Fabula Ultima: Table Talk JPRG in English

Aldarc

Legend
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Fabula Ultima TTJRPG by Emanuele Galleto has finally been translated and released in English! Fabula Ultima is a "Table Talk" RPG (the term Japanese TTRPGs use for the hobby) inspired by electronic Japanese Roleplaying Games - e.g., Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Octopath Traveler, Dragon Quest, Fire Emblem, etc. - hence "TTJRPG." The game has been out for a year or so in Italy, but the English edition has finally been released as part of the 2022 Internationale Spieltage SPIEL (Essen Game Fair) in Essen, Germany.

Fabula Ultima was partially based on the Japanese TTRPG Ryuutama: Natural Fantasy Roleplay (i.e., Studio Ghibli + Oregon Trail), but it is not a direct port of the game by any means. I also found the list of TTRPGs that helped inspire this game to be quite telling, if not highly appealing to my own tastes:
Among the countless sources of inspiration for this game I want to mention Jonathan Tweet & Rob Heinsoo's 13th Age; Alberto Tronchi's Aegis; Christian Giffen's Anima Prime; D. Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World; Takeshi Kikuchi & Studio F.E.A.R.'s Arianrhod; John Harper's Blades in the Dark (from which the Clock mechanic was directly derived); Luke Crane's Burning Wheel; Rob Heinsoo, Andy Collins & James Wyatt's Dungeons & Dragons: 4th Edition; Fred Hicks & Rob Donoghue's Fate; Rikizō's Kamigakari; Junichi Inoue's Tenra Bansho Zero; and Ron Edward's Sword, Soul, and Sex collection of supplements for Sorcerer.
Having read the book, though I have not yet had a chance to see it work out in play, the game reads like a fairly Neo-Traditional game. The characters are front and center. The game world revolves around the characters, which is fairly standard for JRPGs.

BASICS: Attributes, Stats, and Resolution System
The attribute system comes from Ryuutama, but it is similar to Savage Worlds or Cortex Prime. There are four attributes - Dexterity, Insight, Might, and Willpower - which are rated with dice: d6 through d12. These attributes also determine Hit Points (HP) and Mind Points (MP). There are also Inventory Points (IP), but IP is not derived from attributes like HP and MP are. To explain IP briefly: the PCs have a certain number of IP (typically 6) which they can use to just declare that they have an item in their Inventory: potions or utility items. A Healing/Remedy Potion, for example, costs 3 IP. IP can only be replenished in town and spending the game's currency: Zenit.

IP does not include adventuring gear, because the game basically assumes that the characters have what is reasonable for adventurers to carry: e.g., rope, torches, water skins, etc. If you want your game to be about PC Item Resource management as per OSR or some D&D games, this game will not be for you.

By D&D standards, this game is Skill-less. When there is a Check, players will usually be rolling two of these or double and adding them together. This also comes from Ryuutama. For example, a sword attack may be Dexterity + Might; investigating a situation may be Insight + Insight; or avoiding a trap may be Dexterity + Insight. The GM calls for rolls, and they use a small difficulty ladder: Easy 7, Normal 10, Hard 13, and Very Hard 16. There can also be Opposed Rolls. Greater than or equal to succeeds, and lower than DC fails. Players automatically succeed and score a Critical Success, regardless of the difficulty, if they roll doubles of two 6 values or higher (i.e., 6+6, 7+7, 8+8, etc.), but they Fumble and fail automatically if they roll double 1s. Earning a Fumble gives the PC a Fabula Point. Earning a Critical Success gives the PC an Opportunity, a favorable twist in the narrative. The book provides a list of Opportunites the PC can choose from.

It's also worth pointing out that the game also uses Group Checks, including for things like Initiative (Dexterity + Insight) or even some social scenes, such as an audience with the king/queen. In these cases, one character is designated the Leader for the check and the other characters are Supporting Characters. The Supporting Characters roll Support Checks against DC 10. Each success bolsters the Leader's roll by +1.

