Reader Tip Request: Fantasy Chase Scenes

RPT Reader Devon Creamer asks:

I was wondering how I could do a chase scene in one of my campaigns.

My dilemma is that chase scenes are supposed to be fast and action packed, no dull parts or slow parts.

But with Pathfinder’s usual movement rules, it’s too boring and my players lose interest.

Thanks for the request, Devon.

Readers, we’ve had car chase tips in the newsletter, but not fantasy-based tips.

I’m especially interested in chase scenes involving villains on foot. Those seem to be rare and difficult to pull off.

I look forward to reading your tips below!

  • Tim

    They way I handle them is without warning begin calling out skill checks. This requires a bit of preparation on your part beforehand. Definitely have the phases of your chase already panned out and which skill checks (and possibly alternate skill checks) already recorded, as well as a few contingencies in case the player characters do catch up with, outflank, or otherwise surprise your villain.

    Also, depending on how well I know the group if I ask them for a skill check and they’re not rolling right away I’ll skip them simulating their character being caught off guard, becoming lost or disoriented, or losing sight of the villain in the crowd.

    • Johnn

      Thanks Tim. How goes the Journals writing?

      • Tim

        Getting caught up, should have at least two out here shortly.

        • Johnn

          Cool beans!

  • Kate

    If the movement rules are too slow and clunky, develop your own! Use an egg timer so that the players have only a limited amount of time to react.

    For example: A thief steals the purse of a PC. The magic ring they were going to deliver to their patron is inside. The chase ensues, and could involve climbing fences, dodging townsfolk, laundry or other obstacles/object, or even go onto the roof tops.

    • Johnn

      Thanks for the tip, Kate.

    • Daniel Taylor

      Seconded. Chase scenes on foot are all about *terrain*. Keep it urban, densely packed, full of incident. (NPCs are terrain too, for this purpose; remember to use them!)

  • Scott

    I’ll offer a suggestion by describing how I’ve run chases before. Running a fun chase is a matter of preparation. It’s hard to know where, when and how a chase will happen, but by making random tables, jotting down just a couple current specific notes, and using a fast paced narrative method, running a chase can be as fun as playing in one.

    1. Long Before the chase – Make a list of things that can happen during a chase (ie: hazards)
    2. Just Before – Jot down a couple locale-specific hazards.
    3. During – Keep descriptions lose and use a fast-paced narrative method rather than miniatures and a map.

    To begin with, long before your PCs encounter a chase situation, make a list of things that can happen during a chase. I call these things “hazards”. Brainstorm all the hazards you can come up with. This is one area where “borrowing” ideas from other sources is perfectly fine. There will probably be a lot that still apply from modern chase scene lists or sci-fi ones. Imagine all the chase scenes in action movies you’ve seen, or even in fantasy movies.

    As you start making this list, you may encounter hazards that only work well in certain surroundings. Things like a shark attacking a nearby fish that runs towards you can’t happen in the streets of Magepoint very easily. A chase through the forest is likely different in some ways from one in the streets of a city or underwater or underground in caves or a dungeon. As you come across these ideas, jot them down in seperate lists. Once you’ve got all the hazards you can come up with, consolidate the lists by tweaking those things some way and adding them back into the main list. Instead of a shark attacking some fish, maybe it’s bandits chasing a woman carrying a basket.

    The second thing I do is add a couple – don’t go overboard with this one, just one or two – hazards that are campaign and locale specific. If it’s a city, maybe one hazard incorporates an NPC the characters have encountered before. If it’s a forest, maybe a familiar animal or a local ranger or druid the charactes know is involved, or maybe just their animal companion. At any rate, come up with at least one thing that you can incorporate from your campaign history into your hazards list right before you start running the chase. During the chase, as you roll randomly for what hazards the characters encounter, instead of using your randomly rolled hazard, use the one with campaign history instead. The PC’s will never know :)

    The last thing you can do is skip the miniatures. Nothing bogs a chase down like re-drawing the map every ten minutes, and stopping the action to consult your city map every time you need to re-draw a street or intersection is a real snore-factory. Heavens forbid you have to draw and re-draw a random patch of forest or something too. Instead, go old school and just narrate the action and the scenery like us old-timers did before miniatures were the norm. By narrating the action you take away the impediments of space and time and mapping and trade them for things that are much easier to control, like by answering the question “how far is he behind me?” with “about one move action” or “about 30 feet”. By your narrative descriptions of the action, you’ll be automatically giving yourself fuel for modifiers as well, like that tomato cart you just ran around can be used as cover by the enemies chasing you, or maybe it’s filled with pots of holy water or even Greek Fire. Depends on what’s populating your list. I’ll leave those hazards to others to post though.

    • Johnn

      Wow, great reply Scott.

