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Action Scenes!

Action Scene: Demolishing a Hardware Store

by Dan Bayn
Oct 08,2003


Action Scene: Demolishing a Hardware Store

The Blind Man jumps his Ferrari over the fence as his quarry's motorcycle bursts into flame. Unfortunately, the insidious telepath, Override, had already leapt away and landed safely on a forklift. The villain uses his telepathic powers, taught to him by a rogue cult of Tibetan monks, to make the forklift operator intercept the Blind Man, skewering his Ferrari on the forklift's blades. The Blind Man senses a violent Chi distortion as the gas tank is pierced. He jumps out the passenger side window as the explosion tear his sweet ride apart. He lands on his feet, his blindfold fluttering behind him, but his sword and gun are lost in the wreckage.

He takes off after Override, following the telltale wake his dark Chi leaves in the lumber yard's feng shui. He quickly finds himself in the lumber section of a Home Depot... facing a small crowd of mind-controlled home improvement enthusiasts with 2x4's!

In honor of one of the new Wushu supplements that hit the web last month (the Wushu Guide to Cut-Fu), this installment of Action Scenes will focus on melee combat. A Hardware store is an excellent place to stage an all-out brawl for one readily apparent reason: improvised weapons. Saws, hammers, nails, 2x4's, copper pipes, extension cords, lawn mowers, ceramic pots, weed whackers, power tools, even 10 pound bags of manure can be picked up, used to administer some beat down, and discarded in rapid succession. It's fertile ground for creative fight choreography.

Rather than cut-n-paste a Home Depot inventory list into the body of this article, I've organized my list of hardware goodies by the traditional melee weapons they most resemble. That way, you can start from what you know (how your character likes to fight) and make your shopping selections appropriately.

Okay, deep breaths...

Throwers - There are two approaches you can take to throwing weapons: accuracy or redundancy. For accurate throwers, you can use nails as darts, circular saw blades like frisbees, or grab any of the improv knives listed below. Redundancy is how buckshot works; you throw a whole lotta crap and hope some of it hits something painful. Handfuls of nuts and bolts will do the job, as will metal washers and various bits of plumbing. If you're the strong type, you can go the crushing route and pitch something heavy, like a cinder block (one of my favorites).

Knives - The base technology behind all knives is the cutting edge. Everything else is window dressing. Fortunately, there is no shortage of sharp edges at the hardware store. Obviously, there are utility knives, but that's not particularly creative. You can get plenty of stabbing power out of a chisel or screwdriver. Broken light bulbs make great shivs, not to mention decent fragmentation grenades.

Swords - The sword, like the knife, is based on the cutting edge, but its length also allows it to be used in defense. The key to finding sword-like improv weapons in a hardware store is to look for long objects that are light enough to swing like a sword. Mop and rake handles will do in a pinch, but a broken piece of PVC piping can also stab like nobody's business. If you can find a long, narrow piece of sheet metal, and grab it without cutting your hand, that might be your best bet.

Bludgeons - Now, we take a short recess from cutting weapons to examine the fertile ground of bludgeons. Blunt and heavy is all you need, and most hardware stores are jam packed with 'em! The hammer is an obvious choice, as are the monkey wrench and most varieties of lead pipe. The lumber section consists of 90% bludgeons, from staff-worthy 2x4's to the ever popular wooden stake. Paint rollers let you trap enemy weapons in the crook between the roller and the handle. If you're happy sacrificing speed for power, grab a bag of potting soil or a pair of paint buckets and swing away!

Axes - Where swords and knives require speed, axe-like improv weapons just need weight and a cutting edge. Shovels are an often overlooked option; they can strike with blunt force, direct stabs, or chopping swings that can sever spines. If you can find a way to hold them safely, circular saw blades make fearsome axe heads. In the yard & garden section, you'll find gas-powered lawn mowers that make excellent anti-zombie weapons. It doesn't work exactly like an axe, but it's certainly heavy and sharp!

Whips - Your average construction project employs ropes and cables in great quantities, and your average hardware store stocks them likewise. Power cords make great whips because they're long, strong, and have ouchy bits on their ends. (Plus, you can get those convenient self-winding ones that retract on command.) Metal chain is a favorite of punks and bikers everywhere, either swung like a whip or wrapped around the knuckles for extra punching power. There should also be massive spools of rope and cable laying around; a small library of Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies attest to their capabilities in combat.

Misc. - Finally, we come to the miscellaneous props that fill the sparse space between all this other junk. Most warehouse stores use rolling ladders to reach top shelves; you can ride around on them, fight while climbing on them, and use them to block or trap an opponent's weapon. The storage shelves themselves just beg to be climbed on, possibly on one's way into the rafters, or pushed over on top of witless mooks. Most hardware stores will have a fork lift tucked away somewhere; you can drive it through barricades, use it to pin adversaries against walls, and (of course) lift heavy palettes with it. Finally, don't ignore the check-out aisles. Not only are they stocked with throwable impulse items, but the barcode scanners make an amusing "beep" when you slam a guy's face into them.

