'Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
Tryin' to make a livin' and doin' the best I can'
Ramblin' Man, The Allman Brothers Band - 1973
I was listening to this song on the radio (Remember those? Remember radios?) some days after seeing the movie Cannonball Run for the third time when an idea struck me. I grabbed the copy of Steve Jackson's Car Wars that a friend had lent me to read and we both promptly forgot about and started to jot down some notes.
Character: Charles 'Charlie' Boyd Ramble
AKA: CB Ramble, 'Charlie-Boy'.
Player: I don't remember his name. I remember his partner was played by my friend Barry S.
System: Cars Wars, 1st Edition combined with Homebrew Rules
Campaign: Scavenger Hunt
Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein
Origins: The player wanted to take a tough guy actor and put him in a comedic role, just as they did with Clint Eastwood in Every Which Way But Loose. He envisioned the late, great Steve McQueen, with his tough, scowling exterior, suddenly surprising people when he turns out to be this kind, warm, welcoming fella who just wants us all to get along.
Backstory: I don't recall much about CB Ramble's background or younger days other than he grew up somewhere in the Mid-Western United States. His father and mother were both truckers or at least that's what he tells one of the other PCs.
"My dad was a trucker, my mom was a trucker, hell far as I know my great-great-grandparents were truckers."
It isn't even made clear how this Son of the Open Road met his best friend Specs, the typical absent-minded genius science/tech. The two seem very different in skill set, personality, and interests. It is implied that they've been friends for years though, maybe even since they were kids.
Overview: Combining every awesome, cheesy, and over-the-top idea I could think of that even remotely related to that unsung genre of '70s Car Chase as Premise for an Entire Story', I created a short campaign I called 'Scavenger Hunt'.
The idea being - An eccentric millionaire would award a prize of One Million Dollars to whichever person or team could complete his wild scavenger hunt in the allotted time. This initiates a race all across the United States, from Alaska to Florida and California to New York to find all the odd items the millionaire requested. The list included the signature of his favorite movie star, a classic New York Egg Cream, a very specific bottle of Kentucky Bourbon, etc.
The PCs were like live-action versions of the Hana-Barbara Wacky Races racers as much as the types of characters seen in films like The Cannonball Run and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World - the two major inspirations for the campaign.
Of all the nutty concepts people came up with and the insane modified vehicles we had, the one I remember most clearly is that of Charles Boyd Ramble, his partner and best buddy Stanley 'Specs' Oppenheimer, and their Ramble Rig - what would happen if you crossed an 18-wheeler with the ARK II.
Part RV, part Science Lab, and 100% All American Big Rig, the vehicle was their home on wheels, complete with bunks, a kitchen, a mini-library, and in the rear; refrigerators to hold food and other spoilable items, magnetically sealed safes to hold precious art, and a dozen other gadgets and gizmos designed to make sure the scavenger hunt items stayed in perfect condition throughout their trip. It was all monitored by BRIGHT, the Big Rig Intelligent Gyro-Held Technician. Wait, did I not mention they had a little robot? They did. They had a little robot sidekick who had a mixed 70s/80s toy robot aesthetic.
CB himself had the special ability 'Contacts'. Wherever they went or needed to go CB Ramble would know somebody there who could give them a hand. Headed for Alaska to find this rare, scrimshaw drinking cup? CB knows a guy who works on the Pipeline and can help us find it. In Nashville and need to pick up a custom made guitar? CB knows a guy who played banjo for Dolly Parton. Surrounded by opposing drivers trying to run his rig off the road? CB gets on the cb and a "Breaker, Breaker" later three additional long haulers show up to help since they each owe Ramble a favor.
What made Ramble really unique was his friendly, gregarious nature. The player could easily have played him as the typical tough talking, bareknuckle brawling, 70s action hero but instead went with an honestly likeable guy who really enjoyed dealing with people. He wasn't always good with all the rig's high tech whatchamacallit's and his best friend's scientific mumbo-jumbo but he had a kind of honest empathy that just lifted up the scenes he was in.
The other players and their PCs almost felt bad competing against him. He was an OK joe and more often then not he would team up with the other contestants to get out of a mess with the highway patrol or biker gangs.
One of my favorite moments I can still recall was when he teamed with two other PCs, an Asian Martial Artist on a Motorcycle and his old mentor/Master who followed him in a Van (one capable of housing the cycle when needed). The two of them got in trouble with gang members in a restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown and CB, who happened to be getting take out, stepped in to help them. Amazed that he would be willing to do this when their delay would only benefit the Ramble Rig team, they decided to give him a head start when it was over, letting him clear the parking lot before they got into their vehicles.
The other thing I remember was that CB Ramble and friends didn't win the race. At the last moment he was beat out by a female PC driving a custom 'racing' pick-up truck. The two had many run ins during the race/scavenger hunt and their was romantic tension for sure. In the end he congratulates her and she asked him out for a drink. Loved that.
Legacy: I think this campaign was the one and only such campaign I ever ran with Car Wars as a basis. I don't think I've played Car Wars at all since. Like my experience with Boot Hill, there was no way I was going to meet or beat the awesomeness of this game. It was lightning in a bottle.
I did make a reference to CB Ramble, Specs Oppenheimer, and BRIGHT in a Spirit of 77' one-shot I ran at a convention. They were listed as possible contacts the players could get in touch with to help out with the adventure but they chose one of the others instead.
Game Info: It's been so long I don't have any memory of the specific rules of Car Wars, let alone the RPG I basically created from scratch to go with it. In Spirit of 77', CB Ramble would be a Good Old Boy with Humble Beginnings. His Might and Hustle would be decent but he really excels at Smooth. Custom Moves would be related to his infinite contacts, something like 'I Know Somebody'.
Next up, we return to Aerth, the world of The Winghorn Guard, for a heroine near and dear to my heart. Join me and meet CEREN-DEE WINDDRAKE, the Lady of Everwind.