Twilight 2000 Core Set
Roleplaying in the World War That Never Was
In the 80s, a nuclear war with the Soviet Union seemed inevitable. We came very close in November of 1983, but luckily it didn’t. Hopefully, it will always remain that way. But one often wonders what a war involving tactical nuclear warheads would look like? What if the events of the last century played out differently and the former Soviet Union and NATO went head to head in an all-out war? Would there be a winner after it’s finished, or will it be a war with no winner?
Twilight 2000 explores the “what if” aspect of the next world war. Set at the turn of the last century, the great nations of the west and the east collide in an all-out war involving the nastiest modern weaponry has to offer. Each side utilizes all they have, with neither achieving its goal. Ultimately, both lack the resources to continue and abandon their soldiers on the battlefield to fend for themselves. Twilight 2000 is not a game about war but rather about survival.
Note: Free League provided Rolling Boxcars with a review copy for this article. If you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review, please visit our Product Review Request page.
Twilight 2000 by Free League is the roleplaying game’s fourth iteration. It substitutes the game’s original dice mechanics for the publisher’s tried and true Year Zero Engine but retains the underlying theme presented in the previous versions. Players assume the roles of soldiers or civilians left on their own in a wartorn landscape after the warring sides no longer have the resolve or resources to continue. The game begins in the same fashion as the original, with the player characters being told to fend for themselves by division HQ. In the original game, players received a handout with the order, while in Free League’s version, the players are informed through a frontline solider’s narrative on the front lines. Both reports finish with the exact iconic last words, “Good luck. You’re on your own now.” The original Twilight 2000 only began in Poland, but this latest version provides an option to start in Sweden.
Twilight 2000 comes in two sets, the Core Set and a Special Deluxe set housed inside a metal container. This review will focus on the standard set. The quality of the box and its contents are of the highest quality and constructed to last. Included in this four-plus pound box set are:
- Player’s Manual (152 pages) contains character generation, skills, specialties, and rules for combat, base building, and travel.
- Referee’s Manual (112 pages) with setting information, 52 ready-to-play encounters, and four complete scenarios.
- 15 custom-faced dice
- A vast, durable, double-sided map of part of Poland and part of Sweden.
- 16 modular, geomorphic battle maps
- Four battle maps for the included scenarios
- 108 cardboard tokens representing personnel, vehicles, conditions, and more.
- 52 deck of encounter cards
- 10 initiative cards
- Five blank character sheets
As mentioned above, players can begin their adventure in Poland, the traditional location, or Sweden. However, readers should note that any area may be utilized since the setting is a world war, but the contents are geared to the two locations. Groups can be a mix of soldiers of any nation or even a civilian. Two introductory scenarios are provided, both called Operation Reset. One is set in Poland, while the other is set in Sweden. It begins with the characters running for their lives as the war’s final battle is coming to a close.
Twilight 2000 uses a variation of Free League’s Year Zero Engine. Gamemasters and players familiar with this system will quickly adapt to the slight variations. At the heart of the Year Zero Engine dice resolutions are dice pools that count successes within them. Pools with results of six or higher are successes, while ones negate a success—rolls of 10 or higher on a single die count as two successes. The number of successes needed depends on the Gamemaster’s decision for the task. Dice pools are subject to plus or negative modifiers.
Pools that miss their success requirement have two options. They may allow the pool to fail (Twilight suggests allowing players to fail forward), or they may push their rolls. Players pushing their rolls reroll any die, not a success or a one, and accept the new role no matter the outcome. Failing again results in the character taking a condition that weakens them until they can deal with the consequences. Free League sells custom dice produced specifically for Twilight 2000 with target symbols for numbers six and up and explosions on the one. There are other dice with symbols for different types of rolls that I will cover later on.
Twilight 2000 uses two methods to create a character. The first and quickest method is to create a character using one of nine Archetype templates. With the template in hand, a player will quickly move through the steps of character creation—customizing based on the archetype. The second, more extended method uses a lifepath—a series of tables for the player to roll on to establish their character’s backstory. From there, the player tailors their character to their liking, choosing their branch of service or civilian background. Each method is accompanied by detailed step-by-step instructions to quickly assist character creation.
