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Free League Publishing's Twilight 2000 RPG banner art by Niklas Brandt
Free League Publishing’s Twilight 2000 RPG banner art by Niklas Brandt

So continuing the saga of my review and ongoing campaign log for Free League Publishing’s Twilight 2000 RPG, we finally met for our first session earlier in the previous month and here’s what happened.  We created characters, whom you met previously on Haunted MTL here.  We got the Brief History of WWIII as we know it and the introduction of a failed major assault to set the scene.  The backstory and setting were believable and provided a good launching point for the game.   (I won’t go into this so you can enjoy the setup when you play for yourselves, and so you can adapt it to current events if you want to hit even closer to home.)  And so we began gameplay.  Here’s the story of what happened.

After all Hell broke loose…, as told by Kyle Van Schoen (Ice)

Our first encounter after all Hell broke loose was with some US troops messing with a radio they’d propped up on a Jeep: Captain Morris and his entourage, Radioman Scott, Carlos, and Deb.  Once they tuned out the initial static the message was loud and clear – we’re on our own.  Maestro (Roger) pansied up to the Cap’n seeking orders but the Cap’n commanded that we split up to draw less attention by having fewer vehicles and because frankly we wouldn’t be able to keep up.  I think he just took one look at our baby-faced leader and wanted us gone so our asses wouldn’t be blown to smithereens on his watch.  They were heading west; he suggested we go a different direction away from the Ruskies, perhaps southwest.

So we embarked on the bumpy off-road journey through the deep woods towards Kepno.  Fortunately, our driver Nadya, a local Polish girl, is on it.  On the way, we encountered a not-very-well-fed bear that sized us up and thought we might make a tasty dinner if not for the truck.  Apparently Pooh had blown through his stash of honey and was looking for something meatier.  Scope (Alek) handily shot the hostile creature in the head and blew out its brains.  It’s definitely cold dead, Jim, time to take its… oh never mind.

Underfed Bear as drawn by Jennifer Weigel, our first random encounter in Twilight 2000 RPG
Underfed Bear as drawn by Jennifer Weigel

Having put the beast out of its misery (and us out of possible harm), we loaded the bulky fuzzy-wuzzy-ass bear carcass in the truck in the hopes that it may be worth something to the townsfolk in trade.  Nadya set up camp in a small plot of woods on the other side of the river and, after an uneventful night, we made it to Kepno in the morning, bear in tow.

Nadya talked our way into town despite some sideways glances from the locals.  Someone threw a blanket over the SAW as if my bulging package was somehow less conspicuous.  We were told to keep our hands in sight and our weapons in the truck and tooled slowly into town looking for some dude named Hirek.  A number of other Poles talked to Nadya as she recounted our story over and over; I lost track of who all they were, I think there was a Tytus and a Kornel and a Luiza and a local yokel whom I’ll just call D.  Thankfully D stayed out of our business for the most part.

Luiza ran shop and Brick (Jack) & I were recruited to help haul Pooh in to be appraised.  After much banter, Nadya let us know that we would be able to get a small still to keep the truck running in exchange for the bear, but that she would have to work on a couple of vehicles to seal the deal.  A day out on our own and we’re already getting hooked up with some reasonable equipment, that’s a good shake.

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We were just lollygagging around near the truck killing time for most of the afternoon.  Once Nadya finished working on the car, she needed some parts for their truck to fix a blown-out engine.  I tagged along to help and keep her out of trouble, and to stretch my legs.  We found a couple of car parts we could salvage from some old beaters and they let us keep the extra.  As dusk settled in, we heard a commotion out front.  We grabbed our weapons out of our truck because the townsfolk were busy and we’d do best to ready ourselves for action whether they told us to lay low or not.

It seems some wild dogs were trying to run amok in the village and the guards were calling for help.  Nadya revved the truck and sped off as we piled through the streets to get a better view.  Sadly, I’d been taking a piss at the time so I was not on top of my game and brought up the rear.  Wild dogs, whatever.  I heard a resounding scream as I rounded the corner.  Damn rabid bitches, who’d they jumped now?!  By the time I caught up and could see what was going on, the guards were elbow deep in the fray and one of them was badly bitten.

