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

27Nov/13Off

On The Road (Part 3)

Hopefully this will be the last of my series talking about the theory behind vehicle mechanics. If you're not up to speed, here is part one and part two.

Hardpoints

In the post-apocalyptic age, sometimes just having an average car isn't enough. You need to... how should we say... accessorize it.

Depending on the vehicle size, it will have one or more hardpoints, which are positions in the vehicle's frame where you can install something more. This may be as simple as an extra fuel tank or something more entertaining like an anti-tank cannon.

In the example we've been using, the Mad Max Interceptor Pursuit Special, Max had installed supplemental gas tanks that take up most of the rear of the vehicle. He instead could have installed some additional weaponry like a gun or RPG. These weapons do not necessarily take up the same space on the vehicle as the gas tanks do; the hardpoints not only reflect physical space but also reflect physical weight added to the vehicle. You try to drop a howitzer on to the back of the average car and you'd be lucky to drive it away from the shop.

With that in mind, we look at our three size categories:

  • Small (motorcycle, moped, etc.): No hardpoints
  • Medium (average car): One hardpoint
  • Large (18-wheeler): One hardpoint on the cab, three hardpoints on the trailer.

Now what can we install?

  • Extended Fuel Tank (1 hardpoint): We'll talk about fuel in a little bit
  • Armor Plating (1 to 2 hardpoints, depending on vehicle size): Increases Physical Defense dramatically
  • Booster (1 hardpoint): Anything from an advanced nitrous injection system to a full on rocket engine sticking out of the back. Something to make the car go faster.
  • Basic Weapon (1 hardpoint): Machine gun, RPG, etc...
  • Anti-Aircraft Gun (2 hardpoints): Designed specifically to aim upwards at aircraft
  • Heavy Weapon (2 hardpoints): An anti-tank gun, railgun, missile battery, etc...
  • Power Generator (1 hardpoint): Something that provides power to the vehicle, replacing the vehicles need for fossil fuels, such as a Mr. Fusion sticking out of the car's back.
  • Wedge (1 or more hardpoints): Something to get other things out of your way or ram other cars with

So on and so forth.

Abstract the Rest

Besides weapon damages (which are separate from the core vehicle and mechanics needed to drive it), there isn't much else that needs to be explained in vivid detail. Everything else, as far as I can tell, is up to GM and player interpretation

Fuel

In a post-apocalyptic world, fuel is somewhat scarce. Although some of the oil fields and refineries that dotted the midwest are still in operation, they are all under control of either The Warlord or The Desert Prince (both icons).

The question arises of how to keep track of fuel. I don't feel it appropriate to nitpick this, detailing a vehicle's MPG and exactly how long it has until it runs empty. I much rather prefer that GMs realize that a vehicle needs some sort of fuel and what the average expected range of a full gas tank will be, but I don't want them to be tracking it down to the gallon like some people use to track encumbrance.

That being said, the only thing that i may mention in a vehicle entry is what type of fuel it uses. Some vehicles may use good ol' gasoline, while others might have a Mr. Fusion installed on a hard point. Managing when a vehicle could, or should, run out of gas is up to the GM.

Another option is to simply have fuel become an issue when the plot demands it. In other words, the only time you'll run out of fuel is when it's a good time in the story to do so. If you're in a close race, battling dozens of marauders as they try to run you off the road, running out of fuel now is a death sentence and may bring the story to an end right quick. Instead, simply wait until the immediate danger is other and the party got away before making the car gradually glide to a stop and sputter out.

I intend to take a similar approach with guns... In a future installment, we'll talk about what I like to call "dynamic ammo".

Speed, Movement and Position

Just like movement is abstracted in a normal encounter, movement in a car should be allowed to be as equally abstract. We all know how fast cars can go and how quickly they can get up to speed; I don't see the need to overburden the rules with acceleration rates and maximum speeds.

Unless you're dealing with faster cars that have supercharged engines or dealing with slower cars that have taken damage, every car should be expected to be moving at about the same rate. As far as firing arcs, it should not get more complex than "behind", "in front", "left" and "right".

Combat and Damage

Like anything else in the world, cars can be damaged. How that is interpreted is up to the GM.

The thing about cars is that it's very easy to disable them; a single shot to a tire can cripple even the best of cars, but that's not exactly a thrilling conclusion and worthy of our heroes.So if a vehicle is taken down to 0 hit points you have to make a judgment call as to what exactly that means... if you think it's OK that the car stalls out go for it, and if you think that it's best that the car instantly explode in a glorious movie-like explosion don't let me stop you. But the former is the sort of situation that happens to our heroes, while the latter is something that happens to the bad guys constantly.

Vehicular Mooks

To put this all in to perspective let's go back to our shining example: Max is driving hard in his Interceptor and being chased by two dozen marauders. Now, if you gave each one of those marauders and their vehicles the same statistics that Max and his Interceptor had, Max would surely get creamed. So let's treat each one of these marauding vehicles as either a mook or as a monster with really low hit points.

Thinking about it, vehicles as mooks works fantastically. It allows you to have that dramatic situation where dozens of inexperienced drivers in weak cars band together and chase down our beloved heroes. I mean, you can just imagine these foolish mooks bouncing off the side of our hero's transport, slamming into a ditch, exploding in to flames upon the slightest bullet hit, etc... Let's say that Max points his gun out the window and fires at a nearby marauder, getting a critical hit and causing more than enough damage to take out two or three of them. Story wise, that's as simple as describing how the target lost control of the vehicle and skid into the path of another marauder, taking them both out. Whenever any marauder gets taken out, they should go out in a glorious display of carnage and vehicular mayhem, just because they can!

Now let's say that Max isn't exactly lucky in the die rolling department and the marauders end up causing enough damage to drop his Interceptor to 0 hit points. Even though the Interceptor is 50% gas tank, how anti-climactic would it be to have the car burst into a column of flame and kill Max instantly? If every marauder hit the Interceptor with a critical hit, would you still allow Max to die in such an anti-heroic fashion? Heroes don't go out that way, at least not usually, so Max will continue to fight until the only thing left of his trusty Interceptor are the floor mats.

In a nutshell, our heroes should always be able to walk away from an accident one way or another, even if the mechanics and the die rolls don't exactly reflect that. If a PC takes physical damage that would cause them to go unconscious or die, sure, but if their vehicle takes more beating than it could handle it shouldn't outright kill a PC unless the plot allows it.

Enemies, however, are not so lucky. When their car hits 0 hit points, it will take them out in the most gloriously dramatic way possible.

Conclusion

So the section on vehicles looks like it'll be shaping up like this:

  • A very basic section on the required aspects of a vehicle, as discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this article series.
  • Options for installing things in vehicle hardpoints.
  • A brief section on maintenance and repair of vehicles, which will cover both the Wheelman profession and engineers with vehicular proficiency (that's an optional class talent).
  • A great deal of descriptive text trying to explain how to manage the mechanics of a high speed chase without detailing every single thing in terms of a fixed ruleset. Some things may require concise rules, but I'll try to avoid that.
  • An example combat sequence: basicaly, describing a sequence similar to Mad Max fleeing from The Humungus and his crew.

Should be fun...

Anyway, that's it for vehicles for now. Soon I'll be talking about something else that will hopefully be just as entertaining.

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