#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!

#RPGThursday – Odds and Ends for the summer with #TravellerRPG and #T2K

I AM REENGAGING ON PLAYING RPGS after a long hiatus. The RockyMountainNavy Boys have fully embraced Cepheus Engine and we are mixing a RPG session into our normal weekend family game night. With that change I have started stalking publishers on DriveThruRPG again and making a few purchases.

The first book I picked up is Shipbook: Type S Scout Courier from Moon Toad Publishing. I belatedly realized this book is intended for Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition. That’s OK, Cepheus Engine grew out of MgT 1st Edition so it’s usable. My intent is to pass this along to the RockyMountainNavy Boys to use as inspiration. It’s such a classic Traveller RPG ship they deserve to see it in all it’s glory. Update – Yup, they definitely have latched onto this one for inspiration.

The second book I picked up is Moon Toad Publishing’s Shipbook: Type A Free Trader. Like the Scout, this is another “classic” Traveller RPG ship. Again, my intent is to pass this along to the RMN Boys for their inspiration.

Another item I picked up is a throwback to a much older game. I have impatiently awaited a Korean sourcebook for Twilight: 2000 and now the T2000 v1 Korean Peninsula Sourcebook is available. Having been stationed in Korea the first time in 1992, I must say that the data feels authentic to me. I have not played T2K in a long time but I may just have to set up an adventure.

One part of the Traveller RPG system I have always liked is that there are several min-games in the game. Like character generation. I really enjoy taking a collection of stats and skills and a bit of die rolling and making it into a living character. After the other night, the RMN Boys now understand my joy.

The RMN Boys and I sat down after dinner to roll up a few characters. Middle RMN Boy ended up with a character with low Education and low Social Status. He tried to get into the Marines, failed, and became a Drifter. He eventually did enlist in the Marines, but failed to reenlist and went back to being a Drifter. After three terms the character mustered out. Middle RMN was a bit frustrated. Younger RMN Boy had rolled up a Scout with a ship. This really wasn’t fair! I asked Middle RMN what skills the character had.

“Nothing. Just Driving-1.”

“Sounds like an Uber driver to me,” Youngest RMN said.

“Yeah, an Uber with Streetwise and a bit of Recon skill. Sounds like a good contact,” I said.

“Well, he was in the Marines. Maybe he was a friend of Little John,” said Middle RMN [Little John is another character Middle RMN rolled up before].

Before we knew it, we had fleshed out an entire backstory for our Uber driver. He is a Uber driver on “Planet Kool-Aid,” the Religious Dictatorship planet in the sector. By the time we were finished, Youngest RMN declared, “This is the coolest character ever!”

That’s the power of Traveller.


Feature image imgur.com

I Remember #PowersBoothe and #RedDawn

Actor Powers Boothe died this week. Although he had a long career in Hollywood, the movie I remember him most in is Red Dawn:

In 1984, the year Red Dawn came out, I was just entering my senior year of high school. As a wargamer, I had read many books and played many games about the Cold War. Red Dawn fit right into my world of 1984.

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Courtesy Goodreads

Amongst the many books about the Cold War I had read, General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985 stands out in my memory. I read this one over and over again because I wanted to learn how the Cold War in Europe would go hot! The other book that I remember well is War Day and the Journey Onward (Whitley Streiber & James Kunetka). War Day tells the story of America after the mushroom clouds. It came out the year after the movie The Day After which I had watched in fascination (and with a bit of fear). I kept asking myself, what would I do?

 

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Courtesy BGG

In 1983 and 1984 I also got several wargames that shaped how I viewed the Cold War. Most importantly, I got a copy of Harpoon II. H2 was my first game in the Harpoon-series of modern naval combat and is a system I still enjoy today. This was how the Cold War at Sea was going to be fought! At this same time, I started collecting (and playing) Assault-Tactical Combat in Europe: 1985 which taught me modern combined arms combat. At the operational-level of war, NATO: The Next War in Europe landed on my gaming table. I also played more than a few games of Firefight (the 1984 TSR version) and even built up a collection of Supremacy (nukes and lasersats!).

 

Red Dawn released in August, 1984. This would of been just before my senior year started. I seem to remember going to see it in the first week of release.  It really hit close to home because it took place in Colorado – where I was living. I saw so many of my friends in the movie it became very real in my mind.

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Courtesy RPGGeek

All my Cold War mania culminated at Thanksgiving with the release of the Twilight: 2000 roleplaying game from Game Designer’s Workshop. This game, by the designer’s of my beloved Traveller RPG, put the players as members of a US military unit cut off in Europe after the Cold War Goes Hot. This RPG mixed role-playing and the military together in one package. It also allowed me to use the knowledge I had gained from books and wargames and bring it to life. Eventually, T2K would go so far as to link to wargames like Harpoon 3 for naval combat, Last Battle: Twilight – 2000 for ground combat, and even Air Superiority for the air war.

