2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Bright memories of Twilight: 2000, 1st Ed. (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1984) #RPGThursday

Frank Chadwick. It’s a name I usually associate with wargame design, but as I look at my early roleplaying games it’s a name I also repeatedly see. Mr. Chadwick is credited as “Game Designer” for Traveller Book 4: Mercenary (GDW, 1978) and in Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982). In 1984 he designed another game, Twilight: 2000 1st Ed. (GDW). My familiarity with the name built up expectations, and I wasn’t disappointed. When I first saw Twilight: 2000 (T2K) I thought it was the coolest military roleplaying game ever. Here was a roleplaying game set in today, and you could play Army soldiers. It also seemed very, well, real. Everyday we lived with the knowledge that the Cold War could go hot anytime. In 1983, we all had watched the TV movie The Day After which made everybody (even President Reagan) think about what happens after the bombs. In the summer of 1984, just a few months before T2K released, the blockbuster movie was Red Dawn. Growing up in Colorado, that movie hit very close to home and we all sat around the lunch room talking about how we were all Wolverines. With T2K we did more than talk, we adventured in that unthinkable-yet-right-in-front-of-us world.

Red Dawn—A Twilight: 2000 version of a High School Documentary

What I remember of the first few sessions of T2K was…pain. Here I was, a long-time Traveller RPG player (5-year veteran at this point) and seeing a product from GDW I expected another simple character generation process. What I got was…lots of math. I mean, I could generate a character for Traveller on a 3×5 notecard. Most others games I played up to this point used a pretty simple character sheet; the most complicated one was James Bond 007 (Victory Games, 1983) but for a character sheet that looked complex generating that character was actually pretty straight-forward. In T2K, however, you need to use a Character Generation Worksheet that you then transferred to a Character Record Sheet. Furthermore, you really did need a calculator to generate a character. This was not something you could easily do in the lunchroom between sandwich bites with a few photocopied pages from a Little Black Book.

Back to Yesterday – T2K Today

Coming back to 1st Edition T2K after all these years, I have to say the Play Manual is actually pretty good. I literally was able to pick up the Character Generation Worksheet, open the Play Manual, and start making a character with almost no pre-reading.

To generate a character in T2K, you start with Basic Attributes. Using classic d6, you roll 4d6-4 for each. I had totally forgotten the Favor/Slight choices where you can chose to Favor an attribute (add to roll) while slighting another (subtracting from roll). After your Basic Attributes are rolled, well, then the math starts. Of the first 21 steps of the worksheet, a die roll is called for in only seven; the rest are calculated (and even in the ones where there is a die roll it usually acts as a randomizer in a formula).

Looking at what goes into a character in T2K, it also becomes obvious this is a very combat-oriented game. In some ways I can see a legacy from Traveller Book 4 Mercenary and Behind Enemy Lines, but T2K elevates it to another level. Hit Capacity, Throw Range, Coolness Under Fire are what concerns you the most along with combat skills. The skills in T2K read like an Army training manual, if you can understand all the acronyms. When T2K says your characters are all in the military, they mean it. As a matter of fact, I can’t see any way to generate a simple civilian. In later years, as I was in the military, we would sometimes try to “model ourselves” in T2K. Amazingly, we could get pretty close; at least, to the self we wanted to be!

Grant Worth, SSgt, US Army

  1. Basic Attributes (4d6-4)
    1. Fitness 12-8=8
    2. Agility (Favored) 12+2=14
    3. Constitution 15-4=11
    4. Stature (Slighted) 11-7-3=4
    5. Intelligence 20-4=16
    6. Education 12-4=8
  2. Total = 61
  3. Strength STR[=FIT+STA/2] = 9
  4. Hit Capacity
    1. Head [=CON] = 11
    2. Chest [=STR+CON+STA] = 24
    3. All Others [=CON+STA] = 15
  5. Throw Range [=2xSTR] = 18
  6. Weight [=(4xSTA)+40] = 56
  7. Load [=(2xSTR)+CON] = 29
  8. Military Experience Bonus [=(120-TOT)/7] = 8
  9. Time (Months) In Combat [=(MEB)D6] = d6=6 = 48
  10. Rads [=(MEB)D6] = d6=3 = 24
  11. Coolness Under Fire [=10-D6-(Time/10)] = 10-4-2 = 4
  12. Age [=(Time/12)+EDU+8+(N)D6] where N is from Table 1 = 4+8+8+(1)6 = 26
  13. Army & Nationality: US Army, USA
  14. Native Language: English
  15. Officer: NO
  16. Rank Number [=(TIME/10)+Nd6 from Table 2] = 2+3 = 5
  17. Rank: Staff Sergeant
  18. Specialty: Cavalry Scout
  19. Service Branch: Armor
  20. Benefits and Specialty
    1. Tracked Vehicle Driver 20 / Heavy Weapons 20 / Recon 20
  21. Skill Points
    1. Military [=MEDx40] = 320
    2. Education [=EDUx20] = 160
    3. Background = 300
  22. Skills – Body Combat BC 30 / Civil Engineer CVE 40 / Combat Engineer CBE 30 / Combat Rifleman CRM 30 / Computer CMP 50 / Electronics ELC 50 / Farming FRM 50 / Gunsmith GS 50 / Heavy Weapons HW 30 / Mechanic MEC 30 / Medic MED 50 / Melee Combat MC 30 / Meteorology MET 30 / Pistol PST 40 / Reconnaissance RCN 30 / Scrounging SCR 30 / Swimming SW 20 / Thrown Weapons TW 30 / Tracked Vehicle Driver TVD 30 / Wheeled Vehicle Driver 50
  23. Body Combat Damage [=(STR+STA)x(BC/200] Look up table gives “2+D6”
  24. Base Hit Numbers (Close / Med / Long)
    1. CRM 18/9/3
    2. PST 24/12/4
    3. HW 18/9/3
    4. LCG NA/NA/NA
    5. HB NA/NA/NA
  25. Equipment Purchase Allowance 24,000

Grant actually joined the US Army just before the bombs fell. Since then, he has watched the world crumble around him. Originally an M3 Bradley Cavalry Scout, few tracked vehicles remain in service and Grant has moved on to up-gunned trucks. Whenever somebody calls them”technicals” Grant just smiles because he know that, technically, bullets don’t care about trucks or tracks. While Grant has a fair bit of “technical” knowledge about computers and electronics, more and more of those systems are failing and he finds the bit he knows about farming and scrounging are far more valuable skills.

