Exploding Autogolems

Recently, someone on the stratometaship (my patreon discord server) asked about thoughts on person-to-vehicle damage. Now, while I’ve always had a fondness for RIFTS-style megadamage … I wouldn’t really go there myself these days.

In UVG (and SDM) I generally describe vehicles with 4 attributes: level, life, adjectives, and [carrying] capacity.

In combat, I tend to rely on a vehicle’s level, life, and speed adjectives (fast or slow) to figure out what’s going on.


Speed is descriptive: very slow, slow, normal (null, no adjective), fast, very fast. Sometimes the adjectives can be more flavorful, fast as a bat out of hell, slow as a zombie, sluggish, quicksilver. But the basic thing I keep in mind is a relative speed scale:

  1. Very Slow (severe penalty)
  2. Slow (penalty)
  3. Normal (baseline)
  4. Fast (bonus)
  5. Very Fast (great bonus)

Note that what is normal – the baseline – is relative and shifts. So, we could compare the speeds of two snails, or a snail and a slug, or a snail and a worm, but add a gerbil to the mix and suddenly the baseline shifts and we’ve got a different game—and rolling for a race or chase makes no sense unless we’re in an Aesopic fable.

But for now, we’re dealing with vehicles, so let’s say they’re roughly similar. Beyond two steps (so, say, very slow vs fast) there’s no need to roll. The faster vehicle wins every chase. For smaller differences, I assign a bonus to the faster vehicle. I adjust this depending on context. In a crowded street chase this might be as little as a +3 to the roll, while on an open straight-line run it might be a straight up advantage (roll two dice, take better). For a two-step difference I might double that, or whatever.

The reason I don’t nail down these bonuses is because they’re usually the product of a discussion with the players. I describe the situation and propose the bonus for the roll. Then they can choose to do something to improve things (for example, let’s drop some ballast to have a better chance to escape!) and we negotiate the final modifier(s) to the roll(s).

Generally, in a chase I’ll ask just the PCs to roll to see whether they get away or catch up. In initiative or a race, I’ll have both sides roll and see who rolls better and wins the round.

Level and Life

These work just like with NPCs and creatures. There’s the creature table and level correlates to certain damage scores, defenses, and [combat] bonuses.

Now, in practice, I tend to tweak life scores and may also tweak defenses, bonuses, and damage – but this is a decent baseline to default to. Essentially, a bigger vehicle will do more damage in a collision to a smaller vehicle than vice versa … and be able to take more bangs. This is fine. Good enough, as the good mook says.


But how do we make a 6th level hero face a 6th level autogolem? Shouldn’t there be some simulation for the fact that one is a flesh-and-metal-endoskeleton human, while the other is a sentient ceramic-steel hybrid vehicle?

I generally improvise something with giving the vehicle a higher life score and setting a threshold before damage physically affects the vehicle. So, a vehicle might get Level 6 and 100 life (not 38 like a human foe) and not show damage until it was reduced to 50 life.

For something that’s armored / heavy, I might rule half damage from light arms.

But then I started thinking about how to make it more cinematic. One idea I had was adding an explode chance to every critical hit. Say, 1-in-6 cumulative chance to blow up on a critical hit, encouraging PCs to burn their hero dice (bennies) to make vehicles go up fireball-style. So, if the first crit didn’t blow, the second has a 2-in-6 chance, third has 3-in-6, and so on.

But then I had another idea for mixing nice boomplosions with crippling damage.

Damage Thresholds. Let’s describe it with the attribute Cripple (since vehicles already have Capacity, it seems nice to aliterate). Each vehicle gets a Cripple score. Say Cripple 5 for a light vehicle, like a motorbike, and Cripple 20 for something like an autogolem.

So, leave them with high life scores and let them take damage as normal, but if an individual attack crosses that damage threshold, the attacker gets to roll on a fun “Fire & Explosion Table”. If a vehicle with a Cripple 5 score takes more than 5 damage (6+), you roll on the table. With a Cripple 20 score it requires more than 20 damage (21+).

Fire and Explosion Table

d100 + damage suffered
1–50 vehicle slowed (disadvantage to chase / race rolls)
51–60 vehicle bleeding fuel (is now flammable)
61-70 occupant takes equal damage
71–80 vehicle steering damaged (disadvantage to all maneuver rolls)
81–90 driver disabled (takes equal damage, vehicle is heading for obstacle – passenger save to take control in time)
91–100 vehicle is on fire (hard test to prevent explosion in … roll d6 each round, on 1–3 it explodes dealing Vehicle Level x d10 damage to all occupants inside, Vehicle Level x d4 damage to everyone on the vehicle.
100+ BOOM! See above for explosion.

For generic use, you could start with damage thresholds of 3 + 3 x vehicle Level, rounded to the nearest 5 for easier math.

Obviously, there’s a bit of a problem with bigger vehicles more likely to explode. A way to change that would be to roll d100 + damage suffered over the threshold, but that requires more maths so … if you’re willing to live with tanks cooking off explosively (and why not, haha), then let them go up in great balls of ulfire.

This was a kind of random post, but fun. I’m honestly half-ready to just scrap all the categories on this blog and jumble everything into a generic “game-stuff” category and simply use tags. These days I put “ready” stuff together in PDFs anyway, but I’ve stopped posting random snippets on Xwitter because, well. So, perhaps the categories are not useful anymore and I should just loosen up with the blog and post whatever seems fun.

Well, and talking of PDFs, there’s a big new thing over on the patreon: twenty character paths for the synthetic dream machine. I’ve added art, 120 traits, 120 NPCs, and 240 items. Easy enough to adapt to most OSR games too. That’s a big chunk of the upcoming Our Golden Age book ready—it’s a kind of []quel to the UVG.

Also, the rulebook for the UVG – the Vastlands Guide Book (VLG) is nearly ready for release. That’s gonna be free. Nice, huh?

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