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Action Scenes!

Action Scene: Taking to the Air

by Dan Bayn
Apr 05,2004


Action Scene: Taking to the Air

Two technicolor figures crash through a highrise window like stones shattering the surface of a pond. A purple haired woman twists her opponent around, using him to break her fall as they both smash into the hood of an aircar two stories below. The male's brightly tattooed, bald head cracks the windshield. "Where ya runnin' off to, Skip?" Free Radical yells over the din of rush hour traffic. "Oh, nowhere special," Skip Trace replies as his foot thrusts her up and back, sending her careening into space...

An oddity for this column, this month's Action Scene works better in both sci-fi and fantasy than in modern games. You need to put a whole mess of flying vehicles, or beasts, in the air at once and as close together as possible. An aerial traffic jam is ideal. The goal is the create a piecemeal battleground where the threat of falling is ever-present. It's a spectacular locale for high-flying, acrobatic, wire-fu mayhem!

First, there's the leaping. Every move should involve someone either jumping from one car onto another or trying to throw their opponent off (followed by the victim's desperate attempts to hold on or reach another vehicle). Wuxia triple kicks, flying tackles, sacrifice throws, and chi-powered punches that rocket people back twenty feet through the air will feel right at home. Baseball bats and golf clubs make great weapons, due to the knock-back factor, as do those action movie shotguns that pack way more whollop than Newton's Third Law would lead you to believe.

To top that, you'll need to get those vehicles movin'! High speeds really raise the stakes for this kind of combat, though you have to figure out why the drivers keep driving with people kicking the shit outta each other on the hoods of the cars. (Forgiving players will just accept the premise to get to the fightin', but your mileage may vary.) At any rate, the speed of a vehicle relative to stationary objects is of key importance because 1) it prevents people from trying to leave combat by jumping onto a passing building, and 2) you can pitch mooks off the side and watch them slam into hard, flat surfaces with sledgehammer force! Don't forget to have people crash through car windows, crumple a few hoods, and maybe finish the fight off with a dramatic dive through an office window!

However, this whole threat of falling thing might ring a little hollow if no one actually falls. So, you should be prepared to stage a little combat in freefall. Obviously, time is of the essence, so you might want to declare a maximum number of rounds before the combatants must either break off and grab onto something or drag each other to their mutual, squishy deaths. (By the way, kung-fu fighters will face the same challenges in freefall as in zero-g combat.)

The Genre Mash

As I alluded to above, this action scene can also work in fantasy settings. All you need is a fleet (or at least a squadron) of flying beasties big enough to support a bunch of combative characters. I suppose fantasy airships would work, too, but they tend to be big enough to support the entire fight without forcing anyone to leap between them. Hell, you could even stage this scene on a bunch of flying carpets, should the notion tickle your fancy!

You can forget about running this scene in a modern game, though... unless you can think of a good reason for super-powered characters to be duking in out atop a squadron of fighter jets in tight formation!

Hostile Tactics

The bad guys have all kinds of options in this situation. If they're in control of a vehicle (or if one of their buddies is, or just some trucker with an attitude), they can do barrel rolls to knock people off, slam on the breaks to launch them off the hood, or hit the gas and try to leave flat-footed fighters in their rapidly falling dust. Intentionally scraping the vehicle against buildings and oncoming traffic works great if someone's hanging off the side!

Even if the bad guy's not in control, their dirty tricks tool box is far from empty. First, there's the simple expedient of sabotaging the car and jumping off as it plummets earthward. This has the added benefit of endangering bystanders with a fiery crash, thus giving the heroes something to do besides give chase. Finally, anyone with a sturdy rope, chain, or cable can attempt to tether the vehicle to a stationary object, thus causing the sudden stop and impending crash effects at the time time. Pretty sweet.

Lights, Camera...

Free Radical flies through the air with the greatest of ease before dropping into the back of a floating pick-up truck. Yard sale junk scatters in her wake. Her fingers wrap themselves around an old golf club and, when Skip leaps over to finish her off, she nails him hard in the chin. He flips over backwards before plummeting down between the cars. "Shit! Bad idea!" Free Radical laments before stepping onto the truck's bumper and dropping to the lane below.

