Review of Twilight: 2000: You’re on Your Own, Good Luck

Imagine surviving another battle in war only to find yourself cut off from command. No medevac, no calling in incoming fire, no reinforcements, no going home. Twilight: 2000 takes the Year Zero system and couples it with brutal combat that leaves it mark on everyone involved who survives. A campaign kicks off with a lost battle and the last communication from headquarters, “Good luck. You’re on your own now.”
Twilight: 2000 is a boxed set stuffed to the top with two rulebooks, combat maps, poster maps of Poland and Sweden, cardboard tokens, cards, and dice. Everything needed to get started is included. My thanks to Free League for providing me a copy to review.

The system is a variation of the Year Zero Engine. Instead of a dice pool, rolls are made with one attribute die and one skill die that range from a d6 up to a d12. Player characters track radiation points and use coolness under fire (CUF) to remain calm in combat. It even includes hit locations. The Referee Manual has rules to convert 1st and 2nd edition material as well as solo rules.

The PCs are going to endure hardship, experience fear, and feel like they are up against all odds. Some PCs are going to die. What is going to make the campaign work are those fleeting moments of victory and especially those times the PCs really get to make a difference. These wins may be helping people in need, creating a safe haven, and maybe someday even returning home. These emotional wins function as a means of catharsis from fear and anger, and not only will the character feel good but so will the players themselves.

To pull of this range of emotions, the rules have to simulate the stress of combat and the toll it takes to be good at killing people. Coolness under fire (CUF) is a mechanic that allows PCs to function while getting shot at and to bring the violence to the enemy. However, as CUF rises and their skill at killing increases, their Empathy goes down as they find it hard to interact in normal ways. This drop in Empathy also ties in to killing a helpless foe as actually committing this act first requires a failed Empathy roll or a PC can’t go through with it. So a PC with a higher CUF also has an easier time killing outside of combat.

This combination is powerful. In order for the emotional toll to be worth it, the PCs need to get some real wins. This is where the referee comes in. A referee needs a way to be impartial. To allow random events to happen and not come across as the bringer of misery.

At the same time, the referee also has to set up those moments of difficult choices for the PCs. Present PCs with tough situations with no easy solution and let them figure things out for themselves.

The rules support the referee both by providing dozens of small encounters that can happen completely randomly alongside a handful of full adventures with tough choices. In one adventure, the PCs have to face child soldiers. What happens if they have to fight them? In another, siding with marauders against the locals may help the PCs out more than defending the locals. Are they willing to side with the bad guys to get ahead? And there is enough overall background on and rule support for the various powers in Poland and Sweden for the referee to make their own adventures.

The best part is, a referee can simply pull out the map of Poland and Sweden, point to the hex the PCs are in, and repeat the last message from HQ: “Good luck. You’re on your own now.” Where the PCs go and what they do next is entirely up to them. And the campaign kicks off from there.

Free League has never disappointed me with an RPG before. But this one really resonates with me and the value is outstanding. Months and months of gaming can be found in this one box. And it will be a Twilight: 2000 campaign of hardship, hard choices, death, and every once in a while, hope.

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

Teo Twawki

Coffee ruminator
Yeah, I think it would make it awesome. That's just my opinion, I know. But putting some mad science, dark magic, psychic powers, etc., would give us a strange angle for those of us who would like to go from "gritty depiction of post apocalyptic war" to "pulp-inspired adventure stories in a post apocalyptic setting." Have it in an appendix or supplement.
A completely modern, realistic RPG has never really captured my imagination. It needs something else - be it magic, sci-fi, superheroes, etc.
Plenty of games cater to pulp fantasy. Zombies, magic, and psionic flairs simply isn't the game described on the box.

T2k needs nothing beyond its desperate realism.

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aramis erak

I did have a couple encounters that triggered a, "Pause, please," reaction...

The gassed out village, and the war profiteering guys...

