Archive for October, 2009


Continuing from our previous story, Twilight had two choices. It could continue as alternate history or it could try and stay current. GDW adopted the latter choice. They desperately tried to modify the history to still keep the same heroes and villains and honestly it wasn’t bad.

The system was also updated to GDW’s new “House system”, which while not perfect itself was still a vast improvement over the 1.0 system. Sadly, vehicle combat became oversimplified as a result and GDW joined the entire gaming industry in the arena of generic vehicle combat. I loved detail, of course, and the 1st edition for all its faults had a very detailed vehicle combat and damage system.

Vehicles and weapons were updated and we even got some new art. Overall, the update was considerably more than you see for some games these days that revise for a second edition. Most of the equipment books were revised for new stats and re-released, all being notably improved over their 1st edition counterparts. Again, GDW had always done better than its competition in this regard.

So now you had a system that handled the collapse of the Soviet Union and kept China on friendly terms with the U.S. while still allowing a limited nuclear war and massive European theater conventional combat. It still only prolonged the inevitable. In fact, it was worse, as the dates for these things were much closer than they had been when the original edition was conceived.

This made the new 2.0 and 2.2 edition histories just as obsolete just as quickly. Before there could be a decision on what would come next, GDW of course closed its doors forever and we lost (for a time) any chance of deciding in the long-term how to proceed.

The problem with modern combat RPG’s that rely on history (present or future) to define them is that you end up having to revise them as often as a Madden NFL game. Your only choice is to look at alternate history, and this of course drastically limits the market of such a game to those interested in that period. Even moreso, as the setting goes from current events to real history, it further falls into a “what if” that from my experience has limited appeal.

Sure I think the setting’s fascinating and there are still lots of Twilight:2000 fans out there, but for much of the time since it was believed that there was probably not enough to make a viable demographic for a would-be publisher to continue producing material for it.

This problem dooms such systems and thus probably explains why there haven’t been many attempts to do real-time modern combat RPG’s since. What market there was converted primarily to first-person shooter computer games like S.W.A.T., Rainbow Six and the like. For vehicle nuts and large unit freaks some older computer games like SSI’s Steel Panthers 2 did the trick.

I for one consider it a blessing we even got this system. Although much effort was required to make it viable for the time it was around, the idea of a modern-combat setting, especially a post-apocalyptic limited or no nuke setting, was I think one of the most interesting because it was one of the most real.

We could imagine ourselves in these situations, especially in the U.S.-based modules for American gamers. Sci-fi and fantasy are far more detached, but such modern settings are a little more personal and a little more, for lack of a better word, real.

The true testament to such a setting is if it does persist even after the company stops, and T2K did, in more ways than we could’ve imagined. But that’s for another story.

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Twilight:2000, a game of historical fiction produced by Game Designer’s Workshop in the mid-’80’s, stands as one of the most unique platforms of its day and one of the most difficult to maintain. Twilight 2000, for those too young to know better, was not a game of angsty teen vampires and forbidden love. It was an RPG that covered what was at the time poorly developed section of the industry: modern combat environment real-world role playing.

At the time of its inception, Twilight was almost an oddity, born in a market of predominantly fantasy and sci-fi RPG’s. There had been a few other attempts to be sure. Modern combat RPG’s were an interest, but one that hadn’t really taken off. Consider the titles, though.

1979’s Commando was for all intents and purposes a boardgame. There was some RPG action to it, but it was akin to Car Wars in that regard. It was more small unit action than player development. The Morrow Project from Timeline proved a worthy candidate, but its setting was near-future post-apocalyptic with a narrow range of gear and a laughable gaming system. This also was meant mostly as a pseudo-wargame with RPG data grafted on seemingly as an afterthought.

Aftermath by Fantasy Games Unlimited also tried to stake its turf for near post-apocalyptic settings with an almost GURPS-like approach to a “choose your Holocaust” style motif. Although there were a couple of decent supplements, FGU’s horribly overdeveloped math-heavy gaming system I personally believe led it to be less than popular. FGU’s other entrant, Merc, was equally intriguing focusing on the modern “romantic mercenary” figure, but again suffered from FGU’s byzantine game systems.

FASA’s nearly forgotten Behind Enemy Lines (WWII gaming) and the more readily remembered Paladium game Recon (Vietnam gaming) rounded out the early entrants, but none had gained much traction in the market.

Notably, none covered the scenario playing out so frequently in the minds of wargamer geek teens such as myself at the time…the Third World War. Information on equipment and armies for the time was not as readily available as it is now and even bookstores with well-stocked selections of Jane’s directories were scarce. No internet resources existed. If you were fascinated by the concept of the world duking it out instead of going nuclear, there was little to sate your almost hedonistic gaming desire.

This all changed with the older wargamer geeks of GDW. The unique birth of this game is described best from the Guide to Twilight:2000 v.1 you can still get as a free PDF, which itself is excerpted from Lawrence Schick’s “Heroic Worlds“.

