Monday, May 24, 2010

Anime RPGs: BESM 3.0

I was eagerly anticipating the release of BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouth) 3rd Edition. Of course, by the time it was ready Guardians of Order had gone belly up and the rules were now being released by Arthaus/White Wolf. My anticipation was tinged a little with stress. What had happened to the game I had just recently become very fond of and what was going to happen now? And of course, would I be able to convert Willow and Tara to the new version given how much fun I had with BESM 2nd Ed Revised?

Well, many of my fears were put to rest, only to be replaced by new ones (and a couple that just never seemed to go away).  I'll detail those all below.

Briefly here are my comments on the system and the book.

The book is very attractive and one of the most colorful RPGs I have seen in a long time. It reminds me of Mutants and Masterminds in terms of color. It is a thick tome, and now sized to fit well on my shelf. The Niko Geyer artwork is great and really captures the feel of the game well. On the other hand I have seen all this artwork before, maybe not in color, but certainly in other editions of this book. Now I understand that money was very tight at GoO and the art is great, so I am willing to cut them some slack here.
The text though also has the same problems. There is text in here that I am now reading for the 5th or 6th time over (BESM 2.0, BESM d20, SAS, SASd20, Tri-Stat core). Some of this text still has the same problems as it always did (Dynamic Powers in particular).

I do like what is new. The analysis of anime, maps of Japan and Tokyo, and the overview of Shôjo anime. The section about the anime multiverse is also rather fun and full of ideas that can be used for any game. Especially as a way to run those pesky crossover sessions.

The new game mechanics are now a Roll-over; 2d6 vs. Target Number. Makes it very much in feel with Unisystem. No Success levels as such, but a very loose difficulty class system similar to many d20 based games. It was reading over these rules in fact that help re-tool my dice mechanic for Unisystem that I have come to call The Chicago Way .
But otherwise, it is still mostly the same BESM. We still have our 3 Stats, Body, Mind and Soul. Still have attributes, defects, and skills. There are different scalings for the game depending on how you want to play it.
Like M&M the powers are all effects based. So if you wanted to make a Pyro Girl, for example, its not a matter of choosing levels in pyrokenesis, but choosing a particular power and have it act like it. This could be Elemental Control (Fire), Power Flux- Fire or something else.

That gets me to a big issue. Magic.

Magic has always been an issue in BESM. There are basically three magical powers. The first is the easiest. Pick a power and call it magical. No big deal really.

The second is Power Flux, which used to be called magic. The idea here is pay for this at 15 points per level and you get 4 points per level to buy any other power temporarily. For that loss of 11 points per level you gain flexibility. So every power in the book then becomes a spell that your magic using character can use. So lets take the power Invisibility as an example.  The power says you become invisible, it does not say how or why.  Since its results or effect based then the Invisibility power can come from magic, be a spell cast by Power Flux, or be a cloaking device of a super-science item. Power Flux does not just have to be magic, it can psi powers, super-science, or just about anything else. For people starting out in BESM I say go with Power Flux. This is what I usually do for starting games and my Teen Witch below uses Power Flux.

Then there is Dynamic Power. Dynamic Power used to be Dynamic Sorcery, but the name change didnt help clear anything up. It is bought like Power Flux (including some of the exact same text copied and pasted in). Now the idea here is to be able to replicate all those kewl powerz you see in anime that the characters just seem to think of and they get. The really weird stuff. The trouble is the power as written is ripe for abuse and it is not very clear. Turning to BESM d20 you can get an idea of what it can do there, but none of that is here. So there is no telling what a person with 3 levels in this can do say differently from what someone with 3 levels in Power Flux do.

The BESM d20 version has Dynamic Sorcery (its equivalent) casting D&D type spells with restrictions on how many, which ones and how often. But nothing like that here. IF I am going to use Dynamic Powers I am going to have to figure out a way to convert over the magic in BESM d20 Advanced Magic for some guidelines.

The designer, Mark MacKinnon, says a lot about this power in and outside of the book. Things like this power is balanced if you know how to use it and It's a mature role-playing tool for mature role-players. If you don't "get it" when you read the description, then it's not for you. Well Mark, you seem like a good guy and I do really like BESM but I am calling BULLSHIT on that one. I have been playing for 30+ years, writing games and playtesting new games non-stop since the mid 1990s. Players, mature or not, still like guidelines, thats why they are called core rules. I don't want to kick you since you have left this biz but please, don't insult my intelligence.

I do understand it, and frankly, its not really my bag. I have some witches I use it with and others I use Power Flux with. In the end, I am finding I still like my own systems better. I appreciate the desire to tell a good story or to give GMs their freedom, but sometimes even the best GMs need a guide.

