Big Eyes Small Mouth is a multi-genre Tabletop RPG created by the now-defunct Guardians of Order. Conceived as a system to allow people to play out games in the style of anime series, it was first released at GenCon in 1997. The name comes from a common generalization of the typical anime and manga character designs, which have proportionately large eyes and small mouths.
A number of supplemental rule books have been released, with additional rules and character creation options to provide specific advice for running games in a certain genre. For instance, the supplement Hot Rods and Gun Bunnies contains information on running a Gunsmith Cats or Riding Bean-style game, while Big Robots, Cool Starships has rules for designing Mecha and running Space Opera-style games. Most of the extras in the supplements were folded into the second edition of BESM.
There are two other kinds of supplements produced by Guardians of Order. Stand-alone game worlds such as Uresia: The Grave of Heaven and Centauri Knights, and licensed supplements based on various anime series, such as Slayers, Serial Experiments Lain and Sailor Moon. Licensed supplements that were mostly or completely background information about the show's world were released with the misleading title of "Ultimate Fan Guide".
BESM uses the Tri-Stat System designed by Guardians of Order, and was their flagship product for that system. Tri-Stat is a Point Build System where characters are defined by three statistics: Body, Mind and Soul, as well as a number of Attributes and Defects. A d20 System version of the game was also released around the time of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. GOO had a third edition of BESM ready when it collapsed. The rights were sold to the game company White Wolf, which published it (for a short while anyway; the now discontinued third edition book sells for over $100 on the Internet, but you can buy .pdfs) and now provides what support remains for the Tri-Stat system. In 2019, Dyskami Publishing licensed the rights to BESM from White Wolf and successfully Kickstarted a fourth edition, with the PDF being released in December while the physical version was delayed until Q1 2020 due to getting held up at the printers by rights issues.
See also Silver Age Sentinels, GOO's superhero RPG that used a similar rules system.
This tabletop game provides examples of:
- Advantage Ball: 4th Edition introduces Edges and Obstacles, a mechanic similar to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition's Advantage and Disadvantage. Whereas a normal skill check uses 2d6, with an Edge you roll 3d6 and keep the two highest dice, while with Obstacles you keep the lower two. There are also Major Edges and Obstacles, where you roll four dice and keep the highest or lowest two.
- All There in the Manual: One of the attractions of the early licensed settings (most famously Sailor Moon) is that each RPG book was also a series guide - so much so that a lot of anime fans who had no interest in RPGs bought the Sailor Moon RPG for the guide alone.
- Arbitrary Minimum Range: One of the custom variables for the Weapon attribute (which covers all types of attack abilities) is Indirect, which lets the attack strike through a ballistic arc. However, rank 1 of the variable restricts the attack from targeting less than half of its maximum range (determined by the Range variable); rank 2 reduces this to ten percent; rank 3 is the maximum and removes the restriction. Splash Damage is handled by the Area variable instead, so there may not be any practical reason for an attack to have a minimum range.
- Awesome, but Impractical: The Alternate Form attribute, used to represent Magical Girls, Henshin Heroes, and even characters like The Incredible Hulk. It's one of many "trade-in" abilities where you exchange general Character Points to a special kind of CP that are more limited, but you get more of them. The problem is that the exchange rate is so poor (in 3rd Edition, you pay 9 to get 10) that you need to give the Alternate Form some serious drawbacks or else it'll be laughably weak. The designers' intent ws that the character's powered form would be their primary, while their "civilian form" would be the one built with Alternate Form, but this wasn't made clear until 4th Edition.
- The Sentai Member from BESM d20 and 4th Edition only really works in a dedicated Sentai/Power Rangers-themed game, since the vast majority of their abilities require another Sentai Member in close proximity in order to function. Otherwise all they get is a few low-level abilities like Item and Rejuvenation.
- Author Vocabulary Calendar: Whomever wrote the original BESM books seemingly loved the word "primal", because it's used to describe almost every single Attribute's maximum level (i.e. "a primal level of control over the elements").
- Badass Driver: The Hot Rod template.
- Banishing Ritual: The Exorcism attribute has banishment back to an entity's own dimension as a possible outcome of reducing its Energy Points to zero by means of the attribute in question. The third Edition changed this to freeing someone from Mind Control.
