|One of the earliest RPGs I ever|
When I first began thinking about tackling this genre, what struck me was the wide variety of inspirations available for it -- all of which add to and muddle up the understanding of it. Furthermore, there are related genres that sometimes cross over (plausibly) into the same space as the espionage genre, confusing things further.
Before we go on, therefore, I'd like to take some time to explore my understanding and classification of some of these sub-genres, meta-genres, uber-genres, etc. But instead of arguing genre, I'd like to tackle them as distinct campaign premises, and explore them from the point of view of creating an RPG campaign around that campaign premise.
So here's the first one:
The Lone Spy / Super Spy
A lone spy is surprisingly close to real life espionage, but different enough to be enjoyable in play. Does anyone really want to play the role of a deep cover mole, spending years of life in obscurity waiting to be activated? Well you could, in a one-shot adventure. But it's not much of a campaign.
Instead, you get to play the operative sent into the field with a prepared cover story and fake IDs. You're out to gather intelligence, to meet up with assets, to counter the agendas of enemy agents, to secure valuable prototypes or to sabotage the plans of your enemies. You don't get to carry weapons unless they fit in with your cover story. You don't get a neat gadget from your Tech division each mission you go out on.
This is exactly what we see of Bond in the movie Dr. No: he isn't an expert in all things yet; he doesn't get multiple super-spy gadgets yet; and he comes across as M's classic "blunt instrument".
Ridiculousness aside, he's not superhuman. He has his frailties, not the least of which is the tendency to die if he's shot in the head or dropped from a great height. He actually comes across like an RPG character who's been played for years and has garnered so much experience that he doesn't quite now where to spend it.
And based on the difficulties that he encountered during those missions -- difficulties brought on by his opponents and his employers -- it's no wonder he resigned and became The Prisoner. (Not official but it's clear it was meant to be the same character.)
Anyway, as a campaign premise it can be pretty limited. It's a two player campaign (GM and Player), possibly more, but all other Players get to be supporting characters who don't necessarily continue into the next mission. What if they want their own chance in the limelight?
Well, that leads us into the next campaign premise: the Differentiated Duo.