Rodney Orpheus

Car Wars – Death Rally

Death Rally

by Rodney Orpheus

Art by Dan Smith

[Originally published in Pyramid Magazine April 16, 1999, as a campaign supplement for the tabletop game Car Wars by Steve Jackson Games]

Death Rally is a Car Wars variant for those who want to see their tournament characters live a little bit longer than one combat. It is basically a series of linked road battles under various different conditions, inspired by the fact that European highways have no speed limits — well, some do, but nobody worries very much about it.

A Death Rally campaign works best with a referee, but if you’re playing with a friendly group you can do without — any player not directly involved in a combat can referee for the duration of that combat. Each team starts with six characters, with 60 skill points each, no more than 40 points in any one skill. You can assign these characters to vehicles in any way you like, with non-racing characters forming the support crew — all repairs and system installation must be done by your team, so make sure some of your characters have Mechanic skill (Paramedic skill can come in handy, too). In a multi-rally campaign, between races teams can replace dead or unwanted team members with new 60-point characters up to their maximum allowance of six team members. Characters always start with 0 prestige.

The team’s starting budget is a one-time $100,000 loan. This loan will have to be paid back out of sponsorship and prize money at a rate of $25,000 at the end of each Death Rally. If you can’t make the repayments you can try to keep on driving, but you will get threatening visits from shady men in dark suits with very expensive jewelry and weaponry. Teams that have defaulted on loan payments tend to find lots of unfortunate accidents befalling their vehicles and crew members — destruction of clones is a common warning measure.

The team budget must pay for the team vehicles plus all spares and ammo. Food, lodging, and power plant recharges are free. If your team runs out of money at any time during the rally, tough luck — you drive with whatever you have left. In cases of real hardship, a team can sell something to raise cash — selling a weapon in order to buy tires has been known to happen.

Normally each rally team runs two vehicles, each of which can have a maximum of two crew members. The vehicles you start with are the only ones allowed during the course of the race — you can’t buy another vehicle halfway through, though you can modify a vehicle’s weaponry, accessories, and armor placing between stages. You also can’t replace the team members during the race; if a team member is killed, a clone replacement can be activated for the beginning of the next stage, or you can bring in one of your support crew. Skill and prestige points are awarded to surviving participants at the end of each stage.

Since clones take time to grow, they must all be ordered and paid for before the rally begins. Each clone costs the standard $10,000 to grow. Gold Cross operates special facilities at Death Rallies — any dead character can have his memories read into his clone immediately at a cost of $5,000. The clone character keeps all the skill and prestige points he has earned to date, minus whatever prestige he lost for dying — teams should encourage their crews to die bravely!

A Death Rally is run on a time basis. All vehicles start the first stage at the same time. At the beginning of the other stages, each car starts at a time determined by its time finishing the previous stages. This means that vehicles only come into contact with each other if one car is about to be overtaken by cars behind it during a stage. A car that leads the race from start to finish can come through without a scratch, though this does not happen very often, as you can imagine. Failing to finish a stage for any reason incurs a time penalty. The rally is won by the first car over the finish line, regardless of kills — i.e. the car with the lowest total time over all stages added together. The total prize money is $10,000 times the number of stages, split three ways: 50% of it goes to the winning vehicle, with 30% for second place and 20% for third place. Yes, that’s right, it’s almost impossible to actually earn money even by winning a Death Rally, which makes corporate sponsorship a necessity. In a long-running multi-rally campaign, keeping money flowing from the sponsors will be a primary cause of worry for team managers — remember, sponsors like to see their cars in action, and flamboyant drivers can pull in big bucks in corporate investment. Cautious driving does not get nearly as much exposure, and consequently less advertising revenue. If you want your team to survive and thrive, you will have to drive offensively!

Running the Game

A Death Rally can be run with or without a referee. If you are playing without a referee, any player not participating in the current combat can act as temporary referee. Choose the rally scenario: normal highway, desert, arctic, etc. Then decide how many stages the race will be run over — if in doubt, roll 2d6. Several of the most popular European Death Rallies are described at the end of this article. Each player then allocates skill points to his characters and chooses his vehicles and accessories, not forgetting to leave some money in his budget for new tires, ammo, and armor (and maybe weapons and power plants as well).

