games / Columns

Justice Velocity Designer On the New RPG’s Video Game Inspirations, the Challenges of Vehicular Combat & More

March 15, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Justice Velocity RPG

There’s something that is just…fun about high-octane action films. Movies like The Fast and the Furious, Mad Max, Speed and the like may come up short when it comes to things like physics or grounded realism, but they rate high in terms of getting the blood pumping and the adrenaline flowing. There’s a reason why these films remain staples of the blockbuster tier of box office hits, even when they perhaps don’t have the best action or most complex stories. As filmgoers, we just have times where we want to turn the “that doesn’t make sense!” part of our brains off and enjoy badasses racing and shooting their way through impossible odds, scores of henchmen and ridiculous scenarios.

That’s a slot that Justice Velocity is hoping to fill for roleplayers. Polyhedra Games launched their first Kickstarter earlier this month to complete production on the game, which seeks to bring those kind of over-the-top action setpieces to the gaming table. As of now the Kickstarter is doing quite well, with $1,115 of their $1,500 goal with nineteen days to go. The game uses a d6-based dice system with genre-appropriate resource names like “Juice” and a a “high octane mode” featuring the use of octane chips to empower your action sequences. A couple of playthroughs have been released which make the game look like a fun, crazy time for those who are looking for something a little less grounded and more exciting for a roleplaying experience.

I had the opportunity to speak with Clipper Arnold, the designer of the game, about his inspirations for the game, finding a balance between action and story, the vehicular system and more, including where the game could head from here if it makes its funding.

What inspired you to design a roleplaying game like Justice Velocity?

A group of friends who I also played tabletop games with went to see The Fate of the Furious. Beforehand, we were drinking and my friend showed me an algorithmically generated list of action movie titles–I think it was supposed to be like Steven Seagal-type stuff, specifically. One of the titles was “The Velocity of Justice” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When we watched Fate, I couldn’t help but think about how all of these stunts and moves would work in a tabletop game. The general idea was that there’s a certain level of absurdity or fantasy which sparks imagination in tabletop games–and that action movies play into that same sort of realm of fantasy. When I got home, I scribbled together some notes from another homebrew (Death City) and we had our first session of Justice Velocity a few weeks later.

You’ve listed films like Fast & Furious and Bad Boys, and anime like Initial D as some of the narrative inspirations for the game. Were there any particular existing games out there that you see reflected in Justice Velocity’s DNA?

Hmm… tabletop games, not so much. I’ve played a lot of Shadowrun, WEG Star Wars, D&D (of course), and more. I discovered some after working on the game that seem closely related: Spycraft, Spirit of ’77, and Straight to VHS to name a few, though they each appear to have their own sort of mechanics and flavor. I guess at a very base level, Death City and Justice Velocity both drew initially from this simplified version of D&D I’ve been playing since I was a kid. In general, the way the WEG Star Wars Second Edition rulebook is written is fantastic, and there are a lot of elements of that I’ve incorporated not just in Justice Velocity, but in almost any RPG I play.

In terms of video games, there are a ton. I’m sure a lot of people see it and think of Grand Theft Auto, which is cool, but I haven’t actually played those much since I was a kid. Gran Turismo 4, Midnight Club 1 & 2, Metal Gear Solid, Golden Eye, Die Hard Arcade / Dynamite Dekka, Twisted Metal, and more are all in the closely related universe of buff dudes, espionage, street racing, and explosions. I believe I sent Anders Karlsson (the artist for Justice Velocity) a .pdf of the Midnight Club 2 manual just because the style of that game is so palpable. There were a lot of things on the mood board, but I remember specifically saying, “If you get stuck, aesthetically, just look at this.”

While most action films lean toward a more modern and realistic setting, my first thought as a longtime gamer was how much fun rules like this could be in a fantasy setting like Eberron. Has there been any discussion about scenarios or rulesets that would fit into a more fantasy or science fiction-based game?

It’s interesting you ask that. For anyone who’s ever run a chase sequence or a vehicle-based sequence in a tabletop game, you quickly discover that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of attention paid to that particular mechanic. Do you just have players keep making DEX checks? Do you add the results cumulatively? What do you do? One of the first D&D games I played as a kid involved being chased by a troll and trading dice rolls all the way back to town, and I thought, “Man, there has to be a better way.” This was a particular challenge I wanted to take on with Justice Velocity, was to make a game where vehicle and chase mechanics weren’t an afterthought, but in the foreground. I think you could easily apply those specific vehicle rules as described in the manual to other systems. Skyship drifting in Eberron would be great, and I’d encourage people to use these rules however they like.

It’s probably also worth noting that Death City, another Polyhedra game which Justice Velocity is essentially an iteration of is an urban fantasy system. There’s only a really old alpha or beta version of it floating around online some places, but I’d like to give it its own formal release and do more with this engine once JV goes to print.

Like any good action movie, Justice Velocity leans hard into tropes, as evident by the character archetypes. How much flexibility does the game give players within those tropes to customize?

So, Justice Velocity is actually a classless system. The archetypes are more like suggestions than hard and fast paths. Basically, if people at the table start to ask, “I just want to have my guy be really good with guns, what stats and abilities are best for that?” then there are guidelines in place for how to best build a “Gunner” character. You can mix and match however much you like, but there are similar party roles you’re likely to see pop up pretty frequently, which is why they’re outlined as such in the book. The game I’ve been playing most recently has two player characters. One is a Hacker/Mechanic (with very little Personality) and the other is a Face/Muscle (with very little Intelligence). Their builds are kind of split compared to a straight archetype, and they have gaping flaws, but they also have a cool synergy together and interesting dynamic as a result.

