Top Secret

Top Secret’s H2H system


Having discussed the concept of lethality in espionage games, it seems like a good time to bring up the Top Secret hand-to-hand combat system. Like any good old school product, it’s intricate, quirky, and uses a giant chart!

The idea is actually rather simple. Each opponent (secretly) decides what their attack and defenses are going to be at the beginning of each round, and then reveal them simultaneously in order to determine the outcome.

For example, let’s assume you’re playing an agent who’s found herself in a dark alley and is being confronted by a circus roustabout. You’re good at boxing and want to attack with an uppercut to the head; if your opponent decided to use the weave defense, then you would have missed, but if they chose to Duck instead, it would have resulted in an “X” (meaning you would have rolled on the moderate damage table for 3 – 7 points of damage).

Sound interesting?

It is; at least in theory. In practice, it’s a fairly cumbersome process that reminds me of a DragonQuest game I played one night in 1981 (the very definition of “prolonged struggle”). Here’s an example from the rulebook:

Achmet, with his knife in the right hand, will attack on the knife fighting table using a Right Attack to the Abdomen. Yonny will attack on the Martial Arts Table using a Right Hand Attack to the Groin and a Left Leg Attack to the Kidney. On the Knife Fighting Table, Yonny choose Left Block as his defense, while Achmet chooses Center Block and Left Leg Catch as his defenses on the Martial Arts Table.

A Right Attack to the Abdomen against a Left Block results in no effect as does a Left Leg to the Kidney attack against a Left Leg Catch. A Right Hand Attack to the Groin against a Left Leg Catch is a result of “V.” A roll of 17 indicated 0 points of damage, plus 1 for Yonny’s Fitness Rating (for a total of 1 point).

See what I mean? I took a nap halfway through typing this!

The Top Secret Companion does provide rules to strip hand-to-hand combat down to an easy to resolve skill roll. I’m not sold on using the easier method though, because I actually do appreciate what Merle Rasmussen was attempting to do with the hand-to-hand combat system, even if the result is a bit protracted.

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