A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



A Developer’s Hell

Gosh, it's been a while... To say my life has been hectic, or difficult, is somewhat of an understatement. So much so that I have had to effectively cancel my trip to GenCon this year because I see no way whatsoever that it can be logistically or financially possible. So, to those of you that are going, I will have no choice but to experience it vicariously through you.

Meanwhile, my little pet project - the Atomic Age RPG - has been languishing in something I can only describe as "development hell". Or maybe "launch a Kickstarter hell", if such a thing exists.

Here are my concerns with the project:

1) I have no art

Right now, at this very moment, I can probably launch a Kickstarter, distribute or sell the product... but I can't bring myself to do that. You see, right now at it stands it's nothing more than a text dump, an almost identical copy of the Archmage Engine SRD with some words and numbers changed. That does not make for a successful RPG by any means, and I feel that if I were to do that the product wouldn't last a day before disappearing into obscurity.

If I'm going to do this I'm going to do this right, which means that I need some sort of art. And there are many levels that need to be covered by art...

  • I don't even have a LOGO yet
  • The Kickstarter listing alone needs some sort of art
  • The core book needs art. A LOT of art, quite frankly
  • Everything else (stretch goals, backer rewards, etc...) needs art

Now I know a handful of artists I want to approach with this project, and I have even had business-like discussions with them, but with all of them there is a cost to get this off the ground. Maybe some will do it free, I don't know... I didn't ask and I don't want to ask. Like I said, I want to do this right: I do not want contributions or charity. I'm going to treat this like a business, which means I will pay my artists what the market bears.

That being said, although the cost of prettying up the core book and supplementals will be covered by the Kickstarter itself, the logo and Kickstart art will not and has to be paid first. The financial turmoils I've already mentioned make that rather difficult to do, and I can't bring myself to take the next steps without knowing - without a doubt - that I can afford my artists.

2) It hasn't been officially announced

I've mentioned the project in passing, and have even posted images of some of the content I've been working on, but it hasn't really been officially announced. There's a website, and a Facebook page, and a Twitter account... but few people know about it.

Why not? I don't have a logo, and for personal pride reasons I feel I can't start officially directing people to the social media venues without having a product identity.

So, until I can do that, they stay clouded in obscurity and amidst the whispers of a select few.

3) It hasn't been playtested

Because it hasn't been launched, few people know about it. Even fewer have actually seen it. Actually, I can only think of two people that have, and even those two have probably only glanced over it, figuring I wasn't quite serious about this whole thing because I haven't done everything I mention above.

For that reason, I have no idea if what I'm doing is "right" or "broken". I don't know if I properly grasp the concepts and game style people expect or look forward to, or if I've created any single element that needs radical changing before it gets abused all to hell.

Granted, the playtesting could theoretically happen during or after the Kickstarter, but as a long time game designer it's a serious concern for me. I've had issues before with games that weren't properly tested... Sure, this isn't a video game, but I feel it needs an equal level of analysis and testing before getting anywhere near production.

4) It hasn't been edited

I'll be honest: I'm a lousy writer. And if you're a writer reading this, I bet you can admit (to yourself, at least) that in the early stages of your writing career you were a lousy writer too. Heck, there are probably several dozen grammatical errors and misspellings in this post alone (yes, I know they're there... No, don't point them out).

If I want to do this right, the game has to be the best that it can be, and for that an editor is absolutely necessary. Yes, I know that the editor can do his job pretty much at any time before the product reaches the final stages, but that would mean that the early "alpha" or playtest releases might end up looking like they were written by a child who can't speak English. Once again, personal pride steps in... You can be the creator of the best RPG the world has ever seen, but if you give it to the world using text that looks like it was written by a monkey with a typewriter it doesn't matter how good the game is.

5) It's not done

In the video game industry, there was a time when if you asked pretty much any video game developer when they were going to release their product they would answer without hesitation "when it's done" (I guess we can thank 3D Realms for that one). But the thing is, if it were entirely up to me and my creative flow, what exactly defines "done"? Honestly, I could keep writing content until the core manual is 3,000 pages. Who decides "OK, you can stop now and publish this"?

Furthermore, as many authors will probably attest to, it's hard to be satisfied with what you've written. When you think you're done, you look at it and think "you know, I didn't like [X]... let me fix that"... And six months and 400 pages of rewrites later you keep thinking the same thing. It's very hard for a writer to stop themselves because, in their eyes, it's never done... it's never perfect... and there's always room to do something better.

