Recently in my Force and Destiny game, the PCs found themselves needing to raise a lot of money in a short amount of time. Inevitably, it was decided that the best way to achieve this was to enter (and bet on) an illegal podrace.
When working out how to stage the race, I knew immediately that I wanted to frame it as something more mechanically interesting then a short sequence of Piloting (Planetary) skill checks. My first port of call was the rulebook’s advice for running “The Chase” in the vehicle’s chapter, but that wasn’t what I was looking for either – not enough options for how to spend the “between racing” parts of character turns, and not enough incentives for travelling quickly, which in a race I felt was absolutely necessary.
So, using the game’s normal rules for vehicles as my basis, I decided to write up racing rules from scratch. Hopefully it will be useful for any other GMs looking for an excuse to run a podrace!
THE PODS, THE RACERS
First you’ll need a pod for your PCs to drive, and opponents for them to race against. Here the Sentinel supplement “Endless Vigil” is pretty much essential – it has several example pods for your PC’s or their rivals to drive, and attachments you can use to modify them. The only thing it doesn’t have is a way to improve your pod’s systems strain threshold, which is an important thing to have in this system – I allowed my PC’s to buy “Redundancy Systems: Increase your pod’s system strain threshold by 2, but decrease Handling by 1” for 1000 credits, and would probably have allowed the to mod it for increased system strain if requested.
For rival racers, Force and Destiny already has stats for a Podracer Pilot in the Adversaries chapter. You’ll probably want to modify them a bit to reflect the personalities of different race entrants – I also nerfed the stats a little to prevent the PC entrant from being too outclassed, but since in my game the PC entrant won pretty convincingly, you can probably afford to be a little nastier…
Assuming there is only one PC entering the race, I recommend a number of competing racers equal to the number of extra players, plus one for you. It might sound like giving players control of NPCs competing against their party introduces a vested interest, but that wasn’t my experience at all. After a few jokes initially, my players very quickly embraced the spirit of things and were delighted to be involved; also, this system involves multi-party competitive rolls, and you’ll be very glad not to have to handle everything yourself.
Here’s a link to the racers and their pods I used in my game, including Tauros the Thunder, the race’s most challenging Sebulba-esque entrant.
He’s pretty much a jerk.
For the race, you’ll want a circular board that the racers advance along one square at a time. 48 squares for the whole race is about right – I had two laps of 24 squares, but an “across town” route of 48 squares straight, or three laps of 16 squares, also work fine. Get a token for every racer and put them in the first square.
Your course will be divided into regions, each with their own unique obstacles and challenges to keep things interesting. I’ll talk about the regions I used in my game later, but for now, just make sure that it is very clear which squares are in which region.
Here’s what my course looked like! We used different coloured glass beads for each racer.
Yes, the track goes anti-clockwise. No, I don’t regret using a yellow marker.
All pods start at Speed 0. When the lights flash green, and the chequered flag is waved, roll Cool to establish the initiative order as in combat.
In a racer’s turn, they get two manoeuvres, an action and a manoeuvre, or two manoeuvres and an action for 2 personal strain and system strain as normal. Like in “The Chase”, racers do not usually use their turn to further advance along the track – that happens at the end of the turn.
The basic manoeuvres and actions for racers to complete in their turn are:
Boost: take a boost die to your next race check OR another check this turn.
Cool: regain 1 point of system strain.
Accelerate/Decelerate: increase or decrease your speed by 1. As normal you cannot exceed your pod’s top speed.
Punch It: increase your speed to your pod’s top speed. Suffer system strain equal to the difference between these speeds.
Talent Ability (e.g. Full Throttle: take a difficulty 3 Piloting (Planetary) check to increase your pod’s top speed by 1, for a number of rounds equal to your Cunning.)
Damage Control: take a difficulty 1 Mechanics check to remove system strain equal to number of successes (difficulty 2 if you’ve suffered system strain equal to half your threshold). Can also be used to repair critical hits from collisions (difficulty determined by the critical hit’s severity).
