photo by jon
So your PCs are on the rooftops, chasing after a random criminal, or perhaps a ripper (my renowned favorite via Cityscape). You hit the dilemma: in real cities, not every rooftop is the same height. But if they’re all different random heights, then the whole thing will grind to a halt the second you get two varied heights. If only there were some mechanics to have random bridges, stairwells, and what-not between the buildings. And shouldn’t these start to change to something different as the ripper gets closer to its home? Perhaps clotheslines, 2x4s, or over-turned pianos would be more appropriate to the slums. Well you’re in luck my friend, because I have just the thing.
*Please note, this material has been designed for an Iron Heroes game I’ll be running in a home-brew Venice style city named Antiquus. But the mechanics can easily be tweaked for non-canal, metropolis nearer to you.*
RANDOM BUILDING HEIGHTS
|< 1 – 3||0|
|4 – 8||1|
|9 – 12||2|
|13 – 15||3|
|16 – 18||4|
To determine the random height of any given building, roll a d20 and consult the chart. Depending on what type of wealth group the building is located in gives a bonus or penalty to this roll.
Buildings with 0 (zero) height represent various things, depending on the district. This may be a docking location, an open-air market, the ruins of a fallen building, a small park, or simply an empty space in the city.
Antiquus uses almost entirely flat-topped roofs, since heavy snows are very rare. Cities with slanted rooftops are less likely to have bridges and the likes built between them, so these rules may need to be done ad hoc by the GM.
RANDOM ALLEY DISTANCES AND NO-CROSSING CHECK DCs
|Wealth Level||Alley Distance||Max Running Jump DC||Max Grappling Hook DC|
A crossing (for the purpose of this article) is any physical object that aids in passage between the rooftops of two buildings, such as a stone staircase, a set of clotheslines, or a mechanically controlled drawbridge. Keep in mind, that while the distance between any two rooftops can be cleared with either a successful jump or use rope check, these are often either more difficult, or more time consuming and suspicious; especially in more wealthy neighborhoods.
To randomly determine the existence of a crossing between two buildings, a d20 is rolled by the GM in secret. Depending on if the buildings are of same or different heights, you may need to consult different charts (below). Add the appropriate bonus or penalty to your roll depending on what district you are in.
RANDOM CROSSINGS ON SAME HEIGHT BUILDINGS
|1 – 3||Dangerous|
|4 – 7||Makeshift|
|8 – 15||Clothesline|
RANDOM CROSSINGS ON DIFFERENT HEIGHT BUILDINGS
|1 – 3||Dangerous|
|4 – 7||Makeshift|
|8 – 15||Clothesline|
The chart below shows the DC and skills available to navigate any of the crossing types (besides jump and use rope which are discussed above). Unless otherwise noted in the crossing’s description, failure by less than 10 on any check represents no progress (the character spends her round righting his balance, adjusting her grip, or something similar). If a check is failed by 10 or more, the character must immediately make another check. Failure of this immediate check (against the original DC) represents them falling, success represents them almost falling, but catching or righting themselves just in time. Most often, one successful check is enough to cross the opening. However, a GM could rule that a particularly long distance would require multiple checks.
CROSSING DCs, SPEEDS, AND APPLICABLE SKILLS
|Crossing||Pace||Check DC||Move Speed||Balance||Climb||Disable D.||Open Lock|
Dangerous: a dangerous crossing appearances just as a makeshift one. However, with a DC 15 spot check, it can be determined that it is not structurally sound. Failure by 5 or more on any check to navigate a dangerous crossing destroys it outright, sending the character plummeting toward the ground. A reflex save DC 25 allows the character to save himself somehow; such as by grabbing hold of the frayed rope-bridge or an open windowsill.
Makeshift: a makeshift crossing is one obviously not constructed or used by professionals. It might be a rope and grappling hook; a long, wooden board; or an overturned piano. Failure by 10 or more on any check to navigate a makeshift crossing destroys it outright; sending the character plummeting toward the ground. A reflex save DC 20 allows the character to save himself somehow; such as by grabbing hold of the frayed rope-bridge or an open windowsill.
Clothesline: a clothesline crossing represents the existence of one or more lines of clothes strung between two buildings. Before navigating a clothesline, a character must make a successful jump check (DC determined secretly by the GM. A good guideline could be 1d20-5). This represents the variable distance the character may have to drop in order to reach the lines, which are obviously strung between windows at different floors, and not between rooftops. A player then rolls 1d3 and may add his result to all climb or balance checks to navigate across that clothesline. This represents the possibility that multiple clotheslines are strung together in close proximity, making them easier to move across.
Ladder: sometimes ladders are either laid across two buildings, or they can be easily moved to be placed so. Roll a dice to determine whether the ladder is in the correct place (evens) or if it needs to be moved (odds). Moving a ladder requires a DC 5 climb check. Failure by 5 or more means that the ladder is dropped between the buildings and lost.
Stairs: wealthier neighborhoods often can afford to construct wooden or stone staircases between buildings. However, staircases are almost always private property, and oftentimes under watch by private guards. Failure on any check to traverse a staircase (like when moving more than half speed) results in the character falling prone at the end of the stairwell and taking 1d6 non-lethal damage per story fallen. Failure by 10 or more gives any nearby guards a +5 circumstance bonus to their spot checks to notice you and increases the non-lethal damage to 1d8s.
Bridge: in the city of Antiquus, a great many key-operated mechanical drawbridges have been constructed by the government between buildings. These are not for private use, however, and are almost always kept up. Low-ranking officials called Keepers are most often seen moving about the bridges, their massive rings of bridge-keys jingling. They usually serve as escorts for important figures between buildings. There is a small percentage that any given bridge will be down; due most often to arson, though sometimes due to a Keeper’s carelessness. Derelect: 30% Low: 20% Middle: 10% Failure by 10 or more on any check to activate a bridge signifies the mechanism breaking, and thus becoming useless.
What are some mechanics you have built for roof-top maneuverings? I’d like to see how other GMs have handled it.