Let's look at the classic example of someone taking forever to write something: George R. R. Martin. Do you honestly think he sits down and starts writing page one, then as soon as he writes the last word of page 1,200 sends it off to the publisher and never thinks about it again? Heck no. Let's be realistic here, there probably is at least one version of The Winds of Winter that is already written cover to cover... He's knows it's terrible,  he's probably been writing and rewriting and rewording and fixing it for the last four years, and will probably keep doing that for another four years because that's the way he works. If he had someone that made him publish the books when they were ready, we'd have fifteen books in the series by now. They may not be as awesome as the five books we've seen (they'd probably suck, to be honest), but they'd be out there.

So unless you're George R. R. Freakin' Martin, eventually you have to put your foot down and say "OK, I might have spent five years rewriting this thing eighteen times, and I know it's probably the worst thing I've ever written, but I can't keep doing this until the end of time", send it to your publisher and hope that you're the only one that thinks it sucks.

I know a lot of things in my product are deficient, or "broken", or nothing more than a "// TODO" tag. It's personal pride again, preventing me from having anyone besides myself see how bad or lacking this product is. Every day I write something, even if it's a sentence or a paragraph or changing monster #135's Mental Defense stat... But I know that at some point I'm going to have to force myself to stop and let other people look at this mess.

Anyway, besides the personal issues I will not elaborate on here, I have a lot of things to do and a lot of battles with my own pride to overcome. This product will get done, sooner than later, and I just have to get my crap together to do it.

Until the Kickstarter launches, "ever forward..."


Future Plans

So although there is still a metric crapload of stuff to be done for my new project, I can't help but think of what I'm doing to do with it.

First off, a Kickstarter is probably a definite at this point, but that notion terrifies me more than you can possibly know. I've heard the horror stories, and although I've heard all the things that can - and probably will - go wrong I question whether I can avoid them. I'm afraid of doing it wrong and either paying a heavy cost or disappointing my backers.

But, honestly, what terrifies me most is that it ends up being hugely successful. Although I like to think I can make sound business decisions and have no intention of disappointing anyone who has placed their trust in me, I'm scared to think of what might happen if Amazon Payments suddenly drops several thousand dollars worth of backer funding in my lap. I'm not saying I'll end up at a crap table in Vegas or anything, but it's a big concern that I use that money wisely and not do something absurdly wrong with it. I mean, I can think of at least three half-million-earning Kickstarters that came out and sad "Sorry, we spent all our money. Project over." I don't want to be another statistic like that.

I've started to shop around for the resources I will need, filling the gaps that I know I am personally deficient in. I need artists more than anything, one or more people that would be willing to commit to doing several pieces of art for a project of this potential magnitude. I need editors, and possibly a layout person, and more editors, and probably even more editors. I may also need a cartographer because I suck at outdoor maps and I'm going to need a well-messed-with map of the continental United States. And did I mention editors?

Then there's the cost of printing and shipping, which combined are the downfall of many a Kickstarter. I've been shopping around for book pricing, and the spectrum of quotes I've gotten is hard to understand. As far as I know so far, printing a 200-page color book could cost anywhere between $6 and $60, depending on who you ask, how many copies, the type of paper stock, etc... Deciding what volume rate to base the Kickstarter goal on kind of involves Calculus to determine what the exact point is at which it all becomes profitable. And then there's mailing of course, having to worry about shipping costs to godforsaken places that have Internet but are so expensive to ship to you'd think they can only receive packages by way of dog sled.

And, while taking all those expenses into consideration, you have to find the sweet spot that is your Kickstarter goal. Make it to low and you'll lose your shirt in costs, make it to high and the project might not fund. Unless your Kickstarter listing has the words "Monte Cook" in it somewhere, you may have a hard time funding it if it's too high a goal.

Anyway, maybe I'm thinking too far ahead... but it is exciting in its own way. I want to do this right, get this done the way the project deserves, without mucking it up like so many other people have.

So what will the Kickstarter include? Well, here's what I'm envisioning... And mind you, this is some very premature thinking...

