"I like the movies and all, but it's not like it's important. Not like Star Wars or Star Trek. I mean, those are important. I can watch James Bond, but I'm not going to think about it."
This sort of logic explains why I love my wife, but I've got to disagree with her on the Bond front.
Role Playing In Her Majesty's Secret ServiceBefore I write anything further, I'm going to confess, in proper fashion, that I have never actually read a Bond novel. I have no idea how Ian Flemming meant for the character to be portrayed or anything about Bond beyond that which shows up on film or in the RPG. There, now that we've git that out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks.
For the uninitiated, James Bond 007: Role Playing In Her Majesty's Secret Service is the best-known and best-regarded role playing game released by Victory Games, an off-shoot of Avalon Hill games spawned in order to help AH cash in on the RPG market (more than a little too late). Yes, I know about Powers & Perils. This ain't about that. So, in 1983, Victory Games came out with the James Bond RPG and marketed the hell out of it. Big splashy comic-esque ads in all the gaming (and some non-gaming iirc) mags. At the time TSR had come out with its own espionage RPG three years earlier in 1980, so James Bond really needed to knock it out of the park in order to anchor AH and Victory Games as key players in the RPG market. The strange thing is, AH/VG did knock it out of the park but failed completely at the anchoring itself part.
There is a school of thought that states that game system doesn't matter and if you've got the right system (usually a stripped down system that allows lots of flexibility), it can be right. A good DM can make any game happen in (most) any system as long as he does it right. Sure. That's awesome. But there's also something to be said for systems that encourage the sorts of behavior that the RPGs genre tend to thrive on. A lot of folks, for example, like to say that there's no role playing in 4e D&D, and this misperception (in my opinion) stems largely from the fact that the rules don't ever talk about role playing but talk an awful lot about how to kill things; thus, 4e games often skew away from the story and rp stuff and toward face-smashery. By the same token, if you're making a game that's designed to emulate James Bond movies, it makes sense to include rules for the things that James Bond does in order to encourage those things happening. The 007 RPG, as a result, includes rules not just for combat and skills, but also for chases (foot, car, plane & boat), interrogation, gambling and seduction. Obviously, if there are rules that tell me how to go around seducing enemy agents and potential assets, then the rules want me to go around seducing enemy agents and potential assets. This is the solid foundation upon which the 007 RPG was built.
Rules WonkeryThe down side to having rules that cover all the awesome James Bond-ly stuff is that those rules have to be good. And for their day, these rules were good. They used tried-and-true mechanisms of their day to do things that weren't terribly common at the time using the sorts of logic that designers were really enjoying designing back then.
The Bad: First off, it's percentile dice. Which almost always means "roll low" which, to me, means that it's counter-intuitive. You'll notice that this is a theme with me. The second glaringly huge problem is the table system that I mentioned above. It's not just one table, it's two. You first need to know which difficulty class you're facing, then you cross-reference with your skill/ability. Only then do you roll (and roll low, remember) and after you roll, you compare your result to the degree of success (or failure) chart and then go from there. Oh, and your stats? The only thing that they do for you is to tell you which line to look at on the first chart I mentioned and they have no mathematical significance to any rules or rolls beyond that. So... yeah. Stats just sort of describe a line on a table in an ordinal fashion, rather than describing any mechanical benefit associated with them. Awkward...
I'm going to leave it there for now. Next time, I'll get into what I think the 007 RPG does well, how it manages to pull off a solo-cast movie in an ensemble-cast game, how I'd write the game today and what James Bond has inspired in my own gaming. James Bond will return in "Let's Talk About Bond, Part II: Live And Let Dice."