Friday, March 30, 2012

James Bond 007

Victory Games' James Bond 007 is legendary in the RPG hobby for one of the most successful and memorable licensed games ever. It was one of the few original espionage RPGs published from 1983 to 1987 and seemed to capture the feel of the films with a great deal of success. The rules were solidly built around a d100 percentile system. James Bond 007 won several awards- Origins Award in 1983 and Strategists' Club Award for Outstanding Game in 1984.

One nice decision (whether it be an actual decision or a licensing necessity, I do not know) is the lack of photo stills from the films in favor of original art and painted covers.  The portrayal of Bond is a nice mash-up between Sean Connery and Roger Moore, and stills from the movies- other games with this don't seem to age well.

There were five suppliments for the game:
  • Q Manual (October 1983) - A sourcebook detailing required equipment for a "00" agent.
  • Gamesmaster Pack (October 1983) - various tools including a gamesmaster screen with charts and other game-related references.
  • For Your Information (1983) - additional rules as well as information on characters and equipment not included in the original rulebook or Q Manual.
  • Thrilling Locations (June 1985) - detailing hotels, casinos, restaurants, and the Orient Express, with floorplans and NPCs
  • Villains (1986),  by Gerard Christopher Klug - 7 original major villains, and an updating of SMERSH for the modern day
As for adventures, eleven were published:
  • Goldfinger (October 1983) - based on the book and film.
  • Octopussy (October 1983) - by Gerard Klug, based on the film.
  • Dr. No (1984) - by Neil Randall, Gerry Klug, based on the book and film.
  • You Only Live Twice (1984) by Neil Randall, Gerry Klug, based on the film.
  • Live and Let Die (1984) - based on the book and film.
  • Goldfinger II - The Man With The Midas Touch (1985) - by Robert Kern - sequel to the Goldfinger adventure
  • The Man with the Golden Gun (1985) - by Brian H. Peterson, Gerry Klug, based on the film (Solitaire Game)
  • A View to a Kill (1985) - by Gerard Christopher Klug, based on the film
  • You Only Live Twice II: Back of Beyond (1986) - by Raymond Benson, Gerry Klug - sequel to the You Only Live Twice adventure
  • For Your Eyes Only (1986) - by Robert Kern, Gerry Klug, based on the book and film
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1987) - by David Spangler - four linked solitaire adventures, based on the book and film
Here is the story of the James Bond 007 Roleplaying Game:
Of Dice and Men
The Story of the James Bond OO7 Role-Playing Game
By Paul Landry and Deane Barker 
The fate of secret agent James Bond tumbled into the hands of thousands of game fans in 1983 with the release of the "James Bond 007 Role-Playing Game." Victory Games, a subsidiary of the wargame company Avalon Hill, brought Bond and M.I.6 into living rooms and onto kitchen tables nationwide with what would eventually become one of the most successful releases in its history.
For the uninitiated, role-playing is essentially a game of "Let's Pretend" with rules. Players step into an alter-ego defined on paper by various statistics denoting the character's strength, dexterity, intelligence, etc. All the action takes place in the minds of the players, with dice being used to resolve any actions and conflicts. One person presides over the game as a referee, and guides the players through play sessions, or "adventures."
Role-playing games were some of the hottest items on the market during the early eighties. Dungeons and Dragons -- easily the most popular role-playing game of all time -- had been formally released several years earlier and the newly-formed Victory Games elected to pursue a role-playing title as their first official release. It was obvious that a game based on a recognizable character stood the best chance of surviving in the then-turbulent marketplace.
"Our marketing director felt strongly that it should be a licensed product," game designer Chris Klug said, "We investigated several licenses and the Bond people were the most receptive." Design work began in the summer of 1982, as it was absolutely critical for the game to be released in time for the 1983 Christmas season.
Thousands of faithful Bond fans dictated a need to deliver a product that was true to thirty years of character development. Consequently, Klug called in fellow designer and "Bond Savant" Bob Kern. "They kind of called me in as a consultant," Kern remembers, "I had seen all the films, read all the books -- I had literally grown up with it. My function was to adapt the world of James Bond to a role-playing system, expand on it where necessary and make sure that the flavor stayed true to the character."
But which character? The literary Bond and the cinematic Bond are quite different, and the question of which conception the game would emulate was critical. Klug and Kern didn't want to alienate fans of the books or fans of the films, so the game mechanics had to strike a balance somewhere in between. Kern explains, "We wanted to capture the grittiness of the books and the glitz of the films."
"It's a real design issue," Klug said, "Trying to design a system that would allow you to simulate the Baccarat game from 'Casino Royale' and at the same time do that sort of weird combat stuff that happens. It was hard trying to take the best of the fantastical stuff, without taking the worst of it."
"We had a problem where the books portrayed one kind of world, and the films portrayed another, and we tried to straddle the two so that you could do either style. But there's no question that when I was designing the original game, it was the books I was trying to emulate. I would read the books, and come upon an incident and it would strike me that this moment had to be in the game. I would attempt to design the system to handle that moment, and when I was confident that the system could handle it, I would continue to read."
Working with the companies that owned the rights to the James Bond franchise was the next great challenge. Ultimately the game was licensed through two entities: Danjaq S.A./EON Productions (which holds the film rights), and Glidrose Publishing (which holds the literary rights). Approvals, which were sometimes excruciatingly long, had to be obtained from both companies before any work could proceed.