The breakthrough came on a long drive back from the Origins Game Convention (Dallas, 1983). In an overloaded rental van, Frank Chadwick, Loren Wiseman, Bill Keith, and Andrew Keith talked for hours about a modern military role-playing game which concentrated on equipment and realistic military situations, and by the end of the trip the concept for Twilight: 2000 was far enough along for specific design to begin in earnest.

This with the enticing description on the back of the original Twilight:2000 boxed set (remember boxed sets?) sold me more than anything. GDW had even solved the problem of hierarchical control by allowing for a limited nuclear exchange combined with significant attrition of command and control to leave player groups (if they wished) practically autonomous.

Twilight:2000 is one of the games that always comes to mind when I’m asked “What was your favorite RPG?” Maybe because I’m a bit of a gearhead and maybe because I loved fiction like Red Storm, Team Yankee and Sword Point is why I keep finding myself going through the old books more than most of my other collections.

Although Twilight’s 1st edition mechanics were unwieldy and combat was difficult (vehicle combat was better and more detailed than most other games however – wargamer designers), the setting, the ability of small groups to make a real difference on the small and large stage and the previously mentioned greatly detailed vehicles and equipment still highlight this as the defining game of modern RPG combat.

Its principal problem, however, lay in its own name. It was speculative fiction, you see. Twilight:2000 was published in the early 1980’s at the height of the Cold War. The events described were plausible and in some cases did come close to coming to pass. However, as history unfolded and the Cold War ended, the history and background of the “origin” story for Twilight became obsolete.

The dilemma here for the game’s original designers was whether they should let the game stand on its own merits as a piece of historical fiction or cater to an audience who truly wanted a game that conformed to modern world conditions. GDW’s fans were nothing if not particular and demanding in that regard. The answer was…a redo. Tune in again for the discussion of Twilight 2.2 and how it was more of a band aid than a cure.

Well it’s a bit delayed in getting here, but I’m ready to write a bit on this topic to sort of wrap-up this discussion of problem gamers and how they usually exist in the typical gaming group.

What it almost always comes down to with gaming is this. It is a hobby shared in most cases by friends. In some cases, the friends are brought together from other parts of each others’ lives and in some cases they only have gaming really between them. Ultimately, the important facet is that these folks get along with each other enough to have fun and enjoy gaming.

This tolerance doesn’t always extend itself, nor do I necessarily believe it should, to gamers who can’t participate in an average gaming social setting without making the others miserable. If we were required to have such people in our groups, why would we even play? Unless you wish to make an argument that the whole field is masochistic, there is no reason.

In cases of “girlfriends” or friends who you keep, but who you don’t normally mix with your “gaming friends” as two fine examples of this issue, there is a secondary relationship that makes it more difficult than to just say “F*ck you” and show them the door as one of my commenters mentioned (and as I previously noted, our group came very close to using that exact language more than once). In these kinds of situations, you just have to let the drama play itself out. There is no easy answer.

In situations in general that involve friends, drama is a natural by-product and for people who game it is usually enhanced. We all seem to share a basic “acting” gene in our desire to either run games or be players, and perhaps the melodrama is artificially magnified as a result. With these situations, what happens will happen and you’re usually going to be left with the aftermath and dealing with how it affects your (perhaps revised) gaming group.

Violent gamers, usually that way as the result of some mental instability or another, or maybe just born mean, are a very touchy subject. Once they exhibit violence, the whole group has to be united in getting them out. Put it on one or two people and you risk endangering those people. People who are prone to violence have in my experience the ability to focus in ways you’d prefer they not and if six or seven people calmly ask them to not come back as opposed to one, there’s less of a chance of an incident. Again, this is just advice. Handle things how best you feel they need to be handled, but always use a bit of caution. Who wants their ass beat (or brains bashed in) over a game?

Another commenter brought up the significant other variant…the “Watcher”. Yes I’ve dealt with them too. Their sole function seems to be to ruin everyone’s good time. Unlike problem gamers, these people are just problems. They don’t want to be there. Whether they think you’re all retarded or not is immaterial. It’s how they will act to one degree or another. The person who brought them will naturally want to defend them even as he/she is cringing at their comments. They might see any criticisms from you as an attack on that person and all that causes is a “rallying around the flag” situation.

Your best bet in these cases is to ignore them as best you can. That usually makes them worse, but some also shut up when they realize no one’s playing. The ones who get worse, well you can continue to ignore them or fire back your own one liners. Turning the other cheek only goes so far. Ensure also that when you talk to the person that brought them later, you don’t flat out blame them for it, but DO make it clear that such a move wasn’t the brightest and that they made everyone miserable as a result.

Feel free to use the phrase “I’m sure he/she’s a very nice person, but they were a grand douchebag during our game”. If that douchebag can’t sell it, nothing can. 🙂

Please take these suggestions for what they are; a small window into how I and some I know have had to deal with such issues in the past. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. Such problems are best excised like a tumor at the earliest possible opportunity before they become a real problem for your group. Don’t worry. They’ll find another group. They always do. How do you think they got into yours???