James Bond 007: Role Playing in Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the 1983 winner of the HG Wells Best Roleplaying Rules award. In terms of my growth as a RPG player, James Bond 007 was another rules set that I struggled to understand at the time, but have come to deeply respect today.
Rereading the rules these days, I can clearly see where the Core Mechanic was discussed up front in the rulebook, in a section labeled “Game Concepts.” This section, approximately two double-column pages, succinctly and lays out the how the Primary Chance interacts with an Ease Factor to find a Success Chance. A d100 roll on the Quality Results Table gives an Excellent/Very Good/Good/Acceptable result.
The best part of the rulebook, something I thought back then and still do today, is the Example of Play. Laid out in two columns, the Example of Play narrates an iconic segment of the movie Goldfinger on one side and a corresponding RPG session on the other. Never before, and rarely since, had I seen an RPG example that came to life like this Example did. This is the Gold Standard (no pun intended) which every RPG should strive for.
In terms of the Core Mechanic, at the time I got this game I had a hard time wrapping my head around the Ease Factor. As the rulebook states:
The central concept of the game is the Ease Factor – an element which must be thoroughly understood by both the players and the GM. It is a number, ranging from 1/2 to 10, which is used to measure the ease or difficulty of performing a task. The lower the Ease Factor, the harder the task, and the higher the Ease Factor, the easier the task is to accomplish; …. The GM may apply whatever positive or negative modifiers to the Ease Factor he feels are appropriate to the situation. (Basic Rulebook, p. 8)
Part of the reason this was hard for me to grasp is because the players needed a multiplication table to turn Primary Chance into Success Chance based on the Ease Factor. The multiplication table was even right on the character sheet!
The math is what put me off, but looking at the system today I see this as the first Task Difficulty system I had really encountered. Not only did the Ease Factor portray difficulty, but the Quality Results Table gave a grade of result! This system was unlike the binary Pass/Fail I had encountered to date. This game was truly the first step toward Narrative Play that I experienced.
Another major difference was the character generation system. James Bond 007 used a Point Buy system. Up to this point, I was used to the Classic Traveller or even Behind Enemy Lines career/background generation process. Building my own character was very new to me!
Another difference that I again had difficulty understanding back then was the Damage system. Instead of hit points, when hit the player had to cross-index the Quality Rating of the hit with the Damage Class of the weapon. This revealed a Wound Level. This system is very cinematic which was another change from my usual simulationist games.
Yet another game sub-system that I have grown to respect over time is the Chase Sequence. This sub-game included bidding on maneuvers; the lower the Ease Factor the more advantage one had on initiative but the more dangerous the possible results. The system again created very cinematic results.
James Bond 007 also had a rules section for Interacting with NPCs. This section had rules for Persuasion, Seduction, and Torture. Today these interactions are called Social Combat. Although there was Social Combat in Classic Traveller, the concept was not as clearly delineated as it was here.
One of the more difficult chapters in the rules was Gambling and Casino Life. Absolutely essential to any good James Bond adventure, I had a hard time understanding the various tables of die roll results for the different card games. Today I look at these tables and admire how the designer translated the odds of success in a card game into die rolls on a table.
By far the most different chapter was Hero Points. Hero Points could be used to change the results. Taken along with the Quality Results Table, this was another step towards Narrative Play. Coming from a solid Traveller RPG background, this concept of Hero Points seemed near-heretical in the day. This was my first introduction to a game economy; the Luck mechanic in FASA’s Star Trek RPG was a step in this direction but now players and GMs had a currency (Hero Points) to trade in.
Another sea-change system for me was Experience Points. With this system, characters could grow and be promoted. Like FASA’s Star Trek RPG, this system was very dependent on the whims of the GM but at least there was a system (unlike Traveller).
What I Thought of It Then – Back in the day, the math of character generation and Success Chance determination turned me off to this game. My group also had a hard time understanding how Narrative Play and the Hero Point economy was supposed to work. We liked the game, but had a hard time breaking out of our (stubborn) Traveller RPG approach to gaming.
What I Think of It Now – James Bond 007 is a gem of a game. The Ease Factor system of portraying difficulty, the Quality Results and Hero Point economy make for a very cinematic RPG system that faithfully creates exciting adventures in the James Bond mythos. Although the game is dated, the system is one of my all-time favorites.
From an RPG-perspective, I give James Bond 007 a Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):
- System Crunch = 3.5 (Does need a multiplication table)
- Simulationist = 2 (More cinematic than strict realism)
- Narrativism = 3 (Quality Results and Hero Points!)