Car chases in TTRPGs continue to be my white whale. I’ve watched a ton of car chases in movies, real life, and video games, but the problem is you don’t often read car chases. It’s primarily a visual spectacle, and so the challenge in translating a good chase to a roleplaying game lies in finding where the decision points are.
For that, I turned to Horse. Yes, like the basketball game.
No, it’s not like Horse! Pfft!Baseketball
You Bet Your Life
The general idea is that there’s a runner and a hunter (or multiple hunters) chasing them. The runner drives as recklessly as they dare, represented by bidding a speed or setting a difficulty that acts as a minimum threshold for everyone in the chase. I’m currently considering die pool systems for this, so I’m thinking about it as bidding a number of successes, but it could be a DC or target number in other systems.
No matter what the runner actually rolls, they’ll cover as much ground/go as fast as they bid. If they fail their roll, they lose control (for small margins of error) or crash (for larger margins of error).
The hunter(s) can choose to bid more speed/up their own difficulty to catch up. They can play it safe and bid less but fall behind, hoping the runner’s bit off more than they can chew.
I think there’s room to cash in additional successes to capitalize on opportunities: hold your car steady so a passenger can shoot, control whether the next exchange is about speed or handling, that sort of thing.
10 Second Cars
Any advantage provided by the vehicles involved is always relative to the current situation. It helps prioritize the fiction rather than simply giving some sort of gear bonus to both sides.
When Is It Over?
In a car chase vehicles never stay at some set number of car lengths. Their relative distance jumps up and down as the runner slows for a corner or accelerates through an intersection. I prefer to think of distance in terms of zones or stances, like “tailgating” or “shadowing”. You’re still tracking lead, just in big gameable chunks. I suppose this is a tug-of-war clock from Blades in the Dark, for example, or Unknown Armies’ extended contest gridiron.
Once the runner loses the hunter(s), the chase is over. There might be a period of cat-and-mouse, the skills involved might change, or it might just be over. If a hunter catches the runner, though, chances are someone’s vehicle is going to get wrecked.
Stopping a Chase Quickly
- Kill the driver.
- Broken engine, axle, driveshaft, other vital part.
- Gas tank rupture, fire, explosion.
- Shoot a vehicle with artillery or blow it up.
- Take off 2 wheels.
Killing a Car Slowly
- Shoot the engine with small arms. Something will leak or break and die eventually.
- Drive on the rims or lose one wheel.
- Overheat the engine (kill the radiator or oil pan).
- Put a leak in the gas tank.
- Blown tires.
- Bashed out of alignment.
- Obscured vision (spiderwebbed windshield/paint/blood).
- Loss of power (engine/trans damage).
- Brake damage.
This is all just brainstorming. I think it’s a good foundation to build from, but there are plenty of questions left to answer. It’s enough to get in front of people (or even just play through some artificial scenarios) and see where it needs the most work.