Though I should not *have* to do this I am going to take my cues on proper leveling from BESM d20 Advanced Magic. There Dynamic Sorcery goes to 10, to make life easier I am going to limit it to 5 levels in BESM 3.0 (level 6 is the realm of Gods). This will correspond to 1 BESM 3.0 level equaling 2 BESM d20 levels. Not perfect, but it is a guideline. Similarly Ill say 1 BESM 3.0 level of Dynamic Powers is roughly equal to having 2 levels of Magic/Sorcery. Its not perfect, but it works well enough.
Still though, I am unhappy with this power as written. Its a cool idea, but not as it is now. Ill revisit this when I do the BESM d20 conversions.

More Mechanics
The rest is very familiar. The main feature of the system is still the Tri-Stat, or Body, Mind and Soul. All skills, attributes and defects as well combat roles are made with these three in mind. They range up to 12, but cannot go over. A quick and dirty conversion from Unisystem would be to add two Unisystem Attributes to get one Tri-Stat stat, so as an example take Strength + Dexterity to get Body.

Unisystem = Tri-Stat
Strength + Dexterity = Body
Intelligence + Perception = Mind
Constitution + Willpower = Soul

Attributes and Skills convert pretty much as is. BESM 3.0s new mechanic is such that the chances of success for a character is about the same as their Unisystem counter-part. Many of the Attributes are nearly the same as Unisystem with minor name differences; Tough vs. Hard to Kill for example.

BESM 3 Skills are now part of Attributes, but otherwise mostly unchanged. Skill Levels range 1 to 6, with 0 as unskilled or unable to use this skill and 5 representing the human maximum in most cases. Unisystem has a lot more Drawbacks for characters than BESM has Defects.

Basically, if I wanted to run an Anime-based game in Unisystem, I would start with the rules that seem to be the closest (WitchCraft RPG, Army of Darkness, Ghosts of Albion) and then add in BESM 3 material as needed.

Teen Witch
Here is a way to get a Unisystem-like witch into your BESM game. Use this template to start out your character. It uses Power Flux as I mentioned above and I went with a more anime-feel to it.

You were living a fairly normal crazy teen-age life. Worrying about school, boys, clothes, boys, popularity and boys. That is till one day you discovered your grandmothers Book of Shadows hidden away and since then nothing has ever been the same. You see ghosts, your cat now talks to you (and gives you advice!) and what worse now all these people are after you; rival witches, government agents that cant apparently tell the difference between you and a vampire, oh and not to mention you have a midterm in a couple of weeks!
College? You just want to make it to the prom!

Value Points Stat
+1 +10 Soul Stat or Mind Stat (choose one to work with Magic)

Value Points Attribute
+1 +2 Companion (Familiar, 120 points) OR
Divine Relationship (Spirit)
+1 +2 Energy Bonus (+5 Energy Points)
+1 +1 Features: Attractive (cute)
+1 +18 Item Book of Shadows restriction:
Unwieldy, easily lost, cannot learn new spells without it -2
+2 +26 Power Flux Magic (8 Flux Points)
restriction: Activation (lesser) -1, restriction: Depletes (lesser) -1,
restriction: Spells must be learned (moderate) -2)
+1 +2 Sixth Sense (One Aspect)
+2 +4 Skill: Occult (+6 points in Modern Occult Horror)
+1 +2 Super Senses (Magical) (uses same
Stat chosen above)
+1 +8 Telekinesis (Any)

Points Defect
-1 Marked (witchs mark)
-2 Nemesis (Usually a rival witch or investigator)
-2 Skeleton in the Closet (Magical family/history)

Total: 60 Points

Book of Shadows (40 points worth, 20 CPs, -2)
Common Spells (spells use same stat as chosen above)
Value Points Attribute
+4 +8 Environmental Control
+1 +8 Flight
+2 +6 Force Field
+2 +8 Healing
+4 +8 Illusion
+1 +2 Telepathy (minor)

Notes on the Template
The Teen Witch chooses one Stat, typically Soul or Mind, and uses it as the basis for all of her magical powers. All Spells in her Book of Shadows will use this Stat instead of the Stat listed. Eg, a Teen Witch that uses Soul as her Stat will use Soul and not Mind when using Telepathy as a spell. Her Super Senses also use the same Stat, but Game Masters can rule that Telekinesis can remain as it is.

