Dungeons & Dragons 5E: Final Fantasy Tactics Meets D&D – Basic Rules

Among the Final Fantasy series of games, Final Fantasy Tactics is among a small group that made an indelible mark on my tabletop roleplaying experience, providing themes and mechanics that I’ve tried to duplicate in some form or another for years. Final Fantasy Tactics specifically…

  • …married an intricate Job Class System that was a strange mix of leveling up and “Job-hopping” to unlock new Jobs,
  • …promoted mastering specific Job Abilities to expand character versatility, and
  • …made equipping different Job-specific Abilities after switching Jobs a means to access interesting combinations of combat and utility Abilities.

All of this was done against the backdrop of a complex story of political and supernatural intrigue (one not quite as opaque as Final Fantasy 7 and similar entries in the series), and progressing on intricately detailed isometric battlemaps that made excellent use of 3D terrain.

With D&D 5th Edition‘s “all things D&D” and streamlined mechanics, it seems only apt that the Final Fantasy Tactics experience gets married to its thematic roots in the tabletop RPG world.

Final Fantasy Tactics logo

I’m surprised this wasn’t burned into my TV display considering how many hours it was up there!

Core Rules

The idea here is to do as little work as possible to achieve maximum Final Fantasy effect.

Player’s Handbook

To that end, assume most of the rules in the Player’s Handbook (and the Basic D&D game) stay fundamentally the same, barring a few options from the Dungeon Master’s Guide noted below. These chapters remain the same:

  • Chapter 1: Step-by-Step Characters
  • Chapter 4: Personality and Background
  • Chapter 5: Equipment
  • Chapter 7: Using Ability Scores
  • Chapter 8: Adventuring
  • Chapter 9: Combat
  • Chapter 10: Spellcasting
  • Appendix A: Conditions

So, Races, Classes, Customization Options, and Spells should see some changes, to varying degrees.

Dungeon Master’s Guide

The Dungeon Master’s Guide presents several optional and variant rules that provide a “Final Fantasy Tactics feel” to the game. Why not use them?

  • Hired swords and “guests” use the optional Loyalty rule (DMG p. 93).
  • In the Using Miniatures section, the Flanking (DMG p. 251), Diagonals, and Facing (both on p. 252) optional rules are especially appropriate to capture the feel of combat in Final Fantasy Tactics.
  • The “Renaissance” era Firearms rules (DMG p. 267-8) can be used. Classes with proficiency are noted in the Class rules (coming soon!).
  • Morale rules (DMG p. 273) should be used for non-Boss fights. Probably worth noting that I have an expanded Morale system in this article.
  • Variant: Spell Points (DMG p. 288) forms the basis of the magic “economy” available to all spellcasting classes (in place of FFT’s magic points).

Monster Manual

Let’s just plan on using the Monster Manual as-is (meaning the bestiary found in the Dungeon Master’s D&D Basic Rules remains as-is, too, for you cheapskates out there!). We can always create more FFT-inspired monsters at a later date. That said, let’s consider the permutations of the optional rules mentioned above and how they might affect 5th edition monsters.

A Final Fantasy Tactics battle in progress

Final Fantasy meets early Windows OS.

Combat

The Flanking, Diagonals, and Facing rules will obviously affect monsters just as much as Player Characters. None of it affects their statblocks, however.

Movement

Accounting for movement will be slightly more involved for monsters and NPCs, though this should be easy to get the hang of with just a little bit of practice. A couple options for easing the burden of more complex movement:

  • Task a player with moving monsters and NPCs for you, calling out how much movement it takes to “charge the closest PC” or “get within 10 feet of the Bard,” for instance. This is similar to offloading initiative tracking duties to a player.
  • Co-DMing is a fairly rare occurrence, but if you have the ability to partner with another player to help run monsters entirely, this will cut down on your workload.
  • Create cheat sheets of movement examples that you can place on your DM screen for quick reference. This is especially useful for determining the movement of Large and larger creatures at a glance. These templates can certainly serve as an excellent starting place.

Reach

Monster’s attacks (and all weapons or special abilities) with Reach beyond 10 feet will lose out on diagonals. Since the second diagonal counts as 10 feet, a creature with a reach of 15 feet can reach 3 squares in a straight line or 2 squares on a diagonal.

Area of Effect for Spells and Abilities

Similarly, the area of effect for spells, breath weapons, and special abilities conform slightly differently to a grid when the diagonals are more expensive on movement. Luckily, these more complex diagonal movement rules were the norm for the v. 3.5 revision of Dungeons & Dragons (2003), and companies like Steel Sqwire built spell and area effect templates conforming to this. Purchasing these templates or making your own out of pipe cleaner or the like provide simple ways to avoid having to count squares (again, I’ll point to these templates as an excellent start).

Variant: Converting to Squares

While some people find it easy dividing all ranges, movement, reach, and areas of effect by 5 to get the number of equivalent squares on a battlemat, there are others that don’t. Either way, it’s absolutely imperative when using the options noted above that a battlemat be quick to deploy at the table, so here are a few ways to ease that burden.

Don’t convert what you don’t need. Start — and finish! — only what you need when converting. Unless you have oodles of free time, it doesn’t make sense to go through the Monster Manual and replace every mention of “feet” with “squares.” Concentrate only on what the players have on their sheets (walking speed, weapon ranges, reach, spell range and area of effect) and the monters that are in the adventure you’re using at this particular moment.

Offload to the players. Have the players do the work on the spells, magic items, and gear that they have access to in the PHB. You focus on the Monster Manual.

