Friday, July 6, 2012

Vehicles as Character Equipment

Vehicles as Character Equipment

During a recent Psi-punk playtest session we realized that something rather important was missing from the game's set of sub-systems: vehicles. Vehicles are a key component of making modern and futuristic games feel, well, modern and futuristic. Plus, with character archetypes such as the Wheel Jockey, it only makes sense to have equipment for them to use.

With that in mind, I recently sat down to come up with some vehicle rules for Psi-punk. I started by looking at what the Fudge 10th Anniversary Edition had to say on the subject, then promptly threw all of it out.

Well, not all of it. I used some of the ideas they had for traits.

While I like the advice that the Fudge 10th Anniversary Edition had to offer, it was too complex to fit in well with the Psi-punk style. It offered a lot of great advice on how to include vehicles in games for any genre, from historic (with wagons and carts) to space opera (with galaxy-travelling mega-ships). If you're a Fudge Game Master and need some advice on how to insert vehicles into your Fudge game, I'd recommend giving it a look.

What make Psi-punk so special then?

Psi-punk is a character-focused role-playing game. It's about the stories that the players and the GM collectively tell, and as such I felt that vehicles -- when they become necessary to the story -- should likewise be extensions of the characters who use them.

Space ships and aircraft carriers are great vehicles, but in a character-centric game I felt they work better as backdrops or settings. They're locations for a scene to take place, not necessarily the focus of the scene. It takes a large crew of characters to man a battleship, and no individual could hope to ever own, much less use, such a vehicle on his or her own.

With that in mind, I went to work developing a sub-set of vehicle rules that still left the vehicle's owner, the player character, at the forefront. Vehicles will appear in the equipment section as an option for player characters to purchase and outfit as they choose. The rules are simple, straightforward, and include  as few additional sub-systems as possible to help them integrate seamlessly with the rest of the game's mechanics.

Vehicles as Character Equipment

Any player has the option to purchase a vehicle, whether it's as simple and low-tech as a pair of roller skates to as costly and complex as a super-car, and all of the rules for doing so will be outlined in the equipment chapter. Just because it's available doesn't mean it's going to be cheap, though; vehicles in Psi-punk have the potential to be incredibly powerful and, therefore, incredibly costly.

As with anything else in the game, vehicles can possess Gifts and Faults to improve their capabilities and off-set some of their costs. In addition to Gifts and Faults, all vehicles in Psi-punk possess the following features:

  • Size: the vehicle’s relative size.
  • Speed: the vehicle’s speed relative to other vehicles of its size.
  • Handling: a vehicle’s maneuverability rating relative to other vehicles of its size.
  • Weapons: some vehicles have built-in weapon systems; this value represents the vehicle’s Offensive Damage Factors.  Individual vehicles may have different types of weapons, from guns to bladed hubcaps, but the weapon’s Damage will be equal to its Weapons trait unless altered by a Gift or Fault.
  • Durability: how durable the vehicle is; in affect, the vehicle’s armor bonus, or its Defensive Damage Factors.
  • Gifts/Faults: as with anything, vehicles may possess both Gifts and Faults.
  • Cost: The total of all Wealth Modifiers determines a vehicle’s final Cost (in Wealth).
That's everything. Each of these traits comes in a level ranging from Abysmal (-3) to Astonishing (+7).

A vehicle's Size is probably its biggest factor; it acts as a modifier for all of the vehicle's other traits and dictates what type of vehicle is being modeled (anything from skates to motorcycles, passenger cars to helicopters, and so forth).

I chose not to include special rules for vehicle-specific weapons; it's up to the owner to give flavor to what the weapons are like, but the damage they deal is always based on the vehicle's Weapons rating. This keeps the vehicle mechanics simple and mitigates the need to purchase different types of guns for both the character and his vehicle. Any special features that the player wishes his vehicle's weapons to possess can be modeled using Gifts.

The same can be said for each of the vehicle's other traits; it's up to the player to decide whether or not his Good-sized sports car is super-fast and handles like a champ because of special high-tech enhancements or if it's just mechanically engineered to be that way.

By leaving all of the cinematic details up to the players and their GMs, the vehicle becomes more a part of the character and less a collection of additional statistics to keep track of.

What are your thoughts?

Do you have any questions or comments concerning the new Psi-punk vehicle rules? Let us know by leaving a comment below or following us on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook!