Vehicles don't seem to come up that often in fantasy RPGs, but I've always had a soft spot for them; vehicles and portable fortresses of some kind—essentially anything that provides some protection (and comfort) to the characters and that can come with them on adventures.
Over the years I've injected them into many of my personal campaigns: I've had a giant bird with a tent on its back that was larger (much larger) on the inside, with a special dispensation for crossing its threshold with a bag of holding. I've had an armored carriage drawn by powerful markhor called the Dwarven Enhanced Trade and Assault Vehicle—or D.E.T.A.V. for short. More recently, I added a vehicle called the Tactical Ordnance Mobile Battle Shrine (T.O.M.B.S.) to a book, Solemn Scriptures of the Battle Nuns of the Mercyful Sepulcher.
And there are some examples of vehicles in the wider RPG world, like the infernal war machines from the D&D adventure Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus, and of course the space-faring ships play a big part in Spelljammer. But I'd like to concentrate on the humble carriage, and present a customizable and expandable version for your Hypertellurians (or other) games without resorting exclusively to magic.
For the sake of this system, all vehicles have a number of slots, which can be filled with modules. Each module occupies one or more slots, and while some of them might be basic necessities (like propulsion), others are more... indulgent.
Starting vehicles may not have all their slots filled. Similarly, vehicles encountered during the adventure, or found as treasure, might have some slots empty or their containing modules broken.
Note: A vehicle requires at least a quarter of its slots to be spent on locomotion & propulsion, unless hazardous magics are involved.
Modest Carriage. 8 slots, like a basic driver bench (2), some storage (2), wheels (1), and horse-drawn (3).
Commodious Carriage. 16 slots. Perhaps cozy padded pew (3), metal reinforced wheels (2), steam oven fueled by potions of demonic essence (3), wood covering (2), storage and more.
Mastodonic Carriage. 32 slots. Probably weird chain tracks (4), decadent chaise-longues (4), magically powered (4), with a lot of creature comforts.
These can come in the most basic to the most opulent or decadent versions. Each entry comes with several examples, and how many slots they might occupy. If purchasing in-game, set pricing or bartering terms accordingly.
The number of slots doesn't inherently fully equate to the amount of space a given module takes up, but also to how advanced, pricey, or rare it might be. Neither does the number of slots a vehicle has necessarily determine its dimensions: perhaps the bed is under the floorboards, the chairs are on chains and can be pulled up, or just maybe it's a little bigger on the inside.
What follows is a series of recommended types of modules to choose from, and a few examples of each, and how many slots they might occupy. Like most things Hypertellurians, these are but starting points. Any given entry isn't necessarily better than the next, so they are not strictly sequential.
- Driver bench. An adequate seat or couple of seats for 2 people. Hardwood bottom percher (2), cozy padded bank (3), decadent twin chaise-longues (4).
- Storage. We all have our baggage. Standard drawn carriage size (2), wide and vital (4), none more spacious (6).
- A light in the dark. See where we went there? Basic lantern (1), all around illumination (2), concentrated beam to burn all bushes (3).
- Fabric. Armor against the element maybe. If they're mild. Covering a small wagon (1), all around a mid-size vehicle (2), patchwork across a wide load (3).
- Wood. Now we're talking, or starting to. Standard carriage (2), large beast (3).
- Metal. Heavy but secure. Metal banding on hardwood (3), all around iron plates (4).
- Beast hide. Fantastic value for money, if you can source it. Rhino hide as light armor (2), mastodon hide as medium armor (3), demon hide as medium armor but self-repairing with fresh blood (4).
- Bones. Wrapped in the skeleton of some dead beast. A few skulls and femurs that might frighten simple minds (1), veritably wrapped in the full skeleton of some rare megafauna (2).
Locomotion & Propulsion
- Wheels. A classic. Wooden disks (1), Metal reinforced wheels (2), steel plowers (3).
- Chain tracks. All terrain goodness. Iron chain tracks (2), hooked tracks (3), grabbing frenzied fingernailed hands on belt (4).
- Animal drawn. Reliable, sturdy. Generally. Pack animal (2), horse (3), exotic beast (4).
- Steam powered. Almost like magic. Modest pressure tank with wood stove and bucket of logs (3), armored pressure tank with boost valves, hungry coal oven, and shovel (5).
- Muscle powered. Elbow grease not provided. Twin wooden shafts for pulling (1), full pole kit with neck yokes and 4 burly men (3, need feeding, rest, and grooming), gaggle of undead skeletons and rattly chains (4, indefatigable), six-pack of ghostly bound and gagged brides (6, haunting).
