Written by Tony Kontes
Boneheadz of New Idaho
Web Posted October 11, 1999
Updated August 5, 2000
Recently, I posted a query on Dueling Debate asking people whether they played in campaigns or just in arena battles. Of the responses I received, one actually mentioned using Car Wars as a "light" RPG. I received that post after I had already written this article, and was glad to see others had the same idea.
Other people indicated they had played campaigns but most messages went like, "Campaigns take time to prepare. It takes very little time and preparation to go driving around a arena not really caring if your driver bites it or not," and "When someone wants to roleplay, Car Wars is far from their first choice."
I agree that very little preparation and time is needed to play in an arena, but with just a little effort on the part of a gamemaster, a full campaign is not much more time consuming, and can be more rewarding. Car Wars is one of the few games in which "cannon fodder" NPCs can be created almost instantaneously. They always have three hit points. Just give ten of them a heavy pistol and Handgunner at base level, and you have a small gang. Equip 20 of them with rifles and LAWs, and you have an army! Add a few generic dueling vehicles and you're ready to rumble. Because it's so easy to create NPCs, the GM can focus his or her limited time on the stories and scenarios of the campaign instead of the statistics, hit points, and skill level of every character the players shoot.
Of course the real roleplaying possibilities of Car Wars is in the game's
ability to simulate action on a large scale, thus allowing players to run
organizations or even kingdoms in a post-apocalyptic landscape. While I
will be presenting rules on organizations in the future, this article will
focus on campaigns for individual characters.
First, base the campaign around your home town, and use the timeline as presented in CWC 2.5 as your background. This makes the setting familiar without having to explain it in great depth. I recommend acquiring a topographical map of the area surrounding for added detail.
Second, roll up characters using my quick character generation tables or assign everyone character points and cash (for the later I recommend 50 character points and $25,000 per player, with no starting skill higher than level 1). Assume all the characters have known each other for some time and are part of the same group and have the players decide what the group does. Are they a dueling team? Mercenaries? A courier service? Salvage gang? A combination of several of the above?
Third, give the characters a free clubhouse. Allow the players to design their groups compound on a single sheet of graph paper. This structure should be centered in the middle of the page with at least a one-inch border around the outside. Allow them to create one or two buildings with a walled parking area. They can add things like turrets, workstations and security systems, but these additions must be bought with the group's money. This compound is where the group lives, and works on their vehicles. They can expect to be reasonably safe from attack here, but not too safe.
Fourth, create the bar/roadhouse where the group goes to party, find jobs and learn rumors. This place can be taken right out of your classic fantasy RPG. It should be a friendly place with only a hint of danger. The worst things to happen here are the occasional unarmed bar brawl or pistol duel in the parking lot. The bartender will be talkative and full of rumors. A player with connections can meet them here to discuss business. A bulletin board where jobs are posted can provide the players with several employment opportunities. An NPC group that competes for the same type of work as the player characters should also be included for a little friendly rivalry. This NPC group should not be an extreme, hostile threat to the PC's, but more of an annoyance.
An often overlooked bar crowd is groupies and wannabes. These people will hang around the PCs trying to talk to them or emulate them. This will probably annoy your players, which is what you want. However, these people might have useful information, equipment or skills and if the players take the time to get to know them they should prove valuable. Another fun thing to do is have the rival NPCs pull off a stunning caper that draws all the attention and groupies to them. At first your players will be happy to have these wannabes off their backs, but don't be surprised if the PCs actually start to miss the limelight. In fact, I've seen my players become quite upset at the fact that the obnoxious groupies they could never elude before are now talking up a storm with the PC's rivals and completely ignoring the player characters. Of course, the players should be able to come here to brag and steal everyone's attention as well.
Other people to consider: The old "retired" autoduelist (70 points and $30,000 in equipment), the village drunk (10-30 points and no money), snake oil salesperson (30 points with Fast Talk and Merchant skills), desperate out-of-work duelists (30-50 points and may or may not have more than $1,000 in equipment/vehicles), the suave lone bounty hunter (40-80 points with $20,000-$50,000 in equipment), and the huge bouncer (40 points for Martial Arts, Bodybuilding, and Handgunner, with shotgun, baton and body armor). Use any and all of these stereotypes to liven the place up.
