Tabletop role-players used to have slim choice when it came to genre gaming and the spy genre was one that was thin on the ground in amongst all those elves, goblins and half orcs. The James Bond RPG was released in 1983 by Victory Games and gave players the chance to become an agent in Her Majesty’s Secret Service [MI6].
We’re going to take a brief look at what made the James Bond 007 RPG game so appealing and what helped set it apart from a lot of other RPGs of the early eighties. Does it still stand up now and what’s it like to don the guise of a Double 0 agent working magnanimously for her Majesty.
James Bond RPG Retro Review
James Bond 007: Role-Playing In Her Majesty’s Secret Service was released in 1983 by the now defunct Victory Games. It was a role-playing game set in the James Bond universe and featured many of the characters, gadgets and mythos of the James Bond books and movies. The main game was simply one rule book, though players would generally need the additional ‘Q-Manual’ for the many gadgets used in any given scenario.
One of the things that was truly enjoyable about the James Bond RPG was its game mechanic. Unlike some others RPGs of the time, the James Bond RPG featured a system using 6 and 10-sided dice (as percentile ie D100). The tables system in the game was quick and easy to get to grips with and players would more often than not make a simple percentile roll against a ‘Success Chance’.
The simplicity of the game mechanic though did not mean the game was stunted in any way. This same simplicity carried over into character creation. We won’t go into the ins and outs of how the rule system worked as these things generally come off sounding way more complicated than they actually are in the ‘doing’. Suffice to say, if you’re looking for a simplistic system that is full of depth despite this simplicity, the James Bond RPG does it and does it well.
Characters in the James Bond RPG are made up of five characteristics, these being the recognizable: Strength, Dexterity, Willpower, Perception, and Intelligence, many of which appear in other RPG titles. These characteristics ranged from 6 to 15 and were not rolled for, but purchased with a set number of points when character creation takes place. This means the player could place however many points on the various stats giving a more personalized feel to proceedings. Physical attributes (such as appearance) were also purchased as were skills and other attributes.
Like any role-playing game, the James Bond RPG was always more fun in largish groups, usually 3 to 7 players. Given the setting and the fact that Bond himself is generally seen as a solo spy, it was of course possible to play with just a GM (Games Master) and one willing player.
The ease of the tables also meant more time could be utilized conducting gameplay, rather than huge stop and start moments where numerous dice rolls must be made and a multitude of tables inspected, thus ensuring smooth gameplay.
This is the James Bond universe after all and therefore one may – wrongfully – assume there to be no place for female spy antics. The beauty of the tabletop game however means the player is not restricted to a particular gender when playing (unlike our video gaming cousins). Many a female spy has hit the ground running in the James Bond RPG and let’s face it, it’s fun to play a kick ass female spy.
Scenarios / Add-ons
The James Bond RPG was never short of add-ons and spawned numerous throughout the mid eighties. For those that preferred the less fly by night gaming – GM comes up with idea, players run with it off the cuff! – the scenarios and additions released for the James Bond RPG had detail galore, down to secret FYEO (For Your Eyes Only) dossiers, plane tickets, letters and other investigative props. Scenarios also followed (roughly) the story of various films.
The James Bond RPG was an awesome game in its time and a lot of fun. It pops up on eBay fairly often and usually for a bargaintastic price, so if you see it and you’re a tabletop role-playing fan looking for a good spy genre game, why not take the plunge with this oldie but goodie.