Odds Are You Won't Live to See Tomorrow

After my introduction to the world of RPG's via Basic D&D (evolving soon thereafter into a mish-mash of Basic and AD&D) I quickly began exploring the ever-growing RPG landscape of the early 80's. My early exposure (pre-1984) was limited to whatever I could find in the local Kay-Bee toy stores. This basically meant TSR's boxed games: Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Gangbusters, Dawn Patrol... and Top Secret.

I think Top Secret was my second post-D&D role-playing game. I'm not sure if it was the second one I encountered, but it was the second one that I actually purchased and immersed myself in.

It was natural for me to gravitate toward an espionage game as my second foray into the world of RPG's. After sci fi/horror, espionage was running a close second as my favorite genre. I'd grown up on the ubiquitous staple of James Bond (Connery, mostly), Matt Helm, and Derek Flint films, not mention a wide variety of Cold War and WWII-era espionage and action flicks, like Three Days of the Condor, Where Eagles Dare and Guns of Navarone. (All watched, of course, on one of our three local network stations on my tiny portable black-and-white TV set.)

A couple of my favorite childhood toys were the hand-me-down James Bond 007 Road Race Set and a piece of "Man From UNCLE" parephernalia I had found - the UNCLE badge and ID wallet from the Man From UNCLE Napoleon Solo Gun set. (Damn, that James Bond set was an awesome toy! There were no cars or controllers by the time I got my hands on it, but Hot Wheels and Matchbox vehicles worked even better, if you ask me. And I had never seen the "Man From UNCLE" series, but I knew cool spy stuff when I saw it.)

Yep, I really dug spies. (And still do.)

Of course, this would also have been late 1982/early 1983, the height of Reagan-era Cold War goodness. It seemed that not a day went by that there wasn't some form of international intrigue in the news. To say that the environment was ripe for espionage gaming would probably be a huge understatement.

Despite its multitude of quirks and subsystems (I still have trouble wrapping my brain around that hand-to-hand combat system!) I loved Top Secret from the very start. I made character after character, drew maps of villains' secret hideouts and underground lairs, and used the weapon creation subsystem to derive Top Secret stats for dozens of modern firearms. And I played the Hell out of the game with my nephew. Our characters, my Bryan Steele* and his Rick Savage, saved the world from evil villains more times than I can count. (*Did I mention that I was/am a huge fan of "Remington Steele?")

I've tried several times since that period (1982/3-1985) to recover or renew the experiences of my Halcyon days of espionage gaming - alas, to no avail. But I still have my nostalgic memories - and most of the materials I've created for Top Secret. I've shared the nostalgia - now how about the goodies?

Up first is "Ville D'Arc," a set of maps I drew up for a villain's island lair. This was made after seeing Octopussy (so, late summer 1983) so when you're painting your mental picture of the main house, try to envision it looking something like Kamal Khahn's house from that movie.

Here's the island map:

And here's the map of the main compound (followed by a key of the map's locations):

Last, but certainly not least, here's the map of the main house:

. . . . .


  1. We had played a great pulp James Bond Top Secret campaign that lasted nearly a year in the mid 80's. Good times.

  2. I had an intense, if short, love affair with the "other" tsr role-playing games, gamma world, boot hill and top secret being my three favorites.

    My interest in Boot Hill lasted the longest, but my relationship with Top Secret burned brightest.

    All of my games went up in flames several years ago. Ah, my stolen youth.

  3. Glad to see you are alive, Christopher.

    Sadly, I've never played a game of Top Secret.
    --Victory Games' James Bond 007, yes, but not TS.

  4. @Paladin: Bummer. :( I have to say, I've broken into a cold sweat more than once at thought of my gaming stuff going up in smoke. (I've even imagined such hypothetical situations and wondered what book/folders I'd grab as I dash from my burning house.)

    @Timeshadows: I am indeed still drawing breath, but sometimes I wonder if I'm alive. ;) Anyway, Top Secret rocks, but I have to say that I was very impressed with the James Bond 007 system, even though I've never had the opportunity to play it. Had I discovered it prior to TS, I could easily imagine it being my go-to game for espionage RPGing. (Hey, BTW: Are you getting my e-mails? I sent you one yesterday, and a reply to yours this AM.)

  5. Other than Star Frontiers and Ringworld, Top Secret was my favorite. In fact I was looking through them last month, wishing I could get back in to them.

  6. @JugglerofGeese: Well, they say: "You can never go back again." But that doesn't mean you can't try like Hell! ;D

    If you want to get back into it, why not? (Last year, I ran a game of TS set in 1980. In the coming weeks, I plan to run a TS/SI game set in 1984. "Can't go back again" - ha!)


Post a Comment