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Action Scenes!

Action Scene: Clinging to the Side of a Building

by Dan Bayn
Jul 07,2003


Action Scene: Clinging to the Side of a Building

Deafening Silence breaths deeply to calm his mind. A moment ago, he chose, rather unwisely, to look down... and down, and down to the tiny specks of ox carts and townsfolk on the city street below. Monks trained the mind to accept the inevitability of death, but it seemed easier to do in the heat of battle than here, clutching the gargoyles and wind-worn ledges of the temple's edifice.

Then, guards burst out onto a balcony a few stories above him. They began attaching ropes to the stonework and unsheathing their weapons. Deafening Silence's feet moved instinctively along the ledge, assuming mantis-perches-on-flower's-stem stance. "Finally," he whispered with relief.

Welcome to Action Scenes! Each article in this column will detail a fight location, complete with props and enemy tactics, in multiple genres. No rules will be provided, as I'm certain you have enough of those already. Illuminating examples will appear at the end of each installment. If all goes well, you'll not only be able to slap these scenes into your own games, you'll be inspired to do so.

This first fight location is a pet project of mine. I desperately want to see it in a movie some day. Failing that, I'll just have to use it in a role-playing game. (I should note that the Tomb Raider sequel might have something like it, but it's unreleased at the time of this writing.)

Imagine a fight scene set on a gigantic stack of parallel bars, with kung-fu fighting gymnasts as the combatants. Oh, and some of the gymnasts are strung up on bungie cords. And the whole thing's taking place about thirty stories up. The warriors swing and leap through space, delivering punishing kicks, slashes, and gunshots that send their enemies plummeting into the void! Death is ever a hair's breadth away!

Getting your players into such a deliciously precarious situation shouldn't prove too difficult: Put something they need inside a tall building, then seal the bastard up tight! The only way in is either on the roof or, even better, via a window or balcony about three quarters of the way up. Conversely, you could stick your PCs inside such a building and make scaling the walls their only escape. (Obviously, the ability to fly would make things too easy on your players, so limit it as much as possible.)

However, his isn't just a fight scene on a ledge, or a fight scene on some scaffolding, or a fight scene on a balcony. It's a fight scene clinging to the side of a building. The only ledges are too narrow to traverse any way but sideways. Handholds are, of necessity, plentiful but widely spaced. Think flag poles, gargoyles, and gothic architecture in general. If there are windows, they should be securely locked, barred, or made impenetrable in some other way.

You might want to give your PCs some ropes, bungie cords, or other climbing gear to expand their maneuverability a little. Remember: scaling the edifice is only the beginning. Your players are going to be fighting up there! This works best in a pulpy or anime-style game, where characters can leap superhuman distances and make multiple actions during combat without missing a beat.

The Genre Mash

In a fantasy game, PCs will most likely be clinging to the side of a castle or temple. In the former case, make sure to include plenty of pesky murder holes and narrow slits for archers to shoot through. These act as handholds for the PCs and points of attack for NPCs. Temples are my personal favorites, especially ones covered with relief sculptures, like ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples. You could jump around on those things like a friggin' monkey! Plus, throw in an evil sorcerer or high priest and you can bring the nastier sculptures to life!

In modern games, making your building inaccessible is easy: skyscraper windows are tough to break and impossible to open (because they don't). The hard part is populating that sheer, reflective glass with enough handholds! Again, draw from gothic architecture and place spikes, ledges, and other ornamental touches all over the place. Failing that, you'll have to give your PCs climbing gear that sticks to glass. More swinging, less leaping, but it gets the job done.

This location can work really well, or really poorly, in sci-fi games. The up side is that your building can reach dizzying heights, or even float in the upper atmosphere of a gas giant or somesuch. The down side is that there's almost always some readily available "hover" tech that lets people fly. You may have to contrive a reason to make such devices unavailable. Handholds are less of a problem because you can coat the side of you sci-fi skyscraper with random cables, antennas, dishes, condensers, wackyon collectors, plausibility deflectors, and so on.

