RogerBW's Blog

Twilight 2000: Survivors' Guide to the United Kingdom 03 November 2020

This 1990 RPG supplement by Peter Phillipps portrays a Britain after World War III. Well. Up to a point. It is a famously bad book.

This is also the last item released for the first edition of Twilight: 2000 (T2K hereafter). Don't read too much into that date, though; while the second edition did indeed take into account the breakup of the USSR, its basic model was still "massive nuclear and conventional war in 2000", just with slightly different ways of getting there. I mean, that's the point of the game.

And talking of getting there, a useful starting point is a page on ways of tying the UK into an existing T2K campaign (which, by default, begins with a random collection of US troops marooned in Poland and trying to get back to the USA): if they missed the boat in Going Home, or got stranded in Boomer, there are hooks to get them ashore in the UK. There are even rules for boating across the North Sea.

Then we get the history section. The UK continues as a US ally, fair enough; Phillipps has the sense not to make any political party blatant good guys or bad guys. Things escalate in Germany and British troops are moved there. (The Gurkhas get bounced around a lot, because let's face it Gurkhas are cool.) It's all obviously set up with an end state in mind, but it's not wildly implausible.

Until we get to open warfare between protestants and Catholics [sic for the upper and lower case] in Northern Ireland. Well, the Army's largely been pulled out, and I suppose the useful idiots who supported the gang bosses might have been calling on them to do some actual liberating rather than just talking about it. The Catholics get control of Fermanagh and Armagh and call for military aid from the Republic to help them hold it.

Which they get.

Then things start to get a bit more plausible again as the nukes start dropping. At least one person whom I expect to read this will be happy to know that Bury is explicitly noted as a target. Aldershot takes a hit, but these strikes are aimed at population centres rather than military targets (and the only strike bigger than a dot on the map is London). RAF Brize Norton, Coningsby, Leuchars, Waddington, Boulmer? Not mentioned. Lakenheath, Mildenhall, Fairford, Menwith Hill? Untouched. Nothing on Salisbury Plain, no barracks, no admin outside London and Bristol. Gloucester takes a hit, but not Cheltenham. "Glasgow" takes a hit, which I suppose we can consider to include Faslane… Bedford is a target? York? Dundee (but not Inverness)? This starts to make the Baedeker Blitz look well-planned.

(It's not clear what's happened to the Thames or why there's that great lake upstream from London. It appears on some but not all of the other maps.)

Central control collapses, and local alliances start to form. The SNP declares Scottish independence with no apparent objections, and establishes its own army (how, with pretty much all British troops already fighting overseas?). Wales welcomes refugees but puts up a defensive line anyway. The Ulster Defence Regiment (what's left of it) pushes back the Irish Army, inconclusively…

Gradually British forces get pulled back to the UK, but somehow they are unable to deal with roving bands of marauders. I'll come back to that.

All right, this is a book from 1990; back then you needed to talk about the actual physical geography and stuff because apparently gamers (expected in the introduction to go out and buy maps) didn't have access to reference books. Indeed, a couple of pages are given over to a past-tense narration of what the pre-war British economy was like that feels cribbed from an encyclopedia. The war has killed over 60% of the population either directly or indirectly, and the ports and airports are gone.

Maps actually aren't too bad… by the standards of the day. All right, there's the usual American error of "Thames River", but there's at least some idea of what's where, and which bits are wooded or hilly. I'm comparing with Torg here.

Life is refugee camps for "many" people, usually working on rebuilding houses that they then get to live in, or hand-to-mouth but with your own house. Anyone who wants one can get a boring full-time job in farming or light industry. The exchange rate (well, theoretical exchange rate; goods in the other books are priced in dollars so we need a conversion factor even if nobody's actually changing money) is £1 = $5, which in the real world didn't survive the Second World War; no reason is given for this restoration.

Offshore oil rigs are an obvious scenario seed, but because they're such tempting targets they're apparently made to look abandoned (no lights at night, no going outside during the day, resupply boats disguised as fishing craft, etc.). Apparently the author never realised just how noisy an operating rig is.

"Anglia" is apparently the bit of England between London and the Midlands. Cornwall has grown a Wicked Duke (actually far too plausible), except for St Austell which is run by a group of Soviet PoWs who escaped from confinement when their guards ran off. This is all clearly focused on having adventures rather than on being a realistic portrayal, so I'll give it some leeway here.

NPC writeups include the Prime Minister, the head of MI5, the American ambassador (more or less), and various more covert figures including several Soviets. As usual there are no stats, just summaries of their histories and personalities, but this does a decent job of providing adventure hooks.

(An illustration shows a sign with "Ironbridge" to the left and "King's Lynn" to the right.)