"We knew they were going to be a demanding group," Kern said, "They looked at everything we wrote, they looked at our outlines, they checked and double-checked everything. But for the most part, their suggestions were very helpful."Inevitably there were times when their lack of experience with role-playing proved to be an obstacle. Both Klug and Kern remembered an incident involving the adventure for the film Goldfinger. Following an explanation of how the adventure supplement would be organized, a representative from EON inquired "So, why does the adventure have to be any different from the movie?" He just didn't understand that the players would then simply go to Fort Knox and wait for Goldfinger.
In fact, creating adventures for fans who had already seen the films proved to be something of a challenge as well. Eventually, nine films were translated into adventure supplements, including Dr. NoOn Her Majesty's Secret ServiceFor Your Eyes Only, and A View to a Kill. Two original adventures were also written as sequels to films: "Goldfinger II: The Man with the Midas Touch" and "You Only Live Twice II: Back of Beyond." The latter was written by current Bond author Raymond Benson, and has many parallels to his first novel, "Zero Minus Ten."
The designers tried to "shuffle the deck" and rearrange the elements of the film so that the characters couldn't depend on any prior knowledge to guide them. "But if the plot was so linked and linear that we couldn't do that," Klug said, "then we needed to change things. And thus if we changed three of four things at the beginning, we might be able to keep the rest of it very similar, but the player is still doubting that this is the case because we already changed something."
The design issues eventually resolved themselves, and the resulting game captures the flavor of James Bond remarkably well. Included in the 160-page basic rulebook are rules common to most role-playing games -- fire combat, hand-to-hand combat, experience points, etc. Amid these, however, one also finds numerous devices that would look out of place in any other game but are right at home in the context of 007. Players can employ rules covering gambling (six pages with different rules for each game), chases in vehicles or on foot, the effects of fame on how easily one is recognized, and a section on seduction complete with five stages of increasing difficulty: The Look, Opening Line, Witty Conversation, Beginning Intimacies, and When and Where?
Reference resources include statistics and background information for Bond's allies -- Anya Amasova, Kerim Bey, Mary Goodnight, and Quarrel among others -- and his enemies, which include such famous figures as Sir Hugo Drax, Jaws, Red Grant, and Odd Job. Conspicuous by his absence is perhaps the most famous of villains, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The rights to Blofeld and SPECTRE having been challenged by Thunderball producer Kevin McClory, they have been neatly replaced by the criminal organization TAROT (Technological Ascension, Revenge, and Organized Terrorism) and its leader Karl Ferenc Skorpios.
Not to be without sufficient weaponry or transportation, statistics and rules are included for numerous firearms and vehicles including Bond's trusty Walther PPK, the Lotus Esprit, and his beloved Aston Martin DB5 (which appears to have been souped up a bit for its appearance in this game, as it's remarkably easy to run roughshod over your enemies with the car no matter what they're driving).
Presentation for the game and the subsequent supplements is exceptionally high. Artwork is abundant, both black-and-white pencil images and full-color covers for the different books and adventures. (In fact, you could buy several adventures for the cover art alone and be quite satisfied.) Supplements such as "Thrilling Locations" and the "Q Manual" also have photographs of different real-life locations and vehicles being being descibed, as well as a few stills from the various films.
Background information and details are provided for everything from a lowly Honda Accord which may change lanes in front of Bond during a chase ("the Accord is powered by 1751c, 75 bhp engine..." Q Manual, page 54), to multi-level criminal organizations and the officers and personalities with them "("The Prosinski family has been in the shipping and iron indisutries for three generations..." Villains, page 58). Some details are so obscure as to seem extraneous, but the level of detail is still to be admired.
After more than a year of design and testing, "James Bond 007: Role-Playing in Her Majesty's Secret Service" debuted on schedule at several gaming conventions in the summer of 1983, including GENCON and Origins. Commercial release quickly followed and the basic set hit hobby store shelves in September of that year.
The game was a success from the start. While the role-playing market as a whole was quite competitive, espionage games were just being pioneered in 1983. TSR's "Top Secret" was perceived as the only serious competition. The appeal of the world's most famous secret agent tilted the playing field markedly, however. "We outsold Top Secret a lot frankly because of the license," Klug admitted.
Numerous awards followed the game's release. The basic rules won the prestigious H.G. Wells Award for Best Role-Playing Rules of 1983, and the adventure "Live and Let Die" won a second H.G. Wells Award the next year. "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice" were likewise nominated ("They kind of split the vote," Klug said.) Dragon Magazine awarded the game the Strategist's Club Award for Outstanding Role-Playing Game of 1984. Additionally it was one of four role-playing games named to the Games Magazine Top 100 list for 1984, and again in 1985.
Critical acclaim continues to this day. Lawrence Schick, author of "Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games" said James Bond 007 "was an immediate hit. [It had] a smooth, fast-playing style and was well-supported by scenarios for one, two, or three players." Schick named it Top Espionage Role-Playing Game.