The game provides instructures, guidelines, and principles for the GM about resolving rolls: e.g., never subvert the outcome, succeeding at a check means the PC earns the success, no do-overs. The game though does provide an option for Success at a Cost. Characters can also invoke their Traits or Bonds (later) by spending a Fabula point to re-roll or improve their results, which is highly reminiscent of Fate. But more reminiscent of Cortex, the players can also invoke one of their Traits to automatically fail a check. This does not cost a Fabula point; instead, it earns them 1 Fabula Point.

SETTING
There is no default setting for Fabula Ultima. Instead, the GM and Players build one together. There are three suggested thematic setting archetypes that the group could choose for the tone of their game: High Fantasy, Natural Fantasy, and Techno Fantasy. There is also a Group Creation process that involves picking a Group Type to make sure that the players and GM are all on the same page about what sort of game the players want for their heroes: e.g., Heroes of the Resistance, Guardians, Seekers, Revolutionaries, etc.

CHARACTER CREATION
Player Characters have three Aspect/Distinction-like Traits: Identity, Theme, and Origin. Identity is analogous to the High Concept in Fate. The Theme of the character is the motivating factor, ideal, or emotion that drives the character's actions. There is a list of Themes, which are all one-word descriptors: e.g., Justice, Duty, Vengeance, Ambition, Guilt, etc. The PC's Origin represents where they are from. Notice that I said nothing about Species, Race, or Ancestry. It has no mechanical impact. If relevant, your Species can be included into your Identity or possibly Origin. Identities and Themes can change over the course of the game, but Origin cannot.

Bonds
Characters have Bonds with other characters (and NPCs), organizations, religions, or nations. There are six bonds, or really three sets of two opposing bonds: e.g., Admiration vs. Inferiority, Loyalty vs. Mistrust, Affection vs. Hatred. For each emotion that one feels for the character, the strength of that bond goes up by 1. So for example, feeling Loyalty and Affection towards the Princess provides the PC towards them with a Bond of +2. This Bond bonus can be used to bolster Checks or even some class abilities.

Classes and Levels
There are 50 total levels, and PCs start at Level 5. This may sound weird, but hold on, because it makes more sense with Classes. There are 15 Classes in the game (later). Taking a "level" in one class gives you the option to take a class Skill, and it's possible to take some Skills multiple times. This means that Classes are more like loose, thematic skill packages rather than hard, bound archetypes.

A starting Level 5 PC must take at least two different Classes but also no more than three so you are building your character through Multiclassing. The max level a character can put into a single class is 10, and the class is considered "mastered."

  • Arcanist: summoners who merge with spirits for passives and release them for powerful active effects
  • Chimerist: copy cats monster or NPC abilities they encounter
  • Darkblade: edge lord warrior - dark knights, death knights, etc.
  • Elementalist: black mage, kaboom, elemental spells
  • Entropist: astromancer, chaos mage, diviner, etc.
  • Fury: berserker but also martial artist
  • Guardian: defense mundane warrior
  • Loremaster: the character who likes to know and analyze
  • Orator: the face, speaker, envoy, etc.
  • Rogue: ninja, thief, etc.
  • Sharpshooter: ranged warrior for bows and guns
  • Spiritist: healer, white mage, priest, etc.
  • Tinkerer: alchemist, artificer, etc. but also good with IP
  • Wayfarer: the wilderness component of rangers, travelers, scouts, etc.
  • Weaponmaster: offensive mundane warrior

What's also nice is that the book provides GM guidance about how to potentially build scenarios around the classes and abilities that PCs choose. There are also additional classes on the author's Patreon that are being playtested: i.e., Chanter, Commander, Dancer, Floralist, Gourmet, Invoker, Merchant, Mutant, Pilot, Psychic, and Symbolist.

The game does provide templates and sample starting builds, including suggested attributes. For example, the Valkyrie (hello Final Fantasy Dragoon!): Elementalist (2 levels: Soaring Strike, Vortex), Guardian (1 level: Fortress), and Weaponmaster (2 levels: Bladestorm, Melee Weapon Mastery).