The gassed out village is a stock random encounter. "You find several families, warm, but dead. Not a wound in sight. Their dogs, cats..."
"HOLD!" X-card waving. "I need a minute."
A few minutes later, "Continue..."
"Their pets and farm animals all dead, too..."
"BUTTON UP!" the Doctor's player orders.
Everyone mimes putting on the MOPP-masks/hoods...
One asks, speaking through hands, "Why button?"
"Nerve Gas!" T stops, looks at me, "It is gas, right?"
I nod.

The war profiteers... they tracked the crashed helo's parts from these pogues' hummer tracks... find them eating K rations and playing PS-2...
As they started to negotiate, one of the players asks, "Can we hold the scene? I'm ready to kill these !@@^((#s."
"STORE RUN!" says another player.
They found reasons to kill these asinine pogues... when they caught these deserters raiding a live friendly convoy...
The reason? They needed time to mentally process the nature of war, as one of the PCs had bought the farm, these guys were a mile off, with radios on the freq, and sat there playing Tenchu: Stealth Assassins....
Having their characters take gory hits? No problem.
Having guys in the same uniform ignore calls for help? Set everyone's hackles on "Hedgehog!"

While I recommend an X-card, as the horror moments will happen in a RAW campaign with good GM description, but may not be the ones that you expect. I expected the gassed village to be a bit rough on the chemist... but it was the teens that freaked at the animals being vaguely described.

One thing my players really appreciated was that, when they killed the soviet female sniper, she had period supplies in her kit. Waste not, want not.... But that also made the sniper no longer seem just a set of stats, but a woman, with all the usual issues...

So many chances to personify the enemy and the victims.
To remind players that the Soviets are not Orcs.

Indeed. Orcs are good guys now!
We have been trying to add to the grim near-reality but seem to struggle to get passed a more wargame ( not the movie) style of play, but only 3 sessions in. I think TW2K is a slow learner-burner


While I recommend an X-card, as the horror moments will happen in a RAW campaign with good GM description, but may not be the ones that you expect. I expected the gassed village to be a bit rough on the chemist... but it was the teens that freaked at the animals being vaguely described.
I first noticed a similar phenomenon while watching the documentary Independence Day back in 1996. Amid the destruction of various cities, landmarks, and what must have been the deaths of millions of people, the most tense moment in the movie came in the form of a golden retriever fleeing into an underground tunnel moments before he would have been killed. It was literally the only threat in the film that held any emotional resonance.

Like motion pictures, in RPGs we've become inured to the deaths of humans (orcs, elves, etc., etc.). I put on hold any plans to run Twilight 2000 because of the recent invasion of Ukraine. But I had planned on making sure the Russians were humanized, not all NATO forces were "good" guys, and Poles might be pro-American, pro-Russian, or pro-Everyone Get the Hell out of My Country Now depending on who the PCs are dealing with. It was one of the only games where I had decided that violence against children was a possibility and see what the PCs might do when confronted with a 13 year old armed with an AK-74.

Teo Twawki

Coffee ruminator
Our T2k games--for those who haven't experienced the world's RL horrors ranging from removing non-survivors from a fatal house fire to surviving genocide as our core group has--would probably be an X-card from the moment it began. The events depicted in our game world are never salacious, but never sugar-coated either.

A friend of mine who lives 40 km from the front line in Kryvyi Rih, joked last week about how much they would like to be playing an rpg about combatting the Soviet Empire rather than suffering from the nihilistic arrogance of a former-Soviet dictator who wants to be a génocidaire.

Rather than being traumatic, for us, playing a game is having power over the horrors depicted. Because in RL, we almost never do not have the power to control the very human horror of things like 13 year olds armed with Kalashnikovs. RPGs, like good fiction, allow us to examine (and even participate) in events which in RL would be hazardous or even horribly fatal to explore.

To steal most of a quote from elsewhere:
It plays out like this:

You discover your food has been contaminated with mold or eaten by rats.
The Polish countryside in winter is not a friendly place.
You kill and eat a dog, then later break into a farmhouse and take all their food.
You stumble upon a Soviet patrol.
Four of your six teammates die in the ensuing firefight.
You are taken prisoner and enslaved by the Soviet force.
The Soviet force has no women in it.
You later look back on eating the dog as one of your fondest memories.

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