Here’s an overview of some of the game’s major elements, emphasizing the aspects that differ from what you might expect based on other RPGs (especially the D&D family). As with many other TRPGs, the most detailed rules are those for character creation (and advancement) and for combat, and so those are the areas I’ll focus on.
Character creation (and advancement):
Character creation is a simple process that can be done in 10-15 minutes by someone moderately familiar with the game and involves the following steps:
• Choose a class.
Seven possibilities are planned for the initial release. Current working names, with the most common similar Final Fantasy jobs in parentheses: Warrior (combines Knight, Dragoon, Samurai and others), Thief (Thief), Dan (Monk), Sorcerer (Black Mage), Theurge (White Mage), Spellsword (Red Mage, can also do the Magic Knight's schtick), Spiritualist (Blue Mage). Some of the names and flavour might change slightly before release but the basic list is pretty much set.
• Capture starting nodes.
This one needs more explanation, which is given below. For now, let’s just say this is how your character actually learns to do things, from the boring but practical (use his or her armour to the best advantage) to the spectacularly cinematic (summon huge meteors to smite enemies).
• Establish Heroic Traits.
Divide several points among your “Heroic Traits”, the closest equivalent to “attributes” or “ability scores” found in many other games. There are six and the list is a bit different than you might be used to – Courage, Perseverance, Passion, Insight, Ingenuity and Presence. These numbers are rarely directly used in play, but they underlie the calculation of many other numbers that are; for example, Perseverance can strongly influence your hit point total. Note also that, while players are encouraged to role-play in accordance with their Traits, this is not mechanically enforced in any way – nothing, for example, stops a character with a high Courage from fleeing a battle that may yet be winnable, it is merely stated that this is not something such characters are normally prone to doing.
• Obtain starting equipment.
You begin with a certain monetary value worth of gear, typically a weapon or two, one or more defensive items (armour, shields, bracers), and perhaps one or two potions or other one-use items. At least for the moment I’m handling most other mundane equipment (torches, ropes, lockpicks etc) by just saying “if it’s reasonable to have it with you, you have it with you”; nitpicking over the finer points of your inventory is optional and mildly discouraged. There are no encumbrance rules, though heavy armour hurts your Quickness slightly and your Magic more significantly.
• Determine derived stats.
You are basically done making your character at this point, but before play you do need to figure out some other important numbers. While these calculations are not any more difficult than those involved in many other RPGs – I can blow through all of them for a starting character in perhaps five minutes – I want there to be an app for this at launch for a number of reasons, not the least of which is making the process less intimidating for math-phobic players. These include:
o hp (hit points). If these drop to zero, you’re defeated and most likely out of that combat, but you don’t die unless you decide your character’s story is over, or the entire party is defeated.
o mp (mana points). These power spells and certain other abilities, some of which their users swear aren’t magical in the slightest, really they’re not, nothing to see here, move along.
o Defense (number of dice you roll when trying to avoid physical attacks)
o Ward (number of dice you roll when trying to avoid magical attacks or shake off status ailments)
o Armour (subtracted from incoming physical damage)
o Resistance (subtracted from incoming magical damage)
o Quickness (helps your first action in combat take place sooner – for high level characters, it can also give you a chance to take actions more frequently)
o For each attack you can make (including offensive spells), your Attack or Magic (how many dice to roll when you use it) and the amount of damage it does, and/or what other effects it has, for various possible numbers of successes on those dice. (See The Core Mechanic below for a bit more on this.)
Let’s go back to that second step for a second, “capture starting nodes”. What the heck does that mean?
Each class has two charts associated with it, resembling the tech trees found in many strategy games (or, more superficially, the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X). The class’ Destiny Wheel contains most of the signature abilities you’ll come to think of when you think of your character – weapon techniques and spells are learned here – while the class’ Defense Web consists of less glamorous but equally important abilities that protect your character from harm or allow your character to gather Focus, which is used to get extra dice or to power super-powerful attacks called Overdrives.
The photo below shows, on the left, a hand-drawn template for a complete Defense Web, and on the right, the inner portion only of the Warrior class’ Destiny Wheel. Note that the latter is not the entire thing, just the portion of it that low-level characters (levels 1-5) have access to. I apologize for the quality of the picture – I was going to post a legible scan, but my scanner has suddenly decided it’s not on speaking terms with my computer.
[sblock=Defense Web / Destiny Wheel]
As you may have guessed by now, the individual items on these charts are called “nodes” and learning the ability one of them represents is called “capturing” that node. You start at the green dot in the center, the “start node”. At character creation and again each time you level up, you may capture any node adjacent to the start node or to any other node you’ve previously captured, provided you have enough option points. At character creation, you get 12 option points, which might be enough to capture as many as four nodes if you stick to the cheapest ones for your class (costs are printed on the lines connecting them), or you may capture any three nodes regardless of costs, which could be a value of up to 15 option points.
Nodes can do a variety of things. The colourful lozenge-shaped ones everyone I’ve shown this to seems to like are called “core nodes” and represent improved skills with a class of weapons, type of magic, or form of defense – the former two are found on the Destiny Wheel, the latter on the Defense Web.
