Thursday, May 27, 2010

Big Eyes, Small Mouth d20 (and SAS d20)

Why BESM d20?

Well again, it seems like a logical next step.
My conversions to BESM Tri-Stat version went so well that a conversion to BESM d20 seems logical. Plus I have done numerous d20 conversions so far and Silver Age Sentinels also has Tri-Stat and d20 variants and are very close to Mutants and Masterminds (with SAS d20 and Mutants and Masterminds both written by Steve Kenson).  So yeah, it seemed logical.

Plus despite that fact that Guardians of Order are no longer with us, the "Anime d20 SRD" rules were released as open gaming content. So if I wanted to I could release an anime d20 supplement or an entire new rule book using the rules of the OGL.

The other advantage to using this set of rules it is fairly easy to convert Unisystem to BESM and BESM to BESM d20. I can also convert d20 Modern or M&M to SAS d20 and SAS Tri-Stat. And both SAS and BESM d20 are built on an odd mix of d20 and Tri-Stat, so in the end it seems that BESM and/or SAS d20 stats should write them selves by now.


What happens is I get some interesting differences depending on if I start fresh, convert from Unisystem, convert from BESM Tri-Stat, or even from one of the d20 games. I will not bother with the details here (mostly they end up being differences in saves and amount of skills) but all of them are close enough for me to feel there is a good sense of "inter-system reliability" and that was sort of the point of this long experiment; can I represent certain characters more or less the same way under multiple systems.

So when looking at this conversion I am going to be focusing on BESM d20. I am grabbing things from SAS d20 as well since the systems are largely compatible. (nitpick: and by "largely compatible" I mean "powers were cut and pasted from one version to the next" with BESM 2, SAS, BESM d20 and SAS d20 I figure I have paid for the same blocks of text now four/five times). BESM d20 seems closer to D&D3.x and SAS d20 closer to M&M, but that is to be expected. I am also freely dipping into "BESM d20 Advanced Magic", but more on that later.

A lot of what is in BESM d20 can be found in BESM and SAS d20. A lot. So much that I wish I had just one omnibus edition with say a d20 conversion chapter. Almost all the attributes have the same (or similar) point spread across all the systems and to convert to d20 from Tri-Stat is often just a matter of doubling the points. BESM d20 includes rules for converting the D&D and d20 Mod classes to their point system so I am not at a lack of choices. I did notice right away that BESM d20's Dynamic Sorcerer is not 100% compatible with SAS d20's Costumed Wizard; and similar inconsistencies have popped up. There are also minor balance issues between the SAS classes and between the SAS and BESM classes. Converting the lot to Unisystem might help, or might make things worse. So my first conversion rule is giving any character an extra 5 "fluff" points to spend as they see fit. I found that these points usually balance everything out well. See defects below for more on this.

Levels, Classes and Hit Points
Ok, lets get this out of the way now. BESM d20 and SAS d20 both have levels, classes and hitpoints. I typically find that people can deal with one, but not the other, and rarely both unless it's D&D. On the surface level can convert roughly to M&M's PL, rough enough that I am going to say it's fine and not worry about it. But Hit Points do not work with M&M's Damage system. On the other hand levels do not work well with Unisystem.

And then there are Classes.

While some don't like this, I think it works well in terms of Anime, but less so for Supers. Ok for the most part these can be ignored since they only decide what powers a character will get and when, what Hit Die, attacks and saves. BESM d20 offers a classless option which should work fine for the class haters out there. Also BESM d20 deconstructs the D&D classes by what they get with points to show their relative merits (useful for anyone playing D&D). We can convert the Classes to archetypes but we are still stuck with levels. It is d20 after all.

The Classes in BESM d20 seem to work better for me. The SAS d20 classes felt too restrictive. One thing I wanted to do was stat up my son's favorite female super heroes Fire and Ice, but the closest thing that seems to work is "Adventurer" with maybe some "Acrobat"? Not very satisfying.
At this point I go to my d20 Modern and Mutants & Masterminds conversions to get an idea of what level I want. I have a basic understanding of their skills, so I can work backwards from that point. I also have knowledge of what types of magic (lower case m) they can do, so I can work backwards from that point as well. In the end I think I want to use the lowest possible level (so I have room to work up) and given them the 5 fluff points. Willow comes out to about level 13 and Tara level 12 total.

Magic and Dynamic Sorcerery
Like BESM, BESM d20 has a "Dynamic Sorcery" power, "Dynamic Powers" in SAS and BESM 3.0. This is used in BESM d20 to emulate the power of wizards. Its roots are in Anime of course to mimic the special magical effects of characters that are not really Vancian-style wizards. Witch Hunter Robin for example could have dynamic sorcery limited to fire. Using Dynamic Sorcerery is one of the benefits (and one of the problems) of BESM (either Tri-stat or d20).

