Cruising in a Submarine: Twilight: 2000‘s The Last Submarine Campaign

Cruising in a Submarine: Twilight: 2000‘s The Last Submarine Campaign

The Last Submarine (GDW, 1988)

Twilight: 2000 the 1980s tabletop Roleplaying game by GDW started with the players stranded behind enemy lines in Poland with the disintegration of the last major offensive of World War III. The first six published adventures, referred to as the Polish Campaign, deal with the players attempting to find passage back to the United States.

Twilight: 2000’s setting takes place after the US and USSR have exchanged nuclear strikes, inching across the nuclear apocalypse. Players find themselves in the midst of society breaking down — with pockets and dreams of hope and recovery. Once back in the US, they learn not all is well. The country has split into many semi-independent states, governing bodies, and anarchy. The military and remnants of the civilian government are competing for legitimacy and control. It seems only fitting that a trilogy of adventures, The Last Submarine Campaign, should see the players returning to Europe.

The Last Submarine adventure kicks off the trilogy and begins in New England. The players are tasked with securing the last known operational nuclear submarine: SSN-705 The City of Corpus Christi. The sub was last seen in dry dock in New London, Connecticut. Little rationale is provided by the writers for incorporating player groups into the adventure or the larger campaign, though the expectation is that the playing group has spent some time already in this world.

The adventure continues the tradition of sandbox play that is so prevalent in the Twilight: 2000 series. That means that the adventure has very little structure. Instead, it contains much background and detail for the area, giving players the freedom to explore and engage as they desire. The referee (or gamemaster) provides obstacles in their path, some of which connects with the larger story.

In The Last Submarine, the players are likely to encounter four major factions as they navigate Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. The first is the 43rd Military Police Brigade. Originally a Rhode Island National Guard Brigade, the US government federalized it as the war progressed. It remains the only real representation of the US government in place in New England, albeit of the military government (called MilGov). Commanded by Colonel Dean Fort, the 43rd MP Brigade will serve as a source of information and potential allies in the players’ attempts to find and recover the Corpus Christi.

The second faction is the Razor Heads, a gang in the Boston area. Described as a megapunk gang, their leader, Dain Dangerous is a former rock star. Leading up to the war, he led a series of youth protests against corporate and government control. With the nuclear strikes and the collapse of civil authority, Dangerous and his gang stepped into the vacuum and control significant portions of Boston.

The way rock and roll is used throughout the American-based
adventures as a cultural touchstone is an interesting side discussion.

The Isolationists are led by Steven Britt, former governor of Rhode Island. The community has forged a precarious path by seeking to avoid entanglements. They have managed to grow food, accumulate medical supplies, and other rare commodities in the world. By far the most democratic faction encountered in Twilight: 2000 to date, Britt still exercises significant influence on the council that determines community affairs. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, they lack the overall resources to survive as they have been much longer. Either their continued acceptance of refugees will overwhelm their stockpiles and agricultural efforts or other, more blood thirsty groups will overtake them.

The United Brotherhood of Fishermen or UBF are the villains in this adventure. Built off the remains of a powerful union before the war that supported workers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, former mob boss John Carlucci runs the UBF as his army and navy. Having violently brought down a competing union and then established his headquarters in Nantucket, the UBF is a regional force to be reckoned with.

The basic flow of the adventure is for the players to arrive at New London and learn that the Corpus Christi is no longer in dry dock. Rumors from the current occupants of New London will give a variety of clues and rumors for the players to follow. A key figure in this is Father O’Grady, a Roman Catholic priest who learned about the submarine and its likely whereabouts. O’Grady went to Boston in an effort to track this information down. Alas, for him, he is currently being held by the Razor Heads. The players a can attempt to rescue him (he’s not being treated very well). Presuming they do, he can tell them about the UBF and that Carlucci has the submarine. Where exactly, he is not 100% sure. Some rumors and information will point to Martha’s Vineyard. (This adventure has a few components of “it doesn’t really matter… so long as the players are progressing.)

With O’Grady in hand, they will encounter the 43rd MPs. Part of encountering the MPs is running into Brother Andrew. Depending on the status of Father O’Grady and what the players do in the encounter (Andrew wants O’Grady to accompany him to Worcester), the adventure provides a number of potential paths. Andrew is a DIA agent working for Major Sandra Orwelle of the MPs. She has learned of Carlucci’s plans for the Corpus Christi and knows that O’Grady has important information. If the players seek the help of the MPs or wish to join the MPs efforts in recovering the sub, however, they will be sorely disappointed, for the 43rd MP Brigade will implode due to a mutiny against their leader, Fort.

With the combined information of O’Grady and the MPs, the players will learn that the Corpus Christi is on Nantucket. Carlucci has been working on making her fully submersible again and fitting it with the last of the electronics necessary. With a working nuclear-powered submarine, Carlucci hopes to terrorize and firmly establish his rule over large parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The players are free to determine how they will get to Nantucket and recover the sub. MilGov has ensured a couple of submarine operators have been with them, and getting those NPCs to the submarine is the vital task.

Presuming the players want to continue the story of the Corpus Christi, the adventure Mediterranean Cruise finds them returning to Europe as part of Operation Prometheus. The name of the operation should provide some clue to the players, though they will be provided little detail due to security concerns. What they do know is that they will be making several stops once in the Mediterranean to pick up DIA agents. Despite the collapse of society, the remaining governments are still engaged in a war, and information is at a premium.

Mediterranean Cruise (GDW, 1988)

As with any good campaign, the players are stripped of much of what they have accumulated. A submarine has only so much space, so they will have to choose wisely. The submarine itself is operated by a skeleton crew that MilGov has managed to recruit. Because of the war, most satellite positioning systems are destroyed, which requires the submarine to surface at least once a day to fix position using old-fashioned stars for navigation. Additionally, the nuclear reactor powering the sub is operating with the bear minimum of safety.

For the players’ benefit, the referee will probably want to emphasize the dangers involved in this arrangement, roll dice occasionally “for something to go wrong,” and announce that Kearney is looking worried, for example. The players should be made nervous, but nothing catastrophic should happen to the reactor or the ship’s turbines.

The Corpus Christi will make stops in Spain, Sicily, Libya, Greece, Turkey, and Romania — though the last destination is unknown until the stop in Greece. Background information is provided on all the locations, as is typical of Twilight: 2000 adventures, this information serves to add a lot of detail to the course of the war and current local conditions. The players have plenty of opportunity to get in trouble in Spain and Sicily (including how to get back to the sub after being stranded ashore), though these are largely inconsequential to the overall story.

The visit to Libya provides the first signs of trouble. As part of this stop, they will learn that a spy is among the crew. The referee has a few options to pick from (including making one of her own). This raises the specter, however, of why a spy would be aboard this journey. This is because the DIA agent in Greece, Paul Gorich, knows the location of Alexi and Tanya Popovich, Soviet defectors. They had agreed to defect prior to the war, but when the war came, they were known to have escaped Russia but otherwise were lost. Gorich, also cut off, followed his training. He eventually learned of their location: in Romania. The spy wants to prevent the Popoviches from finalizing their delayed defection.

The Popoviches are in possession of technical documents and know-how on building low-tech nuclear fusion reactors. (Interestingly, this adventure was published in 1988, one year before the infamous Fleischmann-Pons Cold Fusion debacle.) Given the energy starved world of Twilight: 2000, this is powerful technology and worth sending the last working submarine across the globe to obtain. This is Operation Prometheus.

To get the Popoviches, the players will have to negotiate with Vlad Drakul (yes, he’s styled his name after the legendary Romanian hero and inspiration for Dracula), a Romanian partisan fighting the Soviets. MilGov has agreed to supply Drakul weapons and recognition in exchange for the Popoviches, who are in his custody. The spy, who has remained inoperative during the trip from Libya to Romania, will contact the local Soviets to warn them of the US-Drakul deal. As the supplies are being transferred, the Soviets attack. Presuming this all wraps up with the players left alive, Drakul provides one last bit of information. A document taken from the KGB office in Bucharest. The Soviets know where one of their last nuclear-powered submarines is, and it has three nuclear missiles left.

This is the lead in to Boomer, the concluding adventure in The Last Submarine campaign. If the players return and stay on the Corpus Christi, they are signing up for finding the Soviet’s last submarine, the Barrikada, though they could negotiate a quick stop to disembark somewhere between Romania and Norway. Lieutenant Commander Stacks — captain of the Corpus Christi — will do his duty and stop the Barrikada from becoming operational, even with the Popoviches and the rescued DIA agents tagging along.

Boomer (GDW, 1989)

The location mentioned in the message Drakul provided is located in the far north and trapped in the icecap. The Corpus Christi will make all due speed through the Mediterranean, through the English Channel, and through the North Sea. During the transit through the English Channel, the submarine will encounter a French naval patrol. The ensuing fight (in the alternate history — at the time of the 1980s — France withdrew from NATO and is a neutral state) damages the Corpus Christi, forcing it to beach temporarily so that Stacks can evaluate the hull. The players will have to defend the submarine from a band of marauders.

This is one of the challenges of these last two adventures. Much of the sandbox feel of Twilight: 2000 is abandoned as the players move about on the submarine. Only during the stops does the game open up wide again. Depending on the player group, this may or may not pose an issue. In the fight in the Channel, the players have nothing to do but worry that the sub will sink.

