A Storytelling Game

A Storytelling Game

FFZ is a game that revolves around telling a story. Much like the FF games that have inspired it, FFZ revolves around story, and uses the game to enhance, manipulate, reinforce, and play with the idea of a story.

A story and a game are usually quite different beasts. A story is usually a controlled environment, while a game often involves chance. Stories are frequently the creations of individuals, while games mandate a group. Games can be repeated over and over again in countless variations, but stories are generally only told once. However, RPG's blur the line between them, because they are collaborative, and filled with chance, but still involve characters, a setting, goals, and conflict. You are not your character in an RPG, so you experience the game something like a story where you can choose some actions of the main character (like a choose-your-own-adventure novel). Add in other players (with other characters) and you have others making choices that you can't control, but neither does the "controller" of the story (the GM). The event still has a one-off kind of experience (each FFZ campaign is a single story, and by and large, you don't re-play the same story after it is over), though it is flexible (certainly nothing in FFZ forces you to end the story, and many RPG's avoid any overt story structure).

Mostly in FFZ, as a GM, you need only concern yourself with a few devices that help you run the kind of FFZ game that will most closely evoke many of the FF games: that is, to tell a story in the context of this game. Note, again, that you don't have to follow any of this: it is advice and guidance for a particular effect, but as a GM, you get to set the parameters of your game. If you want to use the FFZ rules to run an episodic game that is well within your rights. Just ignore the parts of the advice below that don't apply to you. However, FFZ assumes you want to play an FF-like game, and, primarily, that means a story: a narrative campaign.

Variant: The Episodic Campaign

A game perhaps more based on a Crystal Chronicles, Ivalice, or XI or XIV kind of game would be receptive to an open-ended campaign: that is, a campaign with no outright beginning and ending, where each individual adventure is there for the taking, and is self-contained. This is considered an "Episodic" campaign: each individual episode is self-contained. Perhaps they all take place in the same world, perhaps not. Primarily, all you need to know about the campaign-level structure is that there really is none. Instead, most of the game is taken up with individual missions. Missions might include adventures like slaying a specific monster, recovering a specific item, running an item to a certain location, exploring a given region, or any one of a million possible mercenary jobs. The characters may remain consistent, or not, and all you need to concern yourself with is what this week's challenge is.

Episodic campaigns have a lot of advantages for certain styles of groups: namely, they are open-ended, never-ending, continuously-evolving, and very spontaneous. They change frequently, and you can get a large exposure to a lot of different rules and styles and challenges in a short time. There is nothing really linking the missions together, by default, so there is a lot of potential diversity. They are also quick to set up and run. However, they surrender story for pure game. This generally isn't a bad thing, but it can be unsatisfying: any computer can generate a character and a dungeon and run them through, and it doesn't leverage any of the inherent strengths of the table-top. In fact, you could theoretically play a solo-player episodic campaign. While this can be fun, FFZ generally prefers to emphasize the story, and the group, over the mission and the rules.

Mission Design

Missions should be self-contained events within the game, though each one will follow a rough structure: intro to climax to ending. The intro is how the characters find out about the mission: perhaps through contacts within a city, perhaps through something like a Clan Board such as exists in the Ivalice games, perhaps through some necessity such as the Crystal Caravans. The action then follows these quest-takers until they face the main obstacle to their goal. They normally win, and go back to their home, but perhaps not without sacrifice. Essentially, each mission is a one-session-long adventure.

The players should be able to choose among multiple missions, and they should also be able to choose multiple characters, with each character going on each mission. Because the missions are self-contained, the player need know nothing more than why their character is going on this given mission, which is something the player themselves can figure out. "Why would my character take this mission?" is a question that the player can answer for themselves, and for the GM, without the GM having to invest in anything more than a helping hand.

Episodic campaigns can contain a structure within them, but it is couched within the "missions" format. Namely, this happens when missions bleed into each other: acquiring a specific item leads to the NPC you helped unleashing a monster, who then must be slain, and in slaying the monster, you must follow it to it's home in a new region, etc., etc. This assumes that the missions take place in the same world, in the same general region, of course. There is no definite end to this chain, any more than there is a specific beginning, and players may ignore the chain at their discretion, since they can have the option of completing the mission, or picking a different mission. This is an advantage of the episodic format, and you should not force players to take any given mission (sometimes called "railroading" or "bottlenecking").

The Story Structure

The story structure is at the heart of FFZ, and of many, many other facets of dramatic action. You may be familiar with the basic structure if you have taken writing classes or the like; essentially it consists of three parts: Beginning, Middle, and End. FFZ appropriates this structure at all levels of play: A GM will use it to compose an entire campaign, as well as adventures within that campaign, as well as sessions for those adventures, as well as encounters within those sessions, and even within the rounds within the encounters. Of course, just like with the overall campaign, a GM can drop the structure at any point. It is an organizing principle, and no more. It is an unusually powerful and evocative principle, but it is not always appropriate. A GM has the luxury of abandoning it when it doesn't fit what their plan is.

