Back in the day I said I would make good on a promise to create a class for another Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast. I made good on that promise, experiencing full well the troubles of making something balanced, and still making something that felt more like a joke than something a Player can legitimately use. Mind you I’ve still yet to play the class as written and already have ideas for rewrites, so it could still be a decent class if I can just get the data to show it to be the case. Any takers? Point being, I feel it’s my duty to make something else with a bit of seriousness this time, and thought it would be fun to make a custom monster from a very popular series of fantasy games: Final Fantasy.
Something like this is nothing new, as anyone with a simple Google search can tell you. I’ve had this idea for awhile but never really committed to it, so when I saw others took on the task before me, I had to take a look. And immediately headdesked. As it is with all fandoms, a lot of people wish to spread their love of it into other mediums like I’m doing. Problem being there are a lot of people who have no business doing it, either because they can’t do the source any justice, don’t know what they are doing, or insert too much of themselves into the task. The last item is fairly constant in fan fiction…and I’m guilty of that as well. Neopets is Serious Business, yo.
The D&D that I’ve come to understand is version 3.5, which greatly simplified the rules from 2nd Edition (or so I hear) while not streamlining them to the point of many common MMO games…as was 4th Edition. The bare bone rules are all part of the d20 System Reference Document, which may not be perfect but is freely available to the public to use for gaming purposes. They are the rules that need to be followed (or at the very least modified and balanced) when you make anything 3.5 D&D…and the Final Fantasy material I found for the game disregarded the rules completely. Not only from a design point, but an abstract viewpoint as well.
Because that’s one thing that must be understood: a lot of D&D is an abstraction. Taking turns, the number of weapon strikes it takes to slay a beast, and especially Hit Points are just means to help us comprehend things in a formulaic fashion. So when you translate something from a different medium and scope into another system, your comprehension of the rules needs to be precise. The research into already established Final Fantasy d20 material has showed it was undertaken by those who loved both games, but didn’t really understand what it means to convert one game into another.
To be fair, Final Fantasy is a hard game to convert. Or at least it is post Final Fantasy VI, the last FF game made before they put more emphasis on visuals than story or gameplay. When you have battles that last forever because of insane amounts of hit points, attacks that seemingly destroy the world, and abilities that don’t really have any place in in D&D, core rules or supplement…conversion can be a little tricky. A shame too because there are good ideas that come from Final Fantasy, most prominent being Limit Breaks and Airships. Almost ever gamer I know wants an airship, and how can you say no to the idea of a Limit Break, which makes the prospect of death dramatic and gives your PC a special flair? So I understand fully the desire and troubles of making this work. It’s still possible given I did convert a monster in just a couple hours, just tricky. All the same, the two full scale conversions I found left me very depressed.
First is the aptly named Final Fantasy d20 by Alan Willig. The version I read from was pre-Pathfinder, though that still doesn’t change my comments given the same problems exist in the updated version. Pathfinder is also full of weeaboo powers in comparison to WoTC D&D, and I’d rather they fixed mechanics that didn’t make sense than change almost everything. Will touch Pathfinder at some point, but that’s my comment for now. Anyway, Alan did a lot of work for conversion. New classes, magic items, monsters and races from Final Fantasy were painstakingly worked upon. As already noted, just making a single aspect of the game is rough, and over 400+ pages were written for this. Mostly spells and feats, sure, but that’s still a lot of work.
And yet, the design and mechanics of Final Fantasy to Dungeons & Dragons was homebrew rather than conversation. A mistake, especially if you’re going to work by the rules of d20. The magic system worked off of MP just like the FF games, and that wouldn’t be so bad if it at least made sense. D&D Psionics worked off a point system, but it at least gauged the points appropriately and still adhered to d20. With magic in mind, the crafting of magic items disregards d20 completely, with prices thrown onto items just because and the only prerequisites to craft anything are to have one of the three Item Creation Feats and a high enough Caster Level. It’s little things like this that made it clear the writer had more care to adhere to Final Fantasy than d20.
At the very least the monsters should be precise, because while you can’t perfectly transfer FF gameplay to D&D, you can certainly denote similar D&D monsters or modify them as needed because both are in a fantasy setting. Even this was mishandled, because the mathematical rules for monster creation were ignored. Never mind the new ruleset for Final Fantasy abilities, if you can’t properly gauge ability modifiers, skill ranks, saves, and all the other aspects that define a monster for even what type it is, something is wrong. It’s nitpicky, I know, because I still get that nostalgic feeling when reading the articles, which was the point of their creation. But seeing a bunch of numbers and terms thrown around just makes it clear the author didn’t know what he was doing.