A Note on the Home Lighting Section - I know, I said this installment was devoted to melee combat, but I can't let such a concentration of breakable objects pass without comment! In just this one aisle, you can find fluorescent lights, chandeliers, ceiling fans, track lighting, lamps, spotlights, and all manner of light bulbs that desperately want you to blast searing hot lead through them! After you're done with the gratuitous slow motion debris, you can work in one hell of a Die Hard homage. Oh, and if you didn't bring a firearm with you, I'm sure there's a nail gun in the power tools section.

The Genre Mash

As there are no department or warehouse stores in most fantasy settings, you'll have to look for other places that tools tend to congregate. A carpenter's workshop will have hammers, nails, saws, chisels, and all kinds of lumber. A blacksmith's will have hammers, tongs, possibly shovels (for the coal), and unfinished weapons. A tailor will have scissors, needles, pins, and bolts of fabric that can be used as a bludgeons or parrying cloaks.

For a sci-fi hardware store, all you really have to do is paste a lot of blinking lights onto your regular tools and give them funny names. The bludgeons above become "hydrospanners," the knives become "laser scalpels," and the bags of manure become "bags of genetically engineered manure." That's how Hollywood prop departments do it, anyway.

Hostile Tactics

The easiest way to draw your players into any bizarre fight location is simply to have an NPC request a meeting there. In this instance, make sure to have a goon confiscate their weapons before they enter. No one can be allowed to let all of those classy improv weapons go to waste!

However, the hardware store is also a slick place to send a villain that your players have on the ropes. Maybe they're in a car chase, or maybe the villain just ran out of bullets, but their usual tools of war are unavailable. So, they run into a nearby strip mall and hide out in the hardware store. Suddenly, they're surrounded by deadly weapons, convenient hidey holes, and dozens of handy hostages! When the player-characters follow, they find themselves under fire from a nail gun, dodging a hail storm of ceramic pots, or staring down the business end of a snow shovel.

A warehouse hardware store could also make a decent front for smugglers. Anyone investigating their operation might discover that the helpful staff is actually a small army of paint bucket wielding assassins! There's really no tactical complexity to this fight location. Just load it full of mooks, sprinkle in a few worthy opponents, and let the mayhem roll.

Lights, Camera...

A half dozen of Override's thrall rush the Blind Man with 2x4's held high! He kicks a plywood board up as a barrier, holding most of them at bay with one foot. One of the thrall comes around the side and swings his makeshift club; the Blind Man hears it coming and splits the 2x4 with an open-hand strike. He snatches one half out of the air and beans the mook, knocking him out cold. Then, he jumps onto the plywood board, pressing the rest of the mob beneath it. They push against his weight, allowing the Blind Man to use it as a spring board and leap to the top of the nearest shelf.

He drops down into the paint aisle and tastes its feng shui. A shovel blade cuts through the air; the Blind Man ducks beneath as it bites into a bucket of Rosebud Red. Paint cascades around him like a crimson waterfall. While the thrall maneuvers for a second strike, the Blind Man grabs a pair of paint rollers from the bargain bin. He blocks the thrall's second swing, catching the shovel in the crook between the roller and the handle. He dips the other roller into the waterfall of red paint and brushes it over the thrall's eyes. Our hero simply sidesteps the blinded mook and follows the taint of Override's vile presence into the power tools aisle.

The Blind Man senses the weapon's discordant chi even before he hears the intimidating thump of the nail gun! He dives under a stream of iron missiles that sail down the power tools aisle and crash into the lighting section beyond. He snags an extension cord from the bottom shelf and swings it around has he comes to he feet. It wraps around the nail gun and the Blind Man tears it from his assailant's hands. He senses another goon approaching from behind with a light bulb shiv. Two snaps of the wrist later, both mooks are laying on the floor with electrical plug-shaped welts on their foreheads.

Override is making a b-line for the front doors. The Blind Man leaps into pursuit, a pair of circular saw blades in his hands. He hurls them into the sliding doors, bolting them shut. Only the Lawn & Garden section separates the nemeses, but unfortunately for our hero, a mind-controlled man with a lawn mower currently lives there. As the thrall hoists his whirling terror into attach position, the Blind Man kicks a ceramic pot into the blades, jamming them up and stalling the mower's engine. He picks up a 20 pound bag of potting soil and slams it into the mook, knocking him into a pile of wood chips, without breaking stride.

Realizing that escape is no longer an option, Override opens a box of nails from the check-out lane and launches them at the Blind Man. They turn his bag of potting soil into a pin cushion. When the two men collide, Override stabs at his enemy's blindfolded head with a key chain screwdriver. The Blind Man catches it in the claw end of a hammer and twists it out of the telepath's grip. Override drives his knuckles into the Blind Man's kidneys, but it doesn't stop him from slamming the villain's head into the barcode scanner. The register issues a plaintive beep when it fails to read Override's rapidly bruising face.

Next Month: Showdown in the Showroom!

Loath Your Fellow Man

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