- Bare Your Midriff: The amount of art that exhibits this would be surprising were it dealing with any other genre. Even hardcore mercenaries show up with their midriffs bared.
- Battle Butler: With the Servant attribute, it's possible to create one (or several).
- Big Anime Eyes: The game lampshades this in its title.
- Bigger on the Inside: The Dimensional Portal attribute uses this trope by name.
- Bottomless Magazines: One optional rule in some editions is Dramatic Ammunition, where characters are assumed to be reloading during spare moments (and have an infinite supply of fresh magazines) until the Game Master decides it would be dramatically appropriate for the characters to run out (for example, if a character and his archrival have a running gunfight that ends with them face-to-face, guns at each others' faces).
- Bowdlerize: The Mons-focused sourcebook Cute And Fuzzy Cockfighting Seizure Monsters had the word Cockfighting removed in a separate printing to prevent stores from not selling it due to the name.
- Cat Girl: One of the sample templates and the creation of a space opera catgirl character was used in the third edition as the chargen example.
- Combination Attack: Word for word, this is available as an Attribute. It requires all characters participating in the attack to have the attribute and at least one rank in a Special Attack. All combining characters must also pay Energy Points and the cost increases depending on how many characters are combining. It was eventually phased out entirely in 3rd Edition for being redundant.
- Demon Slaying: The Demon Hunter, one of the sample templates, who is dedicated to killing the denizens of the hell dimension of Bazaroth.
- Evolutionary Levels: The Homo Psyche template is a human who has awakened to his or her true psionic potential, becoming the next step of human evolution.
- Fanservice: About half the art.
- Food-Based Superpowers: The Uresia: Grave of Heaven supplement includes the "God of Cookery" Attribute, enabling characters to do things such as preparing an entire meal in a single round, serving said meal with perfect poise while whitewater rafting, or reverse-engineering the recipe of a dish from a single taste.
- Gadgeteer Genius: The Tech Genius template.
- The Greys: Yep, they're a playable race in this game.
- Gun Fu: Combat Techniques that can be used with ranged weapons can create a gun-fu character quite easily. Indeed, Hot Rods and Guns are just one of the many subgenres of anime.
- Humongous Mecha: The Giant Living Robot template. The Mecha Pilot template also gives you a lot of item points with which to design one of these for your character to pilot.
- Idol Singer: As idols are popular in anime and video games, you can bet they've shown up here.
- Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: Shields have gone through a lot of mechanical changes over the game's lifespan. In 2nd Edition they provided extra armor on defenses that failed by 1, while in 3rd they provided a defense bonus and extra armor by default. In 4th, they only give the character extra armor, but large shields grant an Edge (see Advantage Ball) on their defense rolls.
- Magical Girl: One of the templates available to players.
- Master of Illusion: There are actually two different Attributes covering this concept: Illusion lets the player broadcast a mental illusion to a single person, while Projection allows them to create an image everyone can see (akin to a hologram). Both operate off the same basic rules, with the player being able to spend extra points to make them affect more than one sense (sight by default) or to be able to create larger/multiple illusions at the same time.
- Master of None: The Adventurer character class from d20 doesn't get any unique abilities or advantages like the other classes; it just gets raw Character Points, letting the player completely customize the character however they want. Ironically, this just makes them resemble mainline BESM characters.
- Meaningful Rename: 4th Edition renames quite a few of the attributes and defects that have been around since the very beginning in order to keep things simple and focused. For example, the Luck Manipulation Mechanic attribute was called "Divine Relationship" in past editions, but was changed to "Mulligan" so players wouldn't assume it had to involve Divine Interventionnote .
- Medieval European Fantasy: The Shards of Azar on Ikaris are a medieval-style world with a replica of the feudal system, except that mages directly replace knights and lords, because a magical fireball is more powerful than a lance and a horse.
- Minmaxer's Delight: For attributes, Extra Actions. Even the book recommends only allowing players up to two levels in this unless they're supposed to be vastly more powerful than humans.
- Divine Relationship/Mulligan also counts to some degree in the attributes category. Rerolls are generally a powerful tool to have on hand, to the point that many systems limit them to per level or per story arc, and even then often limit the number of times a given die can be rerolled to once. At two points per reroll available each session (when even the weakest player characters are built on triple-digit point totals), they're dirt-cheap in BESM, and it's even explicitly stated in the attribute that you can use rerolls to reroll rerolls you don't like, with the only limit on how many times you can do that being the number of rerolls you have available for the session. 4th Edition makes it even worse, by changing attribute to one point for two rerolls per session.
