We have a treat for all of you – Troll in the Corner has managed to secure an interview with the people at 93 Games Studio – creators and writers of the new RPG Twilight:2013! interviewed below are Keith Taylor and Clayton Oliver – we hope to secure answers from Ed Thomas also, however he is a little busy in South Baghdad right now. We’ll post his interview answers should he find the time to get back to us. (P.S. – Ed, keep your head down, and come home safe!)
Twilight:2013 was recently released for pre-order and online at Drivethroughrpg.com for .pdf downloads. Hardcopy books are still a few weeks out. I have been anticipating this game for years and from the quick review of the material that I got in the pre-order, it looks to deliver on all my expectations. With no further delay, on to the interview:
1 ) Can you tell us something about 93 Games Studio, how it came about, and the people involved?
Keith Taylor: In 2001, I had a buddy who needed a place to stay so my wife and I offered up our place. To fill our time I thought that we should take our combined role-playing experience and create an RPG. It ended up that he never moved in but I kept working on the RPG. After 2 years I released “The Swing”. It was a modern magick game based around a realistic feeling engine. Over the next couple of years I released a few supplements for that system and even converted parts of it to D20 Modern. I’ve also done a few freelancing gigs to keep active in the industry (Ronin Arts, Expeditious Retreat Press and White Wolf).
Technically, 93 Games Studio is a one man show…me. Up till Twilight: 2013 I handled all the writing, editing, art, layout and marketing myself. With Twilight though, I’ve branched out a little bit and brought in some freelancers for writing, editing and art.
Clayton Oliver: As Keith says, 93GS is his circus – he’s ringmaster, lion tamer, and clowns all in one. <chuckle> My day job is technical writing – translating Engineer to English – but I’ve been freelancing in the RPG industry since a college internship at White Wolf in ’96. I did a fair amount of work on the old World of Darkness, then was on AEG’s Spycraft design team for most of the first edition’s run. I parted ways with AEG around the time of the Spycraft 2.0 project and went back to writing for the Wolf for a couple of the generic WoD books. I did large chunks of WoD: Armory (into which I pulled Keith to pinch-hit for the heavy ordnance chapter) and Tales from the 13th Precinct, after which I dove straight into core system design work on 2013.
2 ) Why Twilight: 2013? To add to this, how did you come to acquire the license to develop Twilight: 2013 (Twilight: 2000 3rd edition)? How similar is this 3rd edition to the previous games?
Keith Taylor: While writing The Swing, I used several models to judge my system against. Twilight: 2000 was my most important model, as I’ve always loved that system. I met Clayton Oliver a couple of years ago and since then we’ve talked about writing, systems, and the industry. In our talks we both felt Twilight: 2000 was one of the best (or at least most memorable) systems we’ve ever played.
In 2005 doing a random internet search I found out who the current license holder of the Twilight: 2000 system and on a whim emailed them asking if this was available and could I purchase it. Surprisingly they replied back – Yes. Before I proceeded though I made sure that Clayton would be on board as the lead developer.
After getting his interest I proceeded to purchase the license. I was surprised at how easy the process was. It took 6 months (mostly because of communication delays) but in 2007 we started work on Twilight: 2013.
Clayton Oliver: We’d talked about getting our palsied claws on the T2k license, but I didn’t really think we’d ever pull it off until Keith called me to ask if I knew where he could sell one of his kidneys (or maybe he said “kids” – it was a bad connection).
As far as similarities to previous editions… not so much, at least on the surface. GDW was primarily a wargame design shop, and their roleplaying games reflected this mindset with a strong focus on military characters and fairly crunchy combat. I don’t have anything against wargames, but that’s not where my strengths as a writer and designer lie. The Reflex System – the engine we built for 2013 – is radically different from either of the previous editions’ rule sets. It’s designed to allow a scaled level of complexity, ranging from “soft” like White Wolf’s Storyteller/Storytelling engines to full tactical crunch. There are some familiar concepts – the old Coolness Under Fire attribute is still integral to how your character handles combat – but I think the only thing we ported over from 2.0/2.2 in recognizable form is vehicle operations and combat.
The world, of course, is radically different – next question.
3 ) What about the previous editions of Twilight: 2000 did you like, and dislike? How did this affect the rule set in Twilight: 2013?
Keith Taylor: When I spoke with Clayton we were both in agreement that this shouldn’t just be an update (the previous editions were pretty good in their own rights). We had to do something different.
I’ve always felt that the original version was more of a war game about WWIII with some role-playing elements. I think version 2.0 and 2.2 had improved on this, but they still had their focus on combat. Not that that was bad, they did it well. But as experienced gamers, we’ve been there and done that. We we’re looking for something more (not to mention we’re both more story oriented).