One of the big tricks in most RPGs is finding the appropriate balance in your game between the pillars of story and combat. Action films also have a challenge in figuring out that balance. Where does Justice Velocity fall between those two elements?

I guess it really depends on the GM, the table, and the session to be honest. Some tables and sessions call for more combat, racing, or RP. I usually try to build the story around all of that. For instance, if the last session was more combat-oriented, I’ll give players a break to run around and get into some hijinks or political intrigue. If the previous session was heavily racing-based, I’ll try to work in a combat encounter. Balancing all of that, really, is great for playing to different players’ and PCs’ respective strengths–but correct pacing, and giving everyone a shot to play the game how they want to play it is very important. There also are specific tips for this sort of thing in the book! And, I think the rules-lite to rules-intermediate level of play should ideally allow you to switch gears pretty easily.

I also usually play with friends and relatively new gamers, so they’re always pretty into RP because it can be really fun and easy to get. Other people can be really into the minis, spatially-represented combat, and wargaming aspect of things. It just depends, and I address different ways of accommodating all of that in the book to make it relatively adaptable. Most mechanics in Justice Velocity are made to be easy to understand and sequences are pretty quickly-paced so that you can move on to the next part of the action instead of drudging through combat for hours, for instance.

One thing that I tend to think a lot of RPG systems struggle with is vehicular combat. Most games consider it an afterthought, but it looks to be a bedrock of this game. What challenges did you have in coming up with this part of the game?

Yes, so this was what I was getting at above. It was also one of the reasons I was excited to make this game. What I quickly discovered when running Justice Velocity was that different vehicle sequences in general call for different vehicle rules. Some vehicle sequences are based around combat, some are based around racing, some are based around a handful of particular actions, etc. I realized I was using different iterations of vehicle rules each time I played because each instance called for something different. I eventually settled on a couple different ways of doing things so that you could modularly apply what sequence called for which rule, but that was definitely a process of trying things out and seeing what stuck. I wouldn’t say vehicle combat is the primary component of Justice Velocity, and there are other games that lean more heavily into the granular aspect of things if that’s what you’d prefer (like Car Wars or Gaslands, for instance), but I think it does it well in the sense that it keeps the flow consistent with the rest of the narrative, and gives you clear, straightforward options. You aren’t going to be using a compass to track precise movements or anything, but there are some good ideas of how to handle things. Since Justice Velocity is a game where vehicles will likely be pretty present in general, the book lays out a variety of different rules for how to use them effectively in any situation.

Do you have plans for additional supplements beyond the initial game book? What kinds of things like that could fans look forward to seeing?

I definitely want to put some adventure modules and other supplements together that delve deeper into the rules and narrative world, but that depends on a few things, and plans aren’t 100% solid right now. One of the more tangible ideas I had was to make a full-length adventure module called “Nazoma Compound” as a stretch goal for the current Kickstarter. It would be a multilevel dungeon-crawl-like adventure through a locked-down shipping warehouse with security guards, rampaging forklift drivers, and a secret underground lab.

We’re also going to be using our mailing list to send out updates, some quickstart rules, and some other free .PDF materials in general. Non-book related, but there’s a browser-based character generator tool for Justice Velocity that’s nearing completion, and I’ve done some prototyping for a small-scale video game adaptation. And, of course, there are our other tabletop games in beta stages in the stable.

In addition to Justice Velocity, you also have Super Mech Battles and Death City in beta development, both of which look fun. How far along in development are they, and when can fans expect to see more about them?

There are no solid plans for either at the moment, but I’ve revisited the material I have for both games recently. Death City’s core rule-set goes back…6 years? It certainly needs a lot more art and writing before a final polish, but it would be a pretty easy leap from JV as they’re more or less the same engine. I’ve been sketching and writing notes here and there for it, but there’s no specific release date or campaign in mind. Super Mech Battles is also a pretty old project, but one that requires a bit more in the way of art and playtesting, so it’s hard to say. It’s a deckbuilding game instead of a tabletop RPG, but draws from similar mechanics.

Since JV is the first game I’m actually getting out into the world, I just want to make sure it goes smoothly and gets handled with the care it deserves before I go back and deck into some of the other projects. I write for my day job and I’m also a musician, so those two tasks take up a lot of my creative time and energy. Game design is always there, but tends to be a bit more of a slow-burner for me. I’ve had the luxury of working on games only when I really wanted to and when inspiration strikes, but they’re longer projects as a result. That being said, I can’t wait to revisit both Death City and Super Mech Battles and give them proper releases.

Realizing that you may not be able to get into specifics, do you have any other games in the pipeline for future development?

I have a few ideas, of course, but, like I said, I’d like to get some of these babies out before fully moving on. The only long-term project that I definitely want to do eventually is the Polyhedra Core rulebook, which would be setting neutral (like GURPS or Savage Worlds). It would basically apply comprehensive rules and mechanics from other Polyhedra games to be used in any narrative setting. I want to include a lot of supplementary essays in the book about the nature of storytelling, literary archetypes, and a more theoretical approach to tabletop games and game design in general–but also, like, the best mechanics for werewolves or mecha.

I’d like to thank Clipper for taking the time to answer my questions. The Justice Velocity Kickstarter is still ongoing and will run through April 4th. You can contribute here.