Have you successfully run an anime-style Dungeons & Dragons campaign? They’re out there, but they’re rare. It’s no secret that D&D is built around traditional medieval fantasy. Sure, homebrew creators have flooded the internet with their takes on anime-style subclasses, character races, and even full-fledged adventures. But at the end of the day, a huge number of people come to D&D expecting Western archetypes and stories. You can still create an anime-influenced character if you’d like, but it’s a roll of the dice whether your table will be accepting or label you as cringey.
Big Eyes Small Mouth (or BESM) was created in the ’90s, when anime was exploding in the U.S. From the beginning, it focused on providing a buffet of anime-flavored character creation options. That’s even more true in 2020’s 4th Edition, which lets you build everything from a elven ninja high school student to a half-demon mecha pilot with a beam katana. The actual gameplay focuses more on narrative than rules, meaning you spend more time describing your cool secret techniques than you do measuring just how far your fireball can reach.
When you play BESM, you’re signing up for a roleplay-focused game that can tackle every anime you’ve ever seen. Interested? Then get in the robot, and we’ll break down what makes BESM different from your standard TTRPG.
Go Beyond Your Limits, Or Give A Speech About Friendship
Once upon a time, I wanted to be a voice actor. I even went to acting school, where there was a course specifically on the manipulation of voice and speech. We were allowed to choose a monologue for a final project–anything we wanted. My classmates stuck to the classics–Shakespeare, poetry, their favorite movies. Me, I thought this would finally be time to delve into anime acting. I did something from Naruto. I forget the exact scene, but it was definitely a “talk no jutsu” speech about determination. You can guess how that worked out.
“Cartoons, really? You should’ve chosen something from an established play or film,” read one of the notes I received from a teacher. That was after the panel of instructors cut me off mid-speech, one failing to contain his laughter. I took two things from that day. One, a massive respect for how professional voice actors can take the cheesiest dialogue and make it work. Two, a lesson that you really have to know your audience.
BESM is made for and by anime lovers. Here you are free to act out the tropes of your favorite anime without feeling judged. The game mechanics encourage leaning in to the over-the-top anime elements. Character creation is point-based, with GMs picking a “power level” threshold. This allows the campaign to shoot right to the planet-destroying Dragon Ball Z fights if you wish. You can even dump your Energy Points into a “Dramatic Feat” to go all out, giving bonuses to your rolls for pushing yourself.
On the other hand, BESM contains a wealth of options for items and allies. If you want to run a less intense, lighthearted setting–say, Pokemon–you can spend points to create adorable critter companions. Or you could make an unusually strong paper fan to smack pervs over the head. As long as your group can dream it, BESM’s flexible point-based system lets you do it, no judgements.
Rule Of Cool Is King
In D&D, acceptance of the “Rule of Cool” is contested from table to table. This unwritten DM guideline says that it’s okay to bend or even ignore the rules if it means players will have fun. Say the goblin camp has explosive barrels. The party knows this and puts effort into herding the goblins around the barrels. Now, for the grand finale, the ranger wants to dip an arrow into the wizard’s fire cantrip and shoot it into the barrels.
But wait! The goblins set up a short barricade and technically the wizard never announced they were using any fire magic during their turn. The DM could go by the rules–they could make the ranger spend a turn lighting a torch, or ready an action for when the wizard does use fire magic. Then they could roll a more difficult attack because the barrels are now behind cover. Or they could just be cool, and let the players have their moment as they turn around and walk away from the explosion while putting on shades they didn’t have before.
Now this isn’t to judge DMs who stick to the rules–many players don’t feel a sense of accomplishment unless they pull off victory by the book. But if you’re in the camp that puts roleplay over rules, then BESM is for you.
Everything is simplified in BESM to ensure that rules don’t get in the way of epic character moments. The game is played entirely with d6 dice–no memorizing which spells use what die. Actions are separated into two easy classifications: attack and general. Movement is usually considered part of an attack action, so you’re not spending time counting spaces as you go. In fact, BESM encourages “theatre of the mind” combat over a grid-based map. The rulebook even invites players to describe “colorful combat maneuvers” when attacking.
Going back to the example, BESM would absolutely let the ranger explode the barrels. They’d be encouraged to come up with a cool backflip trick shot while they do it, too.
D&D Isekai? Grim Cyberpunk? Contemporary Vampire Horror? Why Not?
I keep bringing up the flexibility of BESM, but what does that really mean? After all, people can and often do tinker with D&D 5e to support stories beyond medieval fantasy. Can this one TTRPG system really incorporate so many genres and game styles? It can, thanks to its light approach to rules.
The bulk of BESM rules come in during character creation. In order to support so many options, players can alter their powers and items with Enhancements and Limiters. These attach additional effects at a cost–think of the character that has HUGE untapped power that only comes out when they’re enraged. Enhancements and Limiters change point costs, so GMs will have to guide players heavily during character building.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that BESM doesn’t have core classes and races like other TTRPGs. The 4th edition book gives plenty of pre-built ideas for common characters, but the onus will probably still be on the GM to take a player’s vague concept and bring it to life.
The payoff here is that none of BESM’s rules are tied to a genre theme. They’re like a set of knobs you can turn up or down to suit your table’s needs. Turn down the power level, ignore combat, and play out a shojo romance. Or jack up the power level, let everyone build a tricked out mech, and let them fight! If you want to bring the intensity, silliness, and fun of anime to your tabletop group, give BESM a try.
NEXT: Dungeons & Dragons: 10 Best Magic Items In Tasha’s Cauldron Of Everything
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Sergio is the Lead News Editor for TheGamer. But usually he asks people to call him “Serg” because he wants to sound cool like the guy from System of a Down. He began as a convention reporter for FLiP Magazine and Albany Radio’s The Shaw Report to get free badges to Comic-Con. Eventually he realized he liked talking to game developers and discovering weird new indie games. Now he brings that love of weird games to TheGamer, where he tries to talk about them in clickable ways so you grow to love them too. When he’s not stressing over how to do that, he’s a DM, Cleric of Bahamut, cosplay boyfriend, and occasional actor.
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