Environmental Action: take advantage of opportunities in your current region – see example environmental actions below.
Use Force Power: however seems appropriate in context.
After every character has acted in order of initiative, all racers make a competitive racing check. The skill used and the difficulty is determined by the character’s current region (see below), but most are listed as having “terrain obstacles” – this means that, as normal, the difficulty is equal to your speed, upgraded by half your silhouette (or vice versa, if your speed is lower). Then move each racer in order of initiative, as determined below:
Race check succeeded AND racer scored most (or joint-most) successes: move forward a number of squares equal to your current speed plus two.
Race check succeeded BUT did not score most successes: move forward a number of squares equal to your current speed plus one.
Race check failed: move forward a number of squares equal to your current speed minus one.
Note that a winner is declared the second a racer crosses the finish line, not once every racer has had a chance to move – towards the end of the course, initiative order can be very important!
As mentioned above, each podracing course divides the track into distinct regions. Each region should have it’s own rules for the race check the racer makes at the end of the turn, and a special environmental action that racers can make in their turn if they are based in that region.
Below I’ve included the six regions from my race. As each podracing course is different, they are intended to serve as inspiration for GMs to create their own.
Starting Grid/Final Stretch
Lined by stands of cheering podracing fans, the open road is a stretch where only speed and skill matters.
Race Check: Test of Piloting (Planetary), no terrain obstacles – difficulty of check is 0.
Environmental Action – Jump Start/Drag Race: Make a Piloting (Planetary) check against a difficulty of 3. Success advances your racer one square.
A dumpsite of vehicle parts has been bulldozed to form mountains of trash, which skilled pilots can skim alongside to send fragments flying into trailing racers.
Race Check: Test of Piloting (Planetary) against terrain obstacles.
Environmental Action – Trash Spray: Make a Piloting (Planetary) check against a difficulty of 3 with 1 additional setback die. If you succeed, choose a rival racer in your region that is behind you or in your square. They are disoriented for two turns.
The narrow railings snaking up the side of Gozanti Tower require careful negotiation, but boosting skimmer altitude can advance a racer much further up the spiralling course.
Race Check: Test of Coordination against terrain obstacles. Handling modifiers do apply, and count double – for every point of handling, gain two dice.
Environmental Action – Altitude Hop: Make a Mechanics check against a difficulty of 3. Success advances your racer one square.
Rush Hour Highway
A quick dash across this main road would be easy, if anyone had bothered to tell the busy commuters that the highway was being “borrowed” for a podrace…
Race Check: Test of Cool against terrain obstacles with 1 additional setback die. Handling modifiers do apply.
Environmental Action – Ram into Traffic: Make an opposed Piloting (Planetary) check against a rival racer in the same region that is either in your square, one square ahead, or one square behind you. If you succeed, the rival racer upgrades the difficulty of their next race check.
Though the streets of this residential area should be empty, mischievous or bloodthirsty locals will probably have other ideas.
Race Check: Test of Piloting (Planetary) against terrain obstacles.
Environmental Action – Back Alley Shortcut: Make a Streetwise check against a difficulty of 3. Success advances your racer one square.
The engines of heavy industry never cease, and the power couplings lining the thoroughfare are sensitive a well-placed hurl of a spanner.
Race Check: Test of Piloting (Planetary) against terrain obstacles. If you fail this test, you move a number of squares equal to your speed (NOT minus one), but your racer is staggered for 2 turns. Staggered racers do not make actions, but can still make race checks.
Environmental Action – Power Couplings: Make a Ranged (Light) check against a difficulty of 2 with 1 additional setback die. If you succeed, choose a rival racer in your region that is ahead of you or in your square. They are staggered for two turns (see advice for staggered racers above).
