Can Tenra Bansho Zero improve the artha wheel?

I’ve had the recent opportunity to play Tenra Bansho Zero. I think what surprised me was how similar the aiki -> kiai -> karma -> Fates cycle is to the artha wheel.

The most fundamental difference is that aiki, the foundation of Tenra Bansho Zero’s economy, is instant fan mail, while artha is something you don’t earn until the end of a session. Burning Wheel is also more restrained in doling out its precious currency, because nothing counterbalances it.

Tenra Bansho Zero’s maximum karma means that you can only continue doing awesome things with kiai if you regularly finish off Fates or alter them. Otherwise your karma count will turn you into an NPC. You have to play a dynamic character to stay alive. This counterbalance allows them to hand out their currencies like candy. Think of it as Mouse Nature that goes up every time you use persona or fate points, if you’re familiar with Mouse Guard and not Tenra Bansho Zero. Also, Tenra Bansho Zero’s currencies have narrative uses, like busting in on someone else’s scene or bribing someone else to be in your scene.

BWHQ games warn in their text that they are games for the long haul. My desire is to speed up the feedback cycle so my players will get addicted (I’m being honest here). My past efforts running Burning Wheel left a lot to be desired. I think I could do a much better job of it now, but games demanding dedication and system mastery are a hard sell for my group.

Hence my question: Do you think the aiki-kiai-karma-Fates system has anything that could make Burning Wheel’s fire burn quicker? If so, how should it be implemented?

I can see aiki as Fate points with a few changes in function, and Persona as kiai, but the sheer quantity would be overwhelming to Burning Wheel’s carefully-rationed artha cycle. There is some correspondence of thought between racial Emotional Attributes and Karma, though I don’t see how to tap that yet.

There’s so much deliberate structure to the artha system, I actually think you’d be better off hacking the rest of TBZ to be a closer fit to Burning Wheel, instead. Just have Fates, kiai, aiki, and karma like in TBZ, and use the skills and skill advancements of Burning Wheel. Have an epiphany be something you can do with a large amount of stockpiled kiai; you flare it all at once. You could have a shade-shift come from a massive kiai dump.

I’ve thought about this. I want to keep everything else Burning Wheel intact - increasing skills by using them, Let It Ride, Bloody Versus, the lifepaths. The problem with TBZ’s karma system is that it implies a broader world and theme, one where you must constantly strive to remain human. Like Burning Wheel, Tenra Bansho Zero is focused on the kind of experience intended.

The artha wheel rewards you for fighting for what you believe in. I am essentially looking for a counterbalance that would allow Fate and Persona to flow more quickly so that you can receive artha by fan mail in addition to the established means.

And it’s very finely-tuned to not have a counterbalance.

I’m a huge fan of TBZ! And I’m a huge fan of BW.

I like TBZ, I think, because it does tickle the same spot in my roleplaying brain as BW: explicit flags, and facilitating melodrama. That said, there are some fundamental differences in how TBZ and BW implement these things, and understanding these differences is important.

Everything I’m about to say, please add IMO before, in the middle, and after. :wink:

The desired end product of BW’s artha economy is interesting dramatic conflict. The game is fundamentally about building melodrama amongst the player characters and forcing difficult choices. The systems all exist to let the players fight for what their characters want, to push and strive and collaborate and wheedle. There are a zillion ways to scrape up dice, and they all involve making compromises – getting help, taking your time, being smart about setting up your rolls. The players have a lot of control over the steering wheel of the game, so to speak.

This also extends to the fact that players can engineer their Beliefs such that their artha continues to flow, even absent “good roleplaying.” While there are a few moments where the table has to decide how folks get paid (workhorse, mvp), mostly it’s obvious and noncontroversial that you’ve engaged with a BIT, or let a BIT get you into trouble, or resolved a Belief, or let two BITs come into conflict. This aspect of the BW social/play contract is wow, so important.

The desired end of product of TBZ’s karma cycle is a character arc as expressed via fate churn. The game wants you to take a Fate, watch it change, and eventually discard it in favor of something else. Fates are much, much simpler than Beliefs. Rewards come directly from other players, and you don’t have much control over whether you get paid or not. Aiki is intended to be easy and fungible, but if the other players aren’t really feeling it you can’t really engineer your Fates the way you can engineer Beliefs. If you’re not entertaining, you don’t get paid. This shifts TBZ’s focus to performance rather than playing the game. Note that TBZ players have no options for fighting for what they want other than to facilitate the fate churn by spending kiai. Again, super important. This goes back to the kabuki theater origins of TBZ.

(Again, put lots of IMOs in there for me when you read!)

I’m right there with you that I’d love to see a few TBZ elements fitted to BW. For one, it would be great to see faster movement in one’s Beliefs. A three-session BW game where you grind through a half-dozen Beliefs would be rad. It wouldn’t exactly be BW any more, but I can get why it would be appealing. Problems I see:

  • The TBZ karma cycle incentivizes character change in a way that BW’s artha cycle does not. They’re fundamentally different reward cycles, even if they look similar-ish when you’re playing.

  • To force BW characters to change faster, you may need to redefine what a “Belief” entails and how/when to change them. Proposal: If you get paid a Fate, you must change an aspect of a Belief. If you get paid a Persona (either via “complete a Belief” or “moldbreaker”) you must discard the Belief.

