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Action Scenes!

Action Scene: Smashing Up a Liquor Store

by Dan Bayn
Sep 03,2003


Action Scene: Smashing Up a Liquor Store

A life of civil disobedience has its rewards. One of Free Radical's many net personas has been invited to a charity wine gala at some swanky liquor store in Rio de Janeiro. They must have noticed all the credit she laundered through her wine wholesaling company and thought she was "in the biz." In any case, she wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth!

On the other hand, one should beware of Greeks bearing gifts. No sooner had they brought out the champagne than a voice came over the PA. "Attention, honored guests. This building's security system is now under my control. Consider yourselves hostages of the Crimson Eye. When your government has released my incarcerated brothers, you'll be free to go about your morally depraved lives. If not," sonic cannons descended from the ceiling, "you may experience some slight discomfort."

In point of fact, grocery and department stores of all kinds make great stunt sets, but large liquor stores have a few tantalizing features unique to them. The most obvious is all that potential for John Woo style, slow-motion, flying debris. Errant gunshots will send glass, wood, plaster, and semi-flammable liquids spraying everywhere! If you aren't averse to property damage, and I'm reasonably certain you aren't, a good fight scene can leave a liquor store in a state of unadulterated destruction that few locales can match.

Second, a reasonably large liquor store is chock full of props and improv weapons. Heavy liquor bottles make superb bludgeons, and broken liquor bottles are archetypal shivs. Free-standing shelves make great cover in a gunfight, especially considering the debris features mentioned above. You can also knock them over on top of enemies, possibly in some kind of Dominos of Death maneuver. Make sure to look for corkscrews in the check-out isles, too. Stabby, stabby.

Next, it's time to have some fun with flammable liquids. The easy method is to spread high-proof liquor all over the place (via copious gunfire, perhaps?), and drop a match. With a little more work, you can turn a glass bottle of similarly high-proof liquor into a molotov cocktail that ignites on impact. If you're looking for a little more flare, get a lighter and pull that Breathing Fire by Spitting Across an Open Flame trick. ("But Dan," you might be saying, "most liquors aren't that flammable!" To which I reply, "Quiet, you! It looks cool!")

Your liquor store doesn't have to be a hole-in-the-wall operation, either. High class outfits could have multiple levels (with or without balconies), separate rooms for demonstrations and wine tasting, attached shops for cheese and cigars, or even their own bars/cafe areas for patrons who just can't wait to down a few. Storage rooms, loading docks, and wine cellars may also lurk in the building's dark recesses.

All the usual methods for dragging PCs into a scene will suffice here: NPC requests a meeting at the liquor store, PCs chase someone into the liquor store, etc. However, I'll also suggest a few less traditional options, for those of you who tire of cliche exposition...

In-Media Res - A latin phrase meaning "in the middle of things." Most James Bond movies use this device to put an action scene right up front; it's usually the end of an unrelated mission preceding the events of the current movie. Basically, you'd just start a session by informing your players that they're in this liquor store and some punks are trying to kill them. Go! Ideally, they'll find out how they got into that position shortly after the fight. It might take some getting used to, especially of your players are entrenched Meeting In a Tavern types, but it gets the party started with a bang!

Slice O' Life - The second method is less avant-garde, but may be easier for some players to stomach. Wait for some down time in the plot, possibly between sessions, and simply tell the players that their characters have gone to the liquor store... to buy some liquor! By sheer coincidence, or maybe because they're being stalked, someone starts some shit while they're there. Bam! Instant action scene.

The Genre Mash

I imagine that liquor stores of the future will look a lot like liquor stores of the present: buildings full of liquor with cashiers, human or automated, around to accept payment from customers. One thing to consider is that, in the future, liquor store owners may have ways to defend their property without all that smashing. Ultra-low frequency sonic weapons could disable would-be robbers without shattering glass. Fast-acting sedatives could be delivered in aerosol to knock out everyone in the store, allowing them to wake only after the police have arrived. Neither of these do anything to enhance to cool factor of a fight, but wadaya gonna do?

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there was a direct medieval analogue to the modern liquor store. The nearest parallels I can think of, in terms of liquor-related smashability, are your vineyards, wine cellars, breweries, and warehouses. Any of these places would have the racks upon racks of wine casks and/or bottled liquor you need to run an action scene as described in this article.

Hostile Tactics

You know I love the plain-clothes ambush! This works especially well in the Slice O' Life set up or if the PCs are at the store for a covert meeting. There they are, minding their own (illegal) business, when everyone in the store (a lot of them, anyway) whip out guns and funky kung-fu weapons! Instantly transforms an innocent trip to the store into a smash-n-grab free-for-all!

Remember those wine tasting areas and balconies I mentioned? A liquor store with that kind of floor space might host a party from time to time, attracting a ton of guests and cash. Such events draw thugs like bees to honey, and your PCs could be there as security or guests. You could also stage a hostage situation at such a gala; the PCs would either by among the hostages or have to find a way inside to rescue them.

In any case, NPCs should be free to use the full range of available props against the PCs. Fair is fair. As a final solution, they could even set the whole place on fire, either to cover an escape attempt or just to give the PCs a good roasting. Remember to amp up the volatility of your in-game alcohol for some cinematic pyrotechnics.

Last, and certainly least, is the good old liquor store robbery. That's right, your PCs are in the liquor store when some mooks decide to hold the place up. Bad timing for them. You could also use a robbery to complicate a covert meeting by making the players choose between whatever they have going on and rescuing that cashier with a shotgun pressed against her temple. Decisions, decisions.

Lights, Camera...

Free Radical never enters a building without sneaking a peek at its security schematics first. She knows the store's security system isn't connected to the net, so this Crimson Eye wacko has to be in the control room across the store. "Hey," she whispers to a host with a corked bottle in his hands. "Could you pop that thing in about ten seconds?" He looks hesitant, so Free Radical gives him the old bicep caress and leans in close to his ear. "It's okay. I'm a professional." He nods in the affirmative, his face flushed with both fear and arousal.

Sliding her way towards the racks of wine and spirits, Free Radical grabs a napkin and pulls a lighter from the slim folds of her dress. When his champagne pops, the cannons pounce on the host and blast him with ultra-low frequency sound. It only takes a second for the sympathetic vibrations in his abdominal cavity to cause crippling nausea, but it's more than enough time for Free Radical to make her move.

The cannons track her, of course, sweeping waves of sound through the racks of liquor. Free Radical grabs a bottle of rum, pops it open while rolling between two sonic beams, and stuffs the napkin down its neck. She's back on her feet in a flash, racing towards the reflective windows of the control room. She lights the napkin, hurls the bottle through the window, and baseball slides into a stack of ginger ale before the cannons finally catch up with her.

Her makeshift molotov crashes into the control room and carpets the place with flaming liquor The terrorist rushes out, howling like a chihuahua with a burning tail. Before she blacks out, Free Radical sees one of the hosts knock his ass down with a bottle of merlot. The EMTs find her smiling.

Now that the genre stuff is out of the way, lets try some fisticuffs...

In Saul "The Hammer" Hamilton's line of work, liquor counts as a medical expense. He's about to check out with his monthly vodka prescription when some goon in a pantyhose mask pumps his shotgun and tells everyone to "kiss the floor." Yeah, right. Saul just unscrews his bottle and tosses back a swig while the thug makes his way towards the register.

"Hey, I said get down, jackass!" He was plenty close, now. Saul holds up a finger in the universal sign for "just a minute, jerk" and swishes the vodka around his mouth. Two more goons close in from the back of the store. "You wanna die, man!?" Saul shakes his head, holds his lighter up for inspection, and spits a gout of flame into the thug's pantyhosed face. Predictably, the guy screams and shoots blindly into the ceiling. Saul lays him out with a vodka bottle round house to the jaw, and then dives towards the scotch aisle.

The shrink-wrapped goon's buddies let loose with their own shotguns, obscuring the racks on both sides of Saul in clouds of booze and glass. The Hammer heaves one of the shelves over, pinning one of the thugs. While the other rushes in, Saul grabs two intact bottles of scotch and crouches next to the other rack. When his prey rounds the corner, firing wildly over Saul's head, The Hammer cracks his kneecaps with one bottle, then swings the second in a wide arc that intercepts his face on its way to the floor.

"What the Hell are you doing?" the manager shouts from his office door. "Look at this place! You should've just let them take the money!"

Saul drops a few bucks on the cashier's table on his way out. "They didn't deserve it. 'Kiss the floor.' Honestly!"

Next Month: Demolishing a Hardware Store!

Loath Your Fellow Man

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