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2029: Los Culebras Feroces on South Highway One

So Earlburt came up this past weekend and was really keen on continuing with his best 2029 characters. These are the champions from the big Team Amateur Night campaign we ran and some of them have a Hot Shot or two in their garages. At the conclusion of the main part of the “American Idol” style tournament, I declared that his characters were brought to L.A. by zeppelin for some special promotional work. When they got out there, they were given complementary vehicles for the duration of their visit: a Chameleon, a Hussar, and a Timeshifter. While driving around the city, the driver of the Timeshifter ended up taking a wrong turn and having to run the Gauntlet. Earlburt assumed this situation had been set up by the sponsors as it seemed to be too much of a coincidence when the news copters from his characters’ network just so happened to be on hand to film the mayhem.

Now Earlburt took the time to write a paragraph or two of character background info on his four characters. I responded with my “Rule of Six” writeup for their adventure location. So I had characters and I had a setting… now what? No matter what I decided, I worried that it would come off like a railroady cliche of some kind. In order to alleviate this feeling… I came up with six ideas for the session:

  1. Player character’s love interest is kidnapped.
  2. Player characters witness the kidnapping of a sympathetic nonplayer-character.
  3. A large bounty is placed on the head of a nearby outlaw.
  4. The players are specifically hired by a wealthy individual to locate a person that has been kidnapped.
  5. As #4, but the missing person actually wanted to leave.
  6. The players are hired to recover a hostage, but it is totally a setup rigged to produce good footage for television.

You know… randomly choosing a railroady cliche just seemed fairer somehow. In order to help stop obsessing about planning for the session, I decided to wait until the night of the game to make the roll to determine the basic plot outline for the session. I just came up with some characters and locations that I would be able to use regardless of the specific plot… and then I tried to stop worrying about it.

Well… the night for the game arrived and Earlburt’s characters were relaxing at a diner when some cyclists showed up. Earlurt’s role playing led to some predictable friction, but as things warmed toward a showdown, an extremely posh Bombardier pulls up and the chauffeur invited the leaders of both groups to go for a ride. (I rolled situation #5.) He offers twenty thousand dollars to the group that could rescue a music video starlet. The man couldn’t say where she might be at the moment, but he says that he expects that there is a Mexican Jefe that will try to smuggle her south of the border if the players can’t track her down soon.

This lead to a brief investigative sequence as Earlburt learned that it was the Los Culebras Feroces that had the hostage. He drove through their section of the city and hired some skater dregs to sniff out any rumors. He considered teaming up with his cyclist “friends” for a crazy head on attack of the gang’s underground parking garage base, but that was just too crazy. Finally, he called up his studio for help. He offered to make a big distraction while the studio performed a commando raid with Handgunner-2 dudes brought in by helicopter. The studio was not successful in recovering the starlet… but they did manage to flush out the gang’s vehicles– they were forced to make a premature run for Mexico. With the helicopter damaged in the assault, only Earlburt’s characters are in a position to pursue! (Amazing how it all just worked out that way, eh?)

The Vigilante is about to lose control and roll…. Incredibly, the guy with the portable flamethrower misses his second shot at the extremely vulnerable Chameleon.

This all lead to a monster road duel. The hostage was in a Vacationer van that was being escorted by a Texan, a Vigilante, and an Econobox. I improvised another d6 table on the spot to help determine what the pedestrians in the low-riders’ pickup beds had. The Texan had a guy with a tripod RR and an SMG guy with Body Armor. The Vigilante and the Econobox each had a guy with six grenades and body armor and another guy with a portable flamethrower.

I didn’t expect it to take long to play this out as we dispensed with phased movement for the entire combat. (If anything was potentially lost in the translation there, I simply ruled or hand-waved Earlburt’s favor under the assumption that the gang members had slightly less initiative than successful duelists.) The action was colorful and violent… but I had to roll for to-hit about three times as much as I would have otherwise due to the extra handgunners. Still, the grenade rules from Compendium 2e gave satisfactory results even if they were a tad time consuming. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that the area effect rules were tailor made for using a VMG to take out pedestrians firing from pickup beds. (I had never applied the area effect rules in anger– in all my years of Car Wars gaming, no two pedestrians have ever dared stand within one inch of each other on the game map!)

