I AM A “COLD WAR” GAMER. I mean, I started playing wargames and roleplaying games (RPGs) in 1979 and came of “gaming” age during the Reagan years of the Cold War. While I played many different wargames, for RPGs I focused more on science-fiction than fantasy. My first RPG was what today we call Classic Traveller from Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW). After that I had a few different RPGs from World War II in Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982) to spy thrilling in James Bond 007 (Victory Games, 1983). Late in 1984 a new roleplaying game landed on my table.
In those days the Cold War seemed on the brink of going hot. This was two years after President Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech. The TV movie everyone had watched and talked about in 1983 was The Day After. We didn’t know it at the time but the 1983 Exercise Able Archer had brought us close to the brink of war. The nuclear anti-war movement was in full swing following the deployment of Pershing II and GLCMs to Europe in late 1983. The summer 1984 movie Red Dawn may not have been a box-office hit with critics but my generation soaked it in, all the more because I lived in Colorado and my friends and I could very easily imagine ourselves having to become Wolverines.
Into this cauldron of doomsday worries that GDW in November 1984 released Twilight: 2000. – Roleplaying in the Aftermath of World War III . The concept was very timely and seemed not only relevant, but possible:
THE TWILIGHT: 2000 CONCEPT
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.
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.Player’s Guide to Twilight: 2000 (ver 2.2)
Looking back on T2K now, I clearly see the game is not that much different than a medieval Europe setting. Sure, some high-tech gadgets are available, but in many ways the game is a survivalist adventure challenge. But all that really did’t matter because the setting was our worst nightmares manifested on a tabletop.
After 1984 GDW continued to evolve the T2K system and setting. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1993 and a drive by GDW to put have all their RPG titles use a common game engine led to T2K 2nd Edition where the setting moved to a sort of alternate history.
Fast forward to 2021 and we have a new fourth edition released—Twilight: 2000 – Roleplaying in the World War II That Never Was (Free League Publishing). Though nearly 40 years have passed since T2K was first released, the core setting remains quite similar:
The new edition of the apocalyptic RPG Twilight: 2000 is the fourth in the series, the first being released by Game Designers’ Workshop in 1984. Just like the original version, the new edition is set in a year 2000 devastated by war – now in an alternate timeline where the Moscow Coup of 1991 succeeded and the Soviet Union never collapsed.
Just like the original game, the new edition of Twilight: 2000 is set in a Poland devastated by war, but the game also offers an alternative Swedish setting, as well as tools for placing the game anywhere in the world.
In the game, players take roles of survivors in the aftermath of World War III – soldiers or civilians. Their goal, beyond surviving for another day, can be to find a way back home, to carve out their own fiefdom where they are, to find out more about the mysterious Operation Reset, and maybe, just maybe, make the world a little bit better again.T2K homepage, Free League Publishing
Though the setting of T2K has remained relatively the same in the latest edition, Free League Publishing is using a variation of their house system called the Year Zero Engine:
The core gameplay uses the hexcrawling system established in Mutant: Year Zero and Forbidden Lands RPGs (both Silver ENnie winners for Best Rules, in 2015 and 2019), developing it further to fit the gritty world of Twilight: 2000. The core rules build on the Year Zero Engine, but heavily adapted to fit Twilight: 2000 and its focus on gear and gritty realism.T2K homepage, Free League Publishing
Zero to 2000
The first edition of Twilight: 2000 was very math heavy both in character creation and combat. This new edition does way with lots of the math and instead uses Free League’s Year Zero Engine (YZE). There are two choices for character creation; archetypes or life path. Regardless of the character creation system used, combat is resolved by a dice pool mechanic where players roll two dice; the first is based on your skill level (d6 to d12) and the second for the connected base attribute (again d6 to d12). For a success, you must roll a 6 or higher on either die. Failures narratively matter. Players can “push your roll” with risk if success doesn’t occur on the first attempt. Player characters (PCs) can group their rolls for a better chance of success. Modifiers, if any, are expressed through “stepping up” or “stepping down” a die. Combat, which can (will?) occur very often, can be very deadly.
Free League describes the latest edition of T2K as a “hexcrawler” which they define as an “open-world campaign.” Free League tells Referees that, “This game doesn’t demand much preparation from you” (Referee’s Manual, p. 28). As long as the Referee sticks to the eight general principles of the game all should be right:
- Nowhere is safe
- Resources are scarce
- Players lead the way
- Rumors abound
- Everything is personal
- The end is never set
- Death is a part of life
- Hope never dies.
If you don’t understand what a hexcrawl is, Twilight: 2000 in Appendix I of the Referee’s Manual tells us:
Some of the very first roleplaying games relied on the exploration of a map broken down into hexes. Players would decide which hex to explore next, and the Referee would tell them what they found. Behind the scenes, Referees crafted stories from these encounters, but the players drove the story. This is the nature of a hexcrawl, and a core element of how Twilight: 2000 is played.Referee’s Manual, Appendix I
If you want to better understand how Free League envisions a hexcrawl in action, look no further than the many, many hex maps included in box of Twilight: 2000. How many maps? I’ll let the back of the box speak as well as list other relevant items:
- A huge 864 by 558mm double-sided full-color travel map.
- 15 engraved custom dice, including ammo dice and a hit location die.
- 16 modular battle maps, designed to create an endless variety of battlefields.
- 108 cardboard tokens for fighters, vehicles, conditions, and more.