Act 1: The Beginning

In Act 1 (be it an encounter, an adventure, a session, or an entire arc), the GM should introduce the setting, the characters, the central conflict, and the threat. Each of these can be a single session, or an entire adventure, depending on how key the GM wants to make it. Beginning with an initial hook in Session 1, and letting the characters and villain flow naturally from that hook, through the first major conflict, is essentially how the first Act flows. At the end of the first Act, there should be a turning point of some kind, where the party must make some significant choice in regards to the major themes and questions of the story, taking it in a new direction.

Act 2: Rising Action

In Act 2 of the structure, the GM should intensify the main threat to the characters, choosing challenges and conflict constructs that help reinforce the idea that the threat is building. Within the campaign, the GM may link each character to the grand idea with character-focused scenes, or might have the villain become much more prominent in the campaign. After the turning point in Act 1, the characters should undergo some temporary triumph, but also some temporary defeat, and should spend some time coping with that defeat before surging on through the next act. Another turning point gets the characters up and moving again, and this turning point should be more character-focused, in general, than plot-focused, enabling the characters to choose their own way into Act 3.

Act 3: Climax

Act 3 serves to resolve the conflict that built up in Act 2, and was introduced in Act 1. The characters go up against the main conflict that has been rising throughout Act 2 again, facing their final obstacle, and engaging in the final challenge (usually a combat challenge) before deciding the fate of this conflict once and for all. Do they succeed, or fail? And what happens as a result of that?

The Structure in the Campaign

When using the structure to organize a campaign, the GM is realizing one of FFZ's essential FF-like traits: The fact that the game begins, grows, faces a climax, and then ends (and moves on to the next campaign). The Beginning of the campaign introduces the major characters, both PC's and NPC's, and sets up the major conflicts going forward. The Middle of the campaign resolves some minor conflicts, introduces more, ratchets up the tension, and drives the action toward a conclusion. The End of the campaign finally resolves the major conflicts, and puts the (surviving) characters in a state of equilibrium, leaving them behind, and turning attention elsewhere.

The Structure in the Arc

Each arc of the campaign has it's own structure as well. Each arc represents a major subplot of the campaign, an important pillar that goes to fuel the fire of the ultimate climax. The Beginning of the arc serves to introduce the arc's subplot and link it to the overall campaign. The Middle of the arc helps increase tension on the subplot, and narrow focus onto it. The End of the arc resolves the subplot, and connects it to the next arc, via the campaign.

The Structure in the Adventure

Each adventure has the same structure as the arc and the campaign. An adventure represents one resolved mission, an entire storyline that connects to the broader storylines. The Beginning of the adventure sets the PC's out on it the Middle of the adventure introduces some complication, and the End of the adventure brings it back to the arc and the next adventure, via the campaign.

The Structure in the Session

Each time your group meets, it has the same arc as everything else. A session is one meeting of your group. The Beginning of the session establishes the major conflict and introduces some of the broader themes. The Middle of the session raises the stakes and quickly makes things interesting. The End of the session resolves some part of the adventure, and spurs the group on to the next part.

The Structure in the Encounter

Each encounter within the session also uses the structure. An encounter is one major obstacle that the party must overcome. The Beginning of the encounter establishes the victory conditions and the mechanics for achieving them (combat or skills or some other mechanic). The Middle of the encounter introduces some twist or element that increases the tension, changing the game or putting the party on the defensive. The End of the encounter is the victory results and spoils — treasure and any points the party gains.

The Structure in the Round

The structure also hides in each round's actions. At the Beginning, the character's condition is established, and the player declares an action from a menu. During the Middle the player tries to execute that action, and deals with success or failure. At the End, the ongoing effects bring the encounter to the next round.

Success, Failure, and Forks

At every level in which you employ story structure, you create a chance for the player to succeed or fail. Each success or failure has a consequence. Sometimes, especially on small levels, that consequence is obvious. For instance, if the character fails to kill with their attack, then the combat could last longer, and the failure could have cascading effects: the party could fail the encounter, which might end up failing the adventure, which may end up failing the arc, which might give the villain a decisive advantage in the final confrontation of the campaign: if only you had succeeded in your deathblow, the world would not have ended! This is part of why the GM should track overall successes and failures — what is true in the battle is also true in the campaign as a whole, so each failure can have spiraling consequences.

Other times, the nature of the success or failure is more ambiguous. If you succeed in preventing the villain from getting her paws on this important relic, that doesn't mean she won't try again, and that also doesn't mean she doesn't have other methods to accomplish her unholy goals.

Most of the time, the consequences of the challenge should be telegraphed with foreshadowing. That is, you should give hints about what may lay beyond without being expressly obvious about it. A goblin with a knife foreshadows a painful death. A man with a scroll might foreshadow a more wizardly painful death, or it might foreshadow the arcane college that is hiring the goblins to steal certain important documents from rival scholars.