At the start of each stage, the teams are informed of the length and conditions of the stage. Length can be decided randomly — 2d6 x 10 miles is good; conditions are chosen using the Death Rally tables below. Roll 1d6 on the Road Condition Table, and 1d6 on the appropriate Weather Table. Modifiers may be added to these rolls for particular events; if you are running a desert rally, for example, the Road Condition roll will have a modifier of at least +1 (no autobahns in the Sahara!), and you should roll on the Desert Weather Table. Note that the conditions of the road and weather also affect the Driving Hazard roll each driver will make later.

Now that they know the driving conditions they’re going to be racing under, each player writes down (secretly) the speed that his vehicles will drive at during the stage. When all players have done this, reveal all the speeds and work out the Estimated Time of Arrival of each car, assuming that all will finish without problems. ETA is the number of miles in the stage divided by the speed the car is traveling at. Also calculate the “non-finisher” time for the stage by adding up the ETAs of all vehicles and dividing it by the number of vehicles (to get the average ETA), then double this. In other words, if a car doesn’t manage to finish a stage, it is assumed to have taken double the average time for that stage.

Each player now rolls once on the Driving Hazard Table for each car in his team. This table is similar to the one in Convoy; unlike Convoy, drivers roll only at the beginning of each stage of the rally, regardless of what length the stage is. For each vehicle, roll 2d6, modified as follows: subtract the HC of the vehicle, then -1 for each level of driving skill the driver has, -1 if the vehicle is carrying a navigator (can be a gunner or passenger) or Portable Earth Station, +1 for every 5 mph over 55 that the vehicle will travel at, plus whatever modifiers apply from road and weather conditions.

If a car is immobilized as a result of a Driving Hazard roll, it cannot enter combat during this stage — count it as a non-finisher and set its time for the stage accordingly. After all rolls have been made, calculate which cars will meet during the course of this stage.

In the first stage, the only cars involved in combat will be those who pick the same starting speed. At the end of each stage, make a note of the position of each car: who’s leading, who’s running second, etc. In succeeding stages, you can determine combats from looking at the positions and ETAs. Add each car’s total time from all the stages so far to their ETA for this stage and see if anyone will be attempting to overtake anyone else. For example, if one car was running 3rd at the end of the previous stage, and his new ETA will put him up to 2nd place at the end of this stage, he will obviously have to attempt to overtake the car currently holding 2nd place. These two cars must then enter combat during the stage. If more than one car is challenging for the same position, assume that they all attempt to overtake simultaneously; in other words if the ETA of the car in fourth position shows it also moving up to overtake the current number 2, run the combat with 4 attempting to overtake 3 attempting to overtake 2. This is not quite realistic, but makes for more exciting gameplay, so what the hey . . .

Now lay out your road sections, or whatever you’re using — the type of road section you choose depends on the Road Condition roll made earlier; the Ozark Arena map can be fun if you’re running a back road or off-road stage. Otherwise lay out two straight road sections, and for each succeeding road section roll 1D6: on a 1-5 it’s a straight, 6 it’s a curve. The cars involved in the combat begin with 20″ between them, traveling at the speed they chose at the beginning of the stage. Cars that survive the combat and are still (reasonably) drivable finish with the ETA calculated earlier. Cars that are not drivable at the end of combat are considered non-finishers (they get towed in) and take the corresponding penalty time. If the leading car manages to put 24″ between it and the car following, assume that he’s accelerated away. The player in the following car now has a choice: he can either choose to run another combat from scratch (he’s caught up again down the road) or he can choose to slow down and finish the stage one minute later than the car in front. Any crew accelerating away from combat while their weapons can still fire will lose a point of prestige each (cowards!)

Death Rally

Special Rules and Tactics

Autobahns are well-maintained European super-highways designed for extremely fast driving conditions. To keep them that way, all dropped weapons are illegal on autobahns. Anti-pollution laws also mean that gas-burning autos are illegal on European roads (though this is frequently violated in unofficial competitions organized by the rebel British AutoDuelling Association — BADASS). Death Rally vehicles tend to be designed for speed and flexibility: speed, because getting over the finish line first is what it’s all about, and flexibility, since most races are run over greatly varying terrain. Try to design a vehicle that can be reconfigured quickly and easily. Keep in mind the type of conditions that you’re likely to encounter — most races have both highway and off-road sections, so bring tires for both. Spoilers and airdams are vital, and the choice between fitting a front airdam or off-road suspension can be the difference between winning or losing. Since all cars will be traveling fast, accurate weaponry is a must — hi-res computers, cyberlinks and laser guidance are the order of the day (though dust clouds and sandstorms can make lasers next to useless in desert stages) The restriction on dropped weapons on autobahns means many teams switch rear weapons between stages on the continent.

