Tenra Bansho Zero is a tabletop RPG – what Japan uses to differentiate from you know, Final Fantasy and stuff. After what has apparently been a long struggle, it is soon to be published in full English language format. English site here; Japanese site here.
While I heard of this effort in passing, I didn’t know the status of the project until a few days ago. I have owned the Japanese book for quite some time, largely because it has, and I kid you not, incredible artwork that is a real joy for me as a fan of Japanese culture.
The game system includes – and really this is not doing it justice, but I can’t just divulge the whole book, it’s someone else’s copyright – soul gem enhanced samurai and ninja, 14 year old kids piloting mecha patterned to look like Japanese yoroi armor (and named after it), partial cyborgs using machine parts to replace what they have lost in battle, wooden puppets brought to life as hyper-beautiful maidens, mystics, Buddhist priests, Shinto priests controlling the seemingly alien technology at work in this strange and warring world, and a scenario that holds that war has torn the land apart over the last four centuries (Sengoku Jidai x4!).
So, yes, that’s the best short description I can give. It combines a lot of stuff.
The system well.. they boast of it as the “world’s fastest” for a tabletop RPG. It follows the “use lots of dice,” “roll against X difficulty,” and get “successes” to perform actions, type of system. In that sense, there’s similarities to certain Western games. However, the system is heavily geared towards the storytelling aspect, and not that Western games aren’t, but here it’s really focused on well, things like sukiyaki westerns, anime like Burst Angel (JP name: Bakuretsu Tenshi; the translation is literal and accurate), which I’ve seen, and translated a bit of manga for… but the game has a bit of a catch.
Essentially, the human soul is treated like a bottle. Once this bottle fills up with a certain amount of karma, the weight of the sins of mankind snuffs out the remaining humanity of the spirit and the person becomes an “ashura,” essentially a demon in human flesh. It’s a lot like vampires in “Vampire: The Masquerade” losing their Humanity. There’s no more role-playing to be had with such a character. And, since karma is built up in the process of making a character a badder dude (or damsel), it is a check on having a super-powered character (even more than the aggressive system allows, that is).
More to the point, it is also used to keep the focus on the “destiny” of a character. Essentially, this is the “I’m not dying until I’ve avenged my father” type of stuff. This fate business can actually provide in-game bonuses when doing things aligned with one’s destiny, but hey, it’s really just keeping the focus on the story. And that’s fine.
I haven’t looked into it to this degree, because in my circle of friends, “systems” lost their meaning for non-computerized role playing games ages ago, but it probably pushes the view that it’s more fitting for some people to go down in a blaze of glory fulfilling some goal of theirs than surviving only to snap under the weight of everything that was done in pursuit of that goal.
That, or the old warrior finds some forgotten farm to live out his days on, preferably with a nice girl. Either way, humanity can only be stretched so far.
I hope I’ve represented, in about 600 words, the potential that this game has. Of course, I remind that there’s some incredible artwork and creativity involved. I have wished the English team the best of luck and sincerely hope for their success. – J