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Generally if PCs run from a fight, I would give the monsters a free attack, and then let the PCs escape automatically (playing 1e/0e D&D). Of course if they linger around, the monsters may come back later. I have read that in 3e/4e, "retreating from an enemy with the same speed as you is suicide; he will always be able to match your speed and end up adjacent to you" (see link below). I would like to find some middle ground. I am thinking of perhaps a table which could be rolled on every round of a chase, until the person being chased either gets away, gets hit in the back, or re-engages in melee. Any ideas? See section "Nullify The Disadvantages Of Retreating"

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A lot of great ideas here. The ones I like best are (1) a series of skill or dexterity checks; (2) a stack of index cards for each type of terrain, providing flavor text and specific skill checks (climbing, swimming, etc); (3) bonuses for players who use the flavor text creatively ("I hide under the broken wagon", etc); (4) bonuses for tactics such as discarding food and treasure, or dropping caltrops. – Modern Hacker Sep 9 '10 at 1:00
What I would still like to see is more options for "fighting retreat" e.g. "last combat round take +2 AC penalty and don't attack; then take a 30 foot head start". The objective is that PCs can live in a world filled with unknown monsters, some tough, and not die right away -- if they are prudent. Of course the balance is that it should also be possible to chase down weak retreating monsters – Modern Hacker Sep 9 '10 at 1:11

10 Answers 10

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The Gamemastery Guide for Pathfinder from Paizo has a chase system I got a chance to try this weekend. It would work for D&D 3.x as well as for any other system that has Skills.

A chase works by laying out five spaces. Each space takes an action (move or standard in Pathfinder) to get through. In order to pass through the space, you have to complete a skill check, typically physical ones like Stealth, Perception, Escape Artist, Swim, and Climb but you could also include others depending on the environment. Each space offers two options - like Climb over the wall or Swim across the ditch - along with whatever DC the GM feels is appropriate so that characters have multiple choices for getting through. If the character succeeds, they move to the next space.

Both runners and pursuers use this same system, and they can obviously do other things if they want to try to mix up the situation more. I'm considering making up a set of index cards that I can use for chases in different environments.

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I did something like this for a swoop race in Star Wars a long time ago. I laid out the course as a series of obstacles, each with a Difficulty Number. The swoop pilots had to beat each one in turn, and margin of success or failure determined not only if the obstacle was passed, but also how well -- with modifications to the swoop's current speed. Worked a charm. – Dr Rotwang Jun 26 '11 at 1:14

I follow the B/X or Red Box rules, because that's what we're playing.

More generically, the real problem is when pursuers are faster: evaders need to slow down (flaming oil, magic webs, nail doors) or outsmart them (hiding, ambushes).

I covered the topic a bit better in a blog post (relevant section is pasted here):

  1. backing off/leaving combat: d20 fails at this, as usually it’s enough for the pursuers to charge the evaders to start combat again, as if nothing happened. The case is covered in B/X and BECMI, having a specific rule for this case in the DM section. This might happen because the evaders realize they’re going to succumb or because they have other priorities. The critic part is to find a way to top the engagement long enough to gain some distance: spells such as hold portal, wizard lock, web, wall of fog can be really helpful at lower levels, as can a clever use of caltrops, nets, oil flasks, frisian horses, castles or other fortification of the non-portable kind. Yes, fortified defenders have to run away too at times
  2. running away: an hostile opponent is met, one side RUNS FOR HIS LIFE. It’s possible to flee after combat started (see previous case) or without any combat. Having no burden such as armour helps here, as any kind of help as per above. Spells such as levitation and all the above can really help. It’s also possible to do something smart, such as dropping some food or money (B/X and BECMI mention this too), try to hide and, my favourite, use the location and the chase to gain some upper hand. Such as hiding in a dark side niche while the “obvious” escape route has been made slippery with some lantern oil. Lantern oil that later will be set on fire while slipped pursuers, busy with regaining footing and unit coherency, are shot at with arrows, spells, swearing and so on. Or if there is a difference in number, fighting in a choke point (for the outnumbered escapers) or immediately after (for the outnumbering escapers) can flip the battle. Or will simply deter the pursuer enough to save the day. A pint or two of oil on fire in a dungeon corridor can be enough to dissuade pursuers
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Most non-D&D systems run the fight as a series of extended skill checks, with victory going to whichever side accumulates the most successes.

An example would go something like this: The quarry has a head start of five successes.

The quarry escapes if he is ahead by ten successes.

The pursuer wins if he reduces the quarry's lead to zero.

The quarry and pursuer both make a check. Meeting the difficulty of the check (say 10 as an example) is one success. For every five points above the base difficulty, they gain another success.

For example: The quarry scores a 20, while the pursuer scores a 10. This is three success for the quarry, and one for the pursuer. The quarry is now at +7.

The next round, both parties roll again. The quarry scores a 5, while the pursuer scores a 20. This is zero success for the quarry, and three for the pursuer. The quarry is now at +4.

The chase can be spiced up by describing different terrain at each round, and by allowing either party to make skill checks to slow the other party down (knocking over carts or throwing down marbles for example).

