In a licensed setting, do the players get to use the canon heroes as PCs?
(Inspired by this RPGnet thread, and related to this previous post about canon NPCs where I discuss this in passing.)
In many cases, the answer is “only in a one-shot” but the PCs should equate to the stars of the show, so if the players are interested and would keep the characters about right why not at least consider it?
My first experience of a licensed game was Middle-Earth Role Playing. It was set over a thousand years before The Hobbit, so that was a no. Even immortal characters were still unavailable for reasons of game balance. (The One Ring is set much closer to the time of the books, and balanced differently, so it could be done.) (And don’t get me started on game balance in MERP...)
My second was the first TSR Marvel Superheroes, where it was a yes, with supplements dedicated to statting out everyone and anyone and adventures written for specific teams, but still with the proviso that an ongoing campaign should probably feature DIY heroes. This is fairly standard in licensed superhero games.
TSR’s Indiana Jones made it the default assumption, so that character generation only appeared in a supplement. Even though the cast was noticeably narrower than Marvel’s. Want to play Jock, anyone?
Call Of Cthulhu doesn’t address it for obvious reasons.
Ghostbusters again advised creating a DIY franchise, but the original crew were statted out on character cards in the box set, and while they had a couple extra points they were essentially as incompetent and reckless as starting PCs. The main issue with using them is that they appear as NPCs in a couple of the published adventures.
Its direct descendant in design, WEG’s first edition Star Wars discouraged it like crazy, not least by making the canon characters way more powerful than starting PCs, and in many cases more powerful than PCs run through a year’s worth of adventures.
Han Solo has Con at 8D? “We’re all fine here, now, thank you... how are you?” That Han Solo?
The various Star Trek RPGs assume a new ship and crew for ongoing games, even though the TV format and large cast would easily allow you to play existing casts.
Pendragon doesn’t really let you play Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin and the like as there’s too much ongoing plot around them, but you certainly could.
Buffy stats out the Scooby Gang so thoroughly that the Revised book has them season by season. Playing them is one of the standard options. They get pretty uber in the later seasons, but never game-breakingly so except for Willow, where the Sorcery rules model her stratospheric rise in power. Likewise Angel.
Serenity follows suit - with the proviso that River is statted at less than full power as she would break the game. I’m waiting to see how this is handled in the Firefly game - I imagine the lessons of Smallville, Leverage and Marvel Heroic will be taken into account. Smallville was designed to deal with Clark and Chloe at the same table, after all.
Doctor Who encourages DIY characters but allows the Doctor and companions, and expects it in the intro adventures. PC Time Lords, even using the Experienced trait, aren’t as powerful as the Doctor has become, though. If you’re worried about balance, the Doctor is a real issue. Of course you could nerf him - is Eleven actually better than Ten at anything? Or everyone at the table could play one of him...
This occurred to me recently as I considered a Star Wars one-shot. I’ve handed out the canon characters in Buffy, Serenity, Doctor Who and Primeval one-shots, but here I paused as the game was so against it. In the end I didn’t run it, but if I had, I would have used the stars. The only issue is coming up with an adventure big enough for them.
For a TV show, or comic series, used to multiple stories over multiple sessions, this feels more at home than for a movie or book. When I ran Ghostbusters it was closer to the cartoon than the movie(s) as that fitted the weekly episode nature of the game. But my most recent Star Wars game was designed to be totally serialised, a trilogy of movies run over a few sessions each, because I’ve played plenty of Star Wars games that felt more like a TV series version.