Twilight 2000 – episode 5: Assault on the marauders (part 2)

Five NATO soldiers assault a stronghold of former Polish police officers and criminals. Their goal is to secure the weapons and supplies these marauders looted from a masacred US unit. The five soldiers have been left to their own devices after the last – and failed – allied push against the Soviets in the fields of Poland in World War III.

Welcome to episode 5 of this solo role-playing campaign! I’m playing the post-apocalyptic RPG Twilight: 2000 in its 4th edition from Free League Publishing. This is episode will feature the second part of my first long battle. Due to the length of the encounter, I have broken the assault on the marauder base into three parts. This post is part two, which concerns the majority of the fighting.

Short Recap:

The group escaped Kalisz, but is basically out of gas for their pickup truck. While exploring the town of Syców they encounter a massacred US group and find private Lee as the single survivor. In the town, they agree with a local leader to join forces and take out the marauders, who attacked the Americans. The scout their base – an abandoned factory – and assault it. PFC Perez is their “sniper”. He uses an old hunting rifle with a scope and Corporal Kelly blasts a section of a building with sleeping marauders with an anti-tank missile.

My hideous Roll20 map of the factory area. The characters – blue team – starts at the lower right ruins. The orange squares are fortified positions.

If you are a new arrival, you can find an overview of the characters and the entire previous episode here:

The Characters
Episode 3

Rules Disclaimer: I made a mistake, when calculating modifiers. The two dice should always try to balance. I reduced one first instead. I guess I’ve got old habits I need to shed from playing Earthdawn for years! The outcome and balance of the battle might have changed because of that.

Suppression and critical hits: I used the proposed rules where most NPCs automatically fail suppression rolls and always are incapacitated or dead if they get a critical hit.

I regret not making a screen shot of the map after every single combat round, but I hope you can still follow the action.

Learnings

Playing through this encounter gave me a few insights, that I think are worth sharing for referees and players, who haven’t started playing yet, but want to know what they are getting into.

  • Keep a list of modifiers handy – also for the players. There are many situational modifiers, and ranged combat is basically always modified by something. The only exception is two characters shooting at each other while standing still, at short range, in open terrain on a sunny day.
  • Kevlar will save a character’s life. I rolled a lot of body hits and head shots, and it helped the characters, but it also meant that defeating marauders with kevlar vests was surprisingly difficult.
  • Grenades are awesome. The ability to suppress multiple opponents, even if they take no damage, is a winner.
  • Suppression is a central part of the mechanics, but in a game with actual players, they might not enjoy having their character suppressed for multiple rounds while they can only watch the action.
  • I was halfway through the encounter, before I noticed that NPCs run out of ammunition on a 1 on the ammo dice. Afterwards, I wished I had counters for “need to reload” for the many bad-guys.
  • Mobility is a great skill, to haul a character’s ass into cover over a big battle map or to throw grenades.
  • Overwatch is more limited in use than I thought, because a character or NPC only covers on hex. It could also get meta-gamey, if eg the referee communicates to the players which hex is covered, because some players might elect to move around. Conversely, if the referee doesn’t say it, some players might doubt if the NPC was actually covering that exact hex.

The action continues…

“Go! Go! Go!” Captain King shouts as he leads the way out of the ruined building they were hiding in. The three soldiers run out into the dim early morning light. Dust is rising from the compound, where Kelly’s missile hit the office building. About 50 meters away, Janusz’s fighters are storming the windows of the office building with a ladder. Everything is going as planned…

King’s borrowed pump shotgun is bouncing on his back. He holds one of their few grenades prepared with duct tape as an improvised breaching charge. Lee is close behind him, as ordered. His Glock points towards the compound gate. The chin strap of the Polish helmet he borrowed gnaws into his flesh, but it could save his life. Zielinski concentrates on running. Her legs are not as young and strong as Lee’s and she is painfully aware of her own marksman skills and the qualities of her submachinegun.

Seconds later, they reach the gate…

Players Round 2: 

Kelly has the initiative. He grabs his M16, which was placed ready for action and gets up to a kneeling position behind cover and fires at the second rooftop guard, who is in his roof top fortified position of old bricks, corrugated iron sheets, old tyres and a couple of sand bags.  

The guard has gone prone, but from his elevated position Kelly can still hit him. The marauder’s head, arms and torso are behind a 2 point cover.

The modifiers pile up quickly:

  • Target prone -1
  • Elevated position +1
  • Dim light -1 
  • Quick shot -1 

Kelly is no marksman, so he fires a couple of bursts. If nothing else, he hopes to suppress the guard until Perez can take him out. 

Kelly gives it all he’s got (pushing) and hits the hapless marauder with three successes. The rifle takes one point of reliability damage though. He hits him in the body through the cover, and with the armor the damage isn’t enough to take him out of the fight. But the marauder is suppressed. 

Perez spends his slow action aiming through the telescopic sight at the guard on the roof, which means he can’t fire until round three. 

Over by the gate, King attaches a hand grenade to the door in the gate with some duct tape, pulls the pin and runs over to the rest of the team. Zielinski is in overwatch directed up towards the roof of the office building. 

The first of Janusz’s fighters climb up the ladder and smash a window (even more) so they can begin to climb inside. 

The grenade blows the metal door in the old gate, the lock is gone and it is now dangling on rusty hinges. 

Marauders Round 2

Most of the marauders are still coming out of their drunken stupor or are injured and dazed from the rocket attack. However, the guard in the prepared position behind the factory will get up after dropping prone, and begin to move around the factory to see what is what. 

Referee note:
Just like I would play it in a game with a group, the action inside the office building between Janusz’s fighters and the marauders, I will not run in detail. I will simply narrate the outcome of their assault, based on Kelly’s successful attack and the King of Diamonds I drew for the group’s “luck”. 

The red marker is for suppression. The big tan marker on the left is Janusz’s fighters.

Players Round 3

“I got him in my sight,” Perez says confidently, so Kelly storms off to join the rest of the team down the five floors of the ruined building. I rule that with a mobility check, he can get to the ground floor in two rounds. He succeeds.  

Perez pulls the trigger, and misses… 

The rest of the team vaults through the blasted door in order to get to the door across the yard in the factory building. Each action they can move two hexes and roll mobility to move farther. One hex per success. Lee wasn’t lying, and he gets all the way up to the factory wall. He is the least skilled among the team, but the one with the greatest natural abilities.

Marauders round 3

The guard on the roof is no longer suppressed, and he elects to shoot back at the guy sniping him. He gets up and fires a quick burst without aiming. He fires 11 rounds at Perez, and gets a 6 on an ammo dice, which means bullets hammer the bricks and debris around Perez, and he must roll CUF. He succeeds with a 7! 

The guard from the back moves alongside the factory towards the fight, and one marauder is awake enough to poke his captured M16 out of a factory window and fire at King. He gets a -2 penalty because of the dim morning light and because King is moving. None of the bullets hit, but King must also roll for suppression. Success! He is as cool as they come, and he keeps moving. 

Players Round 4

Kelly makes it safely to the ground floor.

Perez takes multiple simple aimed shots at the marauder, who is now half-exposed. Head shot! Perez has two successes and rolls a 6 on the to-hit table, which is a headshot. The marauder collapses. Perez has one round left in the rifle. 

King’s boots are hammering on the asphalt and he makes it to the factory door and he peeks through the window, but sees nobody (fails his Recon roll). 

Zielinski and Lee are quick enough that they can move to the door with their fast actions and use their slow actions to cover the two corners of the factory using the overwatch actions. 

A muffled explosion and gunfire sounds from inside the office building, where Janusz’s fighters are clearing the rooms. 

Marauders Round 4

The marauder in the factory window no longer has line of sight to King and his team, but he spots Perez killing his buddy, and fires at him. The range and the light hinders him, however, and the bursts have no effect. 

Inside, the marauder leader, Mleczko, is directing the defense and shouts for someone to get up on the factory roof and man the M60, while he sends a team to secure the ground floor of the factory.

The marauder running up the side of the factory pokes around with his AK-74 and Zielinski fires her PM-84 sub-machine gun at him, because she was on overwatch. She fires a long burst, and suppresses – without hitting – the marauder. 

The red lines I used to indicate which hex Lee and Zielinski covered with the Overwatch action.

Players Round 5

Kelly tries to run for the factory gate and cover. He almost gets there. 

Perez takes careful aim at the marauder in the factory window. 

