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Action Scenes!

Chase Scene: Off the Beaten Path

by Dan Bayn
Jan 31,2005


Chase Scene: Off the Beaten Path

Military helicopters dog Annex as her newly-acquired autoped gallops through the woods like a gazelle, graceful and swift. Its silicon brain matches the movement of its four, independent legs to the terrain, keeping the tiny cockpit perfectly level. Tactical data flashed across the bulletproof glass that surrounded her. Her destination was almost in sight... on the far side of two high-speed micro-tanks!

We've done high-speed pursuits on the freeway and break-neck chases through crowded city streets. That just leaves... everywhere else. With sufficiently agile vehicles, you can run chases inside of buildings, across rooftops, in sewers or subway tunnels, through a forest canopy, from boat to boat in a crowded marina, the possibilities are endless. You could even string together many of the fight locations described in past Action Scenes, like hospitals, restaurants, schools, and hardware stores.

The key feature here is novelty. These are the chase sequences you pull out when your players have (by some inconceivable means) grown weary of the open road. New locations mean new props, new stunts, and new vehicles. In particular, you'll want to consider motorcycles, ATVs, bikes, skateboards, and rollerblades. (The segway is not recommended!) Foot chases are also a possibility, especially in anime-style games where leaping from building to building is a mundane exercise. Larger vehicles will be left in the dust.

Rampaging through buildings has a lot to recommend it. First, there are all those windows! When you're not on the ground or on the roof, getting from one building to another probably involves crashing through at least one pane of glass. Second, you can load the scene with a wide assortment of bystanders, from cubicle jockies and businessmen to janitors and elderly apartment dwellers. Each comes with their own supply of props and obstacles to toss at your enemies (cubicle walls, briefcases, mob buckets, kitchen knives, etc).

Be sure to make full use of that third dimension. Drive up and down stairwells, drop a few stories when jumping between buildings, swing up a level by holding onto the top of the frame when crashing through a window, and so forth. The same goes underground, where you can slide down access shafts and barrel roll around tunnel ceilings. Of course, none of these spaces are designed for high-speed transit, so be prepared to blast or crash your way through doors, floors, gates, and the occasional wall.

Off-roading over level ground can get pretty boring (unless you're blasting across the alkali flats in a rocket-power, monkey-navigated...). Anyway, rolling hills and jagged peaks are your friends. They're the next best thing to proper jumps. Thick forests can be hard to race through, but Return of the Jedi proved they make great obstacle courses for vehicles that can rise above the undergrowth. Remember, speed alone is not enough to sustain a role-playing chase (that requires a visual medium); you'll need stunts and obstacles a-plenty!

The Genre Mash

Contrary to what the term "dungeon crawl" may imply, fantasy dungeons make great locations for acrobatic chase scenes. The same goes for mines and caves. The close quarters ensure tight turns and plenty of collisions. Sure-footed mounts, like horses and large wolves, are a must. Working in multi-level stunts is easy: just have tunnels intersect at different depths, possibly via some kind of Star Wars-eque, stupidly huge shaft. Random lava flows, cave-ins, and subterranean rivers make for death-defying, climatic stunts.

You can achieve similar results in sci-fi settings with colossal buildings and their equally colossal infrastructures. Though I am hesitant to make three Star Wars references in one article, the Millennium Falcon's run through the second Death Star is the archetypal example. See also the monolithic sewer tunnels in The Matrix.

However, the real benny for sci-fi games are the incredibly agile vehicles. Hoverbikes (aka. crotch rockets) spring immediately to mind, as do jet packs. Smartwheels (where the tire's rim is composed of segments that can independently adjust their distance from the hub) provide fairly smooth rides over rough terrain and make stair climbing a breeze. Annex's autoped is inspired by the tachikomas of Ghost in the Shell fame. Their wheels are mounted on the ends of animal-like legs that allow them to roll, run, climb, leap, and even hang from tethers. That's more than enough agility to tackle any autobatic stunt!

Hostile Tactics

It's much easier to intercut these kinds of chases with good, old-fashioned combat sequences, primarily due to the relatively low speeds. Most of the recommended vehicles are also easy to dismount (not to mention easy to knock people off of). As mentioned above, you can slip other Action Scene fight locations into these chases at any time. Imagine running your players out of ammo during a motorcycle chase across the rooftops of a small town, then crashing them through the front windows of a hardware store filled with improv weapons! Since chases can be run using the same mechanics as combat, you don't even have to treat them as different scenes. All that changes are the skills you use to put the hurt on your hated foes!

