In many role-playing games, and especially Pathfinder, combat is interesting and engaging because (among other things) players have a lot of options to choose from. When it comes to other aspects of the game, however, it is often reduced to rolling one single skill check, or to keep repeating the same one or two skill checks for as long as the situation lasts.

The chase rules from the core books are interesting, but I find two problems with them: 1) They don't seem to offer a big variety of options. Often it just comes down to choosing the skill with a highest chance of success of the two, unless there is a good chance of overcoming both checks, 2) They imply that both parties will follow roughly the same route and that the chaser knows exactly where the chased are. So I find them lacking to simulate cases in which the party wants to escape someone looking for them who doesn't quite know where they are, for instance.

How can I give players more options during a running away scene in order to make it an interesting scene?

Although Pathfinder is the system I'm working with here, I'm okay with system agnostic answers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are there any reasons for not using the chase rules from the core rulebook? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Aug 1, 2018 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor that's a good observation, thanks. The chase rules from the core books are interesting, but I find two problems with them: 1) They don't seem to offer a big variety of options. Often it just comes down to choosing the skill with a highest bonus of the two, unless there is a good chance of overcoming both checks, 2) They imply that both parties will follow roughly the same route and that the chaser knows exactly where the chased are, so I find it lacking to simulate cases in which the party wants to escape someone looking for them who doesn't quite know where they are, for instance. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 1, 2018 at 19:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mind adding this details to the question? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Aug 1, 2018 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have done so :) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2018 at 7:55

4 Answers 4


There is a mechanic that you could adapt from Blades in the Dark (at least, I think it was Blades in the Dark, it's been a while). Basically, instead of asking everybody to run Athletics and be done with it, you tell them that they need to achieve a given amount successes in order to escape. The way they achieve them is totally up to the players, but they can't just mindlessly repeat the same action, they need to try different things each time.

For instance, you could tell a group running away from a monster that the monster is really on their heels and they need four successes to escape. You can even draw four squares on a bit of paper and check one off every time they achieve a success.

Probably they are going to start by trying to outrun the monster, they might roll athletics and succeed, then you check one square off and say "alright, you've put some distance between you and the monster, but it's still running after you, what do you want to try now?" Now they might try to hide from the monster, set it on a false trail, or disguise themselves to scary it off. The more things they try, the more crazy ideas they are going to come up with, and you can always ask them to narrate each action if you want some more juice (if they say that they try to appear scary to scare off the monster, ask them to describe how they are doing it, not only roll dice).

This mechanic can, of course, be used for any other kind of challenges, not only running away from scary creatures.

To make it more interesting, a critical success can count for two and a critical failure can set the party one success back.

Active opposition

There are at least three ways you can go if you want to add active opposition to this mechanic.

  • Add a challenge for the opposition. The opposition needs to achieve a given amount of successes, like the party. It can be the same or a different amount, but keep track of it separately from the party's. Whoever achieves all the required successes first, wins the challenge. This works better if both sides are trying to achieve the same goal, like a race or an athletic competition.

  • Make the opposition set the players back. The opposition might do some actions that, if they succeed, add one more success to the amount required by the players. For instance, in the running away example, the monster might trigger an avalanche to cut the player's escape route. Then you would draw one more square in the paper with the amount of successes required for the challenge.

  • Add a time limit. If the party don't overcome them in a given amount of rounds, the opposition wins. The opposition is not really actively preventing the party, but the end result is not too different.

If I recall correctly, the first one is in the rules for Blades in the Dark, but the second one isn't, because the system puts a strong focus on the players driving the action. If you want to use the second option, I recommend to do so sparsely, and in any case I wouldn't make the opposition make actions that may set back the players more than once or twice for challenges that are not already difficult.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That sounds like an easy and elegant mechanic. Does that give any room for the opposition to actively work against the playing characters? How would that look like? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 1, 2018 at 19:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ When the opposition is actively trying to prevent the party from reaching a goal, like when running away, iirc the vanilla mechanic doesn't prescribe anything because the system puts a strong focus on the players driving the action, but you could make the opposition do some actions that will set the players back one success. However, I'd argue against that unless you want to make a challenge really difficult. \$\endgroup\$
    – Avalander
    Aug 2, 2018 at 7:14

Running Away vs. Falling Back

Running away isn't tactically interesting, but falling back, as a tactic, is time-honored. The challenge must be dangerous enough so that they don't stay and slug it out, but not so dangerous that they simply run far away. One way is to set up the encounter so that the characters have a strong reason to want to fight over there and not here. For example:

  • The opponent has a terrain advantage here. This could be mud, shallow water, un/holy ground, darkness, etc.
  • The party has an advantage over there. This could be high ground, cover against ranged attacks, in sunlight, etc.

A second way is to give the players a reason to fight not now but in a little bit. Any attack that incapacitates characters for a short bit but not permanently will give them a reason to fall back. The opponents should be slow moving in this case, telegraphing to your players that falling back is a valid strategy. For example:

  • A web or binding attack that can be removed in a few rounds but prevents spell-casting and combat.
  • A flash attack that temporarily blinds some of the party so that they are exposed to ranged attacks, but unaffected characters can help them escape the fight.