King burst through the door right into the waiting arms of the marauder guard camped in the bathroom area. He is taking cover inside the doorway. The marauder rolls 2×5 and 2×3. Not even a six on one of the two ammo dice! It is probably one of the hung over criminals, who’s never really fired an assault rifle at someone charging at close range. 

King has his night vision goggles turned on, and returns fire with the pump-gun he borrowed. He blasts a couple of shots at the marauder, but nothing hits.

Outside, Zielinski and Lee switch initiatives (which characters can do, as long as they can communicate), and Lee lobs a grenade towards the corner where the marauder from the back of the factory is taking cover. The grenade lands perfectly (3 successes) and causes damage, but only two points, which are stopped by the marauder’s American kevlar vest. He is automatically suppressed, however, and prone, which could become important. 

Zielinski rushes in after King and fires her PM-84 at the marauder in the bathroom. She moves right up to the door, so he has no effective cover, but she does count as firing into close combat. She is a poor shot and simply sticks the gun into the doorway and hoses him. He is hit, but her SMG jams (two 1s on three ammo dice). He is also hit in the torso, and wearing kevlar, which means that the underpowered PM-84 is unable to penetrate. He is also suppressed, though. 

Marauders Round 5

Two additional marauders join the one in the factory windows, and they spot Kelly hauling ass towards the gate and open fire on him. Kelly is grazed on the arm and takes two points of damage, but with a 7 he makes his CUF roll. 

The third one, who has a better idea of where Perez is located, fires at Perez. But miss completely again. 

Two marauders also make it to the rooftop, but are not able to engage yet. 

Inside the factory, one goes into overwatch, while four marauders move down into position on the ground floor. 

Mleczko is commanding from a doorway, protected by the last of his goons.

Players Round 6

Kelly moves into cover by the blown door in the gate, and he actually has line of sight to the marauder Lee threw a grenade at, so he fires a quick burst at him. It is however at -4 (dim light, prone target, quick shot and medium range) and he misses. 

Perez has been aiming and fires a single shot at the fucker, who is hosing him from the window. But he misses again. 

Inside the factory, which is full of rusty machinery, old pallets, a fork lift, barrels and junk, King is afraid they’ll be rushed, so he moves up to one of the machines. Using his night vision, he sees a marauder in cover and he empties the shotgun at him. He mostly hits the big machinery the marauder is using as cover, but a single pellet manages to find its way past the kevlar vest, suppressing him. 

Zielinski’s gun is jammed and she calls for aid. 

Lee bets that Kelly can keep the marauder around the corner from attacking him in the back, and he rushes into the factory to help the Lieutenant. The lieutenant is desperately trying to unjam her submachine gun, while the marauder is scrambling for his gun. Lee steps into the doorway and fires six shots with his pistol at the marauder hitting him in the neck and taking him out of the battle. 

“Drop that! Take his gun,” Lee shouts to Zielinski and hands her the marauder’s M-16. She drops the pea-shooter and runs to the machinery which King is taking cover behind, covering the opposite side. 

Marauders Round 6

Most people, particularly untrained civilians, will avoid running into an area where someone are shooting and have a clear field of fire. This also goes for the non-military fighters on both sides of this conflict. 

The guy Lee threw a grenade at and Kelly shot at is no longer suppressed, but he remains prone and unloads a salvo towards Kelly (-2 total from medium range and dim light) instead of going after Lee. The bullets hammer against the metal gate and wall, but none are near Kelly. 

Two marauders move into the position on the roof and man the M60. 

In the factory windows, two of the marauders blast away at Perez while the third shoot down at Kelly’s hiding spot. 

The doorway, where Kelly is in cover is hit, as is the brick walls where Perez is shooting from, but no bullets penetrate. However, the sheer volume of fire directed at the two troopers, and perhaps the fact that they don’t know what is going on inside the factory, means that they are unable to continue returning fire (both roll a 1 on their CUF). 

Inside the factory, only the marauder upstairs in the office area has line of sight to King, Zielinski and Lee, due to the higher ground. Zielinski and King have cover, so he fires at Lee at medium range with dim light, but from higher ground. 

Lee is hit for three damage in the head. His borrowed helmet takes the worst and he is suppressed. 

Two of the marauders move cautiously forward. One of the marauders get LOS on King and fires a quick burst in the dim light, but is far off the mark.

The orange arrow shows Zielinski’s move.

Players Round 7

Both Kelly and Perez are pinned down. This is a problem.

However, while the rest of them sweep and secure the building, one of Janusz’s fighters has taken up position in on of the windows in the office building. He uses one of the captured guns to lay down fire on the marauders taking cover inside the factory building, hoping to suppress at least two of them.   

He is very successful, and actually hits one of the marauders, who takes damage and both are suppressed (they are in the same hex).

Being a Referee:  Janusz’s fighter in a window is me helping out the “players”. I mainly do it, because I drew the King of Diamonds, so they have luck on their side. It also seem plausible. But being civilians, I was also conscious of the fact, that they are unlikely to move across the yard into the factory, while under fire. They will stay in cover and shoot.

Inside the factory, King is very aware that they are in trouble, so he throws a grenade at the guy he hit with his shotgun, and is right on the money. The marauder takes another point of damage, but is saved by his vest. Both are suppressed, however. 

Zielinski inches forward around the machinery and has LOS on one of the marauders who was just grenaded, so she fires a burst at him. No hit. 

Lee has gone prone, but is otherwise a sitting duck. 

Marauders round 7

Outside, the two marauders on the roof man the M-60 and fire in Perez’s general direction (in this case, the second marauder simply gives the first one +1 on the roll, as per the rules). They don’t hit anything, but Perez is still pinned down, and now at two points of stress. 

The guard who isn’t suppressed in the factory window returns fire. One of the seven rounds penetrate the wall and wounds the fighter slightly, pinning him. He is however empty, and must reload. 

The final guy in the courtyard shoots at Kelly again, but with zero results. 

Inside the factory, the upstairs gunner keeps firing at Lee, but her aim is high this time, and he huddles beneath the bullets.

One of the few marauders with military training (I decide) isn’t pinned, and he lobs a grenade back at King. It is pretty dark however, and there are several obstacles. He is down to a D6 and rolls a 1! The grenade deviates north east two hexes (I roll a 2 and a 6). It is almost too good to be true, as the grenade is thrown at too high an arc, hits a beam and rolls to the feet of a hapless marauder. Two marauders are hit, and one of them has now been hit three times for one point of damage (shotgun blast and two grenades). He is close to bailing. 

The last marauder peeks around the corner and unloads at Zielinski. He empties his clip, but doesn’t hit her. She can still see Lee, and is not suppressed. 

Players Round 8

Perez is still keeping low with the M-60 hurling lead at him. 

Kelly is very aware that shit is going down inside the factory. He wants to help his friends and press the attack, so he storms across open ground to get cover behind the tree where he fires a burst at the guy on the corner. He isn’t the smartest guy on the team, but he has big balls (they all seem to have, including Zielinski, by the way). Kelly doesn’t hit the marauder, but he hits a lot of other stuff, and pins him (he has 12 rounds remaining in the magazine). 

King feels that the battle is close to turning in their favour. He runs across the open into cover at an opposite wall, which means the nearest marauder is caught in the open and quick fires his sidearm, as his shotgun is empty. The marauder is hit in the legs, and is now also at three points of damage. 

Lee charges into his captain’s old position and fires his Glock at the same target. He hits, but the cover soaks the damage. 

Zielinski returns fire at the guy at the corner. She is the poorest marksman of the team, but at least she is only getting -1 from the dim light. As the guy on the corner also has clear LOS to King, she wants to get him suppressed. With an 8 on her single dice, she hits him and manages to suppress him, but does no damage as the factory wall is stronger than a regular indoor wall, and absorbs the full damage.

I also recreated this situation, as best I could, to help readers visualize the action.

Marauders round 8

One of the two marauders in the factory window reloads. The second fires at Kelly, while the third keeps firing at the guy in the office, with no effect. 
Kelly however, is hit for four points of damage. Lucky for him, it is another body hit, and with a big tree trunk and kevlar between him and the bullets, it is reduced to zero damage. He does fail his CUF roll, though, leaving him in a precarious position. 

Furthermore, the M-60 crew isn’t sure if anyone is still alive on the other rooftop, so they shift their fire towards Kelly as well. They aren’t really trained in the GPMG and hit nothing. 

