Review: Howling Wilderness

Howling Wilderness

The sourcebook Howling Wilderness sets the basis for the remaining North American setting in Twilight 2000.

I feel that in an isolated spherical cow world, the North American modules of Twilight 2000 should have been a different setting, something like “Apocalypse 2000”. It would probably be a good idea to alter the rules so that the out-there adventures can be a lot more viable. But theme alone would be enough to make the switch.

There’s two literary problems with actually keeping it and the original European setting part of the same universe. The first is the creative regression. The European setting is a clever way to square the circle of “Ok, we want you to be in the army but we also want you to be able to run free. We’ll make this post-apocalyptic, but not too post-apocalyptic, since we still want there to be tons of those tanks around.” There are still flaws, and not just the impossibility to balance dark struggles for survival, rivet-counting crunchy gaming, and traditional RPG adventure that all appear in the rules.

Enter this, where the setting is more of a traditional post-apocalyptic one. North America has been crushed by a mega-drought and everyone has withered down. This leads to the second problem, which is how this led to gimmicks. It feels like the setting should be doubling down on the “grim survival” element, but then an individual sourcebook has a submarine plot right out of Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist, making things more muddled than ever.

I don’t blame GDW for releasing new content out of business necessity. I also think that, given the flexibility GMs have for actually running games, the negative effects of any official supplement are inherently limited. But I still feel that, like how the Survivalist jumped the shark post-timeskip, Twilight 2000 also jumped post Atlantic crossing.

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.