Wild dogs from our first session encounters in Twilight 2000 RPG, drawn by Jennifer Weigel
Wild Dogs, drawn by Jennifer Weigel

Someone had culled a few curs from the pack and Nadya was taking it off road to ram and scatter some of the mongrels in the back.  Yep, that settled it – she’d earned the name Wheelz that’s for sure.  Scope aimed and downed one of the dogs in the midst of the crazy, but the terrified locals cowered in fear and were soon awash in the frenzy.  There was a dog on Brick, so I ran in and smashed it with my rifle to save his ass.

Scope took a pot shot and took out one of the dogs on the downed guard without aiming.  Brick ran over to club the remaining mongrel with his rifle butt in a giant F-you-I-don’t need-your-stinking-help as he sneered at me.  It was on.  I raced in to take out the last dog on the other guard but Brick beat me to it.  Scope lowered his rifle looking sheepishly at the other guard who had snapped out of the cowering stupor and was yelling a string of profanities at him. I don’t speak a word of Polish but I can recognize a good swear streak in any language when I hear one…  Hirek and the copper D started asking around about what happened.  Time to melt back into the background.  At least Doc (Trish) was on it and Nadya (Wheelz) was helping her to smooth things over.  It must’ve worked because everyone quieted down for the time being as we all went in for supper.

From a Gaming Perspective – So, How Did It Go?

Play in Twilight 2000 RPG went pretty smoothly.  The encounters that were drawn provided a good way to ease into combat and get a feel for the mechanics, which was helpful since we are all fresh as rain (no seasoned veteran gamers in this system here).  Action was intense but we were able to think on the fly.  Drawing for initiative worked well.

Rolling for skill checks and attacks was relatively straightforward once you got the hang of it.  I’m especially grateful that not everything relies on dice rolls because I’m a total snake eye salesman and that is rarely a benefit in these sorts of games. (It did hinder me when rolling up characters, but you learn to work with what you have when you are blessed with these sorts of abilities in real life…) I like the die roll percentage tables – they really do help calculate what dice you should use when upgrading (or downgrading) a roll for the best likelihood of success.

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The ability for others to help with skill checks simplified game mechanics and kept things from slogging on like in some other RPGs where everyone rolls to see who struck it lucky and made the check versus who fell flat on their face this time.  The dogs were able to act together which further helped to keep things from getting convoluted. The skill-pushing mechanic is interesting and adds another layer to the storytelling aspect of the RPG.

Free League Publishing's Twilight 2000 RPG art by Niklas Brandt
Free League Publishing’s Twilight 2000 RPG art by Niklas Brandt

From a referee standpoint, you’re supposed to go with the flow and my husband did for the most part but he did do a lot of prep getting things together beforehand to flesh out the possible random encounters. I think this greatly strengthened the experience and appreciate all of the effort. Depending on the gaming group and the referee it may not be wholly necessary, but some work ahead of time means you don’t get caught with your pants down and name every NPC they meet Bob regardless of gender, nationality, etc. Not that names matter when they’re just cannon-fodder (damn those red shirts), but it still provides depth and decreases the likelihood of that outcome being the only path forward. Because everybody’s somebody to someone. I will admit, my husband is a bit extreme in his not wanting to use the same name twice though, which inspired me to write a short story as part of our upcoming spring series here on Haunted MTL…

I like the game mechanics so far and think all of us enjoyed ourselves. V is looking forward to the next session and has asked about taking it to video chat to game again sooner, but my husband and I would rather not because that seems… overly complicated…. There is more prep on behalf of the referee than necessarily known up front but that isn’t unexpected in RPGs and is generally what the group makes of it. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience and we all look forward to playing again when we can get together, about every other month.

Jennifer Weigel is a multi-disciplinary mixed media conceptual artist residing in Kansas USA. Weigel utilizes a wide range of media to convey her ideas, including assemblage, drawing, fibers, installation, jewelry, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video and writing. You can find more of her work at: https://www.jenniferweigelart.com/ https://www.jenniferweigelprojects.com/ https://jenniferweigelwords.wordpress.com/

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Quest Master @ PAX: A Dungeon-Builder First Look

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Next in my journey of all the cool games I saw at PAX, Quest Master! Quest Master is a love letter to retro dungeon crawlers and level designers. Taking inspiration from both Mario Maker and the Legend of Zelda franchise, Quest Master promises the ability to play and design dungeons with a variety of enemies, traps, and puzzles. 