Dynamic Sorcerery is primarily used for improvised casting. It is bought in levels and how many levels you have decides on what it is you can accomplish. It's not cheap, 8 points per level in BESM d20 (4 points per level in BESM 2.0 Tri-Stat, 20 points per level in SAS d20), but limitations on powers (like the fire only stipulation for Robin above) drops it to 4 or 2 (or 2 and 1, or 15 and 10) points per level. Ranks in the power determine what level of spell you can cast. So to cast a 0-level d20 cantrip you need 1 rank of Dynamic Sorcery, to cast a 9th level d20 spell, you need a Dynamic Sorcery rank of 10. The parallels between this and Cine Unisystem's Magic/Sorcerery should be obvious. Buffy's Sorcery includes Telekinesis, d20 BESM has TK as a separate 4 point per rank power.

So Dynamic Sorcery is a way to do spells and on the spot magical effects.

Now BESM d20's "Magic" attribute ("Power Flux" in SAS and BESM 3.0) also allows the character to perform magical feats, seemingly similar to Dynamic Sorcery, but they caution using the two together. Magic then becomes a descriptor and then the extra 10 points per rank are used to buy other attributes/powers. This makes it most similar to M&M's "Magic". Then to power those magical attributes/powers, the character must pay some cost from their Energy Points (like Essence in WitchCraft) So a Techno Pagan then could buy Magic and use the points to buy Mechanical Genius or to be a Super Scientist. BESM d20 Magic then in Unisystem terms is a means to buy Supernatural Qualities. In this respect BESM's Magic + Energy Bonus is most similar to Classic Unisystem's The Gift + Extra Essence and Essence Channeling.
Magic becomes a means to buy other powers, that can sometimes be called spells, sometimes called powers.

Willow then could have a level of Magic, use the points to buy TK and use the associated Energy Points to power her TK OR she could do it with a level in Dynamic Sorcery. Tara would do the same to power her Empathy and the Sight qualities, but those "feel" more like magic and less like dynamic sorcery. BUT keeping track of Energy Points is not how Cinematic Unisystem works (otherwise it would have Essence) so, I am going to limit how Dynamic Sorcery and Magic are used together (as the rules suggest) and treat them much the same way I treat Sorcery and The Gift. Separate, but equal (and not in a Kansas Board of Education way).
Magic and Dynamic Sorcerery are also known as Power Flux and Dynamic Powers respectively in other Tri-Stat books (SAS and BESM 3.0).

So which one should I use to represent the magic I want?
Good question.

I have spent a lot of time working this out and the truth is for d20 BESM I want to go with Dynamic Sorcery. It's more cinematic in it's feel, it's parameters (in d20 anyway) are a little better defined. Thanks to "d20 Advanced Magic" it is also a better choice in terms of multiple spells. Plus at this point in my game Willow and Tara are whipping out spells left and right. For a BESM d20 "Willow and Tara" or "Charmed" game, I would say each witch character gets a special power with the Magic descriptor added on and then Dynamic Sorcery as well. To use TK they use their Dynamic Sorcery with a power level equal to that of their power level in Dynamic Sorcery. Sure it's expensive, but cheaper than buying DS and TK at the same time.
Note: BESM d20 vs. SAS d20. I am further making my options for BESM d20 over SAS d20 clearer here. The Dynamic Sorcerer in BESM is much more powerful than Costumed Wizard of SAS d20. Not only in terms of points given (twice as much for BESM) the cost for the dynamic sorcery power is 8 points per level compared to SAS's 20 per level. Now the arguement can be made that BESM is way overpowered. But this can be controlled though the use of the character points. In the end BESM d20 has a closer fit for me and what I want to do.

Powers into Qualites
Again the basic conversion is divide the BESM d20 power cost by 2 to get the Unisystem quality cost, unless the BESM one is 1, then it stays 1. There is so much overlap between BESM d20/SAS d20 and Mutants and Masterminds that whatever works for one will work for the other.

Defects into Drawbacks
If BESM d20 and SAS d20 have one edge over their d20 brethren then it is in the use of Defects. The issue here is that both games use point systems along with levels, so defects give you more points. This makes it sometime unwieldy for other d20 games, it makes it perfect for converting them into Unisystem Drawbacks or Mutant & Masterminds.
Again, as with Powers, divide the Defect points by two to get a Unisystem equivalent, with some rounding. 1 point defects remain 1 point, 2 points = 1 point and 3 points = 2 points. Most defects never go beyond 3 points. Now if you remove the "fluff" points option I have above then it is possible to convert them on a one to one basis; keeping in mind that a Unisystem character should never have more than 10 points in Drawbacks.
Since all the drawbacks are "scaled" in BESM and SAS they can be converted more on an as-needed basis too.

Skills convert on a 1 for 2 basis, so every one rank of Unisystem gives you 2 ranks of d20. That works fine as a base, but the two games are not powered the same. So to get a level based on Spell power, you end up with a higher level character (Willow is 13th level here) and a lot more skill points to spread around. Fortunately there are a lot more skills in d20.

