Welcome to When You’re Going Through Hell, our Twilight 2000 RPG campaign log. Last time on War Is Hell, I started a review of Free League Publishing’s Twilight 2000 RPG; this series will expand upon that. Here is a chance to meet the motley crew that we rolled up using the Life Paths character generation system which I really liked. I’m not going to detail all of their stats but you get the idea from the backstories. So, without further ado…
Meet Our Crew
Kyle Van Schoen (Ice) as written and played by myself
Kyle Van Schoen is an American machine gunner. Kyle grew up in a wealthy family in the suburbs of Los Angeles, CA, USA. He learned Russian as a child to engage with his matriarchal grandmother who ruled the roost. And he went to college as expected. But he really wanted to do something more physical developing his strength. In college studying science, Kyle took up wrestling which became his passion. He developed a name for himself in the wrestling circuit while specializing in chemistry, and this attracted the attention of an influential gang expanding their meth market. The gang welcomed him as family and rewarded his physical prowess in ways his family never acknowledged. When close friend and gang leader Moondog, the brainiac of the operation so to speak, was shot by a rival gang in a bloody spectacle, the police became involved and quickly swept up the remaining gang members. Through his grandmother’s clout, Kyle was offered opportunity to join the Army to fight in the war in Europe rather than being hauled off to jail, court and prison, which would have smeared his birth family’s reputation. His incredible strength quickly cast him as a machine gunner. He nicknames his comrades under the premise that you should never reveal your true self because you don’t know who is listening.
Moral Code (quoted from Mal in Firefly, Serenity): I look out for me and mine.
Big Dream: He secretly wants to be reunited with his gang family and return to the streets of LA.
Nadya Wojcik (Nadi, nicknamed Wheelz by Kyle) as written and played by myself
Nadya Wojcik was born in Milicz to a Polish father and French mother and is much more at home under the hood of a car than engaging socially. Nadya was an only child, raised by her father after her mother died when she was only 3 years old. She took on her father’s affinity for cars and helped him out in the garage from an early age. As she gained skills as a mechanic, she became fascinated with how things worked and dabbled in gunsmithing, locksmithing, blacksmithing and finally improvised munitions as the world began to fall into upheaval. Her father was killed and their garage was destroyed when the Russians took over Milicz, and Nadya fled the city in her pickup truck. She began to learn some quartermaster skills, developing her ability to set up camp wherever she went looking for work, until she was recruited by the US Army to help with vehicle repairs after losing most of its internal logistical support.
Moral code: Fix it right the first time dammit!
Big Dream: To someday set up an auto body shop in her father’s memory.
Roger Smith (nicknamed Maestro by Kyle) as written and played by myself
Roger Smith is an African-American 1st lieutenant who comes across as a very courteous and polished man of impeccable moral character. Roger grew up in small town Alabama in the US and enjoyed deer hunting every season with his cousins, learning to handle a rifle on their isolated property away from judgmental eyes. He had wanted to make a name for himself in rock-n-roll but, in college, he soon realized that his dream of becoming a big name musician was out of reach – he was just too clean-cut for the popular scene at the time. So he went into the military to find another way to get out of the small town. His musical background and liberal arts education led him to want to inspire others and he quickly wound up on the officers’ track. Although he had only spent two terms in the military before the war broke out, he excelled at tactical training and was named a 1st lieutenant before being sent to Europe.
Moral Code: We’re all in this together.
Big Dream: To fulfill his duty to his country and then return home to his family having seen what is left of this decaying world.
Aleksy Sowka (Alek, nicknamed Scope by Kyle) as written & played by V
Aleksy (means defender of man) Sowka (means owl), Alek’s grandfather grew up in Poland. He liked to go hunting with his father. When he turned 12, his father told him he was to hunt on his own, as a rite of passage. When he was on his way home, with 3 small rabbits, he saw militants in his village. They were burning houses, killing adults and rounding up children to be sold as sex slaves. He saw his sister being raped by militants. Knowing he couldn’t change the situation, he used his rifle to shoot her in the head so she would be spared the horrors to come. Afterwards, he scavenged the village for money and supplies and made his way to the United States.
Alek grew up in a military family. His father was a Non-Com officer and ruled with an iron – but not abusive – hand. His father taught him to hunt and told him the story about his grandfather many times. Alek enjoyed using a rifle and became adept at hunting. He also learned the art of stealth, and was all that more successful because of it. He day-dreamed about saving innocent people from oppression and being the hero in a movie. As soon as he could, he enlisted in the military and thrived under the structure and discipline which accompanied military life. He eagerly learned as much as he could about ranged combat, scoped weapons, stealth, recon and combat awareness. He went into special ops as soon as he qualified. Now, as 1st Sergeant at the age of 33, he learned medical aid and command training. He was even second in command in the aftermath of a nuclear strike so has a working knowledge of radiation sickness.
