July 20, 2024

Boomer Busting in Twilight: 2000 4th Edition – Hostile Waters

RockyMountainNavy, 27 June 2024

Creating a game setting based on the military is hard. Look no further than the recently released Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 video game official trailer with some, uh, interesting aircraft designs.

help identify jets in call of duty black ops 6 trailer v0 s4xvg3f5bq5d1.jpg
Saw these all the time back in the 80’s and 90’s…NOT! Looks like somebody cross-bred an A-7 Corsair II with an A-6 Intruder (courtesy Activision, click on image to enlarge)

 

Fortunately, tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) players of Twilight: 2000 4th Edition (T2K4e) from Free League Publishing don’t have to worry about such a faux pas, yes? After all, Twilight: 2000 (T2K) is based on a (slightly) altered history originally developed by a respectable wargame studio, Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW). With the power of the information age behind it the modern 4th Edition would never make such elementary errors, right? The T2K4e fan community assured us of their accuracy in Canon Plus because, as they point out, GDW worked “in the days before the internet, and information about the actual…military was much more limited than what’s available today.” We therefore must conclude that everything published today about the military in T2K, especially in a canonical Free League product, is both believable and accurate. The reality, alas, is that Free League is showing signs of becoming more Call of Duty than GDW.

Though a grognard, I study military weaponry even more than I play wargames. I also enjoy a good RPG and especially am enamored with what I term “Adventure Wargames” that combine elements of wargaming and RPGs. One of my current favored adventure wargames is Twilight: 2000 4th Edition from Free League Publishing. I recently backed the forthcoming major supplement Hostile Waters and received the digital book. What I found inside both excites and disappoints me.

 

IMG 1765
Hostile Waters pdf cover (courtesy Free League Publishing)

 

RPGs are not wargames…

…nor do I want them to be. To me, the focus of an RPG is on the adventure. Alas, to adventure the player characters (PCs) need equipment. In a military-focused setting, a great deal of the equipment will be military gear. The challenge to RPG designers is making the equipment “believable” in the context of the setting. Meeting that challenge is not always as simple as it sounds.

Sometimes equipment in an RPG is created in way that is believable yet doesn’t fit the setting. Take, for example, the Blaster Pistol in the older West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. In the Star Wars Miniatures Battles: Man-to-Man Combat in the Star Wars Galaxy (specifically designed to be compatible with Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game) a Blaster Pistol has a Long Range of 60 inches or 120 meters (1.2 km for those that are savvy enough to convert) (Crane, S. and Paul Murphy (1993) Star Wars Miniatures Battles. West End Games). Which makes one wonder why those Stormtroopers just can’t hit anything right in front of them…but I digress.

 

An example of creating unbelievable military equipment in an RPG is found in the sourcebook Mercenary for Mongoose Traveller (MgT) 1st Edition (Steele, B. (2008) Mercenary. Mongoose Publishing). I absolutely love the super-advanced Tech Level 15 (TL15) Meson Accelerator artillery support weapon that has an effective range of…1.5 kilometers.

IMG 5818
I can see farther than it shoots (Mercenary, p. 105)

 

Even acknowledging that maximum range in MgT is 50% more than Effective Range gives the TL15 Meson Accelerator a furthest range of 2.25 kilometers or—if you are an anti-metric American—a whopping 1.4 statute miles. A rather poor showing compared to the “proven” 300 kilometer range of the TL8-equivalent HIMARS used in Ukraine (which, incidentally, is 600 TIMES the range given in Mercenary).

 

 

Boomer

[WARNING – Minor SPOILER ALERT for GDW T2K 1st Edition adventure modules]

436
Via DriveThruRPG

One of my favorite adventures in the original GDW first edition of T2K was The Last Submarine series of adventures. This three-book series focused on the last U.S. Navy fast attack submarine. As the ad copy for the first in the series tells us:

The Last Submarine covers a group of characters operating out of New London, Connecticut. This lucky group must recapture the USS City of Corpus Christi, a Los Angeles-class, fast attack submarine which has somehow found its way into the hands of a New England warlord. The warlord has managed to scrape up the necessary spare parts to repair the boat, a moderately knowledgeable crew to do the repairing and sail her once she is repaired and a nefarious scheme which will seriously upset governmental plans along the whole eastern seaboard.