Earburt gradually eliminated the pedestrians and low-riders. The Vacationer finally expended most all of its ammo. (Earlburt’s ace-in-the-hole was the extra magazine in the Timeshifter.) The gang ended up offering the hostage up to Earlburt’s characters– their terms were only that the asked the players to leave the salvage and let them live. Earlburt cheerfully accepted the deal and then reorganized the driver and gunner arrangements in his vehicles to accommodate the new passenger. She revealed that she was in fact trying to escape the high pressure life that the studio subjected her to. The characters didn’t care though, and took her back to “Mr. Big” for the twenty thousand dollars that they were promised.

I’m not sure how successful I was as a game master in all of this. I think I did manage to come up with a passable initial frame given everything that we had played out before and perhaps some of the odd loose ends of this session can be reframed into something interesting for next time. But that’s the great thing about role-playing– in an ongoing campaign, you’re not on the hook to figure everything out in one shot. At the very least, Earlburt’s characters will get to brag about their encounter with a music video star….

Guest Post: “Yes, of course we’d love to go see the Priests; but first…”

Session 2 opened with the introduction of two new players. Each had created a character beforehand:

Alagolan (Golan for short), lawful Elf, Sleep, AC1, HP6; Str10, Int13, Wis15, Dex13, Con9, Cha9 (Christian)

Quin, neutral Magic-User, Charm Person, AC9, HP3; Str9, Int13, Wis9, Dex9, Con8, Cha7 (Trey)

These were my two longtime friends, previously in two campaigns set in the same game world years before. Indeed, Trey had even gamemastered one of them, with me as a player, set in my game world. We understand the gaming modes and preferences of each other very well– so much so that I completely grokked Trey when he informed me of his character concept.

Quin had been leased out by his family to a businessman (Cagot, the foreigner in the leadership team of the expedition) in part for his literacy and clerical skills, and in part for his single spell, which was handy in business negotiation. He is not an enthusiastic magician, diligently researching magic or with any interest in the occult at all. He just happens to have a skill set of some value to others. Quin dreams of being able to buy out his contract or outright escape his indenture. On top of that, he spent all his starting coin on office supplies, suitable to the clerk he was playing. He did not even have a starting weapon. To knowingly go into a dungeon crawl, playing a weaponless clerk… I just love that kind of thing. Unfortunately, Trey was only present for Session 2, and Quin faded into the background in subsequent sessions. I had been looking forward to what the other players were going to make of him. They never discovered his class, which he did not share. I suspect they assume he is a thief, based on his preoccupation with wealth and coyness about class.

Anyway, introductions to the setting and adventure went quickly. Golan and Quin survive the sandstorm and come out lost. They meander through the desert to the lost city, with the towering step-pyramid rising above. They ascend the pyramid, note the dead Orc still propping open the door, check out the three tarnished bronze statues, and then carefully make their way in through the door. They were not quite as cautious as the first party, but still they were cautious and plenty inquisitive. Quin, recognizing the enormous sums that the statues above might fetch if they could somehow be brought back to Scumville, began scheming. Golan slowly led the way down the darkened hall.

The first party, fearing an ambush in Room 1, had entered with someone manning the heavy crossbow propped in the middle of the hallway floor aimed at the door, and they just left it there when they moved on. This puzzled Golan and Quin to no end, and they really didn’t know what to make of it. Eventually, Golan took possession and wields it to this day. [It has not yet been fired so the players don’t know this– but I ruled that it does D8+2 damage–easily the most lethal thing they’ve yet seen, aside from a sleep spell or poison.]