Twilight characters contain four attributes, Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Empathy, ranked from A to D. All attributes and skills are rated by letters representing different die types (A = D12, B = D10, C = D8, and D = D6). A is the best with the highest die type, and D is the lowest for attributes. Each attribute has three linked skills also ranked in the same fashion as attributes. When a skill is used, the ranked die type is added to the attribute rank die type to create a player’s dice pool. In instances where the skill has no ranking (untrained), it is referred to as having an “F” rank, and only the attribute die is rolled.
Characters may be from any nation with any background, military or not. Player characters begin as a unit with a morale rating. This rating will change throughout the game and affects the character’s Coolness Under Fire, a character’s ability to navigate high-pressure situations. Each character begins with a moral code. If they follow their code, it earns them a bonus. Not following it acts against them. Characters may change their moral code after the session they betray it. Each character has a big dream to give the characters something to live for. It can be anything the player wishes that will drive the character to want to live. Characters’ big dreams can change each session if desired.
As a unit, soldiers begin to form bonds with each other, not unlike a family unit. Every character must choose a buddy out of the unit. If a character sticks their neck out for their buddy, they are awarded a bonus on a skill. But when they witness their buddy getting injured, it could cause them mental strain. A character may choose a new buddy for each gaming session if desired.
Characters begin with starting gear either listed with their archetype or gained through their life path. On top of that, the unit will start with a vehicle and its own equipment. A generous amount of weaponry, equipment, and military and civilian vehicles is provided in the book—all beautifully captured in detailed illustrations. The military-grade weapons are separated into their own sections from civilian accessible firearms. Equipment is divided into American, Soviet, Swedish, and Polish nationalities.
Twilight 2000 comes with 15 custom-faced dice, a hit location die, and an 8-piece set comprised of pairs of D6s, D8s, D10s, and D12s, and 6 D6 Ammo Dice. The hit location die has facings for the torso (3), legs (1), arms (1), and head (1). It’s an alternative to the to-hit location chart found in the rulebook. The 8-piece dice set is used for skill rolls. Each die features an explosion on the 1 and crosshairs on numbers 6 and above—double crosshairs for 10 and above. The explosions (1) are used with pushed rolls and give characters stress. Crosshairs denote successes—anything over a 6.
The Ammo dice feature a bullet icon on the 6 facing and an explosion on the 1. Ammo dice are used when firing more than one round with a firearm. A player can add as many Ammo dice to their roll up to their weapon’s rate of fire or the number of rounds left in their weapon’s magazine. The dice do not increase the chance of a successful hit but have a different purpose. Players with a successful attack roll and Ammo Dice showing a 6 (bullet icon) can choose one of the following: increase damage, add an additional hit on the same target, or hit a target in the adjacent hex. If the to-hit roll was missed as long as one Ammo Dice shows a 6, the target is likely to be suppressed with gunfire. Ammo dice with two or more 1s (explosions) the gun jams. After each firearm use, the sum of the Ammo dice is added together to obtain the number of rounds used.
Not seen since the early years of the hobby, Twilight 2000 merges hex maps and counters with roleplaying. Players are expected to use counter markers on the provided hex terrain to resolve their combat encounters while following an extensive detailed set of combat rules. Twilight 2000 comes with a host of colorful hex maps to use during combat situations. Each hex on the maps conforms to 10 terrain types that may help or hinder a character when conducting combat in that hex. A hex can affect a character’s visibility, make ranged attacks more difficult, slow down movement, reduce or increase the amount of cover a character has to utilize, and ability to conduct an ambush.
On top of the hexes, players use square cardboard counters to represent their characters. There are multiple counters for each player depicting the character’s current stance. The counters must be placed on the hex map with care for facings are essential. Using counters with the hex map allows for easier measuring of firing ranges, blast radius, and movement.
Combat begins with the initiative roll, drawn with the cards provided in the box set. A standard deck of cards may be substituted. Characters act out their actions from the lowest initiative result to the highest. Players may exchange their initiative cards with another player or NPC.
In turn, a character may take a slow and fast action or two fast. Slow actions are retrieving an item from one’s backpack, fighting with bare fists, shooting a firearm, or the like listed on the provided table. Fast actions include reloading a weapon, seeking cover, pulling a grenade pin, and other items listed on a table for reference.
Twilight goes into depth with rules to cover almost every possible action the characters will likely try in combat. There are rules for close combat and ranged weapons fire, negotiating and interrogating the enemy, keeping overwatch, the different types of weapons fire, radius damage for explosive devices, and much more.
