also be balanced as carefully as any other encounter in terms of damage output—while the party should suffer if they fail to deal with a trap, the entire group shouldn’t die from one flubbed d% roll. Finally, characters should generally have some chance to react to or deal with a trap before its effects take place—having fiery death rain on the party from out of nowhere isn’t challenging, just outright sadistic.
Trap Concept & Level
While monsters roam freely, traps are restricted to a specific location. For this reason, concept is particularly important in the creation process. Begin by considering the type and location of trap—is it a lock designed to shoot poisoned darts? A spiked roller that sweeps along a narrow corridor to crush everything in its path? A hidden spout in a rock face capable of spewing deadly fire? Determining the overall size and general danger level not only helps narrow down where the trap can be placed, but also provides a useful framework for its in-game capabilities.
Next, decide on a the trap’s Level. As with PCs and monsters, Level is an overall measure of power and lethality ranging from 1 to 99; the higher the Level, the most of a challenge the trap will be to overcome. Ideally, the trap’s Level should be reasonably close to the party’s average, though higher- and lower-Level traps can be used as serious challenges and minor nuisances.
All traps have one thing in common—they are designed to harm or inconvenience those who trigger it. Once concept and Level have been settled, the next step is to determine what the trap actually does. Every trap must have at least one of the effects listed below; some types may combine multiple effects, though these are rarer.
Effect: A trap of this type sounds an alarm that alerts enemies or releases creatures for the PCs to fight, essentially resulting in an encounter which the PCs might have rather avoided. Sometimes the PCs will be able to hear the alarm themselves, realize what they’ve done, and have time to prepare for the inevitable. In other situations, the PCs remain unaware until they’re ambushed—sometimes, of course, the fight will start immediately after the trap is sprung, rendering the issue moot.
Note that an Alarm effect is not the same thing as a trap guarded by monsters. If disarming the trap before it is triggered avoids a fight, the trap has an Alarm effect. Otherwise, the situation is treated as two separate threats rolled up into a single encounter.
|Single monster summoned||+7|
|Two monsters summoned||+9|
|Item relatively rare or exotic||-20|
|Monster numbers equal party’s||+12|
|Monster numbers twice party’s||+16|
|Monster Level lower than trap||+10|
|Monster Level equal to trap’s||+18|
|Monster Level higher than trap||+27|
|Monsters arrive immediately||+10|
|Monsters arrive in 1 Round||+7|
|Monsters arrive in 2–4 Rounds||+3|
|Monsters arrive in 5+ Rounds||+0|
Effect: The trap deals Physical, Magical, or Elemental damage to the party when triggered. As traps lack STR or MAG scores, damage done in this fashion is determined entirely by the trap’s Level.
|(Trap Level × 4) + [x]d6||+15|
|(Trap Level × 5) + [x]d6||+18|
|(Trap Level × 6) + [x]d8||+24|
|(Trap Level × 8) + [x]d8||+28|
|(Trap Level × 9) + [x]d10||+35|
|(Trap Level × 10) + [x]d10||+39|
|(Trap Level × 11) + [x]d10||+45|
|(Trap Level × 12) + [x]d12||+50|
|(Trap Level × 15) + [x]d12||+60|
The number of damage dice rolled for a trap effect is determined by the base damage inflicted by the trap.
Of course, damage-dealing attacks do not always land automatically. Luck and reflexes can still save characters from harm even if the trap is triggered. Select a CoS from the options below and note down the relevant XP modifier before proceeding.
|(30 + Trap Level x 2), EVA||-10|
|(50 + Trap Level x 2), EVA||0|
|(70 + Trap Level x 2), EVA||+12|
|(90 + Trap Level x 2), EVA||+20|
By default, Trap damage is Physical, and modified by Armor. A trap whose damage ignores Armor should combine a damage effect with a Meltdown status effect. Traps can also do Magical damage at no additional XP cost; the only change is that the resulting damage will be reduced by M. ARM and modified by M. EVA. Elemental damage can also be added at no additional cost.