The damage will prove significant enough to require a harbor to fix, which the neutral (and unfriendly French) are unlikely to have. Additionally, Stacks wants to get to Norway. In Trondheim (after a stop in Kristiansund to learn the whereabouts of Norwegian assistance), the players will get a chance to meet the young King Haakon VIII, who has been leading Norway’s fight against the Soviets in the norther part of the country. Haakon will give the Corpus Christi access to Trondheim’s port for repairs if Stacks and players assist in recovering Narvik from the Soviets. A submarine will provide the tactical advantage of surprise on Narvik, which recent attacks against have failed. As a bonus, the players can participate in capturing the Soviet HQ in Narvik, which Haakon believes will have information on Operation Polar Bear — the recovery of the Barrikada.

Once Narvik is seized, the Sacks and the players can undertake foiling the Soviet plans for the Barrikada. How this is done is largely up to the players. Regardless, it is not without significant danger but it also will require some quick action. It also requires a trek across the ice, leaving the safety of the Corpus Christi behind. The Barrikada is nearly ready to break free of the icecap. The nuclear-powered reactors are back online and are undergoing a systems test. Additionally, the Soviet crew has been melting the ice near this vessel to free it.

If the attack stalls, the Soviets will be able to dive and save the Barrikada — and its three working nuclear missiles. Success in the attack will require proper reconnaissance, a well executed plan, and a bit of luck. Ultimately, the Barrikada will be scuttled. The Americans do not have enough to crew to pilot it and the Corpus Christi. Capturing the Barrikada will provide a bit of intelligence, but it will meet an icy ending at the bottom of the Atlantic.

From here, the players are free to return to the US aboard the Corpus Christi or stay in Europe (the adventure provides some information for obtaining their own small ship). GDW did release a final trilogy of adventures, which I will cover in a future article, called Return to Europe. One of its potential starting points is with the players concluding Boomer with that small ship, the Arktika.

I should also note that both Mediterranean Cruise and Boomer include scenario set ups for using GDW’s Harpoon rules for naval combat. This allows the players to determine through the game the outcome of some combat in those two adventures versus having them become narrative events only.

Image from Wayne’s Books (

The Last Submarine campaign provides many of the hallmarks of GDW’s Twilight: 2000 adventures: rich setting information, detailed background of the areas leading up to the time of the adventure, and player choice. Even with much of the decision making in the last two decisions about where the Corpus Christi goes in the hands of Stacks (and thus the referee), once off boat, the sandbox opens up again, allowing players freedom to undertake the actions as they see fit. Finally, the adventure very much has the feel of Twilight: 2000 with its societies collapsing and struggling to survive, where technology is faltering yet still working (think of Corpus Christi still chugging along but needing to surface for navigation). If players are wanting to return to Europe, this is an excellent campaign to get them there… and part of the intrigue and danger of the ongoing conflict.

Our previous coverage of GDW’s Twilight: 2000 includes:

Exploring Post-Apocalyptic Poland in Twilight: 2000
Twilight: 2000 — Roleplaying in a Post-Nuclear Holocaust World
Twilight: 2000‘s Polish Campaign, Part II
Twilight: 2000‘s Polish Campaign, Part II
Twilight: 2000‘s Polish Campaign: Part III
Going Home Isn’t All it’s Cracked Up to Be: Twilight: 2000’s American Campaign, Part I
From the Mountains to the Oceans: Twilight 2000‘s American Campaign, Part II
Reckoning: Twilight: 2000‘s American Campaign, Part III

Patrick Kanouse encountered Traveller and Star Frontiers in the early 1980s, which he then subjected his brother to many games of. Outside of RPGs, he is a fiction writer, avid tabletop roleplaying game master, and new convert to war gaming. His last post for Black Gate was Roleplaying in the World of The Expanse. You can follow him and his brother at Two Brothers Gaming as they play any number of RPGs. Twitter: @twobrothersgam8. Facebook: Two Brothers Gaming.

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Still a fan of your posting these! Again, these are adventures I never got to run or play in, though I re-read them many times. I used some of the structure of the factions and hidden information of Last Submarine for a D&D game once.

I’ve now gotten the FL game on PDF, so I can muse about re-skinning some of the unused old stuff for a variation on the old timeline.

Bill Urban

Quite enjoyed the coverage of Twilight 2000 as well, one of the games I never bought back in the day and always regretted not having done so.

The Free League version may well be my chance to put that right after so many years.

Find it interesting how hard Free League ismarketing the game as “sandbox” roleplay.

Might be an interesting article or two, or twenty, concerning how current roleplaying games are marketed and how “sandbox” play is no longer the understood norm…

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x