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The Bizenghast Adventure Game: Almost good

August 3, 2008

So, I picked up the Bizenghast rpg, which, only veered from what I expected in a couple of ways.

First, let’s talk about what’s good.

The game avoids going into hypercomplexity, which many games do. You have stats and special traits, there is not assload of skills, in fact, no skills at all. Traits aren’t just special abilities and modifiers, they clearly add a lot of color to the game and characters, “Found it in the Attic”, “Watched by Ravens”, definitely fits the color of the books.

The extra setting stuff is mercifully short and stays focused on what the players will deal with- there’s definitely overview of the greater setting, but not 200 pages of it, and definitely not listing specific people, places, etc.

Characters are given clear roles and how they’re supposed to work like a team.

There’s a single nod to rewarding genre- you can get Spirit Points by engaging in “Banter” during combat- that is, instead of doing something active, you spend a turn talking, screaming, saying something witty, etc. (A neat idea, I’ll talk about where it fails shortly).

Now, let’s talk about what’s not good.

So the reward mechanics. Everytime you engage in task resolution, you have a 1 in 20 chance to increase an attribute. This isn’t problematic, it’s just, there’s not really anything else other than the Banter mechanic to reward people. There’s no real reward to a) deal with personal issues/relationships or b) be creepy, which is pretty much what the comic is about. So the group is pretty much left to intuiting or analyzing the comics and figuring out they need to focus on this if they want the Bizenghast experience.

The GM’s section is the classic soft advice about being creepy and pacing. Which, you know, is pretty empty when it comes to actual play. I figure the only way to run it successfully, consistently, would be to a) hit on PC issues ala Primetime Adventures, and b) set up each Ghost with some kind of Dogs in the Vineyard Town setup. No kind of useful advice along either way goes, so, you end up with classic investigation + Ghosts kind roleplaying advice.

Banter. So the one thing that’s kinda a step away from complete bog standard traditional gaming? It’s that it encourages you to add color to combat, but, since you can get laid low in just one hit, you’re most likely going to Banter with weaker opposition, rather than the primary ghost, which is the opposite of most stories. It also kind of encourages you to focus more on combat than outside of it, since it’s the only way you can get more Spirit points. And then the examples are pretty lame:

This could be a battlecry (“Yaaaarg!”), a taunt (“Come and get some corpse-face!”), or any other flavorful dialogue that you can think of.

Again, aside from oneliners, in most stories, battle banter is about advancing the story or plot while action is happening, here, no kinds of suggestions towards that.

Bizenghast falls mostly into what you can expect from most licensed games: it has serviceable rules that do little to help you get the experience you want, and most of the work depends on your group’s ability to figure out what makes a Bizenghast story work on your own. System-wise, you’re probably better supported with Primetime Adventures or even Inspectres.

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