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BESM System Review

by Collie Collier

Updates coming to this page, once I've played in a mini-combat


Big Eyes Small Mouth is a system designed for swift-paced, story-oriented gaming. The rules book itself recommends not having much combat at all if this slows the game down. Emphasis is placed on cinematics and simplicity in gaming action: the players make a few die rolls, the GM describes what happens in his story, and the game moves on. If this is the type of game you wish to play, then this is a good system for you.

The rules give few tactical choices, and there is not much texture to the system. If you wish to play a game that allows creativity in mechanics use by the players, neither the book's author nor I think this is the system for you. By 'mechanical creativity' I mean things that add character differentiation or increase player options.

An example: if I want to build three diverse martial artists in BESM, the only real difference between them mechanically would be their base characteristics. Their martial arts styles would all be three points of the kensei attribute. Their players (if they're smart) will describe them differently, but the mechanical effect on the game is identical for all three characters.

Because of the rules design, you can potentially end up with a rather dull, "flat" seeming combat if you're not careful. However, the rules book also clearly notes that being a good combat system is not its purpose. The author is unambiguous in expressing his preferences -- his rules are for an anime-like cinematic game, not expanding players' choices or options, in or out of combat. I can't fault him for that, and I think his rules will allow such a game.

A well-run and organized combat can be a lot of fun, however. The following will hopefully give some ideas on things that can be done for both players and GM to accomplish that goal, within this system.

BESM Structure

BESM is designed to be extremely simple. The game system creators wished to streamline the mechanics of gaming down to as few dice rolls as possible. Thus you can think of BESM's dice roll checks for skill/stat/combat/whatever in the following fashion:

You want to end up with the smallest number possible;
you want to subtract bonuses and add penalties

Unfortunately the game system creators were not consistent with this rule -- there is one point in combat where you want to add to your roll, in order to come up with the largest number possible. Furthermore, research has shown that human beings add things more easily than they subtract them. It would probably have been much easier had the system been consistent, with bonuses being added and penalties subtracted.

However, this is not the case, so we'll work with what we've got to the best of our ability. Just keep one thing strongly in mind while gaming: be very careful in combat -- don't accidentally penalize yourself by adding when you should have subtracted!

So... let's assume you're either a player who knows BESM will be used in your game, or a GM who thinks this would be just the system for the game you have in mind. We'll look at preparing for gaming and combat, from a player's perspective, next.

Last modified: 2002-Mar-28 20:24:31

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