Fabula and Ultima Points
I mentioned before that Fabula Points are this game's version of Fate points. They can be used to Invoke a Trait or Bond, use or power a Skill, or Alter the Story. This latter point works much like in Fate. The character can alter an existing element or add a new element. Three examples given include (1) a PC spending a Fabula Point to declare that they know a scholar nearby who can help them decipher an ancient language; (2) a PC spending 1 Fabula Point to declare that the dragon they tracked to its lair is presently sleeping; and (3) a PC spending 1 Fabula Point to declare that the city guard who is stalking them turns out to be an old war buddy from the PCs past. PCs get Fabula Points a variety of ways, including when a Villain enters the scene.

One of the more interesting innovations though comes from Ultima Points. Ultima Points are like Fabula Points for the Villains. Ultima Points do gain Ultima Points like PCs do. Instead, they have a fixed amount based upon their significance in the narrative: i.e., Minor (5), Major (10), or Supreme (15). A Villain without Ultima Points is no longer a villain, but, instead, becomes a regular NPC. Villains can spend their Ultima Points to Invoke a Trait/Bond, Recovery (i.e., status effects and regain 50 mind points), AND to ESCAPE! That's right. Here is the mechanic for when your JRPG Villains jump off a cliff and land safely on a flying ship that takes them out of the scene. Ultima Points are how your Villains live to fight another day!

That said, if a Villain goes from a minor villain to a major one - power ups or mergers into a new big bad - then they are effectively treated as a new Villain. There is also guidance for handling villains with secret identities, multiple villains, and back-to-back scenes with Villains. The GM can also have a scene with the Villains and no PCs. (Think about the cutscene without the PCs where the Villains plot, scheme, and talk among themselves.) Even in these Villain-only scenes that don't directly involve the PCs, the PCs will gain a Fabula Point.

Concluding Thoughts
There is a lot more to this game that I have not discussed: 0 HP (surrendering and sacrifice), Crisis (i.e., 4e's Bloodied), etc. but this incomplete overview is at least a start. In many respects, the feels lighter than 5e D&D, but it is still a medium crunch game. There is a lot that I like about the game, and it's pretty clear from reading the game that the author has taken a lot of the guiding principles of its inspiration - both the JRPGs and the TTRPGs that inspired the game - to great heart.

I am definitely excited about trying this game at some point. The PDF is available on DriveThruRPG, and a hardback is coming soon. It's one of the few books that I began reading from cover to cover as soon as I got it. Fabula Ultima is probably in my Top 3 games of this year so far.
 

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Arilyn

Hero
This sounds like a great game that might lure my youngest daughter back into rpgs. She played a lot growing up but has drifted away in recent years. Still a huge fan of Final Fantasy style video games though, so hmmm... 😍
 

Aldarc

Legend
This sounds like a great game that might lure my youngest daughter back into rpgs. She played a lot growing up but has drifted away in recent years. Still a huge fan of Final Fantasy style video games though, so hmmm... 😍
IMHO, Fabula Ultima captures a lot of the feel of JRPGs pretty well. There is a demo version on their website - Load Game & Press Start - that is a one-shot adventure with pre-made characters.
 



Aldarc

Legend
@chaochou, you may find this TTJRPG interesting in light of our conversation in your thread about our cultural influences. In addition to the JRPGs, Fabula Ultima also lists a number of other media that influenced the game, some of which overlaps with my own list of influences on my roleplaying preferences:
  • Nausicaä: Valley of the Wind
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Record of Lodoss War
  • Star Wars & Star Wars Rebels
  • Spice & Wolf: unlisted in mine but still a late influence on me
  • The Vision of Escaflowne

The list is longer, and I could see some anime that was unlisted by the author as being good fits as well.
 


