This article originally appeared in Pyramid #22
GURPS Autoduel, 2nd Edition Designer's Notes
by Christopher J. Burke
and Robert J. Garitta
Once again the rule of the road goes to the car with biggest guns. But this time, the cars, the guns and the road have changed. The cars are sleeker, but there's more under the hood. The weapons are deadlier, but the armor is stronger.
In fact, more has changed than has remained the same from the First Edition. But that shouldn't surprise anyone, particularly duellists. After all, ten years have passed since that book — one of the earliest worldbooks produced for GURPS — was first published. In that time, numerous Car Wars supplements were produced, and each one established a little more of the customs, culture and "history" of Autoduel America.
Now you would think that with the extra 32 pages that this edition contains, we'd have enough room to shoehorn it all in, right? If you believe that, I got a slightly-used Killer Kart that you can steal away from me for just ten grand . . .
From the start, Car Wars was rich in its background material, and over the years grew richer. It was a great setting for roleplaying, if you didn't mind only having three hit points. But as extensive as that future history was, it wasn't complete; there were gaps in the chronology. Worse, with so many writers making their own contributions, there were inevitable contradictions — which, naturally, had to be corrected. For a board game, none of this mattered much, but GURPS players are a little more demanding.
Much of the background comes from books that are out of print, and their inclusion seemed mandatory. But unless the book was printed with four-point typesetting (a resounding "No!" from the editor on that one), some great material had to be cut out. That meant tough choices had to be made.
So the two of us went back to the basics. You can't have Autoduel without the "auto," so that meant cars for the heroes, motorcycles for the evil biker gangs, and trucks for the long haul. Then we threw in the trikes because they didn't require too many extra rules, and helicopters because they've been there since the beginning (although the rules for actually building and using them didn't show up until Autoduel Champions.) The book would focus on these vehicles, as these were what the characters would most likely face while adventuring. Anyone needing something more complicated than that (e.g., a tank) could either fudge something or build them according to GURPS Vehicles, 2nd Edition rules.
Next came the history. The Autoduel Quarterly "Newswatch" columns were gathered together, and articles and supplements were combed for historical references.
"So," Rob asked, "are we going to leave the timeline alone or tinker with it?"
"That depends," Chris replied, looking over the 1980s and 1990s entries. "Did Beirut get nuked in '92?"
Okay, so we had to change a few things now that some of these future history "facts" have come and passed. At least Steve and company were on the mark with the predictions about gas reserves running low (checked the pump lately?), social programs running out and the repeal of the national speed limit (only off by one year).
The problem with revising history is that anyone paying attention already knows what happened when. For example, the Second Civil War started in the year 2000 and the Grain Blight occurred in 2012. These are two key dates in Autoduel history, and we couldn't change them.
So we compromised, we pushed everything that we could to the end of this decade so that the Autoduel timeline can officially diverge from our own at the year 2000. (It unofficially diverges with the revised date of the Beirut bombing, 1998.)
The Road Atlases presented the biggest challenge: How do you squeeze the contents of seven books, as well as new material for the Southwest, Alaska, Hawaii and all the ADQ entries, into 40 pages? Answer: one part mallet, two parts pick-axe. Chris cringed every time he was forced to choose between cutting a major city on a main road and a minor one that provided more intriguing adventure hooks. In the end, though, we managed to cover every state and at least one city in every state, and numerous adventure seeds.
Finally, all the major Autoduel organizations are represented: AADA, EDSEL, BLUD, the Brotherhood, Gold Cross, Green Circle and ARF — especially ARF (see below). Campaign ideas are provided for all of them, whether they become Patrons or Enemies.
So that basically covered everything. And it all fit into a nice tidy package, right? You know, that Killer Kart has all-wheel drive and side-mounted gunports from where a rocket flew through the back seat.
Unfortunately, the book still exceeded its word count — not quite by an order of magnitude, but close enough. It came down to a choice between ditching the cars, forgetting the history or losing the Atlas. When the smoke grenade cleared, the construction rules were removed (and several weeks of number-crunching went into the trash). Whether you want to circle arenas, smash-and-grab, bounce over dunes, make a long haul over dangerous terrain, or patrol the skies, you'll first need GURPS Vehicles, 2nd Edition to do it. On the positive side, that book facilitates Aeroduel, Aquaduel and, er, Armyduel.
It sounds like sacrilege, but it makes the most sense. If we kept the background, we still had an Autoduel book. If we jettisoned it, what was left over would've been a watered-down copy of Vehicles. That's not what we really wanted. So the Construction chapter was replaced with some guidelines detailing the major differences between Autoduel and Vehicles cars. Likewise, the Combat and Action chapters (which were pretty much lifted from David Pulver's manuscript in the first place) were deep-sixed.
So What's Changed . . .
Wrapping this all up in one cohesive — and playable — bundle required a little tweaking of Car Wars facts and mechanics. Among the changes we made were the following:
ARF. As mentioned above, ARF is back big time. When we last left the 2040s, society was slowly returning to normal, and order had been restored throughout much of North America. Boring! Civilized society doesn't make for very stimulating roleplaying. ARF's return represents a major threat to the new order.
