A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer


On The Road (Part 1)

MV5BMTcxMDUyODY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwOTQzNDk4As part of this little project of mine, I've been trying to think of what additional rules I may need to introduce. I'm doing that rather hesitantly simply because piling on more rules go against the very nature of the 13th Age design methodology. It's made to be "rules light", or at least in such a way where the GM is free to interpret things and make his own decision.

Problem is that I'm a computer programmer and mathematics guy, so I thrive on "crunch". I like rules, or at least the availability of rules for which I can use my own judgment whether I decide to use said rules or not. This doesn't always work well at the table, of course; more often than not, players will be the ones to wheel out complex rules and try to ram them down the GM's throat. I mean, let's face it, you're never going to see a GM say "I grapple you" then reach for the D&D 3.5E chapter on grappling. Players, though, do that all the damn time, so much so that the next player to wheel out the grapple rules on me is going to get beaten to death by them.

But the thing is that a GM's job is hard enough as it is, so there's no eagerness to houserule things on the fly. Let's say the grapple rules didn't exist... if a PC says he's going to attempt a grapple, how do you resolve it? How would that work, mechanically? Can you honestly say that you'd come up with all those rules on the fly?

The Long Hard Road

One such topic is vehicles. In 13th Age, mounts and other means of transportation are hardly discussed, which is kind of surprising considering the world is several thousand miles across. In these cases the GM is expected to wing it and hope that there never comes a time when statistics on the vehicle itself is necessary, and even then they are expected to fall back to the "impromptu" table.

But in a post-apocalyptic world, where there is nothing but barren wasteland between settlements, you kind of need some sort of transportation. I keep going back to the battles in the Mad Max series of films, which are inspiring several aspects of my setting (I even have two icons - The Wanderer and The Warlord - which are loosely based on Max and Wez from Mad Max 2). I can't imagine houseruling situations like that on the fly.

But I don't want a ruleset I can beat people to death with... To put it in perspective, the D20 Modern rule book has 15 PAGES dedicated to vehicles and the rules that surround them. That's an awful lot, almost larger than the entire chapter of Combat Rules in 13th Age. No way I'm going to provide that level of detail, but I do want to provide something simplistic that has a little bit of mechanics.

So here goes nothing...

Physical Characteristics

800px-07._Mad_Max_Car_at_Silverton_Hotel,_Silverton,_NSW,_07.07.2007I do not want to describe every vehicle ever made, nor do I want to provide different details for one brand of vehicle than another. I'm not going to explicitly define BMWs as faster or Volvos as more durable... That's too over the top.

But I'd like to provide something, so I'll abstract it as much as possible.

Size: There are four basic types: small (motorcycle), medium (car), large (pick-up truck) and huge (18-wheeler). The statistics of each type multiply in the same manner as monster statistics do; the bigger it is, the more damage it can take.

In addition to its base size, we should be able to specify number of passengers. I'm not sure if we need to explicitly define what load it can carry because 13th Age doesn't have encumbrance rules in the first place, so we'll leave that out.

So let's start putting together an example...

"Interceptor" Pursuit Special
Medium automobile (1 driver, 3 passengers)

Useless Trivia: The actual car used in Mad Max 2 is in the Dezer Car Museum, right here in Miami, Florida.

Defenses: Vehicles should have a fairly low AC and a average to high PD, representative of their structure. AC doesn't necessarily reflect whether they can avoid an attack or not but rather if the shot is effective enough to cause physical damage. I mean, let's face it... if you fire a crossbow bolt at an 18-wheeler you're not likely to miss it, and if you do you should have your crossbow rights revoked.

One would think that a vehicle doesn't have MD, but I'm not so sure. In my system, in a world where there are things that don't have an organic brain, MD represents a system's resistance to digital attacks such as an electromagnetic pulse. So in vehicles that may have a high level of technology it may be conceivable that they may be shielded from EMP attacks, and this shielding is at a radically different level than what PD represents.

There will also be additional factors to these values, like a driver's ability (we'll get to that some other time), but let's leave that out of the base stats. To determine what numbers are good, I'm going to use the "baseline stats" for a 2nd level normal monster, as presented in the 13th Age core rulebook. I'll bump up the HP by 50% to represent the car as being rather tough.