M2 Bradley during a REFORGER exercise in the 1980’s

Afterthoughts

In T2K it’s easy to make a military character, but sometimes hard to play that character in an adventure. While many people (including myself) see T2K as a combat roleplaying game, if you pay attention to the setting you will find it’s very much like Army life—long hours of boredom punctuated by a few moments of sheer terror. If one plays close to the setting, one will be spending most of their time foraging for food and goods rather than fighting. In many ways, T2K is a giant survival game.


Feature image: Stylized “urban warfare” by Terranozoid

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Little Blue out of place in Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (FASA, 1983) #RPGThursday

[Another throwback RPG from “back-in-the-day.” I remember mostly playing this one with the bridge crew and mixing it with the Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator (FASA, 1983)]

Rol Th’tilleq

Andorian, Age 44, Lt. Commander (Helm Department), First Officer, USS Footfall, NCC-28149 (DERF-class Survey Ship)

Attributes: STR 71 / END 63 / INT 46 / DEX 62 / CHA 65 / LUC 21 / PSI 19 [Skill Checks are done using a %die and have to be UNDER the Attribute/Skill level]

Skills: Administration 40 / Astronautics-Astrophysics 34 / Carousing 03 / Computer Operation 59 / Computer Technology 21 / Electronics Tech 43 / Federation History 30 / Federation Law 30 / Gaming 15 / Grav Vehicle Ops 07 / Instruction 40 / Language (Klingon) 16 / Leadership 13 / Negotiation-Diplomacy 20 / Planetary Survival 05 / Ship’s Weaponry Tech 23 / Shuttlecraft Pilot 31 / Starship Combat Tactics-Strategy 49 / Starship Comms Procedures 11 / Starship Engineering (General) 12 / Starship Helm Ops 54 / Starship Navigation 22 / Starship Security 04 / Starship Sensors 21

Service History:

  • Graduated Star Fleet Academy
  • Cadet Cruise on Constitution-class Starship; Passed and promoted to Ensign
  • Attended Command School (Promoted to Lt.J.G.)
  • Assigned two terms (four years) to Merchant Marine Division, duty as Helmsman (Lt.J.G.)
  • Third Term assigned to Colonization Division (2 years), duty as Helmsman (Lt.)
  • Fourth Term assigned to Military Division (2 years), duty as Helmsman (Lt.)
  • Fifth Term assigned to Constitution-class Starship (3 years), duty as Chief Helmsman (promoted to Lt. Commander on completion of tour).

Service Narrative: Rol Th’tilleq (“Rolls” to his friends) was very proud to get into Star Fleet Academy, though he will admit it was more likely for his athletic abilities than his intellect…or luck. His Cadet Cruise on a Constitution-class Starship was uneventful and Rolls was promoted to Ensign and sent to Command School. There, “bad luck” seemingly caught up with Rolls and this gung-ho Andorian “warrior” was sent to ply the trade lanes as a helmsman with the Merchant Marine Division for not one, but two back-to-back terms. Somewhat despondent, Rolls agitated for a transfer and for all his complaining was assigned to the Colonization Division as a helmsman ferrying colonists to border planets. However, during this time his ship had a few encounters with Orion Pirates and Rolls distinguished himself enough to be promoted and transferred to the Military Division for his next term. Here he was assigned as Second Helmsman on a Larsen-class destroyer that was part of an anti-pirate task force. Distinguishing himself in several pirate encounters, Rolls was promoted to Chief Helmsman and assigned to a Constitution-class Starship. Rolls worked hard to please his Captain, and after three years was promoted and assigned as First Officer of…a survey ship with the Colonization Division. Rolls is a bit disappointed to be “out of harm’s way” but tries to keep the ship running smoothly in the hopes of getting a command in the Military Division in the future.

Character Comments

Per the core rule book, “Andorian history is one of conflict” and “The martial spirit is still alive in Andorian culture.” Personality-wise, Andorians are described as “stoic” and “disciplined” and “make excellent military officers.”

All of which makes “Rolls” a bit of an outcast? He has spent half his career outside of the Military or Exploration Divisions. Now he is assigned to a Derf-class survey ship which is described as, “a medium exploration ship used for survey work.” More accurately, a Derf is a type of tender that services navigation buoys, early warning sensors, beacons, and comms relay stations. Rolls very likely doesn’t view this work as “military” and probably chafes inside at having to shepherd the crew in this assignment. His obvious strengths are Starship Helm Operations (54), Starship Combat Tactics/Strategy (49), and Electronics Technology (43). Although he has fair Administration and Instruction (40 each) he has rather poor Leadership (13…maybe a bit too stoic?) though he tried to get closer to the crew but really doesn’t know how to Carouse (03!) or play games (Gaming 15).


(Name generated courtesy of Fantasy Name Generators)

Feature image courtesy https://sitzkrieg.blogspot.com/2018/09/derf-tender-to-rescue.html

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RPGThursday – Third times a charm with Clement Sector Third Edition fm @IndependenceGa6 #TravellerRPG

John Watts at Independence Games is a giant. His Clement Sector Alternate Traveller Universe (ATU) is composed of nearly 90 products. Maybe recognizing that the sprawling setting material is almost as expansive as the Clement Sector itself, the latest product, Clement Sector Third Edition (or Clement Sector v3) consolidates.

Some might say that a 675-page product scarcely qualifies as “consolidation.” Here is how Mr. Watts explains his intent:

This volume exists so that all the pertinent information concerning the Clement Sector could be found in one volume and would save newcomers to the system from having to purchase multiple books to have an understanding of the setting. Therefore, the first change from the second edition of Clement Sector is that this book contains the entirety of The Clement Sector Core Setting Book, Clement Sector: The Rules, and Ensemble Cast. The advanced space combat rules from Clement Sector: The Rules are now found in Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture.

Clement Sector v3, p. 657 “Changes”

John goes on to explain how Clement Sector v3 brings in key elements of no less than eight (8!) other major Clement Sector products. With so much consolidated under one cover, has the Clement Sector actually become too bloated?

I contend the answer is a resounding NO! Mechanically speaking, Clement Sector v3 remains wedded to the Cepheus Engine rules system with just a few changes. John states the “major change” in this edition is the “change from the Characteristic of Social or Social Standing to Charisma” because, “I have always felt that Social Standing really had no place in Clement Sector” (p. 657).