As a GM, you should know what happens if a player succeeds, and what happens if they fail. Neither result should be inconsequential: It should matter, in every die roll, at ever decision point, what the players do. The way in which it matters should be clear to the PC's. They should be well aware of what happens should they fail to stop the rampaging death machine. However, the success or failure must always (or almost always) be partial: a success needs to lead to the next challenge, and a failure still needs to lead to a challenge. They shouldn't "end" the story until the climax. The different challenges these lead to are forked paths: the party goes on one route if the succeed, and on another if they fail.

The Spoils of Success

When the party achieves a success, they receive some reward. On the level of encounters, this reward is usually gil or treasure of some sort. On the level of adventure and above, this should be more narrative: if they liberate the town, they gain a suite of allies and a place from which to launch attacks. If they slay the villain's lieutenant, they prevent needless deaths and perhaps create an opening to attack the villain himself! Success leads to a snowball effect: the PC's win, and make future victories more likely. Some evil is stopped, and some advantage is gained. However, until the final moment of the campaign, a success must always be partial. Consider making the victories Pyhrric, or making the PC's pay some price, even for success. Even if the PC's get lucky and bold, and manage to walk up to the Evil Emperor and cut off his head, if it is only the third session, you should have a contingency plan (such as a resurrected, undead Emperor). In general, as a GM, this is pretty easy: you literally can make anything in the world happen. As long as you remain consistent, your imagination is the limit.

The Consequences of Failure

When the party fails, they suffer some ill fortune. On the level of encounters, this generally means going back to a Safe Crystal and losing some bonus. On the level of adventure and above, this is more narrative: if they fail to liberate the town, the villain gains a toehold, and if the villain's lieutenant escapes, hundreds die and the villain becomes much better guarded. Failure leads to a snowball effect: the PC's lose, and this makes future losses more likely. An advantage is lost, and evil is on the march. However, as with victory, failure must always be partial. Even if the PC's are slaughtered by a random pack of goblins with butter knives, you should have a contingency plan (such as a helpful NPC warrior, or an instance of good fortune that later reverses). Failure can be harder to devise contingency plans for than success: you need to keep the game flowing, without holding the players' hands or making their failure essentially not matter. Fortunately, the Safe Crystal concept helps you with this: PC's can never escape the consequences of their actions simply by dying. Succeed or fail, the show goes on.

Giving Up

Giving up usually counts as a failure. Of course, depending on the context, that failure might not matter. A character giving up on pursuing a romantic interest that has no interest in him might actually wind up happier than a character that doesn't give it up.

Keeping Score

Throughout an FFZ campaign, you should keep a log of Total Victories and Total Failures that occur. Every time the PC's fail a challenge or loose in combat, add one to their Total Failures. Every time the PC's succeed in a challenge or are victorious in combat, add one to their Total Successes.

These numbers should govern the status of the villain's overall scheme, and the collateral damage it causes to the world. As long as the Victories remain greater, the villain is kept in check, and their plots, while perhaps far-reaching, do not have unfortunate consequences for most of the residents of the world. People still go about their lives without much interference, and the world doesn't change much in response to the Villain's machinations. However, as the Failures meet and exceed the Victories, the potency of the villain's plots becomes greater, the ramifications larger, and the dangers more intense. If the party has a lot of failures, the Villain's next maneuver might destroy a town, kill a close NPC, or even threaten to end the world, and set them up as a new god. If the party has a lot of successes, then the villain may only threaten individual NPC's, they may not be able to shift the entire world (though they might get a piece of it), they might only risk other villains, etc.

Keep in mind that as the villain's scheme advances, it gets inherently grander, so these totals are fairly relative. In Arc 1, a high Failure rate may simply mean that party members are especially at risk. In Arc 2, it might mean that their hometown is at risk. In Arc 3, it might threaten the whole world.

This keeps every success or failure relevant to the ongoing plotline. If the party has a harder time in their next mission because their last mission ended in failure, and if it threatens more because they didn't achieve their goals, it changes the tone of the campaign — the story should grow more desperate as the party looses more and more.

This is mostly because, in FFZ, the lives of the characters are almost never in direct threat. Players get to choose if their characters die, not GM's. However, GM's do get to write the extent of the villain's machinations, and if, for every time the character would die, 1,000 innocent NPC's die, the character (and their player) is likely to get very involved in achieving success.

Forking Format

A useful way to represent and visualize the success and failure results for the GM is to draw a "V" on a piece of paper. The point of the V is the conflict, with one branch being the "success" result and the other branch being the "failure" result. Each result should lead to a new "V", which leads to another "V", and so on, until the end of the campaign, where the "V" ultimately represents the success or failure of the character, finally.

Decision Points

Though win/loose scenarios are the most common scenarios the FFZ party will encounter, they will also have areas where they must choose amongst several options, with some perhaps not being clear winners or losers. They must pick the right door, choose the right NPC to talk to, pick the right path, or the right dialog option, or even the right adventure. As a GM, make sure that this is also a significant choice. Taking the east path and the west path should have different results, and those results should be telegraphed to the PC's (the east path is bone-strewn, the west path is horribly overgrown). If the decision doesn't matter, you should skip it, or use a narrative gloss to pass over it. Don't stop the game and roll dice and have a discussion that ultimately won't contribute to the ongoing story: skip it, and save it for the important points.

