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Action Scenes!

Action Scene: Pugnacious Transportation

by Dan Bayn
May 03,2004


Action Scene: Pugnacious Transportation

Saul "The Hammer" Hamilton bulldozes his way through a throng of subway patrons. He'd be damned if that murdering bastard was going to give him the slip a second time! His quarry had gone to ground like a frightened rabbit, but Saul was right on his heels. He dove between the subway car's doors just as it lurched into motion. The other passengers were screaming before he even got to his feet. The perp pulled a young woman from the crowd, put a gun to her head, and demanded that Saul drop his weapon. "Damn," Saul thought as he placed his gun on the floor. "I hate public transportation."

Every once in a while, it's nice to set a fight scene in a grotesquely cramped space. This shifts the focus of combat from high-flying wire-fu and John Woo style gun-play to a grittier mix of wrestling, judo, and old fashioned fisticuffs. The good news is that the best locations for these scenes are already cruising all over, and under, every urban center: public buses and subways. They're tiny, crowded, full of fixtures to climb around on, and chances are good that your characters and/or their enemies are already on board. For apt illustrations, check out "The Mummy Returns" and the eternally underrated "The Transporter."

For such a cramped premise, there's room for a surprising number of variations on the theme. You can stop the bus/subway and use it as a roach motel: let your players in, surround the thing with zombie-style hordes of mooks, and either send wave after wave in to beat them into submission or just pump the tin can full of lead! This works well if you've followed someone back to a bus yard, pulled the emergency brake in the subway, or gotten either vehicle into a collision.

If the vehicle's still in motion, you have the additional challenges of unstable footing and wrestling for control of the vehicle. It may also become worth while to move the fight outside, say onto the roof or clinging to the side or the grill. On the subway, this means avoiding tunnel walls and ceiling fixtures that rush past at deadly speed. On the bus, it means zipping past oncoming traffic and, maybe, jumping from one moving object to another.

In any case, the goal is to engage in some angry monkey style jungle gym-fu. High kicks give way to toe stomps and knees to the groin. Shaolin Fist becomes elbow smash to the face. Leave your katanas, jo staves, and firearms at home; jungle gym-fu is all about knives, batons, and ice picks. If your enemies have such weapons, forget about dodging! You'll have to block, grab, twist, and then let loose with the various flavors of pain innumerated above. Keep an eye out for those vertical poles that run from floor to ceiling; they're great for bending people's fragile joints backwards! You can also climb around on them, using them to block attacks and freeing up your feet for quick kicks.

Both the bus and the subway have as many improv weapons as they have passengers. Briefcases are omnipresent; they make great shields and decent bludgeons. Umbrellas and canes will get the job done, as long as you stick to jabs. Hot coffee is as easy to find as cups of water at a marathon. The collateral damage department is a little sparse, but there are always windows and plastic advertising panels to smash the crap out of!

Oh, and it probably goes without saying, but this fight makes a great segue into or out of a car chase.

The Genre Mash

As usual, I imagine sci-fi buses and subways being pretty similar to their modern counterparts... except that they might move a lot faster and a lot further off the ground. Both of these features just raise the stakes for any fighting that takes place outside their crowded confines. Otherwise, I think everything above remains sound advice.

In most fantasy settings, the closest you're going to get is an Indiana Jones style mine shaft and rolling ore carts on tracks. They're not usually covered, but they'd certainly force you to engage in up-close combat! Plus, you can work in that everything's-collapsing-around-you ploy to ratchet up the tension. I tell ya, the classics never get old.

Hostile Tactics

I already alluded to a couple of hostile tactics: surrounding the vehicle zombie-style and perforating it with a machinegun from outside. Both of these imply a trap or trap-like scenario. What does the panicked NPC who just got chased into the subway or buss station do to save his oily hide? Hostages! (What did I just say about the classics?) Not only can you pluck any random blind kid or kindly grandmother out of the crowd, you can also use the vehicle itself as a weapon. Disable the controls, steer it into oncoming traffic, rig a bomb to explode if it drops below 55 mph... okay, maybe not that last one. It's all about getting those pesky heros to put their weapons down and then giving them an impending catastrophe to prevent while you get the hell outta Dodge!