The factory marauders are under intense pressure. The marauder at the office area fires at Lee, but misses. Two are suppressed, and as a referee I rule that the dude who has been dinged three times in the last 15 seconds retreats further away into cover. 

Upstairs however, Mleczko senses that the battle inside the factory floor is turning against him, so he moves out of his secure position into partial cover behind the railing and empties his trophy M-16 in a long unaimed frustrated burst towards Lee.

This is another recreation of the situation. It provides a good overview of the status outside.

Next time…

The conclusion of the battle will be in the next episode. If you’ve followed this far, thank you for reading! I’m happy to answer any questions regarding my experience so far with the game.

Twilight 2000 – episode 4: Assault on the marauders

The five soldiers of the group are some of the detritus of war, after a Soviet counter-offensive in the aftermath of World War III scattered the last NATO offensive. Four American soldiers and a Polish liason officer have been thrown together and they are now trying to survive this hell hole. This is their story.

Welcome to episode 4 of this solo role-playing campaign! I’m playing the post-apocalyptic RPG Twilight: 2000 in its 4th edition from Free League Publishing. This is episode will feature the first part of my first long battle. Due to the length of the encounter, I will break assault on the marauder base into three parts. This post is part one, which deals with the group’s reconnaisance and preparation, rules and referee considerations related to it as well as the first round of the assault. The second part is the majority of the action and the third the conclusion of the encounter.

I’ve also added a page with the five characters and their stats (link below) – as requested by readers.

Short recap
Last episode, the team came upon a group of American soldiers, who had been caught in an ambush, slaughtered and stripped of their gear. Among the dozen bodies they managed to finde one survivor – private Lee. The Polish lieutenant Zielinski located a bar and tradepost, where they found the young private some boots, but they also met the dangerous owner, who offered to help them attack the marauders who ambushed the Americans and splitting any loot they found. The team agreed to the plan.

Read the previous content:
Intro and game considerations
The Characters
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

The action takes place in an abandoned factory on the outskirts of Syców.

Recon & the initial assault

The team spends two days with Janusz preparing for the attack, getting to know his fighters and trying to get Lee back on his feet. Perez borrows a hunting rifle with a scope plus two reloads, Lee borrows a Polish army helmet and King gets a pump action shotgun with two reloads. They will have to return them, when the job is done or include it in their share. 

King and Perez sets out every day for a tall ruined building fairly distant from the marauder compound, which they use as observation post.

Recon is a critical skill to have in the game, and the binoculars are a very valuable item.

Rules: 

For scouting the compound, I give King -2 from distance, +1 from Perez  helping and +2 from the binoculars (1 success). To keep out of sight, I give King +1 from fatigues and +1 from terrain (zero successes). The marauders get -2 from the long distance and roll a mishap. Defenders don’t push rolls in an opposed situation, but I give the players the benefit of not being detected, despite not being that well hidden, since I rolled a 1 for the guards. Perhaps the binoculars reflected in the sun, but the guard thought it was just a broken window or was too lazy to check it out? Had I not rolled a 1, perhaps the marauders would add a couple of guards or send a patrol to scout the building they used as observation post? 

In advance, I decided what 1 and success and 2 successes on Recon would mean respectively. In a ‘real life game’ if the characters rolled an unlikely 3 successes or more, I might improvise a great weakness for them to exploit.

  • King can see that the marauder base has a factory at its center with a fortified position on the roof, where the marauders have placed a captured M60 machine gun.
  • The front door of the office building is never used. 
  • The office building is part of the outer wall, but has no windows at ground level on the outside. Therefore, outwards facing windows are at a height of at least 4.5 meters (15 feet). Another guard is posted in a fortified position on top of the office building. 
  • A third fortified position with a guard is covering the back-area of the factory area.
  • The fortified positions are made of old tyres, bricks and iron plates (armor 2).
  • The wall is only about 10 feet tall, but has a single piece of rusty barbed wire running along the top and has glass shards cast into the top of the wall. 
  • Sporadically, a two man patrol walks around the grounds.

King does not notice the guard on the ground floor inside the most commonly used door to the factory, nor the fact that they an RPG on the roof of the factory.

Across from the factory, there is a ruined apartment building, which is taller than the office building, but about level at the top with the factory roof. This will be the team’s staging area. 

As King succeeds a Recon roll both for his Intelligence and for his Tactics speciality, he guesses that the front door to the office building is mined or booby trapped. He also ascertains that the guards are pretty lax and they seem to be enjoying the spoils of their victory. And, as they are mostly non-military, he evaluates their ranged combat ability as meagre. He counts 22 marauders and a few civilians, mostly women coming and going. 

Back in the compound

Back at Janusz’s compound, Zielinski – aided by Kelly – succeeds in one Medical Aid Roll for each day, and the healing time for Lee’s critical hits are halved, which is enough to remove his “smashed nose” condition that gave him a penalty to Recon and Persuasion. His slashed arms will still take another three days before the penalties disappear. 

“How are you holding up,” King asks Lee, who is lying on a cot with a couple of blankets. The young man still sounds funny when he talks, but he is recovering quickly, according to Zielinski.
“I’m good, Captain.” He sits up. “It is warm and we got hot chow. I’m not sure what the meat was, but it was the best meal I’ve had in weeks.”
“How do you feel about joining us tomorrow? You still can’t hold a rifle,” King asks. The kid seems eager, but he isn’t exactly a combat veteran.
“I’ll use the pistol. I want to be there. Get even with those bastards. Perhaps I can get a couple of grenades? I have a mean pitching arm. I played a lot of baseball as a kid and some in college.”
“Did you?”
“Yeah. That and music. But the piano skills aren’t worth much over here.”
King smiles. “A piano playing, college educated, baseball pitching black grunt from Harlem. Now I’ve seen everything!”
Lee gives a weak smile. “Yeah. My great grandfather was Aaron Douglas and I got my name from my great grand uncle.” He looks embarrassed.
“Shit. Are you saying you are related to Miles Davis?”
Lee sighs. “Yes, sir.”
“Damn. And then you got drafted, right after college?”
“Yes.”
“That sucks… Have you ever fired your weapon at someone?”
Lee shakes his head.
“I’ve been shot at a few times. One time our trucks were strafed by a MiG. But no, sir, never shot at anyone,” he says.
“Besides a mean throwing arm, anything else I should know about?”
“I’m pretty good at languages. French. German. Picked up a bit of Polish.”
“I need all the help I can get, so I’m going to ask you to join us. Stay close to me. No heroics, mind you! Keep your head down and keep moving.”

With that decided, King goes over the plan with his team and Janusz’s fighters in the compound’s small yard, while Zielinski translates. They are a mean looking bunch, armed with a couple of Polish AKMs, shotguns and a bolt action rifle that could have seen service in the previous world war. Janusz is listening in a few steps away. He says nothing, but simply watches with his calm grey eyes.

The team’s plan

Overall, the plan is to hit the marauders at dawn and even the odds by taking out the enemies in the office building. By inflicting serious casualties and causing confusion in the opening attack, they hope to break their morale and drive the marauders from the factory. This is also why they all attack from the same direction – they want the marauders to have a clear path for them to flee.

  • Perez will snipe the guard manning the M60 first, then focus his attention on the second rooftop guard. Afterwards, he will provide covering fire from the roof. 
  • Kelly will fire their M136 anti-tank missile at the area, where they are told the marauders are sleeping/partying – hopefully causing several casualties. Subsequently, he will help engage the roof top guards, if they are still standing. When they are gone, he will join up with the assault team. 
  • Janusz’s fighters will use a ladder to assault the office building through a window and clear the office building first. The defenders are hopefully dazed and wounded, which will make that part easier. When the office is cleared, they will help with the attack on the factory.
  • King will lead Zielinski and Lee through the gate, blowing the gate door with a grenade, and making their way to the factory, where they will aim to cause enough damage and suppress the second half – and more dangerous part of the gang – until the entire team can join them and flush them out.  
  • On a side note, Perez has lent his body armor and two frag grenades to Lee, as he needs it more in his CQB-situation. 

Exit strategy

King is anticipating some form of betrayal, either if his team wins, but has casualties, or if they lose the engagement and have to withdraw. Therefore, he plans with the team that their fallback plan is – if things go south – to flee back to the farm and the pickup truck and drive it West as far as the fuel will take them. Hopefully, away from any vengeful marauders.