Decision Dungeons

The basic model of a dungeon is where the party is in a room, and there are several paths to take, each of which has different consequences, and leads to different challenges. This model works well for representing the flow of decision points. To represent it, draw a box on a piece of paper representing the decision point, such as "Which NPC do they talk to?" Each branch from the box is a different NPC, and each branch leads to its own box, which has its own paths. For instance, if the PC's talk to Larry the Butler, Larry can tell them something that leads to another "box" with more options (perhaps he told them to ask the Queen, and the PC's can choose four different questions to ask her: she will only answer one).

Combining Decision Dungeons with a forking path is the essence of the flow of FFZ: the GM presents a choice, or a challenge, and the PC's make a choice, and either fail or succeed at the challenge. This leads to the next choice, and the next challenge, and on and on until the end of the Campaign.

The Unexpected Choice

Sooner or later, the PC's will make an unexpected choice, or they may achieve some great success, or suffer some horrible failure. When given four NPC's that they might talk to, a PC will invariably come up with a fifth, either from their own head, or from some unintentional breadcrumb you may have dropped earlier. In general, this kind of impromptu re-wiring should be encouraged. There is ALWAYS a third option, and, to further encourage this, the third option should probably be a little more likely to assure success than the given options (it is more likely to be a shortcut than a dead end). This is also true for "great success" and "extreme failure," and is essentially a way of getting lucky: it is unplanned, and unprogrammed, and it should result in a tremendous effect. These unpredictable results are part of what make the game of FFZ fun. Whenever possible, say yes, allow the larger effect, and run with it. If the PC's decide to talk to the poopsmith instead of the any of the four servants who saw the crime, perhaps the poopsmith has some unexpected, unorthodox knoweldge that proves useful.

Of course, the unexpected choice shouldn't always be a great success. About one time out of three, it should be a horrible failure, even worse than choosing a planned path. This time the PC's ask the poopsmith their questions, it turns out the poopsmith discovers they know too much…

The Conflict Construct

In every session, you should be presenting the players with a central problem to overcome. The problem should take them the entire session, and all the required encounters, to solve. This means that the central conflict is solved in parts, with different encounters being the border guards for those parts, the things the players must overcome to solve that central problem.

When envisioning this central conflict, you can see it as a machine that depends on three or four working parts to remain operational. The job of the PC's, then, is to stop this machine from operating, to change the status quo in some way with their heroic encounters. Your central conflict should depend on more than just fighting things, though fighting things should be a key element of the conflict.

Types of Conflict

There are three general types of narrative conflict that writers recognize. Each type effectively presents opposing forces that the characters are meant to resolve in some way. Each type can be one part of the Conflict Construct, or the construct can be made up of one type of conflict exclusively.

Relational Conflict

Relational conflict is between individuals — two characters pursue a single goal that only one of them can have. It may also be between one character, and a group of creatures. In FFZ, conflict between the party and the villain is relational conflict, and it is considered rather inevitable, but you can also have conflict between a character and another NPC, or a character and another character, or a character and an entire group of NPC's. Relational conflict in FFZ is frequently solved with combat, but it can also be solved with a Persuade challenge, if violence isn't the ideal answer. For instance, if you want to persuade the dwarves to give you TNT without killing them, use a Persuade challenge. Sometimes, a relational conflict will serve to be more metaphorical. Instead of killing off the Holy Angel of the Church of Ajora, you might face a high priest, or even a common cleric, serving as the Angel's representation in the campaign.

Situational Conflict

Situational conflict is between characters and their environment and circumstances. Characters will often disagree on the best way to handle the circumstance, but engaging it is something the party will do, hoping to overcome it to achieve their goals. In FFZ, this turns up in Survive, Move, Guard, and Hide challenges, which are all ways of dealing with hazardous situations. Rarely can these be fought directly, though the PC's may gain the opportunity to change them later, perhaps with a combat. Situational conflict can arise from supernatural forces, or consequences of the characters' actions, as well. If the PC's raise the forgotten Airship technology, what might happen because of that?

Inner Conflict

Inner conflict is between the characters and themselves. Inner conflict is very personal, and the character experiencing it is often under different influences who all are invested in the outcome. Often, the PC's will experience this secondhand, meaning Persuade, Secure, and Learn are the main challenges used, but a character might also experience this internally. In fact, most FFZ characters should experience this at least once. In that situation, only the player decides which option to pursue.