 

In many ways, Powers Boothe’s character in Red Dawn, Lt Col Andrew ‘Andy’ Tanner, was the T2K character I always wanted to play. For some reason, I drew great character inspiration from this scene:

Col. Andy Tanner: [using a crude diorama, the Wolverines prepare for an assault on the Calumet Drive-In, which is now a Russo-Cuban “Re-education Camp”] All right. Four planes. Cuban bunker, Russian bunker. munitions dump, troop tents. Four machine gun bunkers. Back here by the drive-in screen are your political prisoners. We’ll cause a diversion over here… cut holes in the wire here, fire on all these machine gun positions. The B-Group comes across this area in a flanking maneuver… and when you reach this bunker, you lay down grazing fire on this defilade. I think that’s pretty simple. Anybody got any questions so far?
Aardvark: What’s a “flank?”
Toni: What’s a “defilade?”
Robert: What’s “grazing fire?”
Col. Andy Tanner: [out loud, to himself] I need a drink.

Courtesy IMDB

Rest in Peace, Mr. Boothe.

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Traveller: 2300 – 1st Ed (GDW, 1986)

Traveller! In the year 2300AD! Who wants to play an early milieu Traveller campaign? I certainly did, and that is why I bought Traveller: 2300 in 1986.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that Traveller: 2300 was neither the Traveller rules nor the Traveller setting (I was not the only disappointed person, by 1988 the setting was renamed simply 2300 AD). But as I opened the box and read the Player’s Manual I became intrigued. This was a Hard Sci-Fi setting, with a timeline and background derived from the earlier Twilight: 2000. In 1986, I was in a bit of an anti-space opera mood (actually, anti-space fantasy as Star Wars was rapidly devolving into). Traveller: 2300 felt realistic, especially with the Near Stars Map and List showing all the stars within 50 light-years of Earth (in three dimensions!).

What I Thought of It Back Then – I loved the setting, and we did try to play a few times, but I remember the sessions bogging down because we just couldn’t figure out how to do things. I didn’t know it at the time, but Traveller: 2300 was an attempt by GDW to further their “house” system that had started in Twilight: 2000. In doing so, GDW attempted to define a Task System for the game. Starting on page 4 of the Referee’s Manual, GDW laid out their Task Resolution system. It was all summarized in one page (p. 9) of the manual.

And I was lost.

The biggest problem is a severe lack of examples of play. This was not the first game I experienced with Difficulty Levels (see Paranoia or James Bond) but in their efforts to define tasks they ended up making it too complicated. The scariest part was “Step 6. Referee records task description.” References to notebooks or file cards or even computer files seemed (at the time) to be taking this RPG-thing to extremes. The game didn’t feel playable out-of-the-box.

What I Think of It Today – Even today I have to step through the Checklist for Task Resolution carefully. It’s all there, but not all on the one-page Task Resolution helper. Graphically, the system would be better served by flowcharts…and an Example of Play!

From an RPG-perspective, I give Traveller: 2300 Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 3 (Early Task Resolution System attempt that is unclear)
  • Simulationist = 4 (Attempt at Hard Sci-Fi)
  • Narrativism = 2 (Uses task difficulty and mishaps)

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977-2015 Far Future Enterprises.”

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Twilight: 2000 (GDW, 1984)

I came of age in the 1980’s right at the height of the Cold War. I went to high school in the era of Ronald Reagan, the Evil Empire, and Star Wars (as in the Strategic Defense Initiative). Like others of my time, we lived under the constant specter of nuclear war. I had read Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985, which told the tale of a near-future war in Europe. I also read Strieber and Kunetka’s War Day and the Journey Onward and watched the movie The Day After which both dealt with the aftermath of a nuclear war in America. I did’t know it at the time, but in 1983 the US and Soviet Union came very close to war (see Able Archer 83). So it was with great anticipation that I purchased Twilight:2000 (1st Ed), published by GDW in 1984. The player characters were soldiers, cut off in Europe at the end of a nuclear war, that must survive and maybe even get home.

Once again, I was surprised that T2K was the 1984 HG Wells Best Roleplaying Rules Co-Winner (along with Paranoia – next weeks retrospective). T2K was designed by Frank Chadwick, a prolific wargame and RPG designer and associate designer of Traveller. In 1984, he was the Charles S. Roberts Hall of Fame Award winner and inducted into the Origin Hall of Fame in 1985. I make this point because T2K is alot like Traveller; a simple Core Mechanic wrapped around a very thematic setting with a heavy emphasis on combat. There is little-to-no narrative play in the system. To me, this was a comfortable system. T2K was the first game where I experienced the GDW House System.