The roof of a sporty aircar crumples beneath her feet as Skip rolls out of the way. He catches her legs in a scissors kick, knocking her off her feet. She drops her golf club in favor of clutching the car's tail lights. She swings up and around the side, coming level with the roof just in time for Skip's foot to hit her square in the midsection. She flies back and slams into the side of a delivery truck, kicks off the smiling face of its megacorp logo, and delivers a punishing triple kick to Skip's chest and face.

Suddenly, traffic lurches forward. The sports car takes off like a rocket, leaving the combatants just enough time to enjoy a Wiley Coyote moment before gravity does its thing. They tumble through the next few lanes of traffic, aircars swerving (and honking) around them on all sides. Skip Trace tries to kick his nemesis away, but Free Radical grabs his leg and claws her way up his back, putting him in a sleeper hold. Skip kicks back savagely at her shins, but Free Radical fights through the pain until her quarry surrenders to sweet oblivion.

As the tenement level's cement ceiling rushes up to meet them, Free Radical's hover 'chute senses her impending doom and deploys its anti-grav field. Skip Trace's additional weight is a bit more than it can bare, however, and the artificial ground comes into high-resolution range far too quick for comfort. Free Radical beats down her panic, counts to five, and kicks Skip's inert body away. He crashes into a synth-steel satellite dish that cushions his fall, allowing her 'chute to bleed off her excess speed. She still hits the concrete like a lead weight, but manages to channel the force safely into a roll.

Then, there was fantasy...

The Khan of Kuzul leads his Dragon Fleet across the heavens from the saddle of his black-scaled mount. Beneath him, firmly clenched in the beast's talons, Deafening Silence studies the anatomy of its gargantuan wrist. Dragons, being more akin to birds than to reptiles, carry very little mass in their hollow bones. With the correct application of leverage... the monk wraps his legs around the dragon's wrist and arcs his back until the muscles nearly pop from the strain. He is rewarded by a brittle snnnnaping sound as its delicate wrist bones give way. The monster roars and jerks its arm back, letting loose its prisoner.

Deafening Silence swings upwards, past the dragon's leathery wing. Time seems to slow as he and the Khan lock hate-filled gazes. While the monk executes a forward flip and plants his feet on the dragon's shoulder, the Khan unfurls his kusari-kama and swings its weighted chain over his head. He whips it at the monk's face, but Deafening Silence steps to the side at the last moment and catches the chain at full extension. He yanks the Khan from his saddle and sends him careening into his mount's left wing. The Khan sees his doom approaching and makes a desperate bid to anchor himself by sinking the sickle end of his weapon into his mount's wing. The beast roars again and pulls its limbs in against its body, sending them into a dive.

The monk loses his footing and hangs in the air for a moment, but then the kusari-kama drags him earthward. As soon as the Khan gets a grip, he pulls his weapon free and lets go! Deafening Silence tucks his arms tight against his sides and paces the beast in free fall until the Khan regains the saddle and pulls violently on the reigns. The dragon flaps with the force of a tidal wave and levels off, scraping the treetops. Deafening Silence manages to lash himself to its tail with the kusari-kama just in time to avoid impailment on a pine tree.

However, it's clear the dragon won't make it far. The tear in its wing widens with every down beat and it's body dips into the canopy with terrifying frequency. The Khan signals one of his lackeys to approach. Deafening Silence untangles the chain, hurls the sickle into the Khan's saddle, and drags himself onto the beast's back. The Khan yanks his weapon free and both men pull each other in. They meet like a hammer and anvil; Deafening Silence's foot hits the Khan hard in the throat, but not before he plunges the kusari-kama into the monk's ribcage. The Khan's feet fly from beneath him and he lands, gasping, on his back. Deafening Silence hits the dragon's scales with a thud, blood streaming from his wound.

As the other dragon draws alongside, the Khan tosses the kusari-kama's chain across the gulf. "I won't let you escape so easily," Deafening Silence coughs around his own blood as he tears the sickle free. "I would not expect you to," replies the Khan as he blocks the monk's swing and buries the sickle in the dragon's spine. "Godspeed." The second dragon rider pulls far enough away to allow a tree to pass between them, catching the outstretched chain. Thus anchored, the weakened dragon whips around in a wide arch, sending the Khan flying into the air... where the second rider picks him up with ease. Deafening Silence, on the other hand, barely manages to maintain his grip on the kama long enough to crash into the canopy along with the black beast, cursing the Khan's name!

Next Month: Pugnacious Transportation!

Loath Your Fellow Man

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