On the Road
Car Design Outside the Arena

By Tim Ray


The task of designing Car Wars vehicles for the arena environment is relatively simple, despite the growing number of gadgets and weapons available. The budget is fixed; everyone is operating under the same constraints and arena ground rules. On the road, you may come up against anything from the lone, fanatic cyclist to a convoy of Q-trucks driven by Knights of the Brotherhood to (nightmare of nightmares) a helicopter or microplane attack squadron. The one concept common to vehicle design for the arena and the road is this. Since there is no perfect design for all situations, the most effective vehicles are those that specialize and perform one task very well. Three basic facts of combat on the road make vehicle specialization an attractive strategy:

No vehicle is perfect for all tasks in all situations no luxury car can, for example, carry a ramplate for roadblocks, heavy underbody armor for mines, dropped weapons, direct fire weapons, a universal turret for air defense, and enough cargo to show a profit from its journeys.

There is safety in numbers - vehicles on the road tend to concentrate into convoys for mutual protection, and bandits tend to concentrate to break the convoys. A group of specialized vehicles can, to a degree, act as a single, very large, vehicle.

Road combat is almost always linear - that is, the combatants will be following one another. In a single combat, the front weapons of one will be facing the rear weapons of the other. In a convoy, the vehicles in front will be facing those in the rear of the opposing force. It behooves the rear vehicles of the convoy to specialize in dropped nastiness and rear armor while the front men need heavy front and underbody armor, the best tires, good forward weaponry and ramplates to deal with any roadblocks the convoy might encounter. The trick, then, is to create the situations for which the vehicles have been designed - but this is a matter of tactics, not vehicle design.

This article will deal primarily with the smaller vehicles found on the highways of 2039. The intercity streets and residential roads are outside the scope of this article.

Cycles, trikes, cars of all sizes and 10-wheelers can all be found on the road, going about their business. This is primarily small-time commerce, both legal and otherwise, though some is travel for pleasure. The distribution of available space and weight among common vehicle designs encountered on the road reflects the commercial nature of highway traffic. Most vehicles have some sort of cargo or passenger space, and many have almost their entire volume given up to deliveries. Even the vehicles that cruise the road, hunting for loot, must have some cargo capacity in order to carry away their prizes. On the highway, even more than in the arena, weight is the major limiting factor, for it must not only be devoted to weapons and armor, but to cargo as well. Let's take the design basics one at a time and see how best to adapt them for life on the open road.

Body Style

Cycles and trikes survive because they aren't a significant threat when encountered alone. In large groups, they can pose a hazard even to a truck convoy. Even large groups of these vehicles are vulnerable to air attack because of the dearth of hard-hitting turrets, and the lack of top and side armor on cycles. Subcompacts, the last choice in the arena, are also the last choice among road cars, for the same reasons of insufficient space and weight capacity. Compacts, midsizes, sedans and luxuries are usually seen as convoy escort vehicles, or forming a convoy of their own for mutual protection. The phenomenal armor-carrying ability of the midsize is well-suited to the barricade-smashing role, while the lux, with up to 10 spaces available for dropped weapons, is ideal for the rearguard position. The pickup can carry more armor than any other normal vehicle, and this makes it the ultimate small barricade buster. The van at last comes into its own as a convoy anti-aircraft vehicle. Its thin armor is unimportant when insulated from direct ground attack by the rest of the convoy.

Chassis

As in the arena, there is no good reason not to have an extra-heavy chassis on a road car.

Suspension

Heavy suspension is also de rigeur, and off-road suspension is an attractive option for cycles, trikes and any other vehicle that depends on evasion for its survival.

Power plant

Gasoline engines have become popular lately in arena duelling, but on the road, the electric plant is still king, due to logistics and space requirements. Even the greater possible range afforded by the fuel-injected gasburners doesn't make up for the fact that gas Stations are usually far more than 400 miles apart. Also, that extra range is achieved at the expense of top speed and interior space, and at incredibly high cost. The situation is somewhat different in Australia and the Free Oil States, where gasoline (and the money to buy it) is more common, but a convoy of gas-powered vehicles, while a fearful sight, is the stuff of legend for most motorists in 2039.

Tires

The toughest that money can buy are the only choice for the road. It's significant that all truckers run on solids, steel-belted solids or metal tires; it seems almost like a religion with them. If the Brotherhood only feels safe driving on 18-point tires, then the rest of us have to take a hard look at solids or better for our vehicles. A good alternative is the steel-belted, fireproof PR tire. This wonder of technology weighs the same as a solid, has the same DP, costs only $100 more and won't catch fire. Vehicles devoted to barricade busting should consider metal tires - barricades are often surrounded by mines. Some cargo space of any convoy should be devoted to spare tires.

Armor

The key to staying alive on the road is tenacity, in both the offensive and defensive sense. The highway predators are much like those in nature - if their prey is too hard to bring down, they will wait until something more succulent comes down the pike. Half the battle is being able to take punishment, either from persistent predators or feisty targets. Most road combat is linear in nature, so strong front and rear armor is a must. Metal armor can be worthwhile on the rear, where most damage will come from weapon fire; but it's not so valuable up front, where it can be rammed into uselessness. An extensive dropped-weapon array can substitute for heavy rear armor, but weapons require space, subtracting capacity from the interior volume that small cargo carriers are loathe to give up.

Side armor need not be as heavy as front or rear protection, but should be heavy enough to absorb shots from an ambush. Roadside ambushes will probably only get one or two good shots at a moving target, but the armor must be able to stop those cold. Usually, these ambushes are set up by those with low mobility (i.e., pedestrians), or bandits planning an off-road getaway.