Moral Code (a quote from Mahatma Gandhi): “Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defense or for defense of the defenseless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission.”
Big Dream: An idealist, he wishes to live in a community without oppression.
Patricia Smith (Trisha, nicknamed Doc by Kyle) as written & played by V
“Trisha” grew up in rural Kentucky. Her father was a farrier – a trained specialist who cares for horse’s feet. It combines the skills of blacksmith and veterinarian to trim and balance horses’ hooves, craft & maintain horseshoes and apply them to horses’ feet. Her mother was a home health aide. As a child, she loved to go with her father around the countryside. Initially, she wanted to be a veterinarian for horses. But then her father developed the tremors and shuffling gait of Parkinson’s disease. The area was so rural that there wasn’t a doctor for 200 miles. So she watched her father deteriorate. He died when she was 17. When she graduated from high school, she made a promise to herself that she would become a rural doctor. In college, she developed a fascination for and proficiency with chemicals… and discovered she threw up when she saw blood. Realizing this would make being a general practitioner difficult, she revised her goal. She decided to go into research. No blood there! But getting there would be a challenge. First, she had to earn her way up the ladder of skills – field surgeon, treating diseases, chemical poisons and antidotes, radiation sickness, etc. To her dismay, just as she was applying for that research position at John’s Hopkins University, she was drafted.
Moral Code: 1st – Don’t throw up. 2nd – Do no harm.
Big Dream: To find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease and be lead researcher at John’s Hopkins University.
Jack Max (nicknamed Brick by Kyle) as written & played by V
Jack grew up in a small house in urban Detroit. Both of his parents worked in the automobile factory and made a decent living. Jack had a little sister, 2 years younger than he. His father frequently became drunk. And when that happened, he was abusive to Jack, his sister and his mother. Jack became fiercely protective of his mother and sister, and would antagonize his father to distract him from hurting them. Unknown to him, Jack’s sister started using drugs. When she was 16, she died from an overdose of heroin. Not able to deal with the trauma of her daughter’s death, Jack’s mother hanged herself. When he graduated from high school, he was hired by a construction company and learned many useful skills. He had a good work ethic and developed an aversion to alcohol and drugs. He also became adept at scrounging for parts to fix things around his house. His short stature, however, resulted in him being bullied and picked-on by the older workers. He had to quickly learn to defend himself and gain the upper hand in order to avoid injury, or worse. Out of necessity, he developed skills in all methods of combat. Soon, his first reaction was to fight. He definitely was not a team player. With the money he earned and the skills he learned, he developed a side job fixing houses for others in the neighborhood.
When he was 25, he heard about the military’s need for recruits due to the increasingly precarious situation in Eastern Europe. Rather than getting drafted, Jack enlisted. He liked the idea of getting to fight and not get into trouble for it!
Moral Code: Every man for himself.
Big Dream: Not to have to rely on ANYBODY.
Into the Odd Remastered: an Ethereal Steampunk TTRPG
“Fallen cities are adorned with statues of star-beings, cultists manifest their fervour into reality, and belligerent unions prepare for a cosmic invasion. Familiar landscapes are overrun by strange weeds, corrosive mists creep in from the sea, and jet black mountains watch from the horizon. This odd world has been affected by beings stranger than we can imagine.” -pg 4, INto the odd remastered: introduction
Into the Odd Remastered is an update of the 2014 role-playing game of the same name. Written by Chris McDowall and sold by Free League Publishing, the rules-lite tabletop roleplaying game asks you to place yourself in a world long ago ravaged by cosmic horrors. The general atmosphere comes across as dark steampunk though there is room for plenty of genres to intermingle.
The rules are relatively simple. Characters have four stats; Strength, Will, Dexterity, and HP. Strength, Will, and Dexterity start as a value between 3 and 18, as determined by rolling 3d6. During the game, players roll a D20 versus their stats, attempting to roll lower than the value in order to succeed. Many effects damage the stats as well as the HP value. Additionally, all attacks always hit, with rolls being used just to determine damage.
The rules can fit on a single page as evidenced by the handy Into the Odd cheat sheet made by garkia19. As a note, this cheat sheet has some minor typos. For example, characters don’t have a Charisma score. However, I found it incredibly helpful to use as a reference while I played Into the Odd. Another great resource was Søren Nøhr Ryborg’s The Odd Generator, which auto generates characters for Into the Odd. Since we were just trying out the system, both these resources made it really easy to jump in without my players needing to read the whole rule book.
The Player Experience
The Into the Odd rulebook, in addition to rules, also contains a sample dungeon. It was this dungeon that I ran for a party of three adventurers. They found the system to be easy to understand, however, coming from more rules heavy systems they often felt like they weren’t doing enough. For example, they wanted to roll dice more often. However, they still had fun crafting a narrative and working with each other.