Let’s take a look at that major change. I refer you to page 140 of Clement Sector v3 and “Charisma (CHA)” where the rule—in its entirety—reads, “Charisma shows how well the character can influence, charm, or inspire other people.”

That’s it. That’s John Watts’ “major change” to the game mechanisms in this ATU setting.

Alright, alright. The Clement Sector ATU is an unabashedly different “small-ship ATU” with a different FTL handwave, that being the “Zimm Drive” versus the classic Jump Drive. In terms of Third Edition rules there are a few other changes that Mr. Watts makes. Like adding the skill “Draw.” Or removing the “Steward” skill and replacing it with “Chef” and “Etiquette.” Or removing the “Zero-G” skill and folding it into “Survival (Freefall).” Or how “Vacc Suit ” and “Battle Suit” are now covered under an umbrella “Suit” skill. Importantly, none of these changes lose the space opera focus of Clement Sector.

Sure, in some places I think Clement Sector v3 goes a bit overboard. Like in character generation where you have the choice of not only generating your own character, but also information on parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. In some ways Clement Sector v3 takes the random Traveller/Cepheus Engine life path character generation process to an extreme in an extensive “Character Origins” section that covers over 30 pages. But I note that much of the extra “fluff” is optional; a character is playable without it.

Personally, my OneBookShelf library has over 30 Clement Sector products in it. To be honest, finding what I wanted to use as a Referee was becoming a bit of a chore, in part because one can search within only a single product but not across the product line. By consolidating so much material in one product, I now have that “one stop reference” I can use to build and adventure with.

Good on you, Mr. Watts, for recognizing that the expanse of your product line may be a bit much and for bringing so much of it together under one cover.

If you have not played around in the Clement Sector ATU here is your chance. Take it! At $24.99 it is not the cheapest, but it is far more affordable than buying a $30 core rulebook “update” and then having to add a $29.99 setting book like some other publishers do…


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

#RPGThursday – Why HOSTILE is my new #TravellerRPG cheer (HOSTILE Rulebook by Paul Elliott from www.paulelliottbooks/zozergames)

It may be hard to imagine, but the Traveller roleplaying game was originally a “setting-less” set of rules. Sure, there were hints of the Third Imperium, but at its heart the Classic Traveller rules were sans setting. In much the same way the Cepheus Engine rules, or “Renaissance Traveller” as I call them, are also setting-less. Fortunately for us, more than a few indie RPG publishers have stepped in to create settings. Amongst my favorites are The Clement Sector by John Watt at Independence Games (formerly Gypsy Knights Games) and Orbital 2100 by Paul Elliott at Zozer Games. Another of Paul’s settings I tried in 2017 was HOSTILE. In 2021, Zozer released a new, revised edition of the rules in the HOSTILE Rulebook.

Sorry, John, but The Clement Sector now has some real competition!

I like the HOSTILE Rulebook for four reasons:

  1. The gritty setting
  2. The familiar, yet different Task Resolution system
  3. Highly thematic character generation
  4. Stress, Panic, and Hazards.

What really makes the HOSTILE Rulebook attractive to me is its simplicity. Some might look at a 239-page rule book and say, “That ain’t simple!” Yet, it is. Part of the simplicity is familiarity; I don’t think there are actually any new rules in the book, and what its there is not complex, but they are assembled and tweaked in simple ways that are highly thematic and reinforce the gritty sci-fi setting.

Gritty Sci-Fi

The HOSTILE setting is straight out of science fiction movies of the late-1970s and early-1980s. This is Alien, Outland, and Bladerunner all wrapped up into one. Here is how author Paul Elliott introduces it to us:

The future is not as optimistic and rosy as many SF writers had us believe. Space exploration is difficult, hard and dangerous and the thriving interstellar society made up of hundreds of populated planets never materialized. Instead space is the preserve of the big corporations that focus on extracting minerals, oil and other raw materials from the extra-solar planets and moons to be shipped back to Earth in order to support the vast population there.

Space is not a place for tourists or fortune-hunters; it is a hostile and brutal frontier, where blue collar men and women work hard, rely on nobody but themselves, risk death every day and face the Unknown. And out here the Unknown is real – it is horrific; there are rumors of the disturbing effects of hyperspace, of ancient horrors entombed on icy moons, and of monsters – killer aliens, perfectly evolved to survive the hostile wastes of space – at any cost.

HOSTILE Rulebook, p.7

HOSTILE is not the space western Firefly Roleplaying Game, nor is it the politically charged machinations of The Expanse Roleplaying Game. As Paul says, ‘Think of it as Alaska-in-Space, with the crews of the star freighters playing the role of the Ice Road Trucker…” While HOSTILE is not the dark, deadly horror of ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, “there is always a kink that makes life tough, whether it’s the biosphere, the seasons, the radiation, the atmosphere, or one of a score of other deadly effects.”

There is also lots of HOSTILE-related gaming material to chose from. The two “core” books are the HOSTILE Rulebook and The HOSTILE Setting Book. The setting is also linked to other Zozer Games settings, such as Outpost Mars, Orbital 2100, and Zaibatsu (the HOSTILE-adjacent cyberpunk setting). There are also many other supplements available to help you tailor the game the way you want.

Getting the Job Done

The basic Task Resolution system in the HOSTILE Rulebook is covered in a short four pages. That’s a little under 2% of the rule book. Looking back in Classic Traveller, there really was only one Task Roll, that of 2d6 against a target of 8+. In the HOSTILE Rulebook there are four different Rolls specified. The first time I looked at this list I asked myself, “Why do we need more than one?” Once I looked at each of them it all makes sense:

  • Attack Roll: This is the standard 2d6 against a target of 8+ where a combat skill is the main modifier; other modifiers are found in the combat rules
  • Characteristic Roll: A Characteristic Roll is 2d6 against a target of 6+; Die Modifiers (DMs) are your Characteristic Modifier and Difficulty can range from -2 (Difficult) to +2 (Routine)
  • Perception Roll: Basically a chance to notice something (or set initiative in combat); 2d6 against 8+ using your Intelligence (INT) characteristic modifier and the Recon skill
  • Skill Roll: The other “classic” skill roll of 2d6 against a target of 8+ with skill level as a DM.