Referee notes

The enemy leader, Mleczko, and his most trusted men are holed up in the area where the foreman and his staff used to have their offices. It will take them at least two rounds before they react to the assault. When the factory is attacked, half of them will fire from the windows and roof and a group of four will move down into the factory area, while one takes up an overwatch position from above.

Other elements, events includes:

  • Guard at the ground floor door
  • Guard slipping in from the back, trying to creep up on the characters 
  • Encounter with the opposing patrol

Getting into position

A lot of the plan is dependent on the small force getting the element of surprise. The worst at Recon is Kelly, so he is the one who will have to roll. King and his assault team is hidden at the ground floor of the ruined apartment building, safely out of sight, ready to dash forward. 

Rules: 

Because the light is considered Dusk, the guards have -1 on their Recon rolls. Kelly gets +1 for his fatigues, +1 because he is making an ambush 6-20 hexes from the target and +1 from the terrain (debris)

Kelly is sweating like he’s never sweated before hauling ammo for the tube. He has checked and re-checked the anti-tank missile and crept ever so slowly into position, lying still, waiting in cramped conditions for extended periods to get into position (in other words, he is pushing the roll!). He succeeds, as the Marauders have 0 successes. He gets up slowly with his missile, aims and fires. 

I‘m not a graphics designer (obviously). I used a variety of map elements and free hand drawing in Roll20 to make a serviceable battle map. The playes are the five blue tokens at the bottom. The orange squares are fortified positions. Janusz’s fighters are in a building at the lower left corner.
The key was that I could understand the action. One of the things I would add for my next big battle is an “out of ammo” token.

Game on!

To throw in some “fog of war” and “lady luck” I also drew a card to check if they had luck on their side or against them. I jotted down a couple of ideas for both situations, such as a marauder taking a piss right when the attack is going down, a patrol walking the perimeter, a guard smoking (making him easier to hit) etc. I drew a King of Diamonds, which is “Life Saving”. I rule that this means the marauders have been partying hard the night before, and will at least take a couple of rounds more to wake up and get organized, they may get penalties on shooting and will break more easily and other small things might turn in the player’s favour.

Rules: as this is an ambush that succeeds, the characters get the first six initiative slots and the marauders act last. 

Players Round 1

Kelly fires his anti-tank weapon (-1 from medium range, +2 from hitting a large target) and despite mortars being his speciality, he puts the blast right where it is supposed to go (2 successes) blasting a massive hole in the wall and laying waste to the room beyond. The explosion rolls between the buildings and the big Irishman whoops with glee before dropping prone into cover. 

There are eight marauders in the office building, six of whom were sleeping it off in the large room Kelly hit (I determined the numbers with D6+6 and D3+3). 

I wouldn’t want to bother with a detailed roll of the effect of the M136. It says in the text that it is effective against buildings, so it is, and whether Kelly remains unseen and hits is thrilling enough!

Perez has been slow aiming and takes a shot at the guard by the M60 on the factory roof. He is not wearing a helmet (the King of Diamonds plays in here), but is sitting behind cover, so Perez tries to shoot him in the head (called shot at -2). The civilian bolt action rifle has good range (range 10), but the light is dim (a total of -1 on the roll). He puts all his effort into it and hits the guard in the head, taking him out instantly (he rolled two successes after pushing it. The extra success turns into a point of damage which translates into a critical hit, and minor NPCs are out of combat after a critical hit). 

King, Lee and Zielinski spend their actions running up to the gate, before they can blow it next round. 

Janusz’s fighters run up with their ladder to the office building. 

Marauders Round 1

The explosion rolls between the buildings and a single loud shot rings out. The remaining guard on the roof was so drunk yesterday, that he wasn’t really awake when the group attacked (again, because I drew the King of Diamonds). Therefore, he isn’t ready to return fire until the next round (if he survives that long). He does drop prone.

Read more in the next episode…

When I publish this episode, I’ve already played out the entire combat, but it is a lot of text, and you will have to read on in episode 5 to see how the rest of the assault progress…

Twilight 2000 – solo – Episode 3: Ambushed Americans

Four soldiers are fleeing a Soviet counter-offensive in the aftermath of World War III. The three American soldiers and a Polish liason officer were thrown together when the 5th US mechanized division was broken outside of Kalisz. The final radio call was: “You’re on your own. Good luck!” This is their story.

Welcome to episode 3 of this solo role-playing campaign! I’m playing the post-apocalyptic RPG Twilight: 2000 in its fourth edition from Free League Publishing. In the first part I go through the events of the game. At the end of the post I have a couple of more “meta-considerations” on how I’m running it solo and the rules. Episode 4 will feature my first big combat encounter.

Last episode, the team encountered Soviet forces, when they tried to get fuel from Ostrzeszów. They were discovered sneaking into the town, were shot at and had to flee. Driving off road, as well as a navigation error, cost them a lot of fuel. Ultimately, they camped at a ruined farm, where they hid their pickup truck.

Read the previous content:
Intro and game considerations
Episode 1
Episode 2

Sycow had about 10,000 inhabitants before the war.

Minor Spoiler Alert: Because I am using random elements from the core ruleset, you may encounter the same pieces of content as a player. Sometimes they aren’t what they seem, which can ruin the surprise. I am not using the big scenarios sites, however, so there are no major spoilers.

Day 3

Being less than 2 kilometers south of Syców, they again opt to approach town on foot in the early morning, hoping to find someone to trade with. 

Moving into the town, they suddenly hear sustained gunfire, but only for 10-15 seconds. Then it is quiet. The group sneaks forward. The noise has clearly scared any inhabitants into retreating to their hideouts. 

Perez peeks around a corner and pulls back quickly. 

“Shit man, they’ve been mowed down. Slaughtered!” 
“Easy now. Do you see anyone?” King asks. 
He peeks out again. 
“No hostiles that I can see. It is real fucked.” 
“Cover us,” says the captain and points to Perez and Kelly. They both nod and Perez takes up position as the captain and Zielinski runs forward into the street. Kelly follows behind the two officers and takes up position opposite of Perez. 

Perez is right. It is a slaughter. Around a dozen American soldiers lie shot up in the street between ruined buildings. A couple of them are still moving. They have been stripped of all their gear – even their helmets and boots. 

Zielinski and King move among the bodies. Most are riddled with bullets. One is still trying to crawl away, and Zielinski quickly moves closer and examines him, speaking to him gently. He has a bullet hole in his upper abdomen and blood is pouring from his mouth. He gasps for help. King steps over to help her save him, but before he gets there, the man is dead.

“He was bleeding internally. I couldn’t save him,” she says. She isn’t crying, but King senses her immense frustration. 

“They can’t be long gone. I don’t like this,” King says.

“Are you American?” someone suddenly says with a strained voice. It is coming from one of the “corpses”. They rush over to him, and a young African American man in bloody fatigues sit up. His nose is smashed and blood has run down his face. Zielinski helps the man to a better position and checks his wounds. A bullet has also torn one of his arms and the nose needs fixing, but the wounds aren’t lethal. She spends her personal medkit bandaging the wounds and cleaning them. 

“What’s your name kid,” King asks?

“Lee. Miles Taylor Lee.” He speaks with a nasal voice because of the nose. 

Where are you from?”

“New York. Harlem.”   

After treating Lee, Zielinski discovers another soldier still breathing. He is conscious, but can’t move his legs, and she determines that he has been hit near the spine. He needs treatment, and King wants them out of the vulnerable position, so Kelly finds a couple of planks and jury rigs a stretcher for the critically injured soldier. Unfortunately, when they move him, he dies. 

Rules: the rules for critical hits in Twilight: 2000 are brutal. 70% of the critical head and chest injuries are potentially lethal, and whenever you attempt to move a lethally injured, if you fail your medical aid roll (which Zielinski did, even after pushing) the wounded must roll Stamina or die. On a side note, a scene like this with new players would be great, because it demonstrates the lethality of the critical rules, without risking a PC death very early in the game (not that that is necessarily a problem). 

Boots & a brew

Inside a nearby ruined house, they question private Lee. He was a truck driver with the logistics section of the 2nd Armored Division, but ended up with a rifle and a group of stragglers on their retreat after the truck ran out of fuel. They were ambushed by about a dozen marauders and cut down. He played dead while they stripped him. Only his canteen is left. Lee can’t really move about in the ruins without boots or shoes at least, so King asks Zielinski to see if she can find someone to trade with for boots and maybe fuel. He also asks Kelly to give the kid the Glock they found, so he can defend himself, which the big Irishman reluctantly does. 

