Tag Archives: #TSR

Character A Week: Top Secret

Top Secret was, to the best of my knowledge, the first dedicated espionage RPG. Others, notably the licensed James Bond 007 RPG, soon followed. Alas, neither the original Top Secret, nor the followup Top Secret S.I. are available for purchase in PDF at this time. However, there is a new version with radically different rules, recently published called Top Secret/New World Order.

My memories are that it was a fairly crunchy game for its time, and that it was a better commando action game than it was an espionage game… that last part may be more due to our style of play than the game itself.

Character generation starts with your primary personal traits: Physical Strength, Charm, Willpower, Courage, Knowledge, and Coordination. Stats are generated with 1d100, but there is a modifier chart to skew the results higher for player characters.

I roll 20, 35, 79, 41, 33, and 45. This gives the adjusted stats of:
Physical Strength 45, Charm 50, Willpower 84, Courage 56, Knowledge 48,  & Coordination 60.

You then calculate your secondary personal traits, which are calculated from your primary traits, and all fractions round up. There are a number of these…
Offense is an average of Coordination + Courage, so 58.
Deceptions is an average of Courage + Charm, so 53.
Evasion is an average of Charm + Coordination, so 55.
Deactivation (of traps, etc.) is Knowledge + Coordination, so 54.
Life Level is Physical Strength + Willpower / 10, so 12.9 which rounds to 13.
Movement Value is Physical Strength + Willpower + Coordination, so 189. This is compared to a chart, and my Movement Value is Average.

Then there are your tertiary personal traits, which are calculated from both primary and/or secondary traits. These are:
Hand to Hand Combat Value is Evasion + Physical Strength, so 100.
Wrestling Combat Value is Offense + Physical Strength, so 103.
Surprise Value is Deception + Evasion, so 108.

Like a lot of games for its time, it very much assumed that many if not most details, such as height, age, handedness and whether you needed corrective eyewear, should be randomly determined. I’ve decided that my character is male, so after rolling I determine that I am 5′ 11″ tall, I am 31 years old, and I have normal vision. No corrective eyewear is required.

Yeah, I can’t figure this out…

Interestingly, in the main rulebook it was assumed that the player could choose their sex, and that there were no stat differences between men and women… but the Top Secret Companion seems to have changed this. They added a random chart for sex, and an unreadable modification for stats that is unclear as to whether it’s meant to apply to men, women, or both. There are also random rolls for blood type and a number of other things. I consider the Companion to be optional, and won’t be using much from it.

The number of languages you can speak is based on your knowledge level, and your proficiency in each is randomly determined. Your primary language is 3d10+70, and any additional languages are straight percentile rolls, but must be lower than your native language. I decide that my character’s native language is English, and I choose Nepali as my second language. My English proficiency is 92, and my Nepali is a 91. I figure my nationality is British.

Now we move on to Areas of Knowledge. These are mostly useful for establishing or maintaining a cover. You have one or more superior areas of knowledge based on your Knowledge score, divided by 10 and rounded up… so I have 5. I get Metallurgy, Medicine, Law, and two ‘Player’s Choice’, so I pick Political Science, and World History/Current Affairs. Honestly, the random rolls don’t make a lot of sense, but okay…

My score in each are determined by percentile roll and adjusted by a table. My final scores in each are: Metallurgy 68, Medicine 105, Law 104, Political Science 129, World History 87. From the Companion, I choose Political Science for my education, and have a Bachelor of Political, Economic, and Social Sciences. I choose a cover occupation as a Diplomatic aide, which leverages my knowledge and education well and gives plenty of opportunities for travel.

Also pulling from the Companion, I decide I was in the military, specifically the Royal Navy. With my degree I enter the service as a Midshipman, and with one six year tour, I exit the service as a Lieutenant.

You then choose your Bureau classification, which is basically a character class (I choose Investigation) and then you spend money on personal effects. My starting funds are $4400. Gear for your mission is handled separately, and I’m not going to bother with gear. I will note that based on his background, he would be qualified with the Glock 17, and the SA80/L85 service rifle.

Name: Joseph O. Fraser
Codename: Gambit

Background: Mr. Fraser joined her Majesty’s Royal Navy as a Midshipman after graduation from university with honors. Assigned as liaison officer to the Queen’s Gurkha Signals due to strong language skills. Honorable discharge.

Sex: Male      Age: 31    Nationality: Scottish (United Kingdom)
Height: 5′ 11    Weight: 170 lbs
Skin: White     Hair: Brown    Eyes: Brown

Military Service: Royal Navy, Lieutenant, ret. NROTC
Education: B.P.E.S.S., Cambridge University
Languages: English (92), Nepali (91)
Areas of Knowledge: Metallurgy (68), Medicine (105), Law (104), Political Science (129), World History/Current Affairs (87)

Bureau: Investigation
Experience: 0

PS: 45, Charm: 50, Will: 84, Courage: 56, Know: 48, Coord: 60
Offense: 58, Deception: 53, Evasion: 55, Deactivation: 54
Life Level: 13
Movement: Average

HtH CV: 100, Wrestling CV: 103, Surprise: 108

His cover is not Mel Torme…

Character A Week: SPI’s DragonQuest

DragonQuest was one of the first non-D&D fantasy RPGs that we tried out in high school. It was well advertised, SPI was a well known company, and they were trying some things that weren’t exactly standard game design at the time.

It was a point buy system for stats, but there was a random roll to determine how many points you could spend and what your maximum score in a stat could be. The more points you started with, the lower your max score for a stat. It also was an action point economy based game, which was based off of your agility and determined how many actions you could perform.

