Classified: The Role-Playing Game of Covert Operations
Author: Joseph Browning
Illustrator: Mike Perry
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
Page Count: 137
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $10
Print – $20
Clone, Retro Clone is not just a catchy title; it’s true. Classified is a retro-clone of Victory Games’ James Bond 007: Role Playing in her Majesties Secret Service. The rules are a facsimile of the original with a slight variation. It’s a universal covert operations role-playing game where players are agents of a spy organization or freelance operatives performing covert services. Even the rules are presented in fourteen compartmentalized chapters beginning with character creation.
Classified uses a point-buy system for character creation. The amount of points used to build a character is determined by the level of experience players chose; these are Rookies, Agents, or Special Agents. Special Agents receive the most points to spend. They will have higher skill levels than the others but with the disadvantage of having a higher reputation. A high reputation causes them to be recognized easier by opposing forces. In the world of clandestine activities, anonymity is key. A lesser experienced agent has the advantage of anonymity.
Before spending points, players first choose their characters’ physical parameters—appearance, height, weight, age, gender, etc. This step in most games has little bearing on gameplay, but in Classified, it matters. As mentioned above, each character has a reputation: the higher their reputation, the more likely the chance of being recognized. Characters with physical characteristics that make them stand out in a crowd, pretty, fat, or just odd-looking, get a higher reputation because they are more memorable. The closer a character is to average in appearance, the lower the reputation and are less likely to be remembered. However, characters who choose attractive appearances will find seducing or charming NPCs easier.
After players have determined their character’s appearance, they may start spending points on their characteristics. Classified uses five characteristics:
, Strength, Dexterity, Willpower, Perception, and Intelligence. Their values are used in calculating the base ratings for skills. Characters receive a couple of important skills free at their base rating. All skills may later rise above their base values by purchasing ranks. Characters also receive three abilities and one skill of their choice to turn into an ability. Abilities use fixed values set at a high level and do not improve like skills. The skill section features 25 skills to choose from, including necessary descriptions, the time needed to complete the skilled task, the results for success, information gained, and a task’s repair time if applicable.
If a player needs more points to build their character, they may opt to give their character a weakness. Weaknesses come in two types, distractions and fears. Character points are awarded based on the weakness. Classified has a list, but it’s far from complete. The Gamemaster and players may create their own. Weaknesses are used to hinder the character in a session.
Classified agents don’t come into existence out of nothing. Each character has a former profession before becoming an agent. There are eight previous professions to choose from; every year spent in a profession awards extra character points to spend on skills linked to these professions. It also adds points to their reputation. With each profession comes Fields of Experience. Fields of Experience are specific knowledge or tasks gained from working in said field. They are like skills but don’t require a dice roll. They are automatically successful when used and reflect common knowledge learned while in that profession. The keeper may enact them on the players’ behalf to provide insight into a situation they were not actively aware of, but their characters would.
Finishing up character creation, there are a few derived statistics based on their characteristics like how much a character can carry, how fast they run or swim, their quickness to react, stamina, and base damage for unarmed attacks. Beginning equipment and starting cash are subject to a character’s current affiliation with an organization or freelance operative. Those who work for an organization receive funds and equipment as needed for the task at hand. In comparison, freelance operatives will have to work with their Gamemaster to “kit out” their character as Classified leaves this area open to interpretation.
Reputation, Hero Points, and Experience
A character’s reputation plays a big part in Classified. Characters with high reputations may lower them by faking their deaths, wear disguises, or scrubbing databases that hold information on them. Player characters and NPCs have reputations. As such, they may challenge each other through reputation checks to learn each other’s identities. As characters gain experience through missions, their reputation increases based on the missions conducted, killing henchmen and villains.
Agents in Classified are larger-than-life heroes and should always have the advantage. Hero points grant them this edge. Hero Points are a commodity to spend on modifying dice results, alter success values, reducing wounds, or alter something in the environment to aid them at the Gamemaster’s discretion. Characters begin with Hero Points at character creation and gain more through gameplay as rewards for exceptional successes. The specifics are outlined in the rulebook. Players may spend their Hero points to aid another.
After a character completes a mission, they earn experience points to spend on improving themselves. Players may spend points on gaining or raising ranks in a skill, reducing one’s reputation, gaining or modifying equipment, or increasing one’s characteristics. All unspent points may be saved for later use.