In the ruins of Sycow, Zielinski manages to find a bar and trade station. It is located in the basement of a semi-ruined apartment building and is well guarded. The basement has a large room with a couple of locals huddling close to a warm stove in a corner gossiping and drinking home brewed vodka. It is early – or maybe late? – for the small group. But someone is brewing alcohol…

In a room next to the bar she finds items for trade. The “store” is a counter with a system of shelves behind it. A woman looks to be the “shopkeeper” and a big Polish man with a sawn off shotgun is guarding the valuables, which includes a pair of polish army boots size 11. The woman at the counter wants 20 bullets for it. Appealing to her good heart and the fight for Poland against the aggressors, Zielinski manage to get her down to 15. When she asks about fuel, she is told that they might have some, but that they need to talk to Janusz, who owns the place. 

You don’t want to walk around war-torn Poland in your bare feet…

Zielinski returns to the team with the boots and relays the information. They help Lee move there and get him situated in the bar room with Perez aiding him and keeping watch. Perez spends 2 ammo to get them both a drink. It burns all the way down, but it helps with their morale and Lee and Perez both regain one stress, from the drink and being in relative safety. 

Rules: Stress is the “mental hitpoints” of the game, which you lose from getting shot at, rolling 1s when pushing INT or EMP skills or from horrific situations like experiencing the massacre of your friends. Losing all your stress points incapacitates you. Characters can be pushed back on their feet using the Command skill. Regaining stress from a strong drink isn’t according to RAW, but in this situation I felt it would be appropriate. 

In the trading area, the rest of the group gets a meeting with Janusz Kucinski. He is the leader of the operation and after they have talked for a while, with Zielinski translating, he has a proposition for them.

A mission, of sorts…

The people who ambushed the American soldiers are a gang of marauders, who occupy a small  abandoned factory on the edge of town. They are led by the town’s former police chief – a man named Mleczko – who was the Police Commander of the town during the previous regime, a vicious man, who is now trying to create a petty fief for himself.

The marauder gang is full of former criminals, ex-police and a couple of deserters. They are a menace to the town, and Janusz wants their help to assault the marauder base – ideally take out their leader – and break up the gang. He claims that they have a lot of equipment, probably also fuel, as well as the weapons they looted from the US soldiers. They have an old police jeep, but he hasn’t seen it for a while, and he doesn’t know if it is working. Janusz is willing to aid them with five of his “fighters”. His fighters are not military, and are not as well armed as the marauders, but he claims they can hold their own. If they succeed, they will split what they find – including the American gear – 50/50. Further, Janusz claims that he has some information for them, which he believes they will find valuable.

Janusz also briefly describes the enemy position. The factory is walled, has an office building – where many marauders are holed up – and a factory building with more marauders and the leader, Mleczko. On the roofs and inside the walls there are a total of three fortified positions. But he knows exactly where many marauders sleep in the office building, because he has talked to women who have stayed there. He is sure that an effective surprise attack will work, even though they will be outnumbered at least 2:1. 

King and the rest of the team withdraw to the bar and discuss their options.

Clearly, Janusz is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. The marauders are probably both a threat and competition, but does that matter, because their interests are aligned? At least until they get the loot, they will be allies.

The real question for the group is: is the risk worth the reward? Will they be able to pull it off without anyone getting killed? The facts are: they are almost out of fuel, have only a couple of days worth of food, aren’t particularly well armed and now have an extra man who is wounded to care for – who basically has no equipment. Their options are basically to start walking out of Poland with what they have, or to accept this risky undertaking. 

They accept, under a couple of conditions:

  • They need time to scout the location, get to know the “fighters” a bit and perhaps get Lee ready to join them, and Janusz must feed and house them while they do so. 
  • They need to borrow a rifle with scope and a shotgun or a rifle with ammo to increase the chance of success. 
  • He can keep the vehicle, if they have one, but they have first dibs on fuel, up to the first 100 liters. 
  • If the attack fails, they will all withdraw, covering each other, and part ways without anyone being in debt to anyone else.  

Janusz agrees. 

The world of Twilight: 2000 is full of not very nice people, but you have to trust sometimes. B/W art is from Twilight: 2000 2nd edition.

Can they trust Janusz?
I drew an Oracle card to help me judge how Janusz might respond, when the mission is done – for good or bad. You will have to check out the next episodes, to learn what card I drew…  I did allow the three characters doing the negotiations to roll a straight empathy roll, to ascertain his character. King certainly gets the vibe that he is a cold, very dangerous man, whereas Zielinski and Kelly aren’t so sure.

Game-considerations:

These events are evolving from the random encounter of the ambushed US soldiers and the motivations of the team. If the American with the wounded spine had survived, it would have brought interesting tension between the characters who don’t want to burden the team with “dead weight” and those who have more altruistic motivations.

The medical care rules is also something one might consider house-ruling. Obviously, an officer with some basic first aid training would not – in reality – be able to save someone shot so bad they require full surgery. You could rule that tending some of the worst crits requires the Field Surgeon or General Practitioner specialities. Or add a significant penalty to the rolls without proper equipment/specialities.

I’m developing the two opposing factions exactly as I would in a “real” game. With my gaming group, I am certain that they would “bite” on this opportunity for tactical combat and action with the promise of loot. I’m sure “realistically” a small – skilled but under-armed – team would balk at taking on superior numbers in a fortified position, even with surprise, as quite a few things need to go right.

As a side note, Twilight: 2000 is a game where you shouldn’t roll dice too often, because succeeding is hard. As soon as I had the idea that there was a rival of the marauders in town whom they could trade with, I didn’t need Zielinski to roll RECON or anything to find the trader. Traders want to be found – even in destroyed Poland! And, as a referee, I want them to find it. It is more dramatic to have this development, and it ensures that there is some “meat” to the plot. So why insert a roll that might fail? 

Rest & Experience:

This is what I consider the end of “session 1”. Each character, except Lee, gets three XP, Lee gets two. None of them risked anything in relation to their buddies, moral codes or big dreams to get more. Five XP is the minimum to buy anything at all, so no upgrades after this session.
As King and Perez had to roll Coolness Under Fire (CUF), I roll to see if they improve their CUF, which requires I roll a one. I do not. Lee succeeds his empathy roll and doesn’t suffer permanent mental trauma after being incapacitated by stress. 

Episode 4…

The next part of this series will feature a very long battle. I will probably break it up into two parts, as it is taking a while to play out. But I have already learned the following:

  • Kevlar and cover are your friends! Or your enemie’s friends, depending…
  • Grenades are great for suppression, and you want to keep your foes suppressed
  • It can really suck not having a side-arm…

I look forward to sharing the action with you. I hope your next gaming session is great!

Jump to Episode 4…

Twilight 2000 – solo – Episode 2: A hasty retreat

When the 5th US mechanized division was finally broken outside of Kalisz, three American soldiers and a Polish liason officer were thrown together. This is their story.

Welcome to episode 2 of this solo role-playing campaign! I’m playing the post-apocalyptic RPG Twilight: 2000 in its fourth edition from Free League Publishing.

Last episode, the team fled in from the advancing Soviets in a pickup truck with half a tank of fuel. For the first day, they kept out of serious trouble and picked up some information from a couple of Polish hunters.

Read the previous content:
Intro and game considerations
Episode 1

Minor Spoiler Alert: Because I am using random elements from the core ruleset, you may encounter the same pieces of content as a player. Sometimes they aren’t what they seem, which can ruin the surprise. I am not using the big scenarios sites, however, so there are no major spoilers.

Day 2:

A chill, but sunny, April morning dawns in central Poland. With a concealed fire and a good camp, the team managed to stay hidden and warm in the camp a couple of kilometers from the small town of Ostrzeszow. The morning will be spent exploring the small town, which they decide to approach on foot, as a working vehicle could make them a target.

Their goal is a man named Cezary Pawlak, who has a distillery in town with his two sons. Ostrzesow was a town of more than 10,000 people, but is now probably home to less than 1/5 of that, and full of shelled buildings, burnt buildings, buildings riddled with bullet holes and roads clogged with rubble and car husks.

