Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Traffic and Crowd Control

“Photograph from a Japanese language extra edition newspaper from January 1934, showing the aftermath of the human stampede at the Kyoto Railroad Station. The images show Imperial Japanese Navy personnel trying to help victims. This stampede caused 77 deaths, and 74 injuries.” Image and description aken from Wikipedia

As the temperature rises and the doors of various Convention Centers begin to open the doors, many of us will pile into cars and drive to our meeting areas. Some of us might be taking vacations, visiting family members or getting away from family members, relaxing in nature or surrounding yourself with as much awesome as you can afford.

If you’re driving, there is always the possibility of traffic to deal with. Traffic. *groan* Even our best laid plans can often be waylaid by what is significantly more than a bump in the road. Traffic can be caused by all sorts of things, though any kind of incursion will almost undoubtedly be made more annoying by rubberneckers, people who JUST HAVE TO GET IN FRONT, the person who turns off their car every time traffic stops for more than a few seconds, those who can’t be arsed to read signs. How many times have we had traffic slow down because there was an accident on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD? Unexpected roadwork cutting multiple lanes down to one, detours that increase the volume of traffic on a highway meant to handle much less. Trying to get lots of things into a single exit. Time to crank up the tunes and try to ignore the fact that everyone’s IQ is steadily dropping, minutes of your life slowly slipping by as you sit there, stranded within a metal and plastic prison.

Getting through, in or around crowded areas can also be problematic. Various social events generally call for throngs of people moving throughout a specified area and making sure everyone gets in and out safely and in a timely fashion can mean the difference between success and a very dangerous situation. Like herds of animals, a cause for panic can lead to people rushing, pushing and crushing each other, a single mob of mass confusion with individuals suffering under the press of their fear. Sometimes the crowds are called together for a religious festival, or an outdoor concert, fervor or fandom causing the people to press in too enthusiastically. During times of distress, such as during wartime attacks people rushing into shelters can cause tragic and unintended casualties. While trampling is a very serious danger, asphyxiation is the common cause of death for those killed by the fear of others. This is not a lurking fear. This is panic in action, pressing in on all sides, squeezing people till they can’t breath and no one noticing or doing anything to stop it. If you look up ‘Stampede’ on Wikipedia, you can find some very sad stories and terrible numbers regarding deaths by human stampede.

Both traffic and crowds can be made to run more smoothly by the implementation of rules, the following of laws and the presence of people and physical objects which can direct people. In the case of traffic, these things can mean getting necessary vehicles to the cause of the trouble issue more quickly, possibly saving lives, property and money, as well as getting other people where they’re going. In the case of crowds, it can save lives.

We’ve had articles about Conventions and Deadlines. Now just through a few hundred people or vehicles in the mix. Ups the CR a bit, doesn’t it?

For GMs

  • What types of events draw large crowds of people? What type of people are coming to these events?
  • Where are these events being held? Outdoor areas? Indoors? How many exits are there?
  • What types of vehicles/modes of transportation do people use? How are the roads maintained?
  • What is the volume of traffic on the roads and through gates normally like? How does this change for market days, festivals, holidays, etc.?
  • The people who watch and guard the roads and gates, are they trained to deal with stressful situations? Crowds of people? How do they control the flow of people and things?
  • Are there any threats around which could send the people into a panic? Recent events causing the roads to become impassable/harder to navigate?

Plot Hooks

  • A caravan is trying to get through a narrow mountain pass when one of the wagons breaks down, making an already tight fit even tighter. When the PCs come to try and help fix the issue, a threat from behind causes the rest of the caravan to press in. What part of the wagon is broken? What is the threat from behind? Why has no one else tried to help the people in the broken wagon?
  • The PCs are on security detail for an important religious figure, an individual who is said to have healing powers. Many people gather to see the religious figure speak and it is well known people try to touch them, in order to be healed. This has caused the religious leader to develop agoraphobia. The PCs must escort the religious leader to their speaking arrangement and back to wherever they are staying. Why are these PCs specifically tasked with this? Why does the speaker continue to travel and meet with crowds if they are afraid of them? Does the local church help or hinder their preaching?
  • During a huge festival, the PCs must transport last minute goods for a business in order to replenish the wares. However, all goods must be transported through a certain gate for inspection for safety reasons. The PCs must get the goods through the queue and the gate in a certain amount of time or risk jeopardizing the company they work for. What are they transporting? How much time do they have? Who else is waiting at the shipping gate? What kind of security is at all the gates? What is the reason for the heightened security?
  • During a time of war, the PCs are part of a squad meant to facilitate getting people into shelters. They are charged with making sure everyone in their section is alerted and people make their way safely and in an orderly fashion. What tools do the PCs have at their disposal? How is their position regarded by the population at large? What do the people risk by staying in their homes? What kind of people live in the section the PCs have sworn to protect?
  • Recent storms have made many roads difficult to travel but someone or something seems to be making the issue worse. Trees are falling with greater frequency and roads growing muddier, forcing merchants and travellers to reroute their trips through one area where they are being robbed with greater frequency. The PCs are sent to investigate the robberies and stop the destruction of the roads. Who or what is destroying the roads? Are they the same people who are robbing the travellers? Who has sent to PCs to investigate? Are they required to bring back any missing goods?


  • How do you feel about crowds?
  • If you were stuck in traffic, how would you pass the time?
  • Under what circumstance would you let someone cut in front of you?
  • Is there anyone/anything you would push through a crowd of people to get to?
  • Would you rather wait for traffic to pass or would you rather switch back and try to find another route?
  • In a mob situation, would you tend to follow the mob or try to direct it? Dissipate it?

What say you?

As a note, I will be getting back from vacation next Friday, recovering from…possibly some traffic and crowds! HA! But also from GeekGirlCon and spending some well deserved down time with family and friends in Portland, OR. I am planning on having a poll/questionnaire about RMtBF here and/or on G+ so please, keep your eyes peeled and be sure to answer. I’m hoping to make RMtBF more helpful and more awesome in the second part of the year.

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