Setting Up to Play
TBZ set up is not hard, though there are some things you do want to make sure of at the beginning.
– Players should have seen at least a little action anime/manga.
– Players need to know a basic level of info about the world – at least enough to reasonably interact in the game you plan on running. The mixture of tech, magic, and feudal Japan is worth noting. Unless you have a lot of time to prep ahead (a couple of weeks) and players who are hardcore into reading stuff, just ‘handing them the book’ is a poor way to go.
– Create a general situation that the players can latch onto. If it’s their first time playing, I’d definitely go with pregenerated characters. Otherwise, include advice about what kinds of characters fit, and what expectations fit with those characters – should they be allied to one side or another, how combat fit should they be, etc. Good Fate suggestions, and so on.
– Good Fates! Good Fates will bring trouble to the character. Players should know that pursuing trouble is the best way to have fun with this game – be earnest with your characters, have them be driven to their goals, and have their Fates bring them into trouble along the way. Having conflicting Fates is also a good, fun option. If any of the Fates seem bland, or you can’t think of an immediate problem to throw in their face about it, ask some more questions, see if you can redefine or narrow it down so it has more edge to it.
Follow the Flags, Improvise
Your role as the GM is to help the players get into situations where they can pursue/engage their Fates in fun, dramatic fashions. The players will likely favor 1 or 2 of their Fates – go with it. (You can bring in the other Fates later.)
Don’t hold back, don’t make players have to “work” or wait to get to their Fates. This isn’t the same as making it easy to resolve right away – it just means the problems and opportunities around a Fate need to hit every scene. This isn’t a videogame where the players have to grind to earn the right to a story cut scene – the story is the point of the game.
If you’re ever at a loss as to where to go next, just look at what Fates they have, figure out which would be the most fun, expected dramatic one to deal with next (or, a situation that hits multiple Fates, across several players) and what NPCs might have goals/actions that would cross with that.
Tenra Bansho Zero is kinda weird in how you deal with NPCs. You may have an idea of their personality, then, a couple of Emotion Matrix rolls later, they’re completely different than what you expected!
I think it makes the most sense to simply design your NPCs around a few ideas – their general capabilities/goals and leave the personality open for the Emotion Matrix rolls. Let the Matrix give you the basic outline, then fill in the nuance and complexity as you go.
If you’re too locked into a personality, you’ll have a hard time adjusting during play.
Cut Away, Cut Often
Think anime first! You can totally cut away from boring stuff. You can simply declare, “The scene begins after you’ve defeated the army of nameless soldiers, when you see the General approach…” Would it be worth a whole scene in anime? Or just a few seconds showing someone’s badassery?
Would it be a cut scene “3 months later…”? You can do all of this and simply avoid pointless scenes. Remember, the point is whether the scene is going to hit any Fates or not. If not, then it’s probably worth a sentence or two of description at most, if it’s even needed at all.
Worthy Challenges and Cheap Dice Tricks
(ETA- a couple of NPCs I used in my game, following the advice below)
Here is the trickiest part of TBZ. There’s a fat book of rules, detailing tons of character powers, weapons, etc. As the GM, the first thing you think to do is go through the book, and custom build NPCs using those rules, right?
Don’t do that.
First off, the Players always have an advantage because they have lots of Kiai (at least, they should if you’ve been playing right). The Players will have more dice available, so using the same sort of power sets isn’t really going to do much and will involve you spending time looking through, choosing powers, when it’s not going to matter.
Second, most of those powers are “cheap dice tricks”. Swap one attribute for another when you roll. Double successes for whichever side wins. Add some damage. Take a little more damage. Etc.
There’s not a lot of tactical depth to TBZ. The tactics are mostly, “when should I?” questions – “When should I spend my Kiai?” “When should I use this power?” “When should I take the hit as wounds vs. Vitality?” and most of these are not very hard questions.
So, instead of going through the work building NPCs in detail, when you’re probably going to fire and forget them…, here’s what you do:
Assign Attributes/Skills as you will
You know 4-6 is PC attribute scores, and 7-10 is good scores, and 10+ is pretty awesome, right? Odds are pretty good if the NPC is getting into a fight, you’re going to want at least an attribute of 8-16 for their primary fighting attribute. (Most likely Body or Agility, but maybe something else if they’ve got a funky War Art).
Skills should be 3-4 for most NPCs that are worthy challenges. Save the Skill 5 for some epic stuff.
You don’t need to stat everything out! Remember, you can simply decide in the heat of the moment for attributes/skills you haven’t assigned yet. This will take barely a few minutes of prep when you do it this way, and if for some reason you need it in play (“Uh, yeah, I guess this is an Etiquette roll, I guess he’s got a 3 for it.”) it’s just a few seconds to figure out.
Steal 1-2 Powers as appropriate
Do open the book to the appropriate section for the character type or War Arts. You’re not going to do deep math here, just look at what KINDS of powers are appropriate for that type. If one or two really seem to fit, take them. Or, just as useful, get the gist of what they do, and make your own version or simpler.
I tend to follow the powers in the book more with the mechanical stuff, like weapons or abilities. Magic, Ayakashi powers, etc? Feel free to wander further from the book.
Cheap Dice Tricks
So, here’s where you get a unique and fun NPC challenge – give them a unique, cheap dice trick. Do this for special enemies, things you want to be… pretty badass in some way.
This should be tied tightly with a great description – are they combining kijin that turn into a cyborg – voltron? Is it a swordsman who has a Buddhist deity appear behind them when they fight? Is it a monster that wails with the souls (and faces) of the children it’s consumed?
A cheap dice trick is a cheap dice trick. But like everything in the TBZ system, if you tie it to a good description, it’s not so cheap anymore.
The things you can play with: Damage, Vitality, Successes, Dice rolled, Kiai, Karma, Fates, Soul Points, Skill levels. The fun of these is that they pull things out of the normal expected flow of play, which means the players have something new to toy with. The best are conditional or one-off, not staying on the whole battle, but rather forming a changing condition of the conflict.
1. If X, then Y
“If you use Melee, this enemy gets +5 Dice against you”
“For each ‘1’ you roll on your attack dice, the enemy gets an extra die to attack you next round”
“If this enemy’s Vitality drops below half, +5 dice to all of it’s rolls”
2. Discouragement moves
Discouragement makes a player NOT want to do something. Generally, this is only fun if it’s either for a short time (1 round) or if it is something that can be negated with the appropriate action.
“You must spend double Kiai this turn to get same effects, that is 2 Kiai = 1 bonus die”
“The first 10 points of damage from any attack, the enemy ignores until you destroy the power crystal…”
3. Danger Clocks
Things that make things worse as the conflict goes on. Encourages players to go all out and finish things quickly.
“The starship will break up in re-entry. Starting this round, everyone takes 1 point of damage, next round it’ll be 2, round after that 3, etc. until you get to an escape pod.”
“The Asura is getting MORE powerful. It has to be stopped. Every two rounds it gains an additional +1 die.”
Take 2-3 cheap dice tricks, make the players roll a die to see which one is in effect this round. You can have a dice trick that works against the NPC as well…
“Oh, you rolled a 6! This round he flings his head back in agony – the power coursing through him is too much. He loses his action. You better do something before he gets his senses back…”