Setpiece Battles #6: In the Midst of a Crowd

Nothing says chaos like a riot.  Screaming, running people who are perfectly willing to trample over others in an effort to get away from the source of their terror, or towards the object of their ire.  It’s unpredictable, dangerous, and sheer numbers can render any location, no matter how mundane into a crazy combat.It’s easy to think that crowds are easy to manage.  Unfortunately that’s hardly true.  They’re unpredictable, and no matter how the movies might make it look, firing a warning shot into the air will not always drive the crowd away.  Some might hit the deck, others will run away, and one or two people who might have self-defense instincts might spray your face with mace, shock you with a taser, or just shoot you in turn.

Aside from the fact that a crowd can easily turn into a mob, there’s also the fact that maneuvering in a crowd is extremely difficult.  It’s one thing to weave through a packed marketplace when you’re not doing anything, but chasing after a culprit makes things frustrating.  Add the fact that accomplices to your culprit might be hiding in the crowd, ready to shiv you or shoot you as you pass by.

Skills:

  • Athletics – Sometimes you don’t want to go through the crowd, climbing up  the rooftops, or bouncing from food cart to another might help a character navigate their way to their objective (though with the disadvantage of being a target to the bad guys.)
  • Stealth – Sometimes speed is not a factor in managing a crowd as much as planning your approach.  Being able to dive into a crowd and disguise your movements will make it difficult for the opponents to find out where you are.
  • Intimidation – Sometimes, it’s necessary to cow a crowd, and it’s even more necessary to know how to do it.  Whether it’s a commanding presence, or a stentorian voice, being able to dominate a crowd to make way for you is a quick solution to the task… or it might backfire against you.

Complications:

Aside from the issues about people milling about in the crowd, player characters often have to be concerned about random occurances such as people being knocked down from the panic and at risk of being trampled, especially children.  Another good one would be the wayward baby carriage that had been knocked away and is trundling down a long staircase, with the hapless child inside.

Another problem would be if the opponents use more sadistic methods like putting a sniper on the roof.  Being in the middle of the crowd when this happens limits the movement speeds of the characters, often putting them away from most cover unless they start using the crowd as human shields.  Likewise a stealthy opponent with a pistol might make take it as the perfect opportunity to jostle up to someone and shoot a character in the gut at point blank range.

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