Wisdom of Nym: Hands-on with the Final Fantasy XIV TTRPG Starter Set

A neat start, but still a very limited one

but mah namedays

On some level, the Final Fantasy XIV TTRPG Starter Set was very much a product conceived and released to gauge interest. I don’t need to specify that it does, in fact, overlap very much with my own personal interests; I greatly enjoy FFXIV and I have a large section of my apartment dedicated to roleplaying games, so this was already a pretty clear purchase for me personally. It was something I wanted as soon as it was announced, even if I had a not-indefensible feeling that it was going to wind up being something less than overwhelming.

See, I very rarely buy starter sets for any RPG because they are generally far more constrained and board-game-like editions of a game that mostly come with some nice tchotchkes, custom dice, and a very limited idea of what the game is going to look like when it fully releases. This is not a thing that I necessarily want. But we actually got an official licensed FFXIV TTRPG, so I’m going to break my usual pattern. And in exchange, I get… well… the starter set I pretty much expected. Which isn’t terrible, but it is limited.

Within the quite attractive box, purchasers get a short player’s guidebook, a somewhat longer gamesmaster’s book with three scenarios and a few more details, some maps and punch-out markers, several custom d6 and d20 dice, and a dozen character sheets. The character sheets in question, however, are already filled out; each one represents a different job at level 30, level 40, and level 50. And if you did the math and said “that means there are only four jobs,” you’re correct! The box has sheets for Dragoon, Black Mage, Warrior, and White Mage. Those of you who wanted to be something else will… well, have to either homebrew or wait for the full rules.

Now, this is a touch disappointing but also not precisely surprising. As I mentioned, the starter set is usually a more constrained experience. I’m not upset that the box did not contain a full set of the game’s 21 jobs that will be available in Dawntrail; indeed, there’s a suggestion in the books themselves that more jobs will be available on the main site when the full book releases, so I get the sense that Square-Enix wants this to feel complete but doesn’t really want to be releasing sourcebooks for Dawntrail or Endwalker or what-have-you – in no small part because the game very clearly expects you are familiar with the source material already.

Well this is not a great thing for draco-elezen relations.

While the books explain some elements of the larger world that players may not have been familiar with, they’re very much written with the expectation that you play FFXIV and know what the game is. Case in point: While the book encourages players to go through the starter set to choose any race they want for their character, nowhere does the book actually list the player races. Or any races, in fact. By the rules as written, you could just make up whatever you wanted, but it clearly assumes it doesn’t need to tell you because it assumes you already know.

Is that a failing? It would be if this were going to be on the shelves of general retailers, but this is a product that was sold on the official site directly to superfans. Odds are pretty good the people who buy this know what they’re buying. It’s an understandable omission for a product that, again, is pretty much laser-focused on giving players exactly enough to run through three scenarios. And that’s fine, but it does give me some flashbacks to the Dallas RPG.

What the starter set does do is give us a good idea of what the full game will look like, and it is… interesting. It’s clear that the game is in many ways influenced by Dungeons & Dragons 5E, and you can import some of the knowledge of the game to understand what’s happening, but it’s not quite the same.

Characters have five attributes, just as in the MMORPG itself: Mind, Strength, Vitality, Dexterity, and Intellect. These attributes are simply rated in terms of a bonus to checks. When you make a check, you roll a d20 and add your bonus. Got an advantage? Roll 2d20 and keep the higher one. Got a penalty? You subtract it from your die roll.

This is an obvious mechanical difference from 5E insofar as advantage/disadvantage do not work the same, but it also helps that the game is set up so that penalties are also non-stacking. If a character has a -1 penalty, a -2 penalty, and a -4 penalty, their total penalty is to just take the highest and ignore the others. That keeps the math nice and simple, and it does make it clear that whenever you roll two dice things are going better for you.

As it stands, the box set has no rules for skills or specializations, just class abilities. However, the abilities are also used as an example of things that can lend themselves to skills, like using a Dragoon’s Jump to get an advantage on a Dexterity check. It’s a bit ad-hoc, but if you’re judging the rules as “a tool to play some scenarios,” it works well enough.

Rock on.

Combat is a bit more elaborate, but it also feels less like D&D in its execution. Rather than requiring initiative rolls, the game lets players determine their initiative order and encounters play out with all the players taking turns, then enemies and/or environmental effects, then another round starts up. Encounters are also divided into phases, so if players have to fight a couple enemies and then another group rushes in, that’s the start of a new phase.

There’s also no hit roll in the mix; players do roll when they declare they’re using an ability. Failing to beat the target number to hit the target results in basic effects triggering, but beating the target number is a direct hit and has a more substantial effect. Rolling a 20 is a critical, which leads to even more impact. The game exclusively uses the d6 for damage, so while some big hits (like crits from Dragoons) can see you rolling a bunch of dice, they’re a little more straightforward.

Also, at least in the starter edition, there are no experience points or level increases, nor any equipment or the like. Players sync to the level of the scenario they’re taking part in. What players earn through clearing challenges are titles, which have bonuses in play. It’s an interesting idea, although it needs to be fleshed out a bit if the full game is going to stick with that particular method (especially since, like… if level isn’t improved or decreased, why is it even marked).

Overall, what hit me multiple times was how limited this particular starter set felt. It’s not that simplicity is a bad thing. It’s marketed as a starter set, and it says as much. But it really does feel very constrained. You can play through three scenarios that show how you can run stories in parallel to FFXIV’s MSQ, and you could conceivably put together other ones with the tools in place, but I can’t see most groups wanting another scenario or two or four because their options are so narrow.

The mechanics seem like a solid foundation and a place for players to start, at least. I am still interested in seeing the full execution. But I’m hoping it contains some of the things that this box set kind of doesn’t because… well, if all it lets you do is run prefab jobs like the starter set, it’s going to be a very limited enterprise, and it’s not going to be substantially better than just running the game in an existing fantasy RPG ruleset.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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