Hostile Tactics

Obviously, any villain's first thought will be to knock the PCs off the side of their building. (Their second thought would be to send someone down to scrape their remains off the sidewalk. Priorities.) However, such a thing can be accomplished in many ways...

  1. Send some mooks down there to give the PCs a good tossing! Flying mooks, acrobatic mooks, and mooks on ropes are all excellent ideas. In fact, you should always use this at some point during the scene, since it's the only way to perpetrate a good 'n' proper fight.
  2. Pour something nasty on them. The fantasy mainstay is boiling oil, but rocks and arrows will get the job done. Modern and sci-fi games can add lubricants, corrosives, or electricity to the mix.
  3. Find the section of wall they're clinging to, and blow it out from the inside! It's a little radical, but no one said your villains have to be the brightest bulbs in the box. You should use explosives for metal or stone walls, but lots and lots of bullets will do quite a number on windows.

When all of that fails, you can just try to kill them where they cling. Send a helicopter, dragon mount, or hover car to shoot, roast, or blast them. I mean, where are they gonna run? The bonus for your players is that one or more of them may get to pull the ultra-cool Leap Onto the Helicopter/Dragon/Hovercar and Take Control with Fists of Fury maneuver. At which point, they can either use it to escape (if they're trying to get away) or crash it into the building (if they're trying to get inside).

Lights, Camera...

The first temple guard descends, swinging towards the monk with sword raised. Deafening Silence focuses his chi and leaps upward, drawing his blade and slashing through the guard's rope in a single motion. His attacker's screams are punctuated by a dull thump from the street below.

More cautious now, the remaining guards stagger themselves, protecting each other's ropes. The two lowest begin advancing on the monk's flanks. He drops down and grabs a gargoyle's neck, swinging beneath and around. He launches himself feet-first into one of the guards, and sends him swinging away like a pendulum. The second guard rushes in from behind, but Deafening Silence is ready. He lands in a handstand, catches the guard's sword between his feet, snaps the blade around 180 degrees, and slashes the guard's throat. When his partner swings back to the wall, the monk's sword is waiting for him.

He spares a moment to look up; the balcony is only two stories above... but now a cauldron is being hoisted over its side. The remaining guards swing away from Deafening Silence as a wave of boiling oil flows down the wall. The monk leaps under its crest, clearing the last two stories to clutch the balcony's wooden underside. He stabs upward, through the planks, and is rewarded with anguished cries. When he flips onto the balcony, the remaining guards are in no condition to prevent his entry to the temple.

One more, just to be thorough...

Free Radical's mimetic tactical suit hides her ascent from the military installation's sensors. Unfortunately, such measures would have been insufficient to cloak a hover drive, so she's strapped into a low-tech climbing harness. Precarious, to say the least.

She extends her filament dagger and begins cutting through the laboratory window on the 137th floor. Suddenly, two soldiers burst through the door, scan the room, and level their assault rifles at the window. "Shit." Free Radical rolls to the side and disconnects her harness as glass and lead blast outward, shredding her tac suit. She drops under the line of fire and grabs the jagged window sill with the tips of her fingers.

Booted feet stomp across the floor above as she reaches for the auto pistol holstered on her thigh. Two soldiers poke their heads out, one covering the wall above and the other staring straight into the barrel of Free Radical's hand cannon. She pulls the trigger, spraying bullets in a fan that severs their heads. The recoil pries her fingers free of the window sill, however, and she starts to fall.

Her tactical display alerts her to a security hovercar approaching from below. Free Radical kicks off the side of the 132nd floor, somersaults, lands on its hood with a thud, and obliterates the windshield with gunfire. She leaps ahead, catching the edge of the dashboard as the hovercar pitches forward. Dragging herself inside against both gravity and centripetal force, she hoists the pilot's body out and gets behind the wheel. "Thanks for the getaway car, guys!"

Next Month: Wreaking Havoc at the Health Club!

Loath Your Fellow Man

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