  • The core rulebook, which will probably be slightly smaller than the 13th Age rulebook - but not by much - simply because I have less classes and some sections will be shorter.
  • I'd like a nice big map of the United States as it stands today. I know which artists I'm going to ask for this, but they're pricy.
  • Although I have to look back on the legalities of it all, I am considering converting Fire From the Sky in to the sample adventure in the back of the book (replacing "Blood & Lightning" in the 13th Age core book).
  • The Fortress of Dr. Neb as a standalone adventure, for either Adventurer or Champion tier. Designed to be very Gamma World-like, zany and weird.
  • Where Worlds Collide as a standalone adventure, for either Champion or Epic tier. Since this concept originally revolved around the LHC after the "Big Mistake", it may have to be reworked a tiny bit to fit in to the setting. It will probably be high difficulty, along the original intent of making it a Fourthcore-like adventure, and will probably be more serious and less zany than Dr. Neb.
  • I'm also considering converting A Night in Seyvoth Manor, but that's a long story I don't think I can talk about yet.

Like I said, a lot of work to do... and I'm diligently working on it all as best I can. I'd like to get as much possible done before actually launching the Kickstarter, but my impatience might get the better of me. We'll see how long I can hold out before taking the big step into the realm of crowdfunding.

In the meantime, I'll keep talking about it... revealing some of the design concepts behind it... trying to detail my thoughts and what I'm actually doing. Just bear with me; should be a fun ride.

Oh... and this project still needs a NAME...

Filed under: 13th Age, Design, RPG No Comments

On The Road (Part 3)

Hopefully this will be the last of my series talking about the theory behind vehicle mechanics. If you're not up to speed, here is part one and part two.


In the post-apocalyptic age, sometimes just having an average car isn't enough. You need to... how should we say... accessorize it.

Depending on the vehicle size, it will have one or more hardpoints, which are positions in the vehicle's frame where you can install something more. This may be as simple as an extra fuel tank or something more entertaining like an anti-tank cannon.

In the example we've been using, the Mad Max Interceptor Pursuit Special, Max had installed supplemental gas tanks that take up most of the rear of the vehicle. He instead could have installed some additional weaponry like a gun or RPG. These weapons do not necessarily take up the same space on the vehicle as the gas tanks do; the hardpoints not only reflect physical space but also reflect physical weight added to the vehicle. You try to drop a howitzer on to the back of the average car and you'd be lucky to drive it away from the shop.

With that in mind, we look at our three size categories:

  • Small (motorcycle, moped, etc.): No hardpoints
  • Medium (average car): One hardpoint
  • Large (18-wheeler): One hardpoint on the cab, three hardpoints on the trailer.

Now what can we install?

  • Extended Fuel Tank (1 hardpoint): We'll talk about fuel in a little bit
  • Armor Plating (1 to 2 hardpoints, depending on vehicle size): Increases Physical Defense dramatically
  • Booster (1 hardpoint): Anything from an advanced nitrous injection system to a full on rocket engine sticking out of the back. Something to make the car go faster.
  • Basic Weapon (1 hardpoint): Machine gun, RPG, etc...
  • Anti-Aircraft Gun (2 hardpoints): Designed specifically to aim upwards at aircraft
  • Heavy Weapon (2 hardpoints): An anti-tank gun, railgun, missile battery, etc...
  • Power Generator (1 hardpoint): Something that provides power to the vehicle, replacing the vehicles need for fossil fuels, such as a Mr. Fusion sticking out of the car's back.
  • Wedge (1 or more hardpoints): Something to get other things out of your way or ram other cars with

So on and so forth.

Abstract the Rest

Besides weapon damages (which are separate from the core vehicle and mechanics needed to drive it), there isn't much else that needs to be explained in vivid detail. Everything else, as far as I can tell, is up to GM and player interpretation


In a post-apocalyptic world, fuel is somewhat scarce. Although some of the oil fields and refineries that dotted the midwest are still in operation, they are all under control of either The Warlord or The Desert Prince (both icons).

The question arises of how to keep track of fuel. I don't feel it appropriate to nitpick this, detailing a vehicle's MPG and exactly how long it has until it runs empty. I much rather prefer that GMs realize that a vehicle needs some sort of fuel and what the average expected range of a full gas tank will be, but I don't want them to be tracking it down to the gallon like some people use to track encumbrance.

That being said, the only thing that i may mention in a vehicle entry is what type of fuel it uses. Some vehicles may use good ol' gasoline, while others might have a Mr. Fusion installed on a hard point. Managing when a vehicle could, or should, run out of gas is up to the GM.