Effect: The trap inflicts a Status Condition if triggered. For purposes of calculating XP modifiers, Status Conditions are organized into one of five ‘classes’:
- Class I: Blind (4), Immobilize (4), Poison (∞), Silence (4), Sleep (4), Slow (4)
- Class II: Berserk (4), Confuse (4), Curse (4), Disable (4), [x] Down (6)
- Class III: Mini (4), Venom (∞), Toad (4), [x] Break (6), Zombie (∞)
- Class IV: Condemned (4), Frozen (4), Heat (4), Meltdown (2), Petrify (4), Stop (4)
- Class V: Eject, Death, Stone (∞)
More powerful Status Conditions may only be placed on higher-Level traps; the minimum trap Level needed to support a given class of Status Condition is shown below.
A trap that inflicts Condemned or Petrify will kill or Stone the affected characters within the listed number of Rounds unless the PCs can either escape the trap’s area of effect or find a way to counteract it—a great way to simulate those crushing stone walls, flooding chambers, and other nasty dungeon deathtraps.
As with damage-dealing traps, Status-causing traps may be avoided even if triggered. Select a CoS from the options below and note down the relevant XP modifier before proceeding.
|(30 + Trap Level x 2), EVA||0|
|(50 + Trap Level x 2), EVA||+7|
|(70 + Trap Level x 2), EVA||+18|
|(90 + Trap Level x 2), EVA||+25|
Duration determines how long a trap’s effects last. The simplest traps fire a single shot, and then are harmless until rearmed or reset. More complex ones act multiple times, or even continuously until the PCs are out of reach.
Effect: The trap’s effect only triggers once—after this, the trap is harmless. The XP value of the resulting effect depends on how many targets are affected by it.
Effect: Once triggered, the trap’s effects are applied once per Round—or roughly once every 30 seconds—until it expires. The XP value of this depends on both the number of targets affected and the number of ‘shots’ the trap can unleash before expiring.
|1||+5 per ‘shot’|
|2||+9 per ‘shot’|
|3||+17 per ‘shot’|
|Party||+27 per ‘shot’|
Effect: Once triggered, the trap’s effects are applied once per Round—or once every 30 seconds—until the players leave the trap’s area of effect. Short of deactivating the trap, this is the only way to stop it from working.
Effect: Some traps don’t take effect until the PCs spend a prolonged length of time in the area. This can sometimes be used for elaborate deathtraps (“My laser will KILL you in precisely one hour unless you escape your bonds!”) but is more at home with environmental hazards that affect the PCs after a long period of travel. If combined with Multiple Shots or Continuous Fire, the time it normally takes for the trap’s effects to take hold becomes the delay between shots.
Next, determine how easy it is for PCs to detect the trap. Some traps are obvious, others take a bit more effort, and a rare few can’t be seen at all. Select an option from the following list and note down the relevant XP modifiers before moving on to the next step.
Effect: The trap is clearly visible, and cannot be missed.
XP Modifier: -12
Effect: Some attempts have been made to conceal the trap, though a sufficiently observant person will notice it if they scan the area. Make a Task Check using Awareness when the PCs enter the vicinity of the trap to see if they notice it. The Conditional Modifier for this Task Check will be determined by how well the trap has been concealed.
Effect: The trap is well-hidden enough to be all but invisible unless actively searched for. In order to find the trap, PCs must declare they are searching for traps and make a successful Task Check using Awareness—as above, the Conditional Modifier will be determined by how well the trap has been concealed.
Effect: The trap cannot be detected by normal means. The only way the PCs will know about the trap is through magic, prior knowledge, or triggering it.
XP Modifier: +35
Once the PCs know a trap is in place, they may have a chance to avoid it or disarm it. Exactly how difficult this is to accomplish is determined in this step. Select one of the options below and note down the relevant XP modifiers given for that option before proceeding to the next step.
Effect: If the party detects the trap, it can easily be sidestepped, requiring no additional effort to disarm.