In Room 1, they find the two additional dead Orcs with no obvious wounds and the disabled traps. And then they hear a commotion from the room below, where the first party is regrouping after the battle with the fire beetles. At this point, it’s been about two hours since the first party ascended the ziggurat. They have a low-key reunion, with barely any mourning for the passing of Grogan Greylips. They assess the contents of Room 6 (“Special Storeroom”) and harvest the poor-quality oil in clay jars. Quin starts a log of the party’s inventory. As they start to formulate a plan of egress, a troop of seven Goblins bursts through the southwest door. This was the result of a series of wandering monster rolls I decided to make. The party had vacillated for so long, I felt it was time to start rolling.

When Goblin came up on the encounter chart, I decided it was a scouting party, sent by the Priests of Zardoz. They did not yet know that the pyramid had emerged from the sands above. But Zardoz had ordered scouts to the surface because it senses something, a presence it’s not felt since…. Both groups are surprised but neither resort immediately to violence. The Goblin leader interrogates the party (in Goblin)— “What are you lot doing up here? Where are your masks?” Human Cynidiceans all wear masks, usually of animals. The non-mask-wearing PCs are very conspicuous for a lot of reasons—armed to the hilt, heavy armor—but the bare faces are the first thing a native Cynidicean would notice.

Kraalll and Golan (the Elves) both know enough Orcish of a close-enough dialect to keep up. The leader, Mik the Tubinator, decked out in a snappy blazer with fancy epaulettes, is suspicious and can tell something is really off about this group. After his demanding tone goes nowhere, and the party tells him they’ve come from “Outside”, Mik adopts a conciliatory tone: “Oh you are our guests! Come, the Priests will want to welcome you… What priests? The priests of Zardoz, of course… Zardoz? He is the ruler of this land. Yes, Great and Terrible, his fury knows no bounds. You will like him. Come. Come below with us to the Priests. We are all friends now.”

Before things go too far south, Kraalll casts Charm Person, Mik fails his save, and they settle into a long dialog. The party learns a little bit about the city below. They learn that “outside” is unknown, at least to the Goblins. They learn that the Priests of Zardoz are in charge. And the PCs develop a pretty strong inkling that Zardoz might not be a very nice person. During this discussion, Quin stealthily casts Charm Person on Rictur San Bellurgio (Trey passed me a note to that effect). I roll the saving throw, which Rictur fails. Quin makes no attempt at actual influence yet, so we have no need to inform the player, R.J., that any of this has happened.

Meanwhile, Mik the Tubinator’s troop loiters about, alert but more or less unconcerned. Their boss is just doing his thing with these weird people. But then Kraalll tells Mik that, “Yes, of course we’d love to go see the Priests; but first we need your men’s help— one at a time– in moving a bunch of stuff from upstairs.” Fortunato (the thief) slips away up the ladder. Mik then follows with a couple PCs, and they murder him when he emerges at the top of the brass tube. Kraalll calls down that Mik needs another Goblin up above. One goes up… roll for surprise… murdered. The PCs call for another. At this point, the remaining Goblins are suspicious and unwilling to go. But down below in the room, one of the PCs points out a Goblin “volunteer”. The rest, seeing a brief reprieve, gang up and shove him forward. No roll for surprise because he’s totally alert, the Goblin wins initiative and inflicts a small wound. They murder him too, but not before he lets out a cry.

Two rounds of full-on melee then ensue between the four remaining Goblins and the downstairs PCs (Quin sits out the fight, aggrieved at the slaughter of Goblin manpower he felt sure they could somehow monetize). Two more Goblins are cut down, but so is Rictur. The last two Goblins fail a morale roll and flee out the door they came through. They win initiative twice and get to the stairs safely, only suffering one volley of PC missile fire. The PCs reluctantly break off pursuit.

Fortunato mourns the passing of his brother Rictur. Quin silently laments a wasted spell. They strip the Goblins and find, among the ordinary equipment, some silver coinage. Generally similar in size and weight to their own akce (silver pennies, pronounced “ah-chay”), these coins are stamped with unfamiliar symbols and, in relief, the profiles of kings and queens unknown to them. The party takes a rest period of about eight hours, retreating back to what they think is the relative safety of the hallway in the uppermost tier. They hoist the corpses up to the room above, Grogan and Rictur lay in state separate from the stack of Goblins and Orcs, which are used to barricade the doors of each bronze tube.



