Motobushido: Setup and First Thoughts

When I folded my Mutant: Year Zero game it was largely a combination of lots of little dissatisfactions with the long game, pushed over the edge by wanting to try something new. It’s a short list (which is about to get longer as soon as Kickstarters start delivering), and Motobushido is high on the list. I talked about it at some length but that was based only on a reading.

You know how some games are very, very different in practice than how they read? Holy mackerel, it’s never been more true than with Motobushido.

Some of this is my fault. I pitched several games (Moto, Urban Shadows and The One Ring are at the top of my try list), then we played some board games that evening, then I thought, hey, I’ll bet setup isn’t hard, let’s go ahead and get rolling so we can play next week! 

This was at about 8:45. At 11:45 we had barely rushed through step 7 of 10. Jobs and families, they’re why we can’t have any fun.

Some of the 3+ hour setup is my fault. Maybe most of it. But I also have to talk about how the book is organized.

My fault: Thinking that completely new characters could not possibly be that hard to doodle up. Thinking they could doodle up completely new characters without really understanding how the procedures work. Thinking I could skip over the tutorial and prequel stuff. Mostly just thinking dumb thoughts.

As written, the setup for Motobushido is good but also very precise and fussy. RAW, you will play through the “first founding,” a scene from before the bike gang was a gang, at the end of this mysterious War that you’re all about to lose. It’s a combination of world building (everyone offers up one notable “detail” about the War; ours: Civil War, Thermonuclear (!), Robotic Government Warfighters, Dreamscape Insurgency) and mechanical demo set up around a set scene. 

Well, dumb me. I’m like “We can hash through this, we’ll get going way faster if I skip all this demo shit.” No. NO. DO NOT SKIP THE FIRST FOUNDING. No. 

About 9:30ish I’m like, fuck it let’s do what the book says. There are unfortunately no easy-to-download versions of the First Founding template characters, but there are some pregens online that worked just as well. So I picked four, passed them out blind, and did the thing.

Very helpful! And now there’s all kinds of neat details to use going forward. The demo scene is great: your military unit has been ordered into a final suicidal attack by the Emperor (yeah I have no idea), now what? You randomize who supports or rejects these orders, then cut ’em loose. We had three “run like hell” and one “for honor!” so they had an argument. Which escalated to a (nonlethal) clash. The dueling thing is hot, can’t wait to see it in play and I want to talk more about that later.

But man…organizationally, Motobushido does itself no favors. 

I thought it was a fun and engaging read when I first hit the text, but now I’m thinking my brain played a trick on me: when I didn’t understand the context for something, I’d just skip over it. Whatever, I’m sure it’ll get explained later, right? And then another and another. I have mentioned before that the game is mechanically intricate. There are lots of detailed procedures, lots of terms of art, lots of Japanese. So honestly? I think I just started blurring past that stuff, and then whole sections of stuff comprised mostly of Japanese/terms of art folded into procedural explanations. And that gave me an inaccurate take on things.

Play through the First Founding is all I’m saying. Again.

Making the characters from scratch honestly isn’t hard once you’ve done it. There are lots of little confusing things, though, mostly in that terms aren’t defined when they’re used the first time. Like how your Pack Tech(niques) are derived from your Role, and your Sword Tech from your fighting style. Oh it is covered! But only when you get to the chapter about advancement, which is the chapter after character creation (where you need to understand it). The rules for custom-building a character happen before the rules for adapting templates, but you have to read the rules for adapting templates because there are explanations in there as well. The whole chapter is very messy.

We still have, probably, two more hours of setup left. But I mostly don’t mind, because the reason Motobushido setup is so damned long is that it’s mostly narrative. Like, every player has to come up with a little historic vignette three times (once for the player to the right, once to the left, once for themselves). That’s 12 vignettes in a four player game! And then they all have to come up with their Hate, Hope, Love and Doom (none of which I think has any particular mechanical significance, which caught me by surprise because everything else does). AND THEN there’s additional little Pack culture things to work out: what kind of masks, how do you wear your hair, what are the pack’s taboos, who else is in the pack? 

I feel like if you went with the pregens, you’d still have 2 or 3 hours of talking and setup left. Juggling numbers and making decisions about abilities is the smallest bit.

Final note: Beautiful character sheets but don’t have space for the Hope/Hate/Love/Doom stuff. May not matter at all, but I would hope that it does at least narratively. I like that all the techniques are on one side of the character sheet — I was worried about that tbh.

0 thoughts on “Motobushido: Setup and First Thoughts”

  1. Also, just to reiterate what I wrote at the beginning of the book: make sure to read it cover to cover at least once through. I chose to write it more as an instructional guide than an in-game reference, so without the first read-through a lot of things won’t make sense.

    And yeah, do not skip the First Founding =)

  2. I avoided Motobushido because it didn’t have any surface elements that really appealed to me (yes, I’m a guy who can “meh” motorbikes and samurai) but I’m always interested in seeing what shakes out of these explorations.

  3. I’ve actually read it cover to cover three times now. And actually trying to use it was devastating. 

    My next step will be to cheat-sheet the game and probably sticky-note sections of the hardcopy. An index would have been nice for all the terms of art that get used. Actually a PDF might be better in this case than the printed book! At least then I could search for “deed” or “flashback” or whatever.

  4. I do lament the lack of an index. I was so over budget on it that I couldn’t afford to have it done properly. I did manually create cross-links for each and every page reference in the PDF though, which was grueling but effective.

  5. Adam D I’m the biggest motorhead vehicle combat nerd ever, so it was a must-try. I’m way more skeptical of the samurai layer on everything, but I do love me a good samurai movie. My style brain is at war with my rational brain! 

    Funny interaction at the session, after the First Founding: 

    Player: “So I guess we should find a map of Japan or something…”

    Me: “Why?”

    Player: “I…uh, weren’t we fighting for The Emperor?”

    Me: “Yes.”

    Player: “I just assumed –”

    Me: “There were also terminator robots killing rebels. Maybe things changed in America.”

    (We’re playing on the CO Plateau, basically the Four Corners area. “Thermonuclear” strongly implies major urban centers are no-go zones.)

  6. This is all helpful stuff, I should note. The follow-up book is in the works, and I’ll likely organize it differently.

    One of the biggest post-demo notes I get from new players is some variant of “Dude this game is so different than anything I’ve played, I can’t fathom how you would ever even begin to explain it to an existing gamer.” And yeah, it’s something I had to think about right up until I okay’d the final layout.

  7. Note to Self: In next game, put Evolutions immediately after creation steps.

    You’re totally right on that. In my brain I could have sworn I had put a paragraph on “advancement” in the Intro section, but looks like I actually didn’t. If my calculations are correct, I think the first time it’s mentioned in detail is with the first Pack Role detail, on the Bosozoku techs.

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