Check out the Quest Master game announcement here:

I was given a private 30-minute demo, where I got to try out some of the core features in a pre-beta version of Quest Master. This demo was led by one of the developers, Julian Creutz who shared some insight into the game design and user experience. My interview with Julian about Quest Master can be found here.

Quest Master has two main modes, playing dungeons and building them. I got to try out both, though I had a more comprehensive experience playing dungeons. While playing dungeons, the game mechanics were intuitive and simple. However, I was continuously surprised by the complexities offered by the puzzle and logic systems. For example, you can collect a boomerang which is incredibly easy to use. To solve one of the puzzles, I had to throw the boomerang through a torch (which I thought was just decorative) to catch the boomerang on fire and enable it to activate a gem. While the individual mechanics were basic, they combined into a sophisticated puzzle-solving experience.

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Immediately, I was eager to look under the hood and see how the dungeon building mode enables the puzzle solving as previously described. Once again, I was impressed with the sophistication of a system with such simple mechanics. The controls for building weren’t intuitive for me, though I also don’t use a controller for much of my gaming (like I was during the demo). Additionally, I could see how it would be really easy to get accustomed to as you build.

As it was a short demo, I wasn’t able to try any of the multiplayer features (i.e. co-op, online map sharing) so I can’t speak to the success of their implementation. As this is supposed to be a large part of the game, I’m wary of wholeheartedly suggesting Quest Master for those interested in the multiplayer experience. However, I was impressed with Quest Master’s modern take on retro dungeon crawlers like the Legend of Zelda games. The graphics and controls feel like much needed quality of life updates for a system taking inspiration from older classics. 

I recommend wishlisting Quest Master if you are a fan of old Legend of Zelda games or are looking for a fresh take on the dungeon builder genre. If Quest Master interests you, don’t forget to check out my conversation with Julian too!

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


Check out my other PAX posts here!

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Interview with Game Dev Julian Creutz: Quest Master @ PAX

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As mentioned in previous posts, I had the opportunity to demo a pre-early access version of the game Quest Master alongside the Lead Developer, Julian Creutz. Quest Master is a Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Maker inspired dungeon crawling and building video game. While the other post covers the game itself, this one covers the inspiration and vision for the game as told by Julian.


How did you become involved in video game development?

I’ve been a huge gamer, and especially a Zelda fan, ever since I was a little child when my dad put a GameBoy Advance with “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” into my hands. Sometime during elementary school I started dabbling with game development using visual tools like Scratch and GameMaker. I quickly got into making Zelda fan games and had dreamt of the day when I would make my own Zelda game one day. Over the years I’ve honed my game development and programming skills, resulting in where I am today.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the development process?

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Developing Quest Master is essentially like making two games at once – the making and the playing part. Both of these game elements have to be equally as polished to form a cohesive one.

The most difficult thing by far about the game’s development has been to make the maker mode experience intuitive for first-time users and people who know nothing about Zelda-like games, but at the same time powerful and complex enough to allow creating anything you could dream of.

One good example is the gameplay feature to link certain parts to others, like linking a pressure plate to opening a door. We’ve been through countless iterations affecting both the visual, gameplay and user experience aspects of it – I hope that the one we are using right now is the final one!

Quest Master takes a lot of inspiration from classic dungeon-crawlers like the Legend of Zelda franchise. What about these games was so enchanting to you and how does Quest Master try to capture that enchantment?

As described earlier, I’m like the biggest Zelda fan, which I’m sure shows. My gripe with many Zelda-likes on the market is that none perfectly capture the feel of the classic entries… there’s always something missing.

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I confidently believe that Quest Master differs from that greatly. We are trying to make Quest Master feel like an in-house 2D Zelda like Nintendo used to make, just from an indie team like ours. Many people crave the classic 2D entries, just like I do.

What emotions do you hope the player will experience while playing Quest Master? What design choices were made to assist in that desired atmosphere?

