This is the second of three articles covering GDW’s published adventures in the “American Campaign” for Twilight: 2000’s first edition. The first, “Going Home Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be,” can be read here.
For the characters at the start of their adventures in Twilight: 2000 — presuming they start with the default location in Poland — the situation in America is essentially unknown. They may learn more clearly that the United States government has split into competing units: the so-called MilGov and CivGov. However, the nature and extent of the collapse of society and the rising of powerful alternative forces would largely be unknowable.
The nuclear strikes against America overwhelmed governmental services either because they were taken out in the strikes (the main body of the federal government), the vast quantity of desperate refugees put civilian leaders in no-win situations for shelter and food, or the collapse of the intricate infrastructure of food production and delivery stripped civilian government of any authority as people turned to baser instincts for survival. Even the Roman emperors understood the importance of food supplies and ensured that the citizens of Rome had free supplies of bread.
Usually here at Black Gate I write about old-school tabletop roleplaying games or elements related to them, but now I’m going to truly show my age by writing about Deadlands. See, I continue to think of Deadlands as a new rpg even though it’s now a quarter of a century old. And what a quarter century it has been for this game.
Developed by Shane Lacy Hensley and originally released in 1996 by the Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Deadlands immediately proved quite popular with gamers and with critics, eventually earning as many as eight Origins Awards. And why not? Combining elements of horror with the legendary atmosphere of the Old West, along with a few touches of fantasy and steampunk, Deadlands was quite innovative not only for its time but also for today. I think that mixture of horror and Westerns was what originally drew me to this game.
This is the first of three articles covering GDW’s published adventures in the “American Campaign” forTwilight: 2000’s first edition.
The published adventures for Twilight: 2000 did not stop with the players returning home in Going Home, the final adventure in what is referred to as the Polish Campaign. A series of nine adventures followed, all set in the United States — or what the United States as become the setting. The first three published adventures, Red Star/Lone Star, Armies of the Night, and Allegheny Uprising presume the players did manage to return to the United States from Europe.
Unlike the linked — albeit loosely — adventures of the Polish Campaign, with its opening escape, fleeing to Krakow, working toward Warsaw, and then eventual crossing into Germany, these three first adventures of the American campaign exist independently. An enterprising game master (GM) and players could find a way to connect them, though the distances are vast — particularly for Red Star/Lone Star and the other two — at least vast in a post-apocalyptic world.
How does one present a science fiction roleplaying game to a group to introduce both the setting, the basic mechanics, and give a good flavor of how it will run yet extend beyond the typical rulebook starter adventure? Free League Publishing’s Coriolisis called “Arabian Nights in space,” and its tone and setting are evocative and fresh. Set far in the future in an area of space called the Third Horizon, humankind lives and thrives on a variety of planets and space stations. While many factions exist, one major divide is omnipresent: the Firstcomers and the Zenithians. The Firstcomers fled the Second Horizon, and after a decades-long war called the Portal Wars, were eventually cut off from that area of space. Meanwhile, centuries before the portals that allow travel among the stars were found, a generation ship called Zenith left Earth for the star called Kua. Once there, they found the Firstcomers.
With its Middle Eastern aesthetic, its religious undertones (a number of icons are revered — or not — among the population), and the Emissaries — mysterious entities who recently appeared and seem to be associated with the Icons — the game has more than the traditional Western culture-based science fiction setting many RPGs call home. Introducing a playing group to the game can be a challenge, and that’s where The Last Voyage of the Ghazali comes in.
Degenesis Rebirth is an RPG that keeps calling me. It’s an ear worm of the imagination. The developer, SIXMOREVODKA, has launched a fabulous website that features an interactive map, timeline, stories, audio clips, and more. It is as rich and in-depth as the books themselves and also, like the digital copies of the game, all free. The world is so rich, in fact, that one struggles at times to deal with it all.
Degenesis Rebirth is a post post-apocalyptic game. In 2073, Earth was bombarded by a number of asteroids that was as close to an extinction event without quite doing the human species in. The people of this world call the event the Eshaton. For hundreds of years, humanity struggled with the new reality and sudden shifts in the world. The game focuses on Europe and North Africa, so we know that the plummet in temperatures set off another ice age. The drop in sea levels cut the Mediterranean off from the Atlantic. The Adriatic Sea between Italy and Croatia largely disappeared. The Sahara has bloomed with vegetation and life.
It’s funny how different tabletop roleplaying games have aged over the years. For instance, the granddaddy of them all, Dungeons & Dragons, has waxed and waned in popularity since its inception in the 1970s, but at least to the general public it has always remained synonymous with the very notion of tabletop RPGs. Other games that were popular decades ago have now been all but forgotten, sometimes even by collectors and the most hardcore of fans. Some newer games have found purchase and are readily available, while untold numbers of RPGs have been created over the decades without drawing so much as a yawn from the market.
