The backbone of the Tenra Bansho Zero game is a simple and easy to learn game system that uses regular six-sided dice. It was meant to be instantly understood and played even by completely inexperienced roleplayers, but whole enough to keep experienced roleplayers interested. The rules are focused not to imitate reality per se, but to enhance and express the drama of Tenra Bansho. To that end, the game system encourages the players to engage their characters' backgrounds and motivations, to play their characters creatively, and to make the game feel more like a Kabuki play than a simulation. To be successful, you have to act.
All you need to play are some six sided dice, some friends, creativity and confidence.
There are several areas of the Tenra Bansho system that are different for people who are used to traditional RPGs. Again, their point is to bring the focus back to the characters and their stories, and away from a system that consists only of skill rolls and combat. This makes Tenra Bansho Zero unique: You can choose to take the role of a powerful samurai with incredible combat skills- But the rules are geared so that the only way to make him accomplish incredible feats of skill and prowess is to Act, to Roleplay. Literally, a gaming session of Tenra Bansho Zero is a play, and the players all must consciously take the role of actors in that play.
Fates are a combination of relationships, motivations, goals, backgrounds, and other colorful things that add flavor to your character. Fates are often used to bring the character's inner personality into play, which gives them more bonus dice to use for related actions. Fates could be things like "Love of Oharu", "Destroy the Hell Ninjas", 'Find the Meaning of True Strength", "The Loss of your Most Cherished Thing or Person", "Follow the Laws of Buddha", etc. Bring these up in play when appropriate, and you can eventually draw upon more dice to use for that action.
A fluid system of experience and reward- You are rewarded for good roleplaying in scenes by receiving "Aiki Chits" from the players in the audience. Aiki chits can later be converted to "Kiai", and spent to either improve your character's abilities, gain more bonus dice, or even do special effects like take more attack actions, or jumping in front of a sword blow meant for a comerade.
Aiki means "Harmony" or "A Meeting of Spirits". Kiai is the same characters reversed, meaning "Martial Influence/Power". One leads directly to the other!
When the storyteller introduces a new major character in the story that the players encounter, or the player characters meet each other for the first time, the Impression Roll helps the players shape the relationship between the two characters. Together, the player and storyteller (or two players), using a 6x6 chart, use both a die roll and discussion to agree on how the player's character views the newly introduced character.. Maybe your player's Samurai falls in love at first sight with the Princess that he was hired to protect; perhaps the storyteller and player agree that it would be more interesting if he hates her, and the friction between the characters throughout the story adds more interesting elements to the mix. There are 36 completely different possible combinations of affinity, and they are decided upon by both dice and bonus points- If the player is unhappy with a result, they can spent points to change the result to a more favorable outcome.
The Emotion Matrix exists not to dictate how relationships happen in the game, but to provide a spark of creativity to the players. It may be boring if a samurai falls in love with the princess. Maybe the roll indicates that the samurai hates the princess at first sight. Will that inspire the player? Will she come up with an interesting reason why the princess or her family might have wronged the samurai to create such hate? These interesting and fun questions emerge when the Reaction Matrix is used, and we see the characters' relationships change throughout the course of the game.
If Tenra was a world in the Star Wars universe, Asura would be the "Dark Jedi". Karma is an intangible force in the world, and when a character loses hope, or struggles in vain to pursue something that cannot be accomplished, or simply becomes driven so hard by emotions that they bind their soul to the material world, the character gains Karma. When 108 Karma points are accumulated (108 being the number of human sins in Buddhist theology), the character shuts off the parts that make them human. They become an Asura, and their character is forever lost. The other characters in the world of Tenra will view them with fear and hatred, like a demon in human clothing that was just fooling them all this time pretending to be human.
Some of these above core rules seem strange to roleplayers who have played RPGs in the past, but they exist all the same- These rules help take the play of Tenra and make it feel more like a dramatic stage play. This is the intent of the game: Not to clear scenarios or adventures, nor to simply defeat enemies, but rather to engage in an entertaining passion play fundamentally about people and their human problems, where the mecha, gun-katanas, magic, combat and feudal era setting are all colorful background and props to the central humanistic play.