The HOSTILE Rulebook uses difficulty modifiers to the basic roll. Difficulty ranges from Routine (+2) to Formidable (-6). The degree to which the roll fails or succeeds is the Effect which can be used as a narrative prompt or a DM in other situations. All in all, Task Resolution in the HOSTILE Rulebook is nothing extraordinary but it is a nice repackaging of the basic Cepheus Engine rules in a complete, very compact presentation.

Who Are YOU?

The HOSTILE Rulebook is built around different crew types that occupy this hostile universe. You can be a Colony Work Crew or the Corporate Investigative Team or even a Freelance Mining (Roughneck) Crew. You might be a Commercial Starship Crew or a Resource Exploration Crew. Finally, one can alway be a Marine Corps Squad or Private Military Contractors. The HOSTILE Rulebook has 15 different careers. Most use a very standard Classic Traveller/Cepheus Engine-style career progression but one, Androids, is a special, separately detailed career. You can also role play a “Prole;” short-lived genetically created laborers.

While character creation in the HOSTILE Rulebook will be familiar to most Classic Traveller or Cepheus Engine veterans, there are a few twists that add “flavor” from the setting. You cannot die in character generation but you can suffer a mishap. You can also add “Final Details” like some notable physical feature or item, a Psych Evaluation (of course, we ALL are crazy, eh?), and a random seed for why you left Earth. You can also randomly pick what unofficial badge or patch you wear, like “What’s My Bonus Situation?”

Of course, you can always use an alternate point-buy character generation system, but why would you?

One section of the HOSTILE Rulebook that I really like is in the Skills chapter and called, “What Those Skill Levels Actually Mean.” Here, Mr. Elliott gives us some “setting names” for different skill levels. Like a civilian with Technician – Electronics-2 has an “Electronic Maintenance Certificate.” Or a Space Command officer with Comms-1 and Computer-1 is an “Electronic Warfare Officer.”

I really like how monthly salaries in the HOSTILE Rulebook are a base salary plus a multiplier based on rank. For example, a Non-Commissioned Marine rank 2 (Corporal) makes $1000 plus $500×2 or $2,000 a month.

Like so much before, none of these rules in the HOSTILE Rulebook are really new or highly innovative. They are, however, highly thematic and enhance the play experience of the characters in the setting.

…”it’s a hostile universe.”

Stress is an integral component of the HOSTILE setting, so much so it actually makes up a fifth Roll. When certain stressful events occur, like, say, the character catches fire, a Stress Roll must be made. This is a simple Average difficulty roll using the Intelligence Characteristic Modifier. Success means all continues as normal, but failure is a temporary -1 to Intelligence (Overstress) and a stun for one round. As more Overstress is accumulated, the character will become less rational, less focused, and more likely to get into trouble. That is because Stress can lead to Panic where the character might lose control of their sanity.

The balance of the hazards in the HOSTILE Rulebook are, again, nothing that hasn’t been seen somewhere before. However, this collection of hazards works well to build the theme of the setting.

  • Acid – Rules not only for exposure but also fumes and immersion
  • Hiking – Never really thought of this as a hazard but when you factor in encumbrance and water…
  • Falling – Gravity can suck
  • Fire – More dangerous than one might think
  • Diseases – Hmm…no COVID-19 so I guess the future figures it out (can’t wait)
  • Poisons – Nothing good here either
  • Suffocation – Important for a space setting
  • Hostile Atmospheres – Get used to these rules
  • Temperature – Water and food are just as important as clothing
  • Radiation – Often overlooked in space opera settings
  • Pressure Loss – Ramius was ahead of his time when he told Ryan, “Most things in here don’t react well to bullets”
  • Zero Gravity – Losing control is a Stress Roll.
  • Hunger & Fatigue – Eat, drink, and sleep
  • Climbing – What goes up…
  • Weather – Mother Nature gets a vote

The Hostile Rulebook also has rules for survival in Desert or Arctic environments.

The Best of the Rest

The balance of the rules in the HOSTILE Rulebook are, yet again, nothing really new under the sun. Combat uses that Perception Roll to help determine initiative and Melee combat always goes before Aimed or Area Fire. Space travel uses a hyperdrive. Of note, the rules for spaceship construction are NOT in the HOSTILE Rulebook; those appear in The HOSTILE Setting Book, although the rules for starship combat are in this book. Combat in space uses an Advantage system vice Initiative.

As befitting the HOSTILE setting, world creation goes a bit beyond the basic approaches and adds some more details. All those little extra details are important in determining the hazards one might will encounter on many worlds.

HOSTILE Encounters

As much as I like being the Referee and creating an adventure, more recently I have embraced liberal use of random encounter tables. In the HOSTILE Rulebook, “…random encounters help create the illusion of a universe that exists outside of the adventurers’ own experience, thus creating a sense of verisimilitude” (p. 177). These rules also feed into animals and…exomorphs.

Friendly HOSTILE

The HOSTILE Rulebook has two faces; outwardly it is a highly thematic, gritty sci-fi setting. On the inside the rules are in many ways “recycled” from prior products. Most importantly, the two faces work together to create a very interesting setting that novice or experienced Traveller or Cepheus Engine players can enjoy.

#RPG Thursday – #TravellerRPG in Foundation

Geeks on Twitter have commented that the new Apple TV series Foundation has more than a bit of a Traveller Role Playing Gamevibe to it.

I have to say I heartily agree, especially with the “most Traveller thing.” Which is funny in a way because if you ask me to point to what Traveller looks like I’m probably going to show you this—the Little Black Books of 1977-1980.

The (Classic) Traveller Little Black Books

Thumbing through the books I challenge you to find artwork. There is a single black and white drawing of a persons head on page 25 of Book 1 and nothing in Book 2 or Book 3. Even the box back only has a single, somewhat abstract, image of a soldier firing a weapon. The next picture is that of a “Mercenary Striker” in the front of Book 4 Mercenary. Even Book 5 High Guard has no images. Those iconic Traveller ships like the Free Trader (which I swear I saw in Foundation Season 1 Episode 1) don’t appear until Supplement 7 Traders and Gunboats in 1980.

For a while it looked like Traveller was going to be a Star Wars knockoff. Look at the box art for the 1981 wargame Invasion: Earth with what looks something like an Imperial Star Destroyer on the cover. Fortunately, Traveller never became a Star Wars or Star Trek RPG, both of which have their own distinctive and iconic visions.

