An Alternate Mechanic to GM Fun Fantasy Foot Chases

From Christopher Sniezak

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0664

A Brief Word From Johnn

The Seeds of Earth

I had a great vacation camping in beautiful British Columbia. Thanks for your patience in waiting for the next issue of RPT.

We were at a place called Horse Lake. It’s a wonderful area to kick back, relax, and enjoy nature.

While on vacation I read a book called The Seeds of Earth by Mike Cobley. It was a good space opera romp. As Earth suffered an alien invasion it sent out three colony ships. One ship landed on the planet Darien and survivors managed to eke out a comfortable though rustic living. The book starts with Earth rediscovering the lost colony and sending an ambassador to welcome the colonists back to Earthsphere. However, the ambassador is accompanied by Earth’s big brother alien allies, the ones who came in at the last minute decades ago and saved Earth from the alien invaders. It turns out, though, that big brother might not be so benevolent.

I quite enjoyed the book. Funny thing is, when I started reading it in May I took a strong dislike to it. I put it in my “garage sale pile” after a 100 pages or so. But as we were leaving for camping, I picked it up on a whim and took it with me. Turns out the book got a lot more interesting for me as it went on. I’ve just started book II of the trilogy.

In a different note, I’m still on a GMing hiatus. My friend Mike is taking up the reigns with a 9th level D&D 5E mini-series where our PCs are survivors of some world- and plane-spanning plot. We’ve played two sessions so far, and I believe we are playing next this Friday.

I’m also back in the saddle for the Adventure Building Workshop. I start creating the adventure this week, diarizing my process and steps I’m taking, and making short videos of my experience as I go. GMs in the workshop are following along creating their own adventures with me too.

So far, we’ve covered some foundational tutorials on adventure design. And we’ve done some preliminary ideation with bucket lists and ideas lists. Plus, we’ve created our Razors and First Moves. Come join us if you are interested in adventure design.

Ok, one with today’s tips! Get some GMing done this week.


An Alternate Mechanic to GM Fun Fantasy Foot Chases

Photo of the fantasy foot chase rpg game

Chases are hard, especially when you have characters with different speeds. And moving on a grid requires a lot of grid or some kind of rotating map system. Since that’s not always practical I was tasked by Johnn with building a set of rules you can use in fantasy foot chases. Here’s my attempt built this with these constraints in mind:

  • Just fantasy foot chases.
  • Use a deck of standard playing cards as the core mechanic.
  • Add a table of random complications. Structure one or more tables for three circumstances: wilderness chases, dungeon chases, and city chases. (This one I made less random and put more in the GMs hands to create complications as a diminishing resource. I’ve also included environments as a way to help spark creativity during the chases.)
  • Assume the game is tracking or accounting for individual speeds. D&D has a 5? square or 30? base speed. Other games have other measures and bases. But let’s assume we do have some kind of measure and those are important to the group.

So here we go.

Ending the Chase

Let’s begin with the end. You never know how players will behave, but here’s two of the most common ways your chases will finish. I always like to know how to win a game before I read the rest of the rules. It gives me some perspective for what I might be looking for.

  • If the runner gets to the end of the chase track they escape the chasers.
  • If the chasers incapacitate the runners in some way, they catch them. Being tackled won’t take someone out of a chase, just cause them a disadvantage, but being pinned and then restrained probably will, as will being knocked out.


You need the following:

  • A deck of cards
  • Tokens or minis to represent the chase participants

Chase Set Up

Step 1. Choose how many sections you’d like the chase track to be. Between six and ten is a decent length.

Step 2. The GM is dealt a number of cards equal to the number of sections plus the number of PCs in the chase.

Step 3. The GM then lays down a number of cards face down equal to the chase track. The GM then flips over the first card on the track. The card numbers will be the difficulties needed to overcome the sections to move on to the next section.

Step 4. Put the markers for each participant in the chase next to or on top of the first card. If there’s a head start, you can put the runners 1 to 2 cards ahead of the chasers.

Step 5. Determine the calculated speed scores.

To determine the speed score figure out the average speed of your game. Most versions of D&D and Pathfinder use 30? or six squares. Savage Worlds uses six inches for pace.

Take the average score and divide it by three. Then divide the average score by the average score divided by three. Yeah, it’s an algebra thing. But for those who are playing D&D, if your speed is in feet divide by 10 feet or two squares. And if you’re playing Savage Worlds divide your pace by 2 inches. Then round down.