My goal then became to do what the new Battlestar Galactica did for the series. The original was great, but the new one refocused the series on the characters rather than the setting. Space and the sci-fi elements became almost a backdrop and I feel the show could have been done in any era using the exact same scripts and still would have been phenomenal.
So that was my bar for this edition. I wanted to add to the series by changing the focus onto the characters, their actions and the repercussions. Everything we wrote had that in mind. Because of that, we placed a lot of detail on character creation, to make better more detailed characters. We also increased the lethality and realism of combat; thinking that this will create more thoughtful actions rather than a “gamey” combat session of hit point management.
Clayton Oliver: Twilight: 2000 was a product of its time. The first edition came out when the Cold War was still _the_ major factor in world news and a long, grinding World War III was a plausible fear. I think a lot of the game’s success is attributable to the immediacy of the setting. It was all too easy to envision the end result of the time line, if not all of the precise events that led to it. That was what first captured my interest, and what’s held it for two decades: the ability to tell stories about tomorrow in the ruins of today.
The thing is, that time isn’t our time any more. The world has, as Steven King says, moved on. The Cold War is over (though good old Uncle Vlad looks determined to bring it back, one former Soviet republic at a time). Human extinction, paradoxically, seems to be even closer, but it’s harder to pin down a single potential conflict or disaster that would be responsible. It’s an ambiguous threat environment. We looked at the previous editions and realized that we could never recapture GDW’s particular brand of bottled lighting, so we decided to start from the core ideas and discard a lot of the period-specific details. World War III happens; a lot of people die; this game is about the survivors. But it’s a World War III of _our_ world, not the world of 1984 or 1990.
2013 is also a game, in both setting and mechanics, that pulls back from previous editions’ narrow military focus to allow for the possibility of playing civilian survivors. That, I think, was the thing that always bugged me about T2k: what happened to the other 99% of humanity? It seemed like everyone not wearing a uniform was reduced to a random encounter or a source of supplies or loot. We haven’t taken away the ability to play a purely military game in 2013, but we have expanded the focus to make civilian survivors – and stories about them – not only viable but enjoyable.
Keith Taylor: One of the coolest things we did was to hold a World Destruction Conference. During which we worked out the major events and their effects of the Twilight: 2013 timeline. This took place in the spring of 2006. Almost all of the major events in the timeline were decided back then. Several times since, we’ve had private and sometimes public conversations about how things have worked out in the real world. It has been eerie how close we’ve come to the fictional Twilight: 2013 timeline.
Clayton Oliver: There was a lot of screaming, throwing things at the walls, and deleting vast swaths of text to start over from scratch. I pretty much started designing Reflex with a blank slate. I lined up all the existing games whose systems I thought were close to our vision (Conspiracy X, MechWarrior 3rd Ed., Riddle of Steel, Godlike, Unknown Armies) and started asking myself what about each one was particularly compelling to me as a player and GM. Once I had a grocery list of system traits, I started on the core traits that described a character and the task resolution system that would allow him to do things. The early iterations were ugly – about three times as many skills as the final product has, d20-like attributes with separate modifiers, and a task resolution system that almost required a flowchart. This was when the screaming and flinging started.
It helped that I’d been a spectator for the redesign of Spycraft, so I had at least some idea of how to slim down a cumbersome engine for smoother play. After I had the basics more or less down, I started working with our playtest group. This was different from the major companies’ systems, where a game goes to playtest only when it’s complete. Our process was a lot more iterative: I’d write a section, throw it at the playtesters, get their thoughts on it, and then come back a day or a week or a month later to submit the next draft for their fear and loathing. I farmed out some parts entirely. The math behind our small arms ballistics is entirely the product of Justin Stodola, one of my local players and shooting buddies. Ed Thomas, our third designer, had to sit me down with a bunch of martial arts videos and walk me through an analysis of them before I had the faintest clue of how to build hand-to-hand rules that approached the firearms stuff for plausibility. It was not an elegant process. <wry chuckle>
As an aside, I will admit that I’m the outlier on the team – I’ve never served in uniform. I occasionally shoot IDPA and have done a couple of entry-level defensive firearm classes, but I do not have the level of military or law enforcement combat training that Keith, Ed, and a lot of the play test team brought to the table. So I tried to pay very close attention to what they were telling me about how the evolving system needed to model reality in gunfights.
5 ) Is the Reflex engine designed from scratch, or a licensed property?
Keith Taylor: The Reflex system was designed from scratch. FYI, our plans are to release the Reflex System as a generic rule set and then release small “setting” supplements to use with the rules.
