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Writing about Dark Conspiracy recently got me to thinking back to my marathon campaign. As I’ve previously noted, the Dark Conspiracy campaign I ran lasted several years in real time and much longer in game time. I’ve also run a campaign for Conspiracy X, Eden Games’ contribution to the market and back in olden days I played Call of Cthulhu a bit and read the fiction more.

With these and others fresh in my mind, I thought it worth sharing a few ideas on how, for me at least, I was able to produce effective conspiracy and horror-style campaigns. I have run scores of campaigns from classic fantasy to scifi to Old West to post-modern military and apocalypse and of all those I consider conspiracy campaigns some of the most difficult and time-consuming to develop. With most other campaigns, there may be archvillains or great truths that the heroes eventually have to uncover, but there’s nothing to match combining slow discovery of an overarching conspiracy with true horror capable of unsettling even veteran and jaded gamers.

For campaigns of this style, I’ve always felt the first priority was some development of the overarching conspiracy first. It must be nebulous and non-specific in its original form, because the more you flesh it out, the more you risk players exposing items too early or completely missing your well-placed twists and turns. GM’s need to have fun too. The more open the framework and loose the conspiracy is, the more you can use the players to drive its development. Their actions can help even a moderately creative GM provide life to their enemy. My original conspiracy in Dark Con was practically a flow chart. There were the big bad guys at the top, the Dark Ones, with Dark Lords fighting it out underneath them, each with its own small blurb on power base and motivations, groups below that working directly or indirectly for any one of the above and then individual minions and peons at the base who caused the most obvious and open trouble.

My group actually dealt with each tier in the flow chart at varying points in the campaign, sometimes directly and foiled plans of all but the Dark Ones themselves and most times they were unaware of just how much damage they truly did or didn’t do. This is another element that provides a good conspiracy game experience. Players can be allowed to have small measures of success. In fact, this is usually required otherwise why would they want to play? Good conspiracies, though, survive more often than they are eliminated and although pawns and the occasional more powerful pieces may be sacrificed (to the satisfaction of the players), the big pieces stick around. While this may seem like intentional frustration of the players, my response is that unless you plan on wrapping the game up next session, why would you ever want to destroy your greatest villain? Anonymity is a more dangerous power for any foe than just about any other.

The horror factor was perhaps the most difficult element to design. How do you scare or creep out jaded, veteran gamers? It helps to have a somewhat warped imagination oneself, but ultimately you need to set the mood. Unnerving players leaves them vulnerable to a variety of horror elements that might not be so scary in the light of day. I used creepy music at times (Tubular bells and the Poltergeist theme worked wonders) at a low audio level as a sort of subliminal disruption to the feel of an adventure. Such things wear on a person’s psyche, which is why horror movies use them in the first place. I admit to playing on known weaknesses and dislikes of my players. If it’s not too personal, but still allows for easy avenues into unsettling a given player and if one player gets unnerved, more usually follow. Again, I wasn’t trying to mindf*ck the players, merely to destabilize the situation a little so that my horror story was scarier. It’s a slightly more complex version of the flashlight under the face at the campfire trick.

It’s also important also to keep the players feeling “hunted”. They can never be allowed to be too complacent or relax. A good horror or conspiracy game has no permanent refuge for players. They must always be on the run or those around them suffer. Everytime my players got soft or too settled, those behind the conspiracy would always attack and usually overwhelmingly. Occasional PC’s and most NPC’s in such situations who were exposed typically perished. This kept up the sense of just how much their behavior cost them and it provided a tangible example of how dangerous the forces against them were. There must be consequences for the player’s successes just as much if not moreso than their failures.

Revealed truths are a part of that. The more players learn about the conspiracy or think they learn or for that matter the more they learn about a given creature or denizen of your campaign’s menagerie, they more they feel they have your world figured out. Familiarity breeds contempt and a world in which the enemy is predictable is not a fun one. To solve this in Dark Conspiracy, I allowed that the lower level minions, the ones like bloodkin or Ravagers or the like that players figured out after a few adventures were basically turned into shock troops for higher-level minions or Dark Lords. Those higher-level creatures would then be slowly revealed and so on. The danger level for the lower-ranked minions never decreased, of course. They were just more predictable. Their handlers, however, never were.

