Tenra Bansho Zero – Design Tricks

November 12, 2013

Got to play my first game of TBZ and had a great time.  TBZ manages to take a lot of smart design and combine it to hit the core premise of anime-action game.  Here’s kind of a run down of what it does and why it works.

Flags (Fates)

Fates are the ideas or themes that your character’s story or conflict will revolve around.    “Fate” itself is kind of a not great word for this, since we tend to think of fate as an immutable thing that MUST happen, whereas mechanically, these are more like either relationships, goals and drives for your character, and less like a destiny thrust upon you.

That said, if I want to know what’s interesting about your character and where to frame the scenes around?  I look at your Fates – which ones you’ve added, and which ones you’ve raised up.

Like any Flag mechanics, this helps the group get RIGHT to the action of what’s interesting for the players instead of futzing around.

Creative Springboards (Emotion Matrix)

Anytime you meet a major NPC, you roll on the Emotion Matrix to get an initial “vibe” or relationship between the characters.  This skips past the whole “let’s feel each other out as characters” and gives players and the GM a great starting direction and momentum to work with.

What keeps this from being random and out of place is that if it seems like a bad fit, the GM or any player can easily spend points to bounce that result around a bit – to pick something more suitable and probably more entertaining.   Assuming you end up with less new major characters as the scenario plays out, the Emotion Matrix falls to the background, having successfully “boosted” the initial play into some fun directions.

Fan Mail (Aiki)

Aiki tokens can be rewarded anytime anyone does anything cool or fun that they add to the game.

These form the basis of the resource economy in this game, and there’s only two ways to earn them – either great input that other people enjoy OR accepting input from other players (there’s places where you can bribe other players and give them Aiki for adding certain aspects to their characters – new Fates, or, bumping them around the Emotion Matrix).

Hardcore “Trying to win” gamers will note that Aiki becomes Kiai points, which become bonus dice, which basically can allow you to win ANY conflict if you amass and spend enough.  What those folks may miss is the key point: difficulty is not the issue, entertainment is.  And, if you want those Aiki to do just that, you will have to entertain the HELL out of the group.

Director Stance

Director Stance allows a player to create or input on things in the game world beyond/outside of their character.  In TBZ, it does this in a pretty clever fashion – you have limited ways of doing this but they’re also potent.

You can spend Aiki to:

– Bring a character into a scene

– Bribe another player to add an extra Fate to their character

– Bribe another player to take a different result on the Emotion Matrix

You can spend Kiai to:

– Bounce yourself around on the Emotion Matrix

Beyond pulling characters into scenes, this is amazingly powerful because it allows players to a) suggest and shape each other’s characters in ways they find interesting and b) change the nature of initial relationships among the characters, and often, which direction the story can go.

You’ll notice the amount of player control from Flags, to the Emotion Matrix to Director Stance means that things like trying to pre-plan what will happen exactly is going to fail – your super villain might end up being “True Love” on the Emotion Matrix or all the players might choose Fates to ally with them…  Although TBZ appears traditional in having a GM/player setup, the fact that players can easily take the wheel of the overall direction of play means the classic “branching path” adventure set up will not work at all.