Classic Old School Games are enjoying a renaissance these days, some in the form of cloned rulesets and others in the form of new approaches to the intellectual property. Twilight 2000 is getting a fourth edition that is in the form of the latter thanks to the Swedish company Free League Publishing. There is Kickstarter campaign running through 3 Sept 2020 to bring this title back to market that is already knocking down stretch goals like an armored thrust through central Europe.
The core gameplay uses the hexcrawling system established in Mutant: Year Zero and Forbidden Lands RPGs (both Silver ENnie winners for Best Rules, in 2015 and 2019), developing it further to fit the gritty world of Twilight: 2000. The core rules build on the Year Zero Engine, but heavily adapted to fit Twilight: 2000 and its focus on gear and gritty realism.
Free League Publishing
For those of you who are not familiar with the previous incarnations of Twilight 2000 let me provide a short synopsis of the setting.
In the first edition of the game, a Sino-Soviet border war escalated into nuclear exchanges while military officers from West and East Germany tried to reunite their nation with aid from NATO leading to a larger Warsaw Pact conflict across central Europe. The culmination of the conflict is a surprise Thanksgiving Day nuclear first strike by Soviet forces on the US and UK mainlands which is responded to in kind leading to a “nuclear autumn” and breakdown of civilization with casualty figures somewhere around 50%. The conventional war front across Poland and the Baltics grinds to a stalemate and a final NATO push is met with the last remnants of the Warsaw Pact, effectively grinding both armies into shambling ghosts.
The characters are assumed to be the survivors of the US Army 5th Division, cut off from command and supply in Poland and left to fend for themselves. The result being a sandbox full of combat trained and equipped characters having to deal with hostile troops and civilians as they try to survive. Do they try to make their way home, become another band of roving warlords or make alliances with the friendly civilians who need protection from the predations of other military remnants?
The second version of the game, faced with a post-Soviet collapse world, posited a successful 1991 coup where Gorbachev and Yeltsin were eliminated and Communist hardliners maintained the Soviet state control with a similar follow on of events causing a nuclear exchange and societal collapse.
The end result was a popular setting where you had armed military and civilian survivors, surrounded by a dangerous environment where power was taken and free-will was enforced at gunpoint. This was a gritty and realistic exercise rather than the mutant fun of Gamma World. Exploration was required for food, fuel, supplies and news so there was always potential for conflict. There were many adventures and supplements produced to expand the coverage of events in the US, UK, and Middle East along with various equipment catalogs of eastern and western military hardware.
So if you are a fan of Cold War fiction and post-apocalyptic or military gaming check out the upcoming version of Twilight 2000. From what we have seen so far, Free League Publishing is making great strides at adapting the Mutant Year-Zero engine to the Twilight 2000 setting and the end result should be well worth it.
They share themes of simple, hackable rule mechanics that trust in referees to make judgements rather than exhaustive pages of unbending rules. If there are pages of rules, they are guidelines for the referee not weapons for the players.
So what differs between classic old school gaming and the old school revival [OSR] role-playing game movement you ask? Well, like most things involving more than two people, opinions vary.
The OSR RPG movement tends to stick to an end point defined by the Moldvay/Mentzer editions of Dungeons & Dragons in the early 1980s. This generally allows the original versions of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest and Traveller to join the B/X or BECMI D&D sets on the OSR roster. They share themes of simple, hackable rule mechanics that trust in referees to make judgements rather than exhaustive pages of unbending rules. If there are pages of rules, they are guidelines for the referee not weapons for the players.
That cut-off point in time excludes some great classic games that I enjoyed thoroughly in my youth so OSR doesn’t exactly describe what I’m going for here on the blog. I’m therefore defining classic old school gaming [COSG] as expanding to include excellent RPGs first published in the 12 year span known as the Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan presidencies. For those of you not familiar with the chronological mile markers of the “Peanut Farmer” and the “Gipper”, it is a period of time starting in January of 1977 and ending in January of 1989.
This time period contains both the great first generation of games but also the remarkable second generation that was built on the shoulders of the first with interesting mechanics and new licenses from Marvel, Star Wars and Middle Earth IP holders. I enjoyed many games of both generations with my personal list of memorable titles below. There are of course other games that fall into the time period like Victory Games’ James Bond 007, Columbia Games’ HarnMaster and Palladium’s Robotech, but I am keeping the list to ones I personally owned and played.
Dungeons & Dragons Basic/Expert [Moldvay] – TSR 1981
Dungeons & Dragons Basic/Expert [Mentzer] – TSR 1983
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – TSR 1977
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Ed- TSR 1987
Gamma World – TSR 1978
Star Frontiers – TSR 1982
Top Secret – TSR 1980
Call of Cthulhu – Chaosium 1981
GURPS – Steve Jackson Games 1986
Middle Earth Roleplaying – Iron Crown Enterprises 1984
Traveller – GDW 1977
Twilight 2000 – GDW 1984
Traveller 2300 – GDW 1986
Star Wars – West End Games 1987
MechWarrior – FASA 1986
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay – Games Workshop 1986
Many of these classic titles have gone on to have multiple successful editions over the decades, a testament to the charm and uniqueness they brought into the gaming landscape.
Unfortunately, not all my original copies of these games successfully made the move with me from the Midwest to the South in the early 90’s while attending college. I am still mad about not having my original Ravenloft isometric map over 30 years later. The recent establishment of the PDF marketplace for out-of-print games and print-on-demand has luckily allowed myself, and many other gamers/collectors, to reacquire these classic old school titles.
So that’s my take on what classic old school gaming is in a nutshell. The same nostalgic Carter-Reagan period can also be used to capture classic old school movies (Escape from New York, Aliens, Blade Runner), television (Battlestar Galactica, Miami Vice, Magnum P.I.) and books (The Shining, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Name of the Rose). So while I can’t promise not to color outside the lines on this blog, this period in time defines the culture that influenced a lot of the entertainment I consumed so I’m using it as a handy reference. Plus I’ve never seen anyone else define their gaming using Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan so I’m hoping for points for originality from the judges.