Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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An Insider’s View of Metagaming and The Fantasy Trip

inthelabyrinthJeffro: Thanks for dropping by Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog for a chat. It’s really great to have someone here that worked with Howard Thompson and Steve Jackson.

Ken Schultz: Before we start, I have to issue a legal disclaimer here– correlation between actual reality and memories from 35 or so years is not guaranteed. No warranty as to the accuracy of the memories, recollections, musings, and/or ramblings below is expressed or implied.

Jeffro: Heh. So what all did you do at Metagaming?

I started working at Metagaming Concepts (later, just Metagaming) during the spring semester of 1976, my sophomore year in high school. My glorified position title was “Retail Sales Manager”, which sounds more impressive than it was, considering that Metagaming Concepts was a very small operation. We had one or two people to handle The Space Gamer subscriptions and orders from individuals stemming from that and individual mail orders. I took care of all the orders from commercial operations (stores). Still, it was pretty heady stuff for a high school kid, what with handling orders totaling hundreds – and, very rarely, thousands – of dollars from places as far away as Great Britain. I worked there until early in 1978. During this time, I also had a weekend and occasional weeknight job at a restaurant, as well as the standard high school and high school band stuff. (I didn’t have much of a life.) One of the bright points, though, was that I got the opportunity to playtest – to greater or lesser extents – most of the Microgames that came out during that time frame, as well as to hang out with and get to know the designers.

The Metagaming Concepts Org Chart: Ken Schultz took the empty “Retail” position.

Jeffro: So you actually got to playtest The Fantasy Trip…?

Ken Schultz: I was lucky enough to get to participate in working through the basics, in addition to how it all rolled up into the overall fantasy role playing system. To my mind, the most fun parts of it were that latter bit. In various sessions, I think it was Steve’s intent to try to explore aspects of the various character types and ability mixes and see how they worked. I’ll confess, though, that my focus was more on hanging out and making it fun than the nuts and bolts details. With the benefit of hindsight and years (and years, and years) of experience, though, I can kind of see where Steve was aiming.

Jeffro: Who played?

Ken Schultz: Most of the scenarios we worked on involved a group that consisted of Howard Thompson, Robert Taylor, various friends of Steve and those two, myself, and sometimes my brother (who also ended up working at Metagaming Concepts for a while) and/or other friends of mine. I’m sure I’m forgetting some folks, and I’m sorry about that. I have no wish to imply that it was only us or to inflate the importance of my participation.

We ran lots of different cases, including some in a town setting, where Steve was working on some of the aspects of the game that related to the intelligence attribute – charisma, deception, etc. Mostly, though, we wandered through a labyrinth Steve built and populated, working out things like creatures, secret doors, multi-party combat, time flow, and so many others I to which my memory can’t do justice. Usually, I was running naturalist/healer and thief characters (named Narco and Klepto – hey, I was a high school kid, gimme a break). For some reason, I gravitated toward the specialists. We had a good mix of fighters and specialists.

wizard3Those labyrinth scenarios were what spawned one of the all-night sessions. We had a bad habit of going in, getting a bit cut up and then ducking out really quickly. On that particular occasion, Steve hit us with a fairly large party of Orcs in the entrance chamber. We beat them off and were going to do our usual “hightail it out of there” operation, but when we tried to exit, Steve said, “It feels like someone has piled a million pounds of sand on the door.” It didn’t help that during our ensuing explorations, we stumbled on a dragon’s lair and – in a classic case of not communicating clearly with the GM – Steve took the opportunity to explore aspects of “panicked flight.” We tried to say we just wanted to run through the big cave to the other exit (which we could see). That was not the message received by the GM, however, and he started firing off several series of “Left or Right” choices as he seemingly made us run a mini-marathon. As a result, we were pretty hopelessly lost, had to start an entirely fresh map, and try to go from there. There followed a protracted episode of wandering blindly around Steve’s dungeon, during which we just could not find an alternate exit. It finally ended about 4:00 or 4:30 the next morning when a weary (and frustrated) Steve announced that we came across a hole in the tunnel roof that “looked like it was just made.” Otherwise, we might still be there.

Jeffro: Tell me more about Steve Jackson’s game mastering. Was he a “Monty Haul” cream puff or did he hand out total party kills regularly…? Was he a good sport or did he flip the table when things didn’t go his way…?

“I always kind of thought that the one on the far right on the cover of The Space Gamer #29 is a closer depiction of Steve as he looked way back in the day than the ones on the The Fantasy Trip and/or Wizard covers.”

Ken Schultz: Steve was, well, Steve. He wasn’t a pushover, but I think he deliberately tried not to wipe parties out with one fell swoop. But he was always super creative and a bit devious. We did have one encounter with a dragon long before any of the characters were ready for it and he didn’t immediately snuff us all out. As a matter of fact, a very lucky triple-damage roll by the neophyte wizard character in our party caused Steve to play the dragon in a manner very different than I think he had planned. But it was consistent with the backstory he’d developed for that character when he’d populated the system. To me, that’s pretty remarkable foresight for something he was still developing. And despite the effort he’d put into it, Steve never seemed to get emotionally and parochially attached to his labyrinth or the creatures in it. He always seemed – to me, at least – the soul of impartiality. I couldn’t ask for a better person to run a game.