- Mons: The Companion attribute can be used to design your own Mon if you have the Pet Monster Trainer template.
- Mouse World: In the Western Animation supplements, Big Ears, Small Mouse.
- Ninja: Yep, they're here too.
- One Bullet Left: BESM is a potential Trope Namer, thanks to the Hot Rods and Gun Bunnies splatbook introducing this as a Combat Technique. In games that operate off of Dramatic Ammunition Rules (see Bottomless Magazines above), it gives the player one last bullet in the chamber when the Game Master declares them to be out of ammo.
- One Stat to Rule Them All: If you can have only one stat at 8, for God's sake make it Soul. Body + Soul determines your HP; Mind + Soul your Energy Points. And the most common roll based off just one stat is Soul-based anyway.
- One to Million to One: The "Swarm" attribute allows a character to divide into a mass of critters (crows, bats, rats, tiny attack robots, etc.) depending on his/her current HP/maximum HP.
- Ordinary High-School Student: The Student template, which includes twenty points worth of Unknown Power to ensure that their lives will be anything but uneventful.
- Parody: The splat book Cute and Fuzzy Seizure Monsters pokes fun at Pokémon in particular while being set in the pet monster training genre.
- Pinball Protagonist: The GM's section mentions that this is a normal characteristic of Shoujo anime, but it's not fun to be a PC who has no agency, and it's best to avoid this.
- Resurrective Immortality: This is what the Reincarnation attribute does. The various levels determine how long it takes for the character with the attribute to come back after being killed, and how easy or hard this is to stop.
- Samurai: No anime-inspired game would be complete without these.
- Sentai: The Sentai Member template, which is at its best when fighting alongside the other members of the team, just like in a sentai show.
- The Six Stats: Averted (except for the d20 version, which plays it razor straight). As the name implies, Tri-Stat uses only three stats: Body, Mind, and Soul. The Less Capable Defect (renamed "Shortcoming" in 4th) allows the player to somewhat simulate this by making their character is deficient in a specific area, such as a distance runner having a good Body stat but lacking in Strength, or an absent-minded professor type having bad Memory in spite of a high Mind stat.
- Skeleton Key: The template that bears this trope's name has the power to open any world gate in any dimension in the Anime Multiverse as well as being able to unlock anything and even destroy any world gate. For this reason, they are very sought after by those who know of them.
- Skill Scores and Perks: BESM has a skill system like most tabletop RPGs, but with a twist. Since it's a multi-genre system, the skill costs are directly tied to the setting; for example, the ability to drive a car might be 1 point per level in a modern setting, but in a Jidaigeki story it would probably be 5 points/level (if it's even allowed at all, since cars don't normally exist in that era). Earlier editions had Attributes to let the player increase their skills mid-game, but 4th Edition cut out the middleman entirely and just turned Skills into an Attribute wholesale.
- Super Mode: Besides creating standard transforming characters, the Alternate Form attribute can be used to create one of these if supplied with appropriate modifiers (such as only activating when certain conditions are met).
- Touch the Intangible: Any attack that has the Affects Incorporeal ability (or the Multidimensional ability in 3rd Edition) can do this. These are most often employed against things like spirits and demons that do not have physical bodies.
- Unequal Rites: In the Ikaris setting in the Anime Multiverse, the Shards of Azar are ruled by sorcerers who use true magic, which is severely distrusted in the Land of the Seven Stars. Meanwhile, the Azarans consider the Supernatural Martial Arts and Enlightenment Superpowers of the monks of the Seven Stars, and the Badass Normal capabilities of their blademasters, to be nearly magical but not quite — thus relegating them to mercenaries and favored armsmen for the noble mages. Finally, Alchemy has recently been developed in the Shards, and has magical effects but doesn't require an Inherent Gift, so the sorcerers also look down on alchemists.
- Unwanted Harem: Guy/Girl Magnet (renamed simply "Magnet" in 4th Edition) is a Defect that makes your character the center of one of these. The game text makes it clear that just attracting cute guys and/or girls isn't enough; they have to be obsessed and combatitive enough to cause the character trouble on a regular basis, and the character has to be weak-willed enough not to just resolve the situation with "extreme measures".