Top Secret/SI Agent 13 Sourcebook
Top Secret/SI Agent 13 Sourcebook Capsule Review by Tim Gray on 04/10/01
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
Decent, compact resource for 1920s-30s pulp action gaming.
Product: Top Secret/SI Agent 13 Sourcebook
Author: Ray Winninger
Line: Top Secret/SI
Cost: USD 8.95/UKP 5.95
Page count: 96
Year published: 1988
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Tim Gray on 04/10/01
Genre tags: Modern day Historical Espionage
The Agent 13 Sourcebook aims to enable players of the Top Secret/SI game “to enjoy the pulp-adventure action of the 30’s”. I don’t have Top Secret/SI so I can’t comment specifically on this book’s usefulness for it, or on the suitability of its system for this genre. I’m approaching it as a resource for other games in the 1920s-30s pulp genre.
It’s a fairly short book, and easy to read. In fact, it seems pitched to be clear to a youngish audience without being condescending. The level of typos and suchlike is reasonable for a roleplaying book (i.e. they crop up every few pages but aren’t too jarring). There aren’t many pictures - they’re alright, and fit the material pretty well, but nothing memorable.
“Agent 13” seems to be a pulp TSR created itself - the book refers to “novels”, and in fact Amazon.com has listings for both novels and “game comics”, out of print but available used in some cases. Agent 13 was trained by the secret world-spanning Brotherhood, but fled when he discovered its evil aims and now fights against its schemes with the aid of a few talented cronies. There’s a chapter giving all the background on this setting, which combines lots of solid pulp elements.
The book begins, though, with an overview of adventuring in the 1930s which could be used in any game. It talks about breakneck pacing, good vs evil, and types of heroes, villains and supporting cast.
The section on character creation covers backgrounds, skills, special abilities and what-have-you for making Top Secret characters in this setting. It’s followed by some specific rules for 1930s playing. This is the system-specific part of the book, and takes 26 pages. Looks like there’s some good appropriate stuff in there. There are some obvious parallels with While Wolf’s recent ‘Adventure!’ - though A13 is leaner and simpler - and a couple of bits made me think that its authors may have read this book.
A chapter on different styles for adventures in the genre identifies 11, from gangbusters to jungle to horror. For each type there’s a discussion of what settings to use, who the heroes and villains should be, what kind of adventures to run, and a sample adventure idea in a few paragraphs. This is nice, as it gives you some points to jump off from rather than starting from a blank page.
A chapter on life in the ‘30s looks very briefly at four important countries, gives a timetable of important events and a bit on everyday stuff like entertainment and the law. Making it at least half again as long would have helped. If you want real-world information there’s not enough here to help you much. It’s definitely aimed at adventures involving America and Americans - but then, that’s true to genre.
The book ends with a sample adventure. It’s 7 pages long and not very inspiring. It illustrates some pulp-type ideas, but the earlier adventure ideas are probably more use.
Overall: if you find it at a good price it might be a useful resource for pulp-action games, and there’s little enough available for gaming in that genre. You could use the Agent 13 campaign setting with Adventure! with little trouble, or mine the adventure type material for ideas. It may not say much that's not in the White Wolf game about running this genre, but perhaps it covers it in a less cluttered way.