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Action Scenes!

Chase Scene: Where Pedestrians Fear to Tread

by Dan Bayn
Jan 05,2005


Chase Scene: Where Pedestrians Fear to Tread

Several months earlier - Annex has been hired to retrieve a package from the trunk of a mob courier's black BMW. She's been tailing him in her Ferrari two-seater, waiting for the right moment to strike: a red light, an empty intersection, and three spare seconds...

This month, we're takin' it to the streets. Urban street chases afford far more opportunity for autobatic insanity than the freeway. The open road is all about speed. Where pedestrians fear to tread, it's all about agility. Narrow streets and frequent intersections force you to use more low-speed stunts like box slides, 180 degree spins, wheelies, barrel rolls, etc. Heavy traffic means more chances to throw obstacles at anyone who tries to follow you. (Remember, stunts can be resolved as attacks and chase scenes can be run like any other form of combat. See last month's article.)

City streets are crowded with compact cars, four-door sedans, taxi cabs, minivans, SUVs, and delivery trucks. The wheel you'll want to be behind, however, is that of a sports car. They're small, fast, and know how to grip the road. The same can be said for motorcycles, which are perfectly at home in an urban chase, but we'll see more of them in next month's installment. Finally, police cars are designed as pursuit vehicles, among other things, which also makes them great as anti-pursuit vehicles!

It can be difficult to convey the frenetic quality of a cinematic car chase in a non-visual medium. I mean, how many times can you say "and you zoom past another station wagon" before it starts to lose its impact? In a role-playing game, you should only use such things as filler. The real meat will come from big stunts and road hazards. Crash through hedges, fences, barricades, store windows, office buildings, and hot dog carts. Spice things up with random parades, pedestrian malls, and street carnivals. Accident sites will be filled with emergency vehicles, stopped cars, and gawking pedestrians. Never underestimate the traffic-dodging fun of turning down an unexpected one-way street!

Jumps are essential. If you don't mind stretching plausibility, you can jump a car off anything from a speed bump to a VW Bug. Add some autobatic flare by spinning, flipping, or rolling your vehicle in mid-air! If you're having trouble imagining what such a thing might look like, go grab a copy of Grand Theft Auto III and drive around in a fast car for a while. GTA cars can roll over, do backflips, and survive falls that would demolish your average bank vault! It's an invaluable source of autobatic inspiration.

Lastly, don't think that losing control of your vehicle is the end of your death-defying fun. Urban crashes are feasts for the senses, chock full of flying debris and fleeing bystanders. Sidewalks are positively festooned with fragile cafe tables, newspaper machines, fire hydrants, and traffic lights. You can slam cars into the sides of buildings, smash them into parked cars, get them run over by trains, and throw them off of bridges, over embankments, into rivers, etc. If you gotta go out, it might as well be with a bang!

The Genre Mash

Suspending enough disbelief to let horse-drawn carriages engage in autobatic shenanigans is difficult, even for me. Instead, I'll suggest horses or other sure-footed steeds that can jump, duck, and slide under their own power. Hell, they could even do a little wall-walking, if you're into that sort of thing. (You know I am!) Still, a completely earth-bound carriage chase through narrow, cobble-stoned streets can take advantage of many of the urban features described above: tight turns, lots of obstacles, and messy crashes. Carriage-to-carriage combat is an absolute must!

You can run a fully modern car chase in the pulp era without a problem. In fact, there's one big advantage as far as most players are concerned: police cars won't have radios in them! Once you shake the ones on your tail, odds are there won't be any more on the way.

Count on future cities to have all kinds of intrusive traffic control technology. The cars may even run on auto-pilot. That's no good for a car chase, so I recommend giving characters a way to hack these systems, take manual control, and fly under the radar of any centralized surveillance.

Hostile Tactics

Another excellent way to put more combat in your car chase is to let your players use their guns, swords, fists, and what have you. There's the ol' drive-by method of just shooting out your side windows, the Dukes of Hazard method where you climb partially out and sit in the window frame, and the Matrix method of leaping from car to car. A favorite of mine is driving in reverse so the wheelman can shoot out the window with his off hand. You could even go the Mad Max route and mount guns, blades, or ram rods directly onto your vehicle.

Driving an opponent off the road is easy, since there's so little road to either side. You can also steer enemies into oncoming cars or race them through intersections full of cross-traffic. If you're driving something sleek and low, you can stomp on your brakes and send your pursuers hurtling over you like a ramp.

Clever villains may use explosives to fill the road with debris and/or endanger bystanders. Paint or flaming gasoline can be used to black out an adversary's windshield, forcing them to chose between driving blind and giving up. Tricking someone into breaking the law in front of a cop (ie. by speeding through a red light, shooting into traffic, or cartwheeling their Lamborghini over a park bench) can really raise the stakes.

