Strange Highways Ideas for Road-Movie Feng Shui by Chris Willrich


Though not nearly as sophisticated in this arena as the Architects of the Flesh, the Ascended have made strides in linking geomancy to technology, the most useful application being perhaps their network of spy satellites which can monitor feng shui sites. A less well-known project, one with mixed success, was the United States Interstate Highway system.

The idea was to divert the chi flow of North America onto predictable paths, a concept similar to that of “ley lines”. If successful, the project would blend the effects of several feng shui sites into a kind of meta-site formed of attenuated strands — the Interstates. Also, feng shui sites outside the network could be slowly leeched, their power flowing into the new framework. New communities, situated along the roads and dominated by the Pledged, would gain in strength and status. The urban sprawl of major cities, breeding grounds and hiding places for the Ascended's enemies, would be selectively weakened.

That was the plan. The reality was somewhat different. While new chi flows were created, they took on an unpredictable character as they travelled across the huge distances of the American landscape. In effect, the Interstates, instead of becoming extensions of existing feng shui sites, became sites themselves — extremely thin strands of power. Rather than comfortably controlling the network via feng shui sites along the routes, the Ascended discovered they had to attune to a highway itself to reap its benefits — to “own the road.”

What owning the road entailed was a mystical combination of driving prowess and authority, though the exact mixture was as changeable as dust devils twisting across asphalt. It was not enough to head the Highway Commission; to own a road you had to drive it, sense its moods, memorize and understand its twists and turns, make it a part of you. Attuning to an Interstate in this manner enhanced one's abilities as did attuning to a standard feng shui site; it also conveyed certain sensitivities — a feel for the lives travelling down the road, alertness to trouble ahead or behind, and a sense of who had the potential to challenge one's mastery. Likewise, a worthy challenger could vaguely sense the location of the road's “King.” For such challenges had to be settled face-to-face, driver to driver. Before the Ascended had the complete picture, several drivers had already attuned to various Interstates. They were the sort of people who spent their lives on the road: truckers, bikers, bus drivers, salespeople, vagabonds. They mastered roads without quite understanding how it happened, waking up one day to sense what they knew all along, that this road belonged to them, as they belonged to it. Over the next decades a strange subculture arose made up of the Kings of the Road, “Courts” of friends whom they allowed to attune beside them, and those sensitive and skilled enough to be worthy challengers for the title. Duels for the roads, some civilized, some deadly, became the stuff of legend, whispered over radios and traded over coffee at lonely truck stops as sunset stained the highway to crimson. The Ascended could not tolerate this romantic anarchy forever. The highways were their creation, and they would have command. Though their agents sometimes gained control of a road, especially with the help of Pledged operatives among the traffic patrols and frequent travellers of the highways, they never gained more than half the roads at one time. Other arenas of the Secret War demanded too much attention to allow a full assault on the highways. For decades the Lodge fought a war of attrition on the Interstates, while doing its best to keep the secret of the roads from the other factions in the time war.

That has just changed. The Unspoken Name, seeking more power and irritated at this source that keeps slipping through his fingers, has ordered a crackdown on the Road Kings and their hangers-on. New, more fearsome riders have hit the highway. But as the struggle escalates, the risk increases that the other factions will muscle in. The Unspoken Name has a narrow timeframe in which to seize the highways, and is playing for keeps. The battle for the open road has begun.

Attunement Rules

Attuning to an Interstate is more involved, game-wise, than attuning to a regular feng shui site, because the concept of “ownership” is more nebulous. Since you can't occupy an entire highway, you have to defeat a current King at a Driving duel, then hold off all challengers. (Or if for some reason a King dies or disappears, a contest of several challengers may occur.) Also, the challenger concept relies on the idea of “partial attunement,” so the challengers can locate each other. Partial attunement also allows player characters to enjoy the mystical “feel for the road” without being pinned down to “their” highway or constantly fighting off challengers.

Partial attunement can happen to any character with Driving 12 or better who's familiar with the highway in question. Below is a power writeup, Feel for the Road, representing the benefits of partial attunement. You can handle this power in a couple of different ways. If you want a game heavily focused on the road wars, in which every PC is a hotshot driver, you can automatically grant this power to all PCs at the start of the campaign or at some milestone later on — just make sure everyone has Driving 12. If you'd like a game that mixes the road wars with other activities, treat Feel for the Road as a purchasable schtick, taking the place of a gun, fu, creature power, or arcanowave schtick. Or allow a player to trade in a Skill Bonus for Feel for the Road.

Feel for the Road

Available only to characters with Driving 12 or better.