Going on foot, turns out to be a good decision. Advance Soviet forces must have reached the town during the night (this is another random encounter from the core rules). They have set up a roadblock at the main road into town about 300 meters (330 yards) from where the group approach the ruins. There are a dozen soldiers guarding the roadblock and they have a T-72 main battle tank positioned in the shell of a house covering the approach to the town. Going off road in the truck around the town would almost consume all of their remaining fuel, so the group agrees to circle around the town and sneak in from the northwest, but if they are discovered they will retreat to the truck and get the hell out.

One of these babies guard the main north road into Ostrzesow.

Perez leads them towards the ruins, but despite giving it all he’s got, a Soviet soldier keeping watch for stragglers from atop a ruin spots them and opens fire from a long range of about 120 meters.

Rules: I made a mistake here and had the best person (Perez) roll Recon for the group, and not the one with the lowest skill. However, as I understand it, two of the team would be able to use the Help action to improve that person’s chances. With the bonus from wearing fatigues, their dice pool would still be pretty good. In any case, the team got one success, and the Soviet soldier also got a single success in the opposed roll, which means the group is discovered.

Round 1:
The Soviet private gets to act first, as he discovered them (I rule). He fires his Avtomat Kalashnikova at the team. He gets +1 for firing from his elevated position, but -4 from firing at long range (-2), at moving targets (-1) which are partly concealed by vegetation and other terrain (-1), for a total of -3.

At that distance, the burst of bullets are off but the gunfire is sufficient to alert the rest of the soldiers nearby.

King orders the team to retreat at a run, retreating around 40 meters across the streets and long abandoned gardens.

A Soviet regular soldier has a B in Agility and a C in ranged combat.

Round 2:
The Soviet soldier gives them another burst at extreme range as a parting gift.
The private has clearly not had his vodka ration this morning, or is simply born under a lucky star, and both PFC Perez and King are hit. A bullet hits Perez in the head, but luckily the helmet takes the worst of the damage. King is hit in the back, where his kevlar also absorbs the brunt of the damage.

Rules: the Soviet rolls a hit with both his single success dice and one of the “ammo dice” he spends, sending a third of the lead in the magazine in their direction. King and Perez are both hit in locations where they wear armor, which subtracts 1 damage. An AK-74 does 2 points of damage, so the result is 1 damage on both. The Soviet could have spent the additional “hit” to increase the damage on Perez, but with his helmet it wouldn’t have been enough to score a crit anyway. Still, the one point of damage reduces King’s “hit points” by 25%.

Perez and King must roll for Coolness Under Fire. Both succeed. They can use the Unit Morale because they are within line of sight of the others. Therefore they are not suppressed and can continue fleeing.

They move an additional 40 meters and have now moved out of range of the Soviet soldier’s AK-74, and are impossible for him to hit.

Bedraggled and shaken, the team hauls ass and retreat back to their vehicle, with most of the morning gone.

Medical attention

“Can I see where hit is,” Zielinski asks King haltingly?

The captain is leaning on the hood of the truck, his chest heaving from exertion, and inwardly he is cursing himself for not keeping in better shape when he was in the reserves. Kelly leans his back heavily on the car and takes a swig of water, while Perez scans the fields beyond the small hillocks for any pursuers. 

“Sure,” King answers the lieutenant with laboured breath. 

Weather is determined each shift with a D6. On a 1 it worsens towards rain, on a 6 it moves towards fair.

With a wince, he takes off his combat webbing and the kevlar vest, then the fatigues and shirt. He has a black and purple bruise the size of a two palms on his lower back. Zielinski gently touches it, and he almost jumps from the pain.

She examines it more closely.

“Motherf… that stings,” he says with clenched teeth.
“Very big bruise. But not serious, no,” Zielinski says and washes the area with a bit of water and soap.

“Kelly, please take over from Perez, so the lieutenant can see to his wound,” King says, when Zielinski is done. Kelly stomps up and takes over the watch from the younger private.

Perez trots down with downcast eyes. 

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I was sure we were out of sight. I should have spotted him.” 

“Nonsense. It is my fault,” says King. “I led you there. It is my responsibility. It was far too risky, with that kind of firepower nearby and no knowledge of how many reinforcements might be nearby.”

Zielinski says something in Polish that sounds dismissive. 

Then in English.

“You are both fools. We took a risk, but to get something very valuable, yes? Something we need. And, as you say in America, “shit happens”.”

King grumbles something, but says nothing. 

She gently lifts Perez’s helmet. He has a bloody scratch on the back of his neck.

“Look. Just a …” She searches for the word. “…Ricochet.” She turns over the helmet, so he can see. “Hit the lower side of the helmet first, and then down, giving you this little cut. You are very lucky, I think.”

“Yes, mam,” he says, and pulls a little crucifix from inside his shirt and gives it a kiss and mumbles a prayer, while the lieutenant cleans the cut and puts a band-aid on the scratch. 

“So far,” he mumbles as she patches on the band-aid.

“Should we stop chattering and get the fuck out of here,” Kelly barks nervously from the small hillock. 

“Absofuckinglutely. Let’s go!” King says. 

Rules: Zielinski attends to their bruises with success (which means they avoid risking an infection) and it turns out their armor is still functional (when penetrated, it risks becoming defunct – a 1 in 6 chance). Medical attention only heals 1 damage, if the character is broken (at 0 health).

On the off-road again…

They are now forced to flee around the town, off road, and the group tries to get to Sycow to the southwest. Their hope is that the Soviets don’t have enough troops or vehicles to pursue their small band.

Unfortunately, Zielinski is unable to find a road that leads west. Instead, she ends up driving south between the two towns hitting the east-west bound main road between Sycow and Kepno (because she fails her survival roll – but driving succeeds so no mishap).

They agree to head west along the road to get further away from the Soviet lead elements. If the Soviets are anywhere near as depleted as the 5th division was, they will have spent themselves in a couple of days, King is sure.

The pickup rumbles along, avoiding the odd obstacle until they reach a traffic jam, frozen in time. Almost every car holds skeletal commuters. They never made their destinations but instead died here, victims of a direct chemical attack or a wayward cloud from some battle. The most banal of ends. A few managed to crawl out of their vehicles and lay white and bony on the road. A bird’s nest crowns one boxy, European car. The road is entirely blocked, and the team needs to go back and down a side road for a while before hitting Sycow – costing precious fuel (this last part is from a list of random mood elements from the core game). 

King is listening in on the radio while they drive. Suddenly, he gesticulates.
“Stop!”
Zielinski stops, and King concentrates. The rest try to listen in.
“There’s an American soldier on this frequency. He says he is wounded. He is holed up in a ruined farmhouse. Must be nearby,” King says.
“Could be a trick – an ambush,” Perez says, still scanning the road and ditches around them.
“Could be,” King says and purses his lips.
“We should go and help him. He is comrade. No? It is what we would want from others,” Zielinski says.
“Kelly, what do you think,” King asks?
“Whatever you think, boss. We just gotta go in careful,” he says.

The captain contacts the soldier. He says his name is Donovan, and he is hurt. Hurt bad. But he can direct them to a farmhouse with a blown red roof and a burnt barn.
King spots the roof using his binoculars and they all drive there, but park at a safe distance. They sneak closer, but there is no sign of an ambush, and they locate the wounded soldier on a mattress in a bedroom. However, when they arrive he is dead. He has a civilian walkie-talkie, a Glock pistol with a full magazine, a kevlar helmet, a water and a food ration and a knife. King collects his dog tags, takes the helmet, gives the pistol to Kelly and the knife and walkie to Perez. Donovan’s insignia indicates that he was with the 2nd Armored Division, which advanced south of the 5th division. Perhaps there are more of them somewhere?

Rules: The radio message is from the game’s random radio chatter table. Here I used the “Oracle” mechanic and drew a card. It was a six of hearts – mildly helpful, according to the table. Therefore, I determined that the soldier would be dead – it would be quite useful if they were able to rescue him, and he would have a little useful equipment, but not much. Had it been a high black card, it would have been an ambush.

The bus

Having spent 2 liters of extra fuel for a walkie talkie, a pistol and helmet, they drive away towards Sycow. King is not unhappy though, as the pistol is probably good for trading. 

Before they reach Sycow, however, Perez spots a derelict bus parked in a large – mostly intact barn – next to a shot up farm. It looks to be in better condition than most vehicles, and they agree to park there for the night and make camp in the barn. The area is flat farmland, but they hope the ruined buildings will conceal them and it is a defensible position. They are down to 10 liters of fuel – or 1/10 of the tank. The bus and barn looks like prime scrounging grounds, and while King makes camp Kelly looks for parts they for example could use in an improvised still. Zielinski stands watch, while Perez sleeps in the barn before he has to go on watch at night.  