And ARF was a natural candidate. Not only has the Anarchist Relief Front has been around since the early '80s (i.e., the early '30s), but numerous ADQ subscribers had a hand in shaping their campaign of terror through numerous scenarios and letter columns. Besides, Autoduel campaigns needed some formidable opponent other than the Evil Cycle Gang.
Corporate Power. Corporations no longer have the control they once did; the facts just worked against them. During the chaos at the turn of the city, multinationals saw many of their assets nationalized. During the Food Riots, private security forces guarded every factory, but reserves were too far away and usually arrived in no condition to fight. During the Cycle Gang era, resources couldn't be easily moved from one location to another without great loss. As a result, few companies will have franchises in every marketplace in 2046. However, that doesn't mean that corporate America isn't on the rise again.
The Internet. It no longer exists. The breakdown of society led to the collapse of vast computer networks. Regional bulletin boards and databases still exist, as do hackers who tend to be more mobile.
Gold Cross. You now have a 48-hour time limit to get your memories read into a clone instead of just 24. This was done just to open up more adventure possibilities, more perilous journeys that will last longer than a single day. On the other hand, if you don't find out the guy's dead until the following morning . . .
The Space Program. There have been a few references to outer space over the years. For instance, the Road Atlases make reference to "abandoned space centers" several times. But a couple of things have been overlooked. Hurricanes pounded Florida in 2011 and 2012, laying waste to much of the Atlantic coastline. This means that NASA lost its primary launchpad. And let's not forget that Houston is no longer part of the United States, so in 2011 they weren't on speaking terms. Then the Blight hit, then the Food Riots. When did anyone get around to rebuilding the space program?
The Jap-Am War. We were asked by only two people during playtest, "What happened to the war?" Well, it never happened; at least it hasn't happened yet. There are several reasons for this.
First, the book originally focused on cars, not military craft.
Second, the set up was improbable — a "Texas-Japanese plot." Never mind that Texas is not only on better terms with the U.S. than its expansionist neighbor Louisiana, but it needs the trade to survive. And Japan, which relies heavily on American dollars for its survival, would have to be suicidal to start such a fight on mainland America. Something along the lines of Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor might be possible, but a sneak attack which assassinates the President (Macauly Culkin?!) would invite the utter destruction of Japan. Even though the U.S. reined in Patton in World War II and Stormin' Norman in the Gulf, would they be able to stop an overzealous 2046 counterpart?
Finally, the war typified exactly what went wrong with Car Wars in the first place — the arms race. One day, Joe Duellist, wondering where his next meal is coming from, sits in the driver's seat for his first amateur night, hoping for fame, glory and a steady income. The next day, there are giant navies setting sail and killer satellites flying by. Subcompacts were pushed aside for submarines. And somewhere along the way, the cars got lost.
The war was a scenario; that's all. If you want to have a war, have one — maybe the PCs can run Special Ops missions. On the other hand, you can say that the whole thing was a promotional stunt for the latest Schwarzenegger flick. That's what the TV said it was, and we have to believe what they say on TV.
Changes in Strategy
First thing, unlearn everything you knew about designing cars. They're not built the same way. Which is fine, because they don't act the same either.
Car bodies no longer have a preset volume size. Instead, you can build one as big or as small as you like. The choice depends on what the vehicle will be used for. Arena cars will be smaller than courier vehicles that need the passenger and cargo space. And the materials that the frame is made from can be cheap and heavy or lightweight and expensive, whichever you prefer.
As mentioned earlier, the weapons and armor have changed. Ablative armor is cheaper and lighter and doesn't get blown away on a point-for-point basis as in Car Wars. Instead, one point of DR is lost for each ten points of damage that hits the armor. Sounds too good to be true . . . until you consider that one second of machinegun fire can inflict (assuming every shot hits) 180 dice of damage!
Different weapons have different effects and ranges. For example, tank guns are excellent for long-range sniping. Automatic weapons have lousy penetration, but are good for chipping away armor. HEAT shells can blow through most armor, but you may still need an automatic weapon to help against thick ablative. Rockets and tank guns are deadly — but their cost has risen dramatically to match their effectiveness.
In fact, the best overall designs will probably combine automatic weapons with HEAT shells. This would reduce the DR enough for the HEAT to blast away at the internal components — and the occupants!
Though the weapons in Autoduel are considered early TL8, they pale in comparison to most TL7 military weapons. In fact, most Army-style LAWs, which could knock at modern-day tanks, will easily wreak havoc on a 2046 Hotshot. This is by design: the weapons available to duellist are not military weapons. Sure, some of the TL7 equipment might have survived the Riots, the cycle gangs and ARF, but its not likely that private citizens will own any of them. And if they did, the military would see to it that they didn't own them for very long.
Finally, a couple of old Car Wars restrictions are now optional for those GMs who want to keep the Car Wars feel.
Wheelguards have no limits. Layer it on as thick as you like. This also makes lighter HEAT and AP weapons attractive choices for taking out tires. (For examples, a light recoilless rifle, or a machinegun with armor-piercing rounds.)
Weapon mounting rules. Since weapons are more expensive, the cost is more likely to limit the design than the amount of space available. So if the rear guard wants to load up on defenses, great. If the point man wants a tank gun poking out of the grill, that's fine, too.
And that's about it, except for . . .
The Obligatory Sign-Off
Article publication date: November 1, 1996
Copyright © 1996 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.