Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Big Eyes, Small Mouth

Big Eyes, Small Mouth (frequently abbreviated as BESM and referring to the typical facial features of anime characters) is a relatively rules-lite, anime-themed game.  If you're unfamiliar, Wikipedia provides.

I haven't messed with third edition, but I have run some games using the second edition ruleset.  It's simple, but it's pretty solid.  The basic mechanic is simple: characters have three stats, Body, Mind, and Soul.  These each range from 2-12 (4 is average).  Roll 2d6 under the appropriate stat, and you succeed at your roll.  Simple.

Complications arise primarily in character creation.  In addition to stats, characters may also use their points (it's a point-buy system) to buy Attributes, which are special things your character can do.  Maybe you're very attractive, or a gifted mechanic, or maybe you have magic or mutant powers; Attributes represent all of these.  Finally, there is an optional skill system (skills just act as modifiers to dice rolls), as well as the obligatory merit/flaw system (you can take disadvantages to get more points at character creation).

As for the anime part, it's primarily flavoring.  The book has anime artwork and suggests certain source materials and themes, though the game itself is a workable universal roleplaying game system.

As for combat, it's not necessarily deadly (it really depends on the power level of characters), but it is quite fast.  A typical combat turn requires an attack roll, an enemy's defense roll, and damage is a fixed number.  Character creation is the most complex part, and once that's finished, the system is pretty easy.  There are some optional rules that can add complexity (like adding variable damage, or the skill system), but the game is pretty modular.

There is one small complaint: as written, the attack/defense rolls are absolute.  That is, if you roll your attack, you hit.  If you roll defense against that attack, it misses.  As such, combat can drag.  It slows individual rolls, but I've taken to comparing the margins of success for attack and defense, and awarding the contest to whomever has the best degree of success.

Being a universal system, BESM has no setting as such.  There are a couple of books that give statistics for existing anime settings (such as Trigun and Serial Experiments Lain) as well as anime-themed fantasy and horror settings.  Third edition establishes a multiversal "core setting" similar to GURPS Infinite Worlds.

BESM uses Guardians of Order's Tri-Stat System, and as such, is compatible with other Tri-Stat products (to show how versatile it is, Tri-Stat has been used for a superhero game, a movie tie-in, and the latest edition of Tékumel).


  1. I know I have had a blast playing "World Pulse Remix" and look forward to doing more of that in the future. It is definitely a weird system at first, but easy to adapt to, and quite fun.

  2. My only problems with BESM was that it required a heavy hand for the GM to prevent min-maxing. I ran (I think) a 2nd edition mecha game, and I wasn't aware of how easy it was to game the system.

  3. That is a good point — the game is so modular that characters can easily outshine one another if they work the system correctly.

    That's probably the thing that, despite the simplicity of the system, would make it non-viable for new GMs — if you're running a highish-powered campaign, it is easy for one character to outshine the others. You can make the most skilled generalist in the world — but those same points could be spent on someone who does heaps of damage or is well-nigh invulnerable. Making sure that characters don't have overlapping schticks might be a workaround — just provide varied challenges to keep everyone engaged — but it's still a balancing act.


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