INTERPRETING DICE POOLS
The unique environment of a podrace presents its own unique challenges and opportunities. It’s common for race checks and other skill tests in a podrace to provide advantages, threat, triumphs and despairs, and as normal, it’s the GM’s job to interpret them. Here are some suggestions for how they can be interpreted.
One advantage: Regain a point of personal strain; take a boost die on your next roll; provide information about an upcoming change in the race environment.
Two advantages: Take a boost die on your next race check; provide a rival you just overtook a misfortune die on their next race check; perform a free manoeuvre if you’ve only performed one this turn.
Three advantages: Move one step up the initiative track.
Triumph: Upgrade your next race check; implement a change of circumstances that allow you to change the skill used in the next race check (usually allowing you to test Piloting (Planetary) where you weren’t previously allowed to); ignore environmental penalty (e.g Handling modifiers) for your next turn.
One threat: Lose one speed (if this happens as part of a race check, reduce speed AFTER calculating the numbers of squares moved that turn); lose a point of personal strain, lose a point of system strain (should not be used to take racers over their strain thresholds).
Two threat: Lose one speed (if this happens as part of a race check, reduce speed BEFORE calculating the numbers of squares moved that turn); take a misfortune die on your next race check; provide a racer close behind you a boost die on their next race check.
Three threat: Drop to the bottom of the initiative track.
Despair: Upgrade the difficulty of your next race check; suffer a collision (let’s call it a minor collision, though since podracers typically have 0 defence, there isn’t much of a difference…); suffer a point of system strain or personal strain if it would take you over your threshold (which knocks you out the race in a dramatic fashion!).
If you’ve followed my advice above, your non-race entering players are having a super fun time during this race, driving their newly acquired non-player characters to their absolute limit with reckless abandon. However, it is still likely that they’ll want their party’s representative to win the race, and will want to feel a part of that victory by finding some way to interact with the race somehow.
This is especially likely if the PCs possess some method of subtle interference, such as magic powers.
I think this is fun and reasonable, but the point is not to allow all the other PCs to crowd out the one entering the race; nor to give the PCs a huge action advantage by allowing them to act multiple times in a turn. My advice is that other PCs outside the race are allowed to intervene in this way… but any actions and manoeuvres they take come out of the action and manoeuvre allowance of the PC participating in the race. So, if a supervising PC uses a Leadership action to inspire a racing PC before their race check, the test is made is made in the racing PC’s turn, and prevents the racing PC from making an action of their own.
Of course, non-PC racers can do the same thing – and unscrupulous racers (such as the one under the GM’s control), might use this rule as a way of setting up a trap or ambush for the PCs halfway through the course…
DESIGNER NOTES AND STRATEGY
This system is designed to give racers a few different things to think about in their turn, rather than just rolling Piloting (Planetary) over again without much thought or interaction. Since succeeding a race check can move you up to three squares further forward than failing one, sometimes going slower to make sure your race check succeeds can get you further ahead than going quickly. That said, high speed always moves you forward a decent amount whether you succeed or pass the race check, so there’s certainly a balance to be had!
A variety of racers will help distinguish the pack, and mix up the decisions each racer makes in their turn. This will be especially apparent early on – your system strain threshold is often the deciding factor between whether you Punch It! right out the gate or accelerate more slowly. The “Cool” manoeuvre is designed to encourage racers to be bold, to have a degree of insurance if they roll too many threats, but the “Boost” manoeuvre is so consistently useful that none of the other choices are easy.
When designing your course, be sure to include some regions similar to the starting grid above that reward speed over everything else. When your players are counting grid squares, trying to work out the best time to accelerate to make the most of that extra boost of speed, that’s when you know the outcome of their race checks will extra nailbiting.
And don’t be afraid to mix up the course mid-race! In the course I designed above, all out warfare broke out in the Gangland District at the end of lap 1, and the police closed off the Highway halfway through lap 2. It’s a good way to reward racers who spent advantages on information about what’s up ahead, but mostly it’s to remind your players that there are no safe bets in podracing.