XP Modifier: 0
Effect: The trap can be destroyed if the PCs do a certain amount of damage to it based on the trap’s Level. Note that depending on the nature of the trap and its triggers, attacking it may be enough to set it off if the PCs don’t do enough damage to destroy it in one blow.
|Trap HP||XP Modifier|
|Trap Level x 20||0|
|Trap Level x 30||+3|
|Trap Level x 50||+7|
|Trap Level x 75||+10|
|Trap Level x 100||+14|
|Trap Level x 150||+20|
|Trap Level x 250||+32|
|Trap only damaged by Ranged attacks||+8|
Effect: The trap can be disarmed with a successful roll against the Traps Skill or an equivalent substitute. As stated in the Skill’s description, a Botch on the Task Check will always cause the trap to trigger.
|Conditional Modifier||XP Modifier|
|Failed Task Check triggers trap||+14|
Effect: A specific Job Ability or set of Abilities can deactivate or bypass the trap. Decide which Abilities apply when picking this option.
XP Modifier: +15
Effect: A specific Status Condition or set of Status Conditions can deactivate or bypass the trap. Decide which Conditions apply when picking this option.
XP Modifier: +12
Effect: The trap can be disarmed by several different means. Select two or three options from the following list—Destructible, Disarmable, Job Ability—and average their XP modifiers, then note the result down and proceed to the next step.
XP Modifier: Sum of options taken, divided by number of options taken.
Effect: The trap cannot be disarmed. The only way to avoid its effects is not to trigger it.
XP Modifier: +44
Completing the Trap
All that remains now is to calculate the final XP value of the trap. Add together all XP modifiers accumulated through the various options selected over the course of creation, then multiply the resulting number by the trap’s Level. The resulting number is the number of XP awarded for overcoming the trap, and is divided evenly among all party members. Unlike monsters, traps do not award treasure when destroyed or circumvented, though they may be guarding it. If this is the case, the Gil value of whatever treasure is beyond the trap should be no higher than 25% of the trap’s XP value.
The system used to construct traps can also be used to create natural hazards—sandstorms, rockslides, flooding—for the players to tackle. Though the concepts involved may restrict use of certain options, the process is identical, XP costs included. Note that detecting and disarming a trap usually involves the Awareness and Traps Skills, but natural hazards may involve Skills like Survival, Climb, and Swim in their place.
Sample Traps & Hazards
To better illustrate how trap creation works, a number of sample traps and hazards are given below.
Pit Trap (Level 2)
A thin layer of false floor over a relatively steep four-meter drop. Stepping on the floor causes it to collapse, sending anyone and -thing standing on it tumbling down the hole. The pit is large enough to catch up to two characters.
Effects: 16 + d8, ARM Physical Damage
CoS: 54, EVA
Duration: Single Shot (2 targets)
Detection: Cursory (-10)
XP Value: 102 XP
Fire Wall (Level 10)
A solid barrier of unending flame spewed from a magical mechanism buried deep in a rock face. The heat is intense enough to cause serious damage to anything attempting to pass the barrier, though only one person can attempt to pass at any one time. Water and Ice Elemental Spells and effects can be used to temporarily stem the flow of fire.
Effects: 60 + 2d8, M. ARM Fire Elemental Damage
Duration: Continuous (1 target)
Avoidance: Job Ability (Water, Ice Elemental)
XP Value: 830 XP
Sten Needle (Level 15)
A wickedly sharp man-sized spike hidden in the ground. A magical ward directly above the spot where the sten needle is buried is responsible for triggering it, sending the needle shooting out to brutally impale whoever steps on the ward.
Effects: 135 + 3d10, ARM Physical Damage
Duration: Single Shot (1 target)
Avoidance: Status (Float, Flight_), Job Ability (_Light Step)
XP Value: 1650 XP
This diseased, brackish mire leaves those who venture into its murky waters in danger of being subjected to deadly poison.
Effects: Poison (∞)
CoS: 120, EVA
Duration: Continuous (Party)
Avoidance: Status (Float, Flight_), Job Ability (_Light Step)
XP Value: 2990 XP
An area of hot molten lava capable of scorching anything that sets foot on it.
