Top Secret (role-playing game)

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Top Secret
Cover of Top Secret's core rule book (first edition)
Designer(s) Merle M. Rasmussen (original edition)
Douglas Niles (Top Secret/S.I.)
Publisher(s) TSR
Publication date 1980 (1st ed)
February 1981 (2nd ed)
1987 (Top Secret/S.I.)
Genre(s) Spy fiction
System(s) Custom

Top Secret is an espionage-themed role-playing game written by Merle M. Rasmussen and first published in 1980 by TSR, Inc.[1]

Top Secret (original edition)[edit]

The original version of Top Secret was designed by Merle M. Rasmussen,[2] and allows players and gamemasters to build their own espionage story settings. The original boxed set of the game included a 64-page rule book and a sample adventure, "Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle". The TSR Product Code for the original boxed set is TSR-7006.[3] The game was developed over a period of two years by Rasmussen and TSR editor Allen Hammack.[2] As part of the playtesting for the game, a note written on TSR stationery about a fictitious assassination plot brought the FBI to the offices of TSR Hobbies.[1]

The Top Secret game is based exclusively on 10-sided dice. All character attributes and other statistics are percentiles; some scores are rolled, and some are derived from combinations of two or more other scores. Top Secret also features Areas of Knowledge, which function similarly to skills in more modern RPGs. Characters gain experience points and progress upward in level. The levels had relatively limited in-game effects (most significantly, gained experience points were divided by the character's level but the base mission pay was multiplied by the character's level).

Top Secret characters are employed in specific bureaus—Assassination (Killing), Confiscation (Theft), or Investigation (Research)—all in the structure of an unspecified espionage agency. Despite a character's primary vocation, he may be called on to perform any type of mission. The in-game effect of a character's bureau was a 100-point experience bonus for mission objectives which fall within that bureau as well as bonus mission pay for those actions specific to the chosen bureau. An appendix in the rule book lists dozens of historical and fictional espionage organizations which could serve as employers or adversaries for missions.[2]

Original edition logo

An expansion to the game, The Top Secret Companion introduced enhancements to many game components. It included additional character classes and missions, as well as new Areas of Knowledge and abilities. A revised combat system was introduced that sped up and provided more variety to combat results. New equipment and weapons were introduced as well.[4]


Information supplements[edit]

  • Administrator's Screen and Mini-Module. Corey Koebernick (1982). (Includes Operation: Executive One) ISBN 0-935696-79-2 (The agents must rescue the president, who is being held by a band of Canadian mercenaries in a haunted mansion).
  • TS007 - Top Secret Companion. Merle Rasmussen (1985). ISBN 0-88038-102-7 (Expanded rules and new equipment).

Mission modules[edit]

  • TS001 - Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle. Merle Rasmussen (1980). ISBN 0-935696-17-2 (German for "The place where speaking stops", this module details a town on the border between East and West [the exact location is never specified] where secrets and subterfuge are everywhere).
  • TS002 - Operation: Rapidstrike!. Mike Carr (1982). ISBN 0-935696-57-1 (This module details a commando raid on an enemy complex to recover a kidnapped scientist).
  • TS003 - Lady In Distress. Mike Carr (1982). (This module's plot involved agents parasailing to rescue a hijacked cruise ship. The module's ship plans were based on the MS Achille Lauro, which was seized by PLO terrorists in 1985 and resulted in the murder of one passenger.)
  • TS004 - Operation: Fastpass. Philip Taterczynski (1983). ISBN 0-88038-011-X (This module details a defection at an international puzzle tournament being held behind the Iron Curtain).
  • TS005 - Operation: Orient Express. David Cook. ISBN 0-88038-041-1 (This module contains a series of 6 adventures set on trains in Europe and rules for creating similar adventures).
  • TS006 - Operation: Ace of Clubs. Merle Rasmussen (1984). ISBN 0-394-53464-6 (The agents investigate events at The Ace of Clubs, an exclusive resort and casino operated as a front by The Agency).
  • TS008 - Operation: Seventh Seal. Evan Robinson (1985). ISBN 0-88038-134-5 (The agents have to deal with a nuclear threat by an organization that uses Tarot Cards as code names).

