This past weekend my gaming group met for the first time in way too long.
It also gave me the opportunity to run a new (old) game system for my group, Top Secret / S.I., which has been on my GM’s bucket list. I missed out on playing Top Secret back in the 80’s, but this past December I picked up a copy and was intrigued by the rules.
I am happy to report that my hopes for the system were born out. The game played fast and the mechanics felt good. The combat system, with its integrated hit location and damage system, were as elegant in practice as they appeared to be when reading them. The blunt vs penetrating damage also worked perfectly, and allowed for both NPC’s and PC’s to be bludgeoned into unconsciousness.
This game session was also the first where one of my players telecommuted in. So in addition to the other chairs around the table we had a laptop and web camera set up, with the player doing his best Arnim Zola impersonation. It was good fun.
I set the game in 1965 so we could have the feel of the classic spy shows from TV. Initially it looked like I’d be running for a small group, so I planned to run a short adventure, The Missile Mission, which was published in Dragon Magazine #39 for the original edition of Top Secret. The Missile Mission is a nice breaking-and-entering theft job that is good for a small team. However when a few more players became available I decided to come up with something a little larger.
I based the assignment on an episode from the original Mission: Impossible show, called The Carriers. The agents were assigned to replace a group of trainees in East Germany who were being sent to a secret KGB training facility for deep cover agents. The Agency had arranged to detain the real trainees, allowing the players to take their places. The nature of the training facility was unknown but intelligence reports indicated that the KGB was pulling in a large number of trainees for a big operation that was going to kick off soon.
The agents’ mission was to infiltrate the training facility, blend in with the other students, discover the KGB’s plan, foil it, and escape. Along the way they had to take on the names and identities of the actual trainees they were replacing, and then another set of names and identities that the KGB assigned to them when they arrived, creating an Inception-like layering of secrets that was fun to keep track of.
The training facility, code named “Springfield”, turned out to be a small town built to replicate a typical middle-American town. Trainees took classes in American culture and were expected to stay in character at all times, with instructors blending in to keep an eye on their progress and occasionally test them without warning.
The KGB’s plan revolved around a weaponized super-virus being prepared in a laboratory hidden beneath the town’s movie theater. The plan was to infect the students at a town festival held on the last day of training. They would then be shipped off to the United States while the virus incubated, and once in place they would be unwitting carriers for a deadly and virulent plague.
I’m pleased to say that the agents did their job. For over half the game almost no dice were rolled, as the agents handled the job of blending in quite well. Some made sure to make occasional mistakes in their behavior, so that the instructors could “correct” them on proper American etiquette. Gradually they keyed in on the location of the facility’s control center and began to uncover the secret plans.
That’s when the dice started coming out in earnest and things kicked into high gear. Bad Luck failures were rolled, an agent was captured and interrogated, a daring rescue was made, Disadvantages came into play, more Bad Luck failures were rolled, as well as some timely Good Luck and Critical Hits that saved the day. Luck Points were spent to keep agents alive. Villains were killed, the virus was destroyed in a fiery explosion, and the agents made their escape thanks to a masterful disguise job that would have made Martin Landau’s Mission: Impossible character proud.
I am happy to report that my characters enjoyed the system as much as I did and Top Secret / S.I. will be hitting the table again in the future.