In the years after its release, the game sold almost 100,000 copies and spawned several additional adventures and supplements. Required materials for any hard-core fan included the exotic casino, hotel and restaurant descriptions of "Thrilling Locations"; the 32-page description of SMERSH included in the "Villains" supplement; and the weapon, vehicle, and gadget lists of the "Q Manual" (because what secret agent could ever do without a "Seismic Intrusion Detector"?).
Nevertheless, the credits would begin to roll in 1987, four short years after the game debuted. Despite financial success, critical acclaim, and a broad fan base, Danjaq and Avalon Hill failed to come to terms in negotiations to renew the license. As a result, the project was terminated, and no new supplements were authorized. Avalon Hill retained the right to sell its remaining inventory.
"We were in the middle of coming up with an adventure for Diamonds are Forever and I was excited about that at the time," Kern said, "but the plug got pulled right in the middle of it...if the contract had been renewed, I'd still be working for the company."
The actual details of why the contract ended are still up for debate. The designers believe that Danjaq wanted to re-negotiate the contract for a larger royalty share. Danjaq, however, disagrees. According to John Parkinson, Vice-President of Marketing, "it was really they (Avalon) who decided it would finish, not us. We didn't particularly want it to finish, were we very pleased with it. It was one of our most successful licenses."
Would Danjaq consider re-licensing the game and allowing future products to be released? "If they thought there was a market out there, I wouldn't be averse to continuing [the license]," Parkinson said.
Avalon Hill President Jack Dott seems to agree. He stated that Avalon Hill would certainly consider bringing the game back "if the opportunity presented itself." Indeed, Avalon has just recently re-packaged its remaining inventory of the game and has bundled the basic rules with several adventures. The set sells for just under $30.
One would think that with the success of GoldenEye and the re-appearance of James Bond in the theaters, the stage would be nicely set for an encore presentation of the game. Kern seems to think so anyway: "This would probably be a great time to renew the game...the Dalton films wouldn't have been too exciting role-playing-wise, whereas GoldenEye had a kind of glitter about it."
  • Paul Landry lives somewhere in the Upper Midwest, where he hides from SPECTRE and diligently guards James Bond's missing hat.
  • Deane Barker is a co-editor of MKKBB
extracted from cached info via Zoom in 1993 