Aldarc

Legend
Further note after reading more of Fabula Ultima:

Theater of the Mind & Tactical Play: FabUlt opts for Theater of the Mind play. There are also no rules for movement, movement speed, or ranged distance for attacks. Instead, it's generally assumed that characters in a combat scene can reach other. (Again, this is fairly JRPG, apart from maybe Tactics.) Ranged attacks are more about skill interactions or being able to attack flying opponents. One side-effect of the above is that the "tactical" aspect of this game seems less about battlefield positioning and more about status effects, damage types, skills, turn order, etc.

Character Death: The basic rule is simple. Whoever is the character who takes a foe down to 0 decides their fate. So death is not automatic for PCs, NPCs, or other foes at 0 HP. This is much like Fate, and also like Fate is the idea of conceding the conflict. Characters can "Surrender" before they reach 0 HP. The GM cannot kill a character who surrenders, but they can impose a Consequence, and several examples are provided: e.g., loss, despair, separated, etc.

Alternatively, a character who reaches 0 HP can Sacrifice themselves. 😲 There are conditions for self-sacrifice, namely that two of the following are true: (1) a villain is present, (2) the sacrifice would benefita character you have a Bond with, or (3) you believe that your sacrifice would make the world a better place. The "effect" of self-sacrifice can be grand, though it has to be negotiated with the GM, but the game lists some examples: lifting a centuries old curse, temporarily disabling the powers of a demigod, or fighting off an army single-handly to give your allies time to escape. And below this section on Sacrifice is something else that is quite notable: mechanically, there is no Resurrection magic.* According to the author, this is because character death should be meaningful and the afterlife should be a mystery that can be explored in play.

* I'm not entirely sure if this is 100 percent true, however, as freeform Rituals exist in the game. These are worked out between the GM and players, and I could see some groups creating a Resurrection Ritual.

Rituals: In other threads, I have talked about how much that I like 4e and Beyond the Wall/Through Sunken Land style rituals. Here they are in Fabula Ultima. The game provides guidelines for what Rituals can or can't do. For example, Rituals can't replicate an existing spell/skill or deal direct damage or status effects, generate creatures or equipment, etc. Though interestingly Rituals can deal collateral damage: e.g,. a chasm opening below enemies or a giant fireball used to destroy airship engine. Rituals cost MP. The potency determines the base MP cost and the Magic Check difficulty (usually rolled with Insight + Willpower). The base MP value is then multiplied by the area to determine the total: i.e,. invididual (1x), small (2x), large (3x), and huge (4x). Rare and powerful magic items can be sacrificed to reduce the MP requirement by half, though this can only be done once per Ritual. Moreover, Rituals can also be performed as Group Checks (again, hello 4e D&D). There are even rules about how to use Clocks in conjunction with Rituals during Conflict scenes.

Projects: Projects are the mundane version of magical Rituals, albeit performed most often by the Tinkerer class. Costs are paid in the Zenit currency rather than MP.

Experience Points and Leveling: Okay, so this is neat. How do you prevent characters from hoarding Fabula Points? You can't, BUT the party will gain an amount of XP equal to the number of Fabula Points spent by the party in the session divided by the number of party members present in that session. Characters also gain XP equal to the amount of Ultima Points spent by the Villains. Characters also gain 5 XP per session for being there. The author estimates that PC leveling will happen once every other session, but there are options for reducing or increasing the rate of leveling. PCs require 10 XP to level, which they spend that XP to do so. PCs can keep the excess XP.* Even if a character ends the session with 20+ XP, they can only level at max once per session.

* For example, if a character has 13 XP at the end of a session, they spend 10 XP to level-up. They keep 3 XP towards their next level.

Multiclassing Rules: Characters can have levels in a MAX of 3 different classes that they haven't Mastered (i.e., reached level 10 in). Furthermore, once you have Mastered a class, you automatically receive one Heroic skill associated with the class. Okay, so that is a nice way to limit dipping into other classes for their free benefits. It also forces some commitment, as mastering a class is the only way you can expand outside of the three classes you may have.
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
This is a great write-up. I’m absolutely loving everything I’m reading in this game. I love that the combat magic and non-combat magic is split. It really is the best parts of many games seamlessly brought together.