Perhaps surprisingly, some older games that were once popular seemed to have been pretty much forgotten by any potential audience but then decades later have suddenly sprang into popularity once again. My guess would be the age of the Internet and then the rise of social media have had a lot to do with this, with older gamers gathering online to talk about or even play their favorite games while drawing in a new generation.
One such game has been the Marvel Super Heroes roleplaying game from TSR Inc. Originally published in 1984 in the famous yellow box, with an advanced box set released in 1986, this RPG designed by Jeff Grub has had quite the uptick in popularity during the last handful of years. Not only are there multiple websites devoted to the game, but there are even Facebook pages and podcasts, plus YouTube videos devoted to discussing and playing the original Marvel RPG. There is even a modern version of the game (without the Marvel connection, of course) simply called FASERIPand free from Gurbintroll Games.
When Traveller first released in 1977, it did not have an official setting. This quickly changed with the introduction of the Third Imperium, a large, multi-star system empire. While alien species like the Hivers, Droyne, Aslan, Vargr, and K’Kree — out of many — are prominent features in many Traveller campaigns, the fact is that the Imperium is human dominated. And the Imperium’s two major foes, the Solomani Confederation and the Zhodani Consulate, are human dominated.
Part of the setting’s lore is that the so-called Ancients took humans from Earth and seeded them throughout what is called Charted Space. Often, the humans have been altered radically for the environments. Cafadans, Darmine, Darrian, and others were either altered by the Ancients or adapted to their environments and managed to survive after the Ancients destroyed themselves in a cataclysmic war.
The Zhodani, however, occupy a special place in the Traveller setting. While transplanted by the Ancients, they discovered the faster-than-light jump drive on their own accord. More importantly, they are the only human society that incorporated psionics into their culture and government. This has had a profound effect on them and on the Imperial perception of them when the two civilizations clashed in the Spinward Marches, a designated area of space.
SPI ad in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1978
I’ve been spending some time over the past few months getting my SF digests back in order. While those on the shelves were in order, I had bunches in boxes that needed to be incorporated, so it’s been a bit of work. But it’s been fun to look at them as I’m organizing them (which of course just slows that process down!)
I’d remembered that the first SF digest I subscribed to was The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but had forgotten that the first issue of my subscription was December 1976. My copy still has that helpful mailing labeled plastered over it. But on that copy at least, from the perspective of 45 years later, I don’t mind it being on there at all.
I’ve had great fun looking again at the various SF and fantasy gaming ads that were running in digests during that period. I think that the first game I ever ordered was TSR’s Lankhmar in early 1977 (being a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser fan, I couldn’t resist!), while I was in eighth grade, followed later that summer by SPI’s Sorcerer and Metagaming’s Ogre. Once I’d ordered a few things, my name found its way on to many mailing lists, so I wasn’t limited anymore to what I saw advertised in the digests.
In many ways the early 1980s were the heyday of classic microgames, also called minigames, with the popularity of such games as Car Wars and Revolt on Antares, but those were far from the only games available. For instance, TSR Inc. made its fair share of microgames, including Viking Gods.
Published in 1982, Viking Gods allowed players to take part in the battle to end all battles, Ragnarok. A game for two players, one player took the side of the Forces of Chaos while the other player was in control of the Gods of Asgard. Each side in the battle had a mission. The job of the Forces of Chaos was to storm across the Rainbow Bridge and destroy Yggdrasil, the sacred tree. The side of the gods had the job of either killing Loki or destroying his army while defending the tree.
A somewhat simple war game, Viking Gods still packed lots of combat. All you needed were the included map, the game pieces, and a pair of six-sided dice. When it was their turn, players were allowed to move their cardboard pieces two spaces across a map until they came up against enemy forces. Then combat could begin. Using the combat chart at the bottom of the map, the dice were rolled to determine the outcome of battle. Depending upon that outcome, forces could be pushed back a space or they could be defeated, wiped out. Another option was the battle could lead to a draw.
My nostalgic roleplaying game (rpg) is Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP). That’s not a good one to bring to a table of what I term “casual” gamers. Casual gamers are the kinds who say, “Tell me what dice to roll?” MERP requires a level of energy and investment that leaks away while the GM performs all the calculations and looks up all the results on various tables. As one of my gamers tellingly noted, a few years ago when I was struggling to run it for a passive group, “Gabe’s apparently playing his own private game over there as we sit here waiting patiently for results.”
I’m not blaming the game, of course. This is the unavoidable result of this kind of game coupled with certain players. But I didn’t give up on this game until the player characters (PCs) randomly encountered a Wyvern. “Oh, man,” I chuckled, “this is going to be dangerous for you guys.” Well, it wasn’t. A lucky first hit Stunned my monster. Whether the effect lasted for one Round or eight really didn’t matter, because those PCs circled it and protracted that effect by wailing on it, as if they were those guys in Office Space, surrounding and battering at an office copier.
This is what we call being stun-locked, a known “problem” in Rolemaster systems. When it happened in my MERP group, I told my players, “I don’t think I want to play this anymore.”