by Cedric Chin
BESM: Fantasy Bestiary
Written by Jeff Mackintosh, Anthony Ragan, and Niko Geyer
Ary by Nikoy Geyer
Published by Guardians of Order
96 b & w pages
Call Big Eyes, Small Mouth an "anime game" and you'll be told it's more than that. BESM is based on the generic Tri-Stat system, adaptable to any form of roleplaying. Want proof? Just take a look at the very successful Silver Age Sentinels, a superhero roleplaying game also using the Tri-Stat system. And maybe it's time to apply Tri-Stat to traditional fantasy roleplaying.
BESM Fantasy Bestiary (and upcoming BESM books) is a step towards traditional
fantasy roleplaying. Before you say, "Sell out!", fantasy does have a
place in anime: anything from the over-the-top Slayers, to the more serious
Lodoss Wars, to the part D&D, part heavy metal Bastard! anime series.
Furthermore, of the modern roleplaying genres, an anime-based one is the most
likely place you'll find angels, demons (even non-tentacled ones), and
occasional ghost, all quite at home in fantasy.
The book itself is 96 black-and-white pages, in the 6" x 9" digest-sized format used by BESM products. About every fourth page is art, much of it from the 2003 Fantasy Bestiary Calendar, also by GOO. The art reproduction is occasionally on the murky side, but still better than your average rpg interiors. While the art is anime-influenced, few of the creatures have the ubiquitous saucer-shaped eyes (in other words, it's safe to show otaku philistines -- er, your non-anime viewing friends).
The book has a total of 63 creatures, plus 12 sample magical items.
Categories are Character Races, Creatures of Myth, Dinosaurs, Faeries, and
Undead. (The Character Races lean towards humanoid creatures, and Creatures
of Myth are non-humanoid.) The creatures are of the traditional European
fantasy roleplaying variety. As implied, traditional creatures often found in
anime, such as angels, demons, and ghosts -- including the Ghost of a Wronged
Woman -- are included.
Each of the creatures is given a page, and presented as a NPC-like stat
block. Each page is divided into an introduction, a template, minor version
of the creature, and major version. The template is included so players and
GMs can create customized characters. A template for every creature
is a wise idea: in most anime I've seen, the best fantastic creatures are
singular and unique. Also, in anime, you can pretty much count on any
humanoid race or life form to be a major character. Anyone for a dryad (who
has to enroll in high school, of course) as a "magical girlfriend"?
The magic item section is only three pages long, but contains concise
construction advice and sample items. While the items pretty much just
modify skills and attributes, the samples are there to suggest the depth
and background they can add to a game. For example, the "Light Armor
Level 2" magic item is titled, the "Armour of Leaves", and is described
as a weave, by young dryads, of "magical armor of leaves and twigs from
materials brought by their animal friends". (Tugs your heart, don't it?)
If there's anything missing from this book, it's the now-standard GM
advice that comes in roleplaying game books. I've actually provided more
suggestions in this review on how to use the book than the book itself
does (the book doesn't even contain adventure seeds or suggestions for
use in your anime-based games). Likewise, if you don't plan to use
traditional fantasy creatures in your games (or can design one yourself
for the occasional appearance in a modern setting), you're best off
spending your $15.95 elsewhere. And, if you're just there for the art,
buy the 2003 Fantasy Bestiary Calendar (which includes some stats
from the book, and full-color artwork).
Still, the BESM Fantasy Bestiary does what it sets out to do:
provide fantasy creature templates for PCs, NPCs, and monsters. If
you're up for writing another chapter in the Record of Lodoss
Wars, this book is for you.