Character generation was a mix of rolled Attributes which, after a little math, led to Characteristics. Other important parts of the character included Coolness Under Fire. Service history was a life path-like process, although Skills were purchased. For me, this was a comfortable area; enough like Traveller to be familiar but different enough to be interesting.

The Core Mechanic was a simple percentile die (d100) roll against a skill level (or Attribute x5 if against an Attribute). There was a very simple difficulty system. A Difficult task took the Asset (Skill) /2 as the Target Number. An Average check was straight against the Asset where an Easy task was Asset x2 for the Target Number. There were provisions for Opposed Checks, as well as rules for Outstanding Success and Catastrophic Failure.

Fatigue also was a major component of the rules, a section that at the time I failed to realize was so important. Fatigue reduced Strength, Agility, Constitution and Intelligence. Too much fatigue and the character became semi-catatonic and slowed down, even reaching unconsciousness! To combat fatigue, sleep and rest were needed. Hand-in-hand with fatigue came the Upkeep rules, which we ignored back in the day but I now realize are some of the most important parts of the setting. Finding food, be it by foraging or hunting or fishing, was as important (if not more so) than tracking ammo or fuel consumption and maintaining vehicles or animals. These two rules, Fatigue and Upkeep, are actually the heart of the game showing the difficulty in surviving the post-apocalyptic wastelands.

Combat used a simple three-step process: Did you hit? Where did you hit? How hard did you hit? Each Combat Turn consisted of actions. This is where the Coolness Under Fire came in. The character’s Coolness Under Fire rating determined how often the character hesitated in combat. More Cool, less hesitation. A simple, elegant mechanic that helped define veterans against combat novices.

Much like Behind Enemy Lines, T2K also used Encounter Tables to help drive the action. Of great interest to me at the time, Non-Player Character (NPC) motivations were determined by drawing from a deck of playing cards. Another simple, elegant way of randomizing (or describing) what drove an NPC to act.

What I Thought of It Then – Back in the day, T2K became the replacement game for Traveller in our group. We gobbled up the supplements, especially the Order of Battle books and weapons. This was because we were still wargamers at heart, and T2K is nearly a wargame. We also loved the story bites; they made the book come alive.

What I Think of It Now – T2K is more  wargame than an RPG. Like Behind Enemy Lines, I am not sure this game really deserves to be called an RPG, much less an RPG rules award winner. Eventually, T2K would get its own wargame, Last Battle: Twilight -2000. Indeed, of the 24-page Player Manual and 31-page Referee’s Manual, there is just one (1) page devoted to Referee Notes. The notes don’t give many referee hints.

There is one question this manual has not answered so far, but it will be one of the first questions your players ask, “what are we supposed to be doing?” The obvious, and correct, answer is, “Staying alive.” It is correct, but it isn’t enough. The players need a long-range goal as well, which gives them a reason for wanting to stay alive. This is one they will have to supply themselves, to some extent, but as the referee you have the responsibility to help them along.

T2K has almost no narrative play baked into the system. What little bit was there depended upon the referee, not the players. In the Play Manual Introduction, the Referee was expectations were defined as follows:

The purpose of the referee is to describe the world the players are traveling and adventuring in. The referee plays the role of the non-player characters (NPCs) encountered along the way and adjudicates all conflicts and battles. It is his responsibility to keep the game exciting for the players. The requires several special qualities.

First, the referee must be imaginative….

Second, the referee should have the ability to improvise….

Finally, the referee must have a sense of proportion….

A good referee should so structure the player’s adventures that they are always aware of being extremely close to danger and destruction….The assumption of the game is that players who exercise good judgement and cunning, and who make wise use of their personal strengths, can survive.

There was only a slight nod to the players in the Play Manual Introduction:

The players are the heart of Twilight: 2000. While the referee creates the world, it is the players who travel through it and, by their actions, ultimately change it. The course of the game is a description of the adventures of a band of men and women attempting to survive and perhaps strike a blow for their beliefs. The game will take on more interest if the players seriously attempt to make their characters “come alive.” When playing, they should keep in mind who their characters are and try to act accordingly.

At the time, our group didn’t really think about this because we saw our characters defined more by their equipment than by their motivations.

From an RPG-perspective, I give Twilight: 2000 (1st Ed.) Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 2.5 (Does account for Difficulty)
  • Simulationist = 5 (A deadly game)
  • Narrativism = 1.5 (Outstanding Success/Catastrophic Failure and NPC motivations)