Game: Big Eyes Small Mouth
Publisher: Guardians of Order
Review Dated: 2nd, March 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10 [ Breathtaking ]
Total Score: 39
Average Score: 7.80
This review originally appeared on RPG.net
This review is on the Revised Second Edition of Big Eyes Small Mouth, the original Second Edition was full colour throughout and had 288 pages instead of 208. I don’t have the original to compare it with, but I hear that the content is largely the same and that the 80 less pages is due to a clearer and more efficient layout as well as smaller and less illustrations. The Revised Second Edition is the only one that’s easily available on the market these days, so the original Second Edition shouldn’t be of much concern.
The style of the book is excellent. The cover is a manga style illustration with a samurai gun bunny, sailor suit and mecha wearing sorceres and a goat riding elven sorceres. It’s full colour and quite pleasing to look at if you like manga. The interior is all black and white, reminiscent of a lot of the digest format mangas that are available, except for the most part the art is a lot better in BESM than the mangas. Most of the illustrations are small with the odd full page illustration. The illustrations are relevant to the sections which they are in but not always to the text that’s right beside them. Most of the illustrations are drawn in a style that is compatible with the printing method, but some of them obviously suffer and appear to only be average quality. The illustrations definitely manage to capture the anime spirit, which is good as BESM is supposed to be an anime role playing game. The text is well laid-out and easy to read with clear divisions. Sidebars show up in the format of paragraphs on slightly darker backgrounds. Unlike Tri-Stat dX they do not show up in the middle of a sentence, which is very much appreciated. The sidebars are integrated so well that reading them is very smooth and reading a sidebar before finishing a section seems quite natural. Examples are integrated very smoothly and clarify certain rules, but they really aren’t that necessary, as the rules are well written by themselves. Tabs are along the sides of the pages so it’s easy to quickly go to the any section without having to look at the top or bottom of the page for chapter or page numbers. A nice extra touch. The chapter layout is done in a linear fashion, and I never found myself wanting to jump ahead to find out what a reference was about.
I give BESM a 5 for style. The closest thing to a flaw is in taste, some of the illustrations just weren’t to my liking, but they were still fairly good.
The content is also very good. BESM is a rules light system, as is evidenced by the game mechanics, the most detail is in the character creation options. The rules provide a lot of flexibility, so any type of character could be created regardless, but the selection of attributes and skills are very useful, and the majority of them are applicable to most genres to varying degrees.
The Table of contents fits onto a single page which is great for a quick glance to figure out the relevant page number – along with the tabs this makes for very easy navigation. I prefer this method to detailed table of contents which are essentially an index which isn’t in alphabetical order. The reference index is at the back of the book and in alphabetical order. It takes up six pages and the print is quite small. It doesn’t bother me but I’m sure some people would wish the print was twice the size so it was easier to read. I’m sure an extra 5-6 pages wouldn’t have hurt. Limiting it to 6 pages is advantageous for quickly finding a reference, but people with poor eyesight will be spending longer reading through it and will probably have to break out the reading glasses. It’s a minor issue and if this was rated on a percentage scale I would have docked a couple percent off because of it. Those who are annoyed by the small text of the index can simply use the table of contents and do a little bit of flipping through the pages to get where they want.
The first chapter is a short introduction to Big Eyes Small Mouth. It includes a page of what is Anime (which is useful to roleplayers who aren’t familiar with anime, but useles to fans of the genre, which will also be most of the people buying this), a overview of various anime genres (most of which are prevalent outside of Anime as well) and a page on what is Roleplaying (which as with every RPG product I’ve read annoys me, but at least it only takes up a page, and will be useful to anime fans who aren’t familiar with RPGs). It also has a quick history of Big Eyes, Small Mouth and an introduction to the Second Edition. It’s only 6 pages, 1 of which is a nice illustration. It takes up little space which is good since you’re only going to read it once. While this isn’t mentioned, just because BESM is geared towards anime doesn’t mean that it will only work with anime, it will work well in any type of game.
