How to Handle Pursuit Adventures

Pursuit adventures can be difficult to GM but exciting to play

I received the following interesting request from a reader about how to handle a campaign where the PCs are the prey. Below is the reader’s request, and then after that I offer some tips. If you have any other tips to add, please add a comment!

Hi Johnn,

I really enjoy both Roleplaying Tips and Campaign Mastery – thanks for presenting such well thought out ideas to GMs everywhere!

I’m running a sci-fi game, and in a previous adventure the leader of the PCs was told his chief rival had sent someone after him. Someone with double his resources and known for tracking and destroying starships.

By the end of their current adventure, their pursuer (or an agent thereof) is likely to have found the PCs, at which point the theme becomes, “Hunt, or be hunted.”  This puts control squarely in the PCs’ hands. They either come up with a way to overcome a superior foe, or they come up with a way to flee a relentless enemy.

I’m aware I can’t plan for every contingency either option presents, and I have a few ideas of my own (at minimum, how the adversary will keep finding them in the vastness of space), but I could use some help.

How do you and others handle pursuit-style adventures?  What can I do to enhance the mood and evoke fear and paranoia?  What obstacles can I put in the PCs’ path?  What can I put in their path that they can use to even the odds?

Many thanks, and keep up the good work!

- Richard Coulson

Hi Richard,

One thing you can do is put yourself in the players’ shoes. What would you do if you were them? You can better envision this by listing out what info and clues they have available. Too often we GMs assume the PCs have more info than they do, and players can only act on what they know or think they know. The chief clue types are locations, NPCs and items.

Once you have some ideas of potential PC actions, you can use these to plan ahead. And if the PCs do not make your anticipated choices, then you have game material ready to steer them towards.

Paranoia Will Destroy Ya

For paranoia, first try to abstract the hunter’s resources down two levels. You’ve already got one level – his agents.

For the second level, figure out what the agents can do without getting involved directly. Agents of agents, informants of agents, technology of agents. What do the agents need to get the job done?

Thus, you’ll end up with:

Tier 1: Villain

Tier 2: Agents

Tier 3: Agents’ resources

Focus On Tier 3 Encounters

Next, implement the third tier in various encounters. This gives you two buffers – one for the agents and two for the villain.

It will also allow you to stretch things out. This way, as the PCs clear out the third tier, there are still a lot of gaming options. If you just went head-on with encounters with agents, the adventure would be over quickly because once the agents are finished all that is left is the villain.

Once you have the third tier figured out, introduce it to the PCs via encounters. Perhaps an agent’s agent and the PCs are on the same quest for a piece of tech. In another encounter, an informant gets caught. In another encounter, a PC’s bank account or employment records get hacked.

The paranoia part comes in when the PCs learn about connections to the villain before, during or after encounters. Normal encounters become scary, dramatic or exciting once the PCs learn of the connection.

Be sure to leave clues or bread crumbs the PCs can use to track things back to an awareness of links to the villain.

Further, paranoia comes from being watched, hampered or manipulated by the villain (preferably via tier 2 and 3 encounters). Generate encounters around those three themes (spied on, hindered and manipulated) and be sure the PCs know the villain is linked.

Hope this helps.




Great tips on the players being hunted here! Very excellent ideas! Also, if I were the GM in a situation like this, I may use the opportunity to introduce a new and interesting NPC… you could have a type of rogue/assassin/spy character come out of the woodwork who claims to secretly be on the same side as the PCs. This NPC could inform the PCs that they are in danger, that they are being followed, and that their enemy is very powerful. However, perhaps this NPC has a plan for escaping that would involve the PCs going along without really knowing whether or not to trust this NPC? Is the NPC actually an agent of the enemy? Is it really a friend? Make her a hot girl with flirtatious tendencies, and you will especially have all of the guys in your group wanting to believe her… just some ideas here, lol.

Johnn Four

Great comments, Josh. Classic Loki NPC.


A couple of thoughts:

Tracking someone in the vastness of space should be near-impossible. Just like tracking someone through a crowded mall, is very difficult. The easiest way to hunt is not to follow your prey, but to go where you can expect them to eventually show up, and then you will have the advantage. Crocodiles wait by the shore. Lions wait by the watering hole.

Anyway, if the PCs commit to disappearing entirely, then it’s as effective as destroying them entirely.

So, I’d start sending them plot-hooks, requiring them to go to locations that could be predictable. A parent is stricken with an illness! A brother needs you to cosign some loan documents! Your starfleet class is having a reunion! Even target other PCs who may be just as likely to have the clout to move the family. And the bounty hunter is there waiting for them at one of them…

Or, just be make them ruthless and above consequences. Have them killing everyone, or destroying everything the PCs hold dear, or have ever met. This, I believe is how the Empire deals with hunting the droids in Starwars, isn’t it? The strategy is to emotionally unbalance the prey, so they become focussed on confronting, and finding you… making your work a lot easier.


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