Saturday, November 16, 2013

Proficiencies: Final Fantasy

One thing I always liked was the portrayal of the Fighter in the original Final Fantasy.   He was a master of all arms and armor, he hit the hardest using the best weapons and could take as much as he could dish out wearing the thickest of armor.  This is never quite realized in D&D in my opinion.  Let's take a look at 3rd edition with allows for broad weapon and armor categories.  Sure the fighter classes can wear all armor and use all non-exotic weapons but it's really not that big a boon.  You might have a slightly larger die (d8 vs d6) comparing your martial weapon to a simple weapon (the elimination of speed factor is one less variable to differentiate between the two groups but that's worthy of its own post) and you're armor might provide you a marginally higher armor class (Heavy Range +5 to +8 VS Light +2 to +4) at the cost of seriously slowing you down and giving you tremendous penalties to useful skills.  That's before we get into the overly economic mithral chain shirt which eclipses most heavy armor provided you have a bit of dex and enough coin to buy Full Plate.  The point is, being trained to use better weapons and armor isn't much of a feature if the weapons and armor aren't markedly better.  Let's take a look at the original Final Fantasy a direct descendent of D&D.

When you create your party you have a few choices to fill your four slots: the fighter, thief, black belt, red mage, white mage and black mage.  The fighter can equip any weapon and armor and is a great all around character when it comes to stats, a party of four fighters is not only doable but excellent if not expensive, whereas the blackbelt is very similar with regards to good stats but is at his best when not wearing equipment.  Think of the cost savings man! It should be noted magic must be purchased and is the most expensive part of your party budget.  The Thief and Redmage will round out the classes we look at equipment wise.  So let's see how class choice, and thus proficiencies deeply affects gameplay.

A more legible version can be found here for weapons and armor.
If you're not familiar with the iconic classes the Red Mage is an amalgm of the Fighter, Blackmage and Whitemage.  A Fighter/Cleric/Wizard or 1e Bard without the music but still rocking the feathered hat.  The Red Mage can wear most weapons and armor, curiously he cannot equip the Staves or Hammers specific to the other Mages nor can he wield Axes which are the Fighter's trophy weapon.  This jack of all trades is great but is blocked off from specialized areas, makes decent enough sense to me.  The Thief can wear some armor (moreso than the White and Black Mages) but it is only very early armor and doesn't provide that much benefit.  Each town you come across will have fun new gear for your Fighter and Redmage while everyone else is left with drafty robes and wooden starter armor.

How these bathrobes made it this far is beyond me
The Thief does retain a decent bit of weapon selection however, his restrictions appear to be based  on weight.  Compare the Falchion and the Shortsword (later retranslated as Broad sword), both   weapons have the same attack power (15) and hit percent bonus (10%) and Critical value (5) yet the former is not equippable by the Thief.  Identical weapons (in the original incarnation at least) yet the Thief is limited to weapons that are lighter, more finessable (falchion, scimitar and sabre for instance) and typically found later.  This means that the Fighter, and consequently the Red Mage riding on his coattails, gets the glory of stronger weapons early on.  Interesting choice but requires a keen mind for level design and placement.  What I'm looking for is something universal.

One thing that shocked me was that the Red Mage had near identical proficiencies to the Fighter.  This changes a bit when the classes get upgraded.  It was surprisng to the say the least when I moved past nostalgia and started digging into game mechanics.  Setting aside end-game artifact weapons, which all the upgraded classes can wield anyways the Red Mage can wield everything the fighter can with the exception of axes.  The Ninja [Thief Upgrade] finally gets thrown a bone and can now wield all weapons, including Axes.  So here we see the Fighter doesn't have the market cornered on weapon proficiencies.  While the Red Mage can wear many of the same early armors its the full-plated armor add-ons where the Fighter forges ahead; able to wear helmets, shields and some unique armor to further solidify his role as a red plated panzer.  This got me thinking, if the Red Mage can match the fighter pound for pound in equipment, why is the fighter so much better at his job; not just noticeably so but astonishingly so.  Here's a description of the Fighter from the amazingly helpful manual which certainly deserves its apt title "Explorer's Handbook."

"A professional fighter trained in the use of all weapons.  The Fighter is able to wear heavy armor and is skillfull with large swords.  Even with this bulky equipment quick moves are still possible"

The last sentence rings especially true when looking at our 3rd edition example.  The fighter can certainly wear heavier armor but it comes with quite a price, our FF Fighter is still quite competent despite being loaded down with gear.  The first order of business would be to have strictly fighting classes that wear the battlements of war should be able to overlook these menial penalties.  As for actual FF game mechanics the Fighter doesn't treat armor weight any lower however they do have a very good growth rate of Agility, surpassing even the Thief, which is mitigated by the weight of his armor.  So while he is not nearly as evasive as the Thief he is still quite nimble in the case of both evasion and initiative.
Faster than a speeding bullet or a horde of pirates

Now since the Redmage can swing the same steel as the fighter and the Ninja is angling into his turn with newfound ax prowess the fighter still manages to edge them out quite easily.  He has the highest starting Strength and Hit growth.  Hit not only determines accuracy but how many times you land a hit leading to more damage.  Although he is not as fast as the Thief, or unarmored Black Belt he is often able to go before most enemies even when burdened with his heavy equipment.  So we have a character that hits hard, accurately and frequently on account of his class, can equip all kinds of armor which slows him down marginally but is still able to keep up with his peers without being surpassed by common fodder.  What we have is a powerhouse who cannot be overshadowed in the physical arena and this is certainly something I'd like to see applied to the basic Fighter in role playing games.  We'll look at how in a later post.


  1. I like the comparison to FF1; it's very much a D&D video game.

    Maybe our experiences are different, but the high level 3e fighters I've seen in action have had insane DPS, can kill pretty much anything in a few turns and far overshadow the rest of the party in combat. It's all a matter of min\maxing properly.

    1. Oh yes, I've seen some absurd Shock Trooper Power-Leap-Attacking damage outputs. I've also seen plenty of one-trick ponies. My thought though is that you shouldn't need a combination of feats to be a war machine, instead it should be built into the class from the ground up. By selecting a Fighter you are by default the best at down-and-out fighting, FF1 provides a pretty good case study for that.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. The distinction is far more notable in earlier editions. 3e is a game for people who want to play 18 Str Wizards.