  • Alex

    For ad-hoc situations, I can recommend the Paizo Chase Cards. They make for a pretty fast and exciting chase scene and require no preparation.

    • Phil

      Hi Alex and Johnn,

      Another vote for the Paizo Chase Cards. The standard set offers urban, forest and dungeon chases. These are simple to use, and serve as excellent springboards for the narrative of a chase.

      I extended the set by photocopying the more common hazards, and then making some new cards of my own. These were images from Google printed out and glued onto small index cards. Put all the cards into CCG sleeves, and the originals can be used seamlessly alongside the home-made ones.

      My cards just have the name of the obstacle, but even this is enough for the purposes of narrative. The cards are easy enough to deal out, and thus ensure a pacey narrative.

      I have even expanded upon the basic range of chases, creating cards for sewer, aerial and seaborne chases. I have even added transition cards, switching from one environment to another, just to spice things up. We once had an aerial pursuit that switched to a rooftop/street-level chase using the urban deck.

      There are plenty of rules advice on this page already, but using the fast, random generation of obstacles that the cards offer is a real boost to the narrative of the chase. They also ensure that the GM may be surprised by the turn of events, and can be a vehicle to hone your improv skills.

      Happy Gaming


      • Johnn

        Thanks Phil.

        I’m going to have to check these cards out. They’ve been given good comments here a couple times now. Thanks!

  • Michael

    Pathfinder actually has rules for chases that I’ve found to be a lot of fun.. check this out and let me know what you think:

    • Michael

      forgot to check the notification boxes, so doing that here

  • Daleus

    Stop rolling for chases. Instead use theatre of the mind. Describe the fast paced action, and then stop for planned “mini”-encounters along the way to whatever is the culmination of the chase. You’re right, chases are supposed to be fast so stop holding it up with dice!

    As for interesting twists during a chase, I once ran a chase through a fantasy city for my group, who was tasked on protecting aprincess as she went on a mad shopping spree. In order to get back at her father for having her tailed, she went shopping with a cousin who, while not identical, had the same figure, hair and general look as the princess. It didn’t help that the two women also wore the same clothes.

    Watch your players’ heads explode when they realize they *have* to split up.

    Watch your GMs head explode, trying to keep it all together!

    Actually, this is one time when the party splits and it actually helps the scenario for each side to hear that they seem to be chasing the girl in different parts of town!

    Just be quiet about it, and don’t tell them what’s going on until the women meet up at the end of the chase for a quiet cup of tea in the ladies only tea parlour.

    I was highly complimented on the chase at the end of that session!

    • Johnn

      Explosions are always great during chases. :P

  • Will

    Lots of games have abstract chase rules you could steal. Savage Worlds has several, or you could try the 4e skill challenge system.

    The basic problems with using normal movement rules are 1) some characters vastly outpace others, 2) the trade-off between attacking and moving is too extreme and encourages either not attacking or not moving, 3) it’s hard to stay within attack range, and 4) circumventing obstacles is usually too boring (you just go around).

    Most chase systems I’ve seen solve these problems by changing movement into a skill check you make for free each round. If you succeed you advance; if you fail you fall behind. In Pathfinder terms, it would be a Riding check, or an Acrobatics check if on foot; maybe allow more exotic skills for characters with low ranks in those (like Perception to notice a short cut or Climb to scale an obstacle).
    1) Movement rate could grant +2/-2 per 10ft of base movement beyond 30. So it’s something, but not overwhelming.
    2) Full attack would impose a -2 on the movement skill check. Full move (no attack) would grant a +2.
    3) Use abstract zones of movement. You can melee anyone in your zone at no penalty, or adjacent zones at -2.
    4) Obstacles increase the movement check DC and may impose a worse consequence on failure (such as damage, flat-footedness, or a -5 penalty next round as you stand back up). You could roll randomly for obstacles each round, and allow characters to seek out obstacles for advantage since pursuers will face the same hazard.

    This is just an example I pulled out of my butt just now of how a system could address the 4 chase issues. Remember that the high-level goals of a chase are to keep things moving (literally — if they are still it is just a fight) and to give the participants plenty of opportunity to interfere with each other to keep it interesting.

    • Johnn

      Still catching up on all the great comments here…

      Will, I agree with you. It’s funny how just adding movement to encounter breaks games so much you have to go abstract to resolve.

      I like your suggestions. Thanks!

  • Gillian

    If you can find “Hot Pursuit” and “Hot Pursuit: on Foot” – a pair of pdf rules by Adamant Entertainment for D20, they are VERY good. They help you set up and narrate all the details of a chase, and keep the action high.

    The system is quite abstract so no maps are needed, and it is turn-based so very familiar to players. I have used them a few times and been very successful.