Lights, Camera...

Finally, the black BWM stops at a lonely intersection. Annex hits all her cylinders and clears the block between them in the first second. Vaporized rubber billows out from her back tires as she cranks on the e-brake and slides around her quarry, whipping around 270 degrees and screeching to a stop right in front of his grill. Two seconds. She's close enough to reach out and touch his hood ornament, but there's a submachine gun in her hand. She pulls the trigger as the third second ticks away.

Much to her surprise, the bullets just bounce off his windshield like raindrops. "Damn! Why wasn't that in the report?" The courier calmly throws his car into reverse, spins a 180 of his own, and flies back down the street. Annex charges after him, wishing she'd had the foresight to prepare a Plan B.

She box slides around the corner to find a liquorice red motorcycle filling her rear view mirror. It rides up her back window like a ramp, flies out ahead of her, and cruises right past the BMW. Without warning, the cyclist cuts in front of the courier, taps his breaks, pops into a front wheelie, and backs himself onto the BMW's hood! He rolls onto the roof and uses a pair of magnetic tethers to anchor his bike place. Then, he hops off, climbs onto the trunk, and starts slicing away with a cutting torch.

The courier draws his gun and aims it back at his unwelcome passenger, but remembers the bullet-proof glass and decides not to pull the trigger. Instead, he starts to slalom back and forth in an attempt to knock the bastard off his perch. Unfortunately, it only slows the BMW down enough for Annex to catch up. Seeing her reload her SMG, the biker conjures a grenade and drops it on the road. Annex veers madly to avoid the explosion, running up the curb and barreling through a few cafe tables before she can rejoin the chase.

Meanwhile, the biker liberates a chrome briefcase from the trunk, climbs back onboard his motorcycle, and releases the magnetic tethers. He rolls backwards off the BMW and slides to a perpendicular stop while the courier slams on his brakes and spins another 180. Annex hits the asphalt on the other side of the street and both cars rush inward as the bike rockets through an alley. Annex reaches the midpoint first and uses her e-brake to slide her back tires around, knocking the BMW away. The courier recovers quickly and follows her, following the bike, down the alley.

On the other side, a steep embankment forms a t-intersection with the road. The biker heads for it at breakneck speed, but slams on the brakes at the last second and slides gently over the edge. Annex follows suit, but her vehicle's greater mass means she has less stopping power. She hurtles over the biker's head in the middle of a spin, while the courier flies over them both at full throttle! The black BMW sails over the road below and swan dives into the reservoir beyond.

Annex's Ferrari completes its spin and bites into the pavement, stopping on a dime. Stunned, the biker just stares at her for a moment, then revs his engine and takes off up the embankment. She follows close behind and they both leap gracefully over a stream of cross-traffic in the intersection above. They weave their way through a few more blocks before coming upon a tangled mass of stopped cars with police lights flashing at its center. Annex grins, "He's got nowhere else to go."

Nowhere but up. The biker drives up the back of a compact car, jumps over the throng of onlookers, bounces off the top of the ambulance, and takes off down the cross street. Annex picks her jaw up off the floor and puts the pedal down in its place. She makes a hard right into a pedestrian mall; Christmas shoppers part before her like the waters of the Red Sea. Unfortunately, there's no exit on the other side, just a rotunda with floor-to-ceiling windows. Setting her jaw in grim determination, Annex flashes her lights to alert the loiterers inside and powers straight through the first window!

Her rear wheels are already locked when they hit the tiled floor, sending her into a 90 degree spin. She box slides into the second window, crashing through sideways and merging seamless into traffic. The motorcycle rolls into view just in time for its driver to see a wave of glass wash over the curb. He leans into his dashboard and flees down the street, but Annex is hot on his heels.

As they race up to behind a caravan of SUVs, the cyclist draws a smartgun and shoots out the tires of last behemoth in line. It fishtails wildly before rolling over and proceeds to bounce end over end off the pavement. The biker's engine roars as he rushes towards the rapidly developing wreck. He leans into a carefully-timed slide that carries him under the dying leviathan during its last airborne moments.

Annex swerves across the median, but it's no use. The twisted hulk is all over the road. What's left of the engine block crashes down into the Ferrari's hood, sending it into a spiral cartwheel. Annex is spared the dizzying site of the sidewalk rushing up to meet her; the car's interior is already packed with insta-foam. It slides the rest of the way down the block on its hood before wrapping itself around a light pole.

When the foam dissolves out of her ears, Annex can hear police sirens approaching. A red motorcycle tire rolls into view outside her window. Its rider bends over to peer into the cab. "Hey, you're not dead," the young man says with unconcealed glee. "My name's Interloper. We'll have to do this again some time. It was a blast!"

Next Month: Off the Beaten Path!

Loath Your Fellow Man

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