Freeway Fighter

“I don’t even have a pithy comment about the book.”

Freeway Fighter by Ian Livingstone

Freeway Fighter is one I approach with trepidation, since I could never get into it. It’s basically Mad Max, and thus is closely aligned with a genre that had never been generified out in the the way fantasy RPGs had made a good go – and that’s not much back then, but things are much better – of turning medieval society into a no-holds-barred anything-you-like-is-valid venue for people to jump in and have fun.

The other problem is I have no idea how to drive a car, and so I have no idea what I’m talking about.

The background for this particular apocalypse is that in 2022 a plague wipes out 85% of the world population in four days. No-one knows why, and no-one cares because they’re too busy trying to fight for survival as half the population that’s left flips the fuck out. More interesting is that there’s no world war, no evil genius, it just happened. The world was a utopia, with wars averted, hunger eradicated, increased access to travel allowing people to get along just fine, solar energy powering almost all homes and most industries, a three-day working week, the US using the metric system, and England was in the finals for the World Cup.

In the fine tradition of British science fiction, the more optimistic the future, the harsher the fall. I love British science fiction.


Skill: 11 (badass)
Stamina: 27 (it’s 2d6 + 24 so this is a rubbish score)
Luck: 12 (hooray!)

Firepower: 12 (1d6+6, and averages out weapons and engine power – huh?)

Armour: Okay have to confess something: I threw out the character sheet for this book before I finished the writeup. It’s 2d6 + 24 and my score was high enough that I wasn’t too worried.

Equipment: Map, flashlight, compass, instant puncture repair device, tools, food, water, 10 medkits (they restore 4 Stamina each), revolver (I guess automatics are hard to find), unspecified bullets, and a knife. Oh yeah, and a leather jacket: what kind of apocalypse would this be if everyone didn’t have one of those?

I also have a (surprise!) Dodge Interceptor. It’s armed with machine guns, unlimited ammo (fuck yeah), 4 rockets (instant kill: double fuck yeah), 2 oil slicks, 3 spike droppers, and two spare wheels. Also has a CB radio, loudspeaker, various armour plating, bulletproof windows, and a pretty good stereo.

Special Rules: Hand-to-hand combat only does 1 damage due to it being a bare fisted punch, but brass knuckles increase that, and weapons deal damage as ruled. 6 damage knocks someone out, but if Stamina is low enough that it reaches zero, then I’m dead. Gun and vehicle combat is the same as usual, but 1d6 damage is dealt on a hit.

Onward to Adventure!

It’s one thing to live in a fortified settlement in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s another to have to drive a few sacks of seeds to an oil refinery to swap it for 10,000 litres of petrol. The only reason I’m doing this is because no-one else will. After a few days, where the car is modified and I get in some practice at being cynical and world weary (not hard), I roll out the gate and blast along the highway. There’s a small town nearby, which I decide to explore. I’m in need of supplies already – I’m tired of all the music I brought with me. I run into someone headed to New Hope, who is grateful for the news that it’s not far. I get advised to avoid the garage on the way out of town, and then we part ways.

Out on the highway I run into the first heavily armed raider vehicle of the trip. I take them out with ease and then get a radio message – apparently one of the town leaders has been kidnapped by a gang of marauders. To make matters worse, I’m running out of fuel. I should have opted for a more economical vehicle. On top of that the highway is blocked by a mass of abandoned cars, so I have to go onto a side road.

Nothing is ever easy. There’s a partially-open drawbridge in the way. I think for a moment. Cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, cop tyres, cop suspension, cop shocks, it’s a model made before catalytic con… yeah, fuck it, I’ve always wanted to try this. I back up, and then drive at the bridge full-tilt. I make it over, avoid crashing into a truck at the bottom on the other side, and drive off. Further up the road, I see someone in a motorcycle helmet waving me down. I step out of the car to see what he wants, and I’m ambushed – via grenade. Since I’m the luckiest woman in the world, I escape this with only a scratch, and then shoot it out with the biker and their sidekick, killing them and taking their stuff.

I drive onwards, passing someone wearing a blue jumpsuit with the number 13 on the back, and some time later find my route blocked by more cars. Instead of just driving off I decide to loot the vehicles. I find a crowbar, and continue down the line of vehicles opening each boot in turn – and come up with a full can of petrol. Things are looking up! Well, except for the fact I have to use it almost right away. It’s like there’s some sort of law of the universe that says all petrol will be used as soon as it is found. Eventually the sun sets, and I decide to park off the road and sleep in the car. As I drift off to sleep I wonder if there’s any other bizarre natural laws no-one noticed before the plague because they never applied?

The next day I drive along, music blaring, but unbeknownst to me the road is mined. Well… I say unbeknownst, but when one goes off under the car I beknownst for sure. Thankfully, I can get out of there before whatever mine-happy hillbilly laid them can come and fire an anti-tank rocket at me. Further on I find a bunch of maniacs having crazy races. The prize is petrol, so I figure I might as well do this. I win, in spite of the fact that my infinite ammo feed is not allowed to be used – what kind of road warriors are these clowns if they won’t use machine guns in races? I speed further south, and find an overturned Dodge. I steal the one good spare wheel, then poke around inside it. Naturally, overturned cars make for good places for things like snakes to live, but I manage to inject myself with antivenom and then kill the damn thing. All for what? A plastic tube. Now, this might seem like a useless item, but in the post-apocalyptic wasteland being able to syphon petrol is pretty much the number one survival skill.