I performed a similar work-up with Conspiracy X. The campaign in question was more based on dealing with aliens than more earthbound supernatural baddies. If players started to get an inkling of one race’s abilities, habits or origins, I would confound them with a visit from another, usually without a clear picture that a new villain had shown up. Much time was spent rationalizing the new evidence against what they had collected for the previous race and it usually ended in them starting over or coming to incorrect inclusions. Ultimately, they would unravel several useful tidbits over the course of the campaign, but it always came with a good deal of effort.

Cthulhu had an even simpler mechanism with its sanity stat. The more you learned about the pantheon, the less sane you were and if you started out somewhat frail of mind, that was a short trip. I always felt this made GM’s a bit more lazy. Other games required you actually had to develop reason and justification for character’s inability to cope with discovered evidence and this always led to better character development and richer game play. I’d remind GM’s to never take this more simplistic route, as players will resent you for it.

If all else fails, fall back on the masters of horror and suspense. Hitchcock was famous for saying the simplest way to build suspense was to put a bomb into a room with characters and watch their reactions. To let it go off was to ruin the suspense. I used that simple truism to great effect in my campaigns. Small successes and occasionally big successes are fine, but solving the conspiracy or eliminating the horror effectively ends the game. The skill to master is the one in which a game master can accomplish this balancing act in a long-term campaign. What I’ve offered here is just a small token of advice on an incredibly large and diverse genre. Please feel free, should you have run campaigns in this field, to post your own ideas and suggestions. I love hearing good war stories.

With the explosive interest in the paranormal as a hobby, many forget that such trends have been cyclical and that times in even the recent past RPG’s were there to exploit that interest. Many games came out of the period just before and during the interest in the paranormal sparked by the series, The X-Files. Dark Conspiracy was in my opinion on of the very best.

The game was released from the long-lost Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) in 1991, the brainchild of Lester Smith. It posited a near-future setting for a horror/conspiracy RPG centered on a decaying and failing United States and an encroaching and growing supernatural threat. Players took on the roles of those who stumbled upon this encroachment or who were pushed to that end and chose to fight it. The career-choices offered were varied and could be expanded upon, as the whole game was skill-based using the GDW House System.

Any discussion of this game will dwell on the amount of available equipment. In typical GDW fashion, there was a lot, even to the point of an entire book being released dedicated to new gear for the game. The reason for this was rather obvious. First, the GDW guys were gearheads and old wargamers. They liked equipment and they liked equipment variety. Look at any of their other games (Traveller, Twilight 2000, 2300AD, even Space 1889) to confirm this. If you’re a gearhead (and I am) then you really appreciate this level of detail, and if you’re not, who cares? You just ignore the extra pages.

I used the GDW House System for years in the various GDW games, but I was often frustrated by its limitations. It had a modest vehicle combat system, which almost no game at the time had (or likely still has), but I wanted more detail. This is why GURPS’ system eventually won me over in that regard. Want to make an eye shot or shoot the hand? Not so easy in GDW’s system. The skill set was good and expandable and the character career choices were quite acceptable. They expanded this as GDW lengthened their product line.

The back story was a real treat for me. It was just detailed enough to leave you wanting more and GDW added to it considerably with a major array of adventures and source books. Still, they left it open enough that you could customize it with considerable ease. No two conspiracies were exactly the same nor did they have to be and the influence of the antagonists was as much and as pervasive as the GM wanted it to be. I will always remember it as a game with an extremely high body count, at least for my campaign. I ran a campaign that spanned I think eight years of real time. Friend and foe alike saw huge kill tallies as I drove home just how brutal and deadly the world of Dark Conspiracy was to my players. They must have loved it, because they kept coming back for more. I might speak more on my campaign in a separate post.

This dovetails nicely into what I liked most about the game and that was that it tackled a genre that to that point had largely been limited to adaptations of existing science fiction/horror works like Call of Cthulhu. Also, in almost any setting such as that to date, monsters were nearly unkillable unless you had a special weapon, spell, etc. Guns almost always were useless. In Dark Conspiracy, bullets worked and boy did my players use ’em. To be sure, there were still unkillable creatures or hard to kill villains, but the run-of-the-mill Dark Minions were surprisingly allergic to copper and lead. This was immensely satisfying to the players, especially when faced with the knowledge that the worst were unkillable. It gave them a sense of hope, an often false sense but hope nonetheless.

