While playing a one hour game yesterday, the players were in a situation where someone had sabotaged their vehicle so that it was leaking fuel. Despite not being mechanics and not having any parts to repair it (they did have tools), they managed to repair the leak (lucky roll). Now they were in the middle of nowhere and weren’t sure if they could make it back or to their destination. The question came up if a pilot could fly the vehicle in a way that would be more fuel efficient. I thought this was a great question and so I wanted to make it happen. Not for that game though, I needed them to run out of fuel for the plot.
The question is, how much fuel can a pilot save? There are two factors as I see it, the vehicle and environment. For the vehicle, I know that by driving very carefully a car can get better fuel efficiency but what about a helicopter? That’s what I’m not sure of. Then as far as environment, driving on a flat road (or downhill if possible) will get you further than going up and down hills. Airplanes and helicopters can get help from thermals so I think it can be done, it’s just an issue of pilot skill. Now the question is how much can be saved. There are some efficiencies that can only be gained by special maintenance I won’t consider these because they’re outside of what a pilot can do. I will discuss two choices players can make to be more efficient however.
If the vehicle is carrying any cargo the pilot can get more fuel efficiency by jettisoning it. This effect would be highly variable and there’s no way to accurately say how much efficiency a vehicle would gain without getting into weight ratios. In this case I’d give a simple rule that assumes the vehicle is carrying a significant amount of cargo (including passengers). If the PCs get rid of half the cargo, they get a 5% distance boost, that is they can travel 5% further. If they get rid of all the cargo (aside from the pilot), they can travel 10% further. If they start tearing things out of the vehicle to reduce weight (chairs, interior body panels etc.) they get another 5% distance boost.
The first thing a player is going to do with that is say “I always get a 10% boost when my vehicle isn’t carrying any cargo.” I’ll leave that up to the GM. Usually the players have their personal effects and themselves, so there’s always something.
If the vehicle travels at about on third it’s maximum speed, it will travel more efficiently. This is also highly variable according to the vehicle but should be generally true. To keep things simple, if the pilot travels at one third the top speed of the vehicle they will get a 10% distance boost. If they travel at half their top speed they get a 5% distance boost.
Your Mileage May Vary
Lastly, by taking into account coasting down hills with the engine off, picking up thermals and the like, the pilot’s skill is the determining factor. This is the meat of the issue, I can only use what I know about driving cars and trucks to gauge this so it could be way off for airplanes, boats or anti-grav vehicles but I’m generalizing.
There are a lot of environmental factors that this embodies. The roll simulates not only the chance that there are favorable conditions to drive efficiently but also that the pilot recognizes them and successfully executes the proper method of taking advantage of them.
The pilot takes a piloting skill roll for the vehicle they are in and then consults the chart below to see how much of a distance boost they get.
So if the pilot does all these things and did it all perfectly the vehicle will travel 40% further. That may be a bit much but I don’t think it’s excessive. What do you think? Are the numbers too high? Too low? I’d especially love to hear from you if you have experience with a different form of transportation like flying an airplane or helicopter.