A big aspect of Quest Master is its local multiplayer. The game is deliberately designed to work flawlessly with that, and makers can create specialized puzzles in the game that require all players to work together for example. The result is both rewarding, funny, and sometimes infuriating altogether, for example when one of your buddies throws you into a hole.

As a community dungeon maker, what features are you most excited to see implemented in player-made dungeon crawls?

I’ve already been hugely amazed by the creations of the existing Quest Master demo. With all the new features the game will launch into Early Access with, I bet this will be tenfold. I myself always enjoy the brain busting puzzles people come up with. Other things I also like a lot are the unintended mechanics the players find, which dynamically emerge from the many, many gameplay systems working together.

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What’s it been like working with Apogee, an indie publisher who goes back to the early 1990’s and has a long legacy of terrific game releases?

I’ve only had very few interactions with game publishers in the past, and Quest Master is my first large scale commercial game project. There’s preconceived notions floating around everywhere on the internet about how evil game publishers are and how much better you would be off self-publishing your game. Contrary to that, working with Apogee has been nothing short of supportive and family-like. They are very invested in the project, and they have many Zelda fans on the team also helps a lot. They are supercharging the potential of Quest Master and without them the game would not be where it is today.

Is there anything else you would like to plug or that you think is important for people to know about Quest Master or other upcoming projects?

Early Access is just the beginning! Quest Master will be hugely expanded upon during its Early Access phase, with many more themes, dungeon parts and entire new gameplay features coming in short intervals and a rapid update schedule. There are always new things around the corner. For example, things like the singleplayer story campaign and the overworld maker will be most likely not be part of the initial Early Access release, but we will make sure to build anticipation by introducing bits and pieces into the world of Quest Master to build up to that.

I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am!

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LONESTAR @ PAX: Spaceships and Bounty Hunting

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This past week I had the opportunity to go to my very first PAX East convention! For those who are unfamiliar, PAX East is a large gaming convention in Boston. This year marked its 20th anniversary, which meant an extra layer of celebration and festivities! Courtesy of a HauntedMTL Media Badge, I got to play tons of new games and meet even more interesting people. One of the games I was able to demo was LONESTAR by developer Math Tide. 

LONESTAR is a roguelike spaceship building game reminiscent of FTL and Dicey Dungeons. It was released for early access on Steam in January and has gotten largely positive feedback. In the game, you play as a bounty hunter traveling through various sectors to defeat your bounties. Along the way you can visit a shop, take a breather, or experience other various events. 

I was able to play the early access build for thirty minutes on the showroom floor, and I was pretty instantly hooked. I love roguelike deckbuilders, with Slay the Spire (especially the Downfall fan expansion) being a strong favorite. LONESTAR nails what I love from the genre, with an aesthetic smoothly integrated in its form and function and novel gameplay mechanics.

A screenshot from the LONESTAR Steam Page of game play.

LONESTAR’s ‘deckbuilding’ element takes the form of ship systems. You can collect, buy, and upgrade them as you progress through a run. However, your ship only has so much space on board. As a player, you have to prioritize weapons and utility systems while also ensuring you diversify your damage output/defense across all three sections of your ship. At the beginning of each round, you are randomly given number values that can be input into your ship systems to achieve varied effects. The enemy responds in kind, meaning whoever can get the highest damage output is who overwhelms the other in the round.

I loved the possibilities for synergy and strategy as your pilot explored more dangerous sectors. It was incredibly rewarding to turn a couple of crap numbers into a super powerful attack. I also enjoyed the various options for “vacation” time in between battles, which kept everything feeling fresh. Of note, I only played for thirty minutes. While they were a rewarding thirty minutes, the game was not incredibly difficult. I cannot speak on the general replayability, though I would have been happy to continue playing for at least another hour. My only critique from the whole experience was that some of the vocabulary was unclear. However, that could have been due to starting mid-run during my demo. 

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If you enjoy deckbuilders and are interested in a spaceship game a bit easier than FTL, I think LONESTAR is a great choice. It is still in early access, however, I feel confident that the game is plenty of fun already. It is also only $10, so definitely worth taking a chance on. I’ll continue to watch the development of LONESTAR with great excitement! 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

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