Engaging the group during a race

In the upcoming session, my players will be participating in a pod race. Our pilot will take the place of an NPC and be part of the race. But I would like to have some other activity for the rest of the group, I read that others engaged their group by giving them control of other participants of the race, but I am not that happy with this idea.
I would like to engage the other players with a side plot in the context of the race. Do you have some ideas what they could be dealing with?
My first idea was that they get some intel about sabotage or some intervention in the race, so they have to find out what is going to happen before round 3, otherwise their driver could be harmed. What kind of intervention could that be? I had the idea that someone planted explosives on the track and is going to detonate them in the case that his favorite NPC driver is not in the first place of the race.

What do you think? Do you have other ideas how I could engage my nondriving players?

And / Or maybe someone hired some thugs (I keep thinking of Tusken…) to shoot down any racer that is not their favourite ? =)
Could have the rest of the group rush to the ambush site and take out the attackers before the PC racer gets hit with something nasty (rocketlaunchers if need be?).

One key hook is gambling.

  • If the PCs are gambling on the race, that brings up all sorts of potential complications.
  • Perhaps someone even approaches the PC mechanic to try and bribe him to sabotage the racer, and threatens him when he refuses. Now they know someone wants to sabotage other racers/their racer, AND have to watch their backs. You could even make the threat more specific, like “you won’t live to see the finish line” or something, so the PC knows it’s supposed to happen during the race.
  • You could even take a slightly softer route: The briber offers money just as long as the racer doesn’t win. As long as the racer doesn’t win, he’ll pay the PC some money. Now, that PC/the rest of the party faces a choice at every juncture, whether or not to throw the race (especially key in a pit-stop scenario, where there is a good chance for sabotage/delay).
  • Obligation is a good threat/offer here. Especially if it has something to do with family (“oh no! They’ve kidnapped my younger brother!”).
  • On that note, a threat of harm coming to someone if the race isn’t thrown can engage the PCs by sending them on a detective hunt, while the Racer races. You can have them carry around a datapad or something, receiving updates on the race every round.

To work that last scenario, it’ll take some tricky timing and careful handling to avoid inverting your problem and placing the racer in the “bored observer” position.

To make his side of the game engaging, you should make sure to involve a variety of skills. If you call in the threat about an hour before the race, that gives the other PCs a chance to do some investigating on their own (the specifics of engaging them to do the investigating rather than calling the police or whatever is up to you. I don’t know your game or setting well enough to give suggestions yet).

Now, they have a choice: Leave the racer all by himself to get the podracer ready, or split the party? Maybe they rent some pit droids last minute and leave the head mechanic to oversee, while the rest of them go “hunting,” or the racer must do it all himself.
They start in narrative time, then shift into structured time when the race starts, with constant updates on the race building the tension as the clock slowly ticks down…

Now, it’s a race against time to rescue the hostage before the race ends, so they can save the hostage AND win the race!

So that’s the most in-depth suggestion. If you like that, we can expound upon it.

Other, non-violent suggestions:

  • Some mechanical trouble arises, they have to rush to get a replacement part before he gets back for the pit stop! If they’re late, it’ll delay him as he has to wait for the part before he could continue. If he does continue… well, let’s just hope that extra upgrade on every Piloting check doesn’t come back to bite him.
  • The PCs become embroiled in some track-side drama, as a child becomes separated from its mother! Force-sensitive hook: The child was abandoned because it was Force-sensitive. Alternatively, maybe the area is simply poverty stricken and the mother couldn’t afford the child anymore (or insert some other reason, sympathetic or not). Perhaps a long-running NPC that’ll hang out with the PCs. If one of them is of a rare species, maybe the child is of the same species, adding an additional connection in that way.
  • Thieves distract the PCs and try to rob the garage! The PCs have to successfully resist social checks (or, if they aren’t in the garage, pass Vigilance checks) to avoid getting called away. If the thieves fail their con-artist act, they may resort to something a bit more serious…
  • Again, Obligation provides all sorts of cool ways to engage the PCs during the race. If you need more ideas, list their Obligations and I’ll give you some suggestions.