Another quick way to think about it is the average speed gets three cards. Then adjust up and down from there.

Example: In D&D 3.5 the average speed is 30 feet. To determine the speed score for our chase games, we need to divide a character’s speed by one third, so we divide 30? by 3 and get 10?. Let’s say we have Lily Woodsong the elf rouge with a speed of 30?, Sir Rodrick the Fighter with a speed of 25?, and Garick Nox the Half-Orc Monk with a speed of 40?. We divide Lily’s 30? by 10? which gives her a speed score of 3, Sir Rodrick’s 25? by 10? to give us 2.5 and then round down to give him a speed score of 2, and Garick’s 40? by 10? to give us a speed score of 4.

Here’s an example picture of a chase set up:

Photo of the fantasy foot chase rpg game

Click for large version

The Turn

Step 1. Each PC draws a number of cards equal to their calculated speed score.

Step 2. Apply advantages and disadvantages to PCs. Each PC gains or loses cards based on current advantages or disadvantages they have. Any PC will always have at least one card left even if their disadvantages would force them to discard all their cards.

Step 3. Each PC in the chase draws a card face down.

Step 4. Each NPC or NPC group in the chase draws cards based on their own speed score. Most NPCs have a speed score of 1, while important or fast ones draw two cards and take the best. You could also choose to treat an NPC like a player if they are very important or you want to single them out especially.

Step 5. Apply advantages and disadvantages to NPCs by flipping extra cards or randomly discarding a card if they have more than one.

Step 6. Everyone else flips their card.

Step 7. The highest card goes first. Ties are broken by alphabetical suit order from A to Z. (Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades.)

Step 7a. The active participant compares their card or cards to the section card.

  • If the card or cards are higher than the section card, they may move to the next section, which flips the next section card.
  • If the card is equal to the section card, they may move to the next section, flip the section card, and can play, or flip if an NPC, a second card to either get past the section they’re on, hinder someone in the previous section, or help someone in the previous section. They must narrate how they help or hinder if they choose that option.
  • If the card is lower, they stay in the current section, still trying to navigate it, but their card stays and any future cards played are added to it.

Step 7b. The active participant can then take an action that is something other than playing a card to assist themselves or hinder someone else.

The actions they’ll be able to take will be dictated by the environment of the section they’re in. A chase through a winding series of back alleys or through a forest of trees will make ranged actions difficult if not impossible to take.

I also don’t think throwing a fireball at a pursuer in a crowded marketplace is the best idea. Then again, you never know. Players do crazy things. Anyways, here’s a list of actions that could be taken, but there might be others creative folks come up with:

  • Narration to make a skill check
  • Cast a Spell
  • Use some other ability
  • Attack someone in the same section

Step 8. The active participant can discard a single card if they wish.

Step 9. The next highest card goes.

Extra Cards

  • If a participant has an advantage that would assist in helping them traverse the section they receive an extra card.
  • If a participant can narrate an action during the action phase that would assist in overcoming the section and then succeeds at a skill check that goes with that action they get an extra card which they put it in front of them and pick up during their next advantage/disadvantage phase.

Disadvantages Take Cards Away

  • If a participant has a disadvantage that would hinder in traversing the section they randomly discard a card.

The GM’s hand

The GM can spend one of the cards from their hand at any time to introduce one of these complications to the chase:

  • The card makes that section harder to bypass equal to the number on the card.
  • Participants are required to have at least one card from that color to overcome the section.

Some Examples

Let’s use our adventurers from earlier, Lily, Sir Rodrick, and Garick Nox. Our trio has taken a large gem from the tower of the serpent and killed a high priest. Now they’re running for their lives through the streets of Serpent Town pursued by three squads of serpent guards: Red Guard, Blank Guard, and Sheriff Guard which has the sheriff with them. Lily has a speed score of 3, Sir Rodrick a 2, and Garick Nox a 4. The Red Guard and Blank Guard have a speed score of 1, and the Sheriff Guard a 2.

The cards are dealt to the PCs until each has cards equal to their speed score. No one has an advantage or disadvantage in this round, because nothing happened before the chase to provide that. Then each PC loads a card face down.

Click for large version

Next, we flip one card face up for the Red Guard, one for the Blank Guard, and two for the Sheriff Guard:

Click for large version

The GM chooses the Ace for the Sheriff Guard. After the GM chooses which cards the NPCs are using, the players flip their loaded cards.