Everything's Relative

Conflict only exists if the characters believe it exists. If the characters are correctly confident about slaying enemies or accomplishing a goal, then there is no conflict, and, subsequently, no need to spend time on it at the table. If getting from Cornelia to Provoka is safe and easy, then there's no conflict, no need to endure a Move or Survive challenge. Simply declare that it happens. If, on the other hand, getting from to Cornelia to Provoka is a test of character courage or skill, feel free to use the challenge system. Perhaps the only thing standing between Cornelia and Provoka is a character's own fears, but even in that case, the conflict can be interesting. It can also be interesting if the characters are wrong in their assumptions. If the path is usually safe, but something unusual happens along the way (the characters are attacked by a bounty hunter, for instance), feel free to interrupt the journey with the conflict.

Multiple Conflicts

In each session, in each adventure, in each arc, and in each campaign, there probably will be multiple conflicts. Some may be more central than others, but you're likely to use all three types of conflicts fairly regularly, and you should change up what the central conflict is fairly frequently. FFZ assumes most conflicts will be solved through violence, sooner or later, but that doesn't always have to be the central conflict, or even necessarily present, depending on your group and your style.

Bottom-Up and Top-Down

FFZ is a narrative game, so you should have an idea of where your campaign will end when you first begin it. That is why you build a villain, and why that villain has a goal to work towards that interferes with the characters' activities. However, this idea should be vague, and the villain's plans should be subject to change. Furthermore, having an idea of where the grand confrontation will take place doesn't mean you run every game going towards the ending. The players are the masters of their own characters, and they make decisions that not only affect the villain's plans in the world, but might also affect your vision of where the final confrontation will take place. You should always let the players direct the thrust of the action, following them wherever their desire leads, only taking the reigns when its your turn to do so (such as when an important plot point arises).

This combination means that, as a GM, you will be planning on the next session first and foremost. You will present them with a challenge to overcome, the usual 3-4 encounters of about one threat apiece, rewards for the encounters, and a comfortable resolution to that session's conflict. But you will be planning that next session with an eye toward the ultimate resolution. You can give hooks that relate to the broader plot, provide rewards or denouements that evoke the villain's activities, or sprinkle hints throughout the session. Even in sessions that don't directly have to do with the villain, the themes of the campaign (and the villain) should shine through.

Plot-Driven vs. Character-Driven

When thinking about what will get characters involved in the next session's story, there is basically one decision to make: do you want the next session to be plot-driven or character-driven.

A plot-driven session has the story come and get the party. The villain makes an attack, a natural disaster strikes, an invasion happens, zombies rise from the graves, or something otherwise happens to force the party to react. How they react, and what they do, is up to them, but they can't just sit around and do nothing, because otherwise they (or things important to them) would be directly threatened. Essentially, this makes your plotline central, and it can be good for the initial sessions, or for getting a stationary party into the action. If your party is a lot of cowards and self-interested mercenaries, having a plot-driven session helps make them care about what is going on, despite themselves. For a plot-driven session, you should work with support characters, threaten flaws, and, ultimately, risk lives, in order to get a reaction from the characters. Once the characters are engaged, you can take a more passive role, letting them figure out how to end the threat on their own. There should be many ways to end the threat, and the characters' idea should have some chance of working. This works good with the forking format mentioned above, where a success might help them save their allies or defend themselves, while a failure might result in some unfortunate deaths.

A character-driven session has the party go to the story. The characters decide to explore the dungeon, the characters enter a tourney, or the characters fight off the invasion, based on what they choose, not on what the story mandates from them. What they do is as important as how they do it, because they get to choose what to do. They have many options, and they get to move themselves through them, rather than being pursued by the plot. This makes the character's motives central, and are good toward the end of arcs, and when focusing on individual character traits. Once the characters make a choice, you can take a more active role, opposing them and making them move in a certain way. There should always be multiple paths to take, and each path should lead to somewhere interesting. This works good with the dungeon design format mentioned above, where Door A might lead to confronting an old rival, while Door B leads to trying to talk to a king, and Door C leads to a dungeon crawl in a desert.

You will want to use a mix of these kinds of sessions in your game. Though FFZ is narrative, it is not necessarily plot-driven or character-driven. Individual GMs and groups will lean in certain directions, and that's OK, but you should try and mix it up, especially if you are hitting a slow spot, or a spot where the players are feeling like they are pushed on no matter what.

Genre

FFZ is generally an "action/adventure game," but, because it is a storytelling game, this doesn't always need to be true. Individual sessions or adventures might skew in certain directions, at your option.

Action

The Action genre is basically about letting the characters accomplish their goals and look awesome doing it. They might face dire conflicts, but the way to handle this is basically through a flurry of external activity, often in the form of kicking some butt. They generally don't sit around talking about the best way to do things. Action adventures can be very plot-focused, requiring the character to take action, or the can be more character-focused, where the characters choose to solve the challenge mostly though going out and doing things that bring the challenge to a close. Combat challenges are great for Action sessions.

Adventure

The key in the Adventure genre is danger. In their daily lives, most peasants and commoners don't have much adventure, so an adventure that focuses on, er, Adventure, focuses on the danger and risk involved in the setting and activities. The characters don't necessarily need to do much, but they need to be at risk doing whatever they do. Survival challenges and Move challenges are good things to use in Adventure sessions.