    One pursuit of a group of pilfering kobolds through a crowded market square was particularly fun. It involved a snatched baby, a runaway wagon crashing into a tent-tavern (which caught fire!) and a number of fish-carts, fruit-sellers and a big stack of beer kegs…

    • Johnn

      Thanks Gillian. Found both on RPGNow today.

  • bill honchell

    I think you could combine Fantasy concepts with a pinch of sci-fi. With chases I always think of the Speeder Bike Chase in ROJ, but instead of hi-tech harlies, why not go harry potter and do enchanted brooms or flying carpets, mix it up and get weird with great big flying cauldrons.Also I was thinking about why not have an enemy have heavy cavalry in the form of a giant or giant creature used as a mount. the baddie could have their mount bashing away at the hero’s with a tail or a 40′ long club as they dodge in between trees and rocks trying to avoid being turned into hero jelly. I also really liked the chase scene in Brham stokers dracula where it wasn’t anything fancy but there was a huge sense of urgency. They were desperate to save mina and of course stake the count before the sun went down. Also it may be a good idea to just let everybody just have fun with it, keep rolls and rules to a minimum, it’ll kill momentum if everyone is rolling to dodge a tree branch every 20′. Keep it to an absolute minimum, unless someone wants to try something tough (casting a spell, shoot a bow on horseback, jump from one mount to another while traveling at speed ect.)

    • Johnn

      Those are great ideas. Very imaginative!

  • http://N/A J. Dale Himebaugh

    In almost every case where I run a chase, the fleet of foot take the lead and the slower Halflings and dwarves get left behind. Mages keep an article from each player so they can be used to “locate item” if they get separated. Then the chase is on!

    We forget the map and the payer begins with his dice in hand (figuratively. We play GURPS in Roll20) and they pursue whatever they are chasing thought the city streets, the forest or the mountain fastness. Ability rolls follows where appropriate with rolls when they get close to the prey to grab them. Based on my experience as a cop, if the chaser comes up with something creative like throwing a jug they have snatched from a market stall at the target’s feet, they get a quick contest to see if that upsets (physically) their quarry. If so, then the fight’s on. If not, then over walls, under wagons, around vendor stalls, past the grabs of guards, whatever the GM can come up with until the fleeing party eludes the chasers. Be creative. A collision with the city guard, stumbling over a fat noble and his daughter, slamming head on into a marauding party of Goblins, a close encountervwith an Owlbear, anythings can happen. Be creative, use your dice, shake your bones and roll ability tests. Do it fast, do it quick, don’t get bogged down, let the slower players tag along or get lost. Get them separated. They can always get into trouble of another kind with some other encounter. And this just means more joy and fun for you,


  • Michael

    Another cool thing could be to set a chase against the backdrop of a disaster, be it natural or supernatural. For instance, chasing down the thief who just stole the immensely powerful artifact the local temple of Pharasma uses to keep the city’s dead from rising up and wreaking havoc.

    It gives you as the DM some fun opportunities, as both the thief and the PCs are dealing with the undead uprising over the course of their chase. It adds urgency as well; if they don’t recover the item all of the area’s inhabitants are at great risk.

    The Pathfinder Reference Document is a handy online tool, and has available the short-and-sweet rules governing these and most other scenarios you might come up with:



    And, say the thief hops on a ship… you’ve got:

    Fast Play Ship Combat

    • Johnn

      “Another cool thing could be to set a chase against the backdrop of a disaster”

      Nice twist!

  • Roger

    The story is the key in a chase. Know what you want to see in the scene, and have a rough idea of what is in the streets or building(s) they pass by, and it should go well. Give your players the option to begin a chase, and then use Reflex saves to counter most of the challenges. If it runs on very long, require a Fortitude check to keep on running.

    My best chase scene:

    I had my group of players witness an assassination of a prominent city merchant right in front of them on a city street. This happened on a quiet Sunday morning when they had switched out of adventuring clothes and were dressed to visit the temple for morning services. While they were still armed with the weapons that were too important to leave behind in the room of an inn (a couple of magic swords), they did not have all of the clunky armor and optional ranged weapons on hand. (I used alot of teasing such as “Are you really gonig to take a longbow to church? Really?” to get them to understand they were in a city, with rules and expected proper social behavior.)

    I used alot of fast paced storytelling, with the occasional Reflex save to dodge the overturned vendor cart or tossed item by the assassin. I had planned that the two assassins had an escape route planned out, with a third accomplice to bar the back door entering a four story building with multiple balconies and exits. My fastest PC was a fighter/rogue, and he made the Reflex save to get into the door and headed up the stairs before the accomplice could react, so once he entered the doorway the accomplice barred the door, completely catching the team off guard. We then had the one fighter/rogue in hot pursuit of the main assassin, and the rest of the team running around the building trying to see where the others went, yelling warnings about the spotted accomplice.