Effects: 200 + 4d6, M. ARM Fire Elemental Damage
Duration: Continuous (Party)
Avoidance: Status (Float, Flight_) , Job Ability (_Light Step)
XP Value: 5460 XP
Riddles & Puzzles
Whether it’s an unsolved enigma from the dawn of time or a game of wits down at the local pub, riddles and puzzles can offer a welcome change from brutal melee with monsters or hair-raising deathtraps. These challenges can take many forms: trick questions, numerical puzzles, anagrams or cyphers, or object-based conundrums. Just as diverse are the possible payoffs for a successful solution—treasure, information, access to hidden locations, and Experience Points are all viable rewards for quick-witted players.
There are many possible ways to test your characters’ intelligence, but the medium you use to run your games will impose hard limits on what you can and can’t throw out. Numerical codes, cyphers, or anagrams can be fun and immersive when players are clustered around a tabletop exchanging notes, but fall flat in online chat; visual puzzles work better when you’re looking at a screen than when you’ve got papers, books, dice, and other players competing for your attention. Then there are the players themselves to consider. Not everybody has the skill or patience for puzzles purely built on guesswork and reasoning—even a well-designed brain teaser can create a situation where a few members of the group throw themselves into the problem and the rest twiddle their thumbs on the sidelines.
The easiest—and most series-appropriate—compromise is the ‘password puzzle.’ Here, the players have to piece together a code or password to gain access to an area from clues scattered around the environment. However, not every clue they find relates to the final password; by using trial and error, elimination, and a bit of old-fashioned logic, they must weed out the bogus leads to solve the puzzle in earnest. An extreme example of this kind of challenge was seen in Final Fantasy VI, where the player attempted to gain access to a clock tower in the town of Zozo by setting the tower’s clock face to the correct time. Interrogating the townspeople yielded dozens of answers as to what the exact time actually was—until it became apparent that everyone in the town was lying, cutting down the number of options by a substantial amount.
The advantage of the password puzzle is that it keeps the characters active traveling from place to place in search of hints and fragments. As the players progress and gather more information, other challenges and problems can be dropped into the proceedings to spice things up—a good opportunity for the players to flex muscle and gray matter at once.
Another possible option is the ‘switch puzzle’, used to significant effect in several e-games. Pressure-sensitive switches are dotted around a dungeon, each capable of opening a door or disarming a trap—but need to have weight equivalent to a person’s on them in order to be operated. As a result, the party is forced to split up, keeping one person behind to trigger the switch while the rest of the party heads forward, looking for another way for their comrade to get in. As with the password puzzle, the switch puzzle keeps the party active, and allows for some hairy situations if a lone party member ends up stranded in a dangerous place while the rest of the group hunt around for the next switch.
A third option is to leave players with a locked door or barred passage and a roomful of objects. One or more of the objects will unlock the passage, but the players must first experiment with the room’s contents to find the way out. While this leaves the door open for more creative approaches, it is important not to make the solution too obtuse, or require the players to prod every inch of the room in search of the one true answer. Job Abilities and other effects may also be used in this process—for instance, casting Ice magic on a discarded key can create something capable of unlocking that frost-bound door to the north.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a group that collectively enjoys solving puzzles, your choices are somewhat broader. Take the time to figure out where your players’ individual strengths lie—numbercrunching, wordplay, simple logic—and create the puzzles to allow everybody a chance to contribute.
Things to Remember
There are four important things to remember when putting together a puzzle. The first is that it should be solvable by the players, not answered by a GM-run ally or oracle. In order for this to happen, every piece of knowledge needed for a solution should be at their fingertips—if they happened to miss a vital clue earlier, figure out a way to get that information to them another way. In the same vein, a GM should be prepared to offer more clues if the party appears to be genuinely struggling.
The second is that every puzzle should have a clear penalty for failure, even if you believe that the party can solve it. By working with a penalty in mind, you will be less likely to create a puzzle that can derail the adventure if the party happens to be stumped. ‘Acceptable’ penalties can range from simply missing out on a piece of treasure to actively being placed in the path of danger or triggering an encounter—more dangerous outcomes should be on par with all other hazards, traps, and monsters in the adventure.