Silver Age Sentinels vs. Mutants and Masterminds
I have mentioned it above quite a bit, but I'll detail it here. These two games have a lot in common. Yes both have Steve Kenson's name on them, yes both are d20 (and thus maybe not interesting to Unisystem players) and yes both are about superheroes.
But what you don't get from reading one or the other game is how well they can work together.
When doing my conversions I have decided that in my d20 Supers game, SAS represents my Silver Age (1956 - 1968) while M&M is the modern age. So I just roll back any dates of the characters back 40-30 years, where necessary.

The great thing is that this has brought greater definition to my "Superhero World". It is a mix of Mutants & Masterminds, with SAS as part of it's history and elements from BESM where needed. No cute and fuzzy fighting seizure monsters, well, not yet anyway, but there are dragons and some other magical beasts.

Willow and Tara in BESM / SAS d20
Why always these two? Lots of reasons. But here are my salient points.
- I am interested in how witches in particular will convert. I don't really care about demons, vampires or other stock creatures; every game has those.
- Eden has Willow and Tara sheets on their site (used to anyway), this allows people not overly familiar with Unisystem, but d20, to make judgments on my conversions.
- I like Willow and Tara. If want to do all this work on converting then you can pick your own characters.
Now I also use them as "out of the box" characters. That is I try not to make up any special rules regarding them. I have another character I use that for. But the idea here is take something that I know very well (and most people here have some idea about) and see if I can re-create them using another system.

Instead of using "The Dragon and the Phoenix" canon/timeline, I am going to be using my "Willow & Tara: The Animated Series" timelines; so the same as BESM 2r. Truth is, vampires and demons, especially the kind that show up on TV are not much of a threat to humans that can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

I don't feel the need to post their full stats (unless anyone wants them), but here are their levels.

Willow D. Rosenberg
Female Human
Classes and Levels: Student 2, Adventurer 2, Dynamic Sorcereress 9 (13)
Strength 9 (-1), Dexterity 11 (0), Constitution 11 (0), Intelligence 18 (+4), Wisdom 16 (+3), Charisma 17 (+3)
Student (to cover her time during 1st and 2nd seasons), Adventurer (starting in 2nd season and into 3rd where she 'buys' more tech and magic skills) and finally Dynamic Sorcerer. I'll make her a Student 4, Adventurer 2, Dynamic Sorcereress 7 (level 13).
Compare this to her d20 Mod incarnation who is a Smart Hero 5, Occultist 1, Mage 7 (level 13)

Tara A. Maclay
Female Human
Classes and Levels: Magical Girl 3, Student 2, Dynamic Sorcereress 7 (12)
Strength 12 (+1), Dexterity 9 (-1), Constitution 12 (+1), Intelligence 16 (+3), Wisdom 18 (+4), Charisma 16 (+3)
Magical Girl (to cover her time before meeting Willow and to power her Sight and Empathy) and then Dynamic Sorcerer. Maybe a level of Student in there too.

Her companion is the ghost of her dead mother (or grandmother if you want her to start earlier). She also has MKF as a companion, and in true anime fashion Miss Kitty is a talking cat. I could also make her a Magical Girl 5, Student 2, Dynamic Sorcereress 5 (level 12). Compare to her d20 Mod incarnation, Dedicated Hero 6, Mystic 6 (level 12).

I'll say they pick up the bulk of their Occult Knowledge while they are students.

While I am not as thrilled with these versions as I am the BESM 3.0 or the Mutants and Masterminds ones, they are still pretty good.

What gets me about BESM d20 is the huge amount of untapped potential here.  There is just a ton of stuff in this book for the taking.  Same with SAS.  Speaking of SAS, the best super-hero history I ever read was in the pages of SAS.  They are the same in both the d20 and Tri-Stat versions (another grumble).  SAS looks like it should mix well with M&M but I guess they are really too close to each other that their differences are more obvious.  It's a shame that SAS never really got it's due. It does read like a rough draft of M&M at times.

Is BESM d20 Anime?  Well I guess I have to ask, what is Anime?  BESM d20 is a good d20 version of BESM.  I am not convinced though it taps into that collective known as "Anime" as well as BESM 2 or 3 does.  I have played more BESM d20 than BESM 3 so to me it came off more like "Cartoon Cinematic d20".  Which is in itself not so bad.  I have mixed BESM d20 and D&D3 and gotten something a bit more cinematic. I have also mixed BESM d20 with d20 Star Wars for some really weird stuff, but all of it fun.

As I wrap up BESM (all versions) I have to reiterate what a shame it is that we lost GoO.  I know companies come and go all the time and each time something unique to the industry is lost.  Not to say there were not issues with GoO; there were plenty, and they were hardly a model of how to run a business.  It is just too bad that what they provided to the game industry is now gone.

1 comment:

G. Ames said...

The cards are rather silly. Attack cards range from a wire whisk (level 1) to nukes (level 12 and can destroy nearby bunnies) to even more ridiculous weapons. The artwork and cards frequently reference classic sci-fi franchises such as Red Dwarf and Star Trek. The creators have invented many, many horrible ways for your bunnies to die. The game certainly does not take itself seriously.