Review: Kidnapped

Kidnapped!

Kidnappedcover

The Twilight 2000 tabletop RPG is a classic of the Fuldapocalyptic World War III genre. So it’s a little disheartening to debut it on this blog with what could easily have been the nadir of the franchise. But the “Kidnapped!” module is still a very interesting example of just a bunch of things all going on a bunch of different paths until it all just breaks.

The big “problem” is that T2K’s later modules were a victim of the very success of its initial premise. The initial European setting was a good way to square the circle of “we want you to be in the military, but we don’t want you to just have to follow orders and sit around until an artillery barrage kills you.” It was also a good balance between “We want to give you limited resources unlike a contemporary setting, but we also want to give you more toys than a full post-apocalyptic setting.”

Yes, this led to issues between the two tones of a “grim struggle for survival” and “like a classic tabletop RPG, only with tanks instead of dragons”. But I have to give GDW credit for making something distinct and adaptable. Then the question is “how do you follow up on that?”

Enter the North American modules, which became increasingly theatrical and bizarre. The “Airlords of the Ozarks” module made me use the term “Arkansas vs. The Blimps” to describe any long series that veers into craziness. It got to the point where it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see the heroes venture into an Upstate New York bunker to retrieve Adolph Hitler’s frozen corpse (as happened in the later Survivalist novels).  But Kidnapped takes the cake both for pure dissonance and poor design.

  • It starts with a description of the super-drought about to strike North America. Too bad the actual main focus isn’t about this Frostpunk-style societal triage. No, it’s about a Hitman/Splinter Cell-style “go and get a high value target”. The target is Carl Hughes, leader of the authoritarian New America, in his Shenandoah supervillain lair.
  • Hughes, the target of the adventure, does not get official stats or an official portrait. But there is a page devoted to a gang of Native American marauders (oh, you 80s action RPGs) and several pages devoted to an abandoned New American facility that does nothing but give a “clue” and a “We’re sorry, Hughes is in another castle” experience.
  • Is Twilight 2000 supposed to be semi-grounded? Good. Now plausibly take on a fortified lair with over a hundred guards and a target who needs to be captured alive (so you can’t just snipe him).
  • Naturally, to fit this mammoth Cadillac V8 into a Smart Fortwo and make the module even slightly viable, there are gimmicks like convenient gaps in the security camera coverage, guards who’ve lived and worked together for years being able to fall for players in simple disguises, and Hughes never going any more than one level deep in the four-level underground complex even when threatened.
  • There are lots of descriptions of places that are either irrelevant or “beef-gated” (too well guarded to realistically challenge), and the “listing of important characters” not only doesn’t have Hughes, but also doesn’t have anyone else actually living in Hughes’ lair. But it does have lots of throwaway bandits-of-the-week!

So Kidnapped! is something I’d recommend only for Twilight 2000 completionists or people fascinated by “How NOT to make an RPG module.” It’s at the point where, if people were running a T2K game in North America and the GM wanted them to take on Hughes, I’d recommend just writing a scenario from scratch instead of consulting this.

For a second opinion on Kidnapped, you can check the the Twilight 2000 Wargaming Blog. That opinion is also not complimentary.

One thought on “Review: Kidnapped

  1. This is timely. My group is on its way to Bremerhaven, and presuming all goes well, on to America. I’d been debating whether to continue, but my brother wants to campaign in America. And I’ve decided to take up the Twilight 2000 America challenge.

    I don’t intend to run Kidnapped. It’s clearly one of the weaker modules in the series. No mega-drought either. Worse than being unrealistic, it really takes away player agency. (“Nothing you do matters, it’s all getting wiped away anyway”)

    I definitely plan to run Airlords of the Ozarks. Had a blast with it back in the day. We’ll have to disagree about that one I suppose. That a postwar faction would get a hold of one large and two smaller dirigibles for strategic advantage in a plane-less world strikes me as plausible enough, in light of the the overall setting. And ultralights! More than NA will be using those.

    [I added a tethered hot-air balloon used by the Silesians in Poland for observation in that pancake-flat environment.]

    They’ll land at Norfolk, and from there I’ll use that excellent Challenge article of coastal New Jersey to kick things off. From there, I’ll drop adventure hooks leading off to Armies of the Night, Allegheny Uprising, etc.

    Maks is seeking out his family, who’d been sent ahead to America back in ’96, and subsequently lost contact after the collapse. I’ll place them on the West Coast somewhere, creating a Battlestar-Galactica-like metaplot, drawing the party across the country.

    So most of America I’ll have to make up the local conditions. I plan to make as few alterations to canon as practical. Howling Wilderness is going to be the problem child. Lots of great stuff in there, and other parts, not so much.

    What’s your take on the other America modules?

    -Wayne

    Liked by 1 person

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