You could always choose to be human, but if you wanted to play one of the other available fantasy races, you had to roll a percentile to see if you qualified (my least favorite rule in the game). Roll well and you could be a shapeshifter or even a giant. Roll poorly and you were stuck with human. You also determined your birth aspect (zodiac-ish), birth order, and social standing randomly.

Interestingly, you didn’t necessarily start unexperienced. Once you had your social standing and birth order you could determine both your starting wealth, and how much experience you started with. You could then spend (or choose not to spend) both before play even began.

Experience is spent on weapon skills, spells if you’re a practitioner of magic, or on professions… but don’t worry about professions at start, because Rank 0 in a profession costs more than you’ll start with.

The magic system in DragonQuest is definitely not “standard” Vancian magic ala D&D. You learn individual spells related to the Spell Collage you’ve chosen, and casting costs fatigue.

Overall, the books follow the wargaming model of numbered rules sections (2.0, 2.1, etc.) but is otherwise somewhat poorly organized. Character creation and combat rules are in book 1, but the sections for gear, skills, and how fatigue & experience work are in book 3. Magic is in book 2, but again, you’ll be jumping back to the fatigue rules at a minimum. It’s a bit of a mess, honestly. Second edition seemed to fix some of that, but also made changes to things that aren’t immediately obvious. My memory is that third edition was basically second edition, with the demons removed from the rules.

But hey, non-vancian magic, no classes, weapon skills that level up individually, and some semblance of social standing rules. It was, however, more focused on the tactical combat side of things, not unlike Metagaming’s Fantasy Trip (Melee & Wizard).

So I start out and roll a 16 on 4d5. Checking the chart, that gives 94 points and a max score of 21. The minimum score for any stat is a 5.

4d5 you ask? I’ll come back to this. 

Primary stats are: Physical Strength (PS), Agility (AG), Manual Dexterity (MD), Endurance (ED), Magical Aptitude (MA or APA), Willpower (WP). Secondary stats (calculated) are: Fatigue (FT), and Perception (PC). If you want to add additional stats like physical beauty you can add them, but there’s little guidance beyond that they should be determined randomly.

Fatigue is based on Endurance, and regardless of what you play, you will want as high of a Fatigue score as you can manage… so I set my Endurance to 20 (there’s no difference between 20 & 21 for Fatigue)… The rest of the points I spend how I wish… and clearly I’m planning on playing a magical adept. I put one extra point in Agility, as that will give me 10 action points.

My final score array is: PS 12, AG 13, MD 12, ED 20, MA 19, WP 18. This gives me a Fatigue of 22. Perception starts at 5 (2nd ed says 8).

Sadly, DragonQuest came from the same mindset as Gygax’s AD&D in that “realism” requires that female characters take a -2 penalty to PS, but get an extra point of MD and Fatigue. Additionally, you can choose to play your own gender, but if you wish to play a different gender you need to roll 25% or less. And, of course, there are no provisions for anything other than binary gender. If I were running a DQ game of my own, I’d toss this right out the window… but the exercise is to create by the rules, so…

And even that gets complicated. There were three editions of DragonQuest, and there are subtle differences between each of them. As an example, first edition uses 4d5 to generate stats. Second edition uses 2d10. It’s the same numbers, but a four die curve is not nearly as steep… but I digress.

Back to character creation… my next step would be to determine if I will play a non-human. The only race that interested me with these stats was Elven, which is a 30% chance. I roll a 76, so I will remain human.

Next step would be my birth aspect, and then heritage. I roll a 27, so I am Vernal (Spring) aspected. This will occasionally effect percentile rolls when times are favorable (or not so much). For heritage, I roll a 61, and then a 07 and so I am the bastard child of a Craftsman or Adventurer.

Those results directly influence my starting experience and starting money.  I roll a 87 for experience, and a 65 for starting money. Applying the modifiers for parentage and birth status, I begin with 250 XP (200 * 1.25 for bastard) and 138 sp (55sp * 5 for station / 2 for bastard).

At this point we would start spending experience and monies. Note that because my MA exceeds 15, I get a 5% deduction for every point above 15. Sweet, magic will cost me 20% less.

I buy rank 0 in Dagger and Quarterstaff. I start with Stealth and Horsemanship at rank 0 for free, and I decide to be an adept of the College of Sorceries of the Mind (Mind Mage). That means I start with all of that College’s general knowledge spells, and its general knowledge rituals at rank 0 as well. I decide to raise my ESP and Control Animal spells to rank 1. This leaves me with 15xp unspent, which I leave in the bank.

DragonQuest is not a game friendly to beginning characters… you’re not going to feel heroic, so much as you’re going to feel like a n00b. Chance of success is pretty low at first. Again, if I were running this game today, I would likely give all of the PCs more beginning XP. In the game’s defense, it does hand out XP reasonably quickly, and you can earn XP during downtime between adventures as well.

And finally, we spend money on gear… and the gear listing is sparse. A GM will need to flesh that out because I can guarantee you one of your players will want something they didn’t include a price for.

I opt for a Roman flare for naming, and our young apprentice mage is named Gaius.

Name: Gaius
Race: Human

PS 12, AG 13, MD 12, ED 20, MA 19, WP 18
Fatigue: 22,  Perception: 8, Action Points: 10

Dagger 0, Quarterstaff 0, Stealth 0, Horsemanship 0

Magic: College of Sorceries of the Mind
Spells: ESP 1, Limited Precog 0, Mind Cloak 0, Empathy 0, Hypnotism 0, Control Animals 1, Control Person 0
Rituals: Bind Will 0

Dagger, Quarterstaff, Tunic, Pants, Boots, Backpack, Waterskin… and some writing materials at a minimum.

Finally, due to SPI being acquired by TSR and TSR wanting to focus on D&D, DQ eventually died as a product. As such, you can only purchase it used these days, and there is not a legal source for PDFs of the game.