Combat remains very lethal like its predecessors and compounds mental strain upon it. Characters take damage from missed pushed rolls as well as physical attacks. Special symbols on the custom dice, explosions for pushed rolls, and gun targets for attacks calculate the damage a character sustains, while a hit location chart or a hit location die determines the location of the impact. Body parts behind cover or that are armored either reduce or negate damage. Injury above a character’s hit capacity incapacitates a character until they can receive medical treatment.
When a character receives a critical injury, they could be maimed or killed. To find out a roll on a special table is required. There are five tables—four for general body areas, arms, legs, torso, head, and a chart for mental stress. The charts list the type of injury, its lethality, the time until death if not treated, effects, and healing time. Until a character has been stabilized, they must make death saves based on the type of critical injury sustained. Once a character is stabilized, they no longer need to make death saves and are on the road to recovery.
In between the quiet moments, the characters will be traversing the Polish or Swedish landscapes. Two hex maps, one of Poland and one of Sweden, feature eight terrain types similar to the battle hex maps but different. They help or hinder the unit’s speed as they travel along, challenge their driving skills, regulate the land’s resources, and the chance for an encounter. Twilight 2000 has special traveling rules, including hunting, foraging, marching, and more. The characters are not likely to have a home base to retreat to, making traveling a large part of gameplay. Those who choose to set up a base camp will likely be challenged by opposing forces for control of the players’ hoarded resources.
The Referee’s Manual contains setting information for Poland and Sweden, including the final intelligence reports before the characters were abandoned by their governments. The intelligence report records the location and force size of NATO and Soviet positions. It also has summaries of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and a general status on the rest of the world.
You’ll also find factions and forces from the major nations; military forces, fringe groups, special organizations, and more. Each comes with a brief background, resources, and goals. They can be used alone or as part of a scenario site. Scenario sites are episodic encounters. They are scenarios to inject into a long campaign. Four Scenario sites are provided in the Referee’s Manual. On top of that, the book also includes 52 random encounters used for solo play and regular play.
Using the special deck of cards included in the box set or a standard deck of cards, a solo player can generate encounters for their character. The details of each encounter are listed under its card number and suit in the Referee’s Manual. They include encountering hostile forces to challenges with the weather. It is a mixed bag of unique encounters.
When I heard of Twilight 2000’s reboot, I had mixed feelings. I was happy for a game I enjoyed many years ago to get reborn but worried about how this new version would translate to modern times while retaining its nostalgic charm. The authors also had this concern, for they were fans of the original. They consciously preserved Twilight 2000’s legacy while modernizing the mechanics.
One of the first items I looked for when I first received the new Twilight 2000 was its chronological background of how the war started. The original 1984 version begins in 1995 with war erupting between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. The Soviets turned their attention to the east and pulled men and resources from the west to fight it. This infuriated several senior East German officers to conspire with West German forces (Bundeswehr) to allow them to attack soviet positions in East German, which they did. The Bundeswehr pushed the Soviets back as best they could, but when their lines began to falter, NATO took over. The war escalated from there, with more nations entering, turning it into a global conflict.
Free League’s version begins its timeline in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and follows history until 1991 with the Soviet coup led by the “Gang of Eight.” In this alternate timeline, the Gang of Eight successfully took control of the Soviet Union but not the Baltic states. Five years later the Soviets rolled their tanks into the Baltics to reclaim them. They were met with strong opposition that gradually gained support from other nations. NATO enters the conflict, and over the next couple of years, it spread to other parts of the world to finally erupt into World War Three.
The two timelines are notably different. 2000 is our past, but not for the authors in 1984. Their chronological background, while fictional, was no doubt a real possibility in 1984. Free League’s version follows history until it branches off on its own. The events leading up to the war are startling and scary in contrast to current events.
The quality and the amount of product in this box set are outstanding. Any trepidation about this edition went away when I held the box set in my hands. From that moment on, I knew I was in for a ride. As a lover of the original, I am excited to have an updated version with modern mechanics and enthused players wanting to play. Everything about this new version excites me—the skillful artistry of the illustrations to the composition’s layout. It is more than I expected. Free League and its authors did a fantastic job resurrecting Twilight 2000 while preserving its nostalgic charm.
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