The Gauntlett
How to Play James Bond Without Getting Your Tuxedo Dirty

Adam Gauntlett | 5 Feb 2015 16:00
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James Bond 007 Manual Cover

There are very few things I miss about the 1980s, but Victory Games' James Bond 007 RPG is definitely one of them.

Let's put this in perspective: if you were a pre-teen in 1983, when this RPG first came out, then you might have seen Roger Moore's eyebrow-twitching superspy in the cinema, but Sean Connery's Bond is locked away in the vaults of history, and nobody's prepared to admit they know who Lazenby is. VCRs are for rich people, and YouTube isn't even a glimmer in a designer's eye, so if you don't catch it on television - picture formatted to fit your screen and chunks of it cut to avoid naughtiness - it might as well not exist at all. Your entire concept of Bond is Moore, with his outrageous gadgets, car chases, shootouts in funfair houses, and the girl, not necessarily in that order.

If you're a kid, and you see this impossibly cool fantasy unfolding in front of your eyes, you want to be Bond. Victory Games let you do just exactly that.

Victory Games, an Avalon Hill subsidiary, didn't set out to do Bond; it was a strategy game maker that wanted to be in the RPG industry which, with TSR's release of Dungeons and Dragons in the late 1970s, had just recently been born. Many other companies followed in TSR's wake, and Victory felt it had to base its first release on a licensed property in order to compete.

Victory approached several copyright holders, hoping for a reliable partner. The people who owned Bond were the most receptive to Victory's advances, but the relationship was never easy, in part because there was more than one Bond. One entity, Danjaq, owned the film Bond, while another, Glidrose Publishing, owned the literary rights. Victory hoped that its game would appeal to people who liked both the films and the books, but that meant getting approvals from both Danjaq and Glidrose, which was a long and sometimes excruciating process.

"We knew they were going to be a demanding group," says Bob Kern, the designer Victory brought on board to make Bond feel like Bond. "They looked at everything we wrote, they looked at our outlines, they checked and double-checked everything. But for the most part, their suggestions were very helpful."

James Bond 007 Gadgets and Q

When their suggestions weren't helpful, from a design perspective, it was because the film and book people didn't understand gamers. They expected a property based on, say, Goldfinger, to be exactly like Goldfinger, not realizing that your average player, knowing the plot backwards and forwards, is likely to head straight to Fort Knox and ambush gold-loving Auric before he has a chance to really get his plan going. The Victory Games people knew better, and insisted on making plot changes to suit the needs of their narrative.

That was the essence of James Bond 007's appeal; it was just enough like the books and the movies to spark imaginations, but it wasn't chained to them. It didn't even have a photo of Moore or Connery on the cover, but an illustrated Bond that looked like a melding of the two actors. If you, as Gamesmaster, wanted Dr No to switch from nuclear experimentation to supercomputer development, you could. Maybe Kananga's a drug smuggler, like in the movie, or maybe he's selling pirate gold, like in the book, or maybe he's doing something else altogether. It's your game, the developers were implicitly saying. Play it as you like.

It even captured the little things about being Bond. Sure, a superspy can shoot straight, that goes without saying; but he also knows his Mouton Rothschild from his Oyster Bay, so everyone gets free points in the Connoisseur skill. Want to pull off something impossibly cool? Then spend a Hero Point, if you have one free, and away you go. The villains have something similar, Survival Points, but those are only used to keep them alive, Jaws-style. Do you think that Beautiful Foil might be amenable to company, thus resulting in what the rulebook calls 'a more beneficial working relationship?' Then let's hope your Seduction skill is up to snuff.

Mechanically it's all pretty simple. Based on a percentile system, each task is assigned an Ease Factor by the Gamesmaster, and that factor is compared to your characters' rating - skill level plus physical attributes - to work out the percentage chance of success. Yes, you can fumble. At least if you fumble Seduction the worst that can happen is that you're wearing your dinner; Heaven help you if you fumble at high speed while pushing the Aston Martin past all the manufacturer's recommended limits.

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