Jeffro: And what was Howard Thompson like at the game table?

Ken Shultz: Howard seemed to me to be really good at that committing to the character thing. Occasionally, he played a big, dumb, lumbering barbarian character who wouldn’t wear armor because “it made it too hard to get to his thingy.” And he really acted out the part stomping around and blundering into things. Stealth was never an option. The character he most used, though, was one called Melio Glorioso. I’m not sure of the spelling on that, but he was allegedly named after a character in an opera (sorry, I’m an uncultured Texas hick and don’t know which). Anyway, he was supposed to be a leader character, but Howard always played him as something of a coward, brimming with false bravado. The first thing he would shout whenever the party would encounter anyone was, “Surrender or die!” It became a catchphrase our little playtest group: “Surrender or die!,” cried Melio. And then he would find some way to work himself to the back of the pack, away from the action.

Jeffro: Did you playtest any other of Steve’s early games? (Were you around when Chad Irby showed up with his early drafts of what would become CAR WARS?)

death test coverKen Schultz: Ogre was pretty mature by the time I got to Metagaming Concepts, but I got to playtest the later drafts, a bit. I still have a copy of the Ogre Draft 3.1 playtesters package, including the hand-drawn maps and hand-lettered/drawn counters (I’ve attached a couple of scans for your amusement). I’ve also got a hand-drawn GEV map, and remember playtesting that one, too. I’ve also still got a playtesters package for Warpwar and the draft rules for Rivets from Robert Taylor. In addition to Melee and Wizard noted above, I playtested the early Death Test drafts. I think the genesis of the Car Wars concept was just after my time. At least I don’t seem to recall working with that one (more’s the pity, I think I would have loved that).

Jeffro: Did you stick with Fantasy Trip after the playtests or did you drift into more mainstream games later…?

Ken Schultz: After Metagaming Concepts came college. When I had time to play, I usually gravitated to the The Fantasy Trip system stuff, though more folks in my circle of friends at college were more familiar with Dungeons & Dragons and I wound up doing that more than The Fantasy Trip. Outside the fantasy role playing world, before MC I’d been mostly into WWII-type AH games (Panzer Blitz, Panzer Leader, Third Reich, Tobruk, and such) and things like Wooden Ships and Iron Men and others. I tried to dabble in those World War II games and even pick up the Squad Leader series, but time was, if anything, in shorter supply than it had been in high school.

Jeffro: Steve Jackson is one of the great game designers of all time. You knew him when he was still working out his first games. At what point did it begin to come clear to you that he was superstar material?

Confidential: Destroy Self After Reading!

Ken Shultz: Oh, it took very little time to become firmly convinced Steve was a freaking genius. Because I was just a high school kid, we were never that close on a personal level. But watching him work and the limited opportunities I had to work with him was simply amazing. He was a boundless font of creativity and new ideas. He had a seemingly innate grasp of the nuances of combat odds and the delicate balance necessary between the different aspects of all the components of game units, be they hardware or characters. It was probably a lot harder than it appeared to me, but he seemed to just come up with things whole cloth or in at least in large chunks, rather than laboriously pieced-together. I’m struggling here to find the right words for all this and the memories are admittedly a bit fuzzy after 35+ years, but it was truly an amazing thing to watch.

Jeffro: It’s probably understating things to say that Howard Thompson and Steve Jackson didn’t see eye to eye on the future of The Fantasy Trip. GURPS has obviously been successful over the decades… and it’s pretty obvious which company is still here and which one is gone… but… where do you come down on the simplicity vs. complexity debate today…?

Ken Shultz: That’s a real tough one. As a somewhat anal-retentive purist, I tend to personally appreciate and want the things to be as close to reality as possible. But the downside of that is that playability and broader user appeal suffer. And I don’t think there are enough really hard-core folks out there to make any really cumbersome close-to-reality simulation commercially viable as a game. Most folks – I think – would want something “close enough” that still moves quickly and is fun to play. Steve really put a lot of thought into some of the more fully-developed character aspects in TFT, but most of the time those didn’t really get exercised. I think his blurb on the back of the original Munchkin summed it up nicely: “Go down in the dungeon. Kill everything you meet. Backstab your friends and steal their stuff. Grab the treasure and run. Admit it. You love it.”

Jeffro: Do you recall anything coming happening internal to Metagaming that highlighted this ideological split between Jackson and Thompson?

The original Ogre playtest counters…!

Ken Shultz: This was just my take on it, but the atmosphere seemed to shift quite a bit when Howard finally quite his day job and dove into Metagaming full-time, rather than as an aside. I can understand where he was coming from; giving up a steady income – even in a job he seemed to detest – and pinning your and your family’s future on a metaphorical roll of the dice (pun only partly intended) is a pretty scary step. But it – understandably – seemed to shift Howard’s focus more to the bottom line more than it had been previously. It was all suddenly lots more serious. I think a lot of the friction that led to the split – which happened after I left – had its genesis in that change. Of course, that’s pretty much pure speculation on my part. I do know that it led to my departure. I was way wrapped up in senior year drama and wasn’t committing enough time to the business end of things. In Howard’s opinion, at least, though I have to say I pretty much agree with him.

Jeffro: I was surprised during the Ogre Kickstarter by the number of fans asking for Designer’s Edition treatment for The Fantasy Trip. Can you briefly describe what your personal “dream edition” would include?

Ken Shultz: I was surprised about the interest in a designer’s edition for The Fantasy Trip, too. Much more there than I would have imagined. To me, it was really interesting that the Ogre Designer’s Edition seemed to embody most of the things Steve mentioned Designers Notes in The Space Gamer #29 about The Fantasy Trip. It seems his vision of an “ideal” game was pretty well-formed even then. I’d say my idea of a “dream edition” would closely align with what came about for the Ogre Kickstarter. Only with figures. I’d probably go for a combined GM/Advanced Melee/Advance Wizard rule book with new artwork, at least one (maybe two) volumes of creatures and scenarios, probably something with some of the Death Test-like paint-by-number adventures. A couple of larger arena/room like maps on heavy paper, a bunch of varied combinations of megahexes for use in building halls/tunnels/whatever, retro flat die-counters for old farts like me, character record sheets (maybe an app), the GM shield with charts/tables/whatnot, single-sheet cheat sheet tables on heavy stock for players, and, of course, dice. And shirts. And shot glasses. And… Sorry, got carried away by a Kickstarter flashback…!

Metagaming Concepts Retail Sales Flow Chart

Jeffro: With Steve Jackson is being pretty satisfied with GURPS and with Howard Thompson probably being unwilling to sell the rights… that leaves a clone made by Dark City Games as being the most likely thing to come about. Do you think something like that could take off in today’s gaming environment…?

Ken Shultz: Honestly, I don’t see a revival of something like The Fantasy Trip as being ultimately successful. I’m an admitted pessimist, but I think there are just too many other shiny objects out there. I don’t see enough of a critical mass of people willing to invest the time it takes to learn and play it to make such a thing commercially viable. Bummer. Something for PS3/Xbox/Wii on the other hand… But I don’t know how you could replicate the The Fantasy Trip rules and gameplay sufficiently to differentiate it from any other generic Swords and Sorcery adventure game… and World of Warcraft is already solid in the multi-user online arena.

Jeffro: Okay that’s about all the time we have…. Thanks so much for providing a behind the scenes look at The Fantasy Trip and Metagaming Concepts! That has been seriously awesome…! Wah.

Ken Shultz: Thanks for affording me a reason to dredge up some (mostly) good memories!

Wayne Hertz takes Armadillo: Bald Faced Cowardice for the Win!

** 2029 Campaign Games 20 and 21 (October 17, 2009) **

Note: Game 18 (the Grenadier Motors Sortie Trials) and Game 19 (Team Amateur Night at the Retama Duel Center) were presided over by Earlburt without me.

PREAMBLE

After rereading the CAR WARS Compendium, Second Edition, I realized that our sequence of play was not from any particular rules set, but was somehow mashed together from several different editions in order to make our own quirky off-kilter version of the game.  We decided to give the official rules a try this time.  As no edition of CAR WARS ever outlined a concise, step by step, sequence of play, I will post our reading of the rules here:

I. Roll reflexes before the game… and break all ties.

II. At the beginning of each phase, players may secretly and simultaneously declare speed changes.

III. Vehicles are moved when called… in order of speed from fasted to slowest. If any cars are going the same speed, ask each player from best reflexes to worst if they want to move. Drivers with better reflexes may pass, but the driver with the slowest remaining reflex cannot pass. Repeat that procedure until all drivers have moved. [Jeffr0 recommends that vehicles be marked with green dice representing to-hit penalties for hazards and maneuvers acquired during a phase.]

IV. If a vehicle fails a control roll, the crash table result takes effect on his next move BEFORE he executes his movement. Again, note to-hit penalties immediately and remember to keep them when a vehicle skids over a turn break. A vehicle cannot execute a mid-turn speed change while out-of-control. [Jeffr0 recommends that vehicles be marked with red dice representing to-hit penalties for being out-of-control.  Multi-phase to-hit penalties are marked with an extra black die representing the phase in which the penalty is removed.]

V. Players declare fire secretly and simultaneously. Results are applied simultaneously after all fire for the phase is resolved.

VI. At the end of the turn, all players regain handling status equal to their vehicle’s handling class. [If you’re following Jeffr0’s recommendation, then you will remove dice tallying to-hit penalties except those that are marked to expire on a later phase.]

There are a handful minor flaws in the game that are significant enough that I feel they deserve house rules to fix:

A. Handling status bonuses due to reflex rolls are pretty unfair and few players have used them in competitive play since the nineties.  Having the choice of when to move when two or move vehicles are moving the same speed is a significant edge without being completely overwhelming.

