Backburner Month 22: Guns & Gasoline

This is an entry from a list of projects I hope to some day finish. Return to the backburnered projects index.

What is it? A tabletop game about fast cars, furious action, and family values.

This is of course inspired by that one series of films. Indeed, the original design goal was to build a game where every player had three core stats: Fast, Furious, and Family.

It's expanded and gone through a number of revisions, including a few that I still think are fascinating, but it's ended up being more or less an adaptation of Danger Patrol. Danger Patrol features an idea called the Action Area, which I like a lot: it's an explicit index-card based representation of the goals and major features of a session. For a lot of games, I think this might be overly restrictive and maybe even a little bland, but for broad-strokes genre storytelling—including both the 50's pulp adventure that Danger Patrol is drawing on and the modern action movies that Guns & Gasoline is drawing on—it feels kind of perfect.

I also put a lot of thought into the right way of representing vehicle chases and races, which are integral to the genre. Making sure that races aren't simply “who can roll the highest number first” but actually feel like moment-to-moment interesting things are happening is integral to the game I want to make. The system I'd been working with most recently involved a three-way distinction where you're always Leading, Tied, or Trailing, and those positions open up different options for actions you can take, including attempting to change your position to one or the other: sometimes that means accelerating to try to take the lead, but sometimes it also makes sense to deliberately let yourself trail behind because that's going to let you address the race in different ways.

Overall, it's not a game designed for long campaigns: it's for one-shots or maybe two or three session campaigns. It should be quick and exciting and ideally have lots of corny one-liners and over-the-top action beats. One guiding principle behind the game is that it should be true to the way a friend of mine once described the Fast & Furious movies: “Imagine a superhero movie, except everyone's superpower is 'car'.”

Why write it? Okay, this is a silly one, and one where I've actually struggled throughout several drafts to actually hit the tone and level of complexity I want: I keep coming up with interesting ideas and then realizing that they're far too elaborate for the goal here.

For example, one draft was a by-the-numbers Powered-by-the-Apocalypse game. I had a set of fighting moves that I liked a lot, including a distinction between Fight Hard (which you rolled with Furious) and Fight Smart (which you rolled with Fast) that not only had their own distinct effects but would interact with each other in a satisfying way. That was a fun idea, but the draft was too complicated.

Later on, I worked on a variation where, instead of using Powered-by-the-Apocalypse-style moves with three possible outcomes, I instead turned every move into a lits of “good outcomes” and “bad outcomes”, and dice rolls would give you points to either prevent bad outcomes or buy good outcomes: in effect, turning every move into a PbtA-style “choose things from a list” move. Because in this system dice would also explode—that is to say, if you rolled their maximum value, you'd keep that but also re-roll the die, possibly multiple times if you got the maximum value again—you could theoretically but rarely get a large number of points to buy outcomes, which could translate into e.g. a single roll letting you take down large numbers of opponents, acquire intelligence, and find useful objects, all at once. This was a fun system that was also far too finicky for the simple game I was trying to jam it into.

There's still a lot I like about the current draft, but I still struggle to make it a game suitable for one-shots. This is one project I deliberately left to the side for a while, because I wanted to come back to it with fresh eyes and figure out what I could cut down on.

Why the name? The working title was The Rapid & The Rageful, which was funny for about fifteen minutes before I found it tedious. Given that there's nice alliteration in both the movie that this game is inspired by and also in the name of the most famous tabletop role-playing game, it felt appropriate to choose an alliterative, so: Guns & Gasoline.

#backburner #tabletop