As I noted previously, this game had a tremendous array of supporting material, most of which can still be found and at very good prices on the used market. Its mark was evident in the industry in terms of other companies trying their hands. Even Chaosium published “Delta Green” around this point, a similar “minion-hunter” style supplement to their Cthulhu line I think to answer similar concerns those players had. I’m sure Chaosium vets and fans might deny there was any correlation, but that it came out when Dark Con was still highly popular says it all for me. The great game Conspiracy X by Eden followed some years later and had a similar great run of supplements. I like to think that Dark Con’s popularity made such games much easier to pitch and develop knowing there was a market out there hungry for that sort of material.

Again, sadly, when GDW closed its doors, Dark Conspiracy became an orphan. An attempt was made, somewhat successfully, to revive it a few years later through Dynasty Publishing and it saw limited print release adapted from the unfinished 2nd edition rules that had languished since GDW’s closure. I had the distinct pleasure of play testing the second edition some years later directly with Lester (online no less – very high tech a decade ago) with some outstanding players (yeah, that’s a bit of a kissass, but so what?), but the game hadn’t matured with the industry. It was an early 90’s game in a market fast approaching 2000 and a lot of changes in game styles and gamer expectations had taken place by then.

A major rewrite of the system was probably in order, but there wasn’t the will, time or money to accomplish this. The market balked at the relic being polished up and brought out again for sale, but us die-hards bought it. We appreciated it even if others didn’t, although personally I wasn’t impressed with the team that handled its publication. Outside of Lester himself, who was great to work with, the rest of the team seemed almost uncaring in the quality or development of the new edition. That some of these same souls had been involved in the 4th Edition Traveller debacle wasn’t lost on me and I hate that my misgivings were proven to be correct.

One never knows what the future might bring, though and there are those of us who will always keep its memory alive however we can. I would point out three very worthwhile individuals, Mike Marchi, Geoff Skellams and Marcus Bone, who labored long and hard to develop the exceptionally high-quality fanzine for Dark Conspiracy and later all horror games, Demonground. They were the play testers I mentioned earlier and are some of the best gamers (in addition to my local crew) that I’ve ever had the privilege to know. I had the honor to contribute a few articles to that impressive magazine and if you are a fan of the paranormal in gaming, you could do a lot worse than give it a look. The art for the covers alone was mind-blowing. Should you ever read this, know that my hats off to you guys. You’re the best.

So not to finish off with further kissassing, but I did. I have a special place in my heart for this game, which is painfully obvious, but it’s well-deserved. Despite its dated nature and some issues with the game mechanics I still count it as one of the best RPG’s in its class of all time and if you like the paranormal, you should definitely give this game a look.

Anyone who’s read the earlier pages of this blog knows I’m an avid collector and that I’ve provided my own small, very small pearls of wisdom regarding the collection trade. I’m always on the lookout for helpful resources to assist me in my passion (some would say obsession) and I’ve lately acquired a new one that I thought worthy of noting to you gentle readers.

The book Heroic Worlds by Lawrence Schick was recommended to me as a guide to any collector whose focus was in any way on the earlier era of RPG’s. Schick through connections in the industry and a storied history himself of game play and research had compiled in the early 90’s the definitive tome and catalog of RPG’s. This work is seminal in its history of the industry, review of the hobby and again its completeness. Indexing and trends are even included. Even more interesting is that this book was published just a few years prior to the TCG blow-up that portended the end of the Golden Age of paper role-playing games, which makes it a time capsule of sorts for the hobby.

There’s almost a sadness that comes with looking through this old book. An index of gaming companies and their contact information reads like a casualty list from a great battle. So many companies are gone now or have merged with the survivors. Of course, so many new companies have sprung up since that time, so it’s not quite so depressing. However, it is a reminder that this industry is far from static and that things change and some are not restored.