- Four battle maps for specific scenario sites.
- 52 encounter cards.
- 10 initiative cards.
You know, all those maps and dice and encounter or initiative cards makes this fourth edition of Twilight: 2000 sound alot like, uh, a wargame. When you come right down to it, military roleplaying and wargaming go hand-in-hand. GDW was a wargaming company that also produced RPGs. When GDW faced the challenge of publishing a military roleplaying game in 1984 we got Twilight: 2000:
THE CHALLENGE OF MILITARY ROLE-PLAYING
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.
The first attempt at military role-playing was Eric Goldberg’s Commando (SPI, 1979), which was primarily a board game of small-unit combat that had some role-playing features. The first version of The Morrow Project (Timeline, 1980) was also mainly a set of combat rules, but the designers were perceptive enough to set it in a post-holocaust future where the players could have freedom of action. This was also the case with Aftermath (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1981), a game of paramilitary survival after a nuclear war.
These were followed by Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982), a World War II game; Recon (RPG Inc., 1982), set on the fringes of the Vietnam War; and Merc (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1983), which tried to capitalize on the brief public fascination with mercenary soldiers fighting in Third-World nations. None of these games met with sustained success. It looked as there might not really be a steady market for military RPGs until GDW released Frank Chadwick’s Twilight: 2000 in 1984. Once again the setting was after civilization was shattered by World War III, but this time background was more believable and worked out in great detail. The rules were unexciting but solid, and GDW supported them with a steady stream of scenarios and supplements that catered to players’ fascination with modem military machinery.Lawrence Schick, Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games
Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books 1991 via FFE
Let’s also not forget that one of the supplements for the first edition of Twilight: 2000 was actually a wargame. Last Battle (GDW, 1989) was a “man-to-man, tank-to-tank game of high intensity personal combat.” This single game had two distinctive uses:
Two Distinct Games
Last Battle ad copy
- A system for resolving combat in the role-playing game Twilight: 2000.
- A stand-alone board game. As a Twilight: 2000 board game, Last Battle quickens vehicle and troop combat resolution while preserving the detail and flavor that has made the role-playing game so popular. As a complete, stand-alone board game, Last Battle is the ultimate simulation of immediate post-holocaust warfare.
The new fourth edition of Twilight: 2000 is not a true wargame, but it certainly can be viewed as a fairly comprehensive set of skirmish-scale wargame rules using characters created by the players. If I had to place Twilight: 2000 on a spectrum of RPGs to wargames, I think T2K would end up to just (barely) the left of of center (i.e. an RPG but with many wargame-like elements).
“Good Luck. You’re On Your Own Now”
If there is one line that is iconic inTwilight: 2000, it is the final transmission from Headquarters at the start of the adventure: “Good luck. You’re on your own now.” While this simple phrase is used to show the transition of the players from military discipline to depending upon their own means, I didn’t expect 4th edition to lean so far into the meaning that the game becomes solo, or truly a game “on your own.” RPGs are, by nature, social events. Players usually are led by a game master or referee or the like on an adventure. So it was a bit surprising to see Appendix I: Solo Rules in the Referee’s Manual of Twilight: 2000 (4th edition). This appendix tells us:
These rules should be considered guidelines for your solo game. You, the player, have total agency. We’ve provided a host of prompts, tables, and ideas to help form your progress through the hexcrawl of your world. What you find may be random – how you tie it together as a narrative need not be. Saddle up your troops and get ready to endure the harsh world of Twilight: 2000 as a single player.Referee’s Manual, Appendix I
Actually, I should not be surprised to see an “adventure by encounters” game able to run solo. Even my beloved Classic Traveller RPG has a solo option using Playing Solo Classic Traveller (Zozer Games, 2022). To be quite honest, even my recently acquired Five Parsecs from Home: Solo Adventure Wargaming (Modiphius, 2022) should have shown me the way.
What’s Old is New Again
When I mentioned in my Twitter feed that I had acquired the latest edition of Twilight: 2000, one commentator ruefully tweeted their disappointment in the lack of support Free League appears to be giving T2K as evidenced by the dearth of new materials. That same worry was in the back of my mind; that is, until I reached Appendix II of the Referee’s Manual.
Appendix II: Conversion Rules allows you to “convert PCs, NPCs, weapons, and vehicles from the 1st and 2nd editions of Twilight: 2000 to the 4th edition.” It goes on to state, “You can also use these guidelines to create 4th edition stats for any vehicles and weapons in the world.”
I’m fortunate enough to have physical copies of many 1st edition materials, and what I don’t have in deadtree form I have on a CD from Far Future Enterprises that also has the 2nd edition materials. For me, the lack of support from Free League is not as troublesome, but I certainly understand (and deeply empathize) with those T2K players that don’t have the same back library as I do. Given the “attention” that Free League has given to newer titles like their ALIEN – The Roleplaying Game and the forthcoming Blade Runner- The Roleplaying Game I can only guess that the company has made the deliberate decision to leave T2K as it is.
Let’s be honest here; it would not be incorrect to describe Twilight: 2000 (4th Edition) as a solo-ready wargame played through roleplaying encounters. To get the maximum enjoyment out of the game and go beyond the provided (basic) adventures the Referee/Player(s) will need to go beyond what’s in the box, maybe even leveraging older but related titles.
That’s not a bad thing…but it’s not necessarily the best thing going either.
Feature image courtesy Free League Publishing.