    The building was a brothel, but it was Sunday mid-morning, so the player ran into half dressed women (either running or grabbing at him), people with laundry baskets on stairs getting underfoot, and the occasional thrown item. (Lots of impressive language was used by the “ladies”, and a few invitations to return as well.)

    The mage had failed a Fortitude save, so he was winded and slowed down, taking him out of the action. (That player is also a very active GM, so when he saw how well the game was going, he just grinned and shurgged his shoulders with a “guess I can’t keep up, I’ll get there when I can” and sat back to enjoy the rest of the action.)

    The fighter/rogue followed the assassin across the roofs of three more buildings before the quarry figured that he could stop and handle the lone PC. At that point, the assassin turned aroud and changed roles to become the hunter.

    The fighter/rogue quickly realized he was facing a rather skilled opponent by himself, so he started trying to find ways to slow the fight down until the rest of the team could arrive. It was a great way to bring in the fast paced chase, and turn the tables on them.

    I did not worry about the other players and where they were on a tactical map, since the fighter said he was going to go fully defensive and dodge aroud until his teammates arrived. Since he threw in a few taunts, I tossed in a skill roll for the taunt (which he scored very well) and then allowed him to lead the assassin around for a little bit around the top of the building. I kept up the Reflex saves with dodging around people as they hurried to aid the fighter. Once he failed a Reflex check, I went to Real Combat.

    The two men (assassin and rogue) fought for four or five combat rounds before the others could figure out which building he was on, and then get to the roof. (Those in pursuit took mixed routes, one climbed the wall to the second floor roof, while the others ran up the stairs. During that time the assassin pulled several really nasty tricks and had the fighter down to 30% of his hit points.

    The guy who climbed the wall really fast arrived at the roof just in time to intercept the assassin’s partner, which added to the drama.

    The rest of the team (less the mage) arrived in time to finally take down the two assassins, and then healed up a badly torn up fighter.

    Good stuff.

    Stay focused on the scene, using all of the mundane things that happen in most of the chase scenes in the movies. Nobody has time to cast a spell, and in crowded streets and back alleys there is little chance of getting off a good ranged shot, so they have to run to keep up, or lose sight of the quarry.


    • virbots

      Cool chase scene, Roger.

    • Dale

      Hey I really iked the turn around mid-flight where the Assassin stops feeling and “becomes the hunter”. really nice twist that!

      • Dale

        Erm, that would be “liked” and “fleeing”.

  • Laura

    Some of my more memorable game sessions involved chases. Here are some game mechanics and types of chases I’ve used to make it cinematic and exciting.

    The two biggest rules are to make it cinematic and to give players plenty of opportunity to make meaningful choices.

    Now for specifics:

    Acceleration/Deceleration: Keep in mind the various speed multipliers available in your game system. Just as you wouldn’t gun a car from a dead stop to 60mph in real life without doing some damage to the engine, players and monsters can’t go from melee to speed x4 without taking a round or two to build up speed. Speed changes can be made one multiplier at a time, and that decreasing speed is easier. Speed x4 to a dead stop may require a DEX check to avoid wiping out or falling over or failing to stop. Your car can’t stop on a dime, neither can your horse, but a character on foot might be able to.

    Speed differential: The difference between the slowest member of the faster group and the slowest member of the slower party. Note that parties can split up and each have different speeds.

    Fatigue: Sustained speed is exhausting. Be sure to take into account fatigue rolls, subdual damage, the fatigue penalties your game system uses. High speed chases will wear characters out quickly. Long-term chases involving tracking and indirect pursuit will wear them out over time. How often and how long can you stop to rest? Camping?

    Combat: If chasers catch up to fleers, they have to stay in melee range for at least half a round to make a single melee attack. No one gets a full round attack. Archers can fire as long as they have the movement to do it. Mounted archers have the best chance of success. Certain feats will affect the possibility of combat.

    Obstacles: Smart fleers will often throw obstacles in the way such as caltrops, heavy logs, set fire to the rope bridge behind them, hidden Stones of Alarm on things they have to touch to move (thus letting them know where the chasers are), attempts to cover tracks or confuse the trail. Smart pursuers will have more than one character who can track, mounts or Fly spells available, aids to spotting traps, knowledge of the area.