B. Declaring mid turn speed changes secretly and simultaneously is too much work.  I think it makes sense to allow players to declare them while they are making a move, but have them take effect after they complete their movement.

C. Front mounted ATG’s should not cause cars a D1 hazard when they fire them.  [Note: I don’t see this rule in the Compendium at all, though other duellists feel this is due to an editorial oversight.]

D. Vehicles with an HC under three should still regain 3 points of handling status per turn.  (HC 1 and HC 2 cars practically become un-drivable without this fix.  The cost savings of “bad” HC cars does not match the pain of the official penalties– and having just your maximum handling status be lower seems to be about right.  The HC of a car represents how much maneuvering they can do without going negative on their handling status.  Punishing HC 1 and HC 2 cars by requiring them to spend effectively forever to recover from dropping to -5 or -6 just doesn’t make sense.)

E. If vehicles are in position to fire, anyone can ask to switch to declaring fire with cards phase by phase.  (Some cards would have “no fire” on them, others would state a target.)  Otherwise, for each separate battle currently going on the board, the first person to declare fire first is the only one that may shoot during that particular phase.

F. The official speed and range modifiers should not be used.  A GURPS, Fourth Edition style combined speed/range modifier should be used instead.  We have a chart for this.  If time is running short, players may agree to just using the original -1 per full four inches and +4 for point-blank instead– ignoring speed modifiers all together.  (Our chart was rigged to approximate those original rules for the most common situations.)

G. A society capable of cloning would have an extremely effective medical technology.  As arena duellists are insured by sponsors and are likely to get immediate medical attention, they may save against death by rolling 3d6 and getting a result equal to or greater than the total damage done in the hit/ram that killed them.  If they survive, they are hospitalized for a number of weeks equal to the difference between the damage done and their saving throw roll.  Characters that are in a vehicle that explodes die immediately and do not get a saving throw.  Arenas should have a medical rating that serves as a bonus or penalty to the saving throw roll.  Note that this rule makes it nearly impossible to die from MG and SMG fire… while RR’s, RL’s, and especially ATG’s are dangerous.  [Perhaps laser damage should be halved and flame damage doubled for the purposes of making the saving throw?]

H. In order to equalize the value of Driver skill and Gunner skill levels, the driver’s Driver skill level should be added to the Handling Class of the vehicle directly.  Note that this will also increase the amount which the driver recovers in handling status each turn.

I. For our campaign, we operate under “stingy” skill point rules.  You have to actually do something to get the usual skill point for “entering combat.”  You have to make at least one control roll to get a driver skill point… or hit something to score a gunner skill point.  Duellists only score a single point for Driver if they successfully score a kill by ramming– in order to discourage excessive use of the tactic.  Finally, general skill points should not be used unless the referee chooses to do so in a role playing adventure.  (If characters need any of the specialist skills available, they can make sure they have a passenger seat for NPC’s with those skills to sit.  This game is about duelists, truckers, and cyclists– not body building special forces journalists!)

J. In executing skids, we play that you move the amount specified in the original direction of the car, then move one inch minus the skid amount in the direction the car is currently going.  This may not be the correct physics, but people seem to agree that this feels fairer than other interpretations of the rules.  Instead of applying to-hit penalties for being out of control until the end of the turn, we slap an even five phases of penalties on everyone starting on the phase that the skid/fishtail is executed.

K. We use the 5th edition fire rules.  They are infinitely more fun than either of the iterations that were used back in the eighties!

L. Some versions of the Amateur Night rules give all salvage to the winner.  We prefer to let each duelist salvage their kills.  This seems to encourage every one to take risks while going for a killing shot, but also encourages duelists to preserve the dollar value of the vehicles they’re shooting at.  Also… every body has a chance to take some salvage money from the game.

Whew!  That covers both the sequence of play and our house rules.  I feel it is important to review both now because the new duellists that have joined us deserve to have this all laid out clearly.  Also, those that are playing along at home can play the exact same game we do by using the above along with the CAR WARS Compendium PDF that has recently become available on e23!

GAME TWENTY: 23 Apr 2029 Four Killer Karts at the Armadillo Autoduel Arena

Our first game for the day was going to be a plain vanilla Killer Kart affair.  We had two more-or-less new players that needed to experience the canonical entry level dueling scenario of the game… plus we kinda like old school dueling.  Here are the characters that were playing in the event:

This was Alonzo Swartz’s (played by Jeffr0) second duel at Armadillo.  In his previous event, he successfully killed on opposing Killer Kart, but was rammed to death a second later.

Snake Pliske (played by Mike) previously was the gunner in a Bombardier in a team amateur event at the Retama Duel Center.  He successfully killed an opposing Hot Shot by setting with on fire with heavy ATG fire to the power plant.  After exchanging fire with the opposing team’s Bomb, he was rammed and then pinned to the wall by the now weaponless vehicle.

Eagle Claw (played by Bill) was engaging in his first autoduelling appearance.  He’s not really a Native American… he just thought it’d make him sound cool.

Bipitie Bathhurst (played by Earlburt) is also returning to Armadillo for her second event there.  Previously she drove a Killer Kart in a four-on-four Team Amateur Night Event.  Her car was killed by MG fire, she caught fire, and she was injured after bailing out.  She also was an SMG toting foot soldier in the Grenadier Motors Sortie Trials in Fort Worth, Texas.

Duelling Facts:  Alonzo Swartz participated in the same duel in which Pastor Molestor Halifax heroically fought on foot with hand weapons after being “killed”, refused to surrender to opposing vehicles, shot an opposing vehicle while taking three full seconds of MG fire and even a ram, killed the opposing vehicle and set it on fire… then… miraculously pulled his opponent from the flaming wreck, saving his life.  Halifax was killed in his second team amateur duelling event by Snake at the Retama Duel Center!  (Solemn voice over while the clips are played: “We’ll never know how many more lives he might have touched with his ministry of God’s love and the purifying clarity of death sport.”)

We rolled randomly for our gates.  That put me facing off against Eagle Claw on one side of the arena while Snake and Bipitie drove in towards each other at the other.

Eagle Claw hit me in our first pass doing four points of damage to my front.  Another 4  point hit would take out my machine gun!  My shot missed badly.  Things did not look good for me, but having better reflexes I was able to cut hard to the left without tipping my opponent off as to what I was trying to do.  The following turn, Eagle Claw slowed down– he didn’t think he could make that sharp of a turn at forty miles an hour.  Elated, I turn sharply again to position myself right behind him and going the same speed.  This required two control rolls: one for the bend maneuver and one for the deceleration.  I made them both, then declared fire on my opponent’s three points of back armor.  The to-hit penalties were not that bad on the following phase and I managed to pull it off.  I rolled a five for damage– just enough to knock my opponent unconscious.

On the other side of the arena, Snake and Bipitie exchanged fire and each did minor damage to each other’s front.  Snake sideswiped Bipitie for two points of damage as they passed.  Bipitie cut sharply to the right and then went straight for a phase in order to clear the movement penalty.  Snake was crossing Bipitie’s “T” and I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t turned sharply as well to bring his weapons to bear.  He didn’t have a chance to fix it, though.  Bipitie struck and the damage penetrated Snake’s right armor and knocked him out.

Bipitie and I then accelerated towards each other for the final pass.  As we closed, we both missed shots to each others’ fronts.  On the next turn we closed to point blank range and exchanged fire simultaneously.  Bipitie missed while I hit….  As this was the side that had gotten sideswiped, it didn’t take much to penetrate.  Damage (again!) went directly to the driver and knocked her out.

This was, intentionally, a very quick game.  It only took 45 minutes to play out.  I don’t think it was quite fair for Earlburt and me to get to face off one-on-one with relatively new players– we had previously played eight four-on-four Killer Kart team events and had a tremendous advantage because of that.  We could have perhaps rigged the game such that Earburt and I took each other out before dealing with the other players, but I’m not even sure the new guys would have accepted such an offer.

Final stats for the event:

Alonzo Swartz– Driver Skill: 0 + 3 = 3, Gunner Skill: 2 + 3 = 5, Kills: 1 + 2 = 3, Prestige: 3 + 10 = 13, Wealth: $5,343 in salvage money from three Killer Karts

Eagle Claw– Driver Skill: 1, Gunner Skill: 1, Prestige: -1,

Bipitie Bathhurst– Driver Skill: 0 + 2 = 2, Gunner Skill: 1 + 2 = 3, Kills: 0 + 1 = 1, Prestige: -1 + 1 = 0, Wealth: None, Salvage: one Killer Kart (2 shots fired, no right armor, 2 hits damage to left, 1 hit damage to front)

Snake– Driver Skill: 1 + 1 = 2, Gunner Skill: 33 + 1 = 4, Prestige: 4 – 1 = 3, Kills: 1, Wealth: $1150, Salvage: None

GAME TWENTY ONE: 23 Apr 2029 Four Acme Chimaeras at the Armadillo Autoduel Arena

Four drivers were given the chance to try out Acme’s new 2029 Chimaera.  While costing less than seven thousand dollars, the vehicle manages to feature a different weapon on every facing.  Its light armor could not survive a pair of its own heavy rocket hits, but once they’re shot, they’re gone.  The drivers were unprepared to fight with primarily side mounted weapons.  While all of us could destroy any other car with a single point blank pass, none of us were eager to divest ourselves of our deterrent.  (FNORD Motors currently has litigation against Acme for the use of the name, Chimaera.  FNORD has previously marketed a Hot Shot variant under that name featuring heavier armor, two front mounted RL’s, two rear mounted FT’s, and an MD with an extra magazine.)

Mid-Sized.  Standard Chassis, Medium Power Plant, Improved Suspension, Heavy Duty Front and Rear Tires.  Driver, front: 3 HR, left: VS, right: FT, back: PS, 2x Weapon Link (2 or 3 HRs).  Armor F15, R15, L15, B15, T8, U8.  Accel. 5, HC 2.  4193 lbs, $6916.

