Encounters and hazards for car chases and races

Here’s a big list that might be a useful reference for you when having a modern day car chase or race. You and the players can throw these curve balls into the mix to add some excitement.

  • Motorcycles or dirt bikes, perhaps a gang tour
  • Giant crowd or carnival
  • Person (old, homeless, kid) or animal crossing the street, bee or other insect flying inside the car
  • Drawbridge slowly going up
  • Detour due to bridge being closed
  • Train on tracks, or trolley car in road
  • Parking garage
  • Garbage truck backing out of alley
  • Rock slide, avalanche, mudslide along the road
  • Rain, fog, sleet, snow, hail, freezing rain, ice, dust storm, or other weather
  • Tunnels
  • Have to split across a few roads or blocks
  • Going into the opposite lane
  • Going down a dark alley and turning off lights and engine
  • Jumping an off/on ramp
  • Emergency cargo dump to try to gain more speed
  • Nitro boosts
  • Look away at distraction, look back and crash
  • Fruit cart or other market items in the (perhaps closed to cars) street
  • Semi truck rolling over to get out of the way or spilling chemicals
  • Sudden ambulance or fire truck
  • Rolling roadblock of semi trucks that have to be weaved through, or funeral, or old people
  • Oblivious taxi or drunk driver
  • Driving through construction site or wood frame houses
  • Workers crossing the street with a huge pane of glass, massive painting, moving a piano, etc.
  • Black ice, oil slick, or other slippery conditions
  • Spike strips or flat tires
  • Huge pile of cardboard boxes, could be full of packing foam
  • Having to drive through a fire (forest, maybe burning building)
  • Road closed due to a wreck
  • Pot holes, open manhole cover, or other debris
  • Police road block (for player or someone else)
  • Running out of gas or overheating the engine or even having the engine catch on fire
  • Hacker messing with the traffic lights
  • Airplane landing on the road
  • Water main breaking and flooding the road
  • Tire rolling across the road, or blown tire treads on the road
  • Driving through a corn field
  • Swarm of insects or birds hitting the windshield
  • Driving on 2 wheels (“skiing”) to go between a narrow space
  • Driving through a war zone or active police/SWAT scene
  • Going up or down stairs or through a hilly park
  • Damaged hood flies up and blocks the view out the windshield
  • Jumping between cars, or from an overpass to the roof

Thanks to some great suggestions from this Reddit thread.

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Tips on chase scenes in RPGs

Car chases, and even foot chases, can be tough to represent well in RPGs. There’s tons of forum questions and articles about what system does it best, tips and strategies, and so on. Generally you don’t want to be bogged down with slow rules that break the pacing or mean you’re planning and resolving a 2 second snap character decision in 5+ minutes of real time. You also don’t want to have to track exact distances between everyone involved unless that really adds something to the chase (which I don’t think it does).

See the previous post about the Fast & Furious setting for some background.

For the first one-off I got the inkling of an idea on how to best handle chases. And by the second one-off I had refined and tested that idea and found it worked very well. Basically the Storyteller needs to track and inform the players of the order of cars, so that if a player says “is Li Fang in front or behind me?” you can know the answer right away. Distance is either “you can interact with them”, or “far away”. But the latter rarely came up, because the scene would transition to the “up close and ready to interact” phase with a few words of summary.

And now the magic part: the acting entity sets the pace and describes the obstacle. More or less take turns throwing obstacles into the chase. This helps share the onus of making the chase interesting between the Storyteller and the players. If the player in the Toyota Supra is acting, they might say “We see a semi-truck coming towards us carrying a huge load of lumber, and as they slam on the brakes the trailer starts to jack knife”. If the villain Li Fang on her motorcycle is acting the Storyteller might say that she’s taken the chase down an off ramp and through a series of red lights at busy intersections. And maybe next the player says that after negotiating the red lights they see an old homeless person with a shopping cart full of cans crossing the middle of the road.

The key idea here is to almost always have something specific happening that everyone reacts to, instead of just “we’re on a vaguely defined freeway, going fast, with some generic cars all around. I guess I try to sideswipe the other car.” You don’t want the only real option to be a repetitive “I ram the other car”. Instead the players and Storyteller are now having to think of how the characters would react: would they speed up to run the red lights, would they try a shortcut down an alley, would they tentatively stop before each intersection, would they call in on the radio for an aerial view, or whatever. There is an immediate, looming problem that needs an immediate solution beyond just “eventually I want to catch the bad guy and ram them off the road”. And since we’re in the Fast & Furious universe and have access to the Exploit Coin, the answer could be “I swerve my car to the side so that it flips over the first rolling log, catapults me through the shower of the rest, and I land on top of the enemy car”.