The book begins appropriately enough with an outstanding reference set of information, such as the ubiquitous “What is a Role Playing Game” chapter found in almost every RPG main book, the history of RPG’s (this is a must-read) and the priceless though brief “Advice for Collectors”. Schick could have made this simply a catalog, but with this 50 pages or so of reference information, he makes it something so much more useful for gaming geeks such as myself.

I also appreciate the style of catalogs in the book. Schick chose to group games in genre and obviously company. Each product has a small blurb that describes it with the occasional side comment thrown in for good measure. One gets the impression that after so many hundred similar entries, Schick felt the urge to write “and yet another supplement that has traps or spells or a dungeon with insert-your-bad-guy-here for PC’s to fight.” Still he manages to maintain his composure and provide concise and effective information, especially for a collector.

Beginning each chapter is a description of the development of that particular genre of games, which games started when and which prospered. For example, although Mekton was the first significant mecha or giant robot game, Battletech came to define the market with Robotech right on its heels. Westerns sadly by this point had not been given much consideration as Boot Hill is the predominant entry for that category. This is one of the many ways in which the book shows its age, missing the advent of such incredible games as Pinnacle’s Deadlands or even GURPS Old West by several years and the Swashbucklers section if of course too early for the grand production, 7th Sea.

The last but certainly not least gem to be found in this book are priceless essays from some of the giants and founders of the industry. Remembrances of the industry, how they developed certain games and the importance of a diet of fried chicken in developing new mechanics are the bulk of what the reader will find in the words of old greats like Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Eric Wujcik and Mike Stackpole. It’s nice to see such things from these authors, not all of whom remain with us. I love old tidbits and war stories from the early days of gaming, because they help me remember why I got into this hobby and more importantly the remind me why its important to keep it alive.

It might be easy to imagine at this point that I consider this book a must-get for any collector or gaming history enthusiast. It is well laid out, packed full of useful information and most importantly still readily available. Such information should be as widely disseminated as possible.

This book was recommended to me specifically because the person knew I was a collector. If anyone else who reads this happens to know of other works that are as or nearly as valuable, I’d love to hear about them and I’m sure others would as well.

GURPS: My Favorite Campaigns

I’ve already commented on my hang-ups regarding GURPS. I do actually like the system, though. I like its ability to jump-start to almost any campaign setting or existing game imaginable. It’s always had flaws. No system is perfect, but GURPS comes about as close for a detail-oriented gamer as it gets.

The first time I ever played GURPS, I played as a villain in my friend’s Supers campaign. Chick, the GM, thought a pre-made villain would be a way to introduce a stubborn bastard like myself into a game for which I had hitherto refused to make a character. Through the steely eyes of a 20’s era hitman gangster turned-metal-man, I was allowed to take a series of shots at my friends who were playing a variety of classic supers.

There was perhaps no better way to introduce me to the system. In fact, I liked it so much I made my first Super, a skill monger named Backfire. Of course, he was an assassin-type turned good guy, because let’s face it there are few better ways to blow off steam than killing things in a game. 🙂

Our first group of Supers were all killers come to think of it. We typified the bash it with a stick mentality. Much to the frustration of our GM, we would barrel through most of his problems with brute force and then eliminate his well-crafted villains with extreme prejudice. Given a long-term campaign, which it was, we eventually had some near world-destroying entities coming to call every week as it seemed that was about all that could take us. This led to the eventual creation of a second generation of Supers, many geared towards less damaging powers and abilities.

Just yesterday I was recollecting to someone quite dear to me a perfect example of this. I created a small stable of heroes for this bold experiment, but first out of the gate was Dr. Otto, a super-intelligent gorilla. His sole method of fighting was, well, “gorilla-style” for lack of a better term. He was a scientist and a bit of an egg head, you see, and he didn’t like or know much how to fight, so when forced he fought like a gorilla…because he was one. I recall his first “field” mission was with an electronics/gizmo gearhead type and they were both confronted with a locked door to a suburban house. We in character spent several minutes debating on how best to enter the house (Disabling potential alarms, looking for key rocks, etc.) before actually gaining entry. Chick had this look of bemused fascination on his face as he watched us do this where our old characters would’ve just busted in the door.

