Looks like Uchichi Draguto has swapped his beloved headband for a more contemporary pop culture reference. No doubt he will be kicked out of dragon anime club from the offense. Before we strip our exuberant wyrmling of his beloved jutsu, however, let’s look at the odd gamer practice of Pop Culture Builds more closely. Maybe (just maybe!) he’s on to something fun here.
First and foremost, we’ve got to contrast this biz to the Shameless Ripoff. Our own Kineticist is the poster child there, presenting a thinly disguised Aang as her own original character (do not steal). By contrast, Pop Culture Builds are less earnest and more tongue-in-cheek. They might serve as thought experiments (intended as grist for ye olde blog rather than an actual tabletop), or as practical jokes (where a player drops a dozen sessions worth of hints before revealing Wuce Brayne is more than a mere monk).


You can also have great fun with a themed one-shot, asking everyone to show up with an appropriately leveled Pop Culture Build from [insert IP of choice]. You don’t even have to choose the IP ahead of time, allowing Grape Ape, Bender from Futurama, and Ash Ketchum to all go adventuring together. Half the fun of that setup is going in blind, slowly figuring out the references as you play.


No matter what Pop Culture Build you shoot for though, the practical questions present an intriguing puzzle. If you’re starting at Level 1 with standard wealth by level, how is Thor affording that magical hammer? If you want to bring Omni-Man into the game, how are you getting flight at 1st level? Starting in the mid-levels can solve some of these problems, helping builds to “turn on” right away. But even there, quirky characters present their own issues. I mean sure, you can play Kirby. But how the crap are you going to get a PC with the swallow whole ability?


And so, for today’s discussion, why don’t we compare our Pop Culture Build notes? When have you created one of these monstrosities? Did it see actual play, or is it destined to dwell forever within your “Character Ideas” folder? And more generally, what is the best kind of game to bring these shenanigans? Is it possible to show up to a standard game with a Pop Culture Build, or is that inevitably distracting? Sound off with all your takes on Kermit the Frog, Katniss Everdeen, and the dog from Up down in the comments!


EVENT: The Handbook is heading out for Free Comic Book Day! We’ll have our table set up at the Mini Comic Convention in Lawrenceville, GA! Both the writer & illustrator of this here Handbook of Heroes will be there on Saturday, May 7th from 10 AM – 4 PM. We’re always down to talk shop in person, and we’d love to meet any and all of you guys out in meat space.


ARE YOU AN IMPATIENT GAMER? If so, you should check out the “Henchman” reward level over on The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. For just one buck a month, you can get each and every Handbook of Heroes comic a day earlier than the rest of your party members. That’s bragging rights right there!