Campaign Creation

Overview

The GM's main job in Final Fantasy Zero is to present the campaign. "Campaign" is a term for one cohesive story arc, effectively the length of one Final Fantasy game. It usually concerns one adventuring party and one major villain, but it could also be based on anything from historical events to random, un-connected mercenary missions.

In FFZ, the campaign is defined mostly in narrative terms: the campaign is a single story, so it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This triad is called the "narrative structure," and it underlies most of what you'll do as an FFZ DM. Not only will your campaign have that structure, but your adventures and your sessions and even your individual encounters will, too. There are many psychological and artistic reasons to use this structure, but, as a GM, you need only concern yourself with one: this is what makes the game fun. Moreso than tropes and archetypes like moogles and dragoons, what makes Final Fantasy so engaging are the stories that the games tell. As the GM, you take command of that narrative power, and so FFZ supports you by making it as easy as possible to simply plug in ideas. Generally, the narrative structure of the game will do the heavy lifting for you, making sure that whatever you plug in turns out to be an engaging story made alongside the players.

Before we get into the thick of it, however, it is useful to specify some terms we'll use.

Definitions

Encounters: The smallest unit of dramatic tension, an encounter is generally a situation in which the player characters face some challenge, with a chance of failure. Encounters fit into many over-arching types, but FFZ divides them into four, based on the challenge the party faces:

  • The Party vs. The Environment = Exploration Encounter: These involve the party at risk from the world around them, and their efforts to resist it.
  • The Party vs. Thier Internal Conflicts = Test Encounter: These involve individual party members' own internal conflicts, such as tests of courage or knowledge.
  • The Party vs. Others (using violence) = Combat Encounter: These involve one side attacking the other. The majority of encounters in FFZ are of this type, though not exclusively.
  • The Party vs. Others (not using violence) = Social Encounter: These involve one side trying to convince another, without necessarily using violence.

With these encounter types, you can build simple or complex challenges to the player characters. If they overcome the challenge, they gain a reward and advance the campaign. If they fail to overcome the challenge, they don't advance the campaign, and take some penalty. Encounters can be major encounters (defining moments of tension) or minor encounters (simple checks and challenges to do something minor). Encounters are the invidiual scenes in your ongoing story.

Sessions: A session is one night of playing FFZ. The game makes some assumptions about how long and how complex most seessions run, though you are, of course, free to adjust these to your own schedule and play style. Sessions are typically made up of three major encounters: Beginning, Middle, and End, with the final one being the most climactic. They are assumed to last 3-5 hours. These are the individual "episodes" in your ongoing story, a few pages of your ongoing book.

Adventures: Adventures are made up of one more more sessions of play. The length of an adventure is basically defined by how many encounters it takes to complete. With three encounters per session, most adventures take 1-9 sessions (between 3 and 27 encounters) to be resolved. On average, it is assumed you have about one adventure per month. At the end of each adventure, the player characters emerge changed in some way, and the campaign is significantly advanced. Adventures might be one movie in your trilogy, or one chapter in your book, or one season of an ongoing TV show. Adventures also have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and they are frequently nested into each other, so that you're taking on several adventures at once.

Campaigns: Campaigns are, as stated above, the complete story: the entire book, the entire trilogy, the entire run of your TV series, from the start of action until the final major conflict is resolved. Campaigns should take at least 3 adventures to resolve, and generally last about a year. The main things that define the campaign are the player characters, and the major villains. The entire campaign will cover about 180 hours of game play over the course of that year. That might seem like a lot (especially if you're used to investing less than half that in Final Fantasy games!), but keep in mind that it's partially the GM's duty to nix filler: everything you spend time with should be important in some way.

Creating a Campaign

When designing a campaign for FFZ, you'll generaly be working both on the overall campaign, and on individual encounters and sessions, at the same time, using a "bottom up" and a "top down" approach both. With one eye, you'll be looking at the overall campaign themes and the villain's actions, and with the other, on what you'll be doing the next time you meet with your group.

Step 1: Ground Rules

If you have some broad ideas for the kind of game you want to play, or any special changes you want to make to the game (including big house rules), you should make them known before you accept any characters. Want everyone to be a moogle? Do you need to let the players know that black magic is illegal and practicioners will be killed on sight? Are you just going to be playing a "one-off" for the night, or will this be a full year game? Are you playing a themed game, such as a horror game, or playing in a specific world? Rules that affect what the characters can be should be presented right away, so that the players know the ramifications of their choices.