Again I will always think on that as one of my favorite settings. GURPS Fantasy comes in pretty much in a tie, though. Chick again was our GM and he used the standard “Yrth” setting provided in the Fantasy and eventually Banestorm books put out by SJG.

We started out as a simple enough group. We consisted of a Reptile former gladiator (me), a swashbuckling swordsman, a ranger and a battlemage. For flavor we acquired a goblin thief to handle those duties. As an aside and oddly from my point of view, I’ve never known someone who liked to play a thief. We’ve never had a PC thief in any group of which I’ve been apart.

Our merry little band advanced from being simple mercenaries for hire to fighting in a war of survival for Caithness, one of the larger, but newer nations and then “dieing” only to be brought back to finish the war we’d started some years previous. From there we parlayed our war fortune into a piracy outfit centered around the Brig Hellshark, at least I think she was a brig. The same problem occurred as before. As our adventuring increased (it was a multi-year campaign in real time), our power increased and as our power increased our opponents became more and more ridiculous in power themselves.

The campaign lost much of its interest as our GM was unable to keep providing challenging scenarios, and like the Supers campaign ultimately folded with a whimper instead of a bang.

Both the Supers and Fantasy settings, very different in most aspects, sold me on a system I had boycotted for years. I began to truly appreciate just how flexible GURPS really was and applied elements of it to several games afterward that I myself ran. Most notable among those was my Traveller campaigns. I kept modifying the Traveller campaigns I ran, never content with the rules systems that were available. CT and MegaTrav’s settings had great character-building “Career path” systems, but everything else was very clunky. For combat, nothing matched GURPS’ level of detail and my players loved detail when it came to killing. So did I, I must confess. Not many games were out that would let you target an eye, finger or jugular with equal simplicity. I don’t know that that has changed. I began adding the GURPS elements to provide that level of detail and to keep my players happy; the ultimate goal of any GM.

For a system I had so stubbornly avoided, it was playing in it that ultimately broke through my curmudgeonly shell and let me finally realize its true potential. It reminded me that with much in the way of RPG’s, we really should give new ones a chance before writing them off altogether. Is that realistic? Our biases and personal idiosyncrasies tell me that in practice it is not, but small examples like this prove that it works.

If anyone has similar stories or favorite campaigns that come out of one GURPS book or another, and the beauty of that system is many excellent world and subject books exist, I’d like to hear about it. Write in the comments section if you feel so inclined to share.

I took a long time to come around to GURPS (the Generic Universal Role Playing System). Steve Jackson did his level best to make me not want to by his product. This may require some back story.

It certainly wasn’t the first product of his in which I had shown an interest. I was an avid fan of Car Wars and had most of the original “pocket sets” back when such things existed. Car Wars, Truck Stop, Crash City, Midville and a variety of Uncle Al’s guides graced my collection and my original group played several rounds of the game.

Steve had, it seemed, a hatred of my hometown, though and frankly this pissed me off. I hailed from Indianapolis, you see, and Steve had the town nuked by terrorists. The town that up through the 80’s was known for little else than racing had been nuked out of existence. That made about as little sense to me as anything could at the time and well my response was to not buy any of his crap for several years. Considering how much of my money went to gaming books, I figured I was denying him a significant market share of the industry at the time. Ask my now-retired pusher, I mean game store owner. He’ll attest to the amount of his kids’ college for which I paid.

I was lulled after many years to actually play GURPS Supers, although I still refused to by the book, and then I was slowly conned into playing in a GURPS Fantasy campaign, both I now consider among the best campaigns in which I ever played. Still, I was very slow, almost a decade in, in acquiring my first GURPS book. It was well into Third Edition before I acquired the Basic book and Compendiums.

It was about this time, I think, that Steve heard I was buying his books, because realizing he couldn’t have such a thing, he committed his second atrocity in my eyes. I have spoken before of the release of GURPS Traveller. I have also spoken about how furious I was that MegaTraveller and Traveller: New Era were being tossed aside in favor of his desire and Marc Miller’s to see the bloated Imperium campaign continue.