The greatest Drivers, consciously or not, can attain a limited attunement with their favorite highway. This manifests as a power similar to the Prediction power of the Divination Sorcery schtick. The character can receive cryptic visions of distant or future events that occur on or near the chosen highway. In addition, the character can sense the presence of others with a Feel for the highway within 10 kilometers (up or down the road) times her Chi rating. A character with Feel for the Road can also sense the direction (up or down the road) of the highway's Road King at any distance, though she cannot pinpoint the location. The character also gains a limited danger sense while on the road (and at the GM's discretion) which makes her uneasy when enemies are near.

Gaining Feel for the Road on new Interstates is a new event each time. If the GM is treating this power as a schtick, gaining Feel for the Road for a new highway requires buying a new schtick, at a cost of (8 + x) where x is the number of Interstates for which the character will have Feel for the Road after this purchase. (Alternatively, the GM could choose to speed up the PCs' conquest of the roads by requiring only a one-time purchase of Feel for the Road, making full attunement to any highway possible. But GMCs should have this advantage as well.)

Full attunement requires winning a Driving duel with a Road King, or the invitation of a Road King. It also requires having Feel for the Road. Attuning to a road is similar to attuning to any feng shui site. After the Driving duel is won, the winner has a moment of mystical clarity, after which she is attuned. She can then extend this attunement to others. The benefits are the same as for standard feng shui sites.

In addition, there are special benefits and hindrances for the Road King herself. She gains +1 to her Driving AV while on her Interstate. Should she attune to a second Interstate, she gains +2 to her Driving AV while on either road. A third Interstate brings +3 to her Driving AV while on any of the three roads, and so on. But there's a catch. For each highway she's attuned to, a Road King suffers a −1 to her Driving AV when on an Interstate she doesn't “own.” So while each new conquest makes her harder to dislodge from her own territory, it increases the resistance she encounters the next time she tries to expand. These modifiers do not apply to non-Interstates: on ordinary roads, the Road King's Driving AV is unchanged.

GMs may also want to give different Interstates special powers to represent regional character. A highway through Texas may grant the power to summon tornadoes, while a highway through Minnesota may grant immunity to cold, and so on.

For convenience, the attuneable Interstates are distinguished according to number. Interstate 5, for example, is a single attuneable road. This means that some roads are much more valuable than others. On the flip side, the major highways are harder to defend. Powers extend a short distance beyond the highway itself, so players can have fun bringing the road wars to cities, small towns, and the countryside. As a rule of thumb, the power extends 1 kilometer off the highway.

Nearby highways interact unpredictably — they may have overlapping areas of influence, or may cancel each other, depending on what seems most amusing. Crossroads are notoriously unstable, and Road Kings try to stay away from them; have fun canceling or increasing powers, causing weird flashes of prophecy, and so on.

The GM should decide which roads are currently in the hands of the Ascended, and which are contested by the Road Kings. The Ascended should probably have between one-quarter and one-half of the highways. (They wouldn't stand for less, and any more would probably have united the Road Kings against them.) The “free” roads should probably have a mix of highways in major metropolitan areas and highways out in lonely wastelands, to allow a variety of settings.

Ideas on Driving Duels

Traditionally, duels are fought to the flinch, not the death. At worst a challenger spins out of control, but the habits of the Road Kings are not bloodthirsty. Usually.

Feng Shui doesn't have detailed vehicle rules, but here are some thoughts:

The James Bond game was supposed to have had a “bidding” system for chases. You could call it Name That Turn — “The foe can make that turn against a Difficulty 12.” “Oh yeah? Well my PC takes that challenge.” Since we're talking duels and not chases, you could call it Name that Sideswipe, and have the challengers alternating bids. First the defender calls for a Difficulty 13; that challenge completed, the attacker calls for a Difficulty 14. You could play until someone fails, have a three-strikes-you're-out-rule, or whatever variation strikes your fancy.

You could complicate things by requiring a second Driving roll after a failed contest to avoid wiping out, with a Difficulty equal to the amount by which the first roll failed. In this case the duel is fought until someone completely loses control, or until someone surrenders.

A third wrinkle might involve knowledge of the road. A contestant might say, “I want to take my opponent through a tight series of turns. I know what I'm doing, but it should be a surprise to him. I want the turns to have a Difficulty of 15.”

“Okay,” says the GM. “To find these turns, make a Driving check against a 15.” The player succeeds. It takes a while to reach the turns, so meanwhile the opponent gets to play Name That Sideswipe for another round. But after that, the opponent is forced into a Driving roll all by himself, when the series of sharp turns comes up. This assumes knowledge of the highway, and will tend to favor the defender. But a character with an appropriate Info skill, like Info/Highways, could play this game even if this wasn't “their” road.

