Friday, 5 September 2014

Games Review - Tenra Bansho Zero

Sometimes something comes along that gives off that wow factor, and I’m not talking about World of Warcrack here,  it was a kickstarter some time ago that I backed, and while I haven’t had chance to play it yet, the background alone makes it worth picking up.

It’s comprised of two different books, the first being the rules book, which is more than twice the size of the settings book, but as you can see from the listings below, it’s well organised and clear in what it’s trying to achieve.  There are hundreds of pages of rules, but once you’ve got around the bits of them that your characters need, the rest of it is a reasonable insignificance. 

While I’m not fond of rules heavy systems for the most part, I like systems that have everything in place for when you want to use it.  This was translated from the original Japanese version that came out many years ago, and it was apparent that the people who made the first version of it had done it as a labour of love, there are rules for absolutely everything, but the difference between this and many other games that I like is that this particular game was designed to generate characters, play the game, and complete the game, all within a single 5-6 hour session of play.  There aren’t rules for progression within the system, and while there are rules for extended campaigns, there aren’t rules for progressing the characters in any way.  What you are when you begin is what you will be when you finish.

On the whole, I don’t tend to go for games that have no progression in them either, so between the two negatives, what’s so good about this?

Well, despite 400 pages of rules, the system is actually quite simple, points based generation and everything works on D6, with the dice rolls being a combination of stats and skills, the stat you have is the number of dice you roll, the skill is the success rate of the dice.  Thus if you have a stat of four and a skill of three, you’d roll four dice with 1-3 being a success and so on.  Combat is done simultaneous, with attack and defence being resolved at the same time, whoever rolls highest doing the damage.  The rest of it is literally cool things to use or do and background for those things. A number of the things in the game have aspects of Exalted to them, from the names of the techniques to the way in which they are described, but given the source material, that’s to be expected.

The strength of the game is in the setting, a world utterly unlike ours, with a variety of concepts that are familiar, but have interesting twists on them.  From the samurai, which in this setting are not the honourable warriors , bound to serve their lord, but now those who have sought enhancement in some way.  This enhancement process renders them sterile and unable to bear children, so they are viewed by others as no longer human, and this sets them aside from others in ways that the setting goes into strong detail with. Then there are the Priests and the Kizin (cyber enhanced), where the most telling part of the description of them is that the removal of skin and replacing it with metal is like the pulling of a thread from a garmet...Keep pulling...

There are Yoroi, pilots of miniature mecha, little more than children themselves, needing to remain innocent to continue piloting those mecha.  There are Shinobi (Ninja) and the Konghoki (creatures made as machines with the thoughts and ideals of people), and many more classes.  But what makes them interesting is in the meshing of all these different parts of the culture and the way it is put together, all characters have a fate and a destiny, people are encouraged to talk through things in great detail before the game actually starts, and between the settings book and the rules book, there’s all the information you’re ever going to need to create vivid characters for the game that you’re going to play.

What was most interesting to me from the character creation point of view was the use of legendary equipment and weapons, all of which are not bought, but paid for in character creation with attribute and skill points.  Now I know that it’s been done before, but never with the level of engagement that’s present in this game, some of the characters (particularly the Yoroi) can’t function as characters without these things, and there’s a clear link between them and their equipment.  In particular I liked the idea of weapons that are intrinsically tied to the characters, so that even though it might be a demonic weapon that will eventually kill you (Hi Stormbringer), you can’t just put it down without losing a good part of yourself in the process...

I’m going to be running a few games of this in weeks to come to see how it works, I suspect it would be possible to run something for a few months using the system, particularly if you’re doing it on a truncated timescale that would allow the suspension of disbelief that the characters weren’t getting any better at things.

The last thing to consider is the price of the game, the copy that I got was £30 for both books in a slipcase, and while Kotodama heavy industries aren’t a large RPG company, the fact that they managed to get it out for that price and are still selling it for around that price speaks volumes on the pricing structures in the industry today.

But, off the soapbox, on with my legendary sword, and out to battle...