Chase Mechanics in CORE

In last night's CORE session, three reality-sliders tumbled through four scenarios:
– Resurrect Frankenstein's Monster & teach him love
– Camel race to save the baby Jesus
– National dance competition vs Evil
– Car chase thru 1972 farmers market to deliver Pulsing Tesseract to The Spindle

All these settings were mere justifications for me to playtest a few new subsystems, and the one I was most interested to see (because the least like standard CORE) was my new CHASE mechanic. I figure there may be some insights in here that would help run a chase in another system as well.

Typically when CORE breaks into Frames (action time), everybody rolls at once and resolution is cross-compared (sometimes in both directions). But the mechanics of vehicular chases require lots of small and effectively-random details outside of the drivers' control, and it's really the lead vehicle that determines where the chase is gonna go. The trailing vehicle plays a more reactive role: if the lead car leaps a barrier or dives into an alley and the pursuer wants to keep up pursuit, they have no choice but to perform the same maneuver themselves.

Not only that, but upon reflection it seems the drivers are not really rolling against each other. Instead, they are both rolling against the terrain while trying to stay in control of their vehicle. If you're making a sudden turn into an alleyway at 65MPH, it really doesn't matter whether you're being tailed or not. The DL is the DL.

So, ok, this is an exception to the "simultaneous rolls" method. That's fine.

I worked out a custom version of the AR Table for the lead driver and another for the trailing driver, and worked out some standard mods for various types of vehicular maneuvers. All seemed well until I remembered… what about other people in the cars? When do they move?

Hmm. In theory they could really move at any time, taking shots out the windows, etc. But their rolls are in no way related to the drivers' rolls, and don't need to be resolved against them. So I settled on this, which (at least if you know CORE), is really, really, weird:

1. Non-Drivers May Act
2. Leading Driver
3. Non-Drivers May Act
4. Trailing Driver
5. Non-Drivers May Act

You still only get one action per Frame, but if you're a non-driver there are 3 "windows of opportunity" and you can go off in whichever one you choose.

How did it work? Well, I'm happy to report that it all worked well, although Players felt the "step-step-step" thing more than usual; I don't think it can be avoided.

I may have set some of the maneuver DLs too low, but that was easy to adjust by simply throwing more stuff in the way, and this also made the chases more exciting — so I created a GM-facing rule for myself:

0. GM quickly rolls some random stuff that wasn't there a minute ago

This procedure requires a lot of the GM. More than most interactions, for sure. And my "step 0" adds even more. Would be easier with a map, tbh (we were playing TotM). But it was very exciting and I'm calling it a win. Both scenes carried the uncertainty of the chase while supporting tropes familiar from movies and TV.

Sadly, the PCs were unable to beat their evil twins in the race to Baby Jesus, and thus it was Three Evil Wise Men, not three ACTUAL wise men, who bore unknowable gifts to the divine infant.

10 responses to “Chase Mechanics in CORE”

  1. Pockets turned inside out

    I realized a strange thing: almost 44 years of role-playing, and I don't think I've played even five chases. Maybe hardly any; I'm saying "not even five" only to cover for possible forgotten ones. I think I recall one, and that was a game which was almost totally about people shooting one another across speeding vehicles.

    I mean, conflicts that include races and chases, there have been plenty of those. But having seen so many rules for it, essentially in combat rounds, with cuts of attention back and forth, with gains and losses, with attacks shooting back and forth, with sudden terrain causing trouble … wow, it just seems so strange not to have done it much. Maybe a couple of times playing Champions or similar games, given all those speedy and/or aerial characters. But even those lasted a lot less time in play and included a lot less events intrinsic to the chase than I'd think, considering the attention devoted to this topic in the rules.

    I think I'll play a character chasing or racing another one soon.


    • Same. Or similar.

      Same. Or similar. I'm pretty sure I've run a couple handfuls of chases (even back in my AD&D days), but lacking any dedicated mechanic for it I probably just made up something like an "Opposed Action Roll" and then forgot about it.

      Since then I've seen a number of systems for it, ranging from "too simple" to "way more detail than I need." But, you know, CORE is looking for a level of detail that's more suggestive than prescriptive, and more cinema than simulation, so it's not surprising I found nothing that scratched that particular itch.

      For experientialist reasons, the GM wants to keep things moving, keep things changing (step 0) and talk fast. Barf out the next 50-100 meters of stuff and BOOM BOOM BOOM through the steps, pointing at people excitedly and adding lots of trivial crap flying by. If Players begin adding color to the street, YES AND that shit!