    Miniatures: You’ll quickly run out of battle map if everyone moves their marker the number of squares according to their move. Instead, you can declare relative movement. Each round, the miniatures can be moved relative to the speed of the slowest party/creature. Example: A wagon is moving at speed x2 (40′/round) in an attempt to get to forest cover before the dragon breathes. The dragon is 500 feet away and flies at 120’ per round. It just spotted the wagon and can accelerate to speed x2 next round. The party saw the dragon last round and can accelerate to speed x3 (60′/round, max speed) next round. The assumed speed is the wagon speed. The wagon marker doesn’t move. The dragon moves closer according to how much the speed differential is. The forest appears on the map once the wagon gets close enough to it. Individuals attempting to take actions move themselves in the local area according to how much they accelerate or decelerate.

    Now for specific types of chases.

    The fleeing withdrawal: This will be fairly common. The PCs are fighting a group of hobgoblins. The hobgoblins realize they’re losing and are organized enough that the leader sounds a retreat. On their initiative, the hobgoblins take a double move away.

    Will they attempt to hide and ambush the pursuers? Will one stay and engage the pursuers while the rest get away? Will they run the pursuers past something that is likely to chase the chasers? This is the simplest type of chase to play out because you don’t need much preparation for it.

    The race: It could also be a contest in which a group of characters are competing for the title of the swiftest in the kingdom. It could be several groups of NPCs attempting to make it to the abandoned fortress first.

    Decide on a time tick. This will depend on the nature of the race. A competition is short and the time tick would be one round. Racing another group to an abandoned fortress, the time tick could be 4 hours.

    Determine progress: Have each party roll a d20 and add the speed differential tens digit to the die roll of the fastest party. If there are more than two speeds, more than one speed differential may be applied to more groups. Add any other applicable modifiers. In a competitive foot race, the Run feat would grant a +2 bonus, the group racing to the fortress would gain a +2 familiarity bonus if they know the area. After each time tick, roll for progress. Keep a running total of results.

    Determine the finish line threshold: This is the number that the die roll totals need to equal or exceed in order to make it to the destination. Before the game, decide approximately how many die rolls you want to call for, and figure the total appropriately. For something simple like a competitive foot race, just roll three times and add the rolls together to get win, place, and show. For an overland long distance attempt to beat three other parties to the abandoned fortress, consider how far away the fortress is, decide how long it will take a group to get there under ideal conditions, and assign a number to represent the finish line. The first group to reach that total has arrived, the other numbers determine the order and timing of arrival of everyone else.

    For long distance non-head to head races, allow the players (and other parties) the option to sabotage each other’s progress. Don’t forget about forced marches and fatigue.

    The slow speed tracking pursuit: The PCs recognize the tracks as belonging to a group of trolls. Could this be the same group of trolls that decimated the village of Nobbingham?

    Before the game, determine how long ago the trolls went this way and whether any of the villagers were taken captive and are still alive. The finish line in this case is the troll lair where the PCs will discover that yes, this is the right group of trolls.

    Set up several decision points that may lead the players astray, possible deliberate attempts to confuse trackers, things dropped by captive villagers that might help blaze the trail, alternate terrain types, different hardness of ground, game trails in the vicinity.

    Draw up a rough time line of troll actions. How soon will they eat the captives? When will they trade away the village reeve’s heirloom harp? Will the trolls migrate, taking their captives and loot with them? Are there traps the trolls (or their kobold slaves) are working on? Will any captives escape? Getting to the destination just in the nick of time is as cliched as the bomb having one second left to go when the bomb expert defuses it. Players who make wise choices and who use their skills should be rewarded by arriving in plenty of time to accomplish their goal. Those who delay by endless bickering deserve to arrive too late to rescue the villagers. Arbitrarily deciding that the trolls are about to kill the first captive when the PCs arrive may work for some groups, but drawing up a time line and inserting the PCs into it according to their choices will make the traditional nick of time arrival mean something when you do use it in a later scenario.

    During the game, ascertain how fast everyone is moving. Moving too fast for tracking may penalize trackers. Also remind the players that standing around discussing strategy takes time.

    At each decision point, ask the trackers how far up each trail they want to go and have them make their skill rolls. Describe what they notice, and let the players decide which way to go. Keep track of how long this is taking and make sure the players know how much time has elapsed.

    Give the players a reasonable chance to discover they’re on the wrong path and give them a chance to find the correct one. This will eat up time, it may get them off the track completely. Don’t be afraid to let the PCs fail, but don’t let one bad die roll keep them from eventual success.

    Reward smart play. If the PCs declare that they’re looking in a specific place for a specific type of spoor and you’d previously determined that it’s all over the place, don’t let a bad die roll keep the players from noticing the obvious. Also let non-rangers get in on the searching. Anyone can smell freshly dropped guano or notice a large muddy footprint. However, only the ranger can tell whose it is and how fresh, and here a miscue may lead them astray.

    Once the players arrive, check the time line and tell them what they find.

    The grueling long-distance flight: The PCs realize they’re in a world of trouble. They know they can’t defeat the hordes of undead, there are just too many of them and they keep coming. Time to run for it and hope they can shake their pursuers.

    This one is perhaps the most complex chase scene of all. It combines elements of all three previous types of chases. This can be a scenario in itself, and requires more preparation than any other type of chase, especially if there is a large group and many different speeds involved.

    Before the game, know the speeds of everything and break down all parties into zones. List the speeds, intended marching order of NPCs within each zone, chance that each zone will have trouble keeping up or speed ahead. Transportation or flying of either the PCs or the enemies will be important. Decide upon NPC strategy ahead of time. Each zone might be a group of fighters guarding the rear, the lead character, each wagon, the flying creatures, the two monks.

    Know where the finish line is. Perhaps a tract of hallowed ground is a place of safety. Maybe the PCs can elude the hordes of undead in the mountains. A river is two miles away, everyone knows vampires can’t cross running water.

    Take into account the time of day or night. At night, lights will pinpoint the location of living beings and visibility will come into play.

    Determine the time tick and relative speed. In this example, there are undead behind them and on all sides. Plenty of opportunities for combat.

    During a chase of this complexity, you’ll likely be running several types of chases as one intense combat scene. You’ll race partway toward safety, drop into combat time, attempt to elude pursuers all in one encounter.

    Be cinematic in your descriptions, include reactions from NPCs, slavering hellhounds, zombies oozing with gore, the moldy fetid stench from the ghasts. This will be the session that will exhaust you as a DM and your players will remember it for a long time.

    • Johnn

      Holy cow – very detailed and thorough. Thanks Laura!

  • Stephen Yeardley

    Every since 3rd Edition, when we started looking a lot more closely at movement, I’ve always chosen to ignore “the rules” when chases occur. Everybody can move either their standard movement rate (for underground or forest chases) or double their movement rate (for urban or open area chases) without a quibble, also ignoring time-draining AoO. However, there is a price to pay; for every 5 feet/square you move over the first 5 feet/square, you take a -1 penalty on every other action that round (e.g. if you move 20 ft/4 squares, that’s 15 ft/2 3 squares extra, so you take a -3 penalty).

    Anything over these movement rates becomes plain running, which does go back to “the rules”.

    This keeps the chase moving forward in a practical way when considering what a chase should look like, and adds excitement to any fighting, as you swing wildly when attacking, and hope that ray or arrow hits as you leap forward.

    We do use a battlemap and minis, but don’t redraw every thing – we just have the length of the chase marked out in a long strip with a rough width indicated and the odd bit of terrain or set of obstacles marked on it. A map can then have many rounds on it without too much difficulty.

    Works for us

    • Johnn

      Sounds like a good and simple system.

  • mark

    Check out TV tropes chase scene page:

    This lists pretty much all the cinematic clichés and hazards and tricks of chase scenes. Pick 4-5 from the list and your ready to go.

    I run chase scenes like combat. Pursued character(s) have “chase-points” representing their ability to escape. The Pursuit character(s) also has “chase-points” representing their ability to pursue. Chase points are like hit points. If any character can reduce other characters “chase points” to zero, before their own HP reach zero, they win.

    Chase points are determined for both teams by the GM: maybe 5 for a short chase, 10 for medium, 15 for a long chase, then multiply by the number of people in the other team. The GM may give a bonus to either team for head-start and environment and such.

    Each side then takes their actions. Whatever they do (running hard, throwing obstacles, dodging through crowd, shooting at other team etc), if successful they reduce the other characters chase points by 2. If it is very successful (critical or similar) they may do 3 or even 4 points. If it is not that helpful or only barely a success then it does just 1 point. Nothing adds to your Chase points (as this risks un-ending chases), you only drop your foes. A failed action has no effect, but if you really screw up if may reduce your own chase points.

    Apply common-sense to the above, it is very simple and abstract, but it gives the bones of a chase, and rewards a wide variety of actions (so you don’t just get “I run”, which is the chase equivalent of the boring “I hit it” in combat).

    Each round add something new to the chase. Ideally a complication which forces people to do something different. Maybe running into tall grass turns it into “hide and seek” (using move silently and observation) rather than a flat foot race. Maybe the city watch or annoyed shopkeepers join the chase. Maybe they leap into the river turning it into a swimming race.

    Keep it fast by cutting out as much of the detailed mechanics as you are comfortable with. Everything you cut will speed it up a bit, but the cost is reduction of accuracy to the system. Use words not miniatures.

  • virbots

    Check out:

    I’ve not tried the rules myself but they seem like they might work well, at least for a chase in the city.

    You can also buy chase decks from Paizo at

    I have those decks, and have used them; but only to supplement outdoor encounters, not in a chase. Each card is a skill-based challenge to overcome, but there are no over-arching rules to explain how to use them in a chase.

    • Michael

      Oh, cool.. I had only ever seen the GameMastery chase cards and seeing as how they are 11 bucks I couldn’t justify the purchase. But at $1.99 each the Ultimate Chase Decks you linked might be worth checking out

      In the past I’ve just created my own quick-and-dirty ones with index cards. Even if I were to use published cards, I feel like it would still be good to augment them with some homemade ones featuring plot- and character-specific flavor and challenges.

      As for there not being rules included, I imagine they are intended to use the Pathfinder rules for chases I linked to in my earlier post:

  • Johnn

    From Jeremy Brown:


    I cannot stress how good this product is:

    Hot Pursuit and Hot Pursuit: On Foot both from Adamant Entertainment.

    Not only does this provide a sound mechanical basis for running chases and takes the stupid movement rules problem out of the picture, but it gives the GM a lot of fun in inventing new and unusual obstacles.

    The two books include a number of possibilities, and I’m sure your readers will give even more as responses. These two books changed my life as a GM. I used Hot Pursuit in a d20 modern espionage game, in fantasy, and a friend of mine used it in a Renaissance historical d20 game. It worked marvelously in all three.

    We’ve even used it to a mild extent in Superhero and Science Fiction games. The best thing about this system is it builds off skills and abilities not off raw movement rate. This can be converted easily to other systems with just a little imagination.

  • Curtis Stein

    Be the GM and role play it out. You can make “skills checks” all you want, but if the chase is part of the adventure then play it with common sense and visualize it in your mind like the chase scenes in the movies. If you think the PCs would be able to follow, then let’em. Take the dice out of it.

  • Ironchicken

    There are two types of chase long and short and both are best handled by skills.

    Short are things such as chases through city streets for those, lay out a number of situations:
    vaulting a wall
    running through a warren of alleys
    push through a crowd

    then contest skills and allow good narrative to either let the chaser gain or lose ground on the prey. set a number of successes to capture or escape.

    Longer are those where perhaps you are trying to shake off a tail and could include changing identity, changing cities setting ambushes. chases do not need to be instant they can be a long drawn out affair over days or weeks. I ran one in a modern game that involved the PCs trying to shake off an enemy, we RP’d making underground contacts, stowing away, getting false passports etc.

    • Johnn

      Good call on running chases as a series of events. I like it.

  • Bagels

    The way I run chase scenes (and my party loved it!) is taken from Mini6:
    When attempting to overtake or outrun an opponent the GM determines what range you are at (Short/Medium/Long). Each turn each vehicle/player/creature makes a drive/pilot/Dex/Athletics check. The higher roll either closes or increases the distance 1 range as desired. If reduced below Short you catch up, if increased beyond long you escape.

    Another way to do it is an Obsidian Skill Challenge, if you’re playing DnD. That was another exciting session. Everyone made athletics checks to run from the monsters, and the guy holding them off (sacrificing himself), except one guy who made an awesome Nature check to find us a shortcut and lose them.
    Full Victory: Lose the monsters and find a great place to camp for the night and mourn their friend.
    Partial: Run too hard and far, but finally lose them. Lose a healing surge and take a short rest before coming upon the next encounter.
    Failure: Lose a healing surge and fight the monsters you were running from. Your friend couldn’t hold them off and you couldn’t lose them.
    Obsidian can be found here:

  • Johnn

    In Pursuit Of The Chase

    By Chuck Nusbaum

    Plan Ahead

    Counter-intuitively, the faster you want your action to go, the more carefully you must plan it.

    Don’t be afraid to railroad the group during a chase. Just don’t tip your hand when you do.

    It’s OK for a chase to be linear, but allow for the possibility of branching out. Make the outcome more about player choices than the whims of fate.

    This last point is perhaps the most important. End up where the players choose to be rather than where the dice say they should be. Failed rolls should limit choices or slow the players down, until there are no choices left or the players achieve their objective.

    If you intend for your NPCs to get away (players never seem to run from anything), try to get the players to give up rather than forcing them all out. You’ll probably have to execute the latter, but if you can pull off the former, then you’ve just mastered the chase.

    Assume The Bad Guys Have A Plan

    Every coup, heist or murder has (or should have) a careful mastermind planning it.

    Even if the lackeys are too stupid to boil water, their master will have given them very precise instructions. Smart minions will be able to adapt to changing circumstances, dull ones will stick to the plan.

    Since you as GM have to plot ahead, figure out how your characters would do likewise, and assume an escape is part of the design.

    Make the plan happen in steps. In one encounter, douse the players in slippery oil that causes problems with balance and moemntum. A few steps down the road, have the bad guys set off a fire in the players’ path. Oil-soaked characters will have an additional perplexity added to the simple fact of conflagration, and if they pause long enough to consider carefully, they lose.

