#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!

BREAKING #BOARDGAME NEWS Coruscant News Network Exclusive – Emperor Palapatine proclaims Week of Celebration for crushing the rebellion. A Star Wars: Rebellion (@FFGames, 2016) News Event

Capital /Coruscant News Network (CNN) – Emperor Palapatine proclaimed a Week of Celebration today following the news the devious rebel alliance was crushed by loyal forces of the Empire in the Ryloth System. An Imperial Navy news release stated, “The upstart rebellion, those miscreants who talked of law and order but were actually forces of anarchy, met their end in the Ryloth System when Imperial Navy and Army forces led by Grand Moff Tarkin and Lord Vader discovered their secret base and utterly destroyed it.” Grand Moff Tarkin himself was quoted as saying, “The more we tightened our grip, the fewer systems slipped through our fingers.”

Sources tell CNN that forces under General Veers originally tracked the rebels to Yavin, but the rebels escaped at the last minute. “The pursuit necessitated subjugating several systems, like Kashyyyk, which was in total rebellion. The indigenous Wookies, who refused to culturally assimilate into the Galactic Order, were dealt with severely, but fairly,” according to a staff officer of who was not authorized to talk on the record. (Several million Wookies were unavailable for comment.)

Meantime, confusion continues with regards to the Bothawui System. Rumors persist that Bothawui suffered a “serious seismic event” that resulted in the catastrophic destruction of the entire planet. The Imperial Palace itself denies any knowledge of what actually happened, although the social media network Gliiter continues to carry a ‘gleet attributed to Emperor Palapatine himself in which he says, “BOOM! FULLY OPERATIONAL!” Amateur hyperspace trackers also report that the unfortunate event was preceded by the arrival of Imperial Battlestation #1, more commonly called Death Star, which may have been present for the destruction of the planet. (Imperial Navy HQ was queried about these reports but CNN was advised to submit a Freedom of Information Act request, which was subsequently denied.)

In celebrity news, Lord Vader was sighted with a strapping young man dressed in all black and carrying his own “light saber.” Gossip is that the young gent, known as Luke to to his oldest friends, hails from Tatooine. The always secretive Lord Vader also has not commented on several HoloTube vids that surfaced recently where Luke is overheard addressing Lord Vader as “father.”

In other news from Tatooine, Jabba the Hutt announced a new exhibition called “Smugglers in Carbonite.” He also invites all to see the latest sexy accessory in his entourage, the former Princess Leia of Alderaan.


Feature image courtesy businessinsider.com.au

#WargameWednesday “The Great Pacific War”

The Great Pacific War 1940-1944 by Don Baumgartner (Self Published, ISBN 9781493580569); Middletown, DE; Printed 15 May 2016.

As a long-time fan of the Admiralty Trilogy series of naval wargames, I religiously read The Naval SITREP. Issue #50 (April 2016) included a small half-page review of The Great Pacific War 1940-1944. Though not very well marketed as such, this is definitely an alternate history book. For a naval wargamer, it can be a sourcebook for scenarios or campaign inspiration.

The major historical point of departure is the death of Hitler during the Munich Crisis of 1939. Upon his death, the path towards war in Europe halts, allowing the author to explore a “what if” situation where the British Empire and Japan instead clash in the Far East. The story of these titanic naval battles are laid out in the book and each battle can easily be converted into a tactical scenario and gamed out.

Style-wise, the book could use a good editor and I encourage the author to get help laying the book out properly. Font selection should be reviewed because in my copy, all the 10’s digits are rendered as the letter “I” meaning we get “I4” guns. The maps could also use some work for they lack consistency in appearance or even orientation. Finally, tables and photos could use layout help.

Alternate history is hard. It is very easy to take historical reality, file off some serial numbers, rearrange letters, and say you have an alternate history (I’m looking at you, Mr. Turtledove. Naming the tank commander Morrel instead of Rommel? Really!) The problem in this book is that not enough changes. The author takes historical battles, moves them to to a different location (though often not that far from the original) and drops in a different set of combatants. Without needing to look too close between the lines, one can find the battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and night actions around The Slot off Guadalcanal. The result are battles not unlike what historically happened, but with the British generally substituted for the Americans.

It is easy to find a copy of Royal Navy Strategy in the Far East 1919-1939: Preparing for War Against Japan by Andrew Field (I used my public library privileges to search online databases and get my copy). Field lays out how the British thought they were going to fight, not how the Americans and Japanese eventually duked it out. There is enough difference between Field and Baumgartner that I (reluctantly) have to say that The Great Pacific War missed a golden opportunity. The British view of naval airpower was different than the US or Japan (for instance, see Geoffrey Till, “Adopting the aircraft carrier: The British, American, and Japanese case studies” in Military Innovation in the Interwar Period). Exploring those differences are what I find really intriguing and the stuff that makes for interesting games. Unfortunately, Baumgartner’s  The Great Pacific War does not delve down into this form of “what if.”

Is The Great Pacific War worth purchasing? For a serious naval wargamer its probably worth it, if for no other reason than scenario inspiration. The background and orders of battle would make good material for a convention game. But if one really wants to explore the “what if” of the British and Japanese fighting it out at sea, it may be better to look elsewhere.

SciFi Friday – Ack-Ack Macaque

Courtesy Solaris Editors’ Blog

What can I say? A book that has monkeys and Zeppelins over Paris on the cover has to be interesting, right? As the author himself explains:

“It’s a genre mash-up between a noir detective story, set in 2059, but on top of that you have an embedded steampunk adventure with the titular monkey,” Powell told the SFX website in an interview. “And then it surfs into a sci-fi, alternate history, detective, dieselpunk mash-up.” (Quote taken from here – but beware of SPOILERS at both links).

From the back-cover:

In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque.’ The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence.
 
A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins circle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.
The entire first chapter is available here. Read it. Get the book. If you are like me you will be pleasantly surprised at the story. As much as one might “think” they can tell what the story is from the cover, the back cover blurb, and the sample chapter, I am happy to say it is better than that.
As one reviewer summarized it:

 It’s an over-the-top, verbally caffeinated adventure story with smart, nasty ideas and plenty of pulp. What makes it truly special is Ack-Ack, the action hero who can cut through any strategy session or infodump:

“Yap, yap, yap. So we’ve all got a stake in this. That’s why we’re here. Can we get on and do something now? ‘Cos personally speaking, I’m (expletive) off and I want to break stuff and hurt people.” (Same SPOILER link as above).

Courtesy Allposters.com

In another interview, author Gareth L. Powell was asked “Who would play the monkey?” His immediate response was John Belushi as seen in the movie 1941. Looking back on publicity shots of the movie, one can tell it is a great answer, and yet another reason to read this book!