So I’ve been thinking about chase scenes from movies and TV shows, about what makes them fun and entertaining, and how that might translate into mechanics for an RPG.
One of my favourite chases comes from the movie Willow, in an early scene where Mad Mardigan and Willow (carrying the baby princess) flee from a local guard patrol. The shenanigans that follow are terrific. Amoungst other things the duo escape the clutches of an angry husband, scale down a building, steal a chariot and fight off pursuers, before finally making their escape into the forest.
More recently I remember being impressed with the opening parkour chase in Casino Royale, Bourne’s escape from the embassy in The Bourne Identity, Neo’s final chase in the original Matrix, and frankly any Jackie Chan chase involving cluttered streets, fences, crowds and acrobatics!
Reflecting on these kinds of cool escape scenes, it seems to me a great DnD chase ought to have:
I’ve played with the DMG 5e chase rules and … they’re a bit average. They have the environmental antics and some basic surprises that I want. But they're not a good fit for conveying a fast paced atmosphere, imposing quick decision making on the players, or generating fleeting opportunities to confront the opposing party.
For me, the standard DnD chase rules are too similar to standard combat (using rounds, initiative and PC actions every turn) to promote a proper chase feel. It feels like normal combat, everyone's running in the same direction while dodging obstacles. And I don’t like the amount of prep work involved. I don’t want to have to map the chase ahead of time. Or prepare an obstacle table. Chases are the sort of thing that can happen on the fly, and I might need to improvise. Plus I don’t like relying on Stealth checks as the only way the quarry escapes.
So how can I better model some chase mechanics to get the kind of atmosphere I’m after?
Well, first up, the rules need to be flexible enough to drop into any environment, or to cross environments, with zero prep.
Secondly, it needs to convey that fast paced action vibe. I want the impression the PCs are doing all they can just to keep up with their quarry, or keep ahead of their pursuer. Opportunities to confront the enemy directly should be fleeting at best, and when they happen, I want to enforce snap decisions from the players. I want some ebb and flow to the chase, as pursuers gain or lose ground, but I also want to keep the pressure on - that feeling that the quarry could get lucky and escape at any time.
I don't want any slowness creeping in to my chase scene. No initiative, no turn orders. PC's often wont get to act beyond negotiating whatever the chase environment throws at them. The PCs are in a race and reacting to what's happening around them - they are not in control. It's a chase!
Thirdly, obstacles and surprises are a must. I need to be able to improvise chase events in a city, wilderness, dungeon, aerial or any other setting interchangeably. Some obstacles will be straight forward, some more interesting. Some might cause a chase participant to drop out of the race. Maybe even a chance for third party interaction.
Finally, and most important of all, I want the process of the chase itself to be the most fun and exciting part of the encounter, rather than how it ends.
So here it is ... Houserule #4: Fast and Fun Chase Rules for DnD 5e.
I hope they help make memorable chases the norm at your table.
In past editions of DnD, when a party faced off against a lone BBEG (Big Bad End Guy), the poor beastie was typically overwhelmed by the sheer number of actions or turns the party would take compared to the monster. Which tended to make for some anti-climatic final battles.
Happily things have improved over the years, and the DnD 5e Monster Manual provides a very respectable system to give solo type monsters a fighting chance by giving them “Legendary” abilities.
To summarise, Legendary monsters get a small number of points every round to spend on off turn actions in between PC turns (more powerful abilities cost more points to use). Legendary monsters also have access to a limited number of automatic saves (usually three), and “Lair” abilities and actions that generally occur on a set initiative count (independent of the monster itself).
In combination these are great ideas and go a long way to making a fight with a lone BBEG scary and memorable. Unfortunately the Monster Manual includes very few Legendary Creatures, and they all tend to be high level monsters of “legendary” renown.
So where's the problem? Well, what if you want to make a BBEG out of an Orc boss? Or a Cult Fanatic? Or some other low or mid level monster for a 3rd level party? The problem is if you're playing low or mid level, the Legendary mechanics aren't really available to your monsters. You can hardly throw a CR 16 Legendary Mummy Lord against them.
So what can you do? Thrown down House Rule #3: Solo Enemy Template of course!
I like DnD 5e a lot. It's why I put stuff up on here. But one thing I don't like are the Death and Dying rules and how they interact with short action ranged healing magic.
To summarize, it's waaaay too hard for a PC to die in 5e. Generally speaking the buffer of three failed death saves and ranged healing magic via a short action gives the party ample time to get their fallen comrade back in the fight with no significant opportunity cost. This is not a good thing for me. It reduces my feeling that combat is dangerous and takes some of the fun out of fighting.
And then there's the "whack-a-mole" effect. Because the standard rules don't track negative hit points, and because dying is highly improbable, being reduced to zero HP is just a temporary inconvenience for my PC. It has no lasting downside. In fact it has an upside! It turns out to be more efficient, both healing wise and action wise, to wait until my PC reaches zero hit points before popping him or her back up into the fight with short action ranged healing magic.
I don't want combats that don't feel dangerous. And I certainly don't want there to be an inherent advantage in postponing healing until my PC is unconscious and bleeding out.
So how can this be improved? I suggest creating the possibility of longer lasting injuries (and even death) and other setbacks when a PC is reduced to zero hit points. This added layer of risk reinforces the feeling that combat is dangerous, that even victory might come at real cost, and also discourages the kooky whack-a-mole effect.
Which hopefully increases the fun for everyone.
Houserule #2: Injuries and Setbacks Table for DnD 5e
So I'm going to kick things off with one of the themes I love about the Primeval Thule setting - how magic is rare, dark and dangerous.
Unlike most DnD settings, Primeval Thule makes spell casters very rare, with not more than a handful in the largest of cities (of which there are few). For me this is a a very welcome change to the usual wide spread magic traditional to DnD settings. Most commoners have never seen a spell or enchanted object. Magic items are unique, and not something easily bought or sold.
Rarity can be reflected in the frequency of spell scrolls and magic items which is well within DM purview. But I also want to avoid what I like to call "ritual spam", so my tweak to rituals is they take 1d4 hours to cast instead of 10 mins. In addition, at the end of ritual the caster must roll 1d20. On a result of 1 or 20, something extra has been invoked, and the Dark & Dangerous Magic Table is triggered (see below).
Dark & Dangerous
I really like how Thule paints sorcery as unnatural and something people mess with at their peril. But the mechanics themselves don't really reflect this. Sure, there are some madness rules which can touch on certain types of spell casting, but I want