I should also mention that the subway tunnel itself is a decent place to stage a fight. There's that hilarious third rail to play with, for instance! If you've got more than one bad guy, have the second start the train moving while a hero is lying on the tracks. He'll either get trisected or have to climb up the front of the train while it accelerates. Either way, it's quality entertainment.

Lights, Camera...

"Don't do anything stupid," Saul warns the fugitive. "There are already cops at the next station. How many felony convictions do you really need?" The thug just grins and reaches up to pull the emergency brake. Saul grabs two of the handholds hanging from the ceiling. As the subway car screeches to a stop, The Hammer lifts himself up, letting his feet swing forward. He plants one foot in the goon's face and knocks his gun away with the other. Then, he lets go and drops to the ground.

The subway passengers scatter like a frightened flock of birds, nearly trampling Saul as they rush past. The hostage, in an impressive display of flexibility, kicks her heel up into her captor's groin. Saul moves across the floor on his hands, supporting her escape attempt by catching the crook in a scissors kick that knocks him to the floor. She merges with the rest of the outbound traffic and disappears.

The two men regain their feet at the same time, but now the perp has a switchblade. It gleams in the fluorescent light as he lunges forward. Saul steps into the attack, shifts to the side, and catches his collar's weapon under his left arm. Simultaneously, The Hammer's foot grinds the goon's toes into the ground and his right elbow collides with his face. Having thus distracted his enemy, Saul takes a moment to wrestle away the switchblade and cuff the bastard to one of the seats. "Get comfortable. Your stop's not coming up for a quite a while."

Meanwhile, across town...

The Blind Man knew it the moment he stepped onto the impound lot. The vile taint of the Unseen flowed from the bus in waves, corrupting everything around it. Just stepping onto the bus, approaching the scene of the murder, makes him nauseous, but he needs to identify the killer if he's going to hunt down such an elusive target.

He's kneeling down, absorbing the chi of a victim's last moments, when it all becomes academic. The ninja cult has arrived to destroy the evidence. Few people can catch the Blind Man unaware, but they are suddenly all around him, surrounding the bus. The Blind Man draws his Desert Eagle, but one of the murdering bastards swings feet-first through a window and kicks the gun clear through the window on the opposite side. The Blind Man reaches for the support rod that extends up from a nearby seat, hoists himself up, and delivers a series of rapid-fire kicks to his assailant's chest, neck, and face.

As the ninja stumbles back, the Blind Man casts his preternatural senses around for an escape route, but more ninja are already swarming in through both exits. He spins back around the support rod like a go-go dancer in PCP and knocks the first ninja down the steps of the back entrance, where he lands conveniently atop a heap of his Unseen comrades. The Blind Man is about to launch himself over the hog pile when ninja from the other side grab him by the shoulders and haul him back into the bus. He spins to break their grip and pummels two with a roundhouse punch, but more and already climbing over the seats to flank him.

The situation is getting rapidly out of hand. The Blind Man ducks under a few open-hand strikes and slips behind a seat to block a pair of kicks. He comes up beneath one of the ninja who had flanked him, pushing the goon's head right through an advertising panel on the ceiling. Two more rush in from the aisle; the Blind Man blocks their punches and forces their arms to either side, bending their elbows backwards around the seat's support rods. He puts his hands on the seats to support himself while kicking them both in the chest, thus launching himself head-first through the window behind him.

His feet spread out to catch himself on the window frame as he hangs upside-down against the bus' outer wall and punches a couple of very surprised ninja in the face. Then, he flips himself up, somersaulting on top of the bus. He runs along the roof, rolling to avoid a hail of throwing stars and poison darts, and vaults himself over the impound lot fence. "I'll be seeing you fellas later."

Next Month: I have no idea! Mwahahahaha!!!

Loath Your Fellow Man

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