Dice resolutions are calculated with a bit of math and table referencing. The first part of dice resolutions requires using the base value of a character’s characteristics, skills, or abilities. The base value is then multiplied by a Difficulty Factor. Difficulty Factors range from one-half for very difficult actions to 10 for very easy actions. The sum of the equation is referenced on the Success Chance column in the Success Quality Table, imparting the numerical qualifications needed to achieve one of the four levels of success. Percentile dice are rolled. Results of 100 or failing to achieve the lowest success level is a failure. All other results will fall within one of the levels of success. If you’re happier executing villains than equations, Classified makes things a little easier by providing a multiplication table cross-referencing Difficulty Factor and base chance directly on the character sheet. The Gamemaster also gets the same table next to the Success Quality Table in the book. It sounds a lot more complicated than it really is.
Combat in Classified is like most other action-packed roleplaying games. Combat takes place in phases—the declaration phase and the action phase. Characters with greater speed ratings get an advantage over slower characters and NPCs. They get to declare their actions last after everyone else and act first in the action phase. Once an action is declared, it can not be changed except in a Draw Situation. Draws only occur when an NPC is firing at a character. A character can declare a Draw Situation in which they may get a shot off first even if they have already taken action as long as they have not fired their weapon. The NPC and character roll to see who gets their shot off first using a series of modifiers to their speed.
Movement distance in combat is based on a character’s speed in feet. Combat movement is not granular. No rules are present for the use of miniature, but one can use them if they wish. Combat movement and placement are done with amenable descriptions and theater of the mind. The same goes for taking cover or running in zig-zags to avoid incurring damage. There might be modifications to a roll, but as long as the players and Gamemaster have an understanding, there shouldn’t be any need to get too technical.
Classified provided typical combat rules for hand-to-hand and ranged weapons. They offer special hand-to-hand maneuvers that deal a varying amount of damage and specific rules for firearms like taking aim or firing on multiple targets. There shouldn’t be anything surprising for seasoned gamers.
Wounds, Healing, & Death
At some point, characters are going to sustain wounds. Wounds are tracked on the character sheet in four stages, light, medium, heavy, and incapacitated. Wounds levels are additive and increase with each wound until the last level is exceeded and death occurs. Hero points may be used to immediately reduce a character’s wound rank, or a successful first aid check within an hour will do the same. A character will heal naturally over time or with a hospital stay. The level of the wound sustained is dictated by its source and reduced by any protection worn. When a character is wounded, they must make a Pain Resistance roll to avoid going unconscious.
Be it on foot or in a motor vehicle; chases are staples in spy adventures. Classified’s chase mechanic uses eight easy-to-follow steps. Chases are conducted in rounds similar to combat, with time abstracted to best fit the situation. Step one determines the current distances between the two parties. Step two sets up who decides who goes first. Both parties go back and forth, suggesting a Difficulty Number to use for the chase. The party that is willing to accept the lowest Difficulty Number for their rolls, wins. It’s kind of a “Name That Tune” approach–betting one can identify a song in fewer notes than their opponent. Step three grants the winner of step two the right to decide which side goes first. In step four, the chosen party takes their action in the form of one of the five maneuvers provided in the chase section. Step five, the same party goes again. This time they may engage in combat-related actions, like firing a weapon. Step six, the second party makes their maneuver—choosing a reactive maneuver if they wish to counter their opponents. In step seven, the second party engages in combat as the first did in step five. Step eight denotes the end of the chase or a repeat of the steps if the chase continues.
During the chase, if a party fails in their maneuver, they may cause an accident. If an accident occurs, the party can lessen the blow with a successful Control Check based on the vehicle’s Performance Limit and Difficulty Factor. If an accident occurs, a varying scale of damage is based on the maneuver performed the party performed and their Difficulty Factor Bid. Seatbelted drivers or those opting for vehicles with built-in safety features like airbags will lessen their damage results. Any damage sustained to a vehicle will reduce its performance.
Human intelligence gathering plays a big part in spy-type roleplaying games. Players should expect a lot of pressuring, persuading, seducing, and the like. Classified uses six interpersonal skills, Reaction, Persuasion, Seduction, Interrogation, Torture, and Gambling, for gameplay interactions. Each skill has its own Success Quality Table and Difficulty Modifier Chart. Most of the skills are self-explanatory, but I want to highlight two that are not so common—Torture and Gambling.
One would think Torture and Interrogation would fall under the same header, but in Classified, they are separate. Interrogation uses mild physical discomfort tactics to get a subject to talk, whereas Torture specifically inflicts physical pain to extract information. Player characters are expected to use Interrogation while Torture is used against them. A tortured person may attempt to resist. A successful Willpower test grants a character their only defense, to go unconscious. A failed Willpower test inflicting damage. Going unconscious only delays the torture and buys an agent time. Once the character regains consciousness, there is nothing to stop the torturer from starting again. Information is extracted from a subject based on the level of success of an interrogation or torture skill test.
