Monday, 15 October 2012

Tenra Bansho Zero: First Thoughts

In mid-to-late 2012, I got into the Tenra Bansho Zero Kickstarter in a big way. I'd only been following it for a couple of years of its seven year English adaptation journey, so I had time to get excited without running out of steam waiting the whole seven years!

Since I put in for one of the advance copies, I got to start reading the game earlier than most, and began diligently reporting any proof-reading errors I found. +Andy Kitkowski, the game's translator, ended up recruiting me to collate all of the errors people were reporting, which turned into a massive undertaking for a couple of weeks! It was worth it, though, just in being able to see a much more polished version of the book emerge. It doesn't hurt that my name's in the credits now, too!

My advance copy arrived on 15 Oct 2012!

What originally drew me to the game? Well, it's a sci-fi version of the Japanese Warring States (Sengoku) period, with over-the-top samurai action, mecha, cyborgs, ninja, onmyou mystics, set on an alien world during a period of constant war. There's a whole lot more information over on the TBZ website and blog. So, the sheer style and visuals of the game were enough to pique my interest.

But then, there's the system. I read a lot of forum posts and blog articles, gleaning information about how the game actually runs. There are a lot of really cool-sounding features - that the game is set up to resemble a Kabuki play; that characters get more powerful as they become injured; and, especially, the Karma system.

Karma in Buddhism is bad; it represents attachment to the material world. If you become too attached, you lose yourself and become a monster who will destroy everything they care about - an Asura.

Karma is tied into many parts of TBZ's system. Firstly, you build your character out of Karma; the more powerful your character, the more Karma they start with. When you play the game, doing cool stuff or roleplaying well nets you Aiki chits. During the intermissions between Acts, you turn Aiki into Kiai, which is a currency you can use to boost your performance or do various other tricks during play. The catch is, when you spend Kiai it accumulates and turns into Karma. If you end an Intermission with more than 108 Karma, you become an Asura and are relegated to NPC status.

Luckily, there's a way to reduce Karma too. Characters have Fates, which are things they care about or ways of feeling - goals, taboos, relationships, quirks. As the game progresses, you can increase your Fate ratings. If you need to lose some Karma, you can choose to discard or rewrite a Fate; you either don't care about it any more, or you're changing your mind. Severing these connections to Fates reduces Karma, but also changes the character's outlook on the world.

How does it actually all run during play? I'm glad you asked! The next few posts will be a series of session reports from our first TBZ game - The Oni of Yamaguchi.