One thing I really like about the setup for B4 is that there is a logical and organic source of replacement PCs, additional players and red shirts. Anything a GM wants to introduce is waiting out in the desert, and can stumble upon the Lost City at any time. On encumbrance— Armored up as they are, this party is slow. A lot of the creatures in B4 are also slow, but this party can’t really outrun anything. Initiative combined with sequence of play matters in a pursuit situation. The party really wanted to prevent an alarm being raised, and I wanted them to succeed. But the dice rolls went against them. They probably don’t have much to worry about though. The Goblin escapees won’t have a very coherent report as it will focus more on the Tubinator’s weirdly seditious behavior than anything else. Enough detail might get back to Zardoz to confirm its sense that its domain is once again connected to the world above.

Read Earlburt’s entire series on The Lost City:

  1. Setting out for the Lost City
  2. Nonvariable Weapon Damage, Alignment Tongues, and Rolling Hit Dice
  3. Setting and Player Introduction for The Lost City
  4. Into The Desert
  5. Context, Cut Scenes, and the Pen and Paper Experience
  6. Death Lurks in Every Nook and Cranny
  7. Guest Post: The Mythic Underworld and Gygaxian Naturalism in The Lost City

Forbidden Thoughts, Apocalyptic Obsessions, and… a New Darkship Book!

Jeffro: Today on Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog, we have with us special guest Sarah Hoyt here to discuss science fiction, big ideas, and… her upcoming sequel to the award winning novel, Darkship Thieves. And I’ve got to say, anyone that’s a fan of Traveller, GURPS Bio-Tech, GURPS Terradyne, or GURPS Transhuman Space should really take a look at this series. Welcome, Sarah!

Sarah Hoyt: Thanks, Jeff. Glad to be here.

Jeffro: One of the greatest challenges in running a wide ranging space-themed campaign is (in contrast, say, to something like Dungeons & Dragons) you have to flesh out all of these contrasting worlds and societies and cultures for the players to encounter and explore. Now… from a gaming standpoint… one of the coolest things about Darkship Thieves is that we get a close-up look at a world where there are practically no laws. Almost unthinkably… there’s not even any traffic laws…! How on earth did you extrapolate out what a society like that would actually be like…?

Sarah Hoyt: I wish I could tell you it was a strictly rational process. Of course, at the time, I was much more of a fire-breathing Libertarian than I’m now, so part of it was working out from first principles how things would work. But things like lack of traffic laws and financial regulation have been dispensed with at various times in history. What is amazing is how little harm results from dispensing with regulation. To be honest, Portugal has traffic laws– it’s just that they’re not really enforced.

Jeffro: I was reading Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles to my son the other day and the title character actually sneered at a “red neck” type guy while using traffic laws as the case in point to justify gun control. It really struck me how in-your-face the book was with its politics. In contrast, reading Darkship Thieves… I was just shocked that I was being entertained without having someone hammer a particular set of ubiquitous talking points into my head.

Sarah Hoyt: My kids think that Darkship Thieves hits people over the head with its politics, partly because they’ve heard me rant before. But yes, most books are very over the top in regulatory/progressive/”standard” politics. The reason people don’t notice it much is that these are the same “morals” they hear preached everywhere, from school to all forms of entertainment, to, often, the pulpit if they attend church. As such they’ve become really good at tuning them out. I think it was like that with the oppressive religiosity of the Middle Ages, by which I don’t mean a belief in God, but the way that everything you did in art or public almost had to refer to Christianity. People expected it, those in power thought it was good for you, and so it appeared everywhere. I think despite the united front, all these statements had far less effect than we think they did. And I think the editors who think they should educate their readers are having far less effect than they believe, because… well… people tune it out.

Now, considering how unified the front of statism and political correctness is — are they still having an effect? Sure they are, just like medieval Christianity still had an effect. It sort of created the impression that nothing could exist outside it, and it took three centuries of people trying to dismantle it to have an effect. (The advisability of that dismantling and what followed I leave as an exercise for the class. I’d have hated to have my work confined to religious subjects as much as I hate political correctness, but I’m one of those people who was born to be difficult.)