That was the good read I had. I was utterly appalled with Final Fantasy 3.5E by Raidzuo. Alan will forever be given a free pass if it can be agreed by all of humanity that Raidzuo’s “supplement” failed in all aspects. Heck, that’s probably what happened because the link I’m supplying is the best source I could find that wasn’t a forum talking about it. There doesn’t even seem to be a download link for this anymore. Perhaps I should find a means to host it just to show you how messed up it is? The hell with it. Read it. Share it. The world must know. At the very least we can get the good out of the way and agree the design of the PDF is rocking. If there’s one thing the writer got right it would be the art and design of the book, and I hope he continues to do quite well in that regard. Game design itself? Please no.
A little over 100 pages, FF 3.5E is claimed to supplement existing D&D material, but it just complicates it. The same issues of Final Fantasy d20, with adding homebrew content instead of finding a means to convert FF content into D&D terms (make an abstraction). If anything, it attempted to turn D&D into Final Fantasy, and that obviously doesn’t work because the numbers in FF are astronomical in comparison to whatever D&D can have even in Epic gameplay. And yet here we are with a FF supplement saying a dagger is capable of doing 7d10+4 damage. What size is the dagger, and why +4 damage? How is it crafted, and what does it take to enchant the weapon further? Not that it matters, because the sheer absurdity of the rest of the book makes the random weapon die allotment seem moot.
The monster stat blocks…are wrong. Just wrong, plain and simple. The stat blocks are written in 3rd Edition style, but the numbers don’t even correspond to each other as they are supposed to. I’m of the mind the writer just wanted to make the monsters tough, wrote in a large number and said, “This is going to be awesome!” without any real understanding of what he just wrote down. And with almost every monster’s HP numbering in the thousands, it can be seen why the writer thought he needed to make all new standard weapons. It still doesn’t make sense, but I can understand why it was felt to be necessary. And on why he felt the large numbers were necessary at all, read the FAQ and try not to scream in frustration. Conversion and abstraction fail at its highest. Well…at least the book design was pretty?
Let’s reel this back in. I’m supposed to be writing about a custom D&D monster from the Final Fantasy universe, not rant about poor game design. Onward to victory! To make things easy on myself (ha), I decided to go with a monster that would still require a bit of work, but is iconic and simple enough to make the transfer. I speak of none other than the Malboro, that wretched monster every unprepared FF player loathes. Aside from being an exceptionally creepy tentacled beast with a giant mouth full of teeth, it’s Bad Breath (yes, that’s what it’s called) could cause a Total Party Kill due to the fact one or more of your party members could have no defense against just a few of the status ailments it gave you. I remember having “lots of fun” when a Malboro showed up, because it was pretty much a guaranteed I was going to die. Even worse, slowly.
To make the transition into d20 3.5 easier, I decided to use an already established monster as a template and adjust as necessary. This monster is the Tendriculos, which not only looks like the Malboro but has similar attacks as well. It’s a bit of a cheat, I know, but why reinvent the wheel when we can simply change a few things about it to get the same result? Besides! This is fully d20 compatible, while the version in Alan Willig’s used homebrew ailments and spells rather than making it a true conversion, and Raidzuo…*sigh* Let’s just get to the stats, shall we?
Size/Type: Huge Aberration
Hit Dice: 9d8+54 (94 hp)
Armor Class: 16 (-2 size, -1 Dex, +9 natural), touch 7, flat-footed 16
Base Attack/Grapple: +6/+23
Attack: Bite +13 melee (2d8+9)
Full Attack: Bite +13 melee (2d8+9)
Space/Reach: 15 ft./15 ft.
Special Attacks: Bad Breath, Improved grab, swallow whole
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60, Regeneration 10
Saves: Fort +9, Ref +2, Will +7
Abilities: Str 28, Dex 9, Con 22, Int 3, Wis 8, Cha 3
Skills: Hide +9, Listen +1, Move Silently +1, Spot +1
Feats: Alertness, Iron Will, Power Attack, Stealthy
Environment: Temperate forests
Challenge Rating: 8
Treasure: 1/10th coins; 50% goods; 50% items
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 10-16 HD (Huge); 17-27 HD (Gargantuan)
Level Adjustment: —
Bad Breath (Su) – Once every minute as a Standard Action, a Malboro can release a horrid gas from its mouth in a 50 ft cone that makes its prey easier to subdue and consume. Opponents must make a save (DC 20) vs. each of these effects.
- Blind – Fort Save, as the spell Blindness/Deafness. Can be removed normally.