Can’t divide on the fly? Use sticky notes. Post-it notes come in all shapes and sizes, and one of those is the little bookmark tab guys pictured below. Write the conversions there, post it by the monster statblock or whatever, and you’re good to go.

Bookmark post-it notes

I use the living crap out of these things.

Get used to writing in “squares” instead of “feet,” and do it in shorthand. Anyone remember D&D 4th Edition? Love it or hate it, the shorthand used for ranges was perfect. You don’t have to write “Speed 8 squares” when “Speed 8” does the job. Range 7. AE 4×4 is enough of a notation for an Area of Effect 4 squares by 4 squares. Keep it simple, use it all the time, and it’ll become second nature.

Centralize. Maybe writing all this crap down is annoying, so why not just create a single index card as a cheatsheet. Or a post-it note that you stick to your DM screen. Or, if you use a DIY DM screen, then just add the conversion table to one of the panels. Boom! Done.

Morale

Consider any “Boss” encounters — climactic battles against recurring villains or especially powerful “Solo” monsters — to ignore Morale rules so that they don’t run away. There may be times when a Boss encounter might end early, but this should be subject to what is most dramatically appropriate, rather than a single die roll.

When determining encounter balance for both individual encounters and “adventuring day” encounter budgets, consider the effects of Morale. If several encounters in a row feature monsters with no clear leader and average or low Morale overall, there’s a good chance these encounters can end early. This is fine for random encounters, but most planned encounters should consider having higher Morale leaders added to the enemies’ ranks.

Check out the advanced Morale system I developed for 5E here.

Spell Points

Assume monsters and NPCs follow they standard spellcasting rules for monsters. Monsters and NPCs with spellcasting ability don’t need to be updated to the Spell Points rules, as this creates extra bookkeeping for the Dungeon Master during combat encounters. Balance isn’t going to be thrown out of whack.

If Player Characters have an Ability, Spell, or Item that drains Spell Points, simply convert the listed spells the monster has access to into Spell Points based on the table (DMG p. 288) and effectively erase that spell (or one use of that spell) or spells, based on the number of Spell Points that would be drained. This should be fairly easy to eyeball on the fly.

Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions Job Classes

I LIKE COLORS!

Quick & Dirty Job > Class Conversion

Already used to the 5th Edition Classes and specializations? Here’s some thoughts on converting their names to the various Final Fantasy Tactics Jobs, just in case you can’t wait for future articles on this subject!

Barbarian > no correlating FFT job

  • Berserker > no correlating FFT job
  • Totem Warrior > no correlating FFT job

Bard > Bard

  • Lore > Mystic or Mediator/Orator
  • Valor > Bard or Dancer

Cleric > Chemist, White Mage

  • Knowledge > Oracle/Mystic
  • Life > White Mage
  • Light > White Mage
  • Nature > Geomancer
  • Tempest > Geomancer
  • Trickery > Mediator/Orator
  • War > Temple Knight/Templar

Druid > Geomancer or Summoner

  • Circle of the Land > Geomancer
  • Circle of the Moon > Geomancer

Fighter > Squire, Archer, Knight, Lancer/Dragoon

  • Champion > Knight, Lancer/Dragoon, Samurai
  • Battle Master > Knight, Lancer/Dragoon, Samurai, Soldier
  • Eldritch Knight > Heaven Knight/Skyseer, Hell Knight/Netherseer, Holy Swordsman/Sword Saint

Monk > Monk

  • Way of the Open Hand > Monk
  • Way of Shadow > Monk, Ninja
  • Way of the Four Elements > Monk

Paladin > Heaven Knight/Skyseer, Hell Knight/Netherseer, Holy Swordsman/Sword Saint, Divine Knight

  • Oath of Devotion > Heaven Knight/Skyseer, Divine Knight
  • Oath of the Ancients > Heaven Knight/Skyseer, Hell Knight/Netherseer, Holy Swordsman/Sword Saint, Divine Knight
  • Oath of Vengeance > Hell Knight/Netherseer, Holy Swordsman/Sword Saint

Ranger > Squire, Archer, Game Hunter

  • Hunter > Game Hunter
  • Beast Master > no correlating FFT job

Rogue > Squire, Thief, Ninja

  • Thief > Thief, Ninja
  • Assassin > Ninja, Assassin
  • Arcane Trickster > no correlating FFT job

Sorcerer > Black Mage, Sorcerer

  • Draconic Bloodline > no correlating FFT job
  • Wild Magic > no correlating FFT job (arguments could be made for Calculator/Arithmetician or Time Mage, maybe)

Warlock > Summoner, Sorcerer

  • Pact of the Archfey > no correlating FFT job
  • Pact of the Fiend > no correlating FFT job
  • Pact of the Great Old One > no correlating FFT job

Wizard > Black Mage

  • Abjuration > no correlating FFT job
  • Conjuration > Summoner
  • Divination > Time Mage, Oracle/Mystic
  • Enchantment > no correlating FFT job
  • Evocation > Black Mage, Summoner
  • Illusion > no correlating FFT job
  • Necromancy > no correlating FFT job
  • Transmutation > no correlating FFT job

Closing Statements

In future articles, I’d love to not only expand the player-facing options for a Final Fantasy Tactics-inspired D&D 5th Edition game — developing the jobs as classes, coming up with stats for different playable races unique to Final Fantasy — but also look beyond Final Fantasy Tactics. There’s a wealth of new and interesting systems that can be mined for D&D, starting with Materia and touching on many other entries in the Final Fantasy franchise.

Have you run a Final Fantasy-inspired D&D campaign? How’d it work? If you try these rules out, let me know how it goes!

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He's been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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