Another option is to simply have fuel become an issue when the plot demands it. In other words, the only time you'll run out of fuel is when it's a good time in the story to do so. If you're in a close race, battling dozens of marauders as they try to run you off the road, running out of fuel now is a death sentence and may bring the story to an end right quick. Instead, simply wait until the immediate danger is other and the party got away before making the car gradually glide to a stop and sputter out.

I intend to take a similar approach with guns... In a future installment, we'll talk about what I like to call "dynamic ammo".

Speed, Movement and Position

Just like movement is abstracted in a normal encounter, movement in a car should be allowed to be as equally abstract. We all know how fast cars can go and how quickly they can get up to speed; I don't see the need to overburden the rules with acceleration rates and maximum speeds.

Unless you're dealing with faster cars that have supercharged engines or dealing with slower cars that have taken damage, every car should be expected to be moving at about the same rate. As far as firing arcs, it should not get more complex than "behind", "in front", "left" and "right".

Combat and Damage

Like anything else in the world, cars can be damaged. How that is interpreted is up to the GM.

The thing about cars is that it's very easy to disable them; a single shot to a tire can cripple even the best of cars, but that's not exactly a thrilling conclusion and worthy of our heroes.So if a vehicle is taken down to 0 hit points you have to make a judgment call as to what exactly that means... if you think it's OK that the car stalls out go for it, and if you think that it's best that the car instantly explode in a glorious movie-like explosion don't let me stop you. But the former is the sort of situation that happens to our heroes, while the latter is something that happens to the bad guys constantly.

Vehicular Mooks

To put this all in to perspective let's go back to our shining example: Max is driving hard in his Interceptor and being chased by two dozen marauders. Now, if you gave each one of those marauders and their vehicles the same statistics that Max and his Interceptor had, Max would surely get creamed. So let's treat each one of these marauding vehicles as either a mook or as a monster with really low hit points.

Thinking about it, vehicles as mooks works fantastically. It allows you to have that dramatic situation where dozens of inexperienced drivers in weak cars band together and chase down our beloved heroes. I mean, you can just imagine these foolish mooks bouncing off the side of our hero's transport, slamming into a ditch, exploding in to flames upon the slightest bullet hit, etc... Let's say that Max points his gun out the window and fires at a nearby marauder, getting a critical hit and causing more than enough damage to take out two or three of them. Story wise, that's as simple as describing how the target lost control of the vehicle and skid into the path of another marauder, taking them both out. Whenever any marauder gets taken out, they should go out in a glorious display of carnage and vehicular mayhem, just because they can!

Now let's say that Max isn't exactly lucky in the die rolling department and the marauders end up causing enough damage to drop his Interceptor to 0 hit points. Even though the Interceptor is 50% gas tank, how anti-climactic would it be to have the car burst into a column of flame and kill Max instantly? If every marauder hit the Interceptor with a critical hit, would you still allow Max to die in such an anti-heroic fashion? Heroes don't go out that way, at least not usually, so Max will continue to fight until the only thing left of his trusty Interceptor are the floor mats.

In a nutshell, our heroes should always be able to walk away from an accident one way or another, even if the mechanics and the die rolls don't exactly reflect that. If a PC takes physical damage that would cause them to go unconscious or die, sure, but if their vehicle takes more beating than it could handle it shouldn't outright kill a PC unless the plot allows it.

Enemies, however, are not so lucky. When their car hits 0 hit points, it will take them out in the most gloriously dramatic way possible.


So the section on vehicles looks like it'll be shaping up like this:

  • A very basic section on the required aspects of a vehicle, as discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this article series.
  • Options for installing things in vehicle hardpoints.
  • A brief section on maintenance and repair of vehicles, which will cover both the Wheelman profession and engineers with vehicular proficiency (that's an optional class talent).
  • A great deal of descriptive text trying to explain how to manage the mechanics of a high speed chase without detailing every single thing in terms of a fixed ruleset. Some things may require concise rules, but I'll try to avoid that.
  • An example combat sequence: basicaly, describing a sequence similar to Mad Max fleeing from The Humungus and his crew.

Should be fun...

Anyway, that's it for vehicles for now. Soon I'll be talking about something else that will hopefully be just as entertaining.


On The Road (Part 2)

This is a continuation of yesterday's post in which I babble on about implementing vehicles in 13th Age.

Maneuverability and Skill, Revisited

In the three examples I provided - the motorcycle, the car and the 18-wheeler - the maneuverability and skill levels were equal, which seem to imply that there really isn't a need to define them both. So I sat down to try and decide what would represent the two extremes.

High Maneuverability, Low Skill: The Bicycle

Although I personally cannot ride a bicycle safely (due to an inner ear condition), it doesn't take a whole lot of experience to ride a bike. Heck, my son was doing it at an exceedingly early age. But someone who's very good at riding a bike can do some rather amazing things with it, if the X Games are an indicator.

Low Maneuverability, High Skill: The Forklift

Now this may sound odd, but I actually know how to drive a forklift. You would think it's easy but it actually isn't simply because it's counter-intuitive and not what you're use to because they usually steer from the back. So you pretty much drifting everywhere, and it takes some effort to get a feel for it before you go and slam into some freight.

Now think of two examples for a second... They somehow exist in your game, and the PC elects to use them somehow... Are you seriously going to do a skill check if they can? Quite frankly, if a PC wants to launch himself in to the air and do some tailwhips while he's at it are you seriously going to roll a die to see if he fails doing something that awesome? And failing to drive a forklift would probably be the single most non-heroic thing you can have a PC do ever. If anything, I'd make the drive a little entertaining and have the PC slam into a pallet or two, but I'd probably never touch a d20 to decide that.

I'm a proponent of not doing skill checks when (1) they don't matter, and (2) when they make the PCs less awesome, even with a success.

So how would this work mechanics-wise?

Skill Rating

First off, I would probably never do a skill check to operate a "low skill" transportation unless there was some mitigating circumstances. Guy decides to hop on his bike and ride off? Go ahead... Guy frantically jumps on his bike and begins to fumble the ignition while the horse-sized mutant dogs race toward him? OK, that might need a check, but I think in that case the check is more about physically turning the ignition as opposed to being able to steer the bike.

For medium skill one could assume that the PC can put the key in the ignition, but beyond that it might be a little challenging. For example, not everyone can handle driving a Mustang at 120 MPH, even on a straightaway. It's not a matter of maneuverability since you wouldn't be making any turns, it's because you're driving a car with a much bigger engine and a lot more horsepower than you might be physically capable of handling. In this case, whether you make them do a skill check or not is kind of optional and should be decided on circumstance or not.

For hard skill a skill check would definitely be necessary. I may be an experienced driver, but if you put me in the pilot seat of an airplane the best I could do is try to remember the last 15 minutes of Executive Decision ("... Landing gear!!!"). I would need a miracle from the d20 gods to be able to fly a plane.

That being said, if a skill check to determine success or failure in basic driving ability is ever decided upon it should only happen once. Your skill's not going to get worse over time; you're only going to get better. And, short of Tank beaming the training into your skull, you either know how to drive something or you don't.

So, if you think a skill check is necessary...

  • Decide whether you even need, or want, a roll.
  • Use the environmental DC 15/20/25, factoring in backgrounds and whatnot.
  • Rather than deny them the ability to drive, accept that they simply drive really, really badly.

Maneuverability Rating

Here is where it gets entertaining... Like acrobatics, doing something risky in a vehicle has its share of risks and the success depends on the driver's skill and the difficulty of the task.

For argument's sake, let's talk about three maneuvers: a 90-degree hard turn, a handbrake turn and a "bootlegger". Regardless of what kind of vehicle you're driving, each of these has its fair share of risks. Failing a 90-degree turn might not be such a bad thing, but failing a bootleg could up end you or break your steering column.

First of all, not every vehicle can do each of these. An 18-wheeler cannot physically do a bootlegger. It's just not physically possible by definition. So all you people that say "a DM should never say 'no'"... Sorry, but this one's a "no" right out.

Based on that, each maneuver should then have a minimum maneuverability in order to succeed. A 90-degree turn can be done by anyone at any time so it shouldn't require any rating. I don't know if an 18-wheeler can do a handbrake turn, at least not safely, so let's leave that requirement at a medium. A bootlegger should require nothing short of medium, so don't expect to be whipping your 18-wheeler or forklift around like that.

And then there's the difficulty of the actual maneuver. 90-degree turn, easy. A handbrake turn might take a little effort so let's say medium. A bootlegger is hard by any means.

So let's put together what we have so far.