The third is that you should consider the amount of time it takes to solve a puzzle, especially in the context of a session as a whole. Unless you are genuinely stalling for time because you are running underprepared, you probably don’t want to have the group spending two hours analyzing numbers and throwing theories around the table. Fifteen minutes to half an hour is generally the maximum playtime a brain teaser should consume unless the party has to actively engage in other activities—exploring an area, collecting items for a key—to solve it.
Finally, remember to be flexible and accept creative solutions, even if they aren’t exactly what you had in mind. The purpose of a puzzle is to encourage your players to think—if they come up with an answer that’s as good or better than the ‘right’ solution you came up with before the session kicked off, let them get away with it.
Many adventures require at least some degree of travel, while campaigns make it almost a necessity. At the same time, sessions can only run for so long and an entire day spent trudging up a dirt road isn’t going to make for compelling play unless your party are really, really into PC-to-PC conversations. How much do you show, then?
A simple rule of thumb: If the most challenging dilemma you can offer your players en route is the question of whether to go left or right at that fork in the road, keep the entire journey ‘off camera’ and start your next Scene with the heroes arriving at their destination after a “long and tiring trip”. If there are genuine challenges to be overcome—collapsed bridges, small farms in dire need of heroic assistance, mysterious cairns and caverns begging for further exploration—start a Scene with your heroes encountering the situation in question and keep on rolling until everything has been resolved, then follow up with a new Scene at the next point of interest or—if everything noteworthy about the journey has already been exhausted—the end of the road.
How long it takes to get to a destination should not be a primary concern; in general, time revolves around the heroes, not vice versa. Should you need to estimate travel time, the table below gives an idea of how many kilometers a party can cover in a day via a given means of travel. Note that these are only rough estimates, and can vary depending on a number of factors—reliability of transportation, problems encountered on the road, weather, terrain. For instance, pouring rain could easily halve the amount of ground the party normally covers in a day’s time.
|_\. Table 10-1: Travel Time|
|Walking: Hard March||40km|
|Mount: Racing or War||320km|
|Wheeled Vehicle: Primitive||300km|
|Wheeled Vehicle: Modern||800km|
Because towns encompass such a broad range of possible activities, a few bear exploring in more detail.
Shopping in All the Wrong Places
Players are expected to buy new equipment and items on a fairly frequent basis—often enough to make it essential that they have access to a town at least once per adventure. If there is no reasonable way for them to reach a town during the course of an adventure, consider bringing in a travelling merchant. In Final Fantasy games, unscrupulous traders could be found anywhere from baking deserts to monster-infested dungeons—as odd as it may sound, having a merchant pop up just before the party kicks down the doors to the boss’s lair is perfectly in keeping with the genre.
If a player chooses to exercise this option, give them a rundown of the rumors, stories, and otherwise inconsequential information (“Aurora Castle has many guards!”) they’ve picked up along the way. At your discretion, you can also have wandering players roll against their _Awareness _with an appropriate Conditional Modifier—if successful, the player’s character has found a few Gil or a Recovery Item hidden somewhere in the town. Apart from being genre-appropriate, this also allows GMs to boost players’ stocks if the adventure ahead is particularly tough or demanding.
If players want to shop for equipment at a town or merchant’s, the GM must determine exactly what the player can buy there. The easiest way of handling this is to make use of the Availability Ratings given in Chapter 6 by assigning the store a Quality Rating ranging from 100 to 20. This Quality Rating is equal to the Availability Rating of the rarest item sold by the store. A store with a Quality Rating of 40 would therefore offer every piece of equipment with an Availability Rating between 100 and 40, assuming the equipment fits into the store’s range of offering—Weapon Stores generally don’t carry Hi-Potions.
Quality Ratings range from town to town—your average village or lonely roadside souvenir stand will have a much lower Quality Rating than a major metropolis. Similarly, a location’s Quality Rating can change over time as supply shifts and new items become available. However, a store’s Quality Rating should be no lower than 92 – (Party’s Average Level × 1.25). This ensures equipment purchases stay in line with the intended rate of progression for players. Note also that the prices given in Chapter 6 are only ‘recommended’ values. Less scrupulous merchants may increase the price of an item to up to double its value, depending on rarity, demand or old-fashioned greed.
