About five hundred years ago the galactic community of alien species known as the Myriad had known harmony for 80,000 years, and had no use for violence and no concept of capitalism. Then the humans showed up, and it turned out everyone liked the taste of both. Now that galactic society is more of a chaotic, disparate sprawl the only thing anyone can agree on is a love for humankind’s third gift: the anti-gravity RIP Drive, and the ability to stuff these interstellar engines into much smaller craft for use in planet-bound, high speed death races. This isn’t a sport, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a deathstyle, baby: it’s Luke Westaway’s sci-fi racing RPG, Gravity RIP!
Gravity RIP bills itself as a ” theatre-of-the-mind tabletop system for 1,200km/h sci-fi racing adventures, with distinct modes of play for both furious anti-gravity racing, and off-track drama”. F-Zero immediately jumps to mind, Redline not that long after, although for my money the property that most comes to mind when reading this book is Rimba Racer – you can blame my son for that one, but the mix of high-speed action and off-track drama and intrigue fits very well. Point is, it’s an alluring pitch that clearly has an audience, but how does it actually work?
This handles everything that doesn’t take place on the race track – dropping a wrench into a rival’s exhaust port while they’re still in the hangar, dealing with guards, avoiding the scrutiny of League officials, talking to the press, trash-talking your Rivals…
Fact is, mechanically speaking your character only has one stat, a number from 2 to 5. The higher the number, the more your character operates on Chaos, the lower the number the more they focus on Theory. Chaos-focused characters are more emotional, better at snap decisions and manipulating the the emotions of others, while Theory-focused characters are more logical, more calculating, and more likely to remain clear-headed.
Whenever you want to do something aside from actually racing, you’ll describe to the GM what it is and how you want to do it, and they’ll let you know whether they thinks it’s a Chaos or a Theory check. Then, you roll a single six-sided die . If it’s a Chaos check you want to roll lower than your number, and if it’s a Theory check then you want to roll higher – landing right on the number is a critical success, accomplishing your goal ‘and then some’.
If this is reminding you of Lasers & Feelings, it’s no surprise – John Harper’s game about the crew of the interstellar scout ship Raptor is expressly called out in the acknowledgements, so Story Mode can easily be viewed as an L&F hack. To spice things up, you can also make any check a Reputation Roll. In short, if you can convince the GM that your character’s reputation would benefit them in some way, you get to roll 2d6 for your Chaos/Theory check and keep the die of your choice. Your reputation doesn’t necessarily have to be good: one example is a character using the fact that they were disqualified in the last race to explain to a passing official why they’re at the bar drinking – while they’re really there to meet a contact to acquire an illegal mod for their racer.
Alright, that covers all the drama off the track. Time to fire up those RIP drives!
Your Rip Racing Machine’s actual performance on the track is determined by two stats: Acceleration and Weight. Acceleration is for speeding past opponents, Weight is for smashing into or blocking them. You start with -1 in each, and are then given four points to add where you please. You could have a perfectly balanced machine with 1 in each, a lightning bolt with 3 Acceleration and -1 Weight, a plodding tank with -1 Acceleration and 3 Weight, and so on. Each machine also has Integrity, essentially hit points – 8 by default and then modified by your Weight. You’re fine until your Integrity drops to 0, then things get a little ‘explodey’.
Each race includes 20 racers, consisting of the player characters (who are all on the same racing team), NPCs who are mostly dealt with narratively, and Rivals (NPCs who stand out as characters and are formidable enough that they actually get their own actions). Each race consists of three laps, and each lap consists of two phases: Heli-Cam and Manoeuvres.
Heli-Cam is the phase that sums up how you performed in the lap overall, and you have three options: Advance, Hold, and Retreat. For Advance, you roll 1d6 plus your Acceleration – your total is how many positions you move up through the lap. The GM rolls a 1d6 as well for ‘Pushback’, basically covering how difficult it was to weave through the pack, and the advancing racer either has to reduce their number of positions gained and/or lose points of Integrity on their Machine until the Pushback is covered. Hold is for when you’re trying to simply hold your position and keep anyone from passing you – you roll 1d6 plus your Weight (or, if you’re in first place and want to, Acceleration), and if it is simply equal to or higher than the GM’s Pushback roll then no PC or Rival can Advance past you during this Heli-Cam phase. Retreat is exactly what it sounds like – you drop back through the ranks, and can even let yourself get lapped, although that will disqualify you from placing.
The reason this is even an option ties into an important aspect of racing in Gravity RIP: you should have an additional objective aside from getting to the podium. This might be making a Rival look bad, exposing a cheater, taking out someone else’s rival, preventing a Machine that’s been rigged with a bomb from crossing the finish line, or making sure a rookie racer who needs the reward for their family gets first place. Sure, getting to the podium is the simplest way to get resources to repair and upgrade your Machine and live the good life. But whatever the objective is, it provides extra meaning for your choices and actions – and, yes, means that sometimes giving up a good position is worth it.
Anyway, once every player character and Rival has resolved their Heli-Cam phase the GM will provide a thrilling montage of the Machines hurtling through the track, and then everything zooms in for the Manoeuvres phase. At this point, all a character has to care about is themselves, the Machine ahead of them, and the Machine roaring up behind them, as determined by how things went in the Heli-Cam phase.
You can choose to Overtake the Machine in front of you, rolling Acceleration versus their roll of Weight; win and you gain their position, lose and you’re stuck where you are and they can decide to try to Slam you for free. A Slam is a Weight vs. Weight roll that can be done against the Machine in front of or behind you – the loser loses two Integrity, and if the attacker won then the target must either lose more Integrity or lose positions. Finally you can choose to Block the Machine behind you, your Weight versus their pick of Acceleration or Weight. Similar to Retreat in the Heli-Cam phase, you can choose to fall back one position in the Manoeuvres phase before taking your action, so if there’s a Rival a bit further back that you really want to Slam…
There is a small-grab bag of other options as well. After the first lap you can Overclock your machine in either of the phases, sacrificing Integrity for bonuses to your die roll. If you’ve impressed the GM with your smarts, daring, or roleplaying they may award you a Radical! point, which can be used to roll two dice on a check and keep your choice of the two. If you lose all of your Machine’s Integrity you’ll probably get to eject to safety when it explodes, and at any point during the race in which you’re not rolling dice you can always choose to Retire with your Machine intact. Finally, illegal mods are always successful – the trick will be rolling a d6 to avoid getting noticed, and then another d6 to see if your mod remains intact afterwards.
The rules are a quick read with a negligible learning curve, and the lean design helps to invoke the overall vibe the game is going for of fast-paced dramatic action. I’d say that Gravity RIP is a game that is going to depend a lot on players and the GM being willing to be dramatic and being capable at interesting descriptions to keep things fresh – zipping around the same-old oval track will get boring to hear about quick – but once you’ve got that in place it should be a lot of fun.
You can find PDF copies of Gravity RIP on itch.io, and a softcover/PDF bundle on DriveThruRPG (oddly, there was a book-only listing that made Gold and even jumped up into DTRPG’s top five bestseller list, but it has since vanished).
Racers, to your Machines! Ready, set, GO!
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