The Gamemaster Experience
I was in love with the idea of Into the Odd. An accessible, low barrier RPG with a splash of steampunk and cosmic horror. What’s not to love? But I found the Into the Odd system left a little to be desired. In particular, combat doesn’t feel particularly difficult or interesting. Since players always go first and everyone always does damage, it meant my party of three people were able to dispatch any enemy before it could hurt them. Skill checks felt like they had the opposite problem. None of my players could succeed in a skill check because their stats were so low. This meant that the tension was removed from both combat and skill checks. Playing the dungeon and rules as written, I didn’t feel as if I had the mechanical or narrative tools to rectify either issue.
The dungeon itself was a bit drab. I loved the art and ideas behind it, but there wasn’t much content. A smaller, more detailed dungeon would have been easier to run and better received by my players than a large, sparse dungeon. I also wished for far more traps. While I recognize I could have populated the dungeon myself, I often don’t expect to finish a dungeon myself when given one to run.
Outside of the sample dungeon, there is not much content for the gamemaster to work with. If I wanted to start running my own Into the Odd games there are very few monster, trap, and loot examples so I would have to come up with everything myself. This is not the end of the world, however, I personally like to have more content than what was provided to start doing my own adaptations. If I were to try this system again, I would want to use it for a heist narrative over a dungeon crawl.
The Into the Odd rulebook provides the skeleton for a rules-lite RPG adventure, however it fails to add any meat to the bones. The result is an RPG that requires far more work for a gamemaster than the rules-lite exterior would indicate. This is not inherently negative, however could be surprising given the game’s pitch. If you are looking for a new system to tinker around with, this could be a great next purchase! (3.5 / 5)
Disco Elysium – A Reflection
Disco Elysium is a role-playing video game released in 2019. It was developed and published by ZA/UM under the lead of Robert Kurvitz. The Final Cut was released in 2020 featuring full voice acting and new content. It is available to play on PC and console.
Disco Elysium is a weird game. I have been playing video games, especially RPGs, for most of my life and I can confidently say this game is an outlier. Instead of a focus on combat, the game is written almost entirely around skill checks and dialogue trees. While that alone isn’t enough to make the game a stand-out, it is the fact that a vast majority of the dialogue trees occur as your own internal monologue which sets it apart.
Who Are You?
There are 24 different skills split across the four categories of intellect, psyche, physique and motorics. You of course have the more traditional skills such as Logic, Empathy, Endurance and Perception. But there’s also more elusive skills, like Esprit de Corps which determines how connected to your home police precinct you are.
After all, you are a police officer in town to solve a murder. It’d certainly help things if you hadn’t drank so much that you absolutely ruined your memory (among several relationships in town). “What kind of cop are you?” the tagline reads. You get to decide because you cannot remember who you once were.
This isn’t a review about Disco Elysium in the traditional sense. Because Disco Elysium ended up being far more than just a game to me. I found myself relating to the main character (whose name in and of itself is a spoiler) far more than I ever should have. He doesn’t know how to be human – and for the most part neither do I.
What Makes You?
As you play through the surrealist dream that is the setting of Revachol, interactions with the townspeople can be tedious processes. The entire time, you are in constant dialogue with yourself trying to figure out the right thing to say. Logic makes some good points, but Electro-Chemistry says I should forget about all of this and go get wasted because Empathy just chimed in and told me I hurt this woman’s feelings with my failed attempt at Rhetoric.
The first time I played Disco Elysium felt like an awakening. No game has ever so accurately managed to tap into the types of conversations I have with myself daily. No game has ever so accurately managed to tap into the sheer shame and self-degradation I endure when I mess up a social situation.
Luckily, in video games there is this neat trick called save scumming. It is when you save the game before important decision making, and if things don’t go the way you’d like you simply re-load the save and try again. There is seemingly nothing better than doing something over differently and a new part of your brain chiming in to say, “Damn, that felt *good*. Your heart is pounding nicely. You should tell people to fuck off more often.”
What Breaks You?
In real life, there is no save scumming. There is no going back in time to give yourself a do-over. I think that is why RPGs speak to me so strongly in general. I can slip into the skin of a new character and failure never has to be an option. The sinking pit of shame only has to last as long as the game takes to reload.
Disco Elysium feels like a game built on shame, guilt and redemption. Probably because it is a game built on shame, guilt and redemption. My entire life has felt like a game built on shame, guilt and redemption. I’ve gone through like the protagonist – bumbling and trying so hard to pick the correct option in the dialogue tree and only realizing moments too late that I chose the wrong one. My only reward, like his, is a stream of insults hurled at me by my own brain.
Of course, I learned nearly two years after my first play-through that I am autistic. It turns out, most people do not constantly have dialogue trees of pre-scripted responses popping up in their head when they speak to others. They can just… have conversation? With my diagnosis came a lot of soul searching and an equivalent amount of therapy.
