Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Arena Safety Code and its Discontents

Our continuing CAR WARS campaign is set in the year 2029. We chose this because we wanted a grittier setting and because we wanted to explore the original pocket box equipment while maybe excluding lasers. Also, it would give us a chance to focus our games on some of the classic mass produced armed vehicles of the game. We picked over the AADA Vehicle Guide on old issues of Autoduel Quarterly for nuances in Autoduel America’s details and I’d thought we had a pretty good handle on things. But now that I have a copy of the seventh Road Atlas and Survival Guide, I wonder if I might have to rethink a few things…. Here’s a timeline derived from its chapter on BLUD:

  • 2025 — The AADA is formed.
  • 2026 — The first AADA circuit competition is held.
  • 2027 — The first US and Texas national championships are held.
  • 2028 — National championships are also held in Canada, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. The first world championships are held.
  • 2029 — Humanitarian and religious groups become vocal in their protest of the increasing deaths in arena sports.
  • 2030 — The Arena Safety Code is put into effect, but are loosely enforced.
  • 2031 — After a disaster at Candlestick Park, the AADA suspended all sanctioned events until they could be rescheduled at facilities that met ASC standards.
  • 2032 — The ASC is strictly enforced… and the AADA introduces the divisional system with cars priced according to the Detroit Standard Exchange Rates.

If this is true… then cost was irrelevant in the early days of dueling. This isn’t as unworkable as gonzo “unlimited” events might seem at first– there was so little variety in the equipment that was available in the late 2020’s that cost would have been much less significant. More important here are the ramifications of a strict Arena Safety Code in an ongoing campaign. An authentic AADA event held in 2032 or later would entail any of the following:

  • Firing on pedestrians with vehicular weapons would be grounds for disqualification. (This implies that any hand weapons would be used from an operable vehicle.)
  • Duelists are required to accept any surrenders.
  • Head-on collisions are not allowed. (This has been an annoyance in a couple of games, but I’m not sure how to fairly implement this even as a gentleman’s agreement.)
  • There’d be restrictions on other types of collisions as well, but I have no idea how. (Maybe a speed limit on T-bones?)
  • Vehicles are likely to be required to have fire extinguishers, though some arenas could be lax in enforcing this.

Back when I was a kid, I always assumed that the default rags-to-riches campaign was pretty much impossible to run. It wasn’t until I got my hands on a complete run of ADQ that I realized that limiting Amateur Night events to mostly being just Killer Karts was something of a retcon. (Yes, its a hallowed one that goes back at least to Steve Jackson’s Armadillo Autoduel Arena supplement, but it is a retcon nonetheless.) If you’re going to get a rags-to-riches game off the ground with characters that start with zero wealth, then they need at least a chance at getting their hands on a Hot Shot or a Joseph Special. But there’s more. If they want to be able to stay in the game, then they need strict saftey codes in order to keep them alive. (Lenient hospitalization rules probably wouldn’t hurt, either.)

When we finally got some 2029 characters that had graduated Amateur Night with some vehicles and skills, I was disappointed to discover that I had pretty much zero interest in putting them back into an arena. However, now I think that I was bringing more of 2039 mentality to the table. There needs to be fewer limitations on what sort of vehicle is brought into an event– events need to be run by body size, not by cost. And the prizes need to be large enough that it is worth the 40% chance of death. It needs to look just possible enough to strike it rich that going in is preferable to risking death-by-cycle-gang in a workaday courier escort day job.

Whichever type of campaign you choose to run, BLUD suddenly makes a lot more sense….

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8 responses to “The Arena Safety Code and its Discontents

  1. RogerBW June 18, 2012 at 6:47 am

    Yes, I think that if you’re working in a pre-Division system, body style is the way to go – probably a single body style per match, in fact, because a lux against a midsize is rarely going to go well for the midsize. This might also help with the timing problem: people who are having an evening out at the arena aren’t going to want to see just one ten-second duel, rather there should be stuff happening as close to all the time as can be arranged, so you certainly want several matches in an evening.

    The logistics of that get interesting. What do you need to do to “reset” an arena? Haul away the wrecks, pick up any dead wounded bodies, pick up or disperse dropped weapons and debris… well, actually, it could be interesting to leave at least some of the wrecks in place, and maybe even some of the other stuff that’s lying around if it’s not too close to any single player’s entrance. In any case, if you’ve got enough tow vehicles, this shouldn’t take longer than 5-10 minutes. (The arena “ambulance” is just a taxi to the medical facility, not a treatment centre in itself.)

    (I’ve been to a dog track in the UK, and that had races at about the same frequency with no inter-race entertainment. American arenas might borrow from the rodeo and have arena clowns to keep people’s attention between games.)

    So a three-hour arena programme might be looking at somewhere between 18 and 36 distinct matches, with some short breaks and some longer ones (you’d put some slippage into the programme in case of problems that took time to fix). In the classic game – I play BattleTech too, so I keep wanting to say “3025 technology” – you’ve got seven car body types and three cycles, up to seven cycles if you take medium and heavy sidecars into account, so thinking in terms of one or more usually two matches in each class makes reasonable sense. I’d expect it to run from light to heavy, so most of the bikes would be up front, with some of them after the interval just to keep the cycle fans hanging around.