But there is a correction…
Characters can "Surrender" before they reach 0 HP. The GM cannot kill a character who surrenders, but they can impose a Consequence, and several examples are provided: e.g., loss, despair, separated, etc.
Almost. When PCs reach 0 hp they either surrender or sacrifice themselves. PCs cannot die unless they sacrifice themselves. This sacrifice is a big, world-altering deal. It’s very possible to sacrifice yourself and stop armies or gods or armies of gods. The text tells you to go overboard with this and puts it in bold. Importantly, there’s no resurrection. So death is meaningful here.
 

Aldarc

Legend
This is a great write-up. I’m absolutely loving everything I’m reading in this game. I love that the combat magic and non-combat magic is split.
I wish that more games would do this. 4e was the game that made me realize how much I love magical rituals in TTRPGs. 5e's backsliding to making utility and non-combat magic into instant-cast spells disappointed me.

IMHO, Rituals are often an afterthought to a lot of games, where so much magic are instant cast combat-oriented spells. They don't really do a good job of representing the fiction of magical rituals that are commonly depicted in media. It's a shame because rituals make such great set pieces and flavor for conflict in TTRPGs: i.e., PCs must stop the ritual before it is cast OR the PCs must defender the area so the ritual can succeed.

It really is the best parts of many games seamlessly brought together.
Agreed. What astonishes me about the game text is how much of it seems to come from principles and game advice of indie games, particularly what feels like constrained GMing practices. The influences from Fate, Cortex, BitD, PbtA, and Sorcerer oozes off the page. The author does not mention Cortex as an influence, but in a number of respects, this game feels closer to Cortex than Fate: die types for attributes, distinctions, choosing to invoke distinctions to fail checks for Plot Points (PP), etc.

Overall, the game feels like a Ryuutama/Fate/Cortex hybrid overlaid with 4e powers, albeit structured around more JRPG things like MP rather than Per Encounter Powers.
 

I liked the bit about villain Escalation, where once you defeat the villain they can come back in a larger, more menacing form. Yep, they do that in JRPGs.

The pillar of 'Everything has a Soul' is a nice animist touch alluding to the cultural differences between Japan and Europe/North America. (Marie Kondo's bit of thanking objects before you throw them out seems a lot more natural that way.)

Was also fun to see what bits they pulled from where. Having not played the full slate of JRPGs, I could still go "hey, there's the Time/Space Mage from FF5 and FFTactics!" (Entropist) "Hey, there's the Blue Mage, but they turned it into a Druid!" (Chimerist) "There's the Summoner!" (Arcanist) "There's the Swordmage from FF5!" (Spellblade build) "There's the Red Mage from FF1 onward!" (Red Sorcerer build) "Hey, there's all the Flame and Ice shields from all the games!" "There's FF6 and FF7's techno dystopia!" (Techno Fantasy)

The pixelated pics of the items were cute.
 
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RainOnTheSun

Explorer
I haven't gotten a chance to test out the gameplay yet, but I've bought Fabula Ultima and I'm very excited about it. It's fun to look through all the class skills and pick out fun little synergies you could build a character around.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I liked the bit about villain Escalation, where once you defeat the villain they can come back in a larger, more menacing form. Yep, they do that in JRPGs.
Yeah, like a defeated villain makes a pact with a dark force, merging together, and then turns into an even bigger bad guy as part of the power-up.

The pillar of 'Everything has a Soul' is a nice animist touch alluding to the cultural differences between Japan and Europe/North America. (Marie Kondo's bit of thanking objects before you throw them out seems a lot more natural that way.)
I liked this point as well for similar reasons.

