#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)
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