Don’t forget the more exotic accessories either. Supercharger capacitors are useful for overtaking on the autobahn. Radar is essential for low-visibility conditions. If a rally has night stages, think seriously about Light Intensifier Goggles or Infrared. And an Ejector Seat can literally be a lifesaver.

Ammo loading, weapon, armor, and accessory repair and replacement must be done between stages by your team, using the standard mechanic rules. You can buy new parts if you have enough cash, but you still have to install them yourself. Remember that this takes time: assume normally each character has about 12 hours work time between stages — characters not assigned to vehicles can work 16 hours.

Tactically, there’s one main rule — drive fast! If you get left behind early in the race, it can be hard to catch up with the field without doing serious damage to your car. Teams running two cars in a race often designate one car as a “leader” and the other as an “enforcer.” The leader is designed to get to the front of the pack and stay there, while the enforcer is a heavily armed car whose job is to hang back and take out possible challengers.

Skill and Prestige Points

All combats during a Death Rally will be filmed and broadcast throughout Europe, and via satellite relay around the world — recently Death Rallies have become very popular in South America, and we have even begun to see Brazilian and Argentinean teams entering European races. At the end of each stage prestige points are awarded as in the normal rules, as are skill points. Additionally, the driver leading the rally at the end of the stage gets an extra point of prestige and an extra point of driving skill (or cycling skill if it’s a cycle stage etc.). Note that it’s quite possible for a crew to finish a stage behind the leader, but with much higher prestige if they’ve done well in a firefight — the crowd loves to see blood! Given the popularity of Death Rallying, and the huge amount of sustained coverage it gets, it’s a magnet for big corporate sponsorship; and of course sponsorship is directly related to fame. Unlike the US, where prestige is clearly associated with individual drivers, in Death Rallies team names (such as Volkspanzer for example) are often as well-known as driver names, and can earn sponsorship accordingly. At the end of any Death Rally count up the total number of prestige points of the surviving characters in each team and multiply it by $5,000 — that’s the team’s earning from sponsorship associated with the race — yes, this is where the real money is. It’s quite possible for a team never to win a race yet still earn lots of cash by capturing the public’s imagination with daring driving and shooting.

Death Rally Tables

Note: DH=Driving Hazard Table modifier. If you’re playing with a referee, he may set the length and condition of stages in any way he desires, and is not bound by the tables. He can also bring in outside hazards, such as local autoduellists attempting to gain some prestige for themselves by gatecrashing the race (especially common in the Italian section of the Trans-Europe Excess), or fans on foot attempting to slow down an unpopular driver — make up your own encounters or use the optional Random Encounter Table.

Road Condition Table (1d6)

2 or less: Autobahn 3 lanes DH-1
3: Good Road 3 lanes DH+0
4: Bad Road 3 lanes + debris DH+1
5: Back Road 2 lanes + debris DH+2
6 or more: Off-Road +D1 hazard DH+3

Temperate Weather Table (1d6)

3 or less: Good DH+0
4: Light Rain +D1, Visibility -2 DH+1
5: Heavy Rain +D2, Visibility -3 DH+2
6: Fog +D2, Visibility -3 DH+3

Arctic Weather Table (1d6)

2 or less: Good DH+0
3: Light Snow +D2, Visibility -2 DH+2
4: Heavy Snow +D3, Visibility -3 DH+3
5: Ice +D4 DH+4
6: Blizzard +D4, Visibility -4 DH+5 (Note: Snow tires are available in all types and sizes, and reduce Arctic modifiers by 2. Vehicle HC drops by one. Cost is 150% more than a standard tire of same type)

Desert Weather Table (1d6)

3 or less: Good DH+0
4: Heat Haze Visibility -2 DH+1
5: Dust Cloud +D1, Visibility -3 DH+2
6: Sandstorm +D3, Visibility -4 DH+4

Driving Hazard Table (2d6)

