I’m currently wading my way through Tenra Bansho Zero (the English translation thereof), which I received as a Christmas gift from the ‘rents.
TBZ appears at first glance to be a very trad game indeed. The things that are normally regarded as core mechanics – conflict resolution – are based around a tediously bog-standard attribute and skill combo to generate a dice pool which in turn yields successes to beat a difficulty number (or perhaps someone else’s roll). Combat is based on taking turns each round in order of Agility. The central premise is that you’re all hyper-powerful individuals with kewl powerz who spend much of their time beating up on villains.
However, there is much that is novel and interesting (to me at least) in TBZ. It contains specific advice on organising the logistics of a game session, and advises that players (not just the GM) should read it, as it is considered part of the rules. It has player characters rolling on a D&D-style reaction table to determine how they feel about important NPCs (and other PCs) when they first meet them. It has a damage system that allows the target of an attack to decide how the attack affects them, and forbids a PC to die unless its player has chosen to allow it. So there’s lots to write about here, and I may come back to some of it.
The thing I’m interested in today is the reward rules. TBZ uses a fate point-style system of reward, which is to say, both the GM and the players can award other characters chits which give them in-game advantages. The said chits are also the primary means of character improvement, i.e. they can also be used as XP. The chits can also be spent on vaguely GM-like stuff – altering a character’s rolled reaction to an NPC, or giving another character a few Fate (see below for more on Fates).
What is unique about it, as far as I know, is that there are no limitations placed on how many chits a player can award or be awarded. That is to say, every player is given unlimited power to reward other players, giving them immediate in-game power and the capacity to improve their character. I’ve occasionally considered such a system myself, but always concluded that without some kind of incentive not to award, the system would be open to abuse, with players giving excessive and increasing XP rather like the old monty haul style of D&D treasure acquisition. I shall be intrigued to see how it works in practice; I suppose like most systems it will stand or fall with the good intentions of the players using it.
The intention behind the TBZ reward system is that a player receives exactly one Aiki chit (as they are called) every time they do something strongly in accordance with their Fates (a sort of collection of player-authored goals, beliefs and emotional ties), do something entertaining or awesome without breaking character, or otherwise roleplay “well”. It doesn’t matter who awards the chit, and if multiple people reach for a chit at the same time only one is given.
One brake the TBZ system puts on power acquisition is that the Aiki chits must be exchanged for Kiai points to get maximum use out of them. (Aiki chits are useful on their own, but much less powerful.) In turn, Kiai points can be most efficiently gained by spending aiki chits during intermissions between scenes. Finally, expenditure of Kiai points generates Karma, which has a hard limit before your character goes insane and becomes an NPC. The only way to reduce Karma is to discard one or more of your Fates or change them to reflect changing game circumstances. So e.g. I could give up on my ambition to overthrow the evil empire, or conclude that instead I should attempt to subvert it from within. Or maybe my initial hate for a particular NPC grows to grudging admiration.
Kiai points are immensely powerful. Some fights can only be won through their use. Any opponent can be defeated if you have enough of them (and sufficient Karma headroom to allow you to spend them).
Pretty cool stuff. A system that rewards strong in-character roleplaying without the need for GM fiat, which gives you virtually unlimited power if you use it correctly, and which only enables to use it to its maximum benefit if you change and grow your character. It is described in the book as the “core” of the game, and I think that’s a fair assessment. Contrast it with other systems out there, which reward you for killing powerful monsters, for achieving arbitrary goals set by the GM, or for straightforwardly rolling your stats successfully, and this one stands out, in a good way.
I’m looking forward to giving it a try, though there are other aspects of the game I’m dreading slightly. Let’s hope the good stuff outweighs the bad.