Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Bond and the Chase Scene: Night's Black Agents

Let's tackle something a little different this time and talk about chase scenes.

In Night's Black Agents the main book points out that they 'require more attention and creativity than other contests' and should be considered a major set-piece event, packed with thrills. That means the Director needs to prepare in advance, or at the very least have some notes for potential chases given the locale the agents are likely to be in. To discuss what that might mean for the Director, I'm taking two Bond chase scenes as examples and dissecting them, from a pure rules perspective.

Starting with Moonraker, take a look at the canal scene.

First: yes, it's incredibly camp. All the Moore Bonds were camp. That's part of the fun!

Second: there's no real reason for Bond to be using a gondola in this scene, but it's a cool thing to do, and it's an iconic Venetian symbol. When in doubt always do the cool thing ought to be the agent's motto, and the Director's too. It's been a long time since I've seen this movie, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Bond's gondolier is introduced as agent Blankorelli of the British Secret Service. IMDB has not seen fit to preserve his character's name for posterity.

The scene kicks off with an ambush moment, a really fantastic reveal. True, there's no reason why he should be popping out of that coffin with throwing knives when a silenced pistol would be more efficient, but screw efficiency; knives are the better cinematic option. The chase hasn't officially begun yet, so the usual prohibition on Weapons during a chase doesn't apply. Note how the NPC gondolier is his first target, even though Bond's a sitting duck. Not only does this give Bond a chance to fight back, it also knocks the gondolier - who otherwise might have tried to pilot the gondola - out of the running straight away. Always leave the agent in the driver's seat.

Initial Lead is probably very short - no more than 2, given that Bond's caught flat footed and the mooks are right next to him - and the operative ability is Piloting. This is a cramped chase - all those narrow, twisting canals - and Bond is probably the more maneuverable participant, so the starting Lead is bumped by minimum +1, up to 3. It might be more, but without handy gondola stats it's simpler to opt for the minimum. Given how quickly Bond moves to the Sudden Escape, those mooks probably didn't start with a fantastic Piloting pool.

A mook immediately opens up with an SMG, peppering the scenery but otherwise doing no damage. Bond's Hit Threshold would be 4, bumped up to 5 since this is an Attack During Chase. The mook used 3 pool points just to attack, but for once the chase difficulty doesn't go up, since the boat opening fire isn't one of the ones chasing Bond. Not yet, anyway. Nevertheless there's a cinematic failure moment when the funeral barge cruises under a low bridge, but that doesn't affect the chase scene itself since, after the initial reveal, the barge was out of the running anyway.

By 1.13 the chase begins in earnest, Bond in his tricked-out gondola versus two mooks in a much more conventional speedboat. Bond's going to jump to Lead 10 fairly quickly, so by this point it's reasonable to assume the initial contested chase roll went Bond's way. Lead is now 5.

More shooting, and again with an SMG, probably not the optimal weapon under the circumstances but what the heck, they're only mooks. At Lead 5, Bond is at Near range for combat purposes. Again, the mooks are spending 3 pool points just to shoot, Bond's Hit Threshold goes from 4 to 5, and the difficulty of the mooks' chase test bumps up by 1. Bond opts for an Evasive Maneuver, turning a sharp corner and increasing his Hit Threshold from 5 to 6. That costs him 2 Piloting. Given that he's probably a Gear Devil, he may opt for a 3-point refresh at some stage. The gondola takes some dramatic splash damage, but otherwise things are going Bond's way.

Again, it's reasonable to assume he wins the contested chase roll this round, possibly because the mooks opted to shoot, thus increasing their chase difficulty number. Lead is now 7. If the mooks try to shoot again, it'll be at Long range. Which they do, of course; they're mooks, and by now the only hope they have of getting Bond at all is with a lucky shot. Again, Bond's Hit Threshold goes from 4 to 5, and the mooks' chase test difficulty goes up by 1, in addition to all the other modifiers that will apply.