Bazaars are a good place for characters with high Trade ratings to get some use out of their Skills, and may make for some potentially amusing encounters—just don’t make the mistake of spending an hour walking the party through every last item on offer. A bazaar can also be used to make specific pieces of equipment available to the players without ‘unlocking’ a whole Tier or Availability Rating’s worth of equipment to purchase.
To keep players on their toes, a bazaar’s stock should be a mixture of money-wasting red herrings and genuinely good buys—in general, legitimate items sold at a bazaar are 10% to 25% cheaper than their list price in Chapter 6.
An item bought from an auction house can easily be the start of a great adventure or change the course of the current one—just make sure the players aren’t tossing Gil after stuff that doesn’t benefit them in the long run. If they’re on the verge of burning 25,000 Gil on a master-crafted dollhouse, have other bidders swoop in and push the price up to levels they simply can’t afford.
Like stores, inns take time to locate, though players should always have access to them. Even tiny villages will have somewhere the players can take a load off at the end of the day and regain those lost HP. If the players are going off on individual jaunts around town, inns are an excellent place to reconvene the party after everybody has had their fill. They also offer a nice venue for player interaction if the adventure could use a little more character development, so don’t hesitate to give the group some room to chat and strategize in their rooms.
Searching for Information
Having the party search for information has two major uses. Firstly, it’s a way to gently nudge players back on track if they’ve lost sight of the main storyline or started drifting off-track over the course of their current quest. If your party has been racking up more Gil than you’d originally intended, having players pay for information is also a good and subtle way to reduce their bankroll.
Pubs & Cafés
As an alternative to aimless wandering, players can head for the local pub or cafe to soak up stories and gossip. While they won’t stumble across any Potions, they can find barkeepers and notice boards with jobs and side quests that will earn them a few Gil on the side.
Rewards are arguably the most essential part of the adventuring experience—without them, parties have no chance of advancing, let alone facing down the fearsome opponents awaiting them at the higher Levels. However, figuring out how to compensate the PCs for their troubles can be a tricky, if not outright counterintuitive. For this reason, the following section covers the many forms of player reward and how to best manage them.
Experience Points are the most common reward characters will receive. Nearly every encounter and adventure will net the heroes at least some XP, advancing them in levels and granting them increased power and new abilities. A typical FFRPG adventure will provide each participant with enough experience to gain at least one level—a bit less if things go poorly, and slightly more if play goes well.
In battles, the number of XP awarded is determined by the strength of the monsters the PCs face. Add up the XP values of all monsters defeated at the end of combat, divide this total by the number of PCs active in the combat—excluding anybody who finished the battle with Unconscious or Stone or was Ejected before the fight wrapped up—and award the heroes that amount. For example, if a party of four characters defeats three Leaf Bunnies worth 90 XP apiece and two Wolves worth 330 XP apiece, the total party XP award would be 930 XP, and each character would earn 232 XP. As with all other calculations in the system, XP rewards are always rounded down.
Experience Points can also be used to judge what constitutes a ‘fair fight’ for the party. Generally, a single combat encounter should grant each PC 100 to 125 XP per character Level. If four Level 1 PCs face off against a group of Leaf Bunnies worth 90 XP apiece, for instance, a group of five Leaf Bunnies would make for a fair fight. Since the five Leaf Bunnies together are worth 450 XP, each of the PCs would earn 112 XP in the event of a victory. A battle against four Leaf Bunnies would only grant 90 XP—a bit low—while six Leaf Bunnies would net the PCs 135 XP each, which is a bit much and indicates an encounter that’s possibly too challenging. If the PCs advance to Level 3 and are attacked by Wolves each worth 330 XP, four Wolves would be a fair fight. Since the PCs are Level 3, an encounter should net each character between 300 and 375 XP.
