Tag Archives: MSPE

I LOVE good used book stores!

If you’re ever in Phoenix or Tucson, AZ (or Flagstaff, for that matter), there’s a great used book store chain called Bookmans.  They’re not as good as Powell’s in Portland, but few things are.  Aside from books, they have a great selection of movies, music, console games, and other games.  I found a second edition copy of the West End Games Star Wars d6 rules when I was last in Phoenix.

But I’m not talking about Bookman’s at the moment.  I’m talking about the Las Cruces, NM store, Coas.  They also have a great selection of books, not so much movies and music.  But their store on Solano has all of their games, and it’s managed fairly well.  I was extremely happy to find a copy of the original 1980 release of TSR’s Top Secret.  For $10.  And with the insane amount of credit that I have with them, I got it for about $2.

To the best of my knowledge, Top Secret is the first spy/espionage game, predating Hero’s Espionage and later Danger, International and Flying Buffalo’s Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes.  To give you an idea of how old it is, the address for TSR does not have Zip+4, just a plain ol’ five digit zip code.  And the box does not have a UPC bar code.  I laughed at that.

To be sadly honest, Top Secret is not a very good game.  I played it a fair amount, and it doesn’t stand up to later espionage games.  But there is a quaint charm to it, not unlike people who play early editions of D&D.

So why did I buy it?  Well, I have a soft spot in my heart for the first games that I cut my teeth on, and Top Secret is one of them.  Plus, I’m writing a personal 2.0 edition of Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes.  MSPE is a decent game, but it has some shortcomings and is easy to kitbash, and I thought it might be useful to peruse Top Secret and see if it has anything to offer for my MSPE mods.

I’m silly that way.  Or, if you asked my wife, I’m just silly.

(and if you’re ever in Las Cruces, I’d be happy to recommend some good restaurants)

(and I hope to finish off the Reverb list very soon, got hit with a really nasty bronchitis last week and I’m still recovering)

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Reverb Gamers Master List #6

Describe your all-time favorite character to play. What was it about him/her/it that you enjoyed so much?

I’ve played I don’t know how many characters over the years.  In the case of Champions, having played in three campaigns that ran for a combined total of probably 40 years, that’s a lot of characters.  It’s rare that a Champions character dies, but sometimes you get an interesting idea for a new character or want to take the spotlight off of your old character for a while, and you introduce someone new.

But here are some of my long-term favorites:

Captain Indigo Jones, Star Wars d6.  Based on a character from the Fusion comic published by Eclipse in the late 80’s and designed off of the smuggler template, Captain Jones piloted The Tsunami, the same class of ship as the Millennium Falcon.  Lots of fun!  My friend Bear Peters ran a Solustan named Bob who was an explosives expert who loved crewing with Indigo because exciting things happened when she was around.  Over years of play and avoiding using the bonus wild dice that she’d earned, we ended up in a situation where we were surprised and surrounded by something on the order of 40 Stormtroopers who ordered us to surrender, and I had something like 10-15 or more of these bonus dice accrued.  I told the GM that I was going to spend all of them.  We won.

Buckaroo Banzai, Champions.  Yes, I designed Buckaroo in Champions.  There’s obviously no way to fully do him, so I came up with the story that he had been exposed to a nerve agent and suffered brain damage, explaining the reduction in skill ability.  He still had lots of skills available, was your basic martial artist/gadgeteer.  It’s fun (and challenging) to run speed 4 Champions heroes.

Johannes-Dane Thorvaldson Bertel, AKA Dane the Dane/Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes (MSPE).  MSPE is a 3d6 characteristic system with attributes the same as those in Tunnels & Trolls (similar to D&D), both are published by Flying Buffalo.  In MSPE, your skill in martial arts is determined by your dex, and I happened to roll insanely well on dex and pretty good on strength, so I made him a kung fu expert.  The campaign was a time travel game and we went literally all over creation.  One of my favorite moments was when we were in the Man From UNCLE universe, and I punched out Illya Kuryakin with one blow when he inadvertently snuck up behind me after a combat.

Kim Van Lo/Champions.  Kim was an interesting character, her father fought with the South Vietnamese Army during the war and was MIA, the rest of her family was able to resettle in America.  Thanks to Champions encouraging alternate reality, Kim joined the Army and became a Ranger, retiring as a Master Sergeant after 20.  She could teleport short distances, was a skilled martial artist (see a theme here?) and also a gadgeteer, specifically what you might call a gun bunny.  She carrier a custom cut-down 45 ACP magnum with a 2″ barrel, as she was also a gunsmith she had no problems replacing the barrel every 500 rounds or so.  On her first encounter with the heroes, before she was sort of coerced in to joining their group, she was attending an air show taking photos when villains attacked.  She was not a superhero, per se, and hid: she found a convenient bush and kept still with her gun out.  A “hero” who was classically obnoxious and overconfident spotted her, thinking she was a normal, came up and announced “You should get to safety, citizen!”  A villain noticed that, and now that he had a civilian target, menaced her, saying “You can’t hurt me with that little gun!”  Well, I rolled max damage, did enough stun to get his attention, and I think I got an inch of knockback or knock down.  He then said “I guess you can hurt me with that little gun!”  She earned enough XP over the years that I bought off almost all of her disadvantages, she also has a lot more capability and can carry MUCH bigger guns.

I’ve had so many great characters over the years: a brain-washed assassin sent to take out the hero group, a Scotland Yard inspector, a Chinese martial artist who was very weak but could still punch through block walls, a talking fox with her pet human, a cowboy who had invisible/spectral guns and horses and stuff.  And I still have most of them in spreadsheets.

Reverb Gamers Master List #2

What is it about gaming that you enjoy the most? Why do you game? Is it the adrenaline rush, the social aspect, or something else?

Definitely two things: social interaction and mind expansion.  The social aspect is key: I like the company of intelligent, witty people, and this includes a lot of gamers.  I like playing games with them, especially role-playing games because they let you do things that are otherwise mostly impossible for we the players to do in real life.  Adrenaline rush?  I don’t get much of that from gaming.

I’ve been experimenting with how I run RPG’s, and that is to go from tightly-scripted to loosely-scripted.  When I ran Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes two years ago at the Flying Buffalo Convention (where I plan on running MSPE again this year), I had an opening scene and I knew where the final conflict would take place, and I turned the players loose.  I had a couple of other scenes in mind, but they didn’t go in those directions, so they weren’t used.  When I ran Lady Blackbird, I had the opening scene and the first complication, everything else was based on what the players did.  Same thing with Fortune’s Fool: opening, vague idea for the closing, and a couple of intermediate stops along the way.  I learned years ago that a tightly-scripted scenario never goes the way you plan it, unless you totally railroad your players, so I’ve just decided to go with the flow and take the occasional well-timed “bathroom break” to figure out what I’m doing next as a GM.

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