Written by Gerry Klug
The idea for designing a role-playing game based on the world of James Bond came to me while I was discussing the available role-playing games one bright and sunny day with a friend of mine. Bob Kern. We had been discussing the way most role-playing games were written by wargame designers who were accustomed to having their rules pored over by individuals who had nothing better to do than examine in minute detail every last clause. Indeed, the art of reading a set of rules was part and parcel of the enjoyment of playing a wargame. It seemed to be part of the mental exercise one had to undergo. I certainly enjoy it when I tackle a new wargame.
But not so with a role-playing game. Bob and I knew what good role-playing games needed, and planned to do our own game. One area of role-play which we felt hadn’t been adequately covered was the world of espionage. We never dreamed we could do a game based on James Bond, so we were content to envision it as a generic spy game without any specific ties. The only game available during that time satisfied neither Bob, our gaming group, or myself. I knew I could design a better game, going so far as to start tinkering with a game system. It was about this time that the game company then employing my services died, and Victory Games rose from the ashes.
At Victory, we knew that an entry into the role-playing field would be necessary to establish credibility in the marketplace. Our initial buying audience would be mostly comprised of old fans who would be expecting us to produce quality wargames. Many expressed concern that we were going to dilute the quality of our wargame production by getting into the “stupid field of role-playing games.” Since this wasn’t going to be the audience who would buy our first RPG, we needed to sell it to the waiting public, the people who made the market what it is today.
But what type of game? My heart, already partial to fantasy role-playing, told me to indulge myself – design my ultimate fantasy game, the one to best all previous games. But I knew that the marketplace had become glutted with fantasy games, and RuneQuest ™ sufficed for those who wanted that “ultimate” type of game.
We discussed these issues at the first few meetings of the VG staff. We agreed that a fantasy game was not the way to go, but we couldn’t agree on what to do instead. It fell on me to do the research and come up with a suggestion. I remembered the discussions with Bob Kern and tried to convince the staff to let me design “License to Kill,” the name I had given to the espionage game. But, instead of doing the generic game, we decided to base a game on the only spy character really worth doing – James Bond. We were off. More to the point, I was. The idea was fine, but the game had to be designed, and that was my job.
The methodology used to design the James Bond game was a variant of the way I used when I was a Lighting Designer in theatre and rock ‘n’ roll. I first immersed myself in the subject, reading all the James Bond books Ian Fleming wrote. I then reread them carefully, noting instances and occurrences I wanted to recreate in the game when * Bond fans played it. We had not yet signed the contract with Eon Productions Limited/Glidrose Publications Limited, but we were very close. Until we did, we could not afford to make any financial commitments. I began to line up a core of quality freelancers, but we could not yet begin work. So we waited.
I believed that the people who played the game would be a mix of the fans of the book, fans of the movie, and fans of roleplaying. This mix would be hard to please, thought I. So, I decided to first design the game system to reflect the abilities of James Bond in the books, I knew that the license would require us to support the James Bond movies, so the characters, backgrounds, and plot lines made available the game would be drawn from the movies. This would please some Bond fans and displease others, so the latter would have to be appeased by having the game system designed to support both the books and the movies.
To ensure that we got all the information about the James Bond world right, we hired my friend Bob, who knew more about the world of James Bond than I ever would. But what of the role-players out there who weren’t necessarily fans of James Bond? The game had to be designed to let them into this special world with as little pain as possible. That was the question: do I design a complex game for the veteran role player, or an introductory game transparent to the beginner? As in the manner of all things in the world, I compromised. ‘Twas the best decision I ever made.
The essence of the design was accomplished during a trip to the Antietam Civil War battlefield with Eric Lee Smith, a Victory designer noted for his Civil War simulations. He had been a fan of one roleplaying game that used a Difficulty Factor, and, as we were driving, he suggested I use that idea as the central focus of the game. We continued to talk as we walked in the Cornfield, the Sunken Road, and through the streets of that sleepy Maryland town. By the time we returned to Washington, the essence of the game – the Ease Factors, Quality Ratings, and Hero Points – had taken shape in my mind. From those beginnings, the game system grew very rapidly and with very little trouble.
I was concerned, however, with the people who would play the game. We aimed the game for the kids who made the roleplaying market explode. I figured if they could decipher the fantasy role-playing games that were out there, they could easily decipher any game I designed. They would be the ones who would buy the game in the beginning, and make or break the game in the long run. Young role-players, this game was designed for you!
I knew if we got the Bond information and background correct (the Fleming “effect”) the Bond fans would buy the game. Since I was designing the game systems to emulate the books while giving the players information from the movies, that would satisfy fans of both genres. And, as long as I made the game essentially simple to play, the young fans would buy it and be happy with it. I hope you are!