  • There’s no getting around the fact that BW players can engineer their own artha cycle in a way that’s fundamentally incompatible with TBZ’s audience-oriented rewards. Well…I mean you could turn over all rewards to a real-time scheme, where anyone can pay on any of the various things that pay. Basically you’re turning every award into Embodiment.

Anyway, I have more thoughts on this but this is something to talk about.

(IMO IMO IMO dear god IMO)


@Paul B:

I’d love to hear the rest of those thoughts whenever you have time to put them in coherent order!

I’m discussing this topic elsewhere, too. The more I think about ways to fiddle with the artha wheel, the more apparent it becomes to me that the driving force of Burning Wheel isn’t artha but artha scarcity. If artha flows free and easy when you entertain your fellow players, there’s no incentive for the kind of play that Burning Wheel is known for. (Excellent point about entertaining others vs playing the game system as methods of receiving rewards, BTW.) It’s the fact that you have to work for your artha that generates the conflicts.

Sorry if the realization about artha scarcity is elementary; it was new to me. It gives me doubts about the viability of adding fan mail to the Burning Wheel system. But I’m still thinking on it.

Great point! One of the best ways to improve Burning Wheel is to increase your standards for what merits a Fate/Persona reward. TBZ is based around setting low standards for aiki rewards, to encourage the spice to flow. Burning Wheel is about putting you through agonia for that artha.

I think you’re on the same path I would take, Ben. I agree, artha scarcity is what drives BW play and that is a fundamentally different kind of cycle than what TBZ is going for.

Another thought I had is that TBZ kind of…has only one character arc. It’s the Buddhist thing, the striving without striving too much and losing yourself to your desires. The Dark Jedi story, basically. I think this makes the game fundamentally narrower than BW (or “focused” if you prefer that). I’ve kind of been gnawing on that aspect of TBZ for a few months now while I think about interesting ways to reskin it. I haven’t had a lot of luck coming up with, like…a fantasy take on TBZ, right? Because I don’t think that whole “you will be consumed by what you want the most” thing is really found in western fantasy. We do the bildungsroman thing, mostly, and especially in fantasy roleplaying.

I think if you wanted to do a BW-TBZ hybrid game, you’d have to think very long and hard about how to shoehorn the Buddhism into it. Maybe not explicitly, but certainly the underlying theme of losing oneself to the thing you want most.

Second thought: As I doodle this out, I’m envisioning a much bigger/faster/longer-focused game that takes you from being a young lad through to the end of his adventuring career, and seeing what it cost him. I’m also envisioning the end of the movie Excalibur! King Arthur dying on his throne, obsessing over the Grail, letting his kingdom fall to ruin.

At that point I’m really looking at something that’s not-at-all Burning Wheel, but some other thing. More in the Hero’s Banner​ vein perhaps.

I dunno, I think you can find echoes of that arc in their own way, in Western fantasy. What is Lord of the Rings but a comprehensive study of how different characters cope with being given power? :smiley: Denethor is absolutely an asura in TBZ terms, and Boromir almost gets there. Saruman’s another example of an asura in the series. I’d say that almost all of the villains arise because they “powered up” too much and got obsessed with something…even Sauron and Morgoth.

(If you go back to the first age, you could very handily use that plot arc to describe, say, Feanor. :slight_smile: )

Someone raised a very interesting point on Twitter that I think deserves to be posted here: why not leave the artha wheel entirely alone and instead import the Act structure from Tenra Bansho Zero, with Artha votes every act or every second act? It would still increase the flow of artha, but in a more manageable way.

This is a not-uncommon convention trick; I used it myself at last year’s BurningCon. Break up the session and pump more artha into the game.

It throws off advancement (grayscale, that is), but only a little since Deeds are probably still going to be uncommon.

This also lets you do the hard scene-framing that TBZ lets the GM do between acts, which I really like a lot. If I were going to import anything from TBZ into BW, it’d be the acts. Yeah.

All that said, I’m not sure that you actually get what you want just by adding artha. For one, it undermines artha scarcity (which you correctly identified as the thing that drives the wheel).

According to the Adventure Burner, the earlier versions of Burning Wheel did award Artha right there on the spot. I don’t earlier copies of the game and I don’t have the Adventure Burner on me on at the moment, but at one point Burning Wheel did award artha on the spot, and then Luke removed it in the Adventure Burner and that’s what stuck for Gold. If I remember correctly Luke said this was done to make the scarcity of artha harder to deal with, thus forcing the player to actually plan how he was going to use said artha.

I like the idea of the Act structure, but I’d honestly just let TBZ do what TBZ does and let BW do what BW does, they both do it so well!

But then again, I am a gaming purist. I make it a point to not hack a game for the first two YEARS of constant play, so the urge to hack does not come very naturally to me. There’s your grain of salt.

It was a concept that we played around with early in Revised and mistakenly left reference to in the finished text. We hated it and removed it with extreme prejudice.

Or that! Thanks Thor!

If BWHQ had let Shadowrun do what Shadowrun did best, we wouldn’t have Burning Wheel. :wink:

I really appreciate the chance to reflect on play at the end of the session, and I value the fact that the decision to pursue a Belief despite the risk happens in the absence of immediate mechanical reward.

We’ve found this process to be much more meaningful than the alternatives.

For some reason I missed that there were more posts to this thread.

Thanks for the input, everyone.