The mooks aren't providing much challenge, so it's time for the Director to throw in a Hazard: Bond's rapidly approaching a traffic stop, and the lights are against him. There's a potential Crash at stake, with a vehicle roughly equivalent of a motorcycle for damage modifier purposes. Assume a Difficulty 5 for that test; with modifier -3 that means only 2 Damage is at stake, but given the relative fragility of Bond's gondola it could change the chase significantly if he crashes. He doesn't, so the next in line - the mooks - do, probably because they exhausted their Piloting pool a while back and are running on hope and prayer right about now. Not that 2 Damage is going to do the mooks any harm, but it makes for a fun moment as the lovers drift off in their own little world while their gondolier goes down with the ship.

By this point Bond has hit more than 7 Lead, so it's time for the Sudden Escape. The gondola is clearly Q issue, but its gadgets haven't been fully described, and while there's no reason why Q - practical man that he is - would design a gondola capable of going on land in Venice, the lure of that Sudden Escape is too good to pass up. No doubt Gear Devil Bond uses those refreshed Piloting pool points to make the roll. The mooks despair, Bond drives merrily through the most famous public square in Venice, and the chase is over.

None of this is particularly rules-heavy or difficult to pull off. In the final analysis, the chase was just a few contested rolls, some shooting, one hazard and a sudden escape. What makes it memorable is its location, its vehicles, and the cool set pieces; the knife-throwing coffin man, the oblivious lovers, and the blatant Up Yours of that sudden escape. A chase doesn't have to be packed with stuff to be a good chase, but it does need to have those images, those WTF moments, to work as a scene. 

Now consider the ski scene in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond is trying to escape Blofeld's mountaintop fortress, but the guards spot him before he gets too far and an Athletics chase ensues. Technically this is a three group chase; Bond, mook group A, and mook group Blofeld. Beginning Lead is probably quite good, since Bond is the instigator and has had some time to prepare; call it 5. This is a normal chase, all groups are traveling at about the same speed, and by the look of things everyone's equally as good at Athletics, so there's no bonus to be had there. Brilliant chase scene music, by the way; just goes to show getting a good soundtrack is worth the trouble.

Technically the first shots fired (about 0.30) aren't part of the chase sequence, but were I Director I might say that the agent's difficulty increases by 1 for the next contested chase roll if the agent is under fire.  That allows the agent to rush off in a hail of bullets, without the tedious dice rolling (and possible early termination of the chase) that might accompany an actual attack.

Much activity ensues, and Blofeld is informed. At this point no actual chase action has taken place. Earlier I divided the mooks into two groups; they could as easily be kept as one big pool, but with Blofeld in the mix it makes more sense to have two groups. That way the major villain is still a major threat, while the other group of mooks might be knocked out of the running. It gives Bond someone he can beat, while at the same time introducing an antagonist that the Director would rather Bond didn't beat at this point in the plot.

It's 1.50 and now the chase is on. Each mook group has at least one armed man in the group. Now, in the gondola scene, when shooting took place there had to be an increased Firearms pool spend, the target's Hit Threshold went up by 1, and the Difficulty of the attacker's chase test went up by 1 in the attacking round. It could be argued that, since there's only one shooter, the shooter and only the shooter suffers the penalties that come with shooting; the other mooks in the group don't have the same penalty. I'd argue against that. Giving each mook separate die rolls only draws out what should be a quick, action-packed scene, and goes against the game principle of multiple pursuers. What if there had been ten mooks in the group? Will ten separate die rolls really be necessary? No; it's more sensible to treat the group as a group, with a common pool and common penalties.

So far, though plenty of shots have been fired, Bond hasn't been hit, but neither has there been any real change in Lead, suggesting that both Bond and the mooks have been succeeding their Athletics tests. By 1.35 we have the first of several Hazards, a jump sequence at night in snow-covered rocky terrain. This is a Falling Hazard, probably with minimum Athletics Difficulty 5, at considerable speed and height. Without sitting down to work out the actual speed plus height - which would be tedious, and again, this is meant to be a quick, action-packed scene - assume +2 damage for speed and height and a further +1 for the terrain, with no other applicable modifiers, so in total there's 8 (Difficulty 5+2+1) damage at stake. Certainly enough to splash a mook, and it probably wouldn't do Bond any good either. That Falling Hazard is soon followed by another Falling Hazard, higher this time, so call it 9 damage at stake.

