Anime Vice News

Anime RPGs 101: Part 2

User Count_Zero recounts the RPGs of days gone by

Guardians of Order – Sailor Moon, Dominion Tank Police, Demon City Shinjuku, Tenchi Muyo, El-Hazard and the Ultimate Fan Guides

Guardians of Order (GoO) was a Canadian RPG publisher, which started in 1996 and whose first RPG, Big Eyes, Small Mouth , or BESM for short, came out a year later. As the title suggests, the game was heavily influenced by Anime, and the game introduced GoO's house system, the Tri-Stat system. While most tabletop RPGs from the time used 6 or more stats, Tri-Stat boiled everything down to just free – Body, Mind, and Soul. Body covered strength and speed, Mind covered intelligence and other acts of mental ability, while Soul covered wisdom, charisma, and magical aptitude (for those settings which had that).

BESM was also notable in that it billed itself as a generic system. While RTG's anime games were designed for different settings and different tones (Cyberpunk and Bubblegum Crisis for gritty cyberpunk campaigns, Mekton primarily for Real Robot campaigns and so-on), BESM was meant to do it all. This was not totally new, Steve Jackson Games had already published their Generic Universal Role-Playing System (GURPS) almost 10 years earlier, followed by Hero Games' Hero system, and Iron Crown Enterprises Rolemaster (which started life as a fantasy RPG).

What distinguished BESM from those is that the earlier systems simply didn't do cinematic gameplay well. Cinematic, in this case, refers to gameplay where characters can handle mundane tasks fairly well, and deal with most generic enemies (or “mooks”) with impunity, but only come into risking failure when performing heroic tasks or fighting the villains or his privileged henchmen. To put it another way, Luke Skywalker isn't going to get killed by a Stormtrooper. If he's going to be in danger, it's when he's fighting Darth Vader or the Emperor. James Bond is in no danger when he fights a random soldier, but when he is (theoretically) in peril when fighting Oddjob or Max Zorin.

The way the rules worked is that the character's target number is set by his or her relevant attribute score plus any relevant skill ranks. The player then rolls two six sided dice, and tries to roll below the target number. This roll would be effected by various powers or special abilities and situational modifiers that would adjust the target number (for example, lifting a parked car would be made easier with super-strength, but would receive a situational modifier that would make it more difficult if Godzilla's tail was sitting on the car).

All these powers were designed to be “effects based”, and the rules allowed for Dynamic Powers to allow for a pool of points that characters could use to generate effects on the fly if, for example, a character was an anime-style psychic (ala Tetsuo), or one of the Alchemists from Full Metal Alchemist. Similar abilities could be used to design super-robots for characters (through an ability called “Owns a Big Mecha”) or magic items (“Item of Power), that gave characters a pool of points to choose abilities for their mecha (or super-car, or spaceship, or super-robot inside a spaceship) or gadget, but those points could only be assigned once.

Finally, in 1998, a year after the first edition of BESM came out, they published their first licensed RPG.


Sailor Moon

Sing it with me - "Fighting evil by moonlight..."
Sing it with me - "Fighting evil by moonlight..."

The time for when Sailor Moon was licensed for an RPG is interesting. When Palladium licensed Robotech, much as with their earlier Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, they got extremely lucky. They came in on the ground floor, with a new licensed property, at a time when Anime was not particularly well known. With RTG and Dragonball Z , at the time the series was licensed, DBZ's popularity was not as big as it had been before. The Buu saga was airing on American TV, and its peak of mainstream popularity, during the Sayian and Freeza arcs, were behind it. At the time Sailor Moon was licensed, the series was being broadcast in syndication by DIC, and it had reached its peak popularity. Sailor Moon is one of the few anime series that I recall seeing lunch boxes for the show, and posters in places where you normally don't see anime stuff, like K-Mart.

So, in this time of peak popularity for Sailor Moon, Guardians of Order manages to get the rights for an RPG – and it gets them from Kodansha. Not DIC (like Palladium did with Robotech), but Kodansha. This means that GoO gets everything. They get info from films that didn't make it to the US. They get original character profiles and art. They get everything. Consequently, much as RTG did with VOTOMs a year earlier, GoO makes an RPG that is also a guide to fans.

The game gives a synopsis for seasons one and two, plus some notes on later seasons, and then dives in to the rules, giving a tailor-made version of the Tri-Stat system, using only the attributes that are particularly useful to a Sailor Moon (or other Magical Girl) campaign. It bears noting that some of the information given in the episode guide is a mix of information from the Japanese and American versions of the series. Usagi's first name is given as Serena in the book, as it was in DIC's dub, but her last name is given as Tsukino, as with the original version.

As with most other licensed RPGs, we get write-ups of important characters (and these use both the English and Japanese names – giving both Serena and Usagi Tsukino for Sailor Moon's name). They also give name translations for the Japanese names as well (thus showing some of their linguistic significances, like Usagi Tsukino meaning “Rabbit of the Moon”). Of particular note, we also get information on the powers for characters from season 3 and 4, along with stats for the Sailor Starlights from Season 5 (which was never licensed for US release, due to the transgender nature of the Starlights). The game also includes some general notes for running a Sailor Moon Campaign, giving some geography of the area where the campaign is set, as well as providing information on the universe's mythology.