For this I choose to use Power Flux as I had with my BESM 2r builds.  I wanted to see how it fared.  I dod like how it works.  Power Flux is "magic" and the powers bought are "spells".  So somewhere in between Ghosts of Albion and WitchCraft RPGs.  I tried out Dynamic Powers too, but more on that later.

Paths of Improvement
To advance the Teen Witch can improve her stat of choice, add more points to her Power Flux Magic (to increase her power), her Energy Points, or to her Item Book of Shadows (to represent more spells learned). Other choices are picking up both a Companion Familiar and Divine Relationship Spirit of Grandmother/Mother or increasing her Occult skills.

Buffy in BESM?
Well believe it or not, but Buffy owes a lot to the likes of Salior Moon and other Magical Girl or Shôjo anime. Buffy, Faith, Willow and Tara (even Anya and Cordelia) could all be considered magical girls with Xander as the comic relief guy and Angel as the mysterious stranger; its practically anime cliché. These stories are typified by a young girl, normally high school age, which gains or learns of her magical powers. Other girls often join her and they battle evil monsters, evil wizards (almost always older and male), demons and things from somewhere else. Common themes include friendship and the power of love and saving the world. Stop me if you have heard this all before.

Witches and magic I have discussed, vampires, werewolves and all sorts of monsters are more than adequately covered. Can you do a Slayer?

Sure. Why not.

Since BESM is effects based, we can use this to our advantage by describing what happens to a girl when she gets called: Increased strength and speed, increased health, quick healing, sense vampires, prophetic dreams, boatloads of enemies. Unisystem does a fantastic job of capturing this I think. But any game that can feature vampires should be able to feature their hunters. Again, we are going to have to look at the effects here.

Vampire Slayer Template
You are the One, the one girl born to rid the world of vampires, demons and other supernatural threats. You are the Vampire Slayer.

When you are called you get the perks, the increased strength, speed, stamina, fast healing and like Neo you now know Kung-fu. Of course this all comes with a price. You have a stuffy old guy watching you, and not in a creepy way, but in a you better train or you are dead way. Plus every vamp in town now wants to kill you to make a name for himself.
You have the talent, the skills, and damn, these new boots were made for kicking ass!

Vampire Slayer Template

Value Points Stat
+2 +20 Body Stat
+1 +10 Soul Stat

Value Points Attribute
+2 +20 Attack Combat Mastery
+6 +12 Combat Technique (Brutal, Critical Strike, Hard Bodied, Lethal Blow, Lightning Reflexes, Precise Aim [Stake through the Heart])
+1 +2 Heightened Awareness
+1 +10 Defense Combat Mastery
+1 +3 Melee Attack
+2 +8 Massive Damage (Vampires; Demons)
+1 +10 Regeneration (5 health points per round)
+2 +4 Sixth Sense (Vampires, Prophetic Dreams)
+1 +8 Superstrength (+1 damage)
+5 +10 Tough (+25 health points)

Points Defect
-3 Nemesis (vampires, demons and others supernatural bad guys)
-2 Skeleton in the Closet (Slayers have secrets)
-2 Unique Defect, Obligation: kill vampires

Total: 110 Points

Obviously not a point for point conversion, but a very serviceable for a typical Modern Occult powered game.

NOW BIG CAVET here. I can run a Cine unisystem game in my sleep these days, I am still getting used to BESM. I'd wagger that you could speed up things in BESM once you know it all better, but I still think Cine Unisystem is the fastest combat system around. BESM combat reminds me a lot of Classic Unisystem combat, very deadly.

What strikes me though here is how well the fit is between the BESM system and what you might want to do with a "Buffy-style" game. It's not going to be everybody's taste I know, but it is fun and one of the better conversions (in terms of how much the end product captures the feel of the original) I have done.

The BESM guys tell me that this build is a combat machine and may in fact be closer to Buffy in Season 3, not at the start of her game.

Now to do this proper I'll need to read over the combat sections in BESM some more to understand how the Slayer would work. Basically run "holo-deck" simulations. I put the characters in a variety of situations and simulate the combat in Excel.

Now one thing to consider is this. The Eden Slayer is 15 points, as is the Vampire (with a soul, Witchcraft or GoA). Their abilities parallel each other.

BESM's Vampire is 110 points. So is the Slayer. I'd like to move some things around, but I would like to keep this parsimony between the two templates if I can. To me that is worth more than a slightly over-spent character.

Of course one could very easily point out that BESM's vampires are more powerful than Buffy's, and they would be a 20 Point vampire in Unisystem. So doing the math the Slayer in relative strength should be about 80 BESM Points. Does that make sense?  If the 110 point slayer is closer to 3rd Season, then the 80 point  Slayer should be closer to 1st Season.  15 points per season to upgrade then?

