A Look At The Crunch Of BESM
Big Eyes, Small Mouth, or BESM for short, is a table-top role-playing game system that presents a set of mechanics for Gamemasters to use to run whatever sort of game they like. There is no single narrative or campaign setting. Typically, this is called a “universal system” in gaming, where a game will present the crunch and leave all the fluff to the Gamemaster and the players. However, BESM differs from other universal games as there is a common trend to its games; they are all based on Anime. By “anime,” I am referring to “Japanese anime,” in which there is this interesting stylistic choice to depict characters with very large eyes (for the sake of expression) and very, very small mouths (unless the characters happen to be yelling at the time), thus “Big Eyes, Small Mouth.”
BESM is based on the Tri-Stat rules, which are quite simply that each character has three primary stats. These being body, mind, and soul. Body determines how fit and able a character is physically, and encompasses physical strength, speed, agility, constitution, and more. Mind includes intellect, creativity, reason, metal resilience, and the like. Soul is a measure of your spirituality, sense of self, emotional strength, and often comes into play when supernatural qualities abound. From these, your other derived values are determined, such as life/health points, energy/stamina, and your combat values. Characters will then have a number of skills that add to their stats. As your three stats are used whenever making a check, skills merely indicate higher affinity within certain areas. For example, driving is typically a body stat roll, but if someone with body 3 had a driving skill of 2, they would be considered to have a body of 5 for the purposes of making driving checks. In addition, characters will have a number of qualities, both positive and negative, to round out their character. These can be anything from possessing magic to lowering a specific aspect of a stat (for example, physical strength if you want a high body to represent speed and health more so than strength) to possessing divine blessing to owning a giant robot.
As you can likely surmise, BESM is a crunch heavy/fluff light game, but it is also a game that encourages a great deal of fluff. The mechanics, which are mostly used for determining the outcome of a conflict, encourage fast combat and quick resolution so that fights can happen and be over with so that the game might move on. Story is heavily encouraged and Gamemasters are given a great deal to work with in terms of inspiration, as the game is built so that it can easily fit in any sort of game that players and Gamemaster’s might have an inkling for. A space-drama with giant mechs and fighter pilots? No problem. Teenage mystics fighting off a secret invasion of demonic spirits, while still having to attend high school? Easy. Anthropomorphic animals on the run from a secret government facility which created them to be the ultimate soldiers? Sure thing.
BESM is a great game, a total blast to both run and play. Admittedly, it can be very hard to find a copy of the game anywhere, as there was only a limited run of the third edition. But, fortunately, earlier editions of the game, as well as its d20 version, are much easier to find, and various online retailers will usually offer the PDFs of this version of the game for a reasonable price. If you are a fan of both anime and role-playing games, I cannot recommend this union of your interests highly enough. Check it out.
Image Credit: White Wolf, ArtHaus