90-Degree Turn
Maneuverability: Any
Difficulty: Low

Handbrake Turn
Maneuverability: Medium or better
Difficulty: Medium

Maneuverability: Medium or better
Difficulty: High

Attempting the Maneuver

So you're behind the wheel and want to do something crazy like a handbrake turn or bootlegger. Time to pick up a d20.

First off you have to determine driver skill. If you're an average Joe, you have no skill so there's no bonus. If you're a professional driver or "wheelman", you should get a bonus, perhaps a significant one if its your own personal vehicle. Let's assume you have the Wheelman profession and are driving your own personal vehicle (or "signature vehicle", as I like to call it... For example, the Interceptor Pursuit Special is Mad Max's signature vehicle; he can do anything in that thing), so you get a +4 driving bonus.

Let's also status Jason "The Transporter, Only Less Greasy" Statham every conceivable bonus as a point of reference.

Now we have to compare the maneuver's difficulty to the vehicle's ability to maneuver. A medium vehicle should be able to do a medium maneuver without much a fuss, but a low maneuverability vehicle like a truck that could still make a maneuver (like the handbrake turn) might have some issues. So if the skill level is higher than the maneuver's difficulty, up the DC by +5 for each step.

One thing to consider is that "low" difficulty shouldn't have a DC at all and start the progression at medium. Therefore "medium" would be DC 15, "hard" would be DC 20, and "legendary" (we'll get to that later) would be DC 25.

Finally, I would think that the skill check would be Dexterity-based simply because it requires reflexes. Let's assume the PC has average Dexterity (+2 attribute bonus).

Using the environmental numbers, here is what we have:

Handbrake Turn: DC 15, DC 20 if you're in a truck
Bootlegger: DC 20, impossible if you're in a truck

Skill Check, Normal Human: +2 Dexterity
Skill Check, Experienced: +4 Wheelman (signature vehicle), +2 Dexterity = +6 total
Skill Check, Jason Statham: +4 Dexterity, +4 Wheelman (signature vehicle), +2 Engineer Affinity, +3 background = +13

An inexperienced driver has a 40% chance of success doing a handbrake turn. That feels high, but PCs are exception after all so things like that might actually be second nature despite never doing it before. A moderately experienced driver gets a 60% chance to do a handbrake turn. Jason Statham can only fail on a natural 1, which can be expected because he's that good, so much so that I wouldn't bother rolling that one. For a bootlegger, the percentages are 25% less, and Jason can succeed doing it 70% of the time which is fairly decent.

This sort of goes back to what I mentioned earlier... If you have an experienced driver behind the wheel, one that no doubt has done his fair share of handbrake turns in the past, why are you even bothering to check if he succeeds or fails? Would you dare insult Jason Statham like that? Give him the benefit of the doubt!

And what would "legendary" be? A bootlegger is pretty impressive and I give that only a "high". Now, if you try a bootlegger while getting shot at and returning fire out the driver side window, of if you actually want to try and aim while you're mid-way through the maneuver, then yeah... I might bump that up to "legendary" if you're crazy enough to try that.


Here are the conclusions:

  • Each vehicle will have a skill rating (which determines how easy it is to drive; checked once) and maneuverability rating (checked when you do something extreme).
  • I cases where there is no chance of failure, or there shouldn't be a failure due to sufficient experience, no roll is necessary.
  • Some sample maneuvers will be provided, just as a frame of reference. Each maneuver will have a description, minimum maneuverability, difficulty and more information if needed. I'm not going to be specific about simple maneuvers like swerving or making basic turns, but people should know what a bootlegger or a J-turn is.

And here are our latest stats, taking this all into consideration:


"Interceptor" Pursuit Special
Medium automobile (1 driver, 3 passengers)
Maneuverability: Medium
Skill: Medium
AC 18     PD 16     HP 54


Handbrake Turn
A quick in place turn where you use the parking brake to slide the back end of the car around a curve, such as when "drifting".
Maneuverability: Medium or better
Difficulty: Medium

A risky maneuver to completely turn a vehicle around 180-degrees while on a narrow highway.
Maneuverability: Medium or better
Difficulty: High

This post got longer than I had anticipated. Stay tuned for Part 3, where I talk about vehicle weapon mounts and, if all goes well, how to put all this into practice.


On The Road (Part 1)

MV5BMTcxMDUyODY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwOTQzNDk4As part of this little project of mine, I've been trying to think of what additional rules I may need to introduce. I'm doing that rather hesitantly simply because piling on more rules go against the very nature of the 13th Age design methodology. It's made to be "rules light", or at least in such a way where the GM is free to interpret things and make his own decision.

Problem is that I'm a computer programmer and mathematics guy, so I thrive on "crunch". I like rules, or at least the availability of rules for which I can use my own judgment whether I decide to use said rules or not. This doesn't always work well at the table, of course; more often than not, players will be the ones to wheel out complex rules and try to ram them down the GM's throat. I mean, let's face it, you're never going to see a GM say "I grapple you" then reach for the D&D 3.5E chapter on grappling. Players, though, do that all the damn time, so much so that the next player to wheel out the grapple rules on me is going to get beaten to death by them.

But the thing is that a GM's job is hard enough as it is, so there's no eagerness to houserule things on the fly. Let's say the grapple rules didn't exist... if a PC says he's going to attempt a grapple, how do you resolve it? How would that work, mechanically? Can you honestly say that you'd come up with all those rules on the fly?

The Long Hard Road

One such topic is vehicles. In 13th Age, mounts and other means of transportation are hardly discussed, which is kind of surprising considering the world is several thousand miles across. In these cases the GM is expected to wing it and hope that there never comes a time when statistics on the vehicle itself is necessary, and even then they are expected to fall back to the "impromptu" table.

But in a post-apocalyptic world, where there is nothing but barren wasteland between settlements, you kind of need some sort of transportation. I keep going back to the battles in the Mad Max series of films, which are inspiring several aspects of my setting (I even have two icons - The Wanderer and The Warlord - which are loosely based on Max and Wez from Mad Max 2). I can't imagine houseruling situations like that on the fly.

But I don't want a ruleset I can beat people to death with... To put it in perspective, the D20 Modern rule book has 15 PAGES dedicated to vehicles and the rules that surround them. That's an awful lot, almost larger than the entire chapter of Combat Rules in 13th Age. No way I'm going to provide that level of detail, but I do want to provide something simplistic that has a little bit of mechanics.

So here goes nothing...

Physical Characteristics

800px-07._Mad_Max_Car_at_Silverton_Hotel,_Silverton,_NSW,_07.07.2007I do not want to describe every vehicle ever made, nor do I want to provide different details for one brand of vehicle than another. I'm not going to explicitly define BMWs as faster or Volvos as more durable... That's too over the top.

But I'd like to provide something, so I'll abstract it as much as possible.

Size: There are four basic types: small (motorcycle), medium (car), large (pick-up truck) and huge (18-wheeler). The statistics of each type multiply in the same manner as monster statistics do; the bigger it is, the more damage it can take.

In addition to its base size, we should be able to specify number of passengers. I'm not sure if we need to explicitly define what load it can carry because 13th Age doesn't have encumbrance rules in the first place, so we'll leave that out.

So let's start putting together an example...

"Interceptor" Pursuit Special
Medium automobile (1 driver, 3 passengers)

Useless Trivia: The actual car used in Mad Max 2 is in the Dezer Car Museum, right here in Miami, Florida.

Defenses: Vehicles should have a fairly low AC and a average to high PD, representative of their structure. AC doesn't necessarily reflect whether they can avoid an attack or not but rather if the shot is effective enough to cause physical damage. I mean, let's face it... if you fire a crossbow bolt at an 18-wheeler you're not likely to miss it, and if you do you should have your crossbow rights revoked.

One would think that a vehicle doesn't have MD, but I'm not so sure. In my system, in a world where there are things that don't have an organic brain, MD represents a system's resistance to digital attacks such as an electromagnetic pulse. So in vehicles that may have a high level of technology it may be conceivable that they may be shielded from EMP attacks, and this shielding is at a radically different level than what PD represents.

There will also be additional factors to these values, like a driver's ability (we'll get to that some other time), but let's leave that out of the base stats. To determine what numbers are good, I'm going to use the "baseline stats" for a 2nd level normal monster, as presented in the 13th Age core rulebook. I'll bump up the HP by 50% to represent the car as being rather tough.