Jeffro: I grew up in the eighties when just about every role playing game was apocalyptic: Gamma World, Car Wars, Twilight 2000, After the Bomb…. I guess that being under the constant threat of nuclear war, it was just the only way to deal with it psychologically. After the Berlin Wall fell, this genre fell out of favor… but now with Zombie themes being ultra-hot and even stuff like Hunger Games being a mega-hit, it seems like it is picking back up again. Do you have any armchair theories on what’s driving the appeal?

Sarah Hoyt: I do have a theory. I think the role playing — and much of the science fiction — of the time was apocalyptic because (I think I’m a good ten years older than you) I could watch writers and artists decide that once Reagan had been elected, it was all going to go to hell. I know Reagan was a good way from being a libertarian of any stripe, and I know there are problems with what he did, however, I think you people who came after aren’t quite aware of what a break he was. You see, we’d been on a path to increasingly more socialism. The problems of socialism were prescribed against with… more socialism. Reagan was a step in the other direction, which might have worked well enough if people had realized he wasn’t a savior, and had stayed on it.

Anyway, artists and writers and probably game makers, indoctrinated in the ideas of Marxism from their youth, simply assumed terrible things would result from Reagan’s presidency. Nothing less in fact than the collapse of civilization. So they wrote science fiction and games, etc. on this idea, because the crash was going to come any day now. Literary science fiction never snapped out of it. They got in this rut of the future being worse than the past.

Here’s the thing, though. I get the impression that even people who are indoctrinated to think that they should be taken care of by the government can sense the crash coming. Part of the sense of urgency and dissonance comes simply from tech moving so fast it is making most of our careers change in unpredictable ways. (And I don’t mean writing careers, here, but careers in general.) But the other part is realistic — we’ve come to the end of cake. That is to say, we’ve run to the end of this idea that the State should substitute for mother and father, for religion and arbiter of moral. We’re now left with the certainty that this super-entity cannot survive as constituted. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, California, all of it is on borrowed time, thin planks over an endless abyss.

Jeffro: Wait a second. There were plenty of apocalyptic movies in the seventies– Death Race 2000 would be the one most familiar to Car Wars fans. The eighties… I guess I can see more of a Corporations-are-evil and a Technology-will-ultimately-destroy-us type of edge to the Alien and Terminator franchises, but in that same time period you also had Star Trek: The Next Generation painting sort of a Techno-Socialist utopia. Can you really pin a fit of apocalyptic obsession on Reagan’s presidency…?

Sarah Hoyt: My impression of the “it’s Reagan, we’re all going to die now” thing comes from being in writers’ groups in the eighties. People really thought this. Or as one of my editors charmingly said, “when Republicans are in power all you can do is scream and die.” (Don’t get me started!)

Jeffro: Well then… speaking of things falling apart… I really laughed when I finally figured out who these Usaians were. How did you come up with those guys?

Sarah Hoyt: The Usaians were a throw away scene in the first book. I had this brilliant flash of insight, because I’d just been reading about the history of Judaism and Israel. I have a bad tendency to plot by flash of brilliance. I know generally where the story is headed, and what propels it, but I find myself suddenly confronting plot-issues and devising scenes in solution, and then throwing in whatever latest neat idea just crossed my mind. In this case, I needed to have Thena acquire a communications device, and I thought “Hey, waiddaminute, she can trade something, so I have a scene with a merchant.” And because I’d just been reading about Judaism and it had occurred to me that ancient Israel and the US were both countries founded on “a law” or a “writ” of sorts (both of them extremely debated) that both strayed from the writ at periods in their history, and that both had a tendency to blame anything from natural disasters to military cataclysm on this straying. So the idea came to me that after the fall of the USA, the principles of the republic would get enshrined as a religion, and that more people claimed to be Usaian than could be logically descended from Americans, and also that these people would be very good at a sort of covert free market.

Jeffro: Okay, we’re about out of time here…. What can you tell me about your new book… Darkship Renegades?