      Once I fell into it, I'd say the rhythm is similar to running combat in 5e. There's a lot to think about, but the steps are fairly few and it's just a loop. So if you talk fast and keep the situation changing, you can make it feel as dramatic as its cinematic inspirations (even though there's no fucking way to come close to 1:1 realtime).

  2. The Tension

    How was the tension of the CHASE mechanics? When I think chases, I think the chase scene in Bullit or The French Connection. In the former, the assassins are tailing Steve McQueen and then a few moments of tension when they cannot see him until they catch a glimpse of that Mustang in the rear-view mirror.  In the latter there is this asymmetry between the car and the train and things are happening on the train that are not happening in the car. 

    A couple years ago now I ran a chase scene in Carbon2185 and participated in one in Lowlife 2090. In Carbon 2185 I did not use formal chase mechanics, merely using the normal order of play. We did use the rules from Lowlife, which treat moving between the city and anywhere else very much adventurers in a dangerous fantasy world. The encounters were almost "wandering" monster like, but since everyone was on a vehicle the GM used the Lowlife 2090 rules car combat.

    Both cases were enjoyable and there was some tension when a bad guy was getting too close or shooting too well, but there was not the tire screeching kind of tension found in the above scenes.

    I suppose my question is, how well did the mechanics convey tension and seat of your pants decision making? If at all (maybe there were not designed for that). 

    • And maybe the word I am

      And maybe the word I am looking for is momentum? Within the specific scene(s).

    • The camel race did a better

      The camel race did a better job of maintaining momentum and uncertainty, because the two teams were either adjacent or close to it most of the time. They hurled things at each other, and one PC even leapt to the back of the other camel in a risky move. But he got shoved off, and then the bad dudes pulled a dangerous jump over thorny brush… a stunt which our PC camel driver failed badly. Ouch.

      The car chase began with that level of high uncertainty and maintained it for a little while as I took them into more and more crowded terrain, but the PC driver put some distance between them and the trailing car, from which the trailing car never really recovered. A series of lucky rolls. His dice were on fire!

      There was one last moment of "solo" tension as the PCs' car leapt the wash (getting a YES BUT which stopped them momentarily and damaged their vehicle, but not enough to prevent them from starting the engine again). By the time the pursuers reached the wash, our PCs were across the open field to the freeway onramp – and they were home free. So a big aspect of the tension is inversely related to the distance between the two vehicles, which makes sense, right?

      But again, another aspect of the tension was continually throwing new stuff in front of them. Step 0 is important. It turns the thing into a non-stop gauntlet of risky decisions on the part of the driver. Finally, the rapid delivery of the GM's presentation is an important contributor to maintaining tension and pace.

      This was a playtest using characters we may or may not ever see again, so I broke off there. In a campaign session, however, the following freeway scene would still carry a lot of uncertainty – did we lose them? was that the only one? – and then maybe (like your example from Bullit) – SHIT, THERE THEY ARE AGAIN!

      Alternating between fast scenes and slow scenes is always good.

  3. Goalpost

    This struck me too – in any attenuated contest like a race or chase, in which taking physical damage is either absent or subordinate in some way, how do we determine the (eventual) outcome?

    There are lots of games I know in which a generic conflict system answers this pretty easily, like the now out-of-print Action Points in Hero Wars, the related version in modern HeroQuest, or Skill Challenges in D&D 4E (DM 2 version). These vary regarding whether the precise "goalpost" can shift or ebb/flow due to events and points or if it's pre-fixed as so many successes vs. so many defeats, with dozens of games up and down this design range.

    But I'm interested right now instead in a dedicated subsystem, like what you're describing for CORE, not just a manifestation of an existing general contest mechanic. In this case, what are methods for figuring who wins?

    To go to the examples from other media that you've mentioned, it seems to me it has less to do with genuine fictional logistics and more to do with the determination and general character of the drivers. The vehicle is just like a fictional gun, as an expression of the character's own "self," far more than it has anything to do with actual guns or vehicles. You're beating the other driver thematically; it's almost more of a fictional boxing match.

    • I think Savage Worlds is an

      I think Savage Worlds is an excellent example of what you're describing; there's been at least 3 iterations of the Chase rules (which is a specific subsystem for chases) in SW, SWEX and now SWADE (per people unfamiliar thats Savage Worlds – standard and revised, Explorer Edition, Deluxe Edition).

      The older editions in particular went very close to what Ron is describing – imagining a chase as a prolonged conflict of some sort, with ebbs and flows, that isn't terribly preoccupied with top speeds and flat tires and more with building a narrative where the most determinated guy wins. Which led people to use the chase rules for a variety of situations that weren't strictly chases. I'm not super familiar with SWEX and SWADE but from what I gather this has led to the introduction of Dramatic Tasks and a revision of Chase rules to be strictly about chases.

      I'm not terribly fond of Savage Worlds (at least, not anymore) and I think there's many flaws in the ruleset, but the chase rules are brilliant in my opinion. I'd look at those.

    • Yeah, it does seem to me that

      Yeah, it does seem to me that chase scenes are really about the drivers. But while the initial sense might be that they're rolling against each other (as in an abstracted fight scene), they're really not. Instead, your tactical decisions force you to roll against the action itself, and this snowballs, forcing the other driver to make even more dangerous decisions.

      Players will add secondary or surprising details all by themselves with conjunctions (ANDs/BUTs). But even without those, the major types of possible endings are:

      •     Leading car gets away (distance > 4)
      •     Trailing car forces leader off the road (PIT manuevuer!)
      •     Somebody crashes (probably into some terrain element)
      •     Somebody's vehicle takes enough damage to stop working

      3 out of 4 possible end states allow for physical confrontation to continue (unless the crash was fatal).

      This system gives a slight advantage to the trailing car (which is useful for the GM, since forcing a confrontation is better than dragging out a chase too long). I think that's realistic: It's not easy to shake a dedicated pursuer who's not far behind you.

      But it's the leading vehicle that decides where the chase is going, and if they do manage to shake the tail, it will usually be because they pulled some tricky maneuver the trailing vehicle fails to make. Leaping over a high barrier, diving into a dangerous turn, hurtling across the railroad tracks just ahead of the oncoming train, etc. Good television!

    • For CORE, what’s your vision

      For CORE, what's your vision for how the "course" is established? Speaking solely from myself as a player POV, i.e., not generically and not even really as consultant, given how you've described it, it would be important for me to know that the physical situation I'm driving into isn't being cobbled into space one action-unit ahead of us. At least, not in the entirely free-form concept that means the GM can effectively determine the outcome by defining obtacles and conditions as they please as they go along. I'm pretty sure that makes sense to you too.

      And yet, it's also a super pain in the ass to build a whole nightmarish battle-map for where two motorcycles might go in a crowded city, or for how a hyper-speed Spaceman Spiff craft might careen among the planetoids, and anything like that, on the off-chance that some event during play might become a chase. Lt's say it crops up due to various decisions and outcomes during a session, i.e., not set up from the start of the session as "this is about a race, go!" What's a good pragmatic and perhaps deterministic CORE-appropriate procedure for establishing such things as known and "coming up next" during the race/chase?

  4. Matter of playstyle, really.

    Matter of playstyle, really. That's a freedom CORE bends over backward to support, both in form (modularity) and content (suggestions for different styles or levels of detail). This playtest was all people who play with me a lot, they are familiar with my ad-hoc style and we have a lot of Trust.

    But I do see your point, and I admit it took more work than I had anticipated. The spurious creation of "Step 0" was a classic case of necessity as mother of invention. It would be a lot easier with a map, optionally supported by tables for random shit rather than Zipf's Law (my fallback procedure for stochastic decisions).

    I stay ahead and think fast. And talk fast. And gesticulate. And point at people. And frequently back up to recapitulate and channel the preceding flow of action and feelings of intensity into the upcoming moment.  And let energized Players fill as much air as they want. And other experientialist GM tricks. 🙂

    But even for me, it was a lot.

    I'll be modifying the Chase rules to include Step 0 and maybe throw a table in there (gotta stay world-agnostic, however, so it will be fruitful voidy: "traffic thins," "traffic thickens," "fast-moving inanimate object," "narrow moving window of opportunity," etc).

    But here's how CORE  would have answered your question a week ago:

    That final sentence seems naively hopeful to me now, so take the preceding comments into account, and especially Step 0. But the idea is to have a general idea of the nature of the surrounding space, and then use Zipf's Law (or whatever) to "riff" within it. That's the gist of the "CORE-like" approach.

    In fact, I will close this post by doubling down on the gauche practice of quoting myself…

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