The mooks are holding fire, and with good reason; everyone must be burning through Athletics. Bond might be able to blag a refresh from his Director, but the mooks haven't got that option. At about 1.55 Bond slips into the treeline, probably still at Lead 5; there's no reason to think anyone's been able to extend or reduce Lead dramatically. The change in terrain alters the chase conditions from normal to cramped, but nobody's more maneuverable than anyone else. Bond is probably hoping to provoke a Raise in his opponent's Difficulty numbers.

Then the mooks stop to coordinate, with flares and rockets. Bond's in trouble. In game terminology, this is best represented by mook group Blofeld, which so far has hung back out of the action, adding points from its relevant pools to mook group A. Effectively this provides mook group A with Athletics - and possibly other abilities, like Firearms - refresh. It allows the Director to account for a major villain's presence - Blofeld giving orders to the troops and organizing the attack - without actually bringing the villain face to face with the agent.

Bond's best chance now is to get mook group A to crash out early, so it's time to start provoking Raises. Bond opts to increase Difficulty by 1, from 4 to 5; he could have gone higher, but he hasn't had the pool refresh that the mooks just enjoyed. In fact they enjoyed it so much that, at 2.36, they Raise with gunfire, upping their chase sequence Difficulty from 5 to 6, upping Bond's Hit Threshold from 4 to 5, and spending 3 points from those refreshed Firearms pools to do it.

Bond is hit, but not out. He fails the chase sequence Difficulty test, goes arse over teakettle, and busts a ski. He also takes some Damage, and may even be less than 0 Health. Remember, the agents can go below 0 Health; mooks can't. Bond's probably at Hurt, so his Difficulty numbers, including opponent's Hit Thresholds, go up by 1; an effect neatly illustrated by his having to get away on one ski. Lead is also reduced, from 5 to 3.

Now, if Bond continues to Raise by snaking in and out of the treeline, his Difficulty goes up to 6 - his Hurt penalty plus the Raise - while the mooks' Difficulty stays at 5. Bond clearly thinks this is worth the risk, and he probably has the Athletics pool to back that bet up. What's more, by 3.10 he's back in Falling Hazard territory again, so Bond's Difficulty is actually 7 while the mooks' Difficulty is at 6. That's too much for the mooks, who lose a man in the trees. However we're close to the end of the sequence and the mooks are going to win this one, so while Bond made the Falling Hazard Athletics test he must have flubbed a contested chase roll at some point, bringing Lead from 3 to 1.

Another Falling Hazard at about 3.30 reduces mook group A to one man, but Bond's running out of luck, and also, it turns out, room to maneuver. The chase ends at 3.45 at the precipice, with Bond unable to go any further. In game, that last contested chase roll must have either ended in a draw, with the mook having the better roll, or Bond must have lost it. In any case, Lead drops to 0 or below. Hurt, and with his back to the metaphorical wall, he turns on the surviving mook, and the scene goes from Chase to Combat.

Again, nothing about this scene is particularly rules-heavy. It's mostly contested Athletics, with some Firearms, and the agent's making some clever use of the Raise mechanic. While there is a Hazard, it's the same Hazard each time. That doesn't have to be a problem. Multiple use of the same Hazard is acceptable, provided it's in keeping with the scene, and serves to increase dramatic tension. Besides, it wasn't over-used; ten Falling Hazards in a row would have been tedious, but there weren't that many of them, and the ones that did exist were mixed in with other events to break up the sequence. Bond didn't win the chase, but he had enough points left in his pool to quickly finish the Combat sequence, even taking his Hurt status into account. All in all, a success!

I hope this is of some help to you Directors out there. Have a good one!


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