- Demonic. Subjugate fiends at own risk. Steam oven fueled by potions of demonic essence (3), broadly reliable possession of full vehicle with control spell and hovering (4).
- Cosmic tap. Power from elsewhere. A tiny rift to another cosm, funneled and transformed into a working engine that almost certainly won't have any side effects (6).
- Expanded means of locomotion. Going beyond solid ground. Single burst of incredible speed before recharging (2), fall from heights, maybe even glide a little (3), amphibian ambitions assured (3), on and below the waves (4), dire mole-like digging through earth and rock (6).
- Magical. A wizard did it. Exhausting spell that requires concentration (2), "it just works" (4), esoteric technology so advanced it feels like magic, hovers, and can fly short distances (6).
Quality of Life
- Bedroom. A comfy place to nap. Single (1), double (2), monarch sized (3). All with relevant, cozy bedding and night light, though (1) more for satin sheets.
- Bathroom. For calls of nature, gussying, and hygiene/maintenance. Hole serving as latrine (1), lavatory and sink with large jug of water (2), partitioned toilet, brass bath with shower head, running water with tank, scented candles, gramophone with record of Ballerina Cosmonautica, glass of Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru (8).
- Library. Food for thought. Cupboard of books and journals (1), tall shelf with cozy reading nook and lantern (3), alexandrian dimension tamed into vehicle corner (8).
- Music. Food for the soul. Fashionable lute with stand, once played by semi-famous bard (1), outside platform for courageous or foolhardy minstrel (1), upright piano or harpsichord with bench (2), church organ lifted from the Order of the Mercyful Sepulcher, with powerful pipes running all the way to the outside of the vehicle (4).
- Bar. We are here to drink your beer, and steal your rum at the point of a ray-gun. A couple of choice kegs (1),candle-lit, mirror-backed shelf of distinguished liquors with automaton bartender (3).
- Heating. For those who like it hot and don't have a steam engine. Fireplace with lintel for bric-a-brac (1), roaring hearth with two high-backed chairs (2), technomancy climate control unit (4).
- Kitchenette. Finally, actual food. Basic larder and a tin opener (1), modest, stocked pantry and oven (2), tiered cool room (chilling, freezing) and kitchen (4).
- Lounge. A place to hang. Fancy sofa chair, foot rest, and brandy side table (1), a couple of damask-patterned sofas or chaise-longues around a coffee table with a conversation piece book or statue (3).
- Museum. For cataloguing important finds or displaying trophies. Multi-tiered glass display case (1), stuffed heads with edifying plaques mounted on walls (1), walk-in vault with trapped and alarmed glass cases on pedestals (4).
- Ritual circle. Life is magic. Semi-permanent drawing or carving on floor that requires occasional touching up and moving stuff out of the way before use (2), dedicated occult alcove with black candles, a generous supply of salt, and a handy and mystical looking book plinth (3).
- Weapon rack. When storing them in a heap just won't do anymore. Wall mounted brackets for easy grabbing and a modicum of organization (1), lit closet that passes for a wall when shut (2).
- Dungeon. Safe transportation and/or storage. Set of manacles and a sturdy ring in the ceiling (1), load-bearing post and a few coils of rope (1), brightly lit brig with glass walls (4), that limited edition cover of "Die Folterkammer des Vampirs" blu-ray (6).
- Dressing. Up or down. Vintage wardrobe with mirror (1), intimate boudoir with barely opaque folding screen, suggestive lighting, and a chaise-longue to drape hosiery over (3), walk-in closet with dedicated shoe racks, jewelry trays, and complimentary selection of eau de toilettes (4).
- Cleaning. Of the DIY or fancy varieties. Cupboard with the bare essentials, half-empty bottles, and a broom two sweeps away from retirement (1), automated cleaning unit, compact and eager to tidy, scrub, or wax off (2).
- Carpentry. Verily, more of a multi-purpose arrangement. Large table for woodwork, butchery, surgery, or autopsies, with tooled up drawers for all these things (2).
- Spirituality. It comes in different forms for different people. Locker with pin-up etchings, rubbings, or drawings (1), well groomed personal shrine with quality idol and paraphernalia (2), lockable sound-proof chamber for private worship with all the trimmings (3).
- Well-being. And well-staying, and getting-well-again. Dusty first aid suitcase under a seat (1), self help book bloated by dog ears (1), serviceable, well stocked infirmary or sickbay (3), reputable sanatorium with brain-in-a-jar physician and automaton orderlies (5).
- Flag. So you know who's who. Tatty, sun-bleached flag (1), epic battle standard possessed of a rallying cry spell (3).