Sarah Hoyt: Darkship Thieves leaves Eden in an odd position. There have been problems collecting energy, which means there is a crisis. We all know that crisis tend to bring out those who are hungry for power, and that Eden is also curiously defenseless — being a society of tradition and not of written law.

It is also a small and rather closed society. Which leaves Kit and Thena both as odd man (and woman) out. So when they return they find themselves in trouble as, potentially, the only thing standing between those who would rule the world by rationing energy– which is not only a way of ruling, but a way of destroying an industrial society. This is a very difficult position, and it ends up meaning that Kit and Thena have to come to Earth again, to get the secret of the powertrees. In the process we find more about the history of both the Earth and Eden, and the men who were the original Good Men.

I’d like to say this book is about the inevitable hunger for power by individuals — a drive that Marx completely forgot to list, possibly because it was his — the weaknesses of a country without a written law (or with a written law that can be reinterpreted out of all shape — did I say that aloud?) and the madness of trying to create ideal rulers. But really, truly, it’s a fun space adventure with much shooting and an insane cyborg. (And come on, who doesn’t want an insane cyborg?)

Jeffro: Woah. I confess, I preordered the book sight-unseen… but this sounds really good to me. Especially the shooting part. (But yeah, I want to hear more about those powertrees, too, so I can steal them for a Gamma World session…!) Thank you for stopping by to fill in some of the behind-the-scenes details.

Sarah Hoyt: You’re welcome, Jeff. Thanks for having me!

Jeffro: Okay, folks… that was Sarah Hoyt, author of the sequel to Darkship Thieves— the just released novel Darkship Renegades. Pick it up from Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, or Baen Books today! Also, don’t miss her frequently updated blog, According to Hoyt. Finally… continue reading the Darkship Renegades virtual book tour by checking out Scrambled SageJust the Caffine Talking, and the Vodkapundit.

CWQ&A: Suggestions for Continuing Car Wars Campaigns

Scott Kellogg writes, “I’m starting a CW game, having not played since 1988. I’d like to have some light role playing in this campaign, and have some continuity from session to session. Do you have any suggestions? Traps I may wish to avoid? A heads-up? Thanks, and keep the old-school faith.”

Welcome, Scott! Thanks for sending in your question.

One of the best things about running a campaign for continuing Car Wars characters is just how easy it is. As role playing games go, it is about as unpretentious as it gets. Even if you aren’t a hard core Dungeon Master type, it is easy enough to keep one going. Just run a loose-knit series of whatever of the classic scenarios happen to strike your fancy and you’re pretty much good to go. Even old standbys like “Road Duel” and “Pack Attack” can become surprisingly entertaining if they’re given a little context. And if you only have one or two players, these sort of sessions can give a much better return on your investment than the large team events you might otherwise end up playing. (There’s also liable to be far fewer heated arguments about some of the more ambiguous rules in the Compendium….)

Now… as to traps that you might wish to avoid…. One thing I’d watch out for is giving out too many rewards too quickly. For some reason, the old role playing adventures that appeared in Autoduel Quarterly tend to have a prize at the end of $100,000 cash. If your players complete a couple of those, they’ll be in a financial position to purchase a frightening 18-wheeler… or even start a “corporation” of their own and have other people fight for them. Now… other referees that have described their campaigns on the web seem to have no problem adapting– either shifting up to some kind of crazy gonzo campaign, or else finding all kinds of stuff for them to spend their money on. To me, though… Car Wars is at its best when it is focused on up-and-coming amateur duelists that gradually work their way up from a Stinger to a Moose. The risks and rewards should be tuned such that… maybe just one in six amateur night entrants come out with any sort of vehicle at all. Then at most one in six of those guys would become an ace with Driver-1, Gunner-1 skills. Everybody else would crash and burn. Those odds could be totally different depending on the rules you use, the scenarios you set up, and the way you choose to flesh out the game world.