Here is the run down on the drivers competing in the event:

Wayne Hertz (played by Jeffr0) narrowly survived a four car melee in his first event.  (It was the same Killer Kart event that Alonzo Swartz and Pastor Hallifax participated in.)  After losing his side armor to a shot fired by a heavily damaged vehicle, he set himself up for the final “joust” style pass of the match with the only remaining survivor.  His opponent missed while he in turn rolled a natural twelve!  In a four-on-four Stinger event at the Rubberway, Wayne was killed by Ho Ho Gingwain after a major skid put him into the worst possible position.

Angelo Mozillo (played by Bill), a new driver.

Laser Bob (played by Earlburt) was returning to Armadillo after being killed there early on in a four-on-four Killer Kart event.  He also carried an SMG in the Grenadier Sortie trials.

Ricky Bobby (played by Mike) was the driver of the Bombardier that famously killed Pastor Hallifax.  Before that, he drove a Sortie in the Grenadier Motors trials in the ruins of Fort Worth, TX.  He earned a small bonus for fancy action there.

Random starting positions ended up pairing Laser Bob with Angelo Mozillo on one side of the arena… while Wayne Hertz tangled with Ricky Bobby at the other.

Wayne drove straight into the arena so as to hug the mall as he closed range with Ricky Bobby.  Ricky displayed a little more panache: he drove such that he could get a shot of with his vehicular shotgun while Wayne’s weaponry was all out of arc.  Ricky then turned so as to get his flamethrower set up for a shot on the following turn.  Wayne and Ricky exchanged flamethrower fire for three full seconds before passing each other by.  Wayne manage to hit and roll fairly good damage every single time, while Ricky missed consistently.  This brought Ricky’s side armor down to only maybe six points or so….  In spite of Wayne’s above average damage rolls, no fires were started.  Wayne did not want to close to point blank range with anyone just yet, so he triggered his rear paint sprayer.  Ricky’s flamethrower was outside of its effective range, so this was perhaps a wasted effort, though it maybe encouraged him to temporarily give up the chase and head towards the other duelists….

Meanwhile, Laser Bob was giving Angelo Mozillo a hard time on the other side of the arena.  Laser Bob was hitting more often and also scoring damage.  He set two fires, but they both went out quickly.  Angelo Mozillo then failed a control roll and ended up skidding towards the wall.  This put him under some pretty strict to-hit penalties at a really bad time.  Laser Bob continued to harry Angelo Mozillo with flamethrower hits… and the D2 hazard caused by a particularly fearsome six point hit caused a fishtail that would keep Angelo Mozillo underneath a horrible to-hit penalty for the rest of the game!

Ricky Bobby then arrived to the scene.  Strangely enough, Laser Bob chose to fire at Ricky instead of Angelo Mozillo.  The hit dropped Ricky’s handling status ever so slightly.  Then…

Laser Bob T-boned Mozillo!  The damage was enough to take out the remaining facing armor for both cars.  Laser Bob’s heavy rockets each took one DP of damage.  Angelo Mozillo and his power plant each took a hit of damage… but then we rolled to see where the odd damage point would fall and it went to the driver.  Angelo Mozillo was unconscious!  The first kill of the game….  Ricky Bobby sped past the collision and triggered his paint sprayer for cover.  Laser Bob… now without any front armor… closed in menacingly.  Ricky executed a minor thirty degree bend away from the arena wall, but the D1 difficulty dropped his status enough that he was required to make a control roll.  He failed the roll and entered a spin out.

Laser Bob, undaunted by the bright pink paint clouds, continued to close.  The spin out, however, brought Ricky Bobby’s rear in contact with the arena wall.  He was now stationary– with his rockets facing his opponent!

Laser Bob and Ricky Bobby exchanged rocket fire simultaneously.  Laser Bob fired two rockets and hit with both.  This was enough to destroy the power plant and put Ricky Bobby in the hospital for nine weeks.  Ricky Bobby had fired all three of his rockets, but only one hit.  It was enough to knock Laser Bob unconscious, though… and set his car on fire due to power plant damage.

Unaware of the events on the other side of the arena, Wayne Hertz continued his multi-second drive towards the grandstands as the crowed booed him and opened up with small arms fire.  Wayne gets to keep the car, but… it is imperative that he participate in some seriously aggressive combat soon in order to retain some semblance of honor.  The fact that he was taken down by a *girl* in his last game does not help him much right now– this guy is in for some serious razzing.

Final Stats for the Event:

Wayne Hertz– Driver Skill: 1 + 0 = 1, Gunner Skill: 3 + 1 = 4, Kills: 1 + 0 = 1, Prestige: 6 + 3 = 9, Wealth: After salvaging his Killer Kart and Acme Chimaera, he has $5,157.