The other ones can do almost anything. You might be able to see in this picture that they have different shapes penciled in, which represent different broad categories of effects they can have (obviously in the final version this will be done, much more clearly, by a professional graphic designer). The two most common are plus signs for static bonuses and other “always-on” abilities (e.g. extra hit points, more damaging melee attacks, sometimes something slightly more elaborate like the opportunity to counterattack if a defensive roll of yours goes really well), and ovals for powers you actually have to actively use. In many cases, especially for Warriors, the latter are “modified attacks” that let you add additional effects to the basic attacks you make with your weapons, sometimes at an extra cost in time, mp or Focus. You can only add one such modification to any given attack.
There are a few other categories as well – hexagons for Overdrives and for “Engines” that let you gain Focus, and stars for nodes that let you select and learn a couple of spells (capturing core magic nodes also lets you do this). Most spells require one or more matching core magic nodes in order to cast, but there are a handful that don’t, so capturing one of these nodes without having any magic cores still does something. This illustrates the larger point that I’ve tried to make it so that any node you can reach will be of some benefit – having captured other specific nodes first, while often very helpful, is never required except in a relatively small number of places where the layout of the chart dictates so.
This system of character creation (and, later, advancement) seems to be pretty intuitive to people and above all, fun. If I do my job well, people will want to level up just for the opportunity to take another kick at the “game within the game” of moving about on the Destiny Wheel and Defense Grid.
Combat is a bit different from other RPGs, and I refer to the rules for it as the “Battle System” as a nod to the electronic RPGs that inspired it.
Combat is played out on something called a Battle Board
. The current, rather primitive prototype, done with permanent markers on a magnetic whiteboard, is shown in the photo below. Once again, I apologize that the photo is not of the quality I might have preferred. Obviously, in the final version this is another thing I’ll want to give a professional graphic designer a kick at.
[sblock=Prototype Battle Board]
The center is a simple 8x5 grid (plus small “Escape” areas on each side), somewhat resembling a football field. Typically, PCs will line up in the green area on the right, and monsters in the red area in the middle. This bears a (quite deliberate) resemblance to the battle systems of several of the Final Fantasy games but has certain elements not much in evidence in those games. For example, it is possible for a thief to start in the purplish area on the left, behind the enemy, even in a battle that isn’t an ambush (where you start surrounding the enemy). This lets the thief really go to town damage-wise, but is also dangerous should the enemy decide to do an about face and beat the crap out of the thief instead of concentrating on the rest of the party.
Narrate battles however you like. Positions on the battle board represent strategies at least as much as they do physical locations, so they’re a pretty abstract representation of what’s going on. Relative positions on the battle board, while they usually have at least a rough correspondence to the relative physical locations of combatants, are not an attempt to represent this positioning at the same level of detail found in a miniatures-oriented ruleset like Warhammer or 4E.
The other part of the Battle Board is the numbers along the outside, which resemble the scoring tracks found in various Eurogames. These are called the Initiative Track
. At the beginning of a battle, each combatant places a small token called their Initiative Token on the darker strip to the left of the main part of the Battle Board, which counts down toward the zero near the upper left corner. (The exact position is determined by a simple roll of 1d6 plus Quickness. Ties are broken in favour of PCs or, where that doesn’t decide the issue, the tied characters/critters, being all on the same “side”, just decide among themselves by any mutually agreeable method.)
Combat then proceeds like this:
1. Starting at the words “Start Here” on the left and proceeding clockwise, find the first initiative token (breaking ties as noted above).
2. The combatant represented by that token takes one and only one action, resolves its effects immediately, then moves their token clockwise a number of squares equal to the Recovery time of that action, which usually leaves a different token as the one positioned to take an action.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until every combatant on one side is defeated, has fled, or has surrendered (and said surrender has been accepted), or until every remaining combatant on both sides agrees to a truce, or until some Event specifically says it ends the battle.
Notice that there is no “combat round” or anything like that, just different actions that take different amounts of time. Things that would be move actions or swift actions in D&D just have a shorter “recovery” so that it’s fewer “ticks” until your next action. Flipping your facing takes just two ticks while an attack generally takes anywhere from four to eight, for example.
There’s actually one other aspect to battles, and that’s that you can have Events occur. Events are placed on the Initiative Track just like combatants, and can be anything that affects the battle but isn’t a combatant taking an action. Some events are results of earlier actions – for example, if you’ve been poisoned, every so often an event occurs that deals poison damage to you, then gives you a chance to shake off the poison. Other events might represent storyline-related occurrences specific to that battle – if the attack is taking place in a city that’s being bombed, perhaps there will be periodic Events where there is a chance a random combatant is hit by shrapnel, or something like that.
That brings me to one last mechanic I want to mention. Random combatants, where needed, would be picked by putting tokens representing each combatant in a bag and pulling one out at random, another Eurogame touch. So each combatant needs, in addition to a character sheet, dice, a pencil and some scrap paper, three tokens:
• One for the main part of the battle board. I’m currently using mid-sized (1.25 inch) round magnets from office supply stores for this, with labels stuck to them with combatants’ pictures, names or symbols.
• The initiative token – currently, these are small magnets from a magnetic checkers (draughts) set with abbreviated names on them.
• A third token for the randomizer bag. Currently these are wooden crokinole chips with labels as above.
That’s it for the overview. Next – the core mechanic.