All numbers are completely pulled out of the air. Adjust to taste.

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I wrote a set of chase rules for D&D/Pathfinder because I wanted some complexity to chases without having huge lists of maneuvers or whatnot. The official Pathfinder chase rules (released after mine) were OK but I don't like it when rulesets are a minigame that doesn't integrate well with the rest of the normal game rules for an action scene.

The way my rules work is that each participant basically makes a Move check each round, converting their static Speed into a Move bonus (d20 + 2 per 5' of movement) and get closer to or farther from whoever they're chasing in range bands based on beating/missing the person they're chasing in increments of 5. There are also rules for obstacles and whatnot. They've been picked up by a number of other bloggers, so have seen heavy use from a number of gaming groups, and I just released a revised version in 2015 based on community feedback.

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Personally, I use opposed initiative rolls to slightly increase and decrease either parties' rate of movement.

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I think if you're giving your players encounters they regularly cannot win, it isn't meeting the current goal of 4.0. The players should always feel powerful. Of course it's always good to let them know that something scary is out there waiting for them, but not often enough that you should probably be inventing a "runaway" table.

However, I often feel the desire to run a particularly deadly and fearful campaign. In cases like this, it may be better to give your players tools in order to escape. If you have a particularly dangerous world, try and think about how the world has dealt with these dangers in general. Perhaps powders or traps that the players have a certain number of that they can throw at the monsters as they run away. Invent items that will assist them, as that's likely what would happen in a world so dangerous that the heroes are often running away.

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To clarify: I don't play 4e and I don't agree with the philosophy that PCs shouldn't expect to encounter monsters more powerful than themselves. I do like the idea of items to help evade pursuit; perhaps throwing meat to non-intelligent monsters or dropping money / treasure to slow down evil humans. Marbles, grease, flaming oil... – Modern Hacker Aug 19 '10 at 19:55
Yeah, I would say to focus on traps or stunning items. Maybe everyone in the world carries around a modified wand that has an electric charge at the end. Don't tase me bro! – Quickhorn Aug 19 '10 at 20:22

There is some truth to this problem. The rules state that the PCs must do nothing but move in order to avoid attacks of opportunity. The PC can move at double their movement rate. If the PC is in a straight line away from the enemy, then the enemy can charge them immediately if they have the same speed. However, if the PC moves out of sight - into a forest or around a corner - then the enemy cannot reach them in a straight line and therefore cannot charge.

The PC needs to use his/her movement in such a way that the enemy cannot simply reach them on the following round. This means running around a corner and into a building or into a deep forest of some kind. The PC can then try to hide so the enemy doesn't find them on the following round. Once the PC has a free round he/she can do any number of things to escape.

PCs may also run away from the enemy. This is 4x normal movement but must be a in a straight line. An enemy can only charge attack at 2x movement so the enemy, if it pursues, will not be able to attack the PC on the following round.

For actual game situations, our DM is usually reasonable about letting the players escape unwanted combat. However, there are always situations in which the players literally cannot escape. A group of slow dwarfs will not be able to outrun attack elves, but perhaps they can cause a diversion or make it so the elves are disinterested in killing them.

Of course, gameplay is very different with intelligent, careful enemies instead of monsters who fight in a blind rage. Remember that any enemy has something to lose by engaging in combat. I prefer a game where the enemy counts the cost of dying as well as the PCs, rather than all enemies blindly fighting to the death against all odds and chasing PCs for miles and miles.

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The 1e DMG actually has a table for this, if that's what you're looking for. It's page 67, and gives a range of possibilities from 20-100% likelihood that the monsters will pursue, with modifiers for things like dropping food and treasure to distract the monsters. The base probability for monsters who are "semi-intelligent or under, hungry, angry, aggressive, and/or trained to do so" is 80%.

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Thanks for pointing this out; although this is useful in assessing whether monsters will chase, I am additionally looking for ways to spice up the chase itself once begun. – Modern Hacker Sep 9 '10 at 1:14

Keep in mind that you will rarely have a situation where the group tries to escape across a flat, featureless plain. In any game that has skill checks you could improvise a series of either

A) pursuit countermeasures


B) improvised skill checks

And for games that don't have skill systems, you can do the same, except usually instead of rolling a dice or checking a skill score, the DM might come up with an alternate method, such as a stat roll or simply deciding by fiat if a plan sounds good.

There's a ton of possibilities --including dropping food/treasure as a way to throw off pursuit. Caltrops, climbing a wall, knowing a shortcut through the city, hiding in a hay-wagon, leaving a false set of footprints through the dungeon, ducking underwater, dropping an illusionary wall.. players are going to improvise all kinds of things.

If you have a skill system you could make it a straight up athletics or bluff skill (or whatever skill is similar, depending on system). Even dungeoneering and streetwise could have application for an extended chase.

The most important thing is to worry about description and interaction and not so much on the raw physics of speed scores.

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Savage Worlds has a good simple chase mechanic. It's a bit abstract, but works well. It's fairly similar to what AceCalhoon describes above.

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