    How does this transition into the Divisional era? AFAIR it was six divisions in the old days (plus Unlimited), nine in the later days (topping out at 100). That’s significantly fewer types of game up front, so I see this as the era of the special-rules duel – “ladies’ night”, “no weapons”, “multi-vehicle teams allowed”, and any special events that particular arenas put on, mixed in with the straight divisional matches in an evening’s slate.

  2. earlburt June 18, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    I admit to being aware of this chronological lapse and of wilfully ignoring it. I didn’t have the imagination to see how standard arena duelling might work in the absence of a Divisional system. Not that I really hunkered down to think about what it might be. But, yeah, I think it’s worth taking a hard look at it and adapting the Campaign to better fit canon. We’ve only had one Divisional duel anyway, as it happens.

    As far as the ASC goes, I think your extrapolation of what some of those rules might look like is dead on. My impression from source material is that autoduelling was a really bloodthirsty sport from its inception in 2024 up to 2029, and thereafter gradually reduces in death toll.

    If memory serves, 2029 also experiences a decline in the popularity of arena duelling, and a shift in public interest towards filmed road duels (as expressed I think in the article on perimutuel wagering and in some of the timelines).

    • earlburt June 18, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      Another relic from canon that I didn’t really notice until the big Tournament was over is that exiting a vehicle during a duel seems to be assumed to be an automatic disqualification. Of course, that’s from published material contemporary more to 2036 or so. Still, I think the notion of DQ by going on foot could likely apply even before the 2032 ASC rules.

      Or, perhaps most likely, early autoduelling was a hodgepodge of loose rules, some common conventions, and many arena-specific idiosyncrasies. This early period certainly offers lots of flexibility and room to design arenas/communities with different approaches to autoduelling.

    • RogerBW June 19, 2012 at 5:14 am

      It seems to me that the sociology of arena audiences is pretty accurate for a throwaway note in a game. :-) They want to see some blood, but they won’t admit it – so they don’t fight too hard when arena duelling gets safer, but they aren’t as inclined to pay to see it either.

      My inclination is that disqualification for exiting a vehicle is a safety-era measure; particularly with some of the tougher pedestrian weapons, it’s quite possible (if very very dangerous) to win a duel as a ped, and I can see desperate Amateur Night drivers trying it.

      • jeffro June 19, 2012 at 5:41 am

        Indeed, I think that’s an [easily rectified] failing of the 2029 campaign:

        Amateur Night should encourage bloody action. The pedestrian bonus round should [usually] be encouraged. (However… pedestrians plus Killer Karts don’t seem to be a good idea to me.)

        2029 and BLUD events should embrace the 40% death rates. (I was trying to eliminate them with lenient hospital rules.)

        Post-ASC events should be nearly non-violent… or at least… much more of a sport.

        I would say that the majority of the games played in CAR WARS are basically AADA Divisional games but with BLUD levels of violence…. Which of course forces you to go “corporate” if you want to have an ongoing campaign. This is not an issue in a tactical board game…. But it is in a role playing campaign.

      • RogerBW June 19, 2012 at 6:29 am

        I think post-ASC events won’t be bloodless – just less bloody. There are still manoeuvre screwups (assisted by incoming fire, or not), and plain old random damage to the crew compartment, and not every arena participant will be wrapped in a roll cage and Improved Body Armour – especially in the lower divisions. What’s needed under your ASC model is an incentive not to surrender until you have to – so maybe “if you’ve left your vehicle or surrendered, you get no share of the prize, but if you stay in until the end you get at least something”. Then the guy with no front armour left will at least try to remain in the arena, hiding from other participants.

        I think that if I had unlimited time and players I’d run a series of amateur nights until every player had a character or two he was willing to continue with, then do a few of the bloody games, then bring in the ASC.

      • earlburt June 19, 2012 at 8:39 am

        “the majority of the games played in CAR WARS are basically AADA Divisional games but with BLUD levels of violence”

        I think that’s a really accurate and concise way to put it. And it’s certainly part of what made CW unplayable as a RPG back in the day. I actually think there’s a disconnect between how CW actually plays out (40% death rate) and how the world was intended to work, as envisioned by Steve and ADQ contributors (maybe 20% death rate). Anything non-game breaking we can do to mitigate the innate lethality of the typically balls-to-the-wall gamer mentality is welcome.

  3. earlburt June 19, 2012 at 8:33 am

    Surrendering, and accepting surrenders, are actually very good things, both for campaign and immediate gameplay. They reduce lethality, which is obviously good in a campaign. They count as a kill and they forfeit a less-damaged vehicle (in duels where salvage is the prize), so there’s the incentive to accept surrenders.

    Also important is that surrenders shorten gameplay. And they do so by truncating the least fun part of the game– the end with one guy nearly crippled and hoping against hope for a miracle. Rarely, a driver can pull victory out of the jaws of seemingly inevitable defeat. But most of the time he just scoots around the arena fruitlessly hiding until he gets killed. Or, worse, he goes for the vindictve high speed, mutually-lethal ram, which is both unrealistic at the RPG level, and super douchy at the player level.

    In 2029, I think that accepting surrenders would not be mandatory in all arenas. But it would be regarded as douchy nearly everywhere. I think it would be a dangerous thing indeed for a duellist to have a reputation as the guy who doesn’t accept surrenders…

    Surrenders should really be a way to acknowledge the other guy’s win in a gentlemanly fashion. We all kind of know when a match is over, and so would the drivers in the duel. That being said, running a character who did not accept or offer surrenders could be flavorful.

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