Now I have to admit… this sort of obsession with the low-end of the game and running continuing characters… I’ve just never heard anyone else playing that way. Probably the main thing going for it is that it really is the default campaign. I really enjoy it because it was right there all along and no one seemed to do it. (My young eighties self just never could have taken it seriously.) Plus… I’m convinced now that Steve Jackson knew exactly what he was doing when he set it up– for instance, the stock car list from the first edition is finely tuned to maximize the fun for when they battle each other. Don’t be afraid to allow a total party wipe to happen, either– death in a glorious battle with twenty cycles will be more fun than quietly retiring your campaign anyway. Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out the perfect campaign structure up in advance. With a series of short campaigns, you can gradually pin down what works best for you.

I guess the one thing I would pay attention to is to make sure the rules you use jive with your campaign goals. If you have really fast character development like what you get under Deluxe edition and later, then you might not want to houserule some hospitalization rules or have saving throws versus death. If you really want to start your characters from wealth zero, then you’ll really want to look at opening up the events to allow for more expensive cars than just the Killer Karts. (It wasn’t until Armadillo Autoduel Arena came out that the Killer Kart became the signature amateur night vehicle.)

Oh… one last thing I want to point out is that you will be tempted to come up with a fancier skill system or else trick out ways for the characters to start out with some of the weirder skills that were added with the Compendium. I wouldn’t recommend that. Starting with just 30 points, adventuring characters end up being able to fight and not much else. The guys with the professional skills– they never leave the fortress towns and aren’t desperate enough to enter the arena. If you need some of them along for a job… ha! they’re practically cargo and are useless in a fight. The implied setting of the rules highlights the huge gap between the rich and the poor right out of the box. (Player characters a more like Jack Burton than MacGyver.)

So don’t be afraid to embrace the game more or less as it is and then see where it leads. It’s okay to run role playing games that don’t stat out every last thing. It’s okay to focus on just one or two aspects of the setting instead of trying to allow for every last character concept. Two paragraphs of background description can provide just as much adventure ideas as an elaborate point-buy breakdown. But “real” Car Wars characters are defined more by their in-game accomplishments than anything else. And cobbling together a car from bits and pieces of the guys you blew off the road is far more interesting than anybody’s unbeatable design.

Sure… this isn’t the only way to play the game, but hopefully these remarks can get you on track to setting up a campaign that will work for you. Regardless of what you do, though… drive offensively!

Note: This post marks my ninth anniversary of blogging about Car Wars. Check out my very first post here. (Of course… technically it was on another site originally.) Yeah… at the start I did not know how to write in a hyperlink… and it looks like I was off by one year as to the original Car Wars release date. For shame!

Exclusive Interview with George Dew of Dark City Games!

Jeffro: First off… thanks for joining Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog for a chat. It’s a pleasure to have you here. So tell me… what was gaming like before you discovered microgames?

George: We played the old, old version of Chainmail to simulate character combat, since it was the only thing out there at the time. When Melee and Wizard came out, eveyone just LOVED it. My brother actually went to a tournament to play. Unfortunately, his character was quickly dispatched by a pole-arm charge attack.

Jeffro: Did you run any actual campaigns with Melee and Wizard back then…?

George: Of course we did! We were in high school, so we had time and available friends. The tragedy of adult life here in the US is that we get separated from our childhood friends. And then, we get so wrapped up in work and earning a living, that we lose track of what made us happy when we were kids. We all still have that kid inside of us, though some of us gradually kill it off….

Jeffro: Did TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons, Gamma World, Boot Hill, and Star Frontiers ever seriously threaten the place of The Fantasy Trip among your friends’ scene or did you stay pretty loyal to microgames over the years?

George: I shouldn’t admit this, but we never got into those other games. Melee and Wizard were so simple and elegant to play, that we never really had the need. And then the Microquests came out, and it kept us constantly waiting for the next game. Thinking back, this was perhaps a reaction to an unpleasant gaming experience. My brother and I used to play the old Avalon Hill wargames. He once got me to play Third Reich. Every time I’d touch a piece, I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, because there was a rule precluding it. That very quickly dissuaded me from playing games that were heavy on the rules. Years later, when I was in the Navy, I discovered the Conan series for GURPS. I played those three or four books over and over, but it was only solitaire. I wasn’t really in a group of sailors where gaming was popular.