First, thanks for the quick reply, there are some amazing ideas.

I like the idea that someone approaches the driver just before the race starts, telling him, that he better not be in the first place during the last round, otherwise he will not finish the race or even worse using your idea of “you won’t live to see the finish line”.

That way, I can switch between the racing scenes and some detective work that the rest of the group can solve, and I am not in danger that they solve the situation before the race starts.

But I am still struggling a bit what the rest of the group will have to investigate.
Some basic background information: The group is located on Tatooine, looking for a black market contact, that can help them get access to some ship parts. The Pod-Race itself will be a minor race, far from the size or prestige of the Boonta Eve race. As it is located on Tatooine, turning to police or “officials” will hardly help at all, especially when the clock is ticking.

My ideas so far:
The pilot is contacted shortly (minutes) before the race, that he will not survive the race if he is too good (not sure about the exact wording). He can give the rest of the group a description of the person who delivered this warning. They can search for this person, eventually finding him. Either confronting or shadowing him to find his contact/employer.
There they can find out by infiltrating/intimidating or by violence what is planned to interrupt the race (most likely some planted explosives, as well as one or more sharpshooters). The explosives can be disabled by finding the guy having the detonator somewhere close to the racetrack (most likely at the stands or the pit lane). Then they have to rush towards the ambush location to interrupt the sharpshooters. That way, they (hopefully) are constantly on the edge, and I can somewhat control the course of events and the time between the scenes by changing the distances in between.

Do you have any other ideas fitting into this setting, or do you see any problems in my idea?

And does anybody know of cards showing the stats for different Podracers? We are playing using the Tabletop Simulator, so I would love to give the pilot a card with all the relevant stats.

I would not approach or threaten the pilot. Instead, I would have the bad guy approach one of the other team members and put either the PCs (presume “non-pilot” when I say PCs) or a meaningful NPC in danger.

Aside from story reasons, that directly involves at least one of the other PCs, rather than both scenes being focused on the pilot.

Do you have Endless Vigil or No Disintegrations? They have good rules for investigations that we can expound upon to work out the details, if you’d like. If you don’t, I can enlighten you.

In order to investigate a threat, it needs specificity. Something as vague as “if you’re doing well you’ll die” could be a hoax, and it can’t really be investigated. There’s also no reason to deliver it in person. It could be over comms, or even just a sheet of flimsiplast slipped under the garage door.
Additionally, it needs to be handled in a way that gives the PCs time to investigate before the race actually starts, so that when the ticking clock comes into play the tension actually jumps, rather than gradually accelerating and becoming background noise.

Let’s look at it like we’ve received a threat, and need to start an investigation. This should help us plan who/what/when/where/why.
We have a series of questions that we need answered, such as:
Suspects: Who has a motive to do this to the party?
Motives: What motive is that, for each suspect.
Means: What was actually threatened, and how would they carry it out?
Opportunity: Who is able to commit, plan, or order the threatened “thing”?
Crime: What actually is the crime? What threat was made?
Why bother?: Why should the PCs get involved, or be proactive rather than waiting for whatever to happen and then reacting to it? I think this is best answered by an NPC. There needs to be some connection, but if it’s the party, they’re likely going to have the reaction of “We’ll deal with it when it comes up, let’s not do anything rash, like throw a race.” This will also be informed by the players’ likely assumption that the GM won’t just sweep his hand and kill the racer (and as a question for you: If they fail, or get ornery and do the “wrong thing,” does the racer die? Are you really willing to kill the racer in that way? There has to be a chance for failure, or there is no suspense).
Clues: What clues do the PCs have that they can follow up on? You have to give them something, or else a lead (“let’s check [damseled NPC]'s shop!”) that will bring them to clues.