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Greywulf made waves in the RPG hobby with his brilliant Microlite20. It quickly took off in all directions as it had a toe in many facets of the hobby- a bit of old school, a bit of rules-light, it was free, and a big chunk of d20. No wonder it was so successful. One of the variants that spun off was for d20 Modern-like games and an influence from Spycraft and Spycraft 2.0. That was SpyLite.

This is a game of espionage, based on Greywulf's excellent Microlite20 system. It's intended to be a quick and dirty game, inspired heavily by the also-excellent Spycraft 2.0, but easier to get into and faster playing.
Inspirations range from NOLF to Alias, with a heavy dose of Mission: Impossible. Some A-Team may or may have not crept along for the ride. ;-) I also tend to use this as a toolbox system for making other games, such as "Where No Man Has Gone Before" or "Argo".
SpyLite is perfect for one who wants to run Spycraft 2.0 for new or young players who would be completely lost in the vast rules. I'd like to try to slowly inch over to the Spycraft rules after a while and the players are ready.

SpyLite is available for free in PDF as well as in a pocke-mod format.

Gosh, Spies!

In the ongoing search for that one game to run with my teen step-daughter one appeared on the radar seemingly custom made for my needs. Postmortem Studio's Agents of S.W.I.N.G. has a supplement called Gosh, Spies! that expands the '60s spy-fi genre of it's core book into the world of younger agents and adventurers.

Like it's companion book that contains the core rules, this one features a cast of NPCs that are slightly altered from popular characters from this genre. Its fun to try to figure out who they really represent (just with the serial numbers thinly filed off). And many of them are actually not that obvious. I still can't figure some out!

We have:
The book is a great resource for gaming with younger players. It is not intended for kids, rather, it is aimed at parents or adults who will be running games with or for kids. 

The first chapter discusses many common issues that might come up when gaming with young players who might not have any gaming experience- some examples would be: attention span; the child's frustrations at some aspects of the game being difficult or characters getting injured, killed or just failing; other kid's parents, etc.

The next chapter talks a bit about gaming with young girls in particular, which is a unique topic. Written by Filamena Young, its short, but very interesting and insightful and a very useful guide for geek dads who have considered some of the points very little.

There's more about how to slim down the FATE system more in favor of younger players and inexperienced players with the intention of adding more detailed rules back in little by little.

I find Gosh, Spies! a very worthy and positive guide for gaming with young girls using the FATE system in particular. Very nice product.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spycraft - A Memoir