Fifth, determine how the PCs make their living and design some brief adventures for them. Duelist need arenas and rival vehicles. Mercenaries need people or places to protect. Couriers need items to haul, routes to ride, and destinations to reach. Cycle gangs need a stretch of highway to call their own, and people to rob, etc. . . . When creating these encounters here are some tips.
Don't be afraid to use all the classic adventure plots: Small town that needs saving. Person or object that needs escorting. Challenges to races and/or duels. Bounty hunting. Treasure seeking. Try to make the adventure short enough to finish in one night. Don't go into a lot of detail. Direct confrontation with a minimum amount of work is the goal.
NPCs: If you don't want to keep records of them, put them in the field with no body armor, all the same weapon type, base level Handgunner , and don't count ammo use. This way they're out of the action when hit by anything doing two or more points of damage, all have the same chance to hit and damage the PCs, and if you're worried about their ammo use then they're not dying fast enough.
I recommend arming people on foot with rifles, and a few LAWs. Don't get too fancy with them, they'll be dead soon. In order to simplify record keeping and give my players a fighting chance I make the skill level of the majority of my NPC's zero. Higher skill levels are reserved for outstanding NPC's and major villains. If you want to make the cannon fodder more challenging it's easier to throw another couple of counters on the map then remember which half of them are +0 to hit, which ¼ are +1 to hit and which ¼ are +2 to hit.
NPC Vehicles: For arena type fighting use any Car Wars supplement. For vehicles that exist in the real world there are several options: 1) Add cargo space to a dueling vehicle by removing a weapon or 2 from it. (Not a satisfying option, but will work in a pinch.) 2) Create your own vehicle with cargo space, LDR, extra ammo, and other practical options. (This gives you more control over the vehicle types, but takes more work.) 3) Go to the Car Wars Index at http://arsweb.uwaterloo.cal/~dccarles/cw/index.html Here you'll find an entire list of vehicles ready for the road! (I recommend this option if you don't have time to make your own. These guys have the right idea and a lot of useful designs!)
Sixth, keep a journal of your players exploits. It should contain a brief description of any interesting encounters the group had and the out come. Only write the highlights and ignore the rest. If your group is like mine we only meet once every week or two. With all the non gaming activities that take place in our lives it's easy to forget what our characters did 3 weeks ago. Reading their last adventure and it's results back to them from the journal will refresh their memories and yours as well.
Seventh, develop a sense of continuity. This can be done by presenting your players with a major organization that needs to be eliminated. This opposing group should show up from time to time with schemes against the PCs and their community. At first these antagonists should be weak and easily defeated. These underlings should tip the players off that there is a big threat out there without actually revealing where it is. As time goes on your adventurers will face increasingly difficult challenges from this group while learning who they are and where they are. After many sessions a run in with the group leaders should be planned. This will be a grand assault on their compound worthy of any bad action flick. Lots of cannon fodder, things to blow up, and a world to save.
One of my favorite opposition groups is the mad cult. These wackos kidnap cows, sacrifice goldfish, and try to convert people to their strange beliefs. The sillier this group is the more fun they'll be to portray, but don't forget these psychos have guns and aren't afraid to use them.
Finally, stay with the basics. Keep it simple and fun and give the PCs a break. In a game as deadly as Car Wars don't be afraid to let them cheat death. When my players perform poorly either through bad tactics or dice rolls, I find it better to hit them in the pocketbook or prestige than in the gut. If a courier gets his vehicle shot out from under him by a cycle gang, have the gang ransom him and his cargo back to the person who shipped the cargo instead of killing him. If a mercenary group is defending a town and they make a tactical blunder, let the bad guys burn the place to the ground and attack the townspeople instead of the duelists. The characters won't get paid and will lose a lot of reputation but at least they're still alive. On the other hand if the characters come up with a great plan, don't be afraid to have the bad guys surrender without much of a fight. If a cycle gang pulls off the perfect ambush, let the victims surrender without firing a shot. This rewards good planning by leaving the vehicle and their contents in tact and also provides for a good ethics dilemma. What to do with prisoners? Free them to the badlands and hope they don't lead anyone back to the group? Ransom them back and risk getting captured? Kill them in cold blood and bring down the wrath of bounty hunters and the law?
In conclusion these tips may seem a bit simplistic, derived from the early fantasy games we all played as kids. They are, but you may be surprised at how much your group enjoys these adventures when sitting in an armed and armored vehicle instead of on horseback with a sword. Especially when they can go back to the bar after a hard day of dueling and brag about it to their groupies and rivals.