Jeffro: Did you have any tricks for making the combats fun to play out well when you played them solitaire? It seems like there’s be a real temptation to play the bad guys dumb or even skip getting the hex maps out altogether.

George: Isn’t that the case? First of all, since I cheat when I play against the computer in Starcraft, I guess I can cheat when I play solo programmed adventures too. However, when playing solitaire, what I used to use is the following rules: Unless an enemy can get to him in the next turn, archers shoot for wizards first, then archers, then the closest enemy. Melee armed warriors protect their wizards and archers first unless faced with an enemy that will get to them in the next turn… in which case they attack that enemy.

Jeffro: Advanced Wizard, Advanced Melee, and In the Labyrinth look like some of the coolest gaming products ever made. Can you recommend those, or did your group tend to stick more with the original microgames?

George: We loved those three books. There was a huge amount of source material in them as well as the additional rules. There were only two complaints that I had about the The Fantasy Trip rules, though. Those complaints were the way that they handled dodging and grappling. And that’s the major departure that our Legends series has made from the ealier rules

When we were kids, we used to play swingball. We’d take a pair of knee-high athletic socks, something very prevelant in the 1970’s, roll one sock up and stick it in the other sock. You’d then grab the sock at the top, with the rolled-up sock at the bottom. Thus, you have a soft equivalent of a chain mace, or chain morning star. We’d then proceed to whack the heck out of each other. We fashioned shields and learned the limitations of shields against impact weapons. (It’s interesting just how much a sock can hurt.) Anyway, our first-hand experiences with swing ball formed the basis for the dodge rules that we use in Legends of the Ancient World.

As for grappling, I’ve done wrestling, Judo, and am now a certified Gracie Jiu-Jitsu instructor. The grappling experiences that I’ve had in these martial arts has formed the bases for the grappling rules in Legends. (By the way, be sure to download the current version!)

Jeffro: Any chance of Dark City Games ever super-sizing Legends of the Ancient World… or maybe combine space opera, western, and fantasy into a generic rules-light role playing game?

George: We have been working on an expanded set for a while. The problem is that you want to incorporate people’s suggestions, but you don’t want to do what Squad Leader did when it kept piling up the rules, and eventually transitioned from Squad Leader to Rules Leader. No matter what, we will keep play fluid and interesting. However, I believe that what we have is going to be pretty darn good, and I think it will make a lot of people happy.

Jeffro: Okay… I have to ask. Howard Thompson. He’s before my time, so I really want to hear about him from someone that was there at the beginning. Is he half as cool as I think he is?

A lot of the really old folks see Steve Jackson as the genius behind The Fantasy Trip. However, when you look into the details of the split, and the subsequent GURPS that Steve Jackson put out, you have to give more creedence to Howard Thompson’s side of the story. Howard said in a letter that he wanted to keep The Fantasy Trip simple. Steve Jackson wanted to give The Fantasy Trip more meat and details. Though I take my hat off to Steve Jackson, I have to say that for me, simplicity works better, and plays faster than a system that has a much greater depth, but is less playable. So in my book, Howard Thompson is a star! I doubt he’ll re-emerge, though there’s always the myth that he might resurface.

Jeffro: Last question here…. What other microgames can you recommend? Which of the Dark City Games products do you think are best to start with?

George: I would recommend ALL the Microquests from Metagaming, though I like some more than others. There aren’t that many, so if you can find them on eBay, they’re a nice addition to the library. As for Dark City Games, the best one to start with for fantasy is probably Island of Lost Spells. I’m not saying that because I wrote it, but because over time, it’s been our bestseller. If you’re interested in Science Fiction, then Void Station 57 is the best place to start. My favorite, though, is Crown of Kings, by my brother Warren. He wrote it in 1980, hoping to sell it to Metagaming. However, Metagaming folded, and Crown of Kings never saw the light of day until we published it in 2005.

George Dew is the founder of Dark City Games.