    The opposition need not have crafted the perfect plan afresh. They might be working off of an old plan that has always proved successful in the past. If the plan works this time, they might just use it again. So reward players who adapt accordingly.

    Split The Group, And Don’t Punish Groups Who Do

    Give plenty of reasons to split up: forking paths, shortcuts, ambushes and opponent splits. But don’t drop players out of the action when they do decide to diverge. Imagine ways to keep the action up for both sides of a split, and merge groups back together at dramatically appropriate times.

    Don’t make the consequences of an either-or split turn into an instant loss for half the group unless you’re already deep into the chase. Have the escapee recross the second group’s path if he eludes the first, or give them something else to chase or worry about.

    Drop The Players Out Of The Action One By One

    But not too early. Get everyone invested in the outcome before dropping anyone. Early failures should slow the group down, make the chase more difficult, or trigger strong motivation for the group to abandon pursuit. Later on, as the stakes go up, failed actions should eliminate one or two players from the chase; perhaps they grow too exhausted to continue, take a side street and get completely lost in the back alleys, or run into and flatten an elderly woman who berates them for their carelessness. Once you start putting players out of the action, you should be prepared to end the chase quickly. Whittle away and get away, or let the group finally corner its prey. It’s important to not have any players sitting on the sidelines too long. If the pursuit comes down to a fight, have dropped players straggle back into the action in reverse order of their elimination from the chase. Try to get all the conscious PCs back into the game before the fight finishes.

    Sometimes, you can drop a player out as a reward rather than a penalty; perhaps he captures one of the fugitives and must find a way to secure him.

    Use a Variety of Skills

    The more the better, and the more obscure the better. Don’t let your chases devolve into “OK, make another Athletics roll”. You’re planning ahead already, so plan ingenious (or at least fresh) uses of unexpected skills. Use terrain, use vehicles, use crazy stunts. Sure, a lot of your skill checks should involve Athletics or Endurance (or their equivalents in your system of choice). That’s OK, but try to make the reason for the test as interesting as possible. Change “you’re running flat-out over open ground” to “your quarry leaps from the rooftop, snagging a laundry line, and swings halfway across the crowded canal before letting go to land in one of the gondolas”. Also, find excuses to use odd skills. Think how you might employ skills like Streetwise, Stealth, Local Knowledge, Riding, Boating, Handle Animal, Observe, Climb, Swim, Jump, Engineering, etc. as critical moments in a chase.

    Don’t let skill checks slow down the action. Have players make rolls beforehand and hand you a list. Mark off rolls as they get used. You’ve planned ahead, and you know what rolls you need and how many of each. Emphasize player choice during the action, not dice-rolling.

    Use Magic

    Lots of “low-level” magic can play a huge part in the chase. Think about it. How would your runner use spells like Expeditious Retreat, Jump, Spider Climb, Darkness, Invisibility, Fly, Mirror Image, Blur, Blink, Dimension Door, Stinking Cloud, etc. in a chase? Even non-mages will use magic; there are potions and magical items, and don’t forget Use Magic Device. Don’t blow your wad all at once; hit them with one or two spells each time you have a chase. When your group comes to expect one tactic, pull out a new one. They’ll think you a genius. When the players have begun to employ a few of the techniques they’ve learned from you, find ways to counter them.

    Highlight the Unique Aspects of the Location

    In any movie set in London, the viewer (unconsciously) expects to see Big Ben’s clock tower (not necessarily the bell itself), the London Eye, the Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, and/or Westminster Abbey at least once throughout the film. If there’s a chase in London, we expect to see several of these famous landmarks (and perhaps all of them) at least once during the chase. It doesn’t even have to make geographical sense for the chase to feature those landmarks. For movie-goers, those landmarks ARE London. Do the same thing to your game; make landmarks for your major cities, and every time the players visit a city, mention each landmark at least once. Better yet, flash a picture. In a chase, use the landmarks. String them together as backdrops for critical moments, have them loom over back-alley events, climb them, escape through them, blow them to flinders.

    Don’t only use famous landmarks; use other themes and ideas tied to the location. If the location is known for its leather, then your chase should feature a traipse through a urine- and dung-reeking tannery. Of course, you’ve planned a means to ensure that the unwholesome contents of a vat are going to be upended on someone in the process . . . the life of an adventurer has its unpleasant moments. Even if the region is known only for its pastoral bliss, a chase there will feature at least one moment of pursuit with a herd of sheep underfoot and an angry shepherd slinging and flinging stones into the fray with daunting accuracy.

  • Steve Winter

    Here’s I do chases, using a standard deck of playing cards and a handful of d6s.