There was a great war and your side lost. You are one of the last remnants of a society that is no longer wanted or needed. All that is left to you is four things; your sword, your bike, your honor, and your pack. You were once a samurai in service to something greater than yourself and now you just seek to balance these four things. You are never more than seven breaths away from death and strive to live your life by this tenet.
This is one of the ideas that the game Motobushido tries to capture. The players in this role playing game take on the guise of members of a samurai motorcycle gang that moves from town to town living by a code that is dying since they lost the great war sometime in the past.
This is a rules light system more along the lines of Apocalypse World than Dungeons & Dragons. It further departs from the traditional role playing game in its use of cards to determine the outcome of conflicts within the game. Two decks of cards are used throughout the game. One for the Sensei (game master) and one for the players. Players draw cards based upon various mechanics throughout the game and then play cards when in conflict with the non-player characters or other players. High card beats low cards with the ace being the highest and only a two beating an ace. The mechanics then proceed to manipulate this simple mechanic. An example of this is one of the roles within the pack is the Hahaoya, the den mother. This is the second in command of the pack and can be either male of female. One of the techniques allows the Hahaoya to use queens of any suit to defeat a king. The player just has to announce that they are doing so.
Sitting down and reading this book made very much made me think of this game in terms of Sons of Anarchy meets Blood and Steel. You have the lifestyle of a motorcycle gang intertwined with the philosophical bent of samurai culture. For me, this combination was something that I could not pass up. The use of cards as a mechanism for conflict resolution brings another kind of tension to the table. As a player, you start the game with a hand. As play progresses, there are various ways for you to cycle cards out of your hand as well as store them through the narrative for later use. This allows for a level of strategy that is hard to accomplish using dice to determine outcomes. Who doesn’t want to get into a combat push things to the limit to find out if your opponent is bluffing, literally.
The characters are defined by their roles within the pack, their philosophies, and their birth signs. The roles are simple to understand. Are you the leader, second-in-command, the scout, or some other functionary with the samurai motor cycle gang. The mechanics that you receive are then centered around what your responsibilities. Birth sign is somewhat of a misnomer as it is more of an archetype. Are you a lover, a clown, or a bully. It shapes how you are going to roleplay and directs how you will recover Ki and gain experience. Finally there are the philosophies that center around the pack, life on the road, and the way of the sword. Each one provides both direction on interactions with the world and the mechanics that are interesting. For example, Way of the Sword is broken down into Steel and Water. High Steel means you are blunt and direct while high Water means you are careful and plan. These numbers then translate into a larger strike range in duels which is how much over what your opponent plays you can go without dishonoring yourself.
The game is not without it’s flaws. The most annoying thing for me is that the important mechanical parts aren’t collected into an easily referenced point. Yes, the book is only 105 pages long, but it still means that I have to flip around for awhile until I have memorized where the important information can be found. There is also no quick way to get started. Someone has to read the entire book and then you are ready to play. These aren’t deal breakers for me but I know that they might be for others and it makes me sad that they are missing and may make someone miss out on a pretty cool game.
Overall, I have to say I really like Motobushido. You get to play as a member of a samurai motorcycle gang and that is pretty bad-ass.