Angelo Mozillo– Driver Skill: 1, Gunner Skill: 1, Prestige: -1

Laser Bob– Driver Skill: 1 + 2 = 3, Gunner Skill: 1 + 3 = 4, Hand gunner Skill: 1 + 0 = 1, Kills: 0 + 2 = 2, Prestige: -1 + 6 = 5

Ricky Bobby– Driver Skill: 3 + 2 = 5, Gunner Skill: 1 + 2 = 3, Kills: 0 + 1 = 1, Prestige: 2 + 4 = 6

AFTERWARD

The big lesson this time was that Amateur Night events work better if they are either in a much more confined space or if there are lots more cars involved.  The new guys got stuck facing off against an old grognard in both of their games this time as well.  If I could do this over again, I would have perhaps played the Killer Kart game with each player having two cars each… and the second game I would have confined to one end of the arena.  Also, four players seems to be just about the perfect number of players for a CAR WARS role playing adventure: a set of ongoing characters pooling their funds and setting off to battle outlaws with only having had a handful of amateur duels in which to scrape together some random low end vehicles?  Perfect!  (Say… if Wayne and Alonzo get together, they could probably get a Conestoga station wagon….)

We did run a complete duel with four players in forty-five minutes– with the full-on Compendium rules at that.  That was pretty cool.  A Killer Kart event at J. Random Arena seems like the perfect way to kick off just about any game session.  Flamethrowers and Paint Sprayers saw a lot of use in the second game: I really like breaking the dropped weapons counters out like that.  If the arena had been really small we might have filled the entire place up with smoke in five seconds, though….

This was my second session using mid turn speed changes.  I sort of dreaded those because I thought they would over complicate the sequence of play.  It turns out that they are not hard to adjudicate– especially if people are restricted to calling them when they are executing their movement.  The rule gives the feeling of a lot more control– you can break exactly when you need to, for example– and it takes out the blocky low-res feeling from the turn break.  Similarly, being fastidious about applying to-hit penalties from weapon hazards means that people are much less likely to fire on phase five and then immediately follow up with fire on phase one of the next turn.  Making a point to apply to-hit penalties for crash table results likewise adds a lot of flavor to the game, and makes losing control at low speeds a lot more dangerous to boot.

As far as tactics are concerned, free for all duels appear to fall into a pattern of individual and group passes… some of which end up in entanglements that last longer or are more decisive that what the participants expect.  Before now, I referred to these intense short range melees as “fur balls”, but black holes may be a better analogy. Duelists think they can slingshot around the worst of a fight, but they too often come too close and get sucked into a terminal orbit of sorts.  The ram option and the point blank fire bonuses are the culprits here.  You need to close in order to obtain these benefits, but your opponents get them as well.  Making things worse are the feeding frenzies that are spawned when a vehicle is damaged or off balance enough to appear to be an easy kill.  Reckless driving and greed are more dangerous than enemy bullets.  The lust for easy salvage, prestige, and kills overwhelms the average duelist’s strategic impetus to hold back so as to gang up on the less damaged “leader” that happens to be staying out of the blood bath.  The logic of the knife fight must be followed to its bloody conclusion… and only taunting, honor, and pride can be counted on to keep wimpy duelists fully engaged in the blood letting.

With an influx of new players, our campaign is getting a second wind.  We had tried playing a classic corporate style campaign at first, but allowing me to design cars every game was not good for Earlburt’s chances.  The prep work of vehicle design was hard on family guys like me as well.  We then tried another set of six game sessions, with Earlburt running a team of characters rpg style.  We ran Convoy, the big Midville scenario, and Badlands Run.  I ran out of steam on that one when I let Earlburt pick up his second $100,000 adventure completion prize.  Looking back at the games, the most fun we had was in the simplest situations– salvaging a laser from a wreck, then defending it in a Pack Attack scenario… or chasing down a van that dinged your car in a parking lot.  I think we sort of agreed that stretching out the climb from nothing to owning a $20,000 car was where we wanted to focus our next series of games.  We played an impossible series of twelve four-on-four team amateur night events after that: eight with Killer Karts, two with Stingers, one with Joseph Specials, and one with Hot Shots.  Only the best duelists got promoted to the better cars in the later rounds.  By factoring out vehicle design and big money, suddenly… the focus of our games highlighted the significance of a dozen oft-overlooked minor rules.  Instead of being “car design snobs”, we evolved into “arena aficionados.”  We could never convince ourselves to make the move to 3D layouts and model cars after that because we just loved laying down a new map and seeing who could figure out the key tactics for it first.

You can control how much money is being injected into a campaign by controlling the dollar value of the cars that compete in the Amateur Night events.  Any character that can survive five duels is likely to own a cheap car, be an ace, have a sponsorship, and also will probably have advanced to Gunner-1.  Something strange and cinematic is likely to have happened to him as well.  This iterative process of developing a character through arena combat yields an unexpected amount of color, in my opinion.  The fact that the other guys in the game group actually witness such things transpiring (as opposed to just rolling them up) makes it even better.  We haven’t yet made the leap from Amateur Night combat into Role Playing with any of these characters, but I look forward to doing so soon.  There are few things more fun than getting to drive around in a pimped out stock car that is loaded with weapons that you’ve physically taken off of your arena kills yourself.