This was a wonderful and heartfelt review by Jaime 'Hida Mann' Lawrence on RPG Geeks.
Spycraft – A Memoir.
When one is born into times of controversy, one has only two options; to become flexible, or to break. Being the child of such times, I was faced very early on with this choice, but thanks to my innately wide interests and the support of loving but troubled parents, I became extremely flexible. It was this defining quality which, over the years, was to win me legions of fans, to give me a second chance at life and if I may be so self-appreciative, made me so attractive to so many. For what am I if not flexible?
Gentle reader, my name is Spycraft. I am the child of the Open Game License and Alderac Entertainment Group, a roleplaying game recognized internationally and highly regarded, having been nominated for the industry’s highest awards. Above all of this, however, I am without boast the most flexible incarnation of the d20 system ever to have appeared.
My youth was tumultuous; even before my release, rivals of my parents had announced that they were going to produce a superior game, a broad and intuitive system that would allow players to build characters in any genre for a modern game. That game, d20 Modern, has since passed into obscurity. I know not if that is my doing, but if so, I can only say that it got its just desserts, for it ended up being a pale imitation of many of my core mechanics, but according to critics, lacked my “elegance and flair”. Flattering though this is, I’m not sure how much elegance I truly have. I am sure, however, that d20 Modern deserved obscurity; it was very rude to me and worked hard to try and muscle me out of the market. Even if we hadn’t been born into competition, I doubt we ever would have been friends.
My parents were supportive and caring; though I was the product of teamwork, the two faces I saw the most in my infancy were those of Patrick Kapera and Kevin Wilson, both of whom have themselves moved on to impressive careers, Patrick now being the driving force behind Crafty Games, Kevin doing wonderful work over at Fantasy Flight Games. They were both working at AEG, a fine company to this day, where they had collaborated on Legend of the Five Rings (1st Edition) and 7th Sea, both RPGs with strongly thematic mechanics and essentially my paternal cousins. Patrick, Kevin and I remain in contact and I know I am never far from my parents’ thoughts, but the heady days of my childhood are behind us now. Still, one cannot weep for the past too long, or one misses the present.
People remark now that I am old and outdated, yet I am still very active for my age; In the UK, a living campaign exists to promote me. It is called ‘For Queen and Country’ and I am proud to be in attendance whenever I am in the country. Though many have moved on and consider my ‘rebirth’ to be a superior incarnation, I am proud of my origins. Let us look together at what I achieved in those early years.
Based on the d20 model, I changed the core mechanics of the game in many significant ways. It was outmoded as soon as it was born, a clunky failure of a few good ideas. I won’t claim to have invented them, but the first thing I did was expand greatly the concept of action dice, making them not only a little bonus when needed, but the means by which critical success could be activated and building them into a narrative exchange system between the players and the Game Control.
I also introduced new mechanics for selecting Gear and conducting chases. Rather than simply relying on dice checks, this new and innovative system offered players exciting games of bluff as they would attempt to select manoeuvres to outdo and penalize their opponents. The tension and atmosphere of the game expanded greatly under my ruleset as players could imagine themselves swerving up side streets, playing chicken or just plain gunning it to get away from an opponent. A part of the game that had formerly been a dice roll and a few sweet words was now an epic in which players could achieve triumphs that previously resided only in the imagination. The system worked so well the White Wolf would later borrow it for their d20 adaptations of their games Trinity (d20 Version) and Aberrant (d20 Edition).
I added a level-based bonus to initiative and defence, so that more experienced agents would have a boon over those with less field hours. This was a small but meaningful change that also allowed me to further distinguish the classes from one another. While my ancestor had rangers that were suspiciously similar to fighters and assassins that were nigh-identical to rogues, my classes were distinct and flavoursome. Characters for my game would select not a race, but a department, which defined their background and training, then a class.

The Faceman, deathlessly cool in the toughest of spots.
The Fixer, able to obtain anything from anyone, anywhere.
The Pointman, bolstering his comrades and directing traffic during an op.
The Snoop, a born investigator with two eyes for detail.
The Soldier, a paragon of violence.
The Wheelman, who could pilot anything home in one piece.
It was not an exhaustive list, to be sure and later supplements and revisions would perhaps improve on my model, but they were my creation and I’m damn proud of them.
Finally, I adopted the wounds/vitality system that my cousin, Star Wars (WEG Original Edition) had invented. Why improve on something that already works, right?
Of course, looking back, it isn’t the mechanics I remember. No, they were good, a significant improvement on what had gone before, but what really makes me proud was how incredibly slick and cool I looked in those days. My stark silver covers with flashes of colour and chiascuro-lit figures in espionage gear made me the envy of every other RPG on the shelf. It was Veronica Jones who gave me my dynamic looks and it must certainly be said that without her, I never would have flown off the shelves as I did.