Click for large version

The Sheriff Guard with the Ace goes first, and since his ace is higher than the 3 of clubs they’re on the Sheriff Guard decides to move to the next card, which is flipped and revealed to be a 10.

Now I’m gonna add some flavor to this chase. The tower of the serpent in Serpent Town is in the middle of the college of the arcana. There are cultist students around, cultists in training, and buildings dedicated to learning. This is a small campus so it will only last one card. The Sheriff and his guard knows the compound well and they take a shortcut to head off the thieves at the marketplace outside the college.

While there they lie in wait in ambush as their action to give themselves an advantage in the next advantage/disadvantage phase but the GM fails the roll. In the fiction of the chase the GM asks what happens so they don’t get an advantage, and the together the players and GM come up with this story. They were hiding by the main thoroughfare to see the thieves come out the main gate. But just as they do, a horse and cart get spooked by a snake vendor and it runs wild for a moment, taking down several stalls and blocking their path to ambush.

Next is the Red Guard with the 8 of Spades. They choose to not move even though they have higher than the card they’re on. Instead, they fling a bunch of snakes that act like spears at Garick the monk, not to hurt him, but to cause him to have to worry about dodging and avoiding them instead of just escaping. The GM sets the DC and has Garick make a reflex saving throw to see if he’s disadvantaged. Garick fails and has one disadvantage for next round.

Garick is next with his 7 of diamonds and moves out of the arcane school and into the marketplace, since his 7 beats the 3 of clubs he’s on. When he gets there, the horse freaks out and takes out a bunch of tent shops, blocking off Garick from the Sheriff Guard. But he’s a little winded after dodging all those serpent spears and one may have even grazed him. He sees the Sheriff and his men scrambling to try and get around the wreckage and spies another tent full of stacked large kegs of ale. He decides to kick out one of the posts and let the giant kegs roll into the street, making it even harder for the sheriff and his men to get to him and his friends.

The GM calls for a damage roll from Garick’s player and sets a number he needs to achieve to accomplish his goal. He asks if he can use his flurry of blows to do this and the GM says sure. The first kick doesn’t do it, but Garick’s second blow sends ale kegs into the street, and a couple of the ones on top smash to the ground sending ale all over and churning up the dirt ground into a bit of a muddy mess in this section, and the Sheriff Guard is right in the middle of it. To finish his turn, Garick’s player discards one of his cards.

To fast forward a little bit, Lily moves into the marketplace, gives herself an advantage through some acrobatics using the kegs, and discards a card. Sir Rodrick also moves into the marketplace and gives himself and advantage by using his superior strength to power through the muddy road and discards a card. And finally, the Black Guard moves into the marketplace and flings several more snake spears at Garick who doesn’t dodge well again and gets another disadvantage. Now let’s take a look the board at round end.

Click for large version

Now we go back to the top of the procedure and have the PCs draw up to their speed in cards.

Click for large version

Next, apply advantages and disadvantages. Garick has two disadvantages so he discards two cards at random from his hand, while both Lily and Sir Rodrick draw an extra card from their advantages. They would then load a card face down, which I have failed to do in the following image. After that, deal a card to each of the NPC groups. And apply advantages and disadvantages to them. The Sheriff Guard is disadvantaged, so they need to discard one card at random.

Click for large version

Splitting Up & Two Decks

If the group splits up, the GM can just put down another lane of cards to create a second path. This might cause a problem with running out of cards, or this might happen if there are a lot of players. This can be fixed by having a second deck ready when the first deck runs out. You can also shuffle both decks together to begin with.

From the example before, I’ve fast forwarded to a spot where Sir Rodrick has broken off from the group to show this split on the table. I also have the Red Guard chasing him.

Click for large version


When a new playing card is revealed, the GM can describe it to give some fictional tools for all the players to work with, or the GM can flip a card from the top of the deck and use the Environment table for fictional inspiration. Also, multiple sections could be part of a single environmental area. Three sections could be an open air market or two sections could be the rooftop part of the chase.

Environment Area Table

Sections: 1-3
Traits: Crowded, horses and carriages, lots of things and constant traffic, anyone could be there.
Fallen Tree Over a Gorge
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Narrow, no sides, one path, balance is needed.
Torture Chamber
Sections: 1
Traits: Racks, chains, torture implements, torturers, beings being tortured.
Back Alleys
Sections: 1-3
Traits: Narrow, garbage and refuse, lots of twists and turns, possible dead ends or walls.
Steep Downhill Slope
Sections: 1-3
Traits: Steep, foliage could slow your descent, one speed – fast.
Holding Area
Sections: 1
Traits: Cells, prisoners, jailers.
3Series of Connected Tenement Buildings
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Thin walls, families and typical people, living areas, furniture.
Fast Flowing River
Sections 1-3
Traits: It’s a river, it’s flowing fast, gators or other amphibious obstacles, rocks and rapids.
The Temple
Sections: 1
Traits: Statues, benches, altar.
Sections 1-3
Traits: Gaps between rooftops, rickety roofs, balconies, slanted roofs, uneven footing.
Gorge to be Jumped
Sections: 1
Traits: Gap to jump, gorge goes down, place to hang from on other side of gorge.
The Giant Statue Room
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Giant statue, high ceiling, open space.
5Construction Site
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Holes, construction materials, half-finished structures, scaffolding, construction equipment.
Thick Underbrush
Sections: 1-3
Traits: Vines or thick weeds, animals, bugs, unseen holes and drop-offs, hard to be seen clearly.
The Many Pillared Hall
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Orderly pillars, lots of cover.
6College of the Arcane
Sections: 1-3
Traits: Null magic areas, students and teachers, quads, magical lighting, magical anything.
Rocky Uphill Terrain
Sections: 1-3
Traits: Shifting rocky terrain, large boulders, tough to climb.
Web Covered Hall
Sections: 1
Traits: Webs block the way, spiders, gossamer sight.
Sections: 1
Traits: Narrow, only one path, drops down on either side.
Giant Tree Area
Sections: 1-3
Traits: Huge trees, hard to get line of sight for long.
The Treasury
Sections: 1
Traits: Treasure, shifting footing, guardians, traps.
8Crowded Street
Sections: 1-3
Traits: People, vehicles, beasts of burden everywhere, tight fit, buildings on both sides, anyone could be there.
Ruins of a Castle
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Broken down walls, cracked drawbridge, dried up moat, courtyard, crumbled keep, rubble everywhere.
A Monster’s Lair
Sections: 1
Traits: The monster, the monster’s spawn, elements of the monster’s lair.
9Empty Street
Sections: 1-3
Traits: Not many people, easy to navigate, buildings to both sides, wide open.
Pathway With a Steep Drop-Off
Sections: 1-3
Traits: Steep drop off, just one pathway.
Partially Caved-In Hall
Sections: 1
Traits: Rubble everywhere, cover can be found, uneven footing.
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Place where things are stored, boxes everywhere, plenty of cover, possibly maze-like, possibly organized, an office.
Logger’s Camp
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Loggers, lodge, cut trees, axes and other logging gear.
A Stuck Door
Sections: 1
Traits: A stuck door, exposed position.
JTextile Shop
Sections: 1
Traits: Vats of dye, terrible smell, linens, sticks, drying lines.
Body of Still Water
Sections: 1
Traits: Body of water, creatures in the water, boat to take across the water, people having a picnic.
Trapped Hallway
Sections: 1
Traits: Long and narrow, trapped.
Blacksmith Shop
Sections: 1
Traits: Forge, smiths tools, shop, workshop.
Muddy Track of Area
Sections: 1
Traits: Muddy, slow going, rocks, trees, other terrain not in the mud, creatures or animals.
Ventilation Shaft System
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Narrow, hard to navigate, tight fit, hard corners, small guardians or creatures.
Sections: 1
Traits: Pews, confessionals, altar.
Natural Clearing
Sections: 1-3
Traits: An open space, deer, other creatures or animals, a henge, an altar.
Fungus Tunnels
Sections: 1-2
Traits: Spores, glowing mushrooms, fungus creatures, winding ways.

…And We’ve Escaped

Well there it is. I’ve run out of things to say about these chase rules. I guess the only thing left is to let you folks play with them. Hopefully it goes well, and maybe with a little feedback we can refine this thing into even something better, so don’t be shy. Let me hear your experiences with these rules.

Are they too slow, too fast, too confusing, what worked, what didn’t? Even if you don’t try the game, but you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading and I’ll see you next month in Roleplaying Tips.

GM Tip Exchange

Tips shared by your fellow readers to help your GMing. Have a tip to share? Just hit reply. Thanks!

Homebrew Maps

Thaumiel Nerub via the OSR G+ Community

I’ve found this website entertaining and inspiring:

DunGen Pointcrawl Dungeon Generator

So I decided to draw some maps based on its results.

Here are three I’ve made this week. Enjoy!

Each map has an image in the blog and a download link to a PDF.

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World Booklets For Players

From Michael Barry

I’ve been using artwork from old land cards from Magic:the Gathering to give players some input into my Ninth World. Each player receives one (or more) booklets of 16 scenery pics, and assigns them to places in the Numenera world from their backstory. The booklets are made from single sheets of folded A4 paper.

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Tabletop Simulator VTT

From Jay Rab

I am kinda shocked you didn’t include Tabletop Simulator on your list of VTTs.

Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop Simulator aims to bring your coffee table DnD sessions into the digital realm by bringing the coffee table. A 3d physics sandbox places you and your friends around a table with dungeon tiles and figures along with your typical games like chess, cards, and dominoes.

Your host/DM has the ability to spawn assets from the +9 different games, as well as over 15 different animated creatures. It can lock or unlock different pieces to the board, of which pieces that are not locked down can be moved and hit by the players.

Recent additions include tablets, which have access to the internet. This makes services like Google Docs for character sheets viable to use. You can take notes in the game itself, plus there’s fog of war to make things hidden to some or all characters or groups.

The Tabletop Simulator also allows you to setup and save layouts, import models, and has a huge steam workshop for you to download games and models from.

Along with what I listed here are some other notable features:

  • VOIP (voice chat)
  • Examine and magnify cards and items
  • Note field for every item (hover shows text)
  • Digital clock
  • Drawing
  • Notecards (these can be descriptions of monsters, how to play the game, event cards, all which appear on the table as an actual card)
  • Custom decks and dice
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VTTs For Face-To-Face Gaming

From John Ciesla

I am sure a lot of people are going to have feedback on the recent VTT article and are going to throw their support behind whichever VTT they are currently using. For me that is Roll20. But I also wanted to point out something missing from the article: using VTTs in face-to-face game sessions. That is how I have been using them for the past several years (first BRPG and now for the past year Roll20), and I think it is a “best of both worlds” scenario! Why?

Well, let’s face it, you just can’t beat having everyone sitting around the table!

But why use a VTT if you have everyone present in the same room with you? Well, let me describe the way we play and I will include some thoughts along the way.

Naturally, I have my laptop with everything I need on it: PDFs of rule books; the module in either PDF or word processor format; a spreadsheet for tracking experience points and treasure; and a browser open with Roll20 running with me logged into the system in GM mode so I can see everything and control everything that occurs on the map.

My players have their own laptop, which is hooked to a projector, so their screen is mirrored on the projector. I am a Roll20 mentor, so I get all of the bells and whistles, which means I am using Dynamic Lighting so players are constrained to seeing only what is visible to their characters based on lighting conditions and line of site. I find this greatly helps the immersive feeling among the players as they peer at the map and look for potential traps or hidden secrets.

When it comes time for combat, everyone rolls physical dice for Initiative, Attacks, and Damage. (Again, if you have everyone in the room then nothing beats rolling dice!) However, we are making use of Roll20’s extensive Macro and API capabilities to automate the boring parts of combat.

For instance, once both sides roll initiative each side selects their tokens on the map and triggers a Macro that asks for the physical dice roll. The macro then calculates Initiative for each player and opponent based on all of the variables (we are playing AD&D 2nd Edition so there are several modifiers to take into account) and then automatically adds every token to the Turn Tracker. So after a few button presses we have the Turn Order established and we can get on with the fun of combat.

I believe it is this type of automation that makes VTTs essential to face-to-face gaming. Let the computer do the boring, tedious stuff so everyone gets to focus on the fun stuff.

One last note: there were several vocal proponents for this among the Roll20 user community because the last major update they put out (“The Update of Holding”) had many features tailored specifically to face-to-face campaigns, including the new iOS and Android apps that allow players to use a tablet to access their character sheet and perform basic interactions with the game during gameplay. Again, another great example of using the technology to simplify the tedious parts of gaming.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Perhaps someone will publish a follow-up article later on that offers ways to use VTTs in face-to-face games. I’d be interested to hear if other GMs are doing something similar and how they have decided to balance automation vs. physical interaction.

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More VTT Options

From Rob Miller

Regarding the VTTs, there are a LOT more available, as well as a ton of helpful online resources for creating maps. Battleground Games has an excellent page set up that presents all of them in an organized and useful fashion: Links & Resources.