Top armor, skimped on in the arena, cannot be ignored on the road, where helicopters and oversized vehicles can get easy shots from above. Top armor should be at least as heavy as side armor on a road car - while a helicopter is able to easily stay with a vehicle, there aren't that many roaming the highways. The only other ways top armor can be hit are if the vehicle has a turret, or if an oversized vehicle with a turret (do you know any other kind?) gets too close. Turrets are far more common on the road than in the arena, for reasons explained below. As for the oversized vehicles, well, nobodyplans to get shot at bya rolling, oversized death machine like a semi. If you do, it's usually your own fault.

The underbody is another area that deserves more protection than in the arena, where there is almost always room to go around dropped weapons. Think of the road as an arena four or five inches wide and infinitely long. A car moving only 60 mph at the proper angle can cover the road with such a swath of greasy, burning, spikey, gaseous goo that it can ruin your whole future if you go through it. A few points of metal on the underbody can ensure that you don't acquire a nasty burn modifier from the dropped stuff, and makes that part of the vehicle virtually immune to flame clouds and flaming oil.

Component armor, so widely used in the arena, is not as popular on the road. Each compartment of armor takes up another valuable space, so it is usually found around cargo or passenger space when encountered at all.

One final word about armor: It's worth your while to use laser-reflective armor when venturing out onto the road, because there are plenty of zapgunners knocking around out there with your name on their main tube.

Weapons

The other half of becoming an unattractive target is the ability to shoot back. Likewise, a modern-day predator needs firepower in order to cull the weaklings from the herd. Weapon selection for the road is somewhat different than for the arena. A long arena match can last up to 30 seconds; a road duel can go for minutes, hours, or even days, depending on the persistence of the attackers and the condition of the defenders. Obviously, weapons with large ammo supplies (MGs, VMGs, lasers with batteries, FGs, OJs and FOJs) and extra magazines are extremely useful. Those operating in a group have more leeway in their choice of weapons, for when they run dry, a comrade can take up the slack. A bandit group can even have some of its members stop to reload while others keep pressure on the quarry. Of course, gambling always has its appeal; some travelers load up with high-damage, low-ammo-capacity weapons, relying on a crisp, shocking riposte to deter attackers. Among those interested in salvage, flame weapons are decidedly unpopular. Flamethrowers are shunned by many because of their maximum range; it is too easy to hang back at 100 yards or so from the rear of a target and pick it to pieces, since the flamethrowers can't reach beyond 75 yards.

Dropped weapons really come into their own on the open road. Anyone attacking a vehicle or convoy from behind deserves what he gets . . . which will probably be a wrecked vehicle.

Perhaps the greatest difference between arena and road weaponry is one of quantity - road cars are likely to have fewer weapons than arena vehicles. A normal small courier, based on a lux, might carry a turret, three spaces or so of dropped weaponry and maybe a ramplate. This allows around six spaces for cargo or passengers in a luxury car a surplus of space unheard of in the arena. Since fewer weapons are mounted and since helicopters are bound to be up there somewhere, universal turrets are very popular.

Accessories

The most popular accessories by far are wheelguards and armored hubs. The second most common accessory on the road - the universal turret - is rarely used in the arena. First of all, in most tournament events, all the competitors are on the same level; there isn't even any need to have a great deal of top armor, since nothing will be shooting at your topside beyond the odd flame cloud. Not so on the road. Even if copters aren't considered, many ambushes are conducted from a high vantage point; cliffs, buildings and highway overpasses are quite popular. Second, most road cars carry lighter armament than arena cars of the same body style. Many only possess one or two offensive weapons. Turret mountings are ideal for road cars because they allow one weapon to cover all arcs of fire. Universal turrets are even better - they allow the vehicle to respond to threats from above.

Radar is also popular, as are radar-foiling electronics and infrared sighting systems. Certain safety-oriented accessories such as roll cages, ejection seats, fire extinguishers and anti4heft systems are very common on road vehicles. As noted by Craig Sheeley in his ADQ 5/4 article on road combat tactics, spoilers, airdams and heavy-duty shocks will increase your chances of surviving dramatically, even in the face of dropped weapons. False weapons are probably the most elegant way of avoiding trouble, unless someone calls the bluff.

Vehicle Design Strategy

As in the arena, the best way to approach car design is to pick a plan and stick to it. All the design formats from my previous article Tournament Design Strategy, ADQ 6/1) work fine, with the addition of a turret here and there, but the special conditions of road combat call for a couple of new vehicular patterns.

Tail-end Charlie This type of vehicle is a specialized dropped-weapon carrier. If designed correctly, one of these cars can cover the road with enough hazardous material in under a second to deter even the most determined pursuit. Even this vehicle should have a turret to contribute to antiaircraft fire. And speaking of ack-ack

Air Defense This one stays close to the middle of the convoy, because its armor (at least on the sides) is very thin. It's usually a van or camper with a three-space universal turret loaded with SAMs in rocket magazines. An alternative load with RGMs is possible (though expensive), but a helicopter or microplane flying down the right vector can avoid RGMs easily The fire from this vehicle, along with that from all the universal turrets of the convoy should drive off any attacking helicopters.

Probably the best car design for the emerging capitalist is a lux with a turreted weapon, a suitably nasty dropped-weapon suite, and enough cargo capacity to carry reasonably bulky items. Don't forget the accessories, and make the armor heavy Conservative driving is the key to long4erm success in the hauling business. For those of you out there crouched in your hideouts, waiting for another . . . customer to come along, there is this advice: Never travel alone, don't bite off more than you can chew, have the good sense to let go if you take on the wrong target, and use the heaviest weapons possible. Your best bet is to disable one or two vehicles, cut them out of the convoy, and loot them at leisure after their friends have left.


Issue 7/1 Index

Steve Jackson Games * Car Wars * ADQ Index