Modifiers: subtract the HC of the vehicle, then -1 for each level of driving skill the driver has, -1 if the vehicle is carrying a navigator (can be a gunner or passenger), +1 for every 5 mph over 55 that the vehicle will travel at, plus whatever DH modifiers apply from road and weather conditions. 0-9: No problems
10-11: Struck small obstacle. 1D6 damage to one randomly chosen tire.
12-13: Struck obstacle. Choose two tires randomly, take 1D6 damage to each.
14-15: Made “panic stop” to avoid large obstacle. 1D6 damage to each tire.
16-17: Ran over large obstacle. 1D6 damage to each tire and 1D6 damage to underbody armor.
18: Vehicle skidded off road and struck tree of 20DP. Take full ram damage to front. Add 15 minutes to ETA.
19: Vehicle left road and rolled. Take full damage. If car is still drivable, add 30 minutes to ETA.
20 or more: Vehicle left road, rolled and burned. Take full damage. If car is still drivable, add 30 minutes to ETA.

European Death Rally Events

Paris-Dakar: The original Death Rally. Route varies depending on the progress of the Oil War, but usually runs through European Union “protectorate” states Algeria, Libya, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Senegal. Grueling, with the added spice of frequent terrorist and guerrilla attacks. 10 stages minimum, road condition roll +2, desert weather. Teams may choose to enter two cars, or one car and two cycles.

Munich-Stockholm: A real test of driving ability. Four stages of superb quality German autobahn (no road condition roll needed, weather temperate), one intermediate stage in Denmark (normal road condition roll, temperate), then three Swedish stages under arctic weather conditions (road condition roll +1). The German stages rarely see speeds of below 100 mph, but don’t forget to bring tire chains for later! This event sponsored by Thundercat (one free T-Cat power plant for each team entering the race).

Dublin-Athens: Popularly known as the Trans-Europe Excess — if you like blood, you’ll like this one. Fifteen very assorted stages (normal road condition roll, temperate), one in each of the member states of the European Union. Teams may enter as many cars and cycles as they wish, as long they have people to crew them. Unlike other Death Rallies, salvaging is allowed, and many low-budget teams finance their entries in this manner, lending the race a somewhat “Amateur Night” atmosphere. (Stopping to salvage a wreck adds a minimum 15 minutes to your ETA — see standard Car Wars Mechanic repair rules for exact salvage times.) Patriotic fervor runs high in the TEE, and it is not unknown for enthusiastic fans to join in to help their heroes in the middle of a combat. So don’t try to overtake the British Champion until you’re well across the English Channel.

Bombard RAC Death Rally: Organized by the Royal Autoduelling Club of Great Britain, this small but varied competition attracts many first-time drivers as well as the big boys. Run across the North of England from Harrogate to Carlisle, its five short stages usually see some excellent combats. Sponsored by Bombard Life Assurance, so each team member is given one free clone and free programming. (Road condition roll +2, temperate weather. Each stage is only 1D6 miles in length, fourth stage takes place at night.)

Death de France: The major cycle competition of the season, this runs clockwise around France via Paris, Cambrai, Reims, Strasbourg, Lyon, Nice, Marseilles, Narbonne, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Rennes, Rouen, Paris. The famous Yellow Jersey is awarded to the leader of each stage, giving him an extra prestige point and a new set of Improved Body Armor each time. Twelve stages, each normal road condition roll, temperate weather; except for stages 4 and 5, which are back roads, arctic weather (the French Alps); and stages 6 and 7, which are off-road, desert weather, 1d6 miles long (they’re held on the beach in the Riviera). Bring lots of clones.

Random Encounters

Should you want to spice up a Death Rally campaign, you can add random encounters. To see if vehicle will be involved in one of these, roll 2d6 at every stage and add 1 for every full 5 points of prestige the crew of the vehicle have, plus another 1 if they are currently leading the race. On a total of 13 or more, they will encounter something unexpected (roll another 2d6 on the Random Encounter Table). If the random encounter involves combat, run the encounter at the same time as any other combat that should occur during the stage — which can make for some fast and furious multi-way duels!