Modules published in Dragon magazine[edit]

  • "The Missile Mission", Dragon no. 39. Mike Carr.
  • "Doctor Yes: The Floating Island Mission", Dragon no. 48 (April 1981). Merle Rasmussen, James Thompson.
  • "Mad Merc: The Alulu Island Mission", Dragon no. 56. Merle Rasmussen, James Thompson (1981).
  • "Chinatown: The Jaded Temple", Dragon no. 62. Jerry Epperson (1982).
  • "Wacko World", Dragon no. 79. Al Taylor. (The agents must investigate a theme park).
  • "Whiteout", Dragon no. 87. Merle Rasmussen (1984). (Suspicious incidents at an Antarctic research station require the agents to go undercover to investigate).

Top Secret/S.I. edition[edit]

Top Secret/S.I.

In 1987, TSR published Top Secret/S.I. ("Special Intelligence"), a revised edition designed by Douglas Niles. The TSR Product Code for the revised boxed set is TSR-7620.[5] S.I. introduced a more structured gaming environment in which players worked as agents for secret intelligence agency ORION against its evil adversary, WEB. Later source books in the product line introduce both supernatural (Agent 13) and futuristic (F.R.E.E.Lancers) adventure settings. These settings introduced several recurring characters such as Sebastian Cord and Agent 13.

Combat system[edit]

Top Secret/S.I. uses a fast, simple combat system based on percentages. With as little as a single die roll, a player can know not only if a character was hit, but what part of the body was hit and the extent of damage.

Based on a character's stats, skills, bonuses and penalties, the gamemaster (Administrator) gives that character a certain percentage chance of hitting a given target. The player then rolls percentile dice; a result that is equal to or lower than the to-hit percentage succeeds. The hit location is determined by the 'ones' digit of the same roll, and hand-to-hand combat damage is determined by the 'tens' digit. Weapon damage ignores the 'tens' of the first roll, and requires a second roll based on the weapon's characteristics.

Character sheets[edit]

Character sheets in Top Secret/S.I. resemble agent dossiers, and are intended to provide quick and easy reference to all a player's stats and skills. They also provide a detailed map of the ten possible hit spots of a character's body, and a blank portrait area for drawing or attaching a depiction of the character.


Box sets[edit]

Accessory books[edit]

G4 File cover

Mission modules[edit]

Modules published in Dungeon magazine[edit]

  • "Operation: Fire Sale", Dungeon no. 26. John Terra.

Solo Operations Casebooks[edit]

The Final Bug cover
  • The Final Bug. Jean Blashfield (1988). ISBN 0-88038-553-7
  • Foul Play at Fool's Summit. Troy Denning (1989). ISBN 0-88038-621-5 (Note: though this module has an ISBN, it was never actually released, as the Catacombs gamebook line was cancelled before its release.)


Five novels were published by TSR from various campaign settings from Top Secret/S.I. game.


Two graphic novels based on the Pulp era setting were published.

Agent 13[edit]

TSR published eight issues of 13: Assassin comic that featured stories set in the Agent 13 campaign setting bringing the story to a more modern era (1990's). The first six issues had a back-up story set in the Top Secret/S.I. setting (ORION vs. WEB) which seemed to take place at the end of the agency's covert war. Each issue also contained a miniature game and some issues included character stats for the role-playing game.


Warhawks was a four issue comic/module series that took the Top Secret/S.I. game to a time traveling setting where characters derive powers from tattoos. The four issues featured character stats and served as a campaign book in addition to the comic book adventures.

Current status[edit]

The Top Secret brand ceased production in 1992. TSR was purchased by Wizards of the Coast in 1997, which in turn was purchased by Hasbro in 1999.


  1. ^ a b "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. Retrieved 2005-08-20. 
  2. ^ a b c Rasmussen, M. W. (1981). Top Secret Espionage Role Playing Game, second ed. Lake Geneva: TSR, Inc. ISBN 0-935696-16-4
  3. ^ (1980/81/83). Top Secret Espionage Role Playing Game, Lake Geneva: TSR, Inc.
  4. ^ "TS007: Top Secret Companion". RPGnet. 
  5. ^ (1987). Top Secret/S.I., Doug Niles, TSR 7620, ISBN 0880384077, Lake Geneva: TSR, Inc.

External links[edit]