What Heals You?
However, it turns out, my diagnosis and the resulting psychology bills shifted the way I play RPGs in a way I didn’t realize until I picked Disco Elysium back up for another playthrough. As I load into the opening scene hotel, I walk away from the first skill check knowing I won’t pass it. The first time I played, I probably re-did that skill check ten times alone before I got the result I wanted.
As I exit the hotel room to encounter the next character, I’m open and honest with them about the fact I cannot remember anything. I previously ran through that conversation five times trying to convince them that I was normal and that everything was fine with me (despite the obvious indications otherwise).
It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize I wasn’t save scumming. Something inside of me had clicked into place. It was a new feeling replacing the insane urge to “get it right.” I stopped focusing on how to play correctly and realized that there is no way to play correctly.
I have my skills and I can use what skills I have to solve the problem, even if it isn’t the conventional or correct way. There is no sense in trying to shove a square solution into a circular problem.
What is Next?
I realized that it’s ok to get things wrong, it’s ok to admit you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s ok to ask your partner for help when you’re terrified they’re just going to laugh at you. More importantly, I learned that in Disco Elysium and life that it’s ok to walk away from things until you have the needed skills to go back. And you don’t need to feel guilty about it.
The first time I played – I immediately reloaded when Drama chimed in to tell me “This may have been a *grave* mistake, sire.” This current playthrough I sat firm in my decision and finally got to hear Volition’s response: “Maybe. Maybe not. Mercy is rarely a *complete* mistake.”
My rating for Disco Elysium: (5 / 5)
Dune – Adventures in the Imperium: Gen Con Review
“A debt owed. A missing heir. A new cult rising in the desert. Trapped between an ageless prophecy and sensitive politics, a delicate path must be walked. What is the truth? With whom will you stand?” – Introduction, Time Becomes A Narrow Door by Modiphius Entertainment
August 3rd through 6th I had the absolute delight of attending Gen Con, as they like to say,The Best Four Days in Gaming™. It is an enormous gaming convention, primarily focused on tabletop gaming and filled with vendors, events, workshops, and anything else you can think of.
While at Gen Con, I was able to sit down and play Dune: Adventures in the Imperium by Modiphius Entertainment. Modiphius is known for their 2D20 RPGS such as Achtung! Cthulhu, Star Trek Adventures, and the Fallout RPG. They also carry some familiar items such as the Bladerunner RPG and the Tales From the Loop Board Game. As a well-regarded publisher with great titles, I was excited to check out how they made the Dune universe immersive.
Dune: Adventures in the Imperium, like many of Modiphius’s RPGs, utilizes the 2D20 system. Each character has Skills and Drives that are added together in a given situation to produce a target skill value. In order to succeed on a test, a player must roll below that skill value. Players roll 2d20 by default, but can spend a luck currency, called momentum, to add additional dice and/or activate their special abilities. More information about how to play can be found in the Modiphius-recommended video below.
Playing the Game
I played the scenario Time Becomes a Narrow Door, with a table full of players new to Modiphius’s system. We used the pre-generated characters available in the Dune Quickstart Guide, which is available for free on Modiphius’s website. I’ve included two sample pre-generated characters from the free Quickstart Guide for reference. All six re available through the official Quickstart Guide. Worth noting, the Quickstart Guide also includes the scenario Wormsign to help get you started, which we did not play.
In Time Becomes a Narrow Door, we were members of a small house trying our best to garner favor, help our rivals, maintain our morals, and make sure we still came out on top. Our main task was to convince the son of another house to return from his spiritual journey. Our table had a lot of silly energy, so we named ourselves House Montana, with our patriarch being Lord Billy Ray Cyrus. Of course, bad southern accents abounded. We had a blast bouncing off each other and making the world our own. Big props to the person running the game for making it such an enjoyable and accessible experience.
The system was a lot of fun! It was easy to build an environment where collaborative wins were rewarding. The system prioritizes collaborative storytelling as well as mutual success or destruction. Therefore, it was easy to treat everyone at the table’s rolls as meaningful and contributing to the betterment of the house. I also loved the mechanic of building our own house. We only did a small amount of this in our session, but by reskinning House Atreides to be our own small house, we felt a lot more ownership over the assets, favors, and enemies we were gaining.
My one caution is that we didn’t do a lot of combat. There was only one fight, and we let it be a duel. As this is a part of the game we didn’t experience much of, I can’t really speak on how robustly the system handles that kind of conflict. My initial impressions point towards combat lacking some mechanics. However, I only got a small introduction.
If you are a fan of Dune, check out the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Quickstart Guide! While I cannot rate the system as a whole, the experience was definitely worth its time! Try Time Becomes a Narrow Door yourself, or just check out the Quickstart Guide.
(4.8 / 5)
Find more of my Gen Con 2023 shenanigans here.