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In my next session, I want my players to have a chase sequence followed by a battle on board a moving train. They'll be chasing Githyanki, so their mage hand, jump, and misty step spells will all come into play.

I have a better idea of how to run the combat following the chase, which is covered to some extent in this question. However, any 5e-specific suggestions in that area would be welcome as well.

The problem

I ran a chase sequence through a graveyard according to the stock rules (DMG 252-255) a few months ago, and everyone including me ended up getting bored before it was over, even after I put the Benny Hill theme on.

It was repetitive: players and NPCs both sprinted constantly, and few of the regular urban chase pitfalls really applied to graveyards (crowd of beggars? stained glass window? cart blocks your way?). To my discredit, I didn't draw up a custom chase table in advance, which is why the same pitfalls kept happening over and over; that I'll definitely fix this time around.

How do I keep things interesting throughout the chase?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Since my explanation (you have my thanks for selecting it as the answer) may not have been entirely sound, I urge you to locate the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide where it mentions Non Combat Encounters. It was amazingly helpful for me and may help you understand how made the conversions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Airatome
    Jan 26 '16 at 4:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually ended up swinging the other way and running the entire thing as a straight combat encounter with the rules I detailed below, but your response gave me some interesting ideas for future encounters. I didn't want to accept my own answer at the expense of everyone else's, so I went with yours. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mikkel
    Jan 26 '16 at 8:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ May I suggest breaking the chase into chase and combat sequences. The players chase the train until they get close. Then the people on the train attack them. The the chase again. Repeat until one group is done or escaped. \$\endgroup\$
    – NomadMaker
    Nov 14 '20 at 21:48
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Ahh, Chase scenarios; those are often tricky. If you have any experience with 4th Edition though, they become less so. True, that 4th edition and 5th edition rules and dynamics are quite different, but there is much that can be sampled and converted.

On page 252 of the 5E DMG (Dungeon Master Guide) you will find the rules on 'Chases' , and this leaves much to be desired as you found out while attempting to use them for your graveyard chase. The roll tables are neat, until you realize they can not apply to every scenario, or environment.

There is nothing else that is 5E SPECIFIC that I can offer you, except my 5E conversion of the 'Non Combat Encounter' system from 4E. So what do you do? You pick an instance or 2 for failure. The party get's too far behind the Githyanki, or the Githyanki reach their objective. Then you create hazards your party might face while chasing down Gith on a moving train with several carts to it. The most important part of it, is to make a list of possible important skill checks and then have the party pick from that list for them to focus on through the course of the chase (how many they pick is dependent upon what the CR of the Chase Encounter is), and they roll those skill checks and the dice decides if they pass or fail.

Example

You notice a Githyanki is attempting to cast Misty Step! (Arcana check to see if anyone proficient in the skill notices) If the roll is higher than a proper DC for their level , they notice and can attempt to counter spell or otherwise stop the Gith from teleporting.

The Githyanki begin to sprint ahead of you! (Atheltics check to see if members of the party can keep up with them) If they fail the check, the party falls behind 1 level, if they succeed then the Athletic member keeps up and leads the party ahead.

A Githyanki launches a Firebolt at you! (Acrobatics check to see if you evade the cantrip.) You can also use random acrobatics checks for them jumping from train car to train car.

These are just a few 'chase situations' that you can apply a Skill Check to and have the party try and get past it by choosing who's the best at each skill and dividing the checks among the party. The best thing about the 'Non Combat Encounter' mechanic is that you can assign exp to these like normal encounters even though they are not engaging in combat where they kill things.+

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DDEX3-5, "Bane of the Tradeways," has what you need, at pp.11-13.

You can purchase it at Dungeon Master's Guild for a few bucks, or if you're an Adventurer's League GM you can still (Jan 2016) download it for free as usual.

The module features an extended chase+combat scene, jumping from carriage to horse, damage to vehicles, multiple factions, &c. Thoroughly playtested, they've added a few "standard" actions to your options during a combat turn: Fall Behind, Move Ahead, Ram, Leap, Trample, Create Obstacle. It was a blast to run in AL, and I can imagine porting it to any setting. It really captures the classic action-flick chase feel, with additional (simple) rules for things like damaging vehicles, keeping one's balance when a vehicle/mount is damaged, exhaustion, falling, &c. There's also a "complications" table ready to make things even hairier!

