Racers Without Master: A Fast & Furious hack

Cast of Fast & Furious 7, from furious7.com

One week ago, Ryan Macklin launched the Furious Game Jam on his blog. The idea is to hack an existing tabletop roleplaying game to be like the Fast & Furious franchise.

I wasn’t planning to participate. I’d never seen any of the Fast & Furious movies. Michael Duxbury got excited about it since a mutual friend of ours had suggested (ages ago) a cool, feminist Fast & Furious hack of Psi*Run. (Said hack can be found here (link updated 19/02/2016)) Michael pitched two games… then he went and wrote a third completely different game. (Check it out here.)

Basically, I’m stealing the only one of Michael’s unused ideas that is based on a game that I have actually played: Swords Without Master.

Swords Without Master could probably be used to run a Fast & Furious game even without hacking, which is lucky because I pulled this together in half a day, including watching half an hour of Fast & Furious 6 over lunch (the first Fast & Furious anything I’ve ever seen), and doing my full time job.

I’m going to assume that people are largely familiar with the original game. This hack will focus on re-labelling some concepts and other small changes.

The tones

This game uses two dice that can be told apart. Each die represents one of the game’s two tones, but instead of Glum and Jovial, the tones for this game are Fast and Furious.

Fast is for speed, but also cool, smoothness, quick thinking, quiet camaraderie, competition, friends, introspection, sticking to the road.

Furious is for anger, but also heat, passion, impulsiveness, carousing, firefights, enemies, extroversion, off-road.

To be frank, that’s enough of a hack right there, but it seems a bit thin so let’s keep going.

Character creation

Player characters in Racers Without Master are called Drivers. They are creative and industrious thrill-seekers who can do amazing things behind the wheel of a car… especially when that car is a souped-up, tricked-out, high-performance street racer. Which it probably will be, let’s face it.

As in Swords Without Master, you first need an eidolon or simulacrum, i.e. something that reminds you of your Driver and/or their Car. Pick a name and list everything else that matters to you. Importantly, this must include at least one Car that you drive. It can include more. Describe how your Car is especially awesome.

Feats Fantastic are largely unchanged from Swords Without Master‘s Feats Heroic. You have one for each tone and can use one of them per session, after which erase it and pick a new one. At least one of them (ideally both) must be usable only while driving a vehicle. They can be as simple as a nitrous oxide boost for Fast and running another car off the road for Furious, but think bigger. When you use your Feats Fantastic, you are explicitly allowed to defy the laws of physics (and nobody is allowed to acknowledge this fact)! Leap from one vehicle to another! Chase an airplane on an infinite runway and prevent it from taking off! Slow your cars down by driving through a dozen skyscrapers!

Finally, you need a Trick. These work as in the original game. The Unparalleled Trick could be interesting. Consider replacing one of your tones with Family, and drawing on your connection to the other Drivers whenever it comes up. Or, drawing inspiration from the Psi*Run hack I linked above, replace one with Feminism. Whatever you pick, remember that the Overtone can flip to this if the player with this Trick is stymied (rolls a double).

Again, this is enough of a hack to run a cool Fast & Furious game. But let’s go just a little further.

Scenes

Swords Without Master has three basic Phases. And they’d work well for Fast & Furious too, but let’s get straight to the point. Fast & Furious movies only have two types of scenes. They have Driving Scenes, and Not-Driving Scenes.

Not-Driving Scenes

Not-Driving Scenes are based on the Discovery Phase. This is opportunity for Drivers to talk to each other, to explore their feelings, to reveal new facts about their enemies (either in person or through briefings by NPCs), to prepare for coming jobs and conflicts (e.g. by modding their engines, or with a badass training montage), to tell everyone why this matters so damn much and how you’re never going to give in, etc. Flashbacks are golden here.

When a Driver receives the dice in a Not-Driving Scene, they roll immediately. Tone will need to be interpreted somewhat loosely in a Not-Driving Scene, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Once you’ve said your bit, pass the dice to a new player. The Overplayer can choose at any time to end the Scene.

Driving Scenes

Driving Scenes are based on the Perilous Phase. Importantly, it isn’t sufficient for characters to be driving their vehicles to initiate a Driving Scene: there must also be a threat, a conflict, a goal that you are prevented from reaching. It could be a race, a chase, a heist, a rescue, an attack, or anything else you can think of.

Driving Scenes are all-action, all the time! Someone must always be talking, describing what’s happening and all the twists and turns of this awesome driving conflict, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the Overplayer. It’s everyone’s job to make this the most spectacular Driving Scene you can.

BUT, as in a Perilous Phase, the Drivers can’t actually succeed in the conflict unless they roll the dice. They can be neck and neck, or swerving into someone, or firing guns, but they can’t overtake, or knock out another car, or blow something up until they roll the dice. If it seems like a Driver is narrating things going too well, the Overplayer should step in and say what’s going wrong, but the Drivers should feel free to narrate themselves struggling too, because it’ll be only more awesome when they finally succeed. Drivers should pass narration duties quickly, say every couple of sentences.

Drivers might stop driving, get out of their car, be forced off the road, or even have their car destroyed, but this does not necessarily end the Driving Scene. As long as the action continues to be Fast and/or Furious, the scene can continue. And as long as a Driving scene continues, Drivers can always get back in a car. Always.

In the Driving Scene, Driver players hold onto the dice until they want to roll in order to succeed at something. Once they’ve rolled and narrated the result, they pass the dice to another Driver player. If someone passes the dice to the Overplayer, the Scene ends.

Other ideas

There is no equivalent of a Rogues’ Phase in Racers Without Master. I don’t think this will be too much of a problem, but here’s another idea for a Trick that brings in elements of the Rogues’ Phase. Perhaps you’re the Gearhead of the crew. This lets you be the only person who can affect another Driver’s Car without their say-so (Cars would otherwise be covered by the standard affordances and constraints of all that deserves a name). However, the Gearhead can only affect a Car to make it more awesome. On a successful roll in the Driving Scene, a Gearhead can reveal that they have modified someone else’s car then ask the Driver of the modified car to describe how they use the new mod to do something awesome.

I also haven’t touched the mechanics for stymies, morals, mysteries and motifs. A double still leads to failure instead of success and flips the Overtone, and the endgame still begins when all motifs have been chosen.

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