GDW 0517 The Last Submarine

The third book in The Last Submarine series was Boomer, described this way:

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Via DriveThruRPG

The crew of Corpus Christi discovers a chilling fact: A Soviet Typhoon-class nuclear missile submarine is alive and well. Worse, it still has three of its missiles and their warheads.

 

Information presented in this module includes: Source material and maps for Norway and the Svalbard Archipelago. Background details on how the Soviet sub came to be trapped in the ice and on the operation undertaken to recover it. Rules for traversing the arctic ice pack, and a discussion of the special dangers and encounters to be found there.

Boomer is the dramatic climax to the Last Submarine trilogy and brings the series to a close with a daring assault over the polar ice.

GDW 0521 Boomer

The Boomer adventure has real shades of Ice Station Zebra there…

Which (finally, you say) brings me to Boomer—The T2K4e version.

 

4e Boomer

[WARNING – SPOILERS for T2K4e Hostile Waters follows] 

“Boomer” is both an adventure (“Marine Plot”) and setting location in Hostile Waters. The feature location is USS Maine, a U.S. Navy Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).

IMG 1767
Hostile Waters, p. 81

 

The background information given in the image above on USS Maine is about what one would expect for using Wikipedia as a source; broadly correct but almost certainly missing or misinterpreting key details. I am concerned about the line, “The Maine now has seven warheads remaining” which, though an adventure setting detail, very likely is an indicator that the setting creators don’t fully grasp the details they are working with.

According to Encyclopedia Astronautix, the Trident I C4 UGM-96A submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) could carry up to 14 reentry vehicles:

The UGM-96A SLBM’s warhead section normally consists of eight MK 4 independent reentry vehicles, each fitted with a 100 kT W-76 thermonuclear warhead. Up to 14 MIRVs can be loaded, of course reducing the range of the missile. The Trident I is also equipped with a new MK 5 stellar-interial navigation system, which increases accuracy to about 380 m (1250 ft) CEP.

Trident C-4, Encyclopedia Astronautix

So…with “seven warheads remaining” is that supposed to be seven missiles each with one warhead, or one missile downloaded with only seven warheads, or some combination in between? Granted, as the referee I can decide what that means for my campaign but this apparent lack of attention to detail is nonetheless a warning flag.  

The second warning sign I see is in the schematics deck map for Maine. In particular the Deck Three information:

IMG 1768
Hostile Waters, p. 82

IMG 1769

 

The machinery marked “Gas Turbine” is more correctly called a Steam Turbine, or simply a turbine. That is what is labeled in this display from the Smithsonian Museum of American History:

cutaway
Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History (click image to enlarge)

 

A gas turbine is something very different than the turbine in a SSBN.  A turbine in an SSBN takes super-heated steam and converts it into shaft horsepower and electrical power. The back-up diesel engines can create electrical power that drives the a back-up propulsion motor, but that doesn’t use the turbine.

Nuclear Submarine Propulsion Schematic Diagram 1
Courtesy navylookout.com

 

Gas turbines, which are literally jet engines, do power surface ships but not submarines. While the incorrect detail (again) bothers me, I admittedly (again) can work past it by simply ignoring the label and replacing it mentally with my own. Each time I ignore another missed detail, however, I increasingly doubt the entire product.

A third setting detail that bothers me is the location. The “Marine Plot” for Boomer in Hostile Waters is set along the coast of Poland or Sweden; inside the Baltic Sea. An SSBN would more likely be found closer to home waters and NOT be inside the highly restrictive waters of the Baltic. The Trident I with a range of 4,000 kilometers was designed to allow for deep ocean patrolling, a detail understood since the early 1980’s:

However, the great advantage of of the current generation of extremely long range SLBMs is that they can be launched from America’s or Russia’s home waters, thus making it extremely difficult to destroy the missile before they have been fired. This makes the immense size of the Ohios less significant, because although they are an immense target they are unlikely to be exposed to serious attack.

Lyon, H. (1980) An Illustrated Guide to Modern Warships. Arco Publishing (A Salamander Book).