Gambling is the odd duck among the other interpersonal skills. Yes, gambling may involve bluffing, but it seems like this skill was shoehorned into this category. Never the less the Gambling Skill is unique. The Gambling skill covers an agent’s proficiency in four casino games, Baccarat, Blackjack (Twenty-one), Chemin de Fer, and Poker—converting them into simplified terms for roleplaying purposes. All four games are similar and use the same game mechanic. Participants place their bets before making their first roll which is recorded on paper to be later revealed. They get a second chance to bet before a second roll and again before the results of both rolls are revealed. The player with the greater success wins the pot. Each of the four games has its own chart which cross-references their first results with their second, giving them their final result in the contest. Along with the tables are brief explanations of each game and how they play out in a roleplaying situation.
Exploding pens, hidden microphones, garrote watches are just a few of the wonderful toys Classified agents get to play with. Classified has thirty-four pages of James Bond-inspired gadgets and other mundane equipment. The equipment section begins with firearms before moving into vehicles for land, sea, and air. Thirty vehicle modifications are available with the caveat for players or Gamemasters to create their own. The extent of vehicle customization is based upon the modification number on each vehicle. The remainder of the section covers general and specialty gadgety—the best part of any spy movie or roleplaying game. Each piece of equipment comes with descriptions, any necessary game mechanics, and cost, if applicable. There is so much to choose from; you won’t be disappointed.
Classified provides a section on gamemastering with the usual topics, how to build and run adventures. This section is not long—only a few pages. It swiftly takes the Gamemaster through the important elements for creating a successful Classified game before heading into the next section with ready-to-use contacts and adversaries. This section has a good amount of information; not just stated NPCs. There is a section aiding the gamemaster in creating their own NPCs as well as contacts and other covert operatives. There are two large random encounter tables for hot and cold situations—hot being dangerous situations, and cold represent encounters in relatively safe areas. A detailed description of each outcome aids the gamemaster in keeping the story flowing.
What would a covert operations roleplaying game be without an adversarial organization to pit characters against. Classified’s big adversarial organization is called Osiris. Osiris is an international organization consisting of highly intelligent, persistent, wealthy individuals who wish to dismantle nation-states and replace them with a solitary authoritarian rule which they will head. Classified breaks down the Osiris organization into seven detailed departments. Each one hosts full character bios, statistics for its leaders, and goals. Their existence and activities are well shrouded, and most intelligence agencies have little knowledge of their operations. That is until player characters’ agents start infiltrating and gathering intelligence. Osiris or the like is a must for any spy game.
A retro-clone it may be, but it doesn’t hold the same information as the original—Classified strips out all proprietary information making the setting generic. Gone is anything referencing James Bond or related to the franchise. The sections on M.I.6, casino gambling life, James Bond as a non-player character, Tarot organization, allies and enemies of James Bond, thrilling cites, and starting adventure are gone. Some items like Osiris replaces Tarot and the like. With the selective editing, I noticed some elements got lost within the text, whereas in the original James Bond 007, they were more prominent. On the Success Quality Table, a missing reference key led me to look in my James Bond 007 book for the answer. I later found the answer in Classified, hidden in a wall of text on a previous page. It shouldn’t have been that hard to find or needed to reference the original.
I found other elements in Classified off-putting. There is no introduction. The first sentence of the book tells the reader how many characteristics Classified characters use and their names. I like things straight to the point but not this straight. I also have an issue with the layout of the book. The layout uses two columns. One with a wide column, taking up most of the page, that holds the majority of copy and a narrower column to its right that hosts examples and tables. The narrow column makes sense from a design standpoint. It allows quick reference of important elements. The problem is all the subheads are placed in the narrow column on the right instead of their proper place in the wider column on the left with the body copy they are introducing. Not to mention all the pages, whether they are left or right-facing pages, use this same layout format; the wider column on the left and the narrower column on the right.
As a retro-clone, Classified does deliver. The rules presented are a simulacrum of the original with a slight variance—not 100% interchangeable. Classified does present the same style of gameplay as the original, just with serial numbers scratched off to make it generic. I can’t help but suggest anyone interested in this game first try and locate the original James Bond 007 game. There are plenty of them in the aftermarket at reasonable prices. You might even find it for less than the print version of Classified. The original had so much more to offer in the way of content, plus it came in a box, something we grognards have a hard time resisting. Though if you’re looking for something unthemed and a little more streamlined than the original Classified will fit the bill.