AC 18
PD 16
HP 54

Now you might be thinking that that's not a whole lot of hit points for a car. Quite frankly, it doesn't take a whole lot to disable a car in a first place; this isn't a tank. It'll take more than a PC would, sure, but it shouldn't be anything astronomical. And although one could argue that certain weapons won't do much to a car it does have its weak points; a dagger might not do much more besides scratch the paint, but hitting the tires is a whole other matter.

Vehicle Rating: Pretty much anyone in a post-apocalyptic world can drive a car. The question is whether they can drive a car well. And although most people can drive a car, driving an 18-wheeler takes a whole different skill set most people don't have.

Furthermore, there are certain things that a vehicle won't do no matter how good a driver you may be. I don't care if you're Jason Statham, you're not going to do a bootlegger in an 18-wheeler no matter how hard you try. Well... you can try, but it won't end well.

But that's the thing: I don't want a GM to tell a player "you can't drive that." I think every player should be able to drive everything... sometimes it might be super effective, sometimes it might border on comedic. If you're in a crisis situation, where you hop in to the nearest truck to flee the gang of marauders chasing you down, you'll find a way to drive the thing. Sure, you might strip all the gears, but it would be extremely anti-climactic for the marauders to pull you from the driver's seat and beat you to death because you couldn't get the truck into first gear.

So the mere act of driving shouldn't require a skill check, or at least leave the GM the option to call for a skill check only in extreme situations. In these cases, he should only call for a skill check if the story has a way to go on a failure; in the above example, failure is most likely death if you think about it, so if you're not ready to change the story for dramatic effect then you shouldn't require a roll and present the possibility of catastrophic failure.

So the way I see it there should be two separate ratings:

Maneuverability: This defines what the vehicle might actually be able to do. Should be as simple as "low", "medium" or "high" and be mapped to the environmental DCs (25/20/15 at Adventurer Tier). They should only be used in cases where there is the possibility of failure.

Skill: This defines what it takes to drive the vehicle effectively under what would be adverse conditions. For example, if you're driving a bus you can let go of the wheel now and then without an immediate end to forward movement because the thing continues to lumber down the road. If you're driving a motorcycle, you better be damn good at driving it before you even think about letting go of the bars.

Let's pretend your Sandra Bullock. You have to make hard 90-degree right turn or things will get really, really bad. There are three possible vehicles you could be driving:

Motorcycle (high maneuverability, high skill): You probably can't drive the thing right in the first place. Although it is designed to be able to make the turn fairly easily, you might not know how to handle it through the turn without having the tires slip out from under you and send you sailing off the side of the road.

Car (medium maneuverability, medium skill): Most people can make this turn, even at high speed. Heck, I *have* done such a turn myself, and I admit I am far from the best driver in the world.

Bus (low maneuverability, low skill): It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to drive a bus, but nothing short of an act from Keanu Reeves God will get you around that turn without slamming into the retaining wall.

So what does this mean mechanically? Well a skill check may or may not have been made in order to get this far in the first place; if Sandra was trying to drive a motorcycle at high speed she probably wouldn't have gotten three blocks before getting sprawled across the pavement.

Let's say she's driving the school bus. The DC for making such a turn should be extremely difficult for a lumbering behemoth like a bus, say a Dexterity DC 25 check. She's not skilled and has no additional benefits (no Wheelman profession, no engineer's Equipment Affinity: Vehicles). Maybe Keanu can give her a circumstance bonus, but that's about it.

Now let's say she was driving a car, has the Wheelman profession and some sort of background to further back it. The DC for medium maneuverability should be a base Dexterity DC 20, but she'd have her fair share of bonuses (assuming it's her own "signature" vehicle she gets +4 for Wheelman, plus let's say an additional +2 for background). Given more than average Dexterity (let's say a +2 attribute bonus), that means she totals at about a +8. At a DC 20, that gives her a 40% chance of making the turn. There may be some room for additional bonuses here and there (I still need to do some balancing of all this), but you get the idea; that's actually possible and, given the difficulty of such a maneuver, fairly reasonable.

If she was driving reasonably slowly, any idiot can make a turn like that. Even if she was driving at an average speed, given that she has the Wheelman profession the GM could argue that she would still be able to make the turn relatively effortlessly, so unless he's just dying for a natural 1 there wouldn't be much a need for a roll then either.

So let's add to our example:

Maneuverability: Medium
Skill: Medium

To Be Continued...

In the next installment, I'll get in to some more vehicle options I'm considering and how to translate all of this into something manageable within the Archmage Engine.