- Poison – Fort Save, as the spell of the same name. Can be removed or resisted as normal poison.
- Reduce Person – Fort Save, as the spell of the same name. Can be reversed by Enlarge Person.
- Silence – Will Save, as the spell of the same name. Cannot be removed.
- Confuse – Will Save, as the spell Confusion. Can be removed normally.
Regardless if an opponent saves against all but one or none of these effects, it is affected for 2d6 rounds. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Improved Grab (Ex) – To use this ability, a Malboro must hit a creature at least one size smaller than itself with its bite attack. It can then attempt to start a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. If it wins the grapple check, it establishes a hold and can try to swallow the opponent in the following round.
Swallow Whole(Ex) – A Malboro can try to swallow a grabbed opponent by making a successful grapple check. Once inside the plant’s mass, the opponent takes 2d6 points of acid damage per round from the Malboro’s digestive juices. A swallowed creature can climb out of the mass with a successful grapple check. This returns it to the plant’s maw, where another successful grapple check is needed to get free. A swallowed creature can also cut its way out by using a light slashing or piercing weapon to deal 25 points of damage to the Malboro’s interior (AC 14). Once the creature exits, the plant’s regenerative capacity closes the hole; another swallowed opponent must cut its own way out. A Huge Malboro’s interior can hold 2 Large, 8 Medium, 32 Small, 128 Tiny, or 512 Diminutive or smaller opponents.
Regeneration (Ex) – Bludgeoning weapons and acid deal normal damage to a Malboro. A Malboro that loses part of its body mass can regrow it in 1d6 minutes. Holding the severed portion against the mass enables it to reattach instantly.
Now to explain the changes made! First thing that had to change was the creature type, because while the Tendriculos looks like a Malboro, the Malboro is not a Plant. The living mass of tentacles, multiple eyes, and Bad Breath means it has a strange anatomy, making it fair to be called an Aberration. I know this conflicts with established material, but weren’t Kobolds also goblins of some kind? Moving on! Because of the Type change, the Malboro gets good Will Saves, has Darkvision instead of Low-Light Vision, needs to sleep, and loses many of the immunities a Plant has. Abilities scores, skill ranks, and feats don’t need to change either lest I wish to get really picky. Easy change thus far. Now comes the hard stuff.
The two tendril attacks were removed, because while a (normal) Malboro has tentacles, they are not long enough to be used for attacks. A Malboro has primarily been known to use only its mouth to attack, and while this isn’t the case for other species of Malboro, we are focusing on your typical one. Removing these attacks from the original Tendriculos would lower the CR (Challenge Rating) by a point or two…but because we are adding Bad Breath, it more than makes up for the matter. On that, I’ve only raised it by two because yes indeed the ability is powerful, and the saves of 8th Level PCs will likely fail against at least one of those abilities. And yet, the Malboro only has 9 HD (Hit Dice = Level), which means an 8th Level PC can have as many Hit Points as the Malboro. CR is fine where it is without raising the HD, because if we raise the HD we raise the Save DC for Bad Breath, and then we are in a loop. I’m content with what is there (for now).
As such, the Paralysis part of Swallow Whole was removed. One could argue that Paralysis should be taken out just because the Malboro has never shown such an ability (to my recollection), but for me…it’s more of a balance issue. The original Tendriculos is fearsome because it can eat you and then there’s no escape because of the of the paralyzing digestive juices. Because the Malboro can pretty much do something like this with Bad Breath to multiple targets, possibly ending a fight out right if all PCs fail their saves (even if only affected for 2d6 rounds)…I think it’s just fine.
And on the Bad Breath, while I could have added more ailments to it, going so far as to add all the known ailments to have frustrated me throughout the years, I felt it simpler (and more nostalgic) just to derive the attack from Final Fantasy VI. Always felt like the best Final Fantasy game to me, so why the heck not? Plus the memories of being turned into a confused Imp were annoying, but funny. The other ailments (especially the bizarre Zombie condition) can be left for other more powerful forms of Malboro, of which there is one with a crown and mustache. I wish I was making that up.
So there you have it! My very first custom monster! That’s not custom at all but just a rule/game/setting conversion! Which means I not only need to make a more difficult conversion, but my very own for reals custom monster? Dammit. Why do I put myself in binds like this? Why must I continue to judge everything I do as not good enough!? *sigh* As it goes. Happy testing with this Malboro, which is leaps and bounds better than already presented d20 variants. Will one day throw this at some PCs and test it appropriately, and edit as necessary. Feel free to do so as well, you hear?