I drive onwards, fighting duels, killing people for their tyres, and generally having to be more and more violent because my journey has become a parable about the veneer of decent behaviour that society prefers being stripped away due to an extreme situation, and we’re all monsters underneath, and it only takes a little bit of disruption to turn people into violent lunatics. It’s like I’m living in one of those post-apocalyptic films that people used to watch before the collapse of society.

Further along on my trip I come across a burning car, with an armed woman standing nearby. Her name is Amber, and she’s from the San Anglo refinery. She was out on patrol to provide an escort but one of the numberless gangs in the desert destroyed her vehicle. It turns out the refinery is surrounded by the Doom Dogs, and they want to kill everyone for the petrol. Like I said, the world is basically a B-movie now. Amber has a plan to sneak into their camp and sabotage all their vehicles.

After much crawling through the dirt Amber starts fixing limpet mines to the vehicles. As we run away, they detonate… all but one. The villains pursue us in their remaining car, somehow knowing which way to go despite it being completely dark. I manage to reach my car, and take on their station wagon (which they no doubt borrowed from someone’s mother) until it rams my car and we’re stuck. A quick shootout later, and the leader of the gang steps out of the car to attack me – and I’m mysteriously out of bullets.

“Hey, hang on, wait… I challenge you to Thunderdome!”

“What the fuck is Thunderdome?” says the leader of the Doom Dogs, giving Amber time to clock him in the back of the head with a wrench.

So, Amber and I drive off to the refinery and I pick up the tanker. I assume it is weighed down with a shitload of armour plating, since bullet holes in the tank would be a bad thing. Unfortunately before I leave the crazed gang of post-apocalyptic maniacs (read: anyone who does not live behind a fortified wall) attack the refinery, blowing up the gates and charging in. I fuck their shit up because that’s how this goes. After the gang surrender and leave – what a bunch of flakes – I get to drive the tanker out of the refinery. Amber opts to stay behind, which means no gunner on the return trip.

An extremely quick day passes, and I then explore an abandoned motel, only to meet a lunatic throwing rats at me. Ouch, ow, rats are better projective weapons than I thought! I kill him and go back to the truck to sleep in the cab, since a motel full of rats is probably not the most super-great place to spend the night. The next day I drive on. I’m just thinking how lucky it is I haven’t been attacked by raiders because this truck is not very well armed. There’s just a turret-mounted machine-gun on the roof of the cab, and no way to deal with anyone attacking from behind. What kind of idiot built this thing? The next day a couple of biker bandits ride up alongside and shoot out the tyres with crossbows. This is ridiculous. I manage to get one but the other challenges me to a duel. I jump out with my gun drawn and shoot the fucker while he’s standing around trying to look tough. Duel? What kind of idiot challenges someone to a duel?

Only everyone in this stupid, plague-ravaged, god-forsaken desert.

I drive on, and eventually the walls of New Hope come into view. My smug sense of self-satisfaction is cancelled out by the fact I’m starting to shake and am feeling feverish. Oh, great, those rats had the plague. You know what? This was bound to happen. No adventure in a post apocalyptic desert ever ends well for the protagonist. I write a quick note about my having the plague, and telling the people of New Hope that they should spend some time figuring out how to make a vaccine for the plague, and also that they should really save some petrol for the round trip since there’s no gas stations in the desert. Then I stagger off into the desert to die. Because apparently the world had one last post apocalypse cliché for me. Damn.


The high Stamina scores make combat quite tiresome. In fact, this book is boring! It is so boring. Bored, bored, bored. All the interesting bits involve not being in the car. It’s really an exercise in making up vehicle mechanics for RPGs. That’s mildly interesting from a game design perspective, but it’s not really exciting. I just don’t think the post apocalyptic road warrior setting makes for a good gamebook.

There’s a line of books called Car Wars, based on the vehicle combat game published by Steve Jackson Games. I read the first two of those when I was 12, and they were a bit more interesting, particularly the second one. But then, they’re not post apocalyptic, just dystopian. In that setting, cars are powered by electricity, a development in response to the oil running out. Freeway Fighter just makes the player find cans of petrol every so often, or be stranded on the side of the road. It would be more interesting to have settlements to stop and explore, with a couple of different encounters that each provide the means to carry on.

One of the good things was the encounters were varied, including modern-day chariot gladiators and cowboys. The notion that half the survivors of the plague are cutting loose and taking the opportunity to revel in mayhem is sold much better with the characters clearly trying to live their own pseudo-historical thrillseeking fantasies.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: Where are the dead bodies? Why are there no skeletons lying in the streets? At one point the book suggests people dropped dead at the wheel of their cars causing accidents, so why aren’t there desiccated corpses in cars? It’s the cheeriest apocalypse ever. It’s more like the rapture happened.

Ridiculous Battle: The leader of the raiders is kind of tough and will kill you in three rounds. Under normal circumstances you have to put him down in six. There’s no climactic vehicle combat in the book. It felt like the entire premise was abandoned.

Victory: The actual final paragraph victory is a few short sentences congratulating the reader. More interestingly, it’s possible to get the plague from rats, and then break out just within sight of the walls, and thus the ending is abandoning the tanker within sight of the walls and walking off to die alone in the wilderness. That would be a more fitting paragraph 400 for this type of story (except there’s only 380 paragraphs).

What Was I Thinking? Not getting into the violent road race the first time through. It’s fairly obvious that violent variations on racing would be required parts of the plot.

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