Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Retrospective: Operation: Rapidstrike!

I have many fond memories of TSR's espionage roleplaying game, Top Secret. My friends and I regularly played it as part of our rotation of RPGs that weren't Dungeons & Dragons. Though Top Secret is not without its problems, we had a lot of fun with it. I typically acted as the Administrator, which meant that it fell to me to come up with the missions for the player character agents. This rarely bothered me; I'd seen enough espionage-related movies and TV shows to have ready sources of ideas. 

Like many referees, though, I sometimes appreciated having someone else do the heavy lifting for me, which is where pre-made adventures like Operation: Rapidstrike! came in. Written by Mike Carr (of In Search of the Unknown fame) and Corey Koebernick (husband of the Jean Wells) and published in 1980, Rapidstrike! is the first adventure module sold separately from the Top Secret boxed set. Consequently, I was quite keen to pick it up after its release, hoping that it would make a nice change of pace from my own "original" scenarios.

The character agents are assigned to infiltrate a pharmaceutical research facility located on an island off the coast of Africa. The facility is owned by a wealthy Frenchwoman, Geneviève Larreau, with a history of anti-Western agitation. Also located on the island is Felix Fendelmann, a Nobel Prize-winning Swiss scientist who disappeared from his laboratory several months previously. Reliable sources suggest that Fendelmann is developing Zucor, "a mind-expanding drug of incredible power," which Larreau hopes to use to undermine the nations of Europe and North America. All in all, it's a fairly typical plot for the pulpy spy thrillers of the era, not too different, for example, from 1969's Bond outing, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

As an adventure, Operation: Rapidstrike! is, in effect, a dungeon crawl, with the characters sneaking from room to room of Larreau's facility, fighting her guards and evading the traps placed therein. As I would later discover, this is more or less the template of most Top Secret adventures published by TSR. There's not a lot of espionage to be had here; it's mostly an infiltration and elimination module, with the requisite amount of gunplay and associated mayhem. I don't think any of us much minded at the time, since Top Secret's various combat-related sub-systems were among its attractions for us. Likewise, the module was originally intended, as Carr explains in his foreword, for use at a GenCon tournament, which necessitated a fairly straightforward – and deadly – scenario. (I continue to wonder how the history of the hobby might have changed had fewer of TSR's published modules not originated in the tournament scene.)

Nowadays, I'd judge Operation: Rapidstrike! a fair bit more harshly than would my younger self. As I said, it's a rather limited, smash-and-grab situation, more like a special operations mission than something calling for the world's greatest spies. Mind you, that's the eternal problem with espionage roleplaying games: how do you incorporate more than a couple of player characters into a campaign without its becoming a mess? Parties of dungeon explorers make sense, but spies? Not so much, hence the inevitable morphing of the game's ostensible genre into something more closely resembling SEAL Team Six (or, more likely, the A-Team) than anything from James Bond or The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Despite these criticisms, I nevertheless retain an affection for Rapidstrike! My friends and I enjoyed ourselves while using it, which is the ultimate seal of approval when it comes to entertainment of this sort. Nowadays, I think the module's main value might be in some of its artwork, created by the likes of such legends as Jeff Dee, David LaForce, Bill Willingham, Jim Roslof, and Erol Otus. Otus, in particular, offers up some truly memorable illustrations, such as this one depicting the effects of the drug Zucor on any agent foolish enough to ingest it. Good times!

3 comments:

  1. I could see this adventure being used as the final act of a multi phase adventure. First part is the investigation of the missing scientist. Second, maybe getting the clues to locate him. The third, this adventure. This adventure may have been a tournament module TSR used to print back in the day

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  2. Top Secret always appealed to my group, but it wasn't until MSPE and Espionage showed up that "modern" rpgs took over the majority of our gaming. We played TS occasionally when we wanted a bit of break. We had blast with Operation:Sprechenwhatever it was in the OB, and we also played an adventure or two from Dragon Magazine. However Rapidstrike was my favorite- this is exactly the type of scenario we loved the most- covert and overt paramilitary actions, assassinations, prisoner rescues/recoveries, etc.

    And yes, the art is fantastic. Roslof, Dee, and Willingham were my fave TSR artists from the Gary days. Not my only favorites, but THE favorites.

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