Whereas I can forgive the first two setting detail challenges, this third one is much more difficult for me to ignore. I totally understand that sometimes stories move along “at the speed of plot” or, in this case, can be limited by the set locations available. While I can understand that Free League likely wanted to establish their own vision of Boomer distinct from the earlier GDW version, it looks more like they invested time (and money?) in developing the SSBN plot location and then tried to jam it into the current T2K4e setting which, for now, is still generally restricted to Europe. Granted, I recognize that is an editorial decision Free League can (and should) rightly make; I also recognize that I bounced off it in a hard way for the reasons pointed out above.

2Nyynk9K
Courtesy Free League Publishing

 

Devil details

“The devil,” as they say, “is in the details.” The apparent lack of attention to detail in the Boomer portion of the setting for Hostile Waters is exactly what navaronegun called Free League out on when responding to another of my T2K-related postings:

My problem is that Free League, with the benefit of 24 years of hindsight for the setting, managed to do almost no fact checking or hire any political/military consultants who knew what they were talking about, to the point of having organizations that *currently exist in 2020* (the date of publication) that COULDN’T have existed in 1998-2000.

Screenshot 2024 06 09 at 1.56.27 PM

In a way I can understand the lack of historical detail in other products like Canon Plus, because, after all, that product is part of the content creation community and not canon material from Free League Publishing. Hostile Waters, however, is “canon” coming from Free League. I therefore hold Hostile Waters to a higher standard; a standard that it missed on regarding the new Boomer marine plot and setting location.

 

Across broad oceans and rivers

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Via DriveThruRPG

As Hostile Waters is on pre-order right now I will not give a full review, but suffice it to day that in my opinion Hostile Waters is best when it leans into updating Pirates of the Vistula and similar adventure modules from GDW. Sure, there are some details that bother me, but just as importantly there are other parts that excite me. Traveling by river or engaging in riverine combat adds another interesting element of adventure to any T2K campaign.

pic433476.jpg
Via BoardGameGeek

In keeping with my comment above that “RPGs are not wargames,” I am very happy to see that the rules for naval combat in Hostile Waters focus on roleplaying. In a move that even this grognard considered taking it too far, the original GDW edition of T2K included an option to resolve naval battles using the 1987 miniatures wargame Harpoon III also from GDW. As much as I love Harpoon that was not such a great suggestion.

 

Showstopper?

While Hostile Waters has much goodness to offer for gaming, there are some small details that bother me. I admit none of my grumblings are a showstopper to play; rather, they highlight to me disappointment in how the product line is run by Free League. As mentioned above, Free League seems to do best when they start from a solid foundation of GDW and build off of that. They (and especially the content creation community) also seemingly struggle from a blindness of their own  limitations. I don’t know who—if anybody—is fact-checking or providing consultancy on the products but it appears to be needed.

 

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Courtesy Free League Publishing

 


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4 thoughts on “Boomer Busting in Twilight: 2000 4th Edition – Hostile Waters

  1. It seems they only half read the original, and then went with a Hollywood version of that. And apparantly they are unaware that there are enough gamers that lifed through the Cold War, and know about that, or are unwilling to work with them, or find the level of detail that we seek/expect unnecessary. Pity that

  2. “A turbine in an SSBN takes super-heated steam and converts it into shaft horsepower and electrical power.” is not correct. Dry-saturated-steam is. super-heated steam is for power plants on land that have room for plenty of support systems and are trying for maximum efficiency to make $$$. At least way back then a couple decades into a previous century.

  3. My, my…

    It is striking how different people can be (and thank god for that!) It’s a GAME, fellars…entertainment, you know. More CoD than “Jane’s”… well, fine by me!

    Me and a bunch of old timers (yeah, 60+..) have revived a 40 year old campaign)!!) after FL launched their new take on T2K. Never have we had such fun! The 4ed. is about storytelling! About the time good friends can have when they gather round a table and enjoy themselves.

    Now, who would I rather share a beer with? Self-appointed ‘grognards’ or mr. Härenstam (with whom I have never had, nor will I have, any dealings)…?
    Little doubt in my mind. 😉

    To each his own! The new 4ed is – by far – the best version, ever.

    Happy GAMING, fellars!

    1. Yes! Enjoy your game. A TTRPG is, after all, really nothing but a toolbox for creating adventures——even fantasy ones.

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