Clayton Oliver: It’s entirely new, save for vehicle rules and some parts of heavy weapon damage that came out of Twilight: 2000′s second edition.
6 ) What were your goals in creating Twilight: 2013, and do you think you realized most of them?
Keith Taylor: In addition to what I’ve said about setting the bar, a lot of the design team are ex-military (including myself) and wanted a system which more closely represented real-world tactics and combat. I think we’ve accomplished that. During play test we learned early on that tactics saves lives and conversely the lack thereof fills body bags.
Clayton Oliver: Keith and I have a shared ethos in game design: we believe in building systems that keep the action immediate and personal without sacrificing verisimilitude. I can’t stand systems whose mechanics are abstracted to the point of mushiness, but I get frustrated with ones that penalize players who don’t have the system familiarity necessary to do the most mathematically advantageous thing every round. The name of our system – Reflex – emphasizes our desire to build a system in which the best action for a given situation is also the intuitive one. I like to think we’ve accomplished that.
I also wanted the game to make a few points outside the combat chapter. In a post-apocalyptic setting, you need all sorts of skills besides grip, stance, sight picture, and trigger control. The same applies to most other sorts of emergencies and disasters. Most of the gear chapter is not weapons, and the chapter on maintenance and survival is actually longer than the one on combat. This is a lesson I hope our readers apply both inside and outside the game. The events of the 2013 timeline are not (we hope) going to occur, but bad shit happens on a smaller scale everywhere, every day. Build an emergency kit, get certified for CPR, volunteer for your local Red Cross chapter or CERT team – learn how to be part of the solution so you won’t be part of the problem. Become less of a helpless NPC.
7 ) What would you do differently if you had to start the whole design process over again?
Keith Taylor: I think it would have to be to not change jobs and move across the state right in the middle of things. It probably cost us 6-8 months of production.
Clayton Oliver: I’d do a better job of documenting my own work as I built the system. The design bible for 2013 is a scattered-ass collection of notes and emails strewn across two and a half years worth of design and discussion. I have not done well at educating Keith’s other writers about how and why certain parts of the system work the way they do.
Also, I need to learn to delegate more. I wrote or rewrote way too much of the peripheral rules myself when I should have been supervising other writers on those tasks.
Keith Taylor: The Team rules. Which is unusual since RPGs are normally individual oriented. I’ve never seen an RPG handle team actions and command effectively. I think we’ve tackled them pretty effectively. You’re now able to play an effective military team with command, team orders, reaction drills and integration. We’ve also added similar rules in place to handle squads of NPCs (not only for the above reasons but to more streamline combat).
Clayton Oliver: Oh, man, just one? <laugh> It’s a hard choice, but I’d have to say that the overall tunable nature of the game is at the top of my list. It’s not a pure toolbox system like GURPS or Spycraft 2.0, but it is possible to select or deselect certain rules to provide as gritty or cinematic an experience as an individual group wants.
Honorable mention goes to the rules for gearing up. Your character’s starting personal equipment is based on what he can carry rather than any monetary value, and that calls for some hard choices for any PC. In addition, each character contributes a number of points to a team pool; the team then uses those points to buy random rolls on various tables for vehicles, support weapons, bulk supplies, and heavy equipment.
9 ) What would you like to see happen with Twilight: 2013 over the next few years? Are you planning expansions and sourcebooks?
Keith Taylor: I’ve got plans for 5-6 country sourcebooks, as well as tons of PDF supplements (both free and for fee). Immediately I’ve got a city sourcebook and a piece of fiction in edit right now. We also have the UK country sourcebook and a Nautical handbook in development. In a week or so I’m going to make a huge open call to bring in writers to fill out the rest of development for 2008 and 2009.
Clayton Oliver: Keith’s already let my next assignment out of the bag: a rules expansion to adapt the Reflex System to modern non-post-apocalyptic play. After that, as the core systems guy, I suspect a lot of what he’ll have me working on will involve Stage III material – the optional high-crunch systems. I’ve also got my eye on some short, themed gear PDFs that don’t focus on weapons (Chromebook 4, for the die-hard CP2020 fans). There are a few other things I’d like to do with the Reflex System that don’t necessarily involve 2013, but we’re keeping those under wraps for the moment.
10 ) Can you give us a few quick campaign starter ideas? What have you played in Twilight:2013 that’s really worked well, and what hasn’t worked so well?
Clayton Oliver: Most of my convention demo games have been in the classic “American soldiers overseas trying to get home” model because it’s a good bridge between the editions.
I’ve been running a campaign for my home gaming group for about two months now. Unfortunately, I can’t talk too much about it because it uses the plot arc of a planned product. My general setup was similar to classic Twilight: 2000 – survivors of EU forces trapped in enemy-occupied territory. I started off with a mixed bag of civilians and military personnel, but the players of the photojournalist and the smuggler dropped due to schedule constraints, so it’s now an entirely military or ex-military team.
