Tag: Chases

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.

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