Lights, Camera...

Weapon Lock warnings flash across Annex's viewscreen as recoil knocks the micro-tanks back. She deploys the claw on her autoped's left limb, hooks onto a tree, and swings around it as a pair of guided mortar shells cruise past her and explode a few feet away. Annex releases the claw as the shockwave knocks the autoped off its mechanical feet. The vehicle rolls forward and automatically rights itself. "I love this thing!"

Annex runs perpendicular to the line of fire, making target locks difficult and letting the trees absorb incoming fire. Once the micro-tanks are in full pursuit, she heads for a nearby riverbed and reduces her speed, drawing them in nice and close. She clears the chasm in one stride, then digs in on the far side and comes to an abrupt stop. As the micro-tanks trundle up the embankment behind her, she plants one of the autoped's rear limbs under each and pushes up. They flip over backwards and tumble into the creek, upside down an impotent.

The helicopters swoop in like vultures on a fresh kill. Annex takes off down the creek, dodging between the banks to avoid a continuous stream of gunfire. Her ticket home rushes towards her: a drainage tunnel that connects to the megacity infrastructure. As she crosses the threshold, conveniently cutting off the military's surveillance satellites, she extends the autoped's legs and engages the spherical wheels at their tips. The vehicle zooms down the tunnel at over 100 mph!

She covers the 60 winding miles to her exit point in 30 minutes and emerges in a flood control trench on the far side of the city. The autoped rolls up the embankment and jumps the fence with ease, landing at the edge of a private marina. Annex flies down the wharf to a small barge, parks over the cargo hatch, and climbs out. She's just about to lower her prize to safety when a motorcycle's roar breaks the silence. Interloper sails over a neighboring yacht and slides to a sideways stop on her bow... his gun leveled at her head.

"Man, I knew lookin' you up would pay off," he says from behind a red-tinted visor. "You used this escape route three years ago, right? To evade satellite surveillance after 'liberating' a military prisoner. I'll take that look of adorable fury as a yes. Here's the deal: I'm takin' that little toy of yours, but you can keep my bike, if ya want."

Annex gives him her best innocent smile, then opens the cargo bay doors. She and the autoped drop into the darkness. "You shoulda taken the bike!" he yells as Annex vaults back into the cockpit. The autoped gathers its legs beneath it and leaps straight up... right past a grenade as it descends into the ship. Interloper is spared Annex's murderous gaze, because he's already speeding back down the pier! She takes a shortcut, bounding from one boat to the next in a mad dash for escape. The explosive charge detonates behind her, obliterating her boat and a good chuck of the dock. Interloper reaches the boardwalk just ahead of a wave of water, wood, and flame!

The autoped bites into the shoreline well ahead of Interloper's licorice motorcycle. Annex decides to press her advantage by crashing through the window of the yacht club and stampeding through the dining area. She weaves down the center aisle, making sure to scatter tables, chairs, and yacht club members in her wake. Interloper comes in way too hot to avoid the obstruction, so he ramps up a broken table and launches his bike into the back wall. He rides along it sideways, bypassing the worst of the destruction before bouncing off a corner booth and sliding into the foyer.

Annex is already climbing the stairs like a jungle cat. She jumps the autoped onto the wall of the second floor landing and springs off it, clearing another flight of stairs and rolling onto the third floor. Interloper's smart wheels make quick work of the stairs. He follows right on Annex's heels, spraying the stairwell with lead as he closes in. They swerve through the club's business office like slalom skiers. Interloper's SMG fills the air with shards of glass and plastic.

The autoped leaps through a back window like an Olympic hurdler. Annex deploys two of its claws at the last second, securing her vehicle to the top of the window frame. It swings up and attaches its other two claws to the edge of the roof, clearing a treacherous path for her adversary. Interloper engages his brakes, but not in time. He smashes into the office wall and his momentum catapults him out the window! He hits the opposite wall like a crash-test dummy! Flipping head over heels, he and manages to snag a ledge and dangles over a two-story fall.

Still clinging to the side of the building, Annex pops the cockpit and pauses to drink in the moment. "You can keep the bike," she shouts across the gap, "but you owe me a new boat!"

Next Month: Battle at the Big Top!

Loath Your Fellow Man

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