For myself, I have always wanted to work up a character from nothing through the original default rags-to-riches campaign premise from the CAR WARS pocket box.  (I was very close to achieving this with one character, but totaled his $15,000 car in one game and got him blown up real good in the next.)  At the same time, you don’t want new players to have to compete with advanced characters.  In order to play in whatever event ends up on the schedule, you’ll need characters with appropriate levels of experience and that live in similar regions.  As a consequence, each player ends up developing a small troupe of characters.  As a rule of thumb, your worst characters are going to be stuck in the cheap Killer Kart events while your better characters have a chance to drive the more expensive cars.  I’m not sure how we can handle the transition to running “pro” events.  I would want $15,000 to buy a car and handle repair costs before I stuck my neck out in a series of Division 5 games.  It could take several sessions to get everyone up to that level!  Sponsorships are the key to making it possible for pro duelists to handle their expenses and stay in the game, but rules for that were never really developed in the old game.

Anyways, we’ll see how things transpire.  That’s all for now… until next time, keep on dueling!

Sometimes Missed Control Rolls Can Be a Good Thing

[Exerpted from Jeffro’s ultra-brief interviews by email series.  Scott Haring was editor of ADQ, developed Deluxe Car Wars, and co-wrote GURPS Autoduel first edition.]

Jeffro:  I noticed the other day that you were listed as being a part of the first Car Wars playtest back before the first edition was released. How did you get involved with that?  What was it like?  Did “Kong” kill your car?

Scott Haring:  When Steve and Chad were playtesting Car Wars, I was just out of college, working at a newspaper in a little town about 50 miles south of Austin called New Braunfels. I knew Steve when we were both in college, and I got invited to Friday night playtests.

I don’t recall ever playing with “Kong”; his glory was earned at some local conventions I didn’t go to. The best thing that happened to me in playtest was when I was getting the hell blown out of me and was trying to make it to an arena exit. I had already lost my power plant, so I was at a fixed deceleration and could no longer steer, plus I was on fire. That, and I was going to miss the exit gate — until somebody trying for the kill took one last shot at me and caused me to fishtail into a new direction that took me straight throught the open gate and to sweet survival. I got voted bonus prestige for incredible luck for that move.

Ogre Miniatures

Had a blast a couple of weekends ago playing Ogre Miniatures. Here’s a photo:

It was the closest I’ve come to playing a Convention-quality type game.

The geomorphic hex map pieces were really cool. They’d be perfect for Battletech. That was my biggest irritation with that game back in the day– the maps for it were lousy! Especially after you played a lot of Car Wars….

A Team Event, 5th Edition Style

The ground rules were $25,000 for each of two teams. Each side could have as many men and vehicles as they wanted.

I chose the Dragon and the Napalm HT. My opponent chose a Terminator-X, a Sprocket, and an Assassin. The arena had a large square obstacle in the middle of a fairly big table. There were 4 smaller square obstacles that could be driven around in each corner.

We rolled into the arena from opposite sides and both teams veered to the right. I turned to circle around the small square obstacle on my right side as my opponent cut accross to meet me. We were going to intercept each other about 4 inches from my starting gate.

My Napalm cut the corner fairly strong in order to stay in formation with my Dragon– but it rolled a 6 for its control roll. The Napalm skidded straight towards the wall and recovered almost exactly next to the wall. This broke up my formation– now the Dragon was ahead of my Napalm by a few inches.

As our forces met, I focused all of my vehicles’ firepower on the Terminator-X scoring fire markers. We were all so close together that my Napalm could ram one of my opponents cheap cars. We applied the confetti rules and I took only minimal damage– but my Napalm’s speed dropped to practically nothing and debris covered the field choking up the passage between my gate and the small square obstacle.

My opponent’s cars circled around to make another pass while my Napalm slowly tried to turn around to avoid the debris. As my opponent’s other small car came in to take pot shots at my Napalm, the collective hazards of the drebris, maneuvering, and weapons fire caused him to loose control and ram the wall. He was out of the game.

Meanwhile my opponent’s Terminator-X was punching it up to 80 and taking d3 maneuvers to get rid of his fire markers. He took off to the other end of the arena. I pulled around my Dragon hoping to get back in formation with the Napalm. Both my cars were damaged and I figured they’d be defeated if they were taken one at a time.

The Terminator managed to make a pass at my Napalm and then wheeled around for another attack. My Dragon cut speed to attempt to stay near the Napalm. Things were ugly as we maxed out our Handling Tracks to keep our guns on each other. We both chose to keep our cars’ weak armor facing towards the enemy in order to keep piling on the weapons fire.

In one final exchange, my Napalm triggered his rear RL at the Terminator. The Terminator’s return fire destroyed the Napalm’s power plant, but the crew of the Terminator took a direct hit. The Terminator had taken exactly enough fire damage throughout the game for the shot to put them completely out of commission.

The stunned Napalm driver could not believe that he’d even survived– much less that he’d scored 3 kills! Incredible!!

This game took about four hours to play out– and every moment I was sure my guys were about to die. Intense!