Comedy

The Comedy genre is about making the audience laugh. This can be difficult to pull off in a tabletop game, for a few reasons. First of all, though comedy often involves humorous failure, the GM needs to be cautious when making the PC's fail, so that they don't feel cheated. It's usually better to go with an NPC who fails, whom the PC's can try to help, but who keeps messing up in some way, bringing more harm to himself. What generally plays better is absurdity or farce. The PC's may be asked to rescue a rich lady's pet, who turns out to be ridiculously hard to catch, and dangerous to boot. Combat can be hilarious if it involves some unorthodox enemy, especially one who can bend the rules themselves, but all the challenges have potential to be re-cast as bizarre, unorthodox kinds of challenges. Comedy sessions are best used to relieve tension in between serious or weighty sessions. After the characters fail to rescue the princess and the villain escapes them yet again as they stood on the cusp of success and watched the murderous ritual take place, having a lighthearted adventure where they protect a foppish noble might be cathartic. Just keep in mind that there's a thin line between funny and annoying — if the session is supposed to be lighthearted, but you're seeing frustrated players, be flexible, and let them do what they want to in order to feel engaged again.

Crime

The Crime genre is about uncovering the unknown. Challenges like [[[Learn]], Hide, Persuade, and Secure might be key in a crime-based session. The PC's might be uncovering the secret, or they might be trying to keep the secret. Generally, the session is about a single event, and the fallout from that event. Someone killed the Duke, and the PC's can either be blamed, investigate it, infiltrate the suspected thieves' guild who executed him, or even have done the crime themselves, since the Duke was in league with the villain, and now they must avoid detection by the well-meaning police force.

Drama

A Dramatic genre choice for a session focuses the attention inward, on the events going on with specific characters in a specific, narrow way. The challenges are mostly about choices the characters make, and the effects of these choices on their lives. When running a session focusing on a particular character, your session might be Drama-based, presenting situations the character must react to in some way. Dramatic sessions might have some Persuade or Secure challenges, but generally just allow players to make choices about how their characters react, for whatever reason.

Epic

The Epic genre makes the picture huge, focusing on vast armies, immense wars, the fate of nations, royal lineages, gods, curses, and other large-scale, legendary challenges. The ramifications become especially significant in Epic sessions, which makes them good to throw toward the end of the campaign, or when the party has a lot of Failures under their belt. The higher the level, the better the fit for an Epic session. Epic sessions can use almost any kind of challenge, but they use it on a vast scale. Move challenges will travel between Hell and Heaven, combats will decide the fate of empires, and Persuade challenges might win divine favor — or secure divine hatred against your foes.

Horror

The Horror genre is about fear in much the same way that Comedy is about laughter, and, like Comedy, can be difficult to pull off. The key in horror is that usually the protagonists are fairly powerless, and the villain becomes the main focus, and the fate of permanent, unrelenting suffering is often assured. FFZ in particular makes "death" not much of a threat, though colossal Failure might be, and the death of innocents is always a concern. Usually, Hide, Move, Survival and Guard challenges feature prominently in horror, and even success brings only momentary relief. Learn challenges may feature in building suspense, as the characters discover what they are up against. Use horror sparingly, and make sure that it is about the villain, who can do something other than simply kill, and you may have the roots of your horror session.

Romance

As Comedy inspires laughter, and Horror inspires dread, Romance inspires affection (and, likewise, can be difficult to pull off). Romantic sessions focus on relationships between characters, and bringing them closer together, often through the force of love. The actions performed are all in the service of particular individuals — you fight for love, you move for love, you learn, for love. There are often obstacles to the love, and by meeting them in challenges and overcoming them, love is proven and assured.

Characters

Now that you know how to plan out and get your game flowing, turn your attention to the party itself, getting an idea of who they are and how they fit into the story you are setting up. This will also help inform your villain, as the antithesis of your characters. In addition to the basic statistics, the characters will have the following dimensions that will plug them into your campaign further.

Feature

A character's Feature is what they are very skilled at. This can be something with a statistical backing (a character with a +3 or +4 Vigor is indeed a very strong warrior), but it can also be something with no statistical backing whatsoever (the character is good at getting others to laugh, or is skilled in debate, or is physically beautiful). For you as a GM, the feature serves two purposes. The first is that it should feature prominently in how the character achieves victory: a character who inspires laughter should use that feature to overcome challenges (perhaps they make the stern guards lighten up enough to grant them entrance, or the witty ability helps a mischievous fey to come over to their side). The second purpose is that, sooner or later, the feature will be completely useless to the character. This second purpose shouldn't come up very often (perhaps once for each character in the entire campaign), but it should be an element of character growth. How the character deals with, say, their warrior's strength being unable to destroy the intangible specters, should cause them to re-examine their faith in their feature, and to devise new ways of relying on things. It might cause them to discover a hidden talent, or it might create a crisis for them that they must rely on their friends to overcome.

