by Adam Gauntlett
The BMW shot through a red light turning against the flow, missing oncoming traffic by the grace of God, ignoring angry, blaring horns.
The Serb, Karlo, gunned his Audi. So much for surveillance; Volkov would have his head if the bastards got away …
What makes a chase scene Thrilling? Well, Director, that’s largely up to you. Whether the agents are trying to recreate Bullitt’s famous San Francisco muscle car blowout, or skiing down the black slope like Roger Moore with a flock of AK47-toting goons on his tail, now’s the time to put the pressure on.
Though I’m going to concentrate on Driving chases, these techniques can be used for any Thrilling chase.
A film Director plans out each least element of a chase scene. A moment that flashes by in seconds might take up entire binders full of pre-prep, and on the day of shooting the chase environment is tightly controlled down to the least bump-and-scrape. In game, things are different. A Chase can blow up at any time, and you need to bring the Thrills.
How to do this?
First, use your camera.
DIRECTOR: cut to two junctions ahead. Water fountains many feet high from a broken main, and traffic slows.
Shift the POV to action, something that’s going to complicate the chase but which the agent hasn’t encountered yet. This allows the agent to factor the problem into the scene. Maybe Karlo uses this to his advantage, or maybe he saves his points because he knows trouble’s coming. Either way, the complicating factors you highlight now become action soon afterward.
The camera can look anywhere, which means you can look anywhere.
DIRECTOR: interior, BMW. The goon in the passenger seat looks over his shoulder at the Audi, as he slots the last few shells into his shotgun.
KARLO: Better get ready to duck, huh?
Or from any perspective.
DIRECTOR: Interior, National Police station. As the two cars flash across surveillance camera feeds, a dozen alerts go off, dispatchers scream down mikes, and every cop car in Baku gets the call.
KARLO: Well, there’s that Heat spike I wasn’t looking forward to.
Again, the point is to get the agent to focus on the immediate future, and plan accordingly. That shotgun isn’t going to get fired for another round or so, but Karlo knows it’s there. Those cop cars aren’t on the scene yet, but in a round or so …
When using the camera, never let the agent get complacent. Always cut to action, and never let up. The goon loads a shotgun. Water fountains. Dispatchers scream down mikes. It’s all action, and it all increases the urgency.
The players are encouraged to jot down some notes for those Thrilling Dialogue moments; so should you. If you know that one of your players chose to put more than 8 pool points in Driving, then you’d better learn the difference between a Bootlegger’s Turn and a Moonshiner’s Reverse, because the day will come when you want to throw that at your agents and watch their jaws hit the tarmac. The same goes for Parkour, or any other chase mechanic. Take notes, and deploy as necessary.
This also applies to landmarks. Every city has them, and cunning Directors use them. If you know the agents are going to be in Baku, Azerbaijan this session, a quick Google ‘famous Baku streets’ gets you some handy backdrops. After all, who doesn’t want to ram an Audi at high speed through Fountains Square? Gee, that pedestrian-only shopping street looks inviting – and there’s an achievement in Double Tap that looks doable.
Don’t worry about the city’s internal geography. Films never do. Bullitt certainly didn’t. It’s not a good idea to slalom past the Eiffel Tower after blasting through Nizami Street, unless this chase scene was brought to you by Euro Disney, but otherwise, go nuts. Is Nizami Street near the Russian Flea Market? Do your players care? No? Then for the sake of this chase scene, it is. And if it actually is, well done – you look even cleverer than you already are.
Don’t put hours of research in. The agents might never see it. Just do a quick Google before the session, take notes as necessary, maybe save a couple of pictures if they add a bit of cool to a scene. Then you have it ready to go, if and when it becomes relevant to a chase sequence.
Finally, choose your words with thrills in mind.
The players aren’t going to get enthusiastic if you’re not enthusiastic. That means you need to use evocative language, which means you need to know a little about the subject. Not a lot. Nobody’s asking you to take a film course, but a few minutes down the YouTube rabbit hole wouldn’t go amiss.
DIRECTOR: the BMW veers to the outside, wheels shunting up onto the pavement, sending pedestrians scattering. Brake, brake, quick shift and BANG! He swings at a 90-degree angle into the turn.
That’s a Swerve. It’s also (broadly) how you complete a 90-degree turn, which is less about the speed you go into the curve and much more about your speed as you come out of it – hence the braking at the start, and the veer to the outside to give a better turning circle. However if, as Director, you say ‘the BMW attempts a Swerve, using a 90-degree turn to do it,’ that’s boring. You need to make your language as compelling as possible, to spark the agents into doing something equally compelling.
Remember, this is all Improv, as has been said many times before. Improv uses the Yes, And, principle, so when you make an offer, the other actor has to accept your offer and run with it. That means there has to be an offer at the start – and if your offer is dull, the agents will have to work hard to make it less dull. Or, more likely, they won’t, and the chase scene falls flat.
Ideally, you make an offer, the agents accept and up the ante, bringing the thrills with offers of their own. Which you then accept, and up the ante again with more thrills.
Don’t feel as though every offer has to be earth-shattering. Even the best start small. That famous chase scene in Bullitt kicks off with a killer fastening his seat belt and a revving car engine. You didn’t need to know in-depth racing terminology to understand that fastening a seat belt and a revving engine equals wild times a-coming.
Equally, as Director, remember where you are and anticipate the obvious. If the scene is set at Val-d’Isère, one of the finest ski resorts on the planet, you’d better have a ski chase scene prepped. If the agents are in Monaco, home of the Grand Prix, one of the Triple Crowns of Motorsport, you’d better prep a car chase. It doesn’t automatically follow that there will be a race down l’Espace Killy, or high-powered muscle cars barrelling down the narrow streets of the most famous city-state in the world, but you’d be silly not to anticipate one.
It’s all about building up the offer. These are both evocative settings, known throughout the world for very specific things. It follows that the more you can lean on the setting for Thrilling elements, the better you can make your offer.
There’s no part of the world you can’t make Thrilling, even if you have to steal elements from somewhere else. It’s great when the chase scene’s set in Berlin, London, or San Francisco, where Thrilling elements are two-a-penny; but even if it isn’t, that’s no reason to cut back on thrills. Even sedate Guernsey has Neolithic monoliths, Nazi forts, and needle-thin roads with looming granite outcrops on either side. Pick a spot, and I guarantee you can find something to Thrill over.
Not only do these elements make the scene more Thrilling, they can be written down beforehand and deployed when needed, which is a blessing. However don’t be afraid to invent elements as and when needed. Is there a Leichter Panzerspähwagen parked outside the Guernsey War Museum, perhaps as some kind of temporary exhibit? Would it make the scene more interesting if there was one? Then yes, there is. With a full tank of petrol, why not. After all, if James Bond can drive a tank through St Petersburg, there’s no reason your agents can’t ram an armoured car through St Peter’s Port.
Use your camera. Cheat. Choose your words with thrills in mind.
DIRECTOR: the BMW spins, sideswipes a fuel pump which immediately explodes, and careens into a parked car. The impact stops the now-burning BMW.
KARLO: I’ll just tell Volkov it was all their fault …
Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.