Can you give me a run-down on their Obligations? It could be a very useful tool for the “Why Bother?” question.
Also, how overt have they been in their search for a black market contact? That could be a hook, but if they’ve only just arrived or haven’t made a nuisance of themselves, it won’t really work.

1 Like

I am going to elaborate about the background a bit.

The group has started with Escape from Mos Shuuta and Long Arm of the Hutt. After some time off the planet, they have returned to Tatooine. During one of the recent adventures, they found an abandoned research facility with a partly stripped Gozanti Cruiser. As one part of refurbishing this ship, they need a suitable Hyperspace Engine. They spent the last few weeks on/near Rodia and have just arrived on Tatooine, to talk to some old contacts for help in refurbishing the Gozanti.
They were told that there is a Wookiee technician (which they already encountered and helped in the past in another location) at Mos Entha, who could potentially help them in getting access to the hyperdrive.
Before departing for Tatooine, the pilot PC asked whether there are any upcoming podraces on Tatooine. I expected that wants to see one and gamble. After I confirmed that there will be a minor race, he was excited and said “I will participate in this race, no matter the cost”.

Therefore, I changed some plans:
They still got the hint to look for the Wookiee near Mos Entha, which will also be the place where the podrace will take place. The Wookiee is basically the chief technician of a somewhat reputable racing stable. In order to allow my PC to participate in the race, the original pilot of the racing stable will be incapacitated some days before the race. As the stable currently has no other pilot available, they will allow the pilot to join the race with their podracer.

My idea was that the pilot is intimidated right before the race, so he has hardly any chance to opt out. Furthermore, I am quite certain, that he will not step back from participating in this race. As the group has just arrived on Tatooine, and they were actually lying low in the past, I would not trigger their Obligations in this scene. Furthermore, they have not been openly asking around for a black market contact, but have asked some of their contacts.
Therefore, they will not be the actual target of the sabotage of the race, this will be the racing stable.

What happens if they fail the investigation? In the worst case, the podracer will be in the first place and the pilot will not step down from winning the race. Therefore, in the last segment before the finish line, a bomb will explode, potentially shredding the racer with shrapnel. The pilot will have the chance of one or two rolls to mitigate the crash and take a lot of damage. And yes, there will be the chance of death in a pod race. The players know that this is an extremely dangerous “sport”. So failing the investigation will not lead to an immediate PC death, but it is absolutely possible for the pilot to die in this race.

To come to your questions about who/what/when/where and why:
A rival racing stable (stable B) wants to outdo / embarrass the racing stable (stable A) that the PC’s will support.
Motive: Winning the race. As stable A has the faster pod racer, one of the heads of the racing stable is taking somewhat desperate measures to guarantee the win by sabotaging the most dangerous competitor.
Means: Threat to not win the race, otherwise a bomb will make sure that the podracer will not reach the finish line
Opportunity: one of the heads of stable B. He has the money to hire some goons, but can still be easily dismissed/killed/exposed by the PCs without causing too much trouble.
Crime: Blackmail, sabotage, attempted murder… I am not quite sure what the final wording of the threat will be. But I think it will be quite clear, that there will be an explosive charge somewhere. The PCs will have enough time to make sure, that no charge is on the pilot’s podracer itself.
Why bother: They want the help of the Wookiee technician. They will not have the time to check everything before the race starts. I am quite certain, that they will place some bets on their pilot, which they cannot retract at the point where he will be blackmailed. And the pilot will not step down from participating in the race. So they will be invested in winning the race to get the support from the technician, to secure their wager and to save their pilot’s live.
Clues: that is actually the point where I am not sure how to handle it. They will have the description of the person conducting / delivering the blackmail. I like the idea, that the threat can also be delivered by some item, which can also act as a clue.
But as I said, this is the point where I am somewhat lost in my planning. Today I was working out the racing mechanics and the track’s layout based on a number of different approaches I found online.

Okay, I think you’re in need of a twist. “Racing stable wishes to sabotage rival” isn’t exactly a man bites dog story.

What wrench can you throw in the works to change things up?

