Thursday, March 9, 2017

Blitzball: Thoughts on Making/Adapting a Class

When my son turned 6 last year, he started begging me to let him play console games. Specifically the Final Fantasy series, which he has watched me play rather a lot. While I would have liked to have him play through the entire series in order (a challenge I once presented my wife when she asked about my obsession with it), the only console I had fully functional (without requiring complicated cartridge jiggling or frustrating glitches) was my PS3. Since I did not want to shell out money to download the "PSOne Classic" series games (and didn't really have the HD space for them), he started playing with the HD remaster of Final Fantasy X.

It, of course, did not take him long to become obsessed with the "Blitzball" mini-game, around which the first third or so of the story's plotline is centered. While this acrobatic, underwater game of Calvinball* has been much maligned on various internet forums, it is really quite addicting, and needlessly, amusingly complex. Then, of course, there is the character of Wakka, who takes Blitzball out of the mini-game and directly into your combats with his signature ball-as-a-weapon and status-attacks reminiscent of those used in Blitzball.

As a D&D kid, my son has been bombarding me with mechanical questions as he's played -- especially trying to mentally compartmentalize the classless/levelless,  grid-based advancement mechanism into D&D terms. Some (Lulu is a wizard, Yuna is a cleric/summoner, Auron is a samurai) are pretty intuitive, but, of course, throwing a ball at your enemies is not something you see in a lot of D&D. "What's Wakka's job?!" has been a repeated refrain. Obviously, as a player of a lot of different games, Wakka's key role in the party as a Controller/Debilitator is pretty obvious, but D&D doesn't really have a class that fits Wakka's unique milieu as a stat-damaging sports junky (Tidus also has a good amount of this flavor, but thankfully pulls a sword when combat actually starts).

So...a challenge from my kid: Make a Pathfinder class based on a Blitzball player.

First, let's consider what such a class might entail.

Wakka is a ranged attacker (using his thrown ball). He gains a very large number of hit points, and also has very high attack accuracy. His default build includes a number of special attacks that inflict status ailments (blindness, muteness, sleep), spells that drain hit points or magical energy from enemies, and an ability that increases the accuracy of his allies attacks.

Characters in the Blitzball mini-game also learn a variety of status-inflicting maneuvers. Performed as either a tackle, a shot with a ball, or passing the ball to an ally, these can inflict poison, sleep, statistic reduction, or drain hit points to be granted to the user. In all, very similar to Wakka's build in the main game. They also gain abilities that allow them to resist status ailments and escalate status ailments by using them multiple times on a single target.

In both cases, there is an emphasis on debilitating status attacks. So that is obviously what we should build the class around. In Wakka's case they have limited use, drawing on the same pool of magical energy from which he would cast any spells he learns.

One way to convert this would be to give the class spells (such as sleepsilence, etc.), and allow him to deliver these spells as part of a ranged attack, which could be accomplished with the Arcane Hurler magus archetype, with a slightly modified spell list. Going with a strait Magus archetype doesn't quite feel right, because of Wakka's secondary emphasis on high hit points (the best in the game by the default path) and accuracy, which does not mesh with the Magus' average attack bonus and d8 hit die.

A second would be to give the class a number of special attacks which draw on a limited pool of uses (such as the Skirmisher ranger archetypes Hunter's Tricks). A more dedicated warrior build, with a Ranger's hit points and attack progression solves the Magus' problems, though he would need to learn his special attacks earlier and more often than the Skirmisher. And, of course, we don't want any of the standard Ranger friendly-with-animals, tracking, favored enemies, favored terrains shtick. So we'll definitely want to go with a unique class, rather than an Archetype.

Beyond the base-line combat abilities, there are a few other considerations when putting this thing together.

First is the underwater nature of the game. Blitzball players are described as being able (indeed required) to hold their breath for five minutes or more, while also engaging in strenuous activity. There are in-game comments that much of their training focuses on holding their breath, and that Wakka (specifically) is so adept at it that he can sleep underwater. In Final Fantasy X-2, prior to participating in a Blitzball game, Yuna mentions that "I've been practicing. I've learned how to hold my breath for more than two minutes now". Also they are capable of performing most of their attacks with the same efficacy underwater as on land (Tidus is shown performing the very complex "Jecht Shot" on the deck of a ship while on the way to a tournament, and then using the same maneuver, with the same sequence of actions underwater).

Next is the lack of a broad skill set. Three highly-talented blitzers are playable characters in the series: Wakka and Tidus in Final Fantasy X, and Brother in Final Fantasy X-2. All three come off in dialogue as largely idiots. Even "skills" (other than combat and blitzball) that they use often, such as Tidus's repeated falsehoods, are done poorly. Quothe Yuna "You're a bad liar, you know." Wakka reflects some basic knowledge of how magic/physics in his world works and of the Yevon religion in his in-game conversations, but is not a deep thinker, simply regurgitating answers, and practically shuts down when his assumptions and prejudices are questioned later in the game. Brother, who has a bit role in X (primarily as the best recruitable blitzball player), and a much much larger role in X-2 is openly insulted by all of his co-workers (Yuna, Rikku, Buddy, et. al) for his lack of intelligence. Quothe Rikku (his sister), "What does he even do on this ship anyways?"  Obviously the class does not need a whole lot of skill points.

Then there are the various sport-ball-ish roles on a general blitz team and the multiple ways that characters in the blitzball mini-game deliver their status attacks. You have the Wakka-style shots (throw a ball at the target), close-range tackles, and passes that bounce off of multiple adjacent targets. Most blitzball characters focus on one of the three -- shots, tackles, or passes. And, of course, you have the goalies who benefit the most from the various anti-status moves, as well as skill in deflecting/catching balls (missiles). This can easily be translated into Ranger-style combat styles for our new class: a ranged attacker with thrown weapons, an unarmed melee brawler, a close-range crowd controller, and a defensive specialist.

Lastly, of course, there is the weapon and armor selections. Wakka of course, only uses his ball. Despite being a blitzball player by trade, Tidus doesn't so much as blink at the beginning of of FFX when Auron hands him a Longsword and says "I hope you know how to use it," implying a reasonably broader familiarity with weapons (a martial weapon in this case). Likewise, both characters use shields for defense (described as armguards in Wakka's case), but wear fairly impractical-for-combat clothing otherwise. Against later bosses in the game, Evasion of attacks by luck and speed is much more important than any defensive stats, which fits well for a high-Dex ranged attacker build. Thus proficiency with simple and martial weapons (typical of other warrior-type classes) seems reasonable, along with shields and (if we're being nice) light armor.

Which, of course, brings us to the signature ranged weapon -- an apparently heavy ball used for a game played under-water (at least solid enough to have fairly neutral buoyancy), often affixed with spikes, blades, nodules, or other protuberances which would make holding or catching it fairly impractical*. Luckily the game designers at WOTC already created a completely ridiculous ball-like thrown weapon for D&D 3.0, the Orcish Shotput (from Sword and Fist). Which works well for this class. Adding spikes and blades would just change the damage type from Bludgeoning to Piercing or Slashing (as appropriate).

So, there are my initial thoughts on my son's crazy request. I'll post the full class once I've worked out the details.

* Blitzball is clearly not a "nice" game. No one calls foul when Tidus body-checks another player all the way out of the pool in the opening sequence. Grappling and choking are fine. Poisoning your opponent is totally legal. The balls can be customized in ways that could leave grievous wounds. And there are apparently no authorities to be contacted when a rival team kidnaps Yuna and holds her ransom to get Wakka to throw a match. This is a nasty, brutal sport with very few rules...