Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Shhh...Top Secret!

One thing you don't see on my blog is a bunch of posts on kickstarter projects. Personally, I prefer to purchase things that already exist ("a bird in the hand" and all that jazz). And as for my own projects, I prefer NOT to crowd-source for a number of reasons:
  • I don't want to rely on others to fund my projects (i.e. I'm afraid folks won't show up for me)
  • I'm not confident enough in my organizational abilities that I could set realistic goals 
  • I tend to work in a fairly small scale...the kind I can fund out of my own pocket (or with the money I've already generated from book sales)
SO...I've never been a backer of kickstarter projects. At least, not until now.

This week, I backed my first ever kickstarter: Merle M. Rasmussen's TOP SECRET: NEW WORLD ORDER, a new edition of the Rasmussen's somewhat beloved classic.

I say "somewhat" because, while it's fairly well known to folks in this area of the was one of TSR's flagship games back in the day, heavily supported (especially in Dragon magazine), and was one of only a very few "secret agent" games on the market...I almost never see anyone writing about it. I'd guess that it isn't played all that much these days.

I know that I don't play it, and I like it and have quite a bit of material for it sitting on my shelf. I never bought into Top Secret/S.I. (the second edition)...all my product is for the original game. And I did play it a bit, back in the day. But it's not an easy game to run or manage. Most (all?) of the published adventures for the game are set-up much like any site-based, dungeon crawl: go to this installation and acquire [target]...said "target" being kidnapped scientists or politicians or secret plans or whatever other type of loot/McGuffin you can imagine.

In many ways (and, yes, I realize this is going to sound like bashing) Top Secret was still Dungeons & Dragons, but with a very specific, genre-enforced tone. You will be stealthing into the dungeon, not simply kicking in doors with mindless abandon. You will be looking to accomplish a specific goal. Due to time pressures you will not be wasting time on needless distractions (extraneous fighting and looting). You are required by your employer to work as a team, refraining from intra-party conflict. And, of course, any special equipment (i.e. magic items) will be provided on a "need only" basis (as determined by the GM).

Most PC equipment, in fact, is subject to the whim of the GM/administrator. For instance, if the mission calls for insertion via scuba equipment (c.f. Operation: Rapidstrike!), the PCs are probably going to be precluded from bringing the heavily modified machine guns they've been spending their earnings on. While this makes perfect genre sense, it takes away a bit of player agency. A large part of D&D is one's proper selection of equipment (trying to get maximum utility with minimal encumbrance)...but there aren't any portable holes in the spy genre.

[I suppose nanites and super-micronization could take the place of bags of holding...but I digress]

At least you get a spear-gun.
Yet despite this rather simple premise ("constrained D&D"), the game's major systems, especially combat, aren't nearly as streamlined as the classic fantasy adventure game. The firearms rules aren't nearly as chunky as Aftermath, but its still burdened with an over-abundance of stats and modifiers based on specific makes and models of weapon, as well as rules for varying damage by hit location. Melee combat is worse, requiring characters to choose specific maneuvers from large tables determined by type of hand-to-hand combat (fortunately, "martial arts" is a single table) and cross-reference them against an opponent's secretly chosen defensive moves. It's not as chunky as firearms combat, but it IS clunky, with very slow "search & handling"...though the Administrator's Screen (which I own) helps cut down on this somewhat.

I understand that it's all in the name of genre emulation, BTW, but it's a tough one to become comfortable running. And the nature of the beast is that there are specific combinations of moves and defenses that are favored over others, to the degree that the table could probably be cut-down with little detriment to the system.

There are a couple of other poor design flaws in the game (spending cash on cosmetic surgery to increase one's Charm and Deception abilities...with no max cap...which, in turn, increases one's Evasion score and, thus, Hand-to-Hand combat ability), but it has a lot of good ideas, too, especially with regard to reward systems (as I've blogged about before). But Top Secret remains one of the few old TSR RPGs that has never been retrocloned in some way, shape, or form.

Well, unless you count Haven: City of Violence.

Over the years, I've often considered doing something with Top Secret: re-writing it to my specs, or just running a game as is (regardless of clunk and chunk). Usually this happens when I see some action-packed spy thriller that carries a TS "vibe." The Man from UNCLE. Mission Impossible. Stuff like that (no, not James Bond...he belongs to his own sub-genre, one that doesn't fit the "spy team" motif). Recently, I watched one of these (Mission Impossible 2) and it got me considering the game again...but then I found the kickstarter project for the new edition. And I decided to become a backer (it was already fully funded by the time I ponied up, but I was able to ensure I'd get a copy of the hard cover edition, plus some goodies).

Anyway...the game's not supposed to arrive at my doorstep till November (hopefully in time for my birthday), but I can wait. I'm interested to see what Merle's new vision of the game looks like, how it will play, where it's focus is. My son is VERY excited...he watched the video on the kickstarter page and said, "Ooo! Papa! We have to get this game!" I'm not sure he can wait till November, but...well, patience is a trait that everyone in my family is in desperate need of developing.

Later, Gators.
: )


  1. Properly, SI is either the third edition or an entirely different game (my preference). The second edition of Top Secret was the February 1981 printing, labeled "second edition". It heavily revised the melee combat rules (they would see another revision in the Top Secret Companion, for people who felt that the lookup grids were too unwieldy for actual play). Top Secret/SI used an entirely different system and setting than Top Secret did.

    1. @ Faol:

      Huh. I must have the 1st edition of the game. I always assumed TS/SI was 2nd edition, as I don't ever remember seeing a game with the 2E label.

      Just checking the book, it doesn't say "second edition" anywhere on it, though it IS a second printing, having two copyright dates: 1980 and 1981. There are no revision...oh, oh wait. It DOES say "second edition" in small print at the bottom of the cover leaf.

      Well, what do ya' know? All these years I've been playing 2E Top Secret! Huh. Learn something new every day.
      : )

    2. Anyway, I've been thinking that I might present the "Accelerated Hand to Hand Combat" system from the Top Secret Companion as the default, with the lookup grids as an option for games which concentrate particularly on melee combat. Yeah, I've been thinking more about the game after you poked me about it recently.

    3. @ Faol:

      I'd sure like to see it.
      ; )