Rappy’s RPG Reviews: BESM d20

01 Jun

Hello again readers! For today’s review, I’ll be stepping a bit out of my comfort zone with a rendition of d20 rules that are departed from the d20 Star Wars series, Dungeons and Dragons and d20 Modern: Big Eyes Small Mouth d20 by the now-defunct Guardians of the Order. For those of you that don’t know, Big Eyes Small Mouth (often referred to simply as BESM) was originally a tristat system that still lives on in White Wolf’s buyout of the property. The d20 edition, however, was GoO’s attempt to be “hip” and “in” with the d20 scene despite their apparent snobbish nose-turning at the “inferior” system. How did they fare? Well, let’s look inside. Note that this isn’t a review of the tristat system BESM…I don’t own it, and unless you’re willing to shell out money for me to buy them, I’m not reviewing non-d20 products right now.

The Basics

At first glance, BESM d20 looks familiar…the recognizable 6 ability scores, feats, skills, classes…then you look in deeper instead of skimming. The first big difference you’ll note is a point-buy system. Now, while some use point-buy for ability scores and skills already (albeit separately and not together), BESM has it for abilities, feats, SPECIES…pretty much everything not based on classes or the like. Yes, it will cost you points you could place toward ability scores to be members of specific species. I may be “old fashioned”, but I just don’t get the point. Why pool abilities, feats, and of all things race/species together? It seems to be an unncessary lumping for the sake of a semblance of what Guardians of the Order believed to be “balance”. Most classes tend to have only a few unique abilities and many levels dedicated to beefing up said character points count to buy specific abilities.


Speaking of classes, there are 15 new classes for the system. With names like Gun Bunny, Sentai Member, Pet Monster Trainer, you can rest assured that no anime stereotype stone is left unturned. These classes are well-made for the system, and a complete overhaul to d20 Modern advanced classes might be of interest to me. They also provide standard-to-BESM d20 conversions of D&D and d20 Modern classes. Here’s where it gets ugly. They essentially insinuate “these classes are broken and unbalanced, so we made them good for you!” in an attitude that comes across as overly high-and-mighty. While the Dungeons and Dragons conversions are fine for the system, the d20 Modern ones completely miss the point. There are no unique talents presented, no specialization, just “here’s a mountain of character points to spend in 20 levels! Go crazy.” B+ for the main classes and D&D conversions, but a big fat F for missing the point of d20 Modern classes.


Next, we have attributes. What are attributes, you might ask? Well, they are essentially point-buy rankable talents (with some more special quality-like exceptions, such as Extra Arms and Superstrength). With such gems as Train a Pet Monster and Spirit Ward, these might do well to be converted into real d20 Modern talents. Again, I know that’s not what the creators intended, but it’s what I first see when I look at these.


Well, at least skills are a familiar face. Skill points, skill ranks, classic d20 skills, and… *Record scratch* Melee Defense and Melee Attack?! How are those skills and not considered part of the Base Attack Bonus?! Even worse, there are separate skills for melee weapon fighting, unarmed fighting, and ranged fighting, as well as their respective defenses! Similarly deplorable, despite Sleight of Hand being the skill used by pickpockets, BESM d20 has a separate skill called Pick Pockets for no real reason. What clinches the deal are such “we could have used ability scores but we didn’t get that far into the book” skills such as Powerlifting (why not use a Strength check?) and Seduction (why not use a Charisma check?) Small here and there errors I can understand, wanting to revise a system I can understand, but blatantly contradicting yourself this many times without any explanation is stupid.


Even dumber are some of the feat changes. It suggests “replacing” some feats with skills…skills that those feats GIVE BONUSES TO IN NORMAL D20! Did they not even get the point?! Similarly, the feats they deem “inappropriate for an anime-style campaign” are stupid. Renown and Low Profile? Criminals and celebrities exist in anime. Dead Aim? Deadshots exist in anime. Shot on the Run and Quick Draw? …I don’t even want to know why they felt those were inappropriate for an anime campaign when they wrote a freakin’ Trigun sourcebook for the title.


See attributes, reverse them to being negative things that grant extra character points instead of good things that take away character points.

Weaponry and Equipment

…What they’ve done to weapons is just….blyeah. Attributes and defects applied to a template of damage to make a weapon. Just…blyeah. At least some of the addons could make good gadgets under the d20 Modern system. That just barely ekes out making up for the silliness that is point-buy weaponry.

Final Thoughts

This book barely passes my standard d20 Modern product review acid tests. It’s not horrid, though, so I have to give it an average rather than hateful rating despite its misunderstandings of just what normal d20 is. 5/10.

Author’s Aside: Also, how does a system claim itself to be so “balanced” compared to Dungeons and Dragons, then turn around and have rules on how much damage a character can deal to a planet before it a’splodes a la Dragonball Z?

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Posted by on June 1, 2009 in RPG Reviews


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