The Personality Questions

When making characters, players need to answer five questions about them, presented in Character Creation. As the GM, you can modify, add to, or subtract from this list to reflect what you're looking for in a campaign

Campaign Theme

While the theme can arise out of the player characters, you may also have a theme in mind at the beginning: put it out there, and let players think about it when creating characters.

Step 2: Generating and Accepting Characters

After establishing whatever over-arching ground rules for the campaign, the players can make characters and submit them to you for approval. The approval process is just to make sure you have the final say on what these characters are, and if they don't meet your approval for some reason, ask the player to make that character more in line with your idea for the campaign. You shouldn't dictate the characters to players, and keep in mind that a character the player creates themselves is going to have a greater investment in it than a pregenerated character. Still, you may offer pre-accepted characters for the player to choose (though you shouldn't deny them the opportunity to make their own), For this step, remember the cardinal rule of GMing: "Say Yes." Look for ways that characters that you might not expect, or that are unorthodox, may work anyway.

Using "Character Surprises"

The theme of unexpected character origins is very prominent in the Final Fantasy games: ever since Final Fantasy 4, it has been almost cliche for some character to have a past that the character was not aware of: a secret father, a mysterious amnesia, an unknown destiny, or any one of a number of unusual events. This makes for some good drama, and raises some big campaign questions, but, in a table-top game, you need to be more careful about it. Players are more invested in their characters — their own creations — than most people are about characters on the screen.

When possible, the best way to do this is to announce the surprise long in advance: establishing one of the ground rules as "One or more of you may or may not have past you don't know about" both warns the players, and gives you leeway to change your mind as the campaign develops, choosing if to do it, when to do it, and which character(s) to do it to.

When it happens, the "surprise" should be carefully balanced. It should not be a direct hinderance to the character, but neither should the player have it forced on them in exchange for abilities that they wanted instead. The middle ground option here is to provide it as an option: allow the PC to take feats or powers from their secret history, if they want, but leave the decision up to them. Remember that even if you're an artificially created being from an alternate planet, your abilities aren't necessarily better or worse than anyone else's. Like with tribe creation, remember that the fluff can be whatever you want, but it shouldn't affect the actual rules dramatically. Tidus may have been a living dream, but he was still just a character like anyone else, with his own strengths and weaknesses, after all.

Also keep in mind the ensemble nature of an FFZ game, compared to the FF videogames: these things are not single-player experiences, so one player's backstory shouldn't hog the spotlight. It might be an important plot point in the adventure or campaign, but it should not be the ONLY plot point.

More than One Character?

FFZ is fine with multiple characters per player, as long as they are not all on the same mission at the same time. You can approve more than one character at first, though the player should specifiy to you which one they want to use first, and you can keep the other characters in "holding" until a time of your choosing, even if you approve them right out of the gate.

Step 3: Villain Design and World Design

Aside from the player characters, the thing that will be occuring the most in your game is your villain. In FFZ, your villain is a very important tool you use to confront the characters, to advance the plot, and to bring out the themes of the campaign. The process of villain design will help you make an antithesis to your current PC party. You can add flair and specifics as much as you want (designing a villain is much like designing a character in this respect), but thematically, archetypally, your villain will be a reflection of your PC party, and your campaign's themes.

Linked to the villain, and to your characters, you will figure out various areas of adventure here. The amazing settings of your fantasy world will be fleshed out along with the bad guys. Keep your campaign themes in mind for this aspect, too.

Step 4: A Hook and Reel

There are two elements that will be constantly repeated throughout your GMing experience: the "hook" and the "reel."

The "hook" is what draws the players in. Usually, it is something you do to trigger a reaction from the PC's — make them an offer, let them follow their desires, have them flee their fears, give them a chance to showcase their virtue, or threaten to expose their vice. Sometimes, the PC's will provide their own hooks, and motivate their own characters. If a player knows his character is greedy and he hears about an immense trove of treasure, chances are good the player will want to pursue it without any prodding from the GM. You should allow and encourage this — a player who follows their own hook will find the game more rewarding than one who takes a hook that is purposefully dangled in front of them. Because of this, you should have multiple hooks out at all times, spread amongst the characters.

To begin with, you need

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