Kelly turns out to be a lucky scrounger. He recovers one vehicle spare part from the bus engine and an electric toothbrush inside the house (1 electrical part, worth 25).

When he enters the bus, he (almost miraculously) spots a viper lurking in its nest, and avoids an ambush. He acts first in initiative and clubs the viper with his rifle butt. He did however get quite the scare and he hammers fruitlessly at the creature. Fortunately for Kelly, the viper also miss. At this point King has joined the frantic corporal, who manages to hit and kill the snake just as he arrives.

“Holy, shit Captain. A snake. A fucking snake! I hate snakes!” 

When Kelly calms down, he searches the bus and comes out beaming. He’s found an intact baseball bat – which he keeps for himself. “Keeping this handy for close encounters,” he says.

The captain has concealed the pick-up with some old, mouldy sackcloth and a couple of pallets he found and makes a very small fire inside the barn in a metal bucket he punches some holes in.

It turns out that bashing the M16 into a bus has broken it (this is in fact a camping mishap that I interpret this way, as Captain King failed his camping roll). Luckily, the Captain is good with his hands and fixes the rifle, which raises Kelly’s estimation of him as not being a totally useless officer.

At nightfall, the weather turns from fair to cloudy. Perez takes the watch for the night, and the next morning both have effectively healed their bruises and stress.

That was the end of episode 2. Episode 3 will focus on exploring Sycow and trying to get their hands on fuel or parts for a still. The story takes a bit of a turn though, and a new character joins the team…

Twilight: 2000 – a preview of a great survival game

The last message you hear on the radio from the battalion HQ is: “You’re on your own now.” Then it’s just static. The 5th US Mechanized Division is no more. It is just you, the sarge, a befuddled lieutenant you dragged out of a fox hole yesterday, Ramirez and her SAW and a local Polish kid, who had been running errands in the company. And an ol’ beat up truck nicknamed Hauler. How the hell are you going to escape the advancing Soviets, let alone get home?

This is the premise of one of my old role-playing loves, Twilight: 2000, a World War III post-apocalyptic game in a future that never was, now being republished by Swedish Free League Publishing, using another custom version of the Mutant Year-Zero ruleset.

In short, I think they’ve done an excellent job adapting their ruleset to make an intense game about humans and survival in a scary and hard future. I would very much enjoy to play or run it, and it is currently tied with Alien as the game I would most like to run for my next campaign (after I finish my now four years long D&D game).

The game system has the right level of abstraction versus crunch (to my taste), the design seems very well executed and the art and layout are excellent.

Why should I check this game out?

  • If you like post-apocalyptic games
  • If you enjoy more down to earth RPGs with some crunch
  • If you enjoy alternate history and the Cold War
  • If you want to explore very human emotions, conflicts and scenarios
  • If you enjoy movies like Black Hawk Down, Fury, Apocalypse Now, Mad Max etc.
  • A lot of military veterans play it
  • Alien RPG players, who want more crunch for combat in Alien, can get a lot of ideas from this game.

One of the parts that made me love the 2nd edition of the game was Tim Bradstreet’s atmospheric pencil illustrations. They added that sense of the setting being in a gritty, worn real world. They remind me of Hermann’s excellent Jeremiah comics.


It is in Alpha

I got access to the Alpha-version as a Kickstarter backer, and I will in this article give an overview of my initial thoughts, and maybe convince you to check it out, or give fans of the old version a few insights. It won’t be a game for everyone, but it would be great if the audience could grow. The full game is released in 2021.

Given that it is an Alpha version, the final version of the game will obviously differ from how I describe it here, and there is content clearly left out, like more locations for the characters to visit, rules for making a base and the experience system to a name a few.

I should say that this is the 4th edition of the game. My first experience with the setting was in 8th or 9th grade, where we would play the 2nd edition at my friend Tonny’s house. I just loved it. We didn’t follow all the rules (which are complex and old fashioned), and back then I already found the skill system and character creation rules annoying, because it was impossible to make a young and skilled character. But it was where my love of the post-apocalyptic setting was established, and I was already lurking on Twilight 2000 fora when news of the new edition hit.

Tell me some more…

So, what is the game about? Well, the world has basically collapsed after the next world war. The war included significant exchanges of – mainly tactical – nuclear weapons between NATO and the Soviet Union. Nuclear winter and the collapse of infrastructure has caused wide-spread famine and disease and the and civilian authority has mostly broken down. It is a very bleak world, but Free League notes that you need to add some hope, or the whole thing becomes too depressing!

It is also worth noting that the designers clearly state that this is not a game about soldiers or the military, it is about survivors, which I really like.

The default campaign is that your unit was part of a last-ditch NATO offensive that failed, and when your division is defeated outside of a Polish town called Kalisz, you are simply let go. The group of characters are a few soldiers from this division, and maybe a couple of civilians or a CIA spy. They also might have a vehicle, but that is usually randomly determined at the start of the game. The immediate goal will be to avoid – ie flee – the oncoming Soviet troops. But then what? That it is really up to the players to decide, depending on their motivations and characters. They might try to get to comparative safety in France, or see if they can find a ship to take them home somewhere in Western Europe, or they might decide to settle down and create their own base, or perhaps follow the new meta-plot line of Operation Reset? What is certain is that it will be difficult to survive and there will be hard choices ahead.

The second campaign option in the book is playing in a collapsed Sweden, which got involved in the war. Free League is Swedish, so I find it a great addition. Especially since the Baltic Sea is a key theatre for a WWIII scenario involving Russia. Sweden has been nuked, has US Marines fighting alongside Swedish regulars and partisans against Soviet troops, and a wounded US aircraft carrier has been parked in Stockholm. A fine new twist.

The game comes with big hex maps for both Poland and Sweden.

Each hex is 10 kilometers (about 6 miles), and the referee will typically draw one encounter per hex.


Who can I play?

There are two ways to make a character: picking one of the archetypes or going through a Life Path. The key difference is the level of control you have over what your character will become. If you pick one of the archetypes (Civilian, Grunt, Gunner, Kid, Mechanic, Medic, Officer, Operator and Spook), you will have a high degree of control over the character you want to play, and they are equally skilled.

The second choice starts you out as an 18-year-old, and lets you pick the different steps in your career – both civilian and military. Each step will make you 1D6 years older, and at each step you gain skills and potentially specialties and promotion, but you also roll to see if your attributes drop or if the war breaks out, at which point you get a “final” War Career. This system is more random and can make your character both more or less skilled than the archetypes. It emulates the system the old GDW games, which Twilight: 2000 was one of and Traveller was another, in which – infamously – your character could die during character creation!

The Free League version is more abstract, which is also in line with the more stream-lined set of skills. It takes up six small pages, whereas the second edition has 12 full pages with for example 18 different officer careers – eg Naval Aviator Officer or Ranger Officer. In this edition they make do with one officer career. I think it is plenty for a core book, and for the fans who want a higher level of detail, it will be easy to make your own or – I’m sure – Free League will add new options in supplements, such as aviators.

I tried the Life Path process and ended up generating an American (you can also play a local or a Soviet), which grew up as a street kid, but who joined the military and became a medic (Combat Service Support). She only served two terms before the war broke out when she was 25 years old. Compared to the Medic archetype, she had one more stat point and three specialties versus one for the archetype, but three fewer skill ranks. Definitely a viable character, and the extra stat point she was lucky to retain, will be consistently useful, if she lives long enough in game!

The system
For the people who’ve played other Free League games, the Twilight: 2000 system will feel familiar, but there is still a significant departure in the core mechanic. I’m going to gloss over details here, but put simply:

The game has a dice pool system, but the core dice is one from your attribute and one from your skill. You need to roll a six or higher to have a success, but your rating goes from A-F. A is a D12, B is a D10, C is a D8, D is a D6 and F is nothing (which only applies to skills). Rolling 10 or higher counts as two successes. Modifiers increase or decrease the dice you use. It is reminiscent of the rules for artifact dice in Forbidden Lands – their fantasy RPG. So, you want to try to sneak past a sentry, and you have Agility B and Recon C, you roll a D10 and a D8 and try to roll a six. If you roll two ones, you have a mishap. As in other Free League games, you can “push” the roll once, and roll again, but this causes stress or damage.