Flaw

A character's Flaw is what they see themselves as lacking. It's important that the character actively dislike this aspect of themselves in some way, that they try to control for it, manage it, and avoid it in themselves. This could be something with a statistical backing, but it doesn't have to be. Like the feature, the flaw serves a double purpose for the GM. It is something that figures into a character's rare defeat (if the character has a phobia of snakes, perhaps they are actively defeated by serpentine enemies at some point), but it also is something that the character has the opportunity to overcome at some point. The flaw shouldn't feature in every adventure, but there should be one opportunity in the campaign for the PC to overcome it, and a few more oblique references to it over the course of the campaign. It might feature in a villain's plot, or in a kind of challenge, it might make things more difficult, or it might be present in the rare unbeatable challenge that the GM might present.

Goal

A character's goal is what they want out of the world. It is fine if this goal is something simplistic, like "money," "fame," "love," or "freedom." The goal gives you something to dangle in front of the character as a reward, a reason for undertaking the various adventures. It can also represent something the villain prevents, or can offer if defeated. For a character whose goal is "to be rich," a villain who is already rich, or who owns a valuable treasure, provides a tempting target, while a character who wants "to fall in love" might be more motivated by a villain who threatens a love interest, or who seeks to make the character hated and reviled.

Motive

A character's motive is why they want to achieve the goal. It is the madness behind their method, the reason for their desire to risk life and limb for this goal. It may be an aspect of their personality, or an event in their history that inspires them. A character may want to be rich because that means security: they come from a poor family where they were constantly in danger of dying on the street. Another character may want wealth because it means power: they see the wealthy members of society buying and selling and influencing the direction of the entire town, and they want to be able to do that. Motives give you a history and a personality for a character, and thus enable you to build a villain that threatens them, or that was present before for them. Perhaps in a campaign with both of the above characters, the villain was one of the city's wealthiest members, using the law to keep residents poor, and themselves on top of everything, and as the party acquires wealth, the villain begins to use some of the power he has to take it from them, and to become a danger to their lives again.

Support Characters

Have each player specify at least one living NPC that they are close to for some reason. The NPC can be invented whole cloth by the player, down to their fine details. They may be a parent, or a mentor, or a close friend, or merely a friendly storekeeper that they usually visit for lunch. As a GM, you will resist the urge to kidnap, kill, or otherwise threaten this particular character. This is someone who will survive as long as the character does, and will serve as their contact to the "mortal world" beyond their heroic adventures. They may be a source of news or a reason to go on a mission (such as giving the PC a mission). A player may create more than one, such as a family, or even an organization (such as a thieves' guild), if they like, but one specific NPC must be their support character, and this one NPC is given a sort of narrative protection. Other NPC's may not be so lucky, of course. Support characters see beyond the given adventure, and give the world some depth.

Relationships

Have each player specify a connection between their character and at least one other character. The other player must agree to this relationship, decide how their character feels about it, and then specify a different connection between their character and another character. This continues until it gets back to the initial character. In this way, you can create bonds that can be tested and poked, especially by an astute villain. One character may be in love with another; the target of that character's love may not return the affection. That character, in turn, was the apprentice of a third character, and the third character feels a sort of "big brotherly" feel toward the second character. The third character and the first character, meanwhile, know each other because the third character is a friend of the parents of the first. The first character is a little intimidated by the third. As the GM, you can then create a villain who wants to test those relationships: one who perhaps also knows the parents of the first character, who traveled in the same circles as the third character, whom the second character has met before. The villain certainly knows about the unrequited love, and when the first character becomes vulnerable, the villain will use this knowledge to destroy him emotionally, not just physically.

Rivalries

Have each player specify a point of contention between their character and at least one other character. The other player must agree to the difference, decide how their character feels about it, then specify a different rivalry between their own character and another character. Rivalries should be generally low-key, the kind of thing that people can at least generally agree to disagree about, rather than the kind of thing that inspires divisive arguments. This doesn't mean it can't be closely-held, merely that it is personal: if Valdimir's closely-held religious views contrast with Baldric's atheism, this is fine, as long as neither results to a holy war at the mention of a different belief system. In the three-character example above, perhaps the first character determines he thinks the second is childlike, while the second character, unwilling to let go of her childishness, believes her parents chose questionable friends in the third character, who thinks that their apprentice (the first character) is exceptionally bratty. As the GM, your villain will use these rivalries to turn characters against each other.

Character Arc

Each player should sketch out, in broad terms, how they expect their character to change during the campaign. They should give three steps: what the character is like in the beginning of the campaign, the challenges the character will face as the campaign goes on, and what the character is like at the end of the campaign. This is essentially what you'll be presenting to each character during character-specific game sessions.

Character Growth

Because FFZ is a storytelling game, the characters are expected to change elements of themselves throughout the course of the campaign. As the GM, the list above is essentially a shortcut to presenting character growth. A character might face a challenge her Feature can't counteract, or she might have to confront her Flaw or fail miserably. Relationships can change, might become strained, secret feelings can be exposed, and rivalries can come to a head, and be resolved. These are all ways that players can re-define their character over the course of the campaign.