Dominion Tank Police

While Dominion Tank Police is nowhere near as well known as Sailor Moon, Dominion Tank Police bears the unique fact that it is the only licensed anime RPG based off as series by Masamune Shirow. Dominion Tank Police is organized very similarly to Sailor Moon, but includes an expanded section covering the series titular tanks, and other things that come up when dealing with fast moving deals and large quantities of property damage (like what happens when a building falls on you, or you have a 100 mph fender bender). Many of these rules had recently been introduced in the Big Robots, Cool Starships sourcebook for BESM, so they were relatively new for fans of the system. There was also additional advice on how to run a more tongue-in-cheek cyberpunk campaign (as opposed to the grim-and-gritty tone that Bubblegum Crisis had).

Demon City Shinjuku

If Dominion Tank Police narrowed the scope of GoO's RPG & Fan-guide combos from a massive TV series to an OVA, Demon City Shinjuku narrowed things further to a single film. Coming out in 2000, the sourcebook was released around the same time as BESM's Second Edition, and the game's Hot Rods and Gun Bunnies sourcebook. The game is organized about the same way as the earlier books but with advice now on how to run a martial-arts horror campaign. The game itself feels like a mix of the simpler rules from First Edition with the crunchier second edition rules system.

Tenchi Muyo & El-Hazard

Stop me if you've heard this one – the book is organized a helluva lot like the earlier RPG licensed books, and plays more or less the same way as well. By this point, GoO's had gotten their licensed RPGs into something of an art and a science – provide an episode guide for the series, re-print the rules for the Tri-Stat system, with attributes selected to reflect what works, tonally, with the series (no Owns a Big Mecha in Demon City Shinjuku, etc.), add write-ups for the big-bads and protagonists of the series to provide some benchmarking, and then include some guidelines for role-playing in the setting and in the genre in general. I'm lumping these together because these two series are almost in the same genre – the Magical Girlfriend Genre (ala Urusei Yatsura and Ah! My Goddess). Yes, El-Hazard adds fantasy adventure and universe-jumping into the mix, but it is, at its heart, a Magical Girlfriend show.

This is of particular note is this is the first time that GoO has actively stepped into a genre covered by an existing anime-inspired RPG – namely, RTG's Teenagers from Outer Space , which also covers the Magical Girlfriend/Harem comedy genre. However, with Tenchi and El-Hazard, the game handles the genre from a much more rules-light fashion, which I think works very well. It bears mentioning that the books for both series only cover the OVAs – as far as the rules are concerned, Azaka and Kamidake are just cylindrical blocks of wood that will occasionally serve as straight men as needed.

The Ultimate Fan Guides

Some of the interior of Slayers d20
Some of the interior of Slayers d20

Ultimately, Guardians of Order decided to shift their focus from these ancillary RPGs that ran off of the same system, to instead focusing on the Tri-Stat system further. This lead to BESM Second Edition Revised, which incorporated a lot of the changes and tweaks made through various sourcebooks that had come out around that time, and in the licensed RPGs. As part of this, they also decided to stop publishing licensed RPGs based on anime series, and instead incorporating the majority of the “fluff” information (setting, episode guides, GMing advice for the setting, etc.) into a series of smaller sourcebooks, called Ultimate Fan Guides. Guardians of Order put out seven of these books, covering Hellsing, Trigun, all 3 of the TV series for Slayers that existed at that time, and two sourcebooks for Revolutionary Girl Utena. The materials from Trigun, Hellsing and Slayers were later adapted for BESM d20, which was meant to provide a framework for Anime-style roleplaying using the D20 system, with variable success. The rules for each of the d20 UFGs were written in such a fashion that, theoretically, you could use just the d20 Modern or Dungeons & Dragons 3 Edition rules for most of the mechanical aspects of the game, without also needing the BESM d20 book. There were additional plans in the works for Tri-Stat UFGs covering the rest of Utena and they were in negotiations to get the license for Evangelion when GoO ran into financial difficulties.

Guardians of Order, ultimately, filed for bankruptcy. Towards the end, the company had been depending on the favorable exchange rate between the US and Canada to stay solvent, and as the US economy declined (or the Canadian economy strengthened, depending on how you look at it), GoO's financial situation got worse. GoO did publish some additional books before the end, including their superhero RPG Silver Age Sentinels and licensed game based on The Authority, as well as the Cyberpunk RPG “Dreaming Cities”, and the first licensed RPG in the universe of George R.R. Martin's A Song Of Ice & Fire (which used the D20 system).

The BESM book to be published was BESM 3 edition. By this time, GoO was in no financial shape to publish the game themselves, and instead the book was published in a limited print-run under White Wolf Publications' Arthaus label. The game is still available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG, though it's listed under White Wolf, instead of GoO. The Trigun and Slayers UFGs are also available there as well, under Guardians of Order.

Alexander Case ( Count_Zero) writes about science fiction for when he isn't writing stuff here, and he can also be found on Twitter ( @Count_ZeroOR)

CrackedOnyxon June 2, 2011 at 12:07 p.m.
I had never heard about any of this before--save, perhaps, for the licensed A Song of Ice and Fire RPG--so this was quite informative.  It stinks that Guardians of Order died out, but that sort of thing just happens.  
I enjoyed the small glimpse of the Slayers rulebook; from what little I've seen of the first series, the company did their best to recapture the anime's distinctive feeling and atmosphere.
Halberdierv2on June 2, 2011 at 5:16 p.m.
I played the Sailor Moon RPG a little bit, Its pretty decent.
I haven't played (or heard of) any of the other mentioned, but there was a Dragon Ball Z RPG for SNES I played for a while also (I can't remember the name, but, it was turn based, with the attacks and moves being cards).
Count_Zeroon June 2, 2011 at 6:47 p.m.
@Halberdierv2: I'm focusing on Tabletop RPGs for this article. If I do console RPGs, that'll be a hybrid blog on Giant Bomb.

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