In 1980 TSR had already started to expand its role-playing brand with the addition of Gamma World, but they didn’t stop at the post-apocalyptic market.
Enter the espionage role-playing game Top Secret. Written by Merle M. Rasmussn [probably a fictitious character] and edited by Allen Hammack, this boxed set featured a full game book and adventure that would become the standard arms for most TSR boxed games until the mid-1980s.
I played the game only once, but would have loved to give it a nice campaign shot if the DM was right for it [someone who could run a Bond-like style]. I can’t speak to the mechanics, but I can attest to the art, which is what drives this post.
The cover never truly captured me as I’m a fan of ink and painting, not photography, but I have to say the random ‘leg’ of the woman in the shot has intrigued me for nearly 30 years. The composition for this piece was put together by photographer Stu Ferguson, and it serves its purpose to introduce you to a spy dossier.
Inside, however, we see the full force of the 1980 TSR pit. Artists Jeff Dee, Greg Fleming, David Laforce [before his was Diesel], Erol Otus, Darlene Pekul, Jim Roslof, David C. Sutherland III, and Bill Willingham all take part in bringing this game to life.
Dee’s work is the most prolific and inspiring, his style here perfectly ready to capture the fashion of the late 1970s and translate it to spy chic. His inside cover piece has to be one of my favorite from any supplement he ever did, and certainly isn’t as widely known as his standard D&D work.
Willingham falls a bit flat with this game, and I have to wonder if he was phoning it in or just refining his craft. He does, however, give you one of his ‘women in jeopardy’ shots that I got so accustomed to in his D&D portfolio.
Otus is hit and miss, one of his pieces perhaps the worst I’ve seen on any work for TSR, but he brings respect back with a nice ACME raid piece that I’ve provided here in this article.
Otherwise the last standout piece is probably from Darlene who brings us a ‘ripped’ shot of Diana Rigg from her Avengers days. The piece only fits because of the reference, but I have to say it is as good as anything Tim Bradstreet would crank out a decade later for his early FASA work.
In all, Top Secret hits the spot, and I don’t have too much to complain about artistically, especially with all the names involved.
Artistic Rating: 3 [our of 5]