Tenra Bansho Zero

Elevator Pitch: Escaflowne robot pilots team up with the villains from Ninja Scroll, cyborgs, and people with big swords and bigger hair to fight villains in pseudo-Sengoku Japan.

Core Mechanic Opposed dice pools, d6s vs. skill-based target number

Dice used Buckets of d6s


It is the time of warring states. Humans long ago came from the skies, taking the land from the native Oni. But only the Shinto church would have access to that sort of technology now, and they don’t share; these days, humans live like those of the sengoku period in Japan, although the tools of war are considerably more advanced. The Shrine releases Armours, massive mecha that can only be piloted by children who’ve not yet accumulated too much karma to use the mirrors that allow them to join as one with the massive machine, to the nobility, giving them a mighty weapon with with to fight wars against their neighbors. Why the shrine wants to keep the world at war is unclear, but that seems to be their goal, even now that they’ve split into two separate factions, one of which has begun releasing lower-quality but more easily mass produced versions . . .

Meanwhile, mysterious annelids manipulate parasites that dwell within them, becoming more monstrous and terrifying to the peasantry even as they serve as the greatest healers. Ninjas work in the shadows, with the greatest among them undergoing mysterious rituals to implant soul stones, giving them incredible power. Samurai take this a step further, allowing the implantation of even more stones and the binding of a spirit into their flesh, letting them draw on its power to make themselves superhuman. Onmyouji create shikigami, summoning spirits to do their bidding. Buddhist monks practice esoteric magics and martial arts based on their sects, as do agents of the Shrine. Ordinary soldiers, injured in the constant wars, replace weak flesh with metal and oil, becoming dangerous fighting kijin. The souls of those lost to karma are trapped within the same soul mirrors used to pilot Armours, which are then placed in mechanical bodies to create kongohki. Ayakashi, spiritual and supernatural beings of various sorts, pursue mysterious agendas all their own. Master craftworkers create kugutsu, living puppets so perfect as to surpass humans. And the oni have begun to organize to fight back against the humans who have hunted them for centuries, using their resonance with the natural world.

It is a time of warring states. Will you risk your soul to join the fight?

System Features

Tenra Bansho Zero, like many japanese RPGs, is designed to run a complete game in about 6 hours, played out in several Acts. Each act is made up scenes, called either by the GM or one of the players; you can crash scenes you’re not invited to, but if you’re not in the scene, you still have a role to play: “spectators” respond to moments that play to the characters’ Fates or which are particularly badass or ham-y by handing out Aiki chits, which turn into kiai during intermissions. Because kiai functions both as experience and a thing you can spend for bonus dice, wracking up aiki is as important as beating up ninjas!

Tests are rolled using a number of d6s equal to an Attribute, with any rolls below the appropriate Skill generating a success. Successes are compared either to an opposed roll’s successes, or occasionally to a difficulty, or simply generate some effect (such as Empathy rolls granted by aiki during intermissions granting an amount of kiai equal to the number of successes). Kiai or Aiki can be spent for an extra die each, but then turns into karma; if you end an intermission or the post-game wrap-up with more than 108 karma, you become an Asura, becoming too consumed with your worldly desires and becoming a monster. Fortunately, by altering or sublimating your Fates during intermissions, you can hold off or prevent this ending.

Characters are built largely by mixing and matching archetype packages, allowing you to create all sorts of things, from a ninja who uses parasites to a kugutsu onmyouji. But each archetype comes with a starting karma cost, so be careful what you combine!

Also of note is the Emotion Matrix: when first meeting each other and important NPCs, players roll 2d6 and consult a grid to determine their initial reactions to the person, with some ability to nudge the results to more interesting ones. This creates an unpredictable element, making no two games alike even if they’re using the same characters in the same scenario!


Lotus Blossom’s Bridal Path (web download)

Two kingdoms have prepared a peace treaty, with the kugutsu Lotus Blossom being given in marriage from one to the other as a symbolic offering. The PCs are her and her retainers, who may have various feelings about this arrangement, but are duty bound to deliver her . . .

Getting the Game

You can buy the physical books (which include pdf copies) or just the PDFs from the publisher’s website. The PDF is also available from DriveThruRPG.

Tenra Bansho Zero

Ann Arbor Game Day zcipher