Character creation is covered in the second chapter, and takes up a full 120 pages. The majority of this is attributes, defects and skills. It starts with character outline involving GM and player discussion, and customizing the character to the type of game that will be played. BESM is based on the Tri-Stat system, which only uses Body, Mind and Soul stats. It’s a very quick and efficient system, and the stats are only covered in a few pages. This is a very elegant system, as unlike most RPGs, the stats themselves are used in a lot of the game mechanics, instead of having attached modifiers. Some people will complain that only having 3 stats is unrealistic. I can confidently say that if anything it is more realistic than a slew of stats. It’s not realistic for someone to be strong but clumsy and have a weak constitution. In the odd case that someone like this is created, the clumsy and not so tough defects or the super strength attribute can be used (more on that later). It is also not too likely that someone will be a genius but have very little world experience, in the odd case like this it can be applied with defects and attributes. Most people don’t complain about the soul stat as it is unusual in most RPGs, but it covers nicely what I find to be missing in a lot of other RPGs. Attributes are for lack of a better word, advantages (in GURPS terms). I find this choice to be a little distracting, as most RPGs consider Stats and Attributes to be the same thing. It works fine, but I’m sure I’ll find myself slipping up and using the wrong term from time to time. Attributes cover any character ability that isn’t a skill. The attribute system is set up so that virtually any ability imagined can be had with enough character points. Any ability that isn’t explicitly stated can usually be created by modifying an existing one. For instance Astral Projection could be renamed Cyber-Jacking and used in a cyberpunk campaign with slight descriptive modifications. The mechanics are essentially the same, except Mind might become the relevant Stat. Defects are exactly what they sound like, defects. They are usually not massive in nature and most of them will only give 1 or 2 bonus points. This is not like disadvantages in GURPS which can be very crippling in nature and also provide an extraordinary amount of CPs. Skills work like skills in almost every other system, being similar to d20 in having a separate skill pool, but also GURPS which pays for skills from the same pool as everything else. The big difference between BESM (and other Tri-Stat systems) and the majority of RPGs, is that depending on the type of campaign skills will cost more or less depending on their relevance. A military campaign won’t make much use of acrobatics, while a martial arts campaign will, similarly archery is of little use in a space opera campaign but will be very useful in a medieval fantasy campaign. This is an innovative shift from basing cost on difficulty of an ability, and it also eliminates munchkinism. A character can spend a lot of points on combat skills in a non-combat oriented campaign, and can be VERY skilled at combat, but won’t be able to make much use of his skills. In a high combat campaign where combat skills are very useful, a high level of proficiency in them will be expensive. This is a very effective game balancer, and also clearly illustrates what skills are useful in what kind of campaign. It would have been nice to have something similar for attributes and defects, where variable cost is left to the GMs discretion, but it would be dificult considering the flexibility of the attributes. Instead it provides guidelines as to what kind of attributes would or would not be in a campaign. Technological attributes are not appropriate in a medieval campaign and would be ignore, paranormal attributes would be ignored in a normal campaign, etc. Seperate attributes are also there for Mecha (vehicles, giant robots, power suits, etc) which are created the same way as characters, except they are treated differently and usually don’t have skills, although robot and android player characters can be made as mechas without difficutly. This is one very good example of the flexibility of the system. Combat Skills are separate from the rest of the skills, which is convenient as a lot of RPGs have combat as a focal point, or at least require the most mechanics for combat. It was also done for backwards compatibility with the first edition of BESM. The end of the chapter is on derived values, such as combat value and health, which are based on the three stats as well as any attributes or defects that were selected. A couple background points will also be awarded to augment the character to reward the player for making a bit of a background story for the character. These points aren’t game breaking, simply “perks”. Examples are included throughout this chapter to illustrate certain attributes, defects, skills and concepts.
Chapter 3 is about basic game mechanics. It explains dice rolling (almost everything is based on 2d6, 1d6 on occasion). It explains success rolls, providing modifiers based on difficulty and provides some suggestions on when to roll (basically when it makes the game more fun, something is very difficult or for GM impartiality) and when not to roll (whenever it would get in the way of the plot or rolling dice detracts from the fun). Basic melee and ranged combat is covered, including initiative, damage and recovery. It also provides some sample weapons, which is about the only sample items provided in the book. Some people may dislike this, but equipment lists aren’t missed at all, and not having equipment lists allows for a lot more flexibility. Price is determined by the GM and the game world, so if the campaign is modern day you can look up current price lists for products and deal with things that way.
