Looking Back At BESM 3E

Big Eyes Small Mouth 3rd edition might have been a more popular game despite coming too late to save its parent company of Guardians of the Order. That having been said, the 3rd edition of Big Eyes Small Mouth (shortened to BESM) is exemplary of quality and dedication to the anime aesthetic coupled with tabletop game design.

The book is of course filled with high quality illustrations, with an obvious bias for the anime art style. The layout is amazing, and in full color. While the book is available in "print on demand." it retails for $60. I would venture to say that it is worth every dollar for those whose interests in role playing and anime intersect.

In the first chapter, the book gives a proper introduction with a "what are role playing games" section. However, this book also includes a "what is anime" section, and each of those two subjects are approached with a kind of earnest honesty that can be appreciated regardless of ones familiarity with either subject. Being the third edition, the book does a good job of listing the subtle differences that make this edition distinct in a handy chart.

Character creation is actually rather time consuming, though not unnecessarily; the core concept would be that you can make any character from a variety of genres. The game also includes many notes that help the uninitiated, and also give hints on simplification of options. I won't go into the intricacies of character creation, but one should be warned that it spans 7 chapters! Not all are necessary, but it showcases how robust and differentiated your character can be.

The mechanics are incredibly simple, with all actions being resolved by rolling 2d6 and adding a modifier. In earlier editions, the system favored low rolls, and defenders had an unfair advantage, which meant that combats tended to run long. Though I never got the opportunity to run this system through its paces, the new system at a glance seemed far more apt for the high octane anime battles that I had wanted from earlier editions, and never quite got in earlier editions.

The remainder of the book includes an insightful look at anime, its influences and peculiarities, and even a look into Japanese society. There is also an ample amount of advice for players and game masters for running various anime games, as well as advice for role playing in general. The last chapter lists loosely defined but excellent sample settings meant as a kind of blueprint for potential anime worlds.

Given the current offering of games that are at least partially steeped in the anime aesthetic and sensibility, it is easy to see how this book and its earlier editions helped to shape the gaming industry. Perhaps with time and attention, this system might have shown more flaws, but for the time being it remains an attractive artifact of role playing and its flirtatious history with Japanese media.



I agree that BESM third edition is well worth checking out. Mark C. MacKinnon and David Pulver created the Tri-Stat system used in this book which is well suited to portray the varied abilities and powers found in anime. The artwork by Niko Geyer is excellent and I don't think the other artists are lacking in ability either. It's too bad that Guardians of Order / Arthaus Games didn't last much longer than the publication of this 3rd edition but if you like creating your own anime-style adventures, you will find a lot to like in this RPG.


I used BESM 3e quite a bit. I was actually one of GoO's GMs at Gen on the year they introduced it. The book itself was fantastic and the system itself was quite interesting.

As for showing more flaws, I found those, I assure you. Mostly in that characters made above 300 points could break the system very easily, and certain abilities (like Item) were very, very abusable. Also, the ability to penitentiary or bypass armor and shield abilities were far too cheap and effective, making it easy to create attacks that could one-shot things quite easily.

I had actually put some work into trying to overhaul the system to smooth out the issues. The base system is sound, mostly. It's a shame the company went under, they had great ideas and fun products.


This was a pretty good alternative to Hero System coupled with a genre bias and art style that only a fraction of the audience at the time was into. The cover still makes me cringe. I really wish they would have redone TriStat dX with the art budget of this, but a broader style.

Patrick McGill

My High School buds only ever wanted to play BESM. I disliked the system (it was a little too flexible for my taste, and I prefer equipment being separate from character builds), but it was the only way I could get my RPG fix without playing with people much older than me.

Funnily enough, I'm running OVA (very similar to BESM, if not more rules-light and narrative focused) for those same friends now at 30.


They did actually put the Tri-stat system out as its own thing, which was a great move on their part. It was fairly open ended, and actually invited people to make games with their system around the same time that the OGL was a thing.

But yes, I'm glad to see that other people enjoyed this game as much as I had wanted to. Keep the old systems alive, I say!