#RPG Thursday – The “History” of Twilight 2000 (GDW, 1984) -or- What plausible are YOU looking for?

Twilight: 2000 is one of my oldest, most beloved roleplaying systems in my collection. I still have my original boxed First Edition (1984). I also bought both the complete collections for Twilight: 2000 v1 and Twilight: 2000 v2 on the CD-ROM several years ago from Far Future Enterprises. I took a look at Twilight: 2013 or what some refer to as Twilight: 2000 v3 using the Reflex System in the late 2010’s but didn’t buy into it. Most recently I considered the Free League Kickstarter campaign for a new Twilight: 2000 but didn’t buy into it. What I love about Twilight: 2000 (T2K) is that it is a modern military roleplaying game.

In the past few days I came across this video from the Complex Game Apologist on YouTube and watched.

Now, generally I like CGA mostly because he talks about the Traveller RPG. I say ‘generally’ because he focuses more on the recent versions of Traveller (especially Mongoose Traveller 2.0). I don’t always agree with him but I often give him the benefit of the doubt.

Not this time.

I’m going to try to ignore the obvious problem of having a self-named millennial (note the right spelling) in a BLM t-shirt tell me about what it was like growing up in the Cold War. Instead I will focus on what I think CGA misses – Twilight: 2000 is a ‘plausible’ concept for a modern military roleplaying game; the timeline serves the purpose of getting to that concept, any historical accuracy or ‘plausibility’ of the setting is secondary to the need to get at that core concept.

The core of CGA’s argument is found starting at the 19:57 minute mark in this 27:48 minute video. Here is my transcription of his words:

The game is married to this version of a four year war. We can see the troops really entrench, bond with each other. We can see see millions of Americans kidnapped or “drafted” [air quotes used] off the street to fight in Central Europe. And to my eyes in the year 2020 it feels like it wants that more than it wants to be plausible. At least I need a reason why the war goes on that long.

In 2006 Far Future Enterprises published for free online the Player’s Guide to Twilight: 2000 (version 1.0). I think an extensive quote from that document is key to understanding what the designer’s wanted the game to be.

Serious role-playing games are built around drama, and there is no situation more dramatic than that of a soldier in wartime, so you might think the military is a natural setting for role- playing. However, RPGs work best in anarchic situations— where the player characters are their own bosses— and, in the army, discipline and coordinated group action are the keys to success. To get around this, the most successful military RPGs have settings where small groups can act with a large degree of autonomy, on commando raids, during guerilla warfare, or (most popular of all) after civilization has broken down due to holocaust or invasion.

What I think CGA misses is that the setting of T2K is actually very similar to many classic Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. The initial T2K setting in effect is medieval Europe except instead of wandering knights you have a band of US military personnel trying to escape home. This is where I think CGA runs off the rails in his video. CGA clearly wants a Twilight: 2000 that he defines as “more plausible.” so he redefines the alternate history scenario. What I think CGA misses is that the T2K setting is NOT designed to be ‘realistic’, it simply serves as a vehicle to get us to a dramatic modern military setting for a roleplaying game.

Here is the concept for T2K as presented in the Players Guide:

Five years ago, the nations of the world began their war for global supremacy.

Three years ago, a massive nuclear exchange failed to give any side the decisive advantage they sought.

One year ago, the US Fifth Infantry Division launched a drive into enemy-held Poland, part of an offensive to knock the Soviets back to their homeland.

It failed. Now the Red Diamond is deep in enemy territory, reduced to small units without support, supply, or reinforcement. The war for Europe has turned into the war for survival.

Now what?

GDW presents a new concept in role-playing. World War III began five years ago. It’s still going on, but that’s the least of your problems. A few days ago, you were soldiers in the U.S. 5th Division. Now you’re just fighting to survive while the world falls apart around you.

Welcome to 2000 AD. Your equipment was brand new in 1995; now it’s wearing out. Gasoline is rare, so your vehicles run on alcohol you distill yourself. And 5th Division’s cavalry—when there was a 5th Division—rode horses. There’s not much government left in central Europe, just warlords, marauders, and free cities. Even the major powers are collapsing; some units, even whole divisions, are refusing orders and heading home.

Your division is gone, and you’re hundreds of kilometers inside enemy territory; fortunately, the Soviets aren’t in much better shape than you are.

Your job is to stay alive, find enough fuel and spare parts to keep moving, get home (wherever that is), and maybe even strike at the enemy.

The real trick in designing a role-playing game is to produce detailed, accurate effects with simple systems. That takes inspiration and a lot of work, and that’s what we did. Twilight: 2000’s comprehensive rules cover combat, skills, survival, encounters, and more with easy-to- use and flexible but well-defined systems.

I actually find it a bit sad that CGA is so hard-over on the need to redefine the alternate history in order to enjoy this game. Instead of embracing a plausible setting concept he seems intent on redefining the setting history to make that timeline ‘plausible’ to him. I feel that, in the end, his political blinders will prevent him from enjoying any version of Twilight: 2000. It’s not the setting that is the plausible focus but the potential drama derived from the concept of modern military roleplaying that makes Twilight: 2000 enjoyable. That is what made Twilight: 2000 enjoyable in 1984 and that is what can make Twilight: 2000 enjoyable in 2020.

Cold War Boomer, out!

3 comments

  1. Great post; though I haven’t watched the video myself, I agree with your view about trying to ’fit’ T2K into a ‘realistic’ environment. With any game you ‘take part’ in the background that is presented and to a certain degree, take it at face value. If you’re going to take it apart to make it fit into a more ‘realistic’ setting, would it be better to simply play a different game with just a set of core mechanics? From a Gen X’er that grew up in the Cold War… 😉

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