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.

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