Since the 1980’s, and especially with the rise of the internet, there has been moreTraveller RPG artwork. Much of it revolves around starships. In the early 1980’s it was black & white artwork in the pages of new supplements or adventures or the pages of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aide Society or Challenge magazine. Marc Miller’s Traveller (Traveller 4) used Chris Foss artwork with little success.

Another ship that looks like one found in Foundation?

The computer graphics artwork of Andrew Boulton, though primitive compared to today’s computer graphics, was “right” in the vibe it communicated.So sad he left us so early…

The modern work of Ian Stead has graced the pages of many Traveller products in recent years and more than a few feel he has captured the vibe of Traveller the best since those early days. But, like so much of that early art, it is almost exclusively focused on the ships.

Marc Miller himself has two more recent visions of Traveller. The first is expressed in Traveller 5 which is sparsely illustrated using mostly recycled artwork from previous editions. Then there is his book, Agent of the Imperium, which has no illustrations at all and cover art that is…questionable.

It’s in your head…

Such is the power of the Traveller RPG— the game creates in many minds a vast, sweeping vision with relatively sparse artwork. What I’m hearing is that Traveller RPG created, in many minds, the vision of a vast empire spanning from a long dynastic center to a very unsettled frontier. This despite a majority of artwork that is of ships—not imperial palaces or emperors or harsh frontiers.

What’s most incredible is that very “in-your-head” vision is being “found” onscreen in the Foundation TV series. Take note that starships are NOT a prominent feature of the first three episodes of Foundation; they appear but are very much “background” whereas Traveller RPG tends to put starships in front. Traveller RPG delivers a vision of an entire universe without the need for lots of artwork because it stimulates the mind. That many seem to find Traveller in Foundation is in reality incredible praise for the Marc Miller and his vision expressed in plain text over 40 years ago..

#RPGThursday or a delayed #Wargame Wednesday? – Alien: The Roleplaying Game (@freeleaguepub, 2020) – as in “You’re all gonna die. Only question is how you check out.”

In a somewhat radical change of pace, I actually picked up a full deadtree version of a new roleplaying game. I was in my FLGS and ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game from Free League Publishing (2020) caught my eye and I purchased it.

Science fiction is my favorite genre for RPGs, but space horror isn’t exactly my thing, making this purchase of ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game a bit bewildering to me. Regardless, I am a bit of an RPG-mechanic explorer so I like to play RPGs almost as much for exploring the core mechanic as the setting. ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game uses Free League’s “Year Zero Engine” (YZE). This is my first exposure to the YZE, and actually my first deep-dive into ALIEN lore as I haven’t watched all the movies faithfully.

ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game tries to sell itself as a somewhat low-complexity, moderately narrative game that focuses on the Xenomorphs as much as, if not more than, characters. The reality, as I see it, is that ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game would be better sold as ALIEN: The Roleplaying Skirmish Wargame.

“First assembly’s in fifteen, people. Shag it!” – Apone

ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game is a 394-page tome. The space-black background pages would be very expensive (and draining) to print on your own. The book doesn’t need to be this big; there are some pages where the art takes as much space as the text.

ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game uses customized dice. Well, sorta. There are two die types required, both d6. A Base Die is a d6 with a special symbol in place of the 6. A Stress Die is differently colored from the Base Die and has that same special-use symbol in the 6 position as well as “Stress” on the 1 side. Honestly, you don’t need to buy the special dice (~$15 per set)—just use two different colors of d6 and remember which color is which die type.

“…Well, I can drive that loader. I have a Class-2 rating.” – Ripley

Character creation in ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game is actually simple. You start by choosing one of nine archetypes. Sure, they’re called Careers in the book but they’re treated as archetypes. Using a limited point-buy system, you assign Attributes (Strength/Agility/Wits/Empathy), Skills (there are only 12), and acquire Talents (pick one).

Player Characters in ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game also need a Personal Agenda as well as Buddies and Rivals. Well, that is unless you are playing a Cinematic mode game (more on that later) where the Agenda is “predetermined by the scenario” (p. 31). If you are playing a Campaign mode game, there are “suggested” Personal Agendas listed with your career.

The end result of character generation in ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game is a (barely) two-dimensional character. The real RPG elements of a character, Talents and Personal Agenda, are either so flimsy or pre-defined as to be near-useless to a player. The only real advantage of the character generation system is that it is quick and uncomplicated—for reasons I think will soon become apparent.

Two can be found in chargen…

“My mommy always said there were no monsters – no real ones – but there are.” – Newt

ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game revolves around three simple Themes: Space Horror, Sci-Fi Action, and a Sense of Wonder (p. 20). Take note of the order in which they are presented—it’s important.

Space Horror

To me, the movie ALIEN defines space horror in cinema. The movie captures the essence of a hopeless, helpless, unknown situation. ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game depends heavily on the lore of the ALIEN stories to create the game universe. You can physically see it in the book; dark pages, lots of Xenomorphs, plenty of death. Even the fiction is pitch-perfect. This is both a blessing and a curse; it is quite possible to have players that come to the table steeped in the lore, making it a challenge to the Game Mother to create a story as character knowledge and player metaknowledge may not be aligned.

Sci-Fi Action

ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game can be played in one of two game modes. The primary mode is Cinematic. For this one really needs to think of each adventure like a sci-fi action movie, especially ALIENS. Here, the Year Zero Engine works well as it is light on skill checks but more detailed on combat and panic. The Game Mother guide advises that in this mode the Xenomorphs need to be front and center.

Cinematic play is the game mode used to simulate such stories, creating short, focused, and intense movie-like experiences that the PCs will be lucky to survive.

“Cinematic Play”, p. 215

Taken as a whole, the rules for ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game are very much akin to a set of skirmish wargame rules. The “Combat and Panic” chapter—the rules for combat—covers concepts like Stealth Mode (hidden movement), initiative, Slow & Fast Actions (all of which are combat related), ambushes, close combat, ranged combat, and damage. Combat is very deadly—player death is a very, very strong possibility (certainty?). Look no further than the d66 Critical Injuries table which not only has multiple ways to die (“Impaled Heart – FATAL – Your heart beats for the last time”) to healing time measured in days (assuming, of course, you can even get first aid).