About those points. Sure it seems a lot, but I typically* run a 300 point BESM game, gives me the same feel as my Unisystem game. So 110 points off the bat doesnt seem like too much to me. Figure in Unisystem a Slayer spends 75% to 100% of her Quality points on just being a Slayer. So to me it feels the same.

*Typically is a misnomer. I have only run a handful of games, none of any length, but my builds are always aimed at 300 points.

New Unisystem Quality
So now we have seen what BESM gains from Unisystem. What can Unisystem get from BESM? Well quite a bit it seems. Let not even get into Mecha, Giant Robots or Kaiju, lets look at things that could sneak into a Unisystem game unnoticed till its too late!

Cat Girls
Ah Cat Girls. Why do they fascinate us so? Or is that just me? Anyway, with Bast running around, talking cats and other general weird stuff, why not a Cat Girl. We can do this one the opposite of the Slayer, take a BESM Template and reverse engineer it as a Unisystem Quality. I am going expect this to come out around 15 points, but that is only based on guess work. Lets see.

Nekojin (Cat Girl)
15-Point Quality
Prerequisite: Can only be taken at Character Creation
You are a Nekojin, commonly known as a Cat Girl. Some people see you as a demon type, others think you are more like a werewolf, but you know the truth: You have no idea what you are! But you do know that you are not evil (well, most of the time), and you are sure you are not a mindless killing machine (unless cans of tuna count) and the only thing you torment is this toy mouse one of your human friends gave you.
Despite your ears, tail, fur and cat slit eyes, people find you cute. Must be that you still look like a kitten.

* +3 to Dexterity and +1 to Constitution. These bonuses can raise the your Attributes above the human maximum of six. (+4) Dexterity can max out at 9. Other attributes can also go over the human max to 7.
* You get one level of Attractiveness and one level of Acute Senses (Low light vision) and one level of Acute Senses (Hearing). (+5)
* Fast Reaction Time, Situational Awareness. (+4)
* +2 to Acrobatics and Kung-fu (cat-fu?) skills. (+4)
* Natural Weapon (Claws) Strength x 2 damage (+2)
But these perks come at a price, you are not exactly human remember.
* Supernatural Form: Not Human. Sorry Kitty, you dont look human. A big hat and head to toe covering might hide that, but why would a cutie like you hide all that? -2
* Mental Problem: Easily Distracted. Must make a Willpower doubled roll to avoid being distracted by the things that distract cats (string, mice,) -1
* Mental Problem: Mild Cruelty -1

15 points. Not bad. Its a tad high for White Hats, but Heroes can use them and in a Cine Unisystem game they will end up being combat characters.

I like BESM.  I wish more people did too.  Despite it's flaws (and it still has them) it is a great little game.  I like what it can offer other games too.  There are a lot of mechanics I have adopted over to unisystem, some fluff as well.  There are some great ideas on how to run a multiverse game that I think should be essential in an GM's guide for a "universal" game.
The biggest tragedy of BESM 3.0 is it's wasted potential.  ArtHaus/White Wolf go it on the death of GoO and promptly did nothing with it.  I get it in a way. BESM is not their product, not their line and really not in the same genre of their games.  But I think it would have been great if someone had picked it up and expanded it some.  Mark and GoO had some great ideas for the future of BESM 3 and it is sad that these will never come to pass.  The loss of GoO and BESM is more than the loss of one small company and their game in the industry; it was the lost of something very unique.

I want to spend some more time with BESM this week and look into their heirs apparent to the Best Anime RPG title.


BlUsKrEEm said...

2nd and Revised became my universal of choice for much of the early 00's, and despite being a White Wolf Fan boy when BESM 3rd released some how I never managed to pick it up. My games shops didn't carry it, and I was happy enough with 2nd that I didn't felt eh need to order it online. I might just have to after reading this review. Thanks

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Hope you can find a copy.
It is long out of print now and only PDFs can be bought.

Gaming Ronin said...

I think the "roll over TN" makes a lot more sense. I tried to get into the tri-stat dx system. the roll under was the only thing I didn't like.

I thought the variable die idea was cool but if you roll under the bigger the die the harder it is to make a roll.

Brett Slocum said...

I read through both 1st and 2nd edition BESM back in the day, and really liked them. I also noticed the translatability of BESM to UniSystem, which is one of my favorite games I've never played.

And I definitely want Cat Girls. Can we get OD&D cat girls as a race, please? :-D

Timothy S. Brannan said...

OD&D Catgirls? Of course! We should have had them before this I think! ;)