BESM Fantasy Bestiary
BESM Fantasy Bestiary Capsule Review by Squirrel Nutkin on 30/10/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
BESM gets its first "manual of monsters", filled with classic races from medieval fantasy and a few magical items to boot!
Product: BESM Fantasy Bestiary
Author: Jeff Mackintosh and Anthony Ragan
Company/Publisher: Guardians of Order
Line: Big Eyes, Small Mouth
Cost: $15.95 US
Page count: 96
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Squirrel Nutkin on 30/10/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Anime
At long last, the BESM Fantasy Bestiary is here Ė the first in a series of medieval fantasy products for Guardians of Orderís d6 Tri-Stat System. The back cover blurb claims that this book will provide players and GMs with "the perfect toolkit for a Big Eyes, Small Mouth fantasy campaign." That may be true, but first itís important however to note what the Fantasy Bestiary is not before we talk about what it is.
Because BESM is marketed as an "anime and manga" role-playing game, you might expect the Fantasy Bestiary to model its races after those seen in fantasy anime such as "Bastard!", "Record of Lodoss War", and "Ruin Explorers" and include creatures such as the ever-present cat girls, slimes, etc. But no mention is made of anime in this bookís description, and thereís a good reason for that: BESM Fantasy Bestiary takes a deliberately Western approach to the genre, and the monster descriptions in this book more closely resemble those found fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay than what you might expect in anime.
So your reaction to BESM Fantasy Bestiary will depend largely on your expectations: if youíre looking for a catalogue of anime-style monsters, you may be a little disappointed with the bookís contents. But if youíve ever wanted a Monster Manual for d6 Tri-Stat then this is indeed the supplement youíve been waiting for.
Much like the original Creature Catalog for D&D, the races in BESM Fantasy Bestiary are grouped according to type (Character Races, Creatures of Myth, Dinosaurs, Faeries, and Undead) rather than strictly alphabetically. There are 63 races in all, each presented as a racial template along with a few paragraphs of descriptive text. Because Tri-Stat is a point-based system, the templates include a total cost as well as a listing of each Attribute and Defect the individual creature is expected to have, and customizing the templates is simple enough, especially for GMs who wish to mix and match them to produce bizarre monsters such as Ogre Vampires and Giant Medusas.
Two completed examples of the creatures are also listed in each entry: a relatively normal member of the species along with a more advanced and presumably more formidable monster. For example, a BESM Game Master could introduce a Unicorn Stallion or a Saintly Kingís Mount to his or her players on a momentís notice, or threaten them with either a Young Troll or an Old Mutant Troll.
The list of creatures in the "Character Races" category is also worth noting because while most fantasy gamers probably think of the standard assortment of Elves, Dwarfs, etc. when considering a player character, if for no other reason than balance issues, BESM Fantasy Bestiary presents 21 sentient humanoid races in this category and leaves the matter up to the GM and the amount of points he or she allows new characters to spend. This is the same approach used in similar supplements for other point-based RPGs (GURPS Fantasy Folk comes to mind) and itís a strength of BESM that the Fantasy Bestiary exploits as well.
Naturally, with 63 races there will always be some quibbling over which creature should or should not have been included at the expense of others, but overall the variety of monsters is very good; many fantasy RPG classics are represented here without wasting space on too many variations of the same creature. For instance, there is only one template for Dragon in BESM Fantasy Bestiary. While the dragons in some fantasy RPGs come in a rainbow of colors, the only real difference between them is the breath weapon, and with d6 Tri-Stat itís a simple enough matter for GMs to customize that Special Attack (or any other Attributes) themselves.
BESM Fantasy Bestiary also includes a small assortment of sample magical treasures and some good advice for GMs regarding what makes one item Personal Gear and another an Item of Power. There are 12 items listed here, ranging from a set of magical chefís knives to powerful broadsword forged by an unnamed God of War, and many of them could serve as inspiration for adventures and tales in and of themselves. The magical treasures take up three pages that might have been better spent on three additional races, but personally I think that most GMs picking up this book will be grateful for this small appendix.
BESM Fantasy Bestiary is illustrated from cover to cover by German artist Niko Geyer in an anime style, although unfortunately Geyerís color artwork did not reproduce very well in the black and white interior; it looks a bit murky on several pages. Still, very little detail was lost as all of the artwork is printed full bleed throughout the book, providing an interesting look at each and every monster in the Bestiary. (Fans who would like to see bigger, full color versions of Geyerís illustrations might be interested in the separate Fantasy Calendar that GoO has just released.)
While Geyer groups the races together three at a time throughout the book, the cleverest illustration of all has to be the front cover: the "Usual Suspects" of fantasy indeed, an homage to the filmís famous lineup complete with a Kobold standing in for Kevin Spaceyís character "Verbal" at 3'0"!
In short, the best thing I can say about the BESM Fantasy Bestiary is how easy it is to drop a racial template on top of a character to create a member of that race in less than a minute, making character creation or NPC encounters a breeze to handle. Players of other Tri-Stat games would also do well to check out this supplement, whether itís Hong Kong Action Theater! Directors hoping to run a wuxia-style campaign with the Blue Dragon, White Tiger sourcebook, or Silver Age Sentinels GMs who have been inspired by the new "He-Man and the Master of the Universe" series and have fantasy supers in mind.
Considering how many volumes of monsters have been released for D&D and AD&D over the years, itís not unreasonable to hope that BESM Fantasy Bestiary is a success and that GoO will release more in the future. Like the back cover says, this is an ideal reference book for both Game Masters and players... and at only $16.95 US itís worth every copper piece!