Character Playing Pieces

I finally got around to participating on the Story Games forum, which is proving to be fun and interesting, and, as stated, a good midpoint between RPGnet and the Forge. I wound up starting this thread, which turned out to be fairly interesting.

Yesterday a friend of mine was at KublaCon, and he picked up a copy of a Japanese game at the dealers room, which turned out to be a Japanese game company’s fanservicey entries into Flying Buffalo’s Lost Worlds “fantasy combat books,” called “Queen’s Blade.” Each book represents a character, and you actually trade books with your opponent so they get a “first person” view of your character. This in turn reminded me of Cheapass Games’ Button Men, where your playing piece is a button with numbers on it, that represents a character, not to mention Brawl, where each character is represented by a specific deck of cards.

I was wondering if this approach had been tried in an RPG context before, not as a thing done just for a convention game, but as part of the design, and from the replies, it had, basically in a few different types of contexts:

  1. Superhero and other RPGs that involve highly iconic characters. The original Marvel Super Heroes game from TSR is a good example in that it was designed mainly for using the pre-made Marvel characters, and the rules for original characters resulted in PCs that were random and potentially underpowered. (The “fanfic” approach).
  2. LARP games routinely have pregens of some kind, intended to set up certain situations in how they interact, but still fairly open-ended. So (assuming I’m understanding this right) if you get a particular character, it’s assigned that he has goal X, but how and why he’s after it is left up to the player. (The “plotting” approach).
  3. There are some games from the indie scene that have their whole concept based around a specific group of characters. Jonathan Walton in particular has taken that approach in several games (e.g., Kamikaze Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan is basically a GM-less word game for two people, with two very specific, archetypal characters). (The “iconic” approach).
  4. Certain games have archetypes that define most of the stuff about a character. In Unisystem games this is more of a way providing examples and showing how to use the character creation system, while in Tenra Bansho Zero the archetypes are most of what you do in terms of character creation, on account of the game being designed for extremely fast play. (The “play aid” approach).

Obviously, an RPG has different needs from a game like Lost Worlds or Brawl when it comes to characters. Each Brawl deck/character has a distinctive look and style, but the original set had no character bios whatsoever, while the Queen’s Blade Lost World books have about two paragraphs at most. “Character creation” is one of those persistent memes in RPGs, and I think even indie games haven’t challenged it all that much (YMMV, change for change’s sake is dumb, etc.).

Aside from the aforementioned approaches, I’m wondering what kinds of RPGs could put pregenerated characters to especially good use, especially in the style of the aforementioned table games with pretty illustrations and all that. I do think it’d be neat to put together a “custom build” of Thrash, meant specifically for using a particular fighting game cast. Using PCs as “playing pieces” in a sufficiently Gamist RPG might be a good way to go.

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