Adding things like vehicle stats and model variations might be fun, but that's beyond me, except to say you could give heavy vehicles a bonus in Name That Sideswipe, and a penalty in the tough-terrain game.

You should probably avoid forcing non-driver players to twiddle their thumbs for a long time. If the duel's going to be a long one, you can give the enemy driver a bunch of friends who bend the rules by firing guns and launching spells. While the metaphysics of the road duel usually preclude victory by such nasty tactics, cheating works just often enough that the unscrupulous sometimes try it.


Of the existing types, the Karate Cop is, hands down, the most likely candidate for Road King: as far as I can tell, with the right choice of attributes and skill bonuses, she can start with an astonishing Driving 22! Go Speed Racer! In a Driving- oriented campaign this is probably going to be way overpowered, so I suggest capping a starting Karate Cop's Driving skill at a modest 16. If you allow higher skill levels, you can still try to maintain balance with frequent combats: anyone that specialized in a non-combat skill is going to want a bunch of allies to watch her back when the shooting starts. For flavor, you might allow the Karate Cop to trade off Police for something else, preferably at a maximum of 12.

At a distant second, the Techie is still a good choice: with Driving 15 and Fix-It 15, he can keep a '67 Chevy running on vapor and three good tires.

Next best is the Maverick Cop, also with Driving 15 (probably after chasing bank robbers across ten states.) As with the Karate Cop, you might allow the player to trade Police for some other skill.

Then comes the Everyman Hero, who can buy Driving up to 14, and who fits the genre like a greasy glove. (Jack Burton of Big Trouble in Little China was really a road-movie character on a holiday.)

Also noteworthy are the Ex-Special Forces type (Driving fixed at 12) the Killer (+3 to Driving, Max 13) and the Medic (+2 to Driving, Max 12.)

Not everyone needs to be a fancy driver, of course. The road has many strange byways, and all kinds of talents are useful. Some types that fit especially well in the genre are: Big Bruiser, Gambler, and Thief, but anyone can get in on the act. Even the exotic types like Cyborgs and Supernatural Creatures can work, because being On the Run is a staple of road movies.

You might also check out the Lone Rider type by Colin Chapman, since it's tailor made for this sort of thing. If you use the Lone Rider, I suggest not allowing the Karate Cop to start with a Driving above 15, since that steals the Lone Rider's thunder.

New Foes

Highwaymen Pledged Mooks

“You're in violation of the Unwritten Rules of the road.”

Bod 5, Chi 0, Mnd 4, Ref 5.
Driving 10 [15], Guns 8, Intimidation 8, Martial Arts 6.
(May swap Guns and Martial Arts skills. May replace Intimidation with Police).

Highwaymen are the Lodge's rank-and-file defenders of the highways. They operate under many covers — the trucking industry, the highway patrol, biker gangs, even families of tourists. Each highwayman carries the emblem of a wheel, be it a wagon-wheel, a hubcap, or even a mandala, so they and their superiors may recognize the Highwaymen — and in some cases, so the Highwaymen may intimidate their enemies. The Highwaymen may warn Road Kings, their allies and challengers off a disputed highway; or they may simply swarm in, guns blazing. At least one Highwayman in a large group will be a crackerjack driver with skill 15. At the GM's option, this driver could be a Named character.

Surveyors Pledged Geomancer / Assassins

“Your registration is expired.”

Bod 6, Chi 5, Mnd 7, Ref 8.
Driving 10, Guns 13, Info/Construction 12, Info/Geomancy 15, Info/Highways 12, Sabotage 11.
Eagle Eye ×2.
The Surveyor can use the following effects of the Fertility Sorcery schtick: De-attunement, Observe Chi, and Restore Chi. These powers are not magical; they are based on the Surveyor's Info/Geomancy skill.

The Surveyors are one of the Lodge's answers to the Guiding Hand's Gardeners (see Blood of the Valiant.) They are engineers trained in geomancy, with sharpshooting thrown in for good measure. The Surveyors were instrumental in designing the highway system, but their main duty is neutralizing threats to the Lodge's control of the highways. Their usual strategy is to disable a highway with explosives ahead of a target's route, then attack the target. This approach generally requires a lonely stretch of road, but in extreme situations the Surveyors will attack on busier roads. Surveyors may or may not be Named characters, depending on the GM's needs. Surveyors are usually not top-notch drivers, and are generally accompanied by at least one Highwayman driving specialist.