Organisations are rather odder. We have the government, MI5 and MI6, fair enough. The DIA in this setting has got a big boost from the US split between civilian and military governments, but the book's careful to say that it doesn't do much in the UK, so why do we care? The American Legion, even though most of the US service personnel in the UK have now gone back to the US…? Oooo-kay.

And of course we get the marauder groups, some of which explicitly started as football hooligan gangs, and are generally self-taught perhaps with a leavening of ex-military people. The biggest ones are about 1,300 strong. And the British Army, weakened as it is, is unable to prevent these people from taking control of towns? (OK, there are bandit gangs in Reign of Steel's Zone London… but there isn't any significant British Army in that setting, just local police officers and the relatively tiny SAS.) Oh, and there's a pretender to the throne with his own army, because of course there is – but to be fair, he's described mostly as a figure of fun (with guns), not someone who's taken seriously. (Phillipps also avoids the usual American cliché of having the royal family taking an active part in the political life of the country.)

Then we get into the actual crunchy game stuff: random encounter tables, always a big part of T2K. A note suggests that bringing back rabies is too cruel, though cholera and bubonic plague are just fine – though that's the only mention of them here. They are statted in the core rulebook, of course.

We get character generation notes for British characters. (Apparently anyone can join the Gurkhas if they're tough enough.) It's pretty basic, but original T2K only had the first iteration of the career-based character generation that GDW would later use in later editions of T2K and its other mid-1990s games.

Lots of guns and vehicles! (I'd never heard the "Endeavour" and "Engager" names given here for the L85 ("SA80") and L86, but apparently they're real things.) This is clearly what the author cared about, and the descriptions and numbers mostly look at least plausible.

We also get an Order of Battle, and notes on current deployments (and who's converting to horse cavalry, though not where they're getting the battle-trained horses from). Apparently the SAS has been stood down, even though an NPC's missing son is noted as having been on duty with them. The Gurkhas are stuck in Kowloon, which is no fun.

But then again, I think that unlike many military RPGs the fantasy in T2K wasn't of being an élite special forces dude but rather of being just another grunt – thrown on your own resources with a few of your mates, without the support structure that makes a real-life army more than a band of warriors – and prevailing even so because every grunt is special. In the default campaign start of Poland, your army has been wiped out and you get to be a hero; but here your army still exists, it's just a bit rubbish.

And that's it. There are some adventure seeds scattered through the various descriptions, but mostly you're expected to use this as a pure sourcebook; there's no actual adventure included here. There are lots of unstable situations ripe to be mucked about with by player characters, which is great; it's just a shame that the basic substrate will strike any actual British person as fundamentally unreasonable.

Of course, for the primarily American audience of the game (country size alone would suggest that the majority of players would be American and the subject matter may have made it more so) that may not have been a problem. Like Blackout/All Clear, this is a holiday in the Britainland theme park rather than an attempt to give British readers something they'd recognise, and that may indeed have been a better fit for T2K players of the day.

This appears to have been Phillipps' only RPG publication.

  1. Posted by J Michael Cule at 01:57pm on 03 November 2020

    High Wycombe doesn't get vapourised? But Oxford does?

    I'm almost insulted.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:32pm on 03 November 2020

    High Wycombe is actually mentioned!

    At the time, [the American Legion] was headquartered at High Wycombe, where it helped the locals maintain the town's independence. As the British Army moved into the area, the legion handed over control of the town to the army and offered its services to the military.

  3. Posted by Dirk The Dice at 04:58pm on 03 November 2020

    Interesting piece Roger thanks. You're probably correct with the 'past tense narration' of the pre-war economy as the cluster of targets in the North West suggests that it was still the home of heavy industry. At the end of the 80s Mrs Thatch had already pressed the button on it.

    It seems overkill to take out so many burgeoning call centres.


  4. Posted by John P at 08:49pm on 03 November 2020

    Hello Roger, this is Bury calling ...

    Clearly they are trying to take out Bury's award winning, world famous market and our National Strategic Black Pudding Containment Facility. No doubt someone was worried about a rampaging horde of killer puddings roaming across Europe. Maybe it was a French nuke?

    But if they were targeting using that map then it would miss Bury comfortably. Liverpool looks about right, so (and I'm measuring off the screen here) the dot marked Bury is about 25km east, which makes it Warrington IRL. And the blast appears to have thrown Manchester somewhere near St Helens. And ... no, I won't go on, it's just dire on too many levels.

  5. Posted by John P at 09:06pm on 03 November 2020

    Here you go, someone had a go at an alternative. See if that floats your boat:

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 09:44pm on 03 November 2020

    Oh, certainly there have been more plausible versions of post-nuclear Britain…

    Here's an attempt to zoom in on the north-west of England, scaling and lining up the major watercourses.

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