I was livid and again I delayed in acquiring his products. In time, I forgave and began my 3rd Edition collection, although about a third of my collection consists of $5 specials from GenCon as 3rd Edition was phased out and 4th was phased in. I’ve purchased one 4th Ed. book (Traveller: Interstellar Wars), but refuse to buy all the others again. I’ve already done that with other systems (bought the same book with revisions umpteen times) and I think I’ve finally reached my limit with GURPS. That or I still haven’t forgiven the son of a bitch completely. 🙂

If there was ever to be a science fiction game that had considerable promise, it was Star Frontiers. Granted, I may only think so highly of it because it was my first and thus most dear science fiction game, acquired I think around the tender age of 14. Its system was, as many are, unwieldy and not much good beyond basic play with basic tasks (combat, climbing, riding, etc.).

The universe was perhaps generic, but it was at the same time gifted with a certain unique twist in that the races were still very playable and amusing. We of course had our ubiquitous humans. What game doesn’t? Well, some but this had humans. There were gliding apes called Yazirians, who I assume were developed to fit the “wookie” role in the Star Frontiers universe. The inscrutable “Vulcan” like characters were oddly enough insectoid, Vrusk. Outside of Star Wars’ Verpine, rarely do you see PC insects in scifi. And lastly the fourth main race were the Dralasites, blobs of goo looking like Gloop and Gleep from the Herculoids that could shape themselves in any number of ways with any numbers of limbs and a ridiculous sense of humor that was equally pliable.

There were many subraces introduced over a series of adventure supplements, most NPC-level in detail, but these were the four main player races.

Naturally a villain race was introduced, the worm-like Sathar. And yes, they resembled nothing so much as an oversized earth worm with a penchant for large guns. Something that infuriated me as a teenager was the fact that TSR took great lengths to insist that any campaign should keep the Sathar a complete mystery to the PC’s. Some small things were found out about them near the end of the adventure series (in Face of the Enemy and War Machine), but by and large there was never any information produced on them. They killed themselves before capture and blew up their ships if they were losing a battle. I always longed for TSR to flesh them out, as it were, but to my knowledge they never did.

The modules were surprisingly enjoyable. The original “Volturnus” series for Star Frontiers was in my opinion a fun albeit somewhat predictable storyline. I own multiple copies of these adventures and always enjoy re-reading them. What’s not to love? Squirrel monkeys, land squids and desert-dwelling octopi mixing it up with bipedal super smart dinos. Yeah, have to call that one a winner in my book.

The unigov in this game was called, wait, United Planetary Federation (UPF) because the United Federation of Planets might be too obvious. That goverment mixed with local colonial governments gave quite a degree of flexibility in campaigns.

I was a huge fan of the fact that Star Frontiers had its own wargame, “Knight Hawks”. It allowed for UPF and Sathar space battles in a very standard wargame fashion. Everything from fighter to fighter to battleship to heavy cruiser was covered. Again the system was overly simple and not designed to survive much detail. Small detail criticals were included almost as an afterthought, it seemed, but the system was quite playable.

Both “Alpha Dawn”, the RPG set and “Knight Hawks” had maps and counters; a step above almost any other TSR fare at the time. In fact, it outdid a lot of games of its day in that regard. Most companies couldn’t afford all the extra bells and whistles.

Coming out of Star Trek and Star Wars at the time (this was about ’85), I was quite eager to play an actual scifi game and Traveller was not yet fully on my radar. Star Frontiers proved a remarkably simple and satisfying product for that need, but it left me wanting a lot more. I’ve often thought the setting should be modified for other systems, like GURPS, and maybe it has. I might look that up. Yep. I love the web.

If you’re looking for a simple system with great races and a very workable and expandable campaign setting, you can do a lot worse than go with the Star Frontiers setting. The products are highly collectible and even include some miniatures if you can find them. It amazes me how much money TSR threw at this project, but it was in its seriously flush days of the Frank Mentzer D&D sets, so it makes a bit of sense.

If any of you ever played this or it was also your “gateway drug” into other scifi games, I’d love to hear about it.

For now, I’m back among the living. Family life’s just so much fun. Anyone with one will understand that statement. I’ll try and post some more goodies. Glad to see people have still been coming around in my absence. If there’s a general topic or game you want to hear about and I have info on it, let me know and I’ll write and write and write for your amusement. 🙂

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.

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???