Hazards, traps, noncombat encounters, and puzzles can also offer XP rewards. For hazards and traps, the XP value will be drawn up during the creation process, and is divided by the number of PCs in the same manner as XP gained from monsters. For noncombat encounters and puzzles, an experience award may not be appropriate—only award XP if the characters’ actions keep them out of danger. Encounters where the PCs successful evade a fight with a monster through stealth should net them an XP reward equal to 50% of what they would have earned through combat, though this shouldn’t exceed 100 XP per character Level. This means that a group of Level 10 PCs who successfully sneak past a pack of Behemoths shouldn’t receive an XP award based on the Behemoths’ combat XP total—1000 XP apiece is more than enough. In cases where the PCs are dealing with an ally or puzzle, a flat XP award of 50 to 100 XP per character Level is a good guideline.
Gil is used to buy Items, Weapons, Armor, and expendables, and pay for other expenses encountered along the way—bribes, fines, ticket costs, fees. Excluding equipment sales, a party’s main source of Gil is from one of three sources: money earned as a result of successfully defeating monsters, treasure obtained during the course of an adventure, and money given to the party by NPCs and other allies in exchange for services and other tasks. The income from these three combined should have the characters making around (Current Level x 150) gil apiece per adventure, excluding any additional income from sources like the Gillionaire Advantage.
Generally, a typical combat encounter will award about one-third as many Gil as XP. The MCS was designed with this level of reward in mind. Noncombat encounters should award Gil at the same overall rate as combat encounters. If more Gil are made available, bear in mind that this means that characters will have access to better equipment and more healing, decreasing the challenge level of future encounters. In games where Gil is scarcer, on the other hand, the dearth of money means the party will be less prepared to face battles. As a result, the difficulty level of the game rises accordingly.
The suggested XP and Gil awards given in this book are designed so that each character gains a Level after four or five encounters, or about one Level per session. This is a good rate of growth for a typical campaign—assuming one game session a week, the characters will go from Level 1 novices to Level 65+ champions in a little more than one year.
Depending on game setup and pacing, though, GMs may want character advancement to move faster or slower. The easiest way to do this is to vary the XP awards for encounters. A fast-paced game may award 150% to 200% of normal XP, while a more drawn-out campaign may hand out only 75% to 50% of the usual awards. Slowing the rate of advancement is also useful for games starting at higher Levels, preventing the players from getting too powerful too soon.
The one thing to note when adjusting awards is that Gil awards can’t be changed by the same ratio as XP. FFRPG prices are designed around the assumption that characters will spend between one-third to one-fourth of their Gil on Items, Ammunition, and other ‘expendables’. Double XP and Gil awards, and suddenly PCs have twice as much money at their disposal while facing the same number of encounters. To make sure Gil and XP are in relative sync, use the table below to balance the two.
|Table 10-2: Gil & XP Adjustments|
|XP Reward||Gil Reward||Battles per Level|
Items and Equipment can be awarded to PCs in addition to or instead of Gil. This is a good option for presenting help from sympathetic NPCs or placing treasure chests in a dungeon—receiving a new Rune Blade or finding a set of Potions is far more memorable than ending up with a plain lump of cash. Specific items such as Weapons and Accessories may also be obtained as a result of slaying tough opponents and Boss monsters.
Theft and Rewards
Some Advantages and Abilities, most notably the Thief’s Steal, allow characters to gain Items and Gil beyond those normally awarded to the party. This is compensated for by reducing the Job’s combat potential, or—in the case of Advantages like Gillionaire—equivalent Disadvantages. If you feel these extra sources of income are in danger of unbalancing the game, however, you can adjust monsters’ treasure tables to contain fewer valuable items.
Any items or equipment given out during the course of an adventure should reduce its Gil award accordingly—75% of the price given for the item in question in Chapter 6 is usually a good figure. For example, a typical adventure for a Level 3 group with four members would normally pay out 1800 G, or 450 G apiece. If the adventure also awards six Potions, however, the total payout decreases by 225 G—75% of the value of those six Potions.