AC 18
PD 16
HP 54

Now you might be thinking that that's not a whole lot of hit points for a car. Quite frankly, it doesn't take a whole lot to disable a car in a first place; this isn't a tank. It'll take more than a PC would, sure, but it shouldn't be anything astronomical. And although one could argue that certain weapons won't do much to a car it does have its weak points; a dagger might not do much more besides scratch the paint, but hitting the tires is a whole other matter.

Vehicle Rating: Pretty much anyone in a post-apocalyptic world can drive a car. The question is whether they can drive a car well. And although most people can drive a car, driving an 18-wheeler takes a whole different skill set most people don't have.

Furthermore, there are certain things that a vehicle won't do no matter how good a driver you may be. I don't care if you're Jason Statham, you're not going to do a bootlegger in an 18-wheeler no matter how hard you try. Well... you can try, but it won't end well.

But that's the thing: I don't want a GM to tell a player "you can't drive that." I think every player should be able to drive everything... sometimes it might be super effective, sometimes it might border on comedic. If you're in a crisis situation, where you hop in to the nearest truck to flee the gang of marauders chasing you down, you'll find a way to drive the thing. Sure, you might strip all the gears, but it would be extremely anti-climactic for the marauders to pull you from the driver's seat and beat you to death because you couldn't get the truck into first gear.

So the mere act of driving shouldn't require a skill check, or at least leave the GM the option to call for a skill check only in extreme situations. In these cases, he should only call for a skill check if the story has a way to go on a failure; in the above example, failure is most likely death if you think about it, so if you're not ready to change the story for dramatic effect then you shouldn't require a roll and present the possibility of catastrophic failure.

So the way I see it there should be two separate ratings:

Maneuverability: This defines what the vehicle might actually be able to do. Should be as simple as "low", "medium" or "high" and be mapped to the environmental DCs (25/20/15 at Adventurer Tier). They should only be used in cases where there is the possibility of failure.

Skill: This defines what it takes to drive the vehicle effectively under what would be adverse conditions. For example, if you're driving a bus you can let go of the wheel now and then without an immediate end to forward movement because the thing continues to lumber down the road. If you're driving a motorcycle, you better be damn good at driving it before you even think about letting go of the bars.

Let's pretend your Sandra Bullock. You have to make hard 90-degree right turn or things will get really, really bad. There are three possible vehicles you could be driving:

Motorcycle (high maneuverability, high skill): You probably can't drive the thing right in the first place. Although it is designed to be able to make the turn fairly easily, you might not know how to handle it through the turn without having the tires slip out from under you and send you sailing off the side of the road.

Car (medium maneuverability, medium skill): Most people can make this turn, even at high speed. Heck, I *have* done such a turn myself, and I admit I am far from the best driver in the world.

Bus (low maneuverability, low skill): It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to drive a bus, but nothing short of an act from Keanu Reeves God will get you around that turn without slamming into the retaining wall.

So what does this mean mechanically? Well a skill check may or may not have been made in order to get this far in the first place; if Sandra was trying to drive a motorcycle at high speed she probably wouldn't have gotten three blocks before getting sprawled across the pavement.

Let's say she's driving the school bus. The DC for making such a turn should be extremely difficult for a lumbering behemoth like a bus, say a Dexterity DC 25 check. She's not skilled and has no additional benefits (no Wheelman profession, no engineer's Equipment Affinity: Vehicles). Maybe Keanu can give her a circumstance bonus, but that's about it.

Now let's say she was driving a car, has the Wheelman profession and some sort of background to further back it. The DC for medium maneuverability should be a base Dexterity DC 20, but she'd have her fair share of bonuses (assuming it's her own "signature" vehicle she gets +4 for Wheelman, plus let's say an additional +2 for background). Given more than average Dexterity (let's say a +2 attribute bonus), that means she totals at about a +8. At a DC 20, that gives her a 40% chance of making the turn. There may be some room for additional bonuses here and there (I still need to do some balancing of all this), but you get the idea; that's actually possible and, given the difficulty of such a maneuver, fairly reasonable.

If she was driving reasonably slowly, any idiot can make a turn like that. Even if she was driving at an average speed, given that she has the Wheelman profession the GM could argue that she would still be able to make the turn relatively effortlessly, so unless he's just dying for a natural 1 there wouldn't be much a need for a roll then either.

So let's add to our example:

Maneuverability: Medium
Skill: Medium

To Be Continued...

In the next installment, I'll get in to some more vehicle options I'm considering and how to translate all of this into something manageable within the Archmage Engine.