- Storage. What to do with your vehicle when it's not in use. Folds in on itself until it is the size of a suitcase (3), dispatchable to another dimension with a very slim chance of being discovered by ne'er-do-wells there (3).
- Camouflage. But let's face it, most of the time you want to show this beauty off. Chameleon-spirit bound to vehicle (2), honest to earth activatable invisibility (4), same but with unseen servants hastily sweeping away the tire tracks (5).
- Ultracosmic engine. This cosm isn't big enough for the two of us. The heart of the Atom Isa (8).
- Phase. Commonly accepted laws of physics are so gauche. Expend remaining energy to phase through a wall (3), reliable phasing through bard-powered string theory (6).
- Classic siege weaponry. Or at least inspired by it. Heavy crossbow mounted on turret (2), iron bolt/fence post ballista (3), twin retractable trebuchets with flammable pitch balls (6).
- Melee. Functional ornaments. Decent size cow catcher (1), spiked wheels (1), haphazard arrangement of spears, some dangling with enemy banner scraps, or enemy scraps (2), cvlt black metal spikes all over (3).
- Explosives. Gunpowder-tastic. Experimental ice moon grenade launcher (1), joystick-controlled figurehead flame thrower (2), man-o-war set of cannons (4).
- Concentrated Light. Prepare for illumination. Extra bright focused torch beam (1), turret mounted ray emitter (2), devastating array of directed energy weaponry requiring an awful lot of power (4).
- Hunting equipment. Non-lethal pursuit and and capture. Body-mounted rack of man-catchers (1), series of bear traps on long chains dragging behind the vehicle (2), precision medium range net launcher (3), indiscriminate sleep gas bomb launcher (3).
- Lancing equipment. Piercing is where it's at. Winch with lots of rope and a poor excuse for lack of lancing (1), winch with plenty of rope and a three-pronged grappling hook that'll pierce flesh like it's butter (2), full blown harpoon system "Ishmael 2000" (3).
Given that slots only tangentially refer to vehicle size, the more slots, the more impressive the vehicle. How then would characters improve a vehicle beyond spending in-character money—something that is not incredibly well defined in a cosm hopping game?
You might introduce the following optional advances, filling slots with modules when it makes sense in the story. Unlike regular advances, which are personal, these ones need to be agreed upon by the whole party, i.e. each character would forego a personal minor advance in exchange for the party vehicle gaining 4 slots.
- Collective Minor Advance. Gain 4 extra slots for your vehicle.
- Collective Medium Advance. Gain 12 extra slots for your vehicle.
- Collective Major Advance. Gain 20 extra slots for your vehicle.
The "More than meets the eye" cart
A good quality horse drawn cart to the untrained eye, possessed of hidden mysteries. For one, the horse is a single capra beast (3), mighty and majestic. The cart's driver bench (3) may look spartan but its wood is forgiving and remains comfortable over long journeys. In the back, the cart is covered by a fabric tarp—none but the most trained eyes notice it to be ultra-resilient mastodon hide (3, medium armor).
At the tug of a lever, the spears shoot from the wheels (2 + 1), transforming this humble-looking cart into a mobile guillotine, while the back actually sports a comfortable bed (1), a couple of choice kegs (1), and even some emergency rations (1).
Killian's "Road to retirement"
This vehicle—and in some ways this whole article—is inspired by a particular skin for a particular vehicle in the casual game Hill Climb Racing 2, which showed a racing truck with giving the impression of a two story vehicle. This is my fantasy version thereof.
The top level, decadent twin sofa chairs for pilots, backed by a slightly raised chaise-longue (4); behind that a welcome bathroom with toilet, shower, and modest selection of eau de toilettes and clean towels (3).
The lower, main level, a cozy lounge around a coffee table with a selection of cross-dimensionally banned books for being either too suggestive, abstract, or both, the sofas on chains, retractable (3), flanked by a modest history and cheap romantic fiction library with built-in reading nook (3), a perfunctory dungeon by way of manacles on the ceiling (1) doubling for kinky times, and a recessed pantry and oven (2). A couple of kegs and a choice selection of other essential waters and liquors bookend the lounge (2).
The whole thing runs on metal reinforced wheels (2) with backups (2), wrapped by metal-banded wood (3), powered by a spell requiring considerable exertion from an enthusiastic-optional volunteer (2).
Taking This Further
What is next for this system? It could be ported to other types of vehicles, flying ones, or ones that are more like howdahs on beasts. Of course, the tables could be expanded with further options. Perhaps a random generator app would be useful.
More than anything though, we'd like to know if you think this is fun. Let us know in the comments below, or on Discord. Perhaps you've created some awesome vehicles in your game using this system—if so, we want to know about it!