Although it goes without saying, mixing RPG chocolate and anime peanut butter has been a major passion of mine since forever. The first RPG I ever played was Palladium’s Robotech game, before I even knew what anime (or “Japanimation”) was, and when I did get into anime proper in high school I was relentlessly trying to find ways to combine them. I’ve largely been dissatisfied with the anime-inspired RPGs that are available, and my career as a designer (and translator) of RPGs has largely been a succession of attempts to rectify the situation in different ways. As a consequence, it kind of goes without saying that I have strong opinions on Guardians of Order. A random forum post inspired me to write at length about the company and my experiences with them and their products. As I clean out my house preparing to move, I keep running into stuff from my past that many people seem to have forgotten about, that is slipping into obscurity. (For example, the DVDs of the original Tenchi Muyo! OAVs are really hard to find.) I don’t think Guardians of Order has been forgotten, at least not yet, but as someone closely following the scene at the time there are a lot of little things I remember that might help form a clearer overall picture. This is going to be kind of long and a little rambly. Kind of ranty too.
My first encounter with GoO was in the late 90s when I stumbled across the original gray Big Eyes Small Mouth book at a local game store. That store is now long gone, and the mall where it was has since remodeled and generally become very trendy. The book had the original GoO logo, the one with what looked kind of like Akane from Ranma ½ on a unicorn or something, that later went through a few iterations before the final griffin/shield/maple leaf logo. (MacKinnon is proudly Canadian, which matters to the story a lot more than it probably should.) Since most of my experience with RPGs up until then had been with Palladium, Toon, White Wolf, and to a lesser extent GURPS, my prior gaming experience hadn’t prepared me for this style game. What I know now that I wish I’d known then is that BESM is the creation of a hardcore Amber Diceless fan, and Mark C. MacKinnon essentially meant the rules to be a guideline and a set of tools you could fall back on when your freeform role-play left questions unanswered. From the direction that the game went from that gray book, it’s eminently clear that MacKinnon didn’t really realize that that was what made his game worthwhile, and so he failed to articulate it to anyone. I certainly didn’t know what to do with a game where the cyborg attribute’s description simply said it would give you a small/moderate/large “advantage” (not a game term, just something vaguely advantageous). Even so, BESM became the standard in anime-inspired role-playing games, and GoO began producing supplements and licensed games. For their original works they made good use of art from talented fan artists (with a few missteps), and by and large their books were very pretty. I complain a lot about anime-inspired artwork in RPGs, but for the most part the folks at GoO got it in a way that very few RPG publishers ever have.
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