For most characters, hitting one or two of the notes, once, twice, or three times in a campaign, is enough. You don't want every adventure to hinge on the characters fighting out their rivalries, but you DO want one or two adventures that highlight it (and you can include it in the background or hooks of many other adventures).

It is effective if you pair these with the "threshold" levels of 5, 9, and 12, highlighting significant character growth with a significant increase in character ability. Essentially, as a matter of pacing, this means that each party member will experience some character-based challenge about once every 3-4 months. For an average party of 4, this means that four sessions are devoted to challenging each party member (things like Relationships might lean on two at once, but you might want to spend more time on them, teasing them out over multiple sessions). It is pretty effective if these come near the beginning or end of the cycle.

GM Control

It is key to note that as the GM, you have no say over character growth. You can present scenarios, but it is up to the player to have their character change, or not. In this situation, there is no clear success or failure, though it branches the path like one. Neither option is condemned (it's fine to be an inflexible character, and it is fine to be a changing character), but the choice should determine major events in the campaign. If a character can't get over her Flaw (fear of snakes), then the campaign takes a dramatically different direction than if she could. Perhaps one of the main henchmen of the villain is serpentine, and so figuring out how to beat that henchman without necessarily fighting it directly could be a dynamic and interesting few adventures. Similarly, if the character does conquer her Flaw, then the ultimate crusade on a snake-filled fortress of the henchman is pretty significant, showing how far the character has come.

The Mechanics

For players that take eagerly to role-playing, mechanics governing character growth might be largely superfluous and unnecessary, but for other players, having a mechanical effect helps them act more in-character. For this reason, you may consider applying ad-hoc mechanical effects to characters that are undergoing these difficulties and facing growth.

To a large extent, two FFZ subsystems will do the work for you. The first is the area of Temporary Adjustments, which you can apply directly to the stats. You may penalize areas that the character is becoming weaker in, and strengthen areas that the character is becoming stronger in. Perhaps a character whose Feature is their physical power, when facing intangible foes, suffers a -5 penalty to Weapon Power from panic, and gains a +5 bonus to Spell Power, representing tapping a resource they didn't know they had, and might not be able to tap into again.

The second is the area of Statuses. A character riding high on a recent romantic entanglement might gain Berserk status if their lover falls in combat, while a character who is facing their fears might be disabled, immobilized, or sealed, representing their paralyzing terror.

Again, this might be superfluous for players who get into their roles well in the first place (a player who chooses not to use job abilities as if disabled is essentially the same thing as forcing a character not to use job abilities by making them disabled, but tends to be more fun for both the GM and the player), and you mostly want to use these tricks in significant encounters or adventures, not all the time, but they can be very effective in helping players to role-play the effects of their character's growth.

Getting Player Input

In addition to making their characters, and making unexpected decisions, the players may take a greater hand in the way the campaign itself is structured. While their characters and the things they suggest with their motives and details (greedy landowners, parents, uncles, and lovers) certainly might imply certain world elements, this can be an ongoing process. You might take an off-hand comment by a player and treat it as true, or you might actively ask a player to give you information about some aspect of your world: give them a continent, or a nation. Fill in a few broad strokes (in this nation, undead are rulers) and let the player go wild with everything else. You might also ask a player to improvise an element of the world. You could give the parameters, and let the player fill in details. In some ways, the spells and job abilities in FFZ already work like that: they specify the parameters of the ability, and each player fills in the exact visuals and flavor. You may ask a player to tell you what lies at stake in a given choice, rather than giving them an express choice. For instance, above, the players had an option of people to talk to. Instead of specifying four choices, you could simply open it up to anybody, asking the players "Who do you find to talk to?" This can be broader, too. When choosing between two paths on the overworld, you could ask the players which town the East path leads to, and which dungeon the West path leads to, getting a name, and perhaps even a broad description of the region that, until that point, was emptiness on your map.

When getting player input, remember to use phrases like "You tell me," and "What do you think?" that prompt players for input. Also, remember to always twist what the players come up with. If the players decide that the West path leads to a dungeon full of lava-monsters, turn that dungeon into an old volcano, waiting to go off at a moment's notice. If the players decide that the East path leads to a town of elves, turn that into a town of elves under a sleeping spell. Add a detail to take ownership of the element again.

Note that this is mostly a stylistic consideration. As a GM, you will have to find the line where you're comfortable asking for player input. It can make improvisation very rewarding, but not all GMs are good at on-the-fly creativity, and need to use a better structure. In this case, once the PC's have their characters, they may be done adding world elements (at least until their next character). It is useful to use player input to work your way out of occasional dead-ends that your flowchart may have. Asking players to tell you what happens when you can't think of an answer, when they are stumped, when they take an unexpected course and you are stumped, when they appear to be disengaged from the story, or when the answer doesn't matter to you, can all lead to interesting twists and keep the game flowing, without compromising anything you have planned.

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