So, that is the basics. You can also have skill specializations, eg Machine Gunner or Forward Observer, but there are no talents to add additional capabilities (at least yet, I hope they add them).

There are also a couple of new mechanics.

You have a stat called Courage Under Fire, which you typically need to roll when getting shot at. Furthermore, your unit has a morale equal to the highest Command skill level in the group.

When you fire a weapon, they’ve also added Ammo Dice as a mechanic – a D6. For each of the dice you roll you get an additional chance to hit by rolling more sixes. Additional hits can be applied to nearby enemies. If you roll ones, they contribute to the chance of rolling a mishap, which will degrade your weapon. When you are done, you add the D6 together, and that is the ammo you just used. Simple and elegant – at least on paper. I haven’t tested it.

In some of the other Mutant-Year Zero games, you also rolled dice for water and food every day, but in Twilight: 2000 you need to keep track of daily rations. It was an abstraction I liked, and I hope they will reintroduce. But, of course, characters in a modern world have more options for storing and carrying rations.

Combat:

Combat is quite tactical, and the default assumption is that you use a hex map (10m a hex) and the counters that comes with the game. This is where most of the crunch comes in. You need rules for various weapons, from knives to mortars to phosphorous grenades. You need to know how mines, barb wire, chemical weapons and explosions work and you need to get vehicles, from motorcycles to main battle tanks, into the mix.

The dangers of combat are accentuated by a nasty critical hit system. If you get a critical hit in the head or torso, they will nearly all be fatal, unless you get medical attention. Just moving a fatally wounded will force a Stamina roll to avoid death – a mechanic I’ve never encountered in a game. I won’t explain the system here, but I like it. It fits with the game.

The system is very deadly compared to other current games, as there is no way to mitigate getting hit using “Fate Points”, “Luck Points” or the like. A medic will be a critical component to a group.


In addition to suffering damage, you can also suffer Stress, like in the Alien RPG. It happens when you push, see a mate get critically injured or if you experience other traumatic events. If you reach zero, you are incapacitated by fear, and someone with the Command skill needs to revive you (like in Alien), but there is no “panic roll”. You can risk long term effects though, like phobias and alcoholism.

The system is less complex than previous editions and has the right level of abstraction for me.

For comparison:
In the second edition of the game calculating the Concussion Effect of demolitions, you needed to “divide the DP value of the charge by 2, extract the square root of the result, and multiply by 5.”

I prefer not using a calculator, when I play RPGs.

In this edition, you look at the map, and roll a number of base dice depending on the blast power of the explosion, and for each hex beyond the center you reduce the dice with one step.

The vehicle rules are where I see the most complexity.

In this, and previous editions, vehicles play a significant role. You need to maintain them and find or make fuel (from an alcohol still), and you need to repair them if you can, when they get shot at.

The vehicle can have different armor on each side, which means its facing on the map matters. Furthermore, a hit that does not penetrate the armor might have an effect, and a penetrating hit might continue to damage other parts of the vehicle. This includes the crew and passengers of course, and as a GM I am a little concerned by the likelihood of a TPK if their vehicle is hit with an explosive shell that penetrates the armor. It is realistic – but not that much fun – if 75%+ of the group is killed by a T-72 hidden behind a road-block…

Equipment
Your kit is essential for your survival, so the game spends quite some pages on various guns, vehicles, accessories, grenades, explosives etc. Compared to previous editions there are fewer small arms, fewer vehicles and less details on equipment in the core book. The section takes up more than 40 pages in the Alpha edition (versus 78 in 2nd edition), so it isn’t like they breeze over it, especially compared to other current games.

What I loved then – and now – is that all the vehicles and weapons each have an illustration – in color in this edition.

To me, it seems a bit excessive that the Polish weapons get so much space, as they are basically identical to the Soviet weapons, but with different names.

There are no aircraft and only a few boats. However, especially the maritime aspects Free League has promised to follow up on, as sailing down the Vistula river to the Baltic Sea (and then home?) has always been a key part of the game.

Sand box play
True to the original, the game is a ‘sand box style’ game. The new edition core books does a better job supporting that style, however.

The original did have a solid section on Encounters and some adventuring sites, but the originals were more generic, whereas Free League has organized them to be drawn from a regular deck of cards and include intentions and drama to many of the pre-written encounter. The referee can then add additional meaning to by including references to the different factions that are also described in the game or play off on previous events.
For example, if the referee draws 7 of Clubs, it will be a group of angry starving refugees, but if it is 7 of Hearts it will be three orphan kids in a house and marauders approaching.

There are also a few encounters that feel too similar, and won’t work close together, such as the four different nuclear craters, which differ very slightly. I hope they beef them up a bit.

The game also includes random radio chatter, two pages of “mood elements” and a list of rumors, which is highly useful. It also has a solid system for survival, making camp, scrounging and trade.

That said, although the events and random encounters of previous edition aren’t as “ready to play” as this version, because the Referee will need to roll additional dice and check more tables, there is plenty of inspiration to be drawn from them.

In the Alpha edition there is only one premade location, but they should include four in the full game. The style will be familiar to people who owns or plays Mutant Year Zero or Forbidden Lands. The description contains a map with locations and brief descriptions, NPCs with motivations and rumours and plot hooks.

There is a Meta-plot about Operation Reset, but the Alpha-edition has few details on it. In the previous editions there were also actual “adventures” with a plot-line like you will find for most RPGs. I assume they will reappear.

The Backstory
The 1st edition of the game was published in 1984, when the Cold War was still a thing and the year 2000 in an unknown future.

As it turned out, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were a lot weaker than they appeared. Therefore, when you in 2020 make a game, where you start with the original conclusion (a clash between NATO and the Soviets in the middle of Poland around year 2000, and a global nuclear exchange) and go backwards to write an alternate history to get to that point, you will inevitably strain realism.

I am completely fine with that, and ultimately, for most games, the details of the backstory won’t matter the slightest, because it has little to no impact on the game – just like the ancient lore in most fantasy games has very little relevance to the actual game – so who cares what China did? Or if Israel was attacked by a coalition of Soviet and Middle-Eastern forces? You have more immediate problems!

There are however a minority of long-time fans, for whom creating a “realistic” backstory is almost a sub-hobby in it itself, and – funnily enough – most of them claim to have made a backstory that IS “realistic”, from their perspective. They are right of course in saying that the Soviets would never have the capacity to invade the UK, much less supply their troops there. But that won’t matter to the vast majority of players. I say this, to flag to newcomers that there are some vocal critics out there.

If am I to criticize the current backstory a bit myself (ironic isn’t it), I think the brief backstory needs to touch on what China and India are doing in this conflict, as they are the two most populous countries in the world and nuclear powers to boot.

To me, Free League, strikes a balance where the die-hard fans of the previous editions can still recognize the game that they love and making the game relevant and accessible to new players

Conclusions & concerns
The problem with the old editions were – in my view – that they were very simulationist and not very playable for more casual players. What Free League have basically done is to take their default system, which is already meant for survival-games, and use modern game design conventions to make the game enjoyable for the more casual player.

It is still the most complex – crunchy, if you will – iteration of the Mutant Year-Zero ruleset, and I think one of the reasons is that you still need to provide game mechanical variety in a game with nothing supernatural. It is just humans with guns, motivations – and sometimes tanks or mortars – that you need to worry about. Therefore, there must be a meaningful difference between a Soviet T-72 and T-80 tank.

The Alpha edition seems very well done to me, and most of my points of critique are minor or a matter of taste.

To me, Free League, strikes a balance where the die-hard fans of the previous editions can still recognize the game that they love and making the game relevant and accessible to new players. Hopefully, that means that the veteran players will see an influx of “new blood”.

It will however be important for new players to “manage expectations” when they join a group. There are many current fans out there, who are experts on weapons and military life and who enjoy debating various Soviet tank configurations. Some seem to be very focused on “realism”, which I’m sure may include everything from extensive details on various ammunition types to the inclusion of slavery and sexual violence in the game. If lots of logistics or very dark topics are to your gaming taste, go play! But others with different perspectives on gaming might not, and I think in this game in particular, a solid conversation on what the game will feature and what it won’t, will be critical.

In my experience, even the sand box style of gameplay can be hard to manage and is not to everyone’s taste.

I will certainly look forward to this game, and I might even be able to convince my usual group to give it a go. If you’ve read this far, perhaps you will too?