It's not quite your train-scenario, but I think it's got the elements you're looking for in transitioning seamlessly from chase to combat and for making the chase have urgency. Mostly, it provides a framework that you can tweak to suit your setting, without having to worry if your chase-actions balance well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the answer; I didn't mark this as accepted because it requires the reader to pay money to get actual detail, but I did buy the module itself. It had some interesting ideas that I may use in the future, but most of them were related to wagon combat and not really adaptable to the situation at hand. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mikkel
    Jan 25 '16 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mikkel No worries--the fact that it's out for purchase is why I didn't quote from it. I'm still wrapping my head around this new model of AL delivery. I had hoped to provide enough description in my answer to inform your decision as to whether to drop $4, and hope you don't feel cheated. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jan 25 '16 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mikkel aahhh.... Reading your "answer" I see I'd completely misinterpreted your original question. I read: {chase} followed by {combat on train}. You intended {chase followed by combat} all on a train. Sorry for the confusion, and for the $4! \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jan 25 '16 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ No problem at all. I've bought quite a bit of stuff that didn't end up getting used, including maps and quite a few (non-D&D) books for inspiration regarding setting or atmosphere. Well, the books I certainly used, even if they didn't make it into the campaign. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mikkel
    Jan 26 '16 at 2:19
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I ended up playing on a map instead of using the normal mapless chase sequence and running everything in combat. The same can be adapted to stock 5e's chase rules; instead of rolling d20 for complications each turn, mark out a train car boundary every 60' and deal with skill checks depending on the location and status of players as laid out below.

  • Define the length of a car. 60' is a good length; it's a bit shorter than most real cars, but it keeps things moving. List each car in the train and keep track of which car everyone is on.
  • A player can be either on the roof or on the floor of a car. Some cars only have roofs, some only have floors, some have both. Moving on the roof is more difficult, but sometimes it's the only option.
  • I defined the following car types:
    • Engine
      • Engineer's cabin is a floor and close quarters; anyone in the cabin can control the train's speed (takes effect gradually over multiple rounds). See "speed die" below for how the speed is taken into consideration.
      • Can climb on the roof, though anyone on the boiler will take fire damage each turn.
    • First class passenger car
      • Roof and floor.
      • Doors front and rear.
      • Has compartments inside and a hallway down the middle; all fighting on the floor is considered close quarters (see below).
    • Second class passenger car
      • Roof and floor.
      • Doors front and rear.
      • Open bench seating; not subject to close quarters (unless you want to make it crowded and PCs care about hitting bystanders).
    • Boxcar
      • Roof and floor.
      • Doors front, rear, and on the sides. There is also a hatch in the middle of the car, allowing roof access from inside.
    • Flatbed car (empty)
      • Floor only.
    • Flatbed car (loaded), bulk metal car
      • Treated as roof only.
    • Caboose
      • Roof and floor.
      • Door in front.
      • Players can climb up from inside to observation level and overlook the roof without taking the associated penalties.
  • The "speed die" varies depending on how fast the train is moving. I figure 1d4 for 60 mph; use a smaller die (1d2 or 1d1) as the train accelerates and a bigger die as it slows.
  • At the beginning of each round:
    • Roll the speed die.
      • On 1-4, the train rocks.
        • All standing/crawling creatures on the roof make a DC 10 dex save or fall prone. Crawling creatures have advantage on this save.
      • On 1, the train jolts.
        • All creatures on the floor make a DC 10 dex save or fall prone.
        • Any creature prone on the roof makes a DC 15 dex save against sliding off the edge. On failure, they hang by their hands.
        • Any creature hanging off of a car makes a DC 15 strength save or falls off.
          • Falling off the side is instant death – the number of failed saves required to get to this point can be thought of as death saves.
          • Falling off the front or back causes the creature to land prone on the grating between cars.
    • If you are not in a tunnel, roll 1d10. On 1, you enter a tunnel.
      • Any creature not inside a passenger car is in darkness.
      • Any creature on a roof must make a DC 10 dex save to duck, taking 3d10 bludgeoning damage on failure.
      • The only roof movement while in a tunnel is crawling.
    • If you are in a tunnel, roll 1d6 along with the speed die. When the 1d6 comes up higher than the speed die, the train exits the tunnel.
  • Movement:
    • Roofs are difficult terrain and cost 10' of movement per 5' travelled. When crawling, that increases to 15'.
    • Jumping between cars (floor to floor) requires a DC 10 strength (athletics) check. On failure, the creature hangs off the side of the destination car.
    • Jumping between cars (roof to roof) requires a DC 15 strength (athletics) check. On failure, the creature hangs off the front or back of the destination car roof.
    • Jumping from roof to floor or floor to roof has the same DC as roof to roof, but the creature has advantage/disadvantage, respectively.
    • Pulling yourself up from floor to roof of the same car, or recovering from hanging off the side, requires a DC 15 strength (athletics) check.
    • Jumping from roof to floor requires a DC 10 dexterity (acrobatics) skill check or take 1d6 falling damage and fall prone.
  • Combat
    • Anyone in a first class car is in close quarters and takes disadvantage to hit with a two-handed weapon.
    • Crawling vs. crawling has disadvantage to hit.
    • Standing vs. crawling has advantage to hit.
    • Anyone on a roof, or on a floor during a round when the train jolted, has disadvantage to hit with a ranged weapon at short range and cannot hit at long range (eg. 20/60 weapon is treated as 0/20).

The encounter is done and went pretty well, but any feedback would still be welcome.

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