This is where the General Driving Incidents header in the Fast & Furious setting document comes in handy. It’s a ready list of ideas and curveballs the Storyteller can throw into the chase or suggest to the players. Chasing on a dirt road in Griffith Park is fun. When there’s a rock slide or fallen tree ahead, that increases the danger and boosts the fun.

EDIT: In addition I compiled an even bigger list of driving encounters and hazards you can view here.

The other upside of this approach is it helps solidify details of the area. I’ve only briefly been to Los Angeles, and certainly never had a car chase there. But anyone can conjure up stereotypical scenes of LA: palm trees, huge clogged freeways, empty storm drains, Venice Beach, movie studio lots, etc. And in a chase you want to move from interesting location to interesting location, without much of a focus on plain, forgettable side streets or stretches of highway. Part of the acting person describing the situation is they can move the location forward.

In the one-off we started around Chinatown in LA, but pretty much skipped over about 10 miles of road so that the next area of interest was Griffith Park. Then we brought the scale back in for some freeway incidents, followed by a finale through the Warner Bros. Studios.

This route wasn’t hugely planned, it was more organically decided when the acting player shifted the action from one place to another. We did want to follow a realistic route, and not jump too far ahead (like we wouldn’t instantly go 100 miles west to Santa Barbara). But we also didn’t want to feel stuck or tied to an uninteresting area without much detail. The best analogy is a chase scene in a movie: you only see the decision points and unique places, you rarely see the cars maintaining their order and speed on an unremarkable side street.

And of course the original idea is not a hard and fast rule and requires some arbitration on when the best time to add a new obstacle is. But that’s why we’re playing a tabletop RPG and not a computer game: so we can adjust on the fly. Sometimes it makes sense that every player gets a chance to have a turn and interact with the scene detail before changing it. Other times a drastic setback to a player or enemy can change the pacing (no sense in the villain taking a side road if they just careened into a median).

I think this idea and strategy could be applied to other systems and other chases with great success. Anyway drive safe out there.

Fast and Furious setting

I ran some Fickle RPG recently with two one-offs in a Fast & Furious setting. If you don’t know the Fast & Furious movies you must not get out much, but just in case here is the movie series listing. Today I’m going to talk about that setting, some of the mechanical changes we used, a summary of how both sessions went, and in more detail in a separate post some ideas on car chases in general and tips to get them working in Fickle RPG.

When I set out to plan the one-off I aimed more for the earlier Fast & Furious movies, so it’s less about a high tech, organize team pulling off a Bourne style heist with extremely over the top shenanigans, and more some street racers getting involved in minor crime with just a few over the top shenanigans.

Continue reading “Fast and Furious setting”

Update to Party of Light damage system

Remember when I talked about changing the Party of Light damage system to use D4s? Well, I did that.

Grab the latest rules: Party of Light Rules v2 (PDF)

But I wanted to keep the original “flat 1 Stamina” approach too, so I basically made a “Basic v1” and “Advanced v2” of the rules. I could even see a v3, v4, etc. as I add more complexity, statistics, classes, and so on as my nieces grow up and want to play a more involved game.

So anyway the change is Success is now 5+ and the difficulty dice have changed to Hard = D6, Normal = D8, Easy = D12. This changes the odds a bit, in a beneficial way to be honest, and also frees up the D4 to become a Damage Dice.

Also for now the rules don’t specify anything about Critical Hits, but I do want to consider adding something like that eventually. I’m gonna play the game tonight and see how it works and how Crits would fit in well. Originally I considered just having max to-hit roll = crit, but that makes Easy much less likely to Crit than Hard. Hard would actually be a 50% to Crit if you hit, since you’re only hitting on a 5 or 6 on a D6 anyway. So maybe I need a different approach. I like the idea of having the D4s potentially explode, but that could be really swingy and time consuming, so maybe just 4 on the Damage Dice gives +1 damage or something.

Star Wars and Fallout for Fickle RPG

Two fun settings for Fickle RPG for you today! They both have a custom character sheet, and I think the Fallout one might be the best I’ve done so far. The fonts and Vault Boy imagery really pop.

Here’s how the sheets look:

Setting Downloads

As for the settings, I ran a 4-5 session mini-campaign for Star Wars. Lots of planet hopping, and a nice payoff in the end. For Fallout I’m mostly used to Fallout 1 & 2, and my friends are more familiar with Fallout 3 & 4, so we did sort of a mix. That setting was used for a one-off, which went really well and I think captured lots of Fallout-y things.

Also they had some of the better Luck Dice re-themes: Force Dice for Star Wars (naturally), and VATS Dice for Fallout.

Anyway here are the setting notes, including the custom character sheets:

I’ve also updated the main Fickle RPG page to keep these settings organized and make it a bit easier for new players to use existing materials and sheets.