I’d really like to do a “home front” game set in somewhat familiar territory: 93GS’ home state of Kentucky. The campaign I have stuck in my head would focus on a field team working for the Governor’s Office of Recovery. The PCs would be going out into the rural parts of the state to try to get outlying communities back in contact with one another and assess the overall condition of the region.
I’d also love to do a post-apocalyptic monster hunting game – this one’s a story seed in the GM Toolkit chapter. It’s not canonical Twilight for any edition, but I’d have a lot of fun running it.
11 ) 93 Games Studio is an independent publisher. Can you describe the challenges that you face in bringing a game like Twilight: 2013 to market?
Keith Taylor: Money, money and oh yes, money. Everything costs money. Just to give everyone an idea, the writing, art and editing for Twilight: 2013 cost me a little over $10,000. This doesn’t count the license fees or the printing cost or the advertising costs. Most of the costs for Twilight: 2013 are paid prior to me ever making a dime, so I’ve had to do some severe money management during the last few years.
Clayton Oliver: Keith hit it on the head: he just doesn’t have the budget of the major players, so this whole process has involved doing more with less. Art, layout, my munificent writer’s fees – it all comes out of his pocket until the sales figures hit a magical “coke and hookers for everyone and we all party like White Wolf developers” point. It’s not just money, either – all of us are working on this in our free time, and every night we spend planted in front of a keyboard is a night not spent with our families or our other hobbies and commitments.
Advertising is a particular challenge, especially with the current lack of hardcopy books to sell in FLGSes and on Amazon. That’ll change soon enough, but the lack of audience awareness of the initial launch has cost me some sleep over the past week.
12 ) What is it about Twilight: 2013 that differentiates it from other post-apocalyptic games? What hope would characters in this world have of not eating rat at the end of the day?
Keith Taylor: I think with the earlier editions definitely and hopefully with this one, the fact that the timeline of events are both possible and plausible. Nothing is that far out of the realm of possibilities that it ruins your suspension of disbelief.
As far as not eating rat…nothing in this edition. It’s a brutal world, things aren’t fair and bad things happen to everyone. But there is hope. I think Clayton said it best:
“Twilight: 2013 is a roleplaying game of post-apocalyptic survival and renewal.
This last part is the unexpected one.
Yes, the world is hurt. Bad. But is it terminal? Are we ready to turn out the lights, close the door, and leave it to the rats and roaches? No.
I repeat: you can’t have hell without hope.
In this case, the hope is that the characters can salvage something from the ruins – not just to sustain themselves, but to start rebuilding. The war was last year, not a decade or a generation ago. They aren’t sitting around the campfires telling their children of metal boxes that once moved on wheels and glass spheres that lit the night without burning. They remember the glory and the power of civilization in all its finery, and while there may be a few barbarians who like things as they are, most of the survivors are going to want to recapture as much of what they’ve lost as they can.
I say, let them try. Give them the tools and stand back and see what they can do. Do not assume that the only option is simple subsistence followed by surrender to the night.”
Clayton Oliver: I love how Keith takes part of my half-baked writer’s guidelines and turns them into a St. Crispin’s Day speech. <grin> But that’s pretty much my statement on the subject. You can play it however you want, but my own campaigns will always be about keeping the fires lit through the night.
13 ) What types of games did you grow up with? What was your favorite games growing up (besides the obvious Twilight: 2000)?
Keith Taylor: Most played – Vampire: The Masquerade
Most loved – Star Wars from WEG
Most wanted to play but never did – Shadowrun
Again, based on taking Twilight: 2000 out of the picture.
Clayton Oliver: I’ve got 36 linear feet of shelf space devoted to gaming books and you want me to make a choice like that? Okay, okay. I got started on Car Wars and Ogre from SJG around 1983, then moved to Battletech. My first three RPGs were TMNT, first edition T2k, and Vampire. Dirty secret: prior to the release of D&D3, I’d played only two sessions of D&D in two decades of gaming.
Most played: I spent an inordinate amount of time in the social circles that sprang up around World of Darkness games, but I probably have more actual table time invested in Shadowrun.
World in which I’d most want to be a PC: Trinity.
14 ) Last but not least: M16, AK-47, G3 or FN-FAL?
Keith Taylor: None of the above. I’m a big M14 fan.
Clayton Oliver: The M16/M4 family has the edge in aesthetics, but unless the manufacturer’s stamp says Colt, FN, LMT, or Noveske, I’ll take a pass on an AR and trust almost any AK to work when I need it to.