Saturday, October 2, 2010

Blind Swords-Pig

One of the things that Stan Sakai does in his Usagi Yojimbo series, is take inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Some of these are purely cinematic such as Zato Ino, the blind swords pig. This is a direct 'homage' or spoof if you will, or Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, a character with over twenty five movies and a television show, much of which is playing on hulu.

Homage characters or tribute characters have a long history and are widely in use even today, especially in comics and cartons. For example, the infamous Venture Brothers carton series has its own Fantastic Four parody, and the previews for this season have shown a parody of Spider Man. In the Wildstorm setting, a branch of DC comics and prior to that, its own thing and prior to that part of Image, had several characters that were indirect homage characters to big name DC characters like Superman and Batman.

An homage character is one that allows the audience, if familiar with the homage or tribute, to quickly identify what this character is supposed to be. Depending on the creator's intent, it can be either to have his own version of the character without worring about copy rights (although Shazam will show that doesn't always work), or to tweak such natures to show a dark flip side as the comic series Marshal Law or Wanted does.

When designing such characters, try to get a feel for how well the party will react to them. If the party doesn't watch the genre or source material, congrats. You just managed to create something that will hopefully provide some entertainment to the group. Even as a player, if you make an homage character and the rest of the group doesn't know it, you've saved yourself some brain power and provided your own tribute to the source character.

As a player and a GM, I know I've been guilty of this myself. Back as a pre-teen, I was a huge fan of a certain albino swordmans and while I never went the direct route of the albino elf, there were character who had demonic swords and were related to the nobility or were cursed or had some dark gloom or fate hanging around them. Even more recently, with the character Guts from the Berserk manga, I've played a few characters who either min-maxed with things like a full blade or monkey grip.

If the rest of the group doesn't mind the homage, or if you've got an iron will and can stand potential mockery, speak with the GM about incorporating source material you find inspirational. In many instances, gamers draw their inspiration from the same pool and when we don't, there is a fair chance that by exposing it to others, you'll find new fans of the material who may also want to use it as source material.