The team behind me went a step further though, adding quotes from the most sensational of espionage films to my chapter title pages and taking the time to build theme into my mechanics. Look at my feats, for example – not just the sensibly titled “Punching Basics” or “Defensive Driving”, but the creative and expressively titled ones such as “One Hand on the Wheel” and “And a Gun in the Other”, or “Five Star Service”, or “Trail of Blood” – my feat trees are artistic and give players something to aim for besides a cool set of mechanics.
My parents included so many nice little details in me too; an table of international travel times, a gadget construction system, a villain construction system, an extensive Game control Advice chapter and sections for players on how to use evidence and clues. I was the complete package in my day.
Dark times were ahead though. Economic downturn hit AEG and they had to drop my line, only a short time after my Spycraft 2.0 was released. Patrick and Kevin parted ways and thankfully Crafty Games gave me a shot after that and soon, version 3.0 will be doing the rounds.
If you are to take anything from my life, other than my existence as a truly original sandbox RPG that offered players the opportunity to adopt the roles of their favourite characters from multiple genres, it would be this: Be flexible. Encourage those around you to be flexible and to play with the rules and roles they are so used to. There’s a lot out there, but if you break when you encounter difficulty, you’ll never know what it’s like to be Spycraft.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Agents of S.W.I.N.G

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. has been a good guide to the ways of the FATE RPG. Having been a gamer for more of my life than not being one I've studied many different RPG systems. Some of them are very calculated, extremely logical and some even very realistic (GURPS, I'm looking in your direction). So trying to wrap one's head around the FATE system can be difficult at first. There is a degree of unlearning that has to be done. The best way to do this is to actually play the game. When one isn't able to do that you read the rulebook and seek out the online communities. Fortunately, the FATE fanbase has some particularly helpful contributors out there.

When it comes to the rulebook (FATE books tend to be large for some reason and this one is no exception), Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is very good in that it has a plethora of examples. One whole chapter is dedicated to NPCs that illustrate various ways characters could be made and Aspects that could be assigned. These NPCs are also a lot of fun, they're all characters from the movies, shows, books, and comics that inspired Agents of S.W.I.N.G. Some of the characters are pretty obvious- just barely changed, the serial numbers thinly filed off, many where not so obvious to me.

On the RPG Geeks database, some very astute geeks have made the effort to compiled a list of which NPCs are based on who:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Buck Rogers XXVc was to use the TS/S.I. system?

I've always felt the percentile based system of Top Secret/S.I. would have worked for many other genres other than modern espionage. There exists some evidence that the guys at TSR thought the same thing.

There was a cross-posted thread in a couple of message boards; one for TSR's Buck Rogers RPG, and the other in the late TS/S.I. forum. The post stated that the Buck Rogers: XXVc was possibly going to be powered by the Top Secret/S.I. system.

In the end it didn't end up that way, The Buck Rogers game used a variant of the AD&D system, THAC0 and % skills, etc.

Here is that discussion:
--- In, Justin Mohareb <justinmohareb@...> wrote:
> I spoke to Doug Niles at a convention a long time ago (gah I'm old) and he
> did mention that he'd lobbied to have Buck use the TS:SI rules, but was
> overruled. I'm not sure about how wide/deep the discussion was about using
> a system other than AD&D.
> Justin
> On Mon, May 16, 2011 at 9:28 AM, Renin <webasaurusrex@...> wrote:
> > I could swear I read somewhere that Jeff Grubb or somebody tagged to
> > develop the Buck Rogers XXVc game had originally argued to use the TSSI
> > rules. Does anyone else remember seeing this?
I think the game would've held up well using the d% skill based system. It wouldn't be difficult to convert. In fact TSR published some information on how to do that very thing. These articles appeared between stories in the issues of a comic-book/module series called Intruder.


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