A Funny Story
Last time I ran Tenra Bansho Zero, it was at NewMexicon back in October. It was my only meh/bad event. I think I could see the writing on the wall during the game’s Zero Phase.
A little background: TBZ’s Zero Phase is this very cool bit of tech, where you have a small hard-framed prequel scene showing off a PC. Every PC has one. It gives the player a shot at feeling the character out, deciding how it’s gonna work in the actual game. As a warmup exercise it is terrific, and I’ve thought about doing more like them in other settings.
So my table is full of folks who have never played TBZ (except MadJay Brown) and there’s lots of teaching involved. That’s fine and expected. Then we start doing our Zero Acts, and dammit I should have gone with Jay first so he could set the pace, but I didn’t. That was a mistake.
Instead, I pick someone else at the table. He’s chosen to play a Samurai, which is a pretty straightforward hitter type. I set the scene:
Me: You’re out celebrating a promotion you’ve just earned, and are at a tea house. Are you there by yourself or with someone?
Him: I’m… by myself.
Me: That’s fine. Are you just there to drink and dine? How do you celebrate?
Him: Mmmm…I … play some music?
Me: Great! You have a … whatever you call those Japanese sitar looking things? Shamisen I guess? Great.
Him: Are we done?
Me: Oh no, not yet. So these punks come in, totally disrespectful little gang of toughs. One of them tips over your table, another nudges you with his shoulder but it’s totally not an accident. What do you do about that?
Him: I leave.
Me: Seriously? They know you’re a samurai. You’re bearing the mark of your Daimyo or something.
Him: I guess I fight them.
Me: Okay, so since this is the zero act there’s no die rolling, we just talk it through to get an idea of what you’re about. Do you win that fight?
Me: And do you kill them or leave them humiliated?
Him: I smoosh them!
Me: Right. But are they dead or alive after?
Him: They’re smooshed!
Me (panicking): Aaaaand does that mean dead?
Me: So you’re … standing on them after the fight.
Me: And are they dead or alive?
At this point the entire point of the exercise is lost on not only him but the entire table. Such a simple and clear statement, no real stakes involved. I still have no idea why it was so hard for him to commit to an answer. I speculate that he’d maybe never had to make a declarative statement about a character before, but that’s pure speculation. It felt like he was more fixated on the “did I win or lose” half of the thing than the “are you a murderer?” half.
No lesson to be had here. Just something that’s stuck in my head all these months.