James Bond 007: Role Playing in Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1983)

Here’s Victory Games’ James Bond 007: Role Playing in Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1983), probably the most popular espionage RPG of the 80s.

Character creation is a point-buy system, complete with disadvantages (here called weaknesses, like Bond’s weakness for beautiful women). Skills are tested using a resolution table; something of average difficulty looks at the central column, an easier task shifts down a number of columns, a harder task shifts up, a clear inspiration for the Universal Table in Marvel Super Heroes and maybe Fudge? If you succeed, you check the result on an additional table (so many charts in the 80s!), which determines the level of success. James Bond 007 has four degrees of success — acceptable, good, very good and excellent. Up to now, skill tests were binary results — pass/fail. This works to the player’s advantage. The rules explicitly state that, unlike most other RPGs, GMs should give every advantage to the players, letting the dice determine their failures rather than plot contrivances, something mechanically supported by the tiers of success. This leads to play that is snappy and cinematic, which is amplified by the use of hero points, a luck mechanic that allows players to alter outcomes at a cost. Most unusual, Bond is designed for small groups; it never says so explicitly, but the rules seem well-suited for duet play — one player and a GM.

Weird thing: Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his organization SPECTRE isn’t in the game, thanks to a decades long rights dispute involving the film Thunderball (1961). Instead, we get Karl Ferenc Skorpios, his pet greyhound and his Tarot-card themed organization T.A.R.O.T. (Technological Accession, Revenge and Organized Terrorism), which is arguably superior. Cats are obviously more villainous than dogs, but the Tarot theme and its implied hierarchy is a good deal spookier than SPECTRE, which unfortunately has nothing to do with actual ghosts. And, is it me, or does it look like Grand Admiral Thrawn took a little inspiration from him?

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