A key element of the combat system in ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game is Stress & Panic. There are nine conditions that raise a Player Character’s Stress Level, as defined on p. 103:

  • You push a skill roll.
  • You fire a burst of full auto fire.
  • You suffer one or more points of damage.
  • You go without sleep, food, or water.
  • You perform a coup de grace.
  • A Scientist in your team fails to use the Analysis talent.
  • A member of your own crew attacks you.
  • A person nearby is revealed to be an android.
  • You encounter certain creatures or locations, as determined by the scenario or the GM.

In ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, Stress can lead to Panic. Many times a Panic Action is mandated by the rules. This lack of player agency and forced narrative goes far towards creating a helpless, ultimately hopeless feeling.

Ship combat in ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game uses a “bridge crew” approach to battles where the PCs are usually part of the action. It is interesting to note that in addition to all the ways a ship can be damaged, combat comes down again to the individual and their Stress Level and Panic. It’s quite possible that your PC could “Run to Safety” abandoning their bridge post.

Sense of Wonder

The third theme in ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game is a “Sense of Wonder.” To be frank, my “sense of wonder” when playing ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game is, “I wonder how anything survives.” One would think that the second mode of play, Campaign Play, would be where the Sense of Wonder comes from. I started reading the rules for ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game expecting that this is where elements of the story in ALIENS: Prometheus would shine. The Game Mother guide advises in this mode to save the Xenos for something special, but the game system as a whole doesn’t really support that. I mean, the game doesn’t really hide this fact as even the fiction in the chapters usually start with a party and ends up with…nobody alive. Instead of Prometheus the rules give us something that is more Firefly meets ALIENS. i.e. instead of finding stories that can explore discovering alien and human origins we get space truckers and death.

The lack rules support for a true campaign of ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game may actually not be as big a loss as it sounds since there is little to be discovered in the game universe thanks to the extensive lore presented. This seems like a conscious decision by the writers, unlike Battlestar Galactica: The Role Playing Game (Maragret Weis Publishing, 2004) or The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin, 2019) and many other large franchise-based IP games that pick a starting point in the lore and let the players and GM build their player universe from there. Sure, you can do the same in ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, but given the extent of lore presented it’s much harder to exclude the metaknowledge.

“…and they’re gonna come in here AND THEY’RE GONNA GET US!” – Hudson

The problems of character survival in ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game can be traced all the way back to character generation with those, frankly, shallow characters. It’s as though the writers knew that character lives are cheap and to invest too much time in creating them is a waste. Then there is the game engine, and the Stress rules which can be used to ensure success…but at the risk near-certainty of being helpless as a player.

Given the rate of deaths in ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, I searched the Game Mother guide for advice on what to do when a player character dies in the middle of an adventure. I think it’s telling that when talking about the Epilogue to a scenario part of the advice reads, “EPILOGUE: A suggested sign-off message by one of the PCs, assuming anyone is still alive” [my emphasis]. Indeed, I can’t find anything in the Game Mother section talking about mid-scenario player death beyond in-your-face hints that it WILL happen.

Helpless, hopeless, loss of control. If those are the ALIEN franchise themes you enjoy the most then ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game is certainly for you.

“That’s it, man. Game over, man.” – Hudson

At the end of the day I think ALIEN: THE Roleplaying Game is best suited for those one-shot adventures where player character backgrounds are less important. Oh heck, ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game is really nothing more than a set of skirmish wargame rules with some roleplaying elements. The rate of death in this game is not quite like Paranoia (West End Games, 1982)…but if the Game Mother is not in a nice mood it certainly can be.


ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game is TM & © 2020 20th Century Fox Studios and Free League Publishing. All rights reserved.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

#RPGThursday – Cepheus Journal #5 -or- #TTRPG at it’s finest

Bad on me for not pointing out earlier that Cepheus Journal #5 is now available. This is the first issue without a spaceship on the cover but that doesn’t mean it has any less worthy content. Indeed, though Cepheus Engine started out as an updated instance of the Classic Traveller RPG, as this issue shows it can support a myriad of tabletop role playing game settings from Fantasy to Modern to Sci-Fi.

Cepheus Journal #5

“High Tech Clothing” takes the everyday mundane and shows one how to make it a useful part of the game setting.

“Making Hell” is another excellent example of how to “read the dice” in the world generation sub-game.

“Jump Setting” explains that handwavium science in terms meant to enhance the player’s (and Referee’s) interaction with the setting.

“Fighting Undead” is useful for incorporating sci-fi beings fantasy monsters.

“Exotic Chemicals” is a bit more scientific than some may desire but there are some great ideas in here for adventurers.

“Abstract Wealth Rules” is another alternative means of tracking money; maybe a bit too abstract for some but quite useful for settings that want to emphasize play effect over finite tracking of resources.

“The Hidden Temple” is a nice adventure map for a 2d6 dungeon adventure – or a hidden room on a lower-tech world.

“Epsilon Indi” is another ready-made world that can be dropped into an adventure.

“The Sche” is a race of aquatic beings that may look something like shrimp but are so much more.

“British Cold War Tanks” is an example of Cepheus Engine in a modern setting. Needs more exploration from me.

“Old School Rethink” is a new column and it should be the first article in this issue as it really captures the power of the Cepheus Engine. As author Paul Drye explains:

One of the basic premises of the OSR movement is to reproduce the free­ wheeling feel of early roleplaying and running counter to that are many decisions that were made in those early days which have become set in stone. Players and referees don’t think to challenge them because they’ve been “just the way it’s done” for decades and in doing so miss an opportunity for some fun.

What Paul Drye explains is actually the real reason I love Cepheus Engine; it gives me control over my setting without burdensome IP rights or canonical influences.

Best of all, Cepheus Journal is free!


Feature image courtesy projectnerd.it

#RPGThursday – The Expanse RPG (@GreenRoninPublishing, 2019) Fermenting Juice?

I have a soft spot in my heart for science-fiction tabletop roleplaying games. My first RPG ever was the Little Black Books of (Classic) Traveller back in 1979. More recently, Green Ronin Publishing kickstarted The Expanse Roleplaying Game: Sci-Fi Roleplaying at Humanity’s Edge in 2018 that delivered in 2019. At that time I passed on it but recently I acquired a physical copy of the hardback edition.

During the Kickstarter campaign for The Expanse RPG I looked at, and was turned off by, the artwork. I also was not sure of the core mechanic (Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine – AGE). Now that I have the product in hand, what do I think?

Expanse-ive Expectations

When I look at The Expanse, I see a space opera-like story with some hard-ish science-fiction behind it. My expectation from an RPG using The Expanse as a setting is that is should enable the players and GM to create drama but not in a manner that is too disconnected with reality. Where handwavium is used, it must be plausible given the conditions of the setting.