One note on placing items and equipment: due to the fact that a character’s equipment is a significant factor in their overall power, it is essential not to give the party too much too soon. The following table shows when new equipment should generally become available:
|_\. Table 10-3: Equipment Availability|
|9||1 at Level 48 – 50
1 every 5 Levels afterwards
|10||1 at Level 60
1 every 5 – 10 Levels afterwards
The equipment availability suggested in the table above are best used for Weapons, Armor, and the like. When awarding “artifact items”—one-shot Tier 9 and 10 items—GMs can use one of two methods. The first is to award one piece of equipment and 4 or 5 artifact items every time a character is eligible to receive new Tier 9 or 10 equipment. The other is to award an artifact item as normal when the character is eligible to receive Tier 9 or 10 equipment, but award another item if the original item is used up during the course of a session. This continues until the character becomes eligible for new equipment or four or five artifact items have been used up.
Unlike other Mage professions, Blue Mages, Callers, and Summoners earn their magic by questing, making Blue Spells and Summons a reward in their own right. Blue Mages gain their Spells from monsters, meaning the introduction of new Blue Spells is entirely left to the GM’s discretion. For best results, Blue Mages should have the opportunity to learn one new Blue Spell every two Levels. A suggested Spell progression has been laid out below.
|Table 10-4: Blue Magic Availability|
|Maximum MP Cost|
|3, 5, 7||10|
|9, 11, 13, 15||18|
|17, 19, 21, 23||27|
|25, 27, 29, 31||40|
|33, 35, 37, 39||50|
|41, 43, 45, 47||119|
|49, 51, 53, 55||139|
|57, 59, 61, 63||No Limit|
Summoners and Callers expand their powers by earning the trust of Summons, either by performing tasks for them or defeating them in combat. Summoners are expected to eventually acquire an ‘arsenal’ of 6 Summons, though which Summons they gain and when they get them is up to the GM. A potential progression—with a choice of Summon for each ‘slot’—is shown in the table below.
|Table 10-5: Summon Availability|
|10||Valefor, Lakshmi, Remora, Ifrit, Shiva, Ramuh, Sylph, Siren, Titan, Kirin|
|22||Cait Sith, Fairy, Atomos, Fenrir, Diabolos, Bismarck, Pandemonium, Syldra|
|36||Asura, Mist Dragon, Quetzalcoatl, Salamander, Catoblepas, Jormungand, Tritoch, Phantom, Unicorn, Carbuncle, Golem|
|50||Seraphim, Ark, Doomtrain, Hades, Kjata, Alexander, Anima, Cerberus, Phoenix, Typhon, Leviathan, Lich, Madeen, Odin|
|65||Bahamut, Crusader, Magus Sisters, Yojimbo|
Alongside their White and Black Spells, Callers are expected to acquire 8 Calls over the course of their adventuring careers. As with Summons, the exact Calls gained and the Level at which they are acquired are left up to the GM to decide. A suggested Call progression has been laid out below.
|Table 10-6: Call Availability|
|Maximum MP Cost|
Because Blue Magic, Calls, and Summons are somewhat awkward to acquire, GMs may wish to look into other ways for PCs to learn them. The easiest way to do so is to replace the traditional learning methods with one-shot items awarded as treasure or drops from monsters. If used, these items automatically teach a character a single Blue Spell, Summon, or Call before crumbling to dust. An Aquamarine, for instance, could be used to learn the Leviathan Call; a Bomb Shell the Blue Spell Self Destruct.
Occasionally, characters run across items that turn out to be of pivotal importance in the adventure ahead—treasures the party was sent to retrieve and return, ways to unlock barred passages or doors, keys to activating ancient machinery or mechanical devices. In Final Fantasy, items like these are called Key Items, and are kept separate from the day-to-day consumables. Until they are used, they remain in the party’s Inventory, and cannot be dropped or destroyed.
If the party ever comes across a Key Item over the course of play, designate it as such. This ensures the group knows it will be used further down the line and don’t accidentally end up throwing it out.
The rewards a party gets for completing a quest or adventure may not always have a material value. In some cases, their rewards could include information, assistance, prestige, or leads to other quests and plot threads. The value of these tends to be more difficult to assess than with other rewards as they are usually a way to move the campaign along, rather than outright increase the PCs’ power level.