Finally, you can give your players a tactical reason for falling back so that they can flank the opponents to reach their more vulnerable parts, or draw them away from protecting an entrance etc.


Skill Challenges, More Descriptors, and Draw Out Time

I view extended situations like running away as extended skill challenges, which were presented in 4e as a means to permit characters to exercise more than just their ability hit a guy.

When it comes to players running away, I would recommend taking a moment as the DM to think about the route they're going to take and work to describe where they are heading in a lot more detail than might be typically necessary. For example, if you simply state that they run through the trees, there's nothing really to work with; instead say, "You sprint through the understory, weaving through the trees in an effort to shake your pursuers your mad dash startles a flock of starlings. Brambles catch on the Wizard's robes, but the Barbarian sees the temporary snag and grabs the Wizard's hand and pulls him loose."

In the first example, as a player, I know that there's trees and have nothing to really work with when the DM asks me, "What do you do?" Probably I'll say, "Um, keep running."

In the second example, as a player, I know that the trees are close enough to require weaving, so maybe I can use them to hide with a Stealth check. There's brambles snagging hard enough to slow people down, can I do something with that maybe with a Knowledge (Nature) or Survival check? There's animals, does the Druid want to consider something like Dominate Animal to make a bird try divebombing at the pursuer?

In general, when coming up with your descriptors, don't do so with how it will solve their current problem. Simply add more flavor to your chase so it's not a chase through a location with only 1 or 2 elements that aren't really impactful to the chase, then let your players use the playground you create to come up with their own ideas.

I think the DMG has charts to come up with various elements that occur during a chase. Don't be shy about using those to come up with random things to add into your chase.

Regarding the passage of time, I don't think it often makes sense for everything to hinge upon a single 6-second round to decide if things succeed or fail. Consider asking for checks every 1 minute of in-game time. This lets powerful, short duration spells be a wing for that round, but not necessarily the entire encounter.

Consider also what the pursuer is doing as well so that these checks can be opposed. For example, if the party's slowest member has a speed of 25' and the pursuer has a speed of 40', the party needs to do things to slow that opponent down in various ways. Perhaps the party's Rogue and Barbarian work together to make a Survival check to push a tree into the path of a pursuing Owlbear, who then needs to make an opposed Acrobatics check to avoid this. On the next round, the Druid casts Dominate Animal on a woodchuck and has it sprint full tilt into the face of the Owlbear whom might need spend a round attacking the woodchuck to kill it and losing ground. On the following round, the Rogue might notice a thick patch of brambles drop some caltrops on the most likely alternate route to be taken, and now the Owlbear needs a Perception check to notice the caltrops.

Your skill monkey Bards and Rogues will probably see more action in these situations, which I consider a feature as it validates the expenditure of their skill points.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like the idea of adding details to the situation for the players to work with. It sounds like a good way to foster creative thinking. Do you have any suggestions about how to decide when the scene is over? Do I, as the GM, decide it? Do I set a predetermined number of rounds and see who scores more successes? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 1, 2018 at 19:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should end the scene when it makes sense to. This could be because the players have clearly gotten away or been caught, or simply because the tension has been dragging on for too long. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2018 at 2:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mr.Sandman in 4e, the scene ended when players had met a requisite number of successes to complete the task or failures to fail the task. This isn't necessary right or wrong, just a method. While this might not always leave you in an ideal spot, narratively to close out the scene, I think it's still a good way to determine success or failure. There's merit to Logan's recommendation as well, especially at higher levels in PF when the players could feasibly just teleport away. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2018 at 12:52

Short version: I tend to just let it be "you run away."

Medium version: The angry GM posts an excellent way to make a chase scene, consider reading it here: http://theangrygm.com/how-to-build-awesome-encounters/

Long version: If it's "You get away!", normally it's following an ominous warning of a problem. A massive giant strolls through and crushes walls with a single blow. Being 70ft tall is a good indication you're screwed.

Otherwise, the players maybe navigate the town for a way to avoid the thing. Attempts to set a trap for it are meant by an unexpected blow where half a building collapses, or peasants running around make it difficult.

EDIT: this is probably the helpful portion of my answer Or you can again, just narrate "You feel the earth shake as its massive hammer tears through a nearby building. Debris scatters around you. You catch its eye and need to take cover as it begins to charge; you see a thin allyway and you see an opening to an underground system; what do you choose?"

Underground system

"The labyrinth of tubes requires some navigating, Knowledge Local anyone? Knowledge engineering? (someone passes a check)"

"A hammer blow to the earth above smashes through. Daylight shows into the tunnel system for the first time in a century and the giant rears back again. You think it's shorter to go to the right, but you'll be directly under the road. The left may be difficult to traverse, but you won't have to worry about the giant"

They choose, if left you gives them some non-enemy obstacles and maybe the occasional hint that the giant is around "The thudding of footsteps echoes over head; the creaking of the ancient construction sounds like it may give way"; if right, maybe they enter one more choice spot, then you can call it.

Either way, normally I just make it obvious it's a thing you don't want to fight and let them realize that some of the world is too dangerous yet.


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