Road Hogs Lodge Enforcers

“You want to own the road, you gotta be hungry for it.”

Bod 10, Chi 7 (For 2), Mnd 10, Ref 5.
Driving 14, Guns 8, Info/Geomancy 13, Martial Arts 12.
Feel for the Road, Gore ×2, Wallow ×2.

The Road Hogs are the Ascended's new strike force against the Road Kings. They are — you guessed it — Transformed Swine, one of the less-powerful branches of the Ascended. They were chosen because of their unusual ability to tap the chi flow of matter outside their bodies (see the Gorge and Wallow powers below), which gives them an advantage in sensing the ways of the highways: their Feel for the Road schtick applies to any Interstate, even if they are driving it for the first time. (The Ascended would never arrange a strike force simply because of a silly pun, no sir…)

Road Hogs attack Road Kings and their allies in out-of-the-way establishments along the road, preferably lonely diners or truck stops (assault builds up an appetite.) They usually attack in large groups, and are intended to be Named characters.

Transformed Swine Package

Attribute Modifiers
Body +4, Intelligence +4.
Chi Cost: 3
Shot Cost: X
Charge a foe for X number of shots, and then make a 3 shot Martial Arts attack against the foe. Add double the number of shots you were charging to your Action Value for the attack. If foe has time to evade the charge (by leaving the room, flying, swimming away, etc.), or the attack misses, Chi is expended uselessly. Note that the longer the charge, the more opportunity a foe has to evade. By spending an extra schtick, you can use Gore while riding a vehicle that doesn't enclose your body, such as a horse or motorcycle.
Chi Cost: 1
Shot Cost: X
Consume food for X shots to remove X Wound Points. As a rule of thumb, the character consumes one sandwich per shot. If you are interrupted at your feeding, you must spend Chi to reactivate Gorge. For an extra schtick you can consume organic matter not normally considered food, such as wood. However, the matter should still be in a bite-sized form. (For example, you could gorge on sawdust or wood chips, but not wood furniture.) Also, you can spend an extra schtick to become immune to poison while Gorging. This effect does not neutralize poison received before Gorge is active.
Chi Cost: 4
Shot Cost: 4
You can emit an unnerving squeal which distracts and disheartens characters within range. Make a Martial Arts check; all within range must beat its Action Result with a Willpower check in order to remain unaffected. If affected, they suffer 1 point of Impairment for a number of sequences equal to their Perception ratings. Range is a radius equal to your Chi rating in meters, centered on you. You can spend extra schticks to add to your Chi rating in meters to the range for each extra schtick you spend. Or you can spend extra schticks to exclude one individual from the effect per schtick spent. Transformed swine, including yourself, are immune to the effects of this ability.
Chi Cost: X
Shot Cost: 3
Crouch low to the earth and expend X Chi to awaken the earth's local Chi flow, which you may tap to restore your Chi rating. You may replenish your Chi up to twice X (but not beyond your maximum.) If you want to Wallow again using fresh Chi gained in this manner, it is an entirely separate action, costing 3 shots and a new expenditure of Chi. To use Wallow you must have direct skin contact with the ground, which must be natural soil or stone. Plant cover does not inhibit Wallow, but human construction does. You may spend an additional schtick on Wallow to remove the direct-skin requirement and allow you to tap the Chi flow through outdoor construction like highways. A third schtick in Wallow lets you tap the earth's Chi while inside a structure, but only at ground level or below. If you use Wallow at a feng shui site, the shot cost is reduced to 1.

If a player wants to play a Transformed Swine in this setting, the GM might consider allowing swapping Guns or Martial Arts for Driving on the Transformed Animal template, and allowing Feel for the Road to replace one of the character's Transformed Animal schticks. Note that Road Hogs will be better drivers, and their version of Feel for the Road is more powerful than the standard — as GMCs they don't need to be balanced against other types.)

Story Ideas

The Lost King

Once there was a legendary Road King, untouchable, almost childlike in the purity of his ruthlessness. Then an alliance of the Kings toppled him, leaving his Jaguar a flaming husk. Yet the King survived, half-crazed, forgetting who he was. Nursed back to health by a small, struggling farm community, he made new friends and became a better man. But the Coalition that toppled the King has grown far worse than he ever was, and its foes have tracked him down to plead for his assistance. Agents of the Coalition are hot on their bumpers. Players can take on the roles of the Lost King and his new friends and/or family, coming to terms with the strange ways of the Road, or possibly play the Coaliton foes who find the King.

