[RPG] Is BESM suitable for character optimization


On a forum I asked for games that support heavy optimization / powergaming – that is, games which are fun when the entire group optimizes and plays smart with the rules, and which have suitable complexity to make the optimization non-trivial.

One surprising answer was BESM.

I am highly unfamiliar with the rules system. Is it any good for optimization-focused play? As a metric, we can say that D&D3 and D&D4 and their close relatives are fairly good for this sort of play, when it comes to roleplaying games.

There are basically two necessary requirements for a game to be suitable:

  1. The game has sufficient mechanical depth.
  2. The game does not have overwhelming balance problems (once people start really engaging it), or has sufficiently few such problems that they can be banned without too much harm.

Does BESM satisfy these two conditions?

Since the question is somewhat subjective, please stress the actual play experience you have with BESM when answering. Textual analysis, if the answer is obvious, can also be useful, but nuanced analysis of the text without play experience is likely to not be. References to reviews or discussions (with summary of the outcome) are also welcome.

Best Answer

Experience: I've used BESM 2nd ed for three campaigns, two of which had one minmaxer and one of which had two. I've been in lots of D&D 3.X campaigns, with varying levels of minmaxing.

TL;DR: BESM is not designed to cope with focused attention from a minmaxer. However, you listed D&D 3rd edition as being an example of what you want; BESM is not as unbalanced as D&D 3.X, and is fun to optimize in the same way D&D 3.X is.

BESM does not assume the level of combat primacy that D&D does. It will cheerfully let you make a character who will lose a cage match with an angry cat if you decide to spec for, say, mad science. Almost every character in D&D is assumed to be capable of fighting, and the exceptions (Expert, Noble Apostle of Peace) are either not meant for PC use or are really badly designed. As such, it's possible to make a BESM character who's a battled hardened killfiend in a party with an affable genius. Combat will be as unbalanced as you think it will be. On the other hand, a fight between a druid, a warblade, a fighter, and a monk in D&D will also be hilariously lopsided, and not in a way that a system novice will be able to predict. BESM is more balanced than D&D 3.X; That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it's true. The maximum delta of power between BESM characters is much smaller than say, a D&D cleric vs a D&D monk, or even a D&D Factotum vs a D&D Fighter.

The core engine is fairly balanced, though it encourages minmaxing and has one weird random element. (You really want to throw all your stats into one of Body, Mind, or Soul. You get 2d6+10 stat points- that messes with charop less than 3d6 in order but more than 4d6 drop lowest- but there's an optional rule that fixes that and it's not like it was hard to houserule away.) If you plan on a combat focused game, then Body is the clear choice unless you're doing something clever with Attributes. This can make for an easy choice compared to D&D where Str, Dex, and Con present a slightly harder choice. It's the attributes that are the meat of the system, and it's the attributes where a cunning player will seek to unbalance things.

They will probably succeed. However, if you and your players are all optimizing, then you will probably keep pace with each other, and you probably won't need as many gentleman's agreements as in D&D. (You'll need some- we came up with "No Extra Attacks" pretty fast- but if you liked 3.X then you'll be just fine.) There are just enough mechanically near-optimal attributes in the corebook to make a diverse party or two. We added Big Robots Cool Starships and Hot Rods and Gun Bunnies to the stack, and then we had a comfortable spread of options. Even better, breaking the system wide open will look setting appropriate; It's an anime game, and throwing half a dozen punches in a second or bringing giant mecha covered in gatling guns is actually what you signed up for, wasn't it? Unlike someone in D&D going crazy with Time Stops and Haste, or playing an artificer and holing up in a tower for a few years of crafting.

It can and will get unbalanced. So will D&D, Exalted, GURPS, FATE, Feng Shui, or Shadowrun. If you want to ask for advice as to what things in BESM are exceptionally broken, go ahead and ask that in another question and I can take a shot at it.

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