My first introduction to The Expanse was via the TV series. During Season 1 I picked up the books and started catching up by “reading ahead.” Although I like the TV series, I am a book reader at heart and will always take the book version of a setting over a TV interpretation any day. Therefore, I was very excited to see that the authors of The Expanse were part of the making of this RPG. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (together known as James S.A. Corey) are credited with “Development and Story Consultation.” They also contributed the short story that opens the RPG book. In terms of spoilers, the default setting for The Expanse Roleplaying Game is the period between the first and second novels of the series.

[Interestingly, in all the references to The Expanse Fiction in the RPG there is no mention of the TV series. Looks like a separate licensing agreement? This doesn’t bother me as I am personally a fan of the earlier books in the series but I can see how some rabid fans of the TV series may be upset.]

The Look

The Expanse Roleplaying Game book is a hefty 256-page hardcover in full color. There is lots of material here and the format is very busy. I’m glad I got this as a deadtree product because looking at the pages and thumbing through an ebook would be very challenging for me unless it is very well bookmarked.

I previously complained about the artwork in The Expanse Roleplaying Game. My opinion has not changed but I better understand my reaction now. It’s the people. I just cannot connect with the characters shown in the book. Maybe I’m letting the TV series actors influence my expectations too much but even when I recognize that bias and try to look at the character art with that consideration in mind they just don’t work. At the end of the day the character images used in the book are so different are just not The Expanse-like to me.

Setting the Scene

I’ll just go ahead and stipulate that, given the intimate involvement of the series authors in this project, The Expanse Roleplaying Game has all the juicy world-building details a GM needs (and the players want?) to create a story set in The Expanse universe – of the books. A reminder that the default setting is the time between the first and second books (Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War).

The MEchanics behind the story

Given that The Expanse Roleplaying Game has all the needed settings material, my real test of the game is how well the core mechanics and supporting rules create a play experience that I feel fits the setting.

Coming of AGE

The core mechanic in The Expanse Roleplaying Game is Green Ronin Publishing’s Modern Adventure Game Engine (AGE). AGE is built around a basic Ability Test resolved by a 3d6 die roll:

TEST RESULT = 3D6 + ABILITY SCORE + 2 FOR ABILITY FOCUS (IF ANY) vs. [(Target Number (TN)) or (Opposed Test)]

The number to beat in the Ability Test is usually set by a difficulty ladder. The TN of an Average test is 11. This quite literally means that a test with the usual “hero” character +1 Ability level will PASS the test 50% of the time. When rolling your 3d6, one die must be different from the others. This is the Drama Die which helps measure degrees of success and can activate Stunt Points (SP) – but only on successes.

When making an Ability Test in The Expanse Roleplaying Game, if the test roll includes doubles the player gains Stunt Points (SP) equal to the Drama Die. Each different encounter type (Action/Exploration/Social) in The Expanse Roleplaying Game has its own suggested set of Stunts which is the “flair” of your actions. There are many different classes of Stunts for each encounter type and more than a few stunts for each class. There are so many here that the GM will be challenged to keep track of it all; for the player’s it may be all-but-impossible. The extensive listings also seemingly encourage a “menu selection” approach to play. I would much rather see some guidance to the GM and players and general costs (or ideas) and let character roleplaying define a stunt instead of giving a pick ‘n choose menu that in my mind diminishes narrative agency.

The other major character resource in The Expanse Roleplaying Game is Fortune. Luck is expressed in the game by that Fortune score; the more Fortune the more luck the PC has to change or influence the outcome of events. Fortune can be used to change the results of a die roll or even avoid damage. Fortune regenerates (slowly) between encounters and needs an Interlude (longer downtime between game sessions) to reset completely. Indeed, Fortune is probably the most powerful narrative-altering device in the player’s kit bag.

Buried way back in Chapter 12: Game Mastering of The Expanse Roleplaying Game is an optional rule called The Churn. It’s really sad that this concept is buried deep in the book and then presented as an optional rule because The Churn goes a long way towards making an adventure in The Expanse Roleplaying Game more thematic. The Churn is a track the GM keeps to show when the fickle hand of fate intervenes. At the beginning of an adventure The Churn pool is ‘0’. As events happen The Churn builds until it boils over into a game effect. Some might say The Churn robs the GM of plot control but I see it as a guide (and challenge) to the GM to move story along, sometimes in an epic change of direction.

Interestingly, although The Churn is described as an optional rule, the associated tables are prominently placed on the GM Screen. It’s as if Green Ronin is telling us we should be using The Churn although the rules seemingly tell us not.

In terms of “crunch,” I would call AGE “medium-heavy” for me. It is far cruchier than my beloved Cepheus Engine and relatively comparable to the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game (GENESYS) or Cortex Prime (especially as used in Firefly Roleplaying Game) although with less narrative control by the player than either of those two systems.

Who Are You?

Character generation in The Expanse Roleplaying Game is done using a ten-step outline. This is a concept-driven design process; you decide at the beginning what you want and then tailor your character to get the desired result. At first I was worried that this process was going to be too player-directed and subject to min/maxing of characters. In reality, I discovered the system strikes a good balance between player desire and random chance.

The AGE system defines characters through nine abilities. The score for each ability ranges from -2 (quite poor) to 4 (truly outstanding). The book goes out of its way to say that a score of 1 is “average” for characters but everyday individuals are 0. As a long-time Traveller RPG player where characters are often “ordinary sophonts thrown into extraordinary situations” I’m not sure how I really feel about “special” characters.