Holy Water and Antifreeze

Fleeing the destruction of their small town by vampires, the last survivors roam the highways in a 18-wheeler licensed to Stoker Shipping of Gilroy, California (garlic capital of the U.S.), a grim, low-rent band of monster-hunters. In their travels they learn that vampires are only one breed of horror that stalks the land, and their rig fills with racks of stakes, holy water, clips of silver bullets, and huge tanks of Raid. In time, each member of the crew gains Feel for the Road on many different highways, and soon they must face their worst nightmare, a vampire Road King who sees them as rivals.


Where two Interstates come together, the powers of the great drivers fluctuate unpredictably. A society of sorcerers, the Knights of the Clover Leaf, have been meeting nightly to enchant one crossroads so as to trap the greatest drivers and sacrifice them to gain some of their power and skill. When they are ready, the Knights will ride forth in their shiny sports cars to take all the Roads by storm. The Road Kings get wind of the scheme and send the PCs to investigate, since they dare not risk their own loss.

Go Flash Rider, Go!

The PCs are a famous race car driver and his crew, friends, and family. This creates a good scheme for generating the party as team — you can have the driver, the mechanic, the manager, the bodyguard, and so on. The driver has just reached the level of skill where he senses the call of the Interstates. Other drivers on the race circuit already know the secret; in fact, the races are sometimes the setting for duels for rulership of a nearby highway. A few tracks are feng shui sites in their own right, and are hotly contested. Some drivers welcome the newcomer, others will hinder him, even try to kill him. Meanwhile, the mysterious Road King known in the racing circuit as “Driver Zero” has taken an interest in our hero… is he friend or foe, lost kinsman or destined enemy?

The Hitcher

Folk along the roads whisper the legend of a Road King who never drives, but instead walks endlessly along his road. He is somehow able to hide his presence from challengers… but he can sense them, and sometimes hitches a ride from such a challenger, who is never seen again. Other stories say the Hitcher has his own Court of drivers, recruited in exactly the same fashion as the challengers are killed. Some say the Hitcher doesn't even need to be invited aboard, but simply materializes… The Hitcher could be a neutral force in the Road Wars, maintaining the status quo along his road. Perhaps he protects the innocent and punishes the cruel along the highway, or perhaps he's a force for terror — or both. PCs may be obliged to take a shortcut along the Hitcher's highway, or they may have to go looking for him, because they need his help against the Ascended or another force. Or maybe he wants to recruit them.

King of the North

The Alaska Highway is a spoke of the Interstate network that extends through Canada. A Canadian driver, years ago, attuned to it and went on to reign supreme on the roads of Alaska. Now she is acquiring construction assets and contracts in Canada, in order to alter the Canadian highway system into a mirror of the American network. The Ascended, when they learn of the plan, will like this not at all. Neither will the U.S. Road Kings, who will fear such a powerful rival. The King of the North could be the last, best hope against the Ascended. Or perhaps she's a terrible threat, in league with Arctic demons and intending a terrible fate for the whole continent. Your mileage may vary.

The Quest

Fearful of the Ascended, two Road Kings on opposite sides of the continent are negotiating an alliance. Rightly mistrustful of normal communications channels, the Eastern king sends a group of negotiators by road across the country. Guess who the bodyguards are? This can be an episodic adventure that gets as complicated as you like, as the PCs must consider their routes, battle hostile Road Kings and challengers, and evade Lodge assassins. And then they do it all over again…

Operation HOLOHOLO

The Dragons have just learned of the road wars, and see the Road Kings and their supporters as natural recruits, being freedom-loving romantics themselves. Since the Dragons' strongest remaining assets are in the Pacific Rim, the highways of Hawaii, at the heart of the Pacific, seem the natural testing ground for an alliance. The Ascended firmly control the Hawaii roads, using them as a training ground for their Surveyors, and a test site for new ideas on how to win control of the Interstates on the mainland. The Dragons intend to shake things up by recruiting powerful drivers from California to make contact with any islanders with Feel for the Road who've escaped being killed or co-opted by the Ascended. Then the drivers will seize the highways, while the Dragons launch a “conventional” assault on the Ascended's feng shui sites in the islands. But there are two important things the Dragons don't know. First, the Hawaii Interstate conveys the power to teleport among the islands, which will seriously snarl the Dragon strategy. Second, one of the California drivers is a double agent for the Lotus, who have set up shop on the Big Island. Can you say unscheduled lava flows? I knew you could…

“Holoholo”, according to my Fodor's, means “to go for a walk, ride, or sail”. Apologies if it doesn't make any sense in this context; it just sounded good.