If the rival racing team is being framed, that actually makes the question of clues easier, because the actual perpetrator will want to lead the PCs to the patsy.

Easy example there, a witness saw the person who left the note, a Klatooinian wearing the livery of the rival stable (perhaps the witness was even paid off by the true perpetrator, and IDs a specific member of that stable).

But who else would have a motive to sabotage the team?

Perhaps the target is actually the Wookiee, and the allegedly rigged podracer is itself a red herring.

If the podracer is rigged, it needs to be something that is revealed once the racer is on the track. It can’t be before, or the PCs will find a way to screw with your plans (especially if they are given some time to investigate before the race begins, which they’ll need in order to avoid the racer becoming an afterthought in the scenario).

Here’s a scenario, using my suggestions:
Suspect: Rival black market dealer (perhaps even linked to Jabba?).
Motive: Eliminate the competition, intimidate any future competition.
Objective: Humiliate, kill, or frame the Wookiee.

  1. Racer drops out: Humiliates the Wookiee, and causes him to lose his stakes, putting him in debt to some bad hombres. Now the rival can buy him out through a shell and take over his “business” “legally.”
  2. Racer races: Blowing up the podracer won’t solve anything, it’s just a single lost asset. Doesn’t put him in the red, and if sabotage is proven, won’t even make him lose his bets.
    Instead, use the bomb threat as a distraction and catalyst for his real goal.

Means: Threats, framing, goading, direct action only if absolutely necessary.
Opportunity: He’s based in this area, and if he doesn’t have free time, he makes it.

  1. Perpetrate small act of sabotage and issue vague threat unless the racer drops out, threatening that if they continue, the consequences will get worse.
  2. Pay off a “witness” to ID the person who anonymously delivered the note as being a member of the rival racing stable.
  3. When the PC races anyway, once he’s off the starting block, they’re contacted again and told that there’s a bomb in the podracer, and if the PC does too well, he’ll detonate the bomb.
  4. The rival racers now thoroughly implicated (perhaps the Wookiee was quick to jump to the conclusion, pointing the PCs in that direction and starting them on a trail of confirmation bias), the perpetrator has two hopes: The Wookiee kills someone in the rival stable (who is innocent), or starts a fight and IS killed (if the former, the Wookiee takes the rap and is likely executed. If the latter, problem solved! And the rival stable takes the blame).
  5. If they work it out amicably, the perpetrator has to take direct action to kill the Wookiee. This is a last resort, and should ideally use hired goons rather than coming out himself.

To make things a little bit more spicy, the rival gang is owned by a third powerful criminal or criminal organization, one who would be strong enough to have the Wookiee executed. Jabba comes to mind.
And if you turn in the perpetrator to Jabba, then you get the satisfaction of watching your enemy fed to the sarlacc, with his own plan backfiring spectacularly and placing him where he wanted his rival.

Since the Wookiee is your NPC, you can use him to play into the bad guy’s plan and force the PCs to try and save him, whichever bad outcome is coming to fruition.

@Morkar, how goes it?

Tomorrow will be the race, I will follow adapt many of your ideas and tell you how the whole situation turns out in the end.

The setting right now is, that the original pilot of the Wookiees racing stable has been seriously stabbed some days ago. The Wookiee has received some threats and acts of sabotage in the past weeks. This is the reason, that he did not find any replacement pilot until the group showed up.

Last session we had all the preliminary steps leading up to the race. Our pilot had to prove his worth as a driver in a smaller Swoop Race, afterwards he was able to train with the Podracer. Some other characters placed bets on our pilot. Surprisingly our mechanic showed some compassion with another pilot, whose racer had some serious malfunctions and in the end the mechanic was hired as the new chief mechanic for this NPC pilot. I did absolutely not expect that this could turn out this way, and I am very curious what the race will be like in the end.

Edit: A lot of different things like vacations or illness prevented us from playing in the last weeks. Once we finish the race, I will definitely come back to you and tell you how it went.