Chapter 4 covers advanced game mechanics, and is basically just optional rules for the types of campaigns that make use of them. Included is mecha (vehicle) movement, mecha combat, falling and crashing. Advanced combat such as called shots, multiple weapons range modifiers, wounding and variable damage. Wrestling is covered as well, and as a wrestler and grappler I am quite pleased and impressed by the rules presented. They are the most realistic of any game system I have encountered so far, and any modifications I would make would be in new skills or attributes for trained grapplers. Excellent! It seems for “normal” stuff that this realism continues throughout the book which is quite impressive. It also makes plenty of provisions for more cinematic and unrealistic campaigns. It’s nice having real life as a base and building on it instead of having an unrealistic system and having to chip away and modify it to make it realistic. Mind combat (basically for psionics) is covered as well as the Psyche system for horror games, which is very similar to the Call of Cthulhu Sanity system (but it isn’t based on percentiles) or the Ravenloft Fear, Madness and Horror checks. A nice bonus for people like me who like horror games, but it doesn’t take up much more than a page so people who won’t use it won’t be complaining about the waste of space.
Chapter 5 is about Role Playing in Anime. This is a very useful chapter for people who want to use BESM for Anime RolePlaying (which is the idea), about a third of it is not of much use for people planning on using BESM for a non-Anime campaign. Areas covered include types of campaigns, choice of genre, setting (with some examples and plot suggestions), non player characters and adventure design and character advancement. Very anime specific is the section on Fan Service, which covers all the anime cliches which some people love and other people hate. There is a brief paragraph of a couple sentences on each cliche (with a suggested rule mechanic for the Mallet), so it doesn’t take up much space for people who aren’t interested in fan service, but is plenty for those who want those anime elements in their games. Suggestions for Game Masters and Role Players are anime centric (watch lots of anime), but a good portion of it is usable for any campaign. And if you want to run a different type of campaign just subsitute anime with that type of campaign. If you want to run a horror campaign, watch lots of horror, if you want to run a Star Trek campaign, watch lots of Star Trek, etc.
The Bios are an interesting read, good for a chuckle on occasion, and especially good if you want to find out about the contributing artists! The Bibliography is also a good read, although it isn’t really a bibliography in the strictest sense. It provides leads to numerous anime series and anime resources. If you’re already a hardcore anime fan you probably know about them all already, if you’re like me and just getting into anime then it’s quite useful. If you aren’t interested in anime at all, it only takes up a few pages. After the bibliography is the index which I mentioned at the beginning of the review. It is followed by a 3 page character sheet which can be photocopied for personal use (or is downloadable as a pdf).
If you want to get a taste for the systm in BESM, Tri-Stat dX which is based on BESM is available as a free download and is 96 pages long (106 including the 8 pages of ads and the front and back covers). The rules system and mechanics presented in it are just as good as BESM, although it supports more dice types, BESM is Tri-Stat d6. dX can use any size dice from 4 – 20. The layout isn’t nearly as good and there aren’t any examples. It will have to be read through a couple times and some of the stuff will have to be tested out to fully figure the system out. BESM can be figured out very easily just by reading the book. Which is incidentally why I bought it. Tri-Stat dX is a great system, so is BESM despite being “limited” to d6s, but the book is much better.
Tri-Stat dX can be downloaded from RPGNow.com or the Guardians of Order website http://www.guardiansorder.com which leads you to RPGNow.com
Overall, Big Eyes, Small Mouth is one of the best role playing games I have ever encountered. It is easy to understand yet very comprehensive. It does a great job as roleplaying system for any genre, certainly doing a much better job than GURPS, which is clunky and rulesbound at times. The rules system is very scalable which is seen in the vehicle building system. Most systems even if they have elegant character creation have the most complicated ship building system possible. BESM makes ship building as easy as character building and uses the same system. Genius! A universal roleplaying system in which the rules and game mechanics are universal within itself as well.
Big Eyes, Small Mouth Revised Second Edition gets a 5 on substance without any reservations. The only people who won’t like it are people who want a complex rulesystem that isn’t flexible and dictates how everything works and leaves very little to the players and GM. (Which works fine in Hackmaster if you like that kind of game).
Since I wrote this review it turns out that other people also don’t like it, some on account of it being too rules heavy, some on account of the three stat issue. Regardless it comes down to taste and I still don’t have any reservations about giving it a full score.