Was also fun to see what bits they pulled from where. Having not played the full slate of JRPGs, I could still go "hey, there's the Time/Space Mage from FF5 and FFTactics!" (Entropist) "Hey, there's the Blue Mage, but they turned it into a Druid!" (Chimerist) "There's the Summoner!" (Arcanist) "There's the Swordmage from FF5!" (Spellblade build) "There's the Red Mage from FF1 onward!" (Red Sorcerer build) "Hey, there's all the Flame and Ice shields from all the games!" "There's FF6 and FF7's techno dystopia!" (Techno Fantasy)

The pixelated pics of the items were cute.
Agreed. There was a lot of Final Fantasy, but I was also in the middle of playing Octopath Traveler when the English version of Fabula Ultima dropped, so I can see things like the Scholar (Cyrus) as well. There is no real shapeshifting to the Chimera to really call it much of a Druid nor much mastery over plants, though that may come with the Mutant and Floralist classes in the playtest documents.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I wish that more games would do this. 4e was the game that made me realize how much I love magical rituals in TTRPGs. 5e's backsliding to making utility and non-combat magic into instant-cast spells disappointed me.

IMHO, Rituals are often an afterthought to a lot of games, where so much magic are instant cast combat-oriented spells. They don't really do a good job of representing the fiction of magical rituals that are commonly depicted in media. It's a shame because rituals make such great set pieces and flavor for conflict in TTRPGs: i.e., PCs must stop the ritual before it is cast OR the PCs must defender the area so the ritual can succeed.
Exactly. It's such a big part of the media that inspires these games, and yet, it's mostly forgotten in the games themselves.
I liked the bit about villain Escalation, where once you defeat the villain they can come back in a larger, more menacing form. Yep, they do that in JRPGs.
I watch Critical Role and it's a common theme that Matt's boss fights are clearly inspired by JRPGs. There was something of a boss fight in last night's episode and with Fabula Ultima on the brain I just kept thinking of how the fight would work in this system. It would be a whole lot smoother and less confusing for the players, that's for sure. The advice on telegraphing aspects of boss fights is on point.
The pillar of 'Everything has a Soul' is a nice animist touch alluding to the cultural differences between Japan and Europe/North America.
Yeah, I gotta say I love that about JRPGs and Japanese media generally. Animism is a lot of fun and has amazing potential for gaming. Planegea (a recent 5E book) handled that really well, I think. By giving the referee advice on making certain nature spirits come alive and take the place of magic shops and gods in the setting. You want an enchanted item, you have to go to the river spirit and negotiate.
Was also fun to see what bits they pulled from where. Having not played the full slate of JRPGs, I could still go "hey, there's the Time/Space Mage from FF5 and FFTactics!" (Entropist) "Hey, there's the Blue Mage, but they turned it into a Druid!" (Chimerist) "There's the Summoner!" (Arcanist) "There's the Swordmage from FF5!" (Spellblade build) "There's the Red Mage from FF1 onward!" (Red Sorcerer build) "Hey, there's all the Flame and Ice shields from all the games!" "There's FF6 and FF7's techno dystopia!" (Techno Fantasy)
Absolutely. Though I got way more of a Dragon Quest vibe from the monsters for some reason.
The pixelated pics of the items were cute.
^.^
I haven't gotten a chance to test out the gameplay yet, but I've bought Fabula Ultima and I'm very excited about it. It's fun to look through all the class skills and pick out fun little synergies you could build a character around.
It's a character builders dream. Fifteen classes with five skills each. Some can be taken only once, some can be taken multiple times. You can only have three active classes at a time and you're capped to 10 levels in a class. There's a lot of freedom there and a few restrictions. I'm generally not a fan of builds meant to break games, but I'd like to see builds that show off the versatility of the game.
Agreed. There was a lot of Final Fantasy, but I was also in the middle of playing Octopath Traveler when the English version of Fabula Ultima dropped, so I can see things like the Scholar (Cyrus) as well. There is no real shapeshifting to the Chimera to really call it much of a Druid nor much mastery over plants, though that may come with the Mutant and Floralist classes in the playtest documents.
Yeah, that was definitely jarring for me as well. A druid that doesn't shapeshift? What?
 

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