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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.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you looked at this question already? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 21 '16 at 20:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ What I'm asking is, which edition of BESM are you considering? \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Feb 28 '16 at 19:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage Based on the wording of the question I'd assume owns neither yet, and is curious about either or any BESM game, as long as it works for optimizing without breaking. From what I found online none of BESMs versions is well suited for that. However, if you have a different experience, feel free to answer/share it. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Julix Mar 1 '16 at 10:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer If some option is overwhelmingly better than alternatives, it nullifies the alternatives and thus reduces the scope of viable options. This makes optimization trivial and hence not interesting. \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Mar 3 '16 at 19:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Thanuir ok, so balance problems in this context only refers to a single option clearly dominating, not to a massive disparity between easily-made builds and more difficult to make builds, nor to many options being 'traps'. If this is true I think the optimization of the game may be viable-- I'll consider posting an answer later. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Mar 6 '16 at 4:11
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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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None of the BESM games seem to suit that purpose

(based on popular opinions found on the internet)

I have no experience playing that system, but given the lack of reply with such a high bounty I'm assuming neither do most. Further I haven't conducted any analysis of the rules, but rather did a quick google search to see if a pattern emerged in popular opinions.

As pointed out in the comments by @KorvinStarmast this question about balance had people answering:

MadMAxJr: "Unfortunately, in my experience, BESM can get very lopsided in terms of balance.

Most balance in BESM has to come from a mutual agreement between the GM and players to agree on what is overpowered."

Paul Marshall: "This problem exists in just about every kind of build-points RPG, and the usual solution is lots of GM input during character creation. Either put a hard limit the maximum power that characters can take during creation, or find some kind of consensus on what's overpowered"

Further this trend holds true in other online forums, such as giantitp:

tyckspoon: "From a mechanical perspective, the system is pretty much broken from the start (in far more obvious and easy to implement ways than D&D.) It takes a lot of discussion with the rest of the group and the DM to avoid ending up with a set of wildly disparate power-levels in the characters." (talking about BESM d20)

or over here at the brilliantgameologists:

Fox Lee: "I would not recommend BESM 2E. It has some interesting principles and I quite like the Body/Mind/Soul stat system - but it's horribly, horribly unbalanced, and shortsightedly takes the stance that the lack of mechanical solidity will be compensated for by the players being sensible. Oops. Seriously, do not play this game with a min/maxer who's even vaguely good." (talking about BESM 2E)

Kari "[BESM 3E is remembered as] somewhat more balanced. Still needs a GM with an iron fist to ensure none of the players get too far out of hand, though."

Or here at forum.rpg.net about BESM 3E:

wuxiasnake "I know the nature of points buy effect based systems makes them inherently open to abuse by munchkins. The reason for my question is that 2e was far too easy to break by accident."

Marius B "It's just as easy to inadvertently build an overpowered character in 3e as it was in 2e."

I read repeatedly that with a good group and GM people had fun with it, but

Fox Lee: "Creating balanced rules shouldn't be up to the GM. That is the system's job. Obviously, any system can be broken by a GM tweaking it, but it should be at least reasonably balanced before the GM gets his/her paws on it, and tri-stat BESM isn't." (talking about Tri-stat)

This is especially true for people intending to optimize, because hearing "No" after you spent all that time and energy looking for a synergistic combination can be frustrating, potentially putting you back to square one if the forbidden piece was essential to the build. Again I have no experience of my own with this system, but based on theirs (and other posts like these in the threads) it seems to be a rather crazy system, ideal to have a crazy kind of fun with, but not at all suited for purposeful optimization.


I believe this is an X-Y Problem, where this question (y) is your attempted solution ("does BESM work for me?"), and your real question (x) is "Which system is suitable for optimization play?". Since shopping style game recommendation questions are no longer considered on-topic, this real question is best answered in a forum. Ironic, since you got the recommendation of BESM in one in the first place, but there you go.

An answer that came up a lot during my search was "Why not play X?" recommending various other systems (none of which I recognized). Maybe check the links to the discussions and see for yourself. However note that those too would be X-Y problems, as people in all these threads were asking about BESM. Consider making another thread specifically asking X in a relevant forum (follow the link for a selection).

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