Death Rally Random Encounter Table (2d6)

2: A local bandit gang decide to earn some money from the Rally. Six bikers (each is Cyclist +1, Gunner +1, Handgunner +1, wearing Improved Body Armor and carrying a LAW, an SMG and a tear gas grenade each — these guys are pros). They are riding $40,000 worth of bikes and come up behind your vehicle — entering combat 20″ behind you, initially going 20 mph faster. They will try to immobilize the vehicle but allow the racers to live if they surrender. Should they win the combat they will kidnap the racers (regardless of whether they are alive or dead). They will offer to ransom them back to the team — a live character is worth $1,000 x his number of prestige points. A dead body is worth half that — you may need it for programming a clone. A live character not ransomed becomes a dead character — the team can activate a clone if they have it already programmed. Any clone activated because a character was not ransomed loses 5 prestige points — the team’s lack of commitment reflects badly on the character.

3: A local ace autoduellist decides to get some press by taking you on. He’s a Driver +2, Gunner +1, wearing body armor and driving a Division 30 duelling car with a ram plate. He enters the combat 24″ ahead of the leading vehicle, going the wrong way! He starts at 55 mph and will accelerate 5 mph per turn and try to ram any car in front of him, firing as he comes. He’ll keep firing until one of the vehicles in the combat is immobilized, then he’ll stop and strut around for the cameras (if he’s still alive). Oh, did I mention that each side of the road is lined with 200 DP concrete barriers and there’s no way off the road?

4: Ten opposing fans decide you’re doing too well. They set up a barricade (2d6 random barrier counters — chains, oil drums, obstacles, whatever) and hide behind it armed with a random assortment of hand weapons (4d6 grenades, 1d6 LAWs, 2d6 VLAWs, and 1d6 SMGs — these are serious fans!) All have basic Handgunner skill and are wearing body armor. They will start firing when the vehicle is within 8″. The side of the road is completely littered with debris, and is a +D1 hazard. Should the vehicle turn around and go back, consider it a non-finisher for this stage and deduct 5 prestige points from each racer (you ran away from pedestrians?!?!).

5: A bunch of punk kid autoduellists decide you’re not so hot after all and enter combat to prove it. They are each Driver, Gunner, Handgunner, have a shotgun and 4 grenades each, and have 3 Division 10 vehicles between them (use as many punks as can fit in the cars). They enter combat in a line abreast 20″ behind you, going at 20 mph faster than your current speed. They are pumped up on various illegal pharmaceuticals and will fight to the death.

6: An unknown saboteur has placed a limpet mine under your vehicle! If you’re in a combat during this stage it goes off at the beginning of combat. Otherwise just calculate 1D6+1 damage to your underbody armor at the end of the stage.

7: A TV station does a special report on your team — give each character on your team an extra point of prestige.

8: One of the celebrity actresses from “Roadwatch” takes a shine to your driver — gossip shows add 5 prestige points to his rating.

9: A sponsor offers the team a bonus if they can generate some excitement to go with their big advertising slot — any character finishing this stage with more prestige points than he started it with earns the team $10,000 cash.

10: One of your sponsors is very pleased with the coverage your team is getting and awards you an instant bonus of $1,000 x the total prestige earned by the team in this race so far.

11: 20 drunken fans invade the road. They are unarmed and spread out across the road blocking it completely. The road is in a narrow cleft, so you can’t go around them. You can choose to stop or shoot. If you stop, they will mob the car, rip off souvenirs, and ask for autographs — making you a non-finisher for this stage, but gaining you a point of prestige. Should you start shooting they will panic and run around in random directions at 12.5 mph, changing direction every turn. When they run off the road they disappear into the hills. If you get through the fans by shooting, add one point of driving skill to the driver, one point of gunnery skill for each character manning a vehicular weapon, and one point of Handgunner skill for each character using hand weapons; however for every fan you kill, lose one point of prestige (your fan club won’t be happy).

12: A terrorist assault team have decided to use the Death Rally as a way of getting some free publicity for their cause. The assault team is well-trained and equipped — all are Handgunner +1, wearing body armor and carrying an SMG, 2 VLAWs, and 2 grenades each. They have set up an ambush at a gully — there’s no way to go off the road. Three are on each side of the gully, one group manning a tripod MG and the other a tripod RR; they are 12″ in front of the leading car (the ambush is well-hidden), and will open fire immediately. The assault team is well dug in and camouflaged, -3 to hit on top of the usual modifiers. They are a suicide squad and will fight to the death. For each terrorist you kill gain an extra prestige point — everyone likes to see the bad guys get it.

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