For my first character in The Expanse Roleplaying Game I decided I wanted to generate a captain of a small subsidized freighter that moves about the Belt. Here I step through the 10-step process:

  1. Concept (Player choice) – Subsidized Freighter Captain
  2. Abilities (Rolled) – Accuracy 0 / Communications 4 / Constitution 3 4 / Dexterity 3 / Fighting 0 / Intelligence 3 / Perception 0 / Strength 2 / Willpower 2
  3. Origin (Player Choice) – Earther
  4. Background (Rolled, some choice) – Outsider/Exile (formerly Middle Class/Academic); Constitution +1, Focus: Willpower (Self Discipline), Talent: Fringer (Novice) plus Focus: Communication (Bargaining)
  5. Profession (Rolled, some choice) – Fixer gaining Focus: Intelligence (Evaluation) and Talent: Improvisation (Novice)
  6. Drive (Rolled, some choice) – Networker. Membership: Rank 1 Recruit (new Captain?), Quality: Gregarious, Downfall: Overwraught, Talent: Contacts (Novice)
  7. Income (Defined by rules) – 0 (Equipment buy will be later)
  8. Secondary Abilities and Fortune (Defined by rules) – Defense = 13 / Speed = 13 / Toughness = 4 / Fortune = 15
  9. Goals and Ties (Player driven) – Short Term > Move to better ship, Long Term > own ship. Ties – ??
  10. Name & Description (Player choice) – Chester “Chessy” Smith

Generally speaking, I am pleased with the result. I certainly generated my Subsidized Merchant Captain, but the process also created more than a few hooks that I as a player (or the GM) can build on. What makes a middle-class academic turn outsider?

One aspect of character generation in The Expanse Roleplaying Game I find very interesting is Step 7: Income and Equipment. Characters do not track money in credits, but instead use an Income Score that shows a relative financial condition. When combined with the rules for income and lifestyle it is possible to put the “cost of living” into the game and make it a contributing narrative element of the story.

Although the character generation process in The Expanse Roleplaying Game is not super complicated, I would have liked to see a beginning-to-end example. I also am very interested in how the iconic characters were created because as an AGE system neophyte I easily see how the stats presented came to be. It would be very insightful for the authors/designers to show their work here.

Spaceships

What is The Expanse without Rochinante? Ships are just as important as any character in The Expanse, and The Expanse Roleplaying Game gives spaceships its own chapter. The chapter starts out with a science lesson on space travel in The Expanse.

Note I said science lesson, not rules.

I know, even Classic Traveller used a few formulas, but in The Expanse Roleplaying Game at this point we learn all about motion and velocity and the handwavium science of the Epstein Drive. There is also a discussion of Hohmann Transfer orbits and Brachistochrone Trajectories and….

STOP!

When I said I was looking for a “hard-ish sci-fi” setting I did NOT mean to give me a course in astrophysics. It is not until we get six (dense) pages into the chapter that we get information useful for PLAY. Table 2: “Average Communication Time Between Locations (In Minutes)” and Tables 3A-3D: “Average Travel Time Between Locations (At XXG) (In Hours)” is finally something that has real relevance (and use) to the players and GM.

The next section of the chapter describes space ships. The Expanse Roleplaying Game uses the tried and true “ships as characters” approach to ship descriptions. There are no ship construction rules in the book; that’s coming in a future expansion. What surprised me the most is there is no Rochinante described here. I’m guessing the Frigate on page 126 could stand in for the Roci, but given the Roci is part of the book could Green Ronin not have included some sort of Roci ship referenced as such? Sigh….

The adventure included in The Expanse Roleplaying Game is a good example for the GM in the how Parts, Scenes, Encounters and Interludes all come together to make a story. Too bad it’s nothing more creative than a dungeon crawl in space.

My Story vs. Canon

One worry I always have about licensed IP games is the inevitable canon wars. I’m very happy to see The Expanse Roleplaying Game address this head-on in Chapter 15. This chapter provides many different ideas for running a multitude of different types of stories. It even encourages the GM and players to go “beyond canon” where they see fit. Not that I was not going to make any game my own; it’s just good to see the authors encouraging creativity beyond the bounds of the published IP.

Game Gravity

The Expanse Roleplaying Game is clearly aimed at Detailed Role Players – those who want to deeply explore the motivations of their characters. The rules are far too heavy for Social Role Players to pick up (or even play with no familiarity). There is little-to-no rules that support a Systems Engineer Role Player – the world building here is basically done for you.

The problem I have with the rules in The Expanse Roleplaying Game is that, after playing around a bit and running some shadow adventures, the core mechanic just doesn’t seem dramatic enough. The Ability Tests seem too formulamatic (and far from dramatic). The menu of Stunts encourage PBM (Play-By-Menu) and actually reduces the narrative drama of play. Being able to call upon Stunts only when successful also seems to take away the “narrative of loss” by which I mean being able to narrate failure is just as dramatically powerful as narrating success. This is why I believe the narrative dice in Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Roleplaying (aka GENESYS) are so awesome; rolling Despair is just as narratively powerful as rolling a Triumph. I also feel the Fortune pool is just too big. In other systems the economy of Fate Points or Plot Points or Lightside/Darkside Points is tight and their use has a palatable value. Calling upon them is a major dramatic moment. In The Expanse Roleplaying Game when even Thugs have over a dozen Fortune points it just feels so non-dramatic. Is this simply a symptom of low level characters or is the core mechanic truly that sad?

At the end of the day, I am going to give The Expanse Roleplaying Game a hesitant, if not very reluctant, thumbs up. I think the game does a good job of creating a setting and rules that players who love The Expanse can play around in and feel “at home.” I’m a bit hesitant to go all-in because the rules seem a bit too heavy in places and more complex than they maybe need be. I also worry about the balance between narrative and “menu-driven” play the rules are built upon. Maybe as I play around with the rules more they will ferment a bit and become better with age.

Threat Tuesday / #Wargame Wednesday / #RPG Thursday (a few days early) – Underground Missile Base to Weaponeer and Perfect Villains Lair

This week Iran unveiled on YouTube their ‘underground barrage missile base:”

As if one video isn’t enough inspiration here is a second (minus the vertical missiles). Obviously filmed pre-COVID. I really like the ones wearing sunglasses deep inside a tunnel!

One missile wonk on Twitter even made a helpful graphic:

For Threat Tuesday this is an interesting way way to deploy missiles. The US certainly learned the danger of storing a liquid-fuel missile in an underground silo forty years ago when a Titan-II ICBM blew up in Arkansas.

For Wargame Wednesday (a day early) this is an interesting target to weaponeer. In the wargame Persian Incursion from Clash of Arms/Admiralty Trilogy Group players can use the rules from Harpoon 4.X to strike underground bunkers. These look much deeper and more difficult. Shades of Star Wars here – deliver that torpedo into the shaft!

For you roleplaying game players looking for RPG Thursday (2 days early) this looks to be a perfect villain’s lair for use in your James Bond 007 Roleplaying Game (Victory Games, 1982) or any modern espionage RPG setting.


Feature image courtesy popularmechanics.com

#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!