Setpiece Battles #1: Urban Rooftops

Everyone’s used to fighting in the streets in Urban games.  The moment you describe it, people generally know what to expect.  Incoming traffic, mailboxes and telephone booths for cover, the occasional bus stop shed, and lot’s of people running around (and most likely away if there’s gunfire.)

But the cities aren’t just good for fighting on asphalt.  Let’s go and put the fight way over the character’s heads… several dozen stories high, in fact.

The fun thing about fighting in modern day urban cityscape rooftops is that it offers two interesting things:  The familiarity of the objects around you that makes it easy to envsion (Exhaust vents, cables, pipes, ledges, ladders, fire escapes, billboards), without sacrificing the dynamic nature of the terrain.

The key element of Rooftops as a setpiece is the fact that the combat always takes place in differing heights, adding the element of elevation to the nature of the conflict.  One rooftop is rarely level with another, so a combatants are not only looking to gain terrain advantage and dominance for cover, they’re also looking to make sure that the opponents don’t get the benefit of height.


Rooftop fights are almost always a form of chase.  Given the nature of the terrain, most vehicles are useless, turning the fight into a more strategic conflict than  most people might think.  Skills come into play very well in Rooftop battles, including, but not limited to:

  • Area Knowledge – Familiarity with the layout of the city is a great help in picking out a route, as well as discerning shortcuts.
  • Athletics – Running, Jumping, and even the ability to gauge if a given fall is safe, or potentially lethal is a big consideration.
  • Climbing – As opposed to just jumping, there are times when you have to scale surfaces to get past certain obstacles
  • Firearms and Thrown Weapons – Being a chase, the best way to catch up to a runner is to stop them by hobbling their ability to run
  • Stealth – Dropping out of sight gives the perfect opportunity to shake someone that’s chasing you, and making sure you’re not caught is very important.


Rooftops are also unstable locations.  The elevations in most buildings will submit people to strong winds, that may help or hinder your efforts in leaping from one building to another.  A storm in particular would make a rooftop battle dangerous for just about anyone, as the surfaces are slick, visibility drops and the rain makes clothing heavier and less easy to move in.


For a great example of rooftops as a potential dynamic environment for combat, check out this trailer for EA’s upcoming game: Mirror’s Edge.

6 thoughts on “Setpiece Battles #1: Urban Rooftops

  1. I love it!

    Seems to me this would require a pretty specific layout by the GM beforehand. Players would need to know everything that’s around them to be able to use their environment effectively.

  2. Describing or not describing the layout of a scene is akin to either making the players use liberal rolls of Perception or not needing perception rolls since the use of perception is downplayed by the GM describing the scene and making PR’s moot.

    Best thing IMO is to give the PC’s a general cursory layout of the environment (which the GM planned way in advance) and give the PC’s extra info to things not immediately noticeable when they roll well on PR’s.

  3. Dirty Yasuki,

    I completely agree about planning the layout in advance and giving as much information as a player should have in terms of perception. Perception rolls could serve to reveal alternate routes, or other helpful features that might not be entirely obvious to people who are focused on running the hell away, or trying to catch a fleeing target.

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