I’ve gotten a lot further reading Beast Bind (still need to get through the setting and GM chapters though). Apart from the way the game favors quick character creation at the expense of a certain amount of player choice, I think the main thing that separates BBNT from your average Western RPG is that there are a lot of things that are spelled out explicitly that would be left vague or unmentioned in a game from our neck of the woods. The book actually maps out the process of going through a game session, from “pre-session” (settling in, getting materials ready, episode trailer, etc.) to “on-session” (the actual scenario) to “after-session” (handing out experience points, other finishing paperwork, etc.), and it even goes so far as to suggest heading to a family restaurant (famiresu — basically Denny’s-like places) or coffee shop to relax and discuss the game.
I’ve also heard that Replays are a major part of the hobby in Japan. A replay is a transcript of a game session, including both in-character stuff and game-mechanic stuff, and they’re common on fan websites and even sold as doujinshi. Andy K mentioned that these were helpful to the hobby in that since it was even more of a niche thing there was an even greater need for people to be able to understand what it’s all about just from reading something. Actual Play threads tend to summarize more often than not, while a replay is a blow-by-blow transcript. This and the above makes me wonder whether play styles in Japan might be more homogenous than here. When you go back to the original D&D, no two groups really played it quite the same way, and it looks like each successive generation of roleplayers came to it with different games and different expectations.
The game also as divides the scenario up into scenes. Like in World of Darkness (which was probably in some ways an influence on BBNT) there are powers with “one scene” as the duration, but it also makes a big deal of figuring out which PCs appear in a given scene. Sometimes you can even make an “appearance check” (登場チェック) — a roll on the Society attribute — to see if your character shows up. It’s not a basic, vital part of the game like in Primetime Adventures, but it’s there. And the thing is, given its quasi-narrative nature an RPG session inevitably has scenes, even if the group isn’t conscious of them as such. In writing fiction you have the whole scene vs summary thing, and I think that shows up in RPGs too. Even more so than in prose, using scene instead of summary emphasizes things, so I wonder if deliberately using that kind of distinction might be a good way to keep a game more tightly focused.
Needless to say I’m playing with some of this stuff for Tokyo Heroes. A sentai show contains about 20 minutes of new footage per episode, all of it meant to appeal to hyperactive little kids (and to a lesser extend the geeky older fans). The added twist for TH is that in a battle scene where a teammate has been hit at least once you can spend a Hero Die to automatically make it to the scene to help out. (Of course, sentai heroes do run into situations where they have to split up, so coming to help out isn’t an option).
The aforementioned TRPG Super Session Daikyouen book I ordered should be coming pretty soon too — hopefully some time this week, but given that most everything Japanese grinds to a halt for new year’s, it’s hard to say exactly when. Hopefully Eiyuu Sentai Seigiranger won’t contain anything that has me ripping Tokyo Heroes apart completely and starting over. I already did that once… ^_^;
On the plus side, I finally made some progress with Kidou Sentai Dynaranger, my generic example sentai team. And it is a little generic; it fits the genre perfectly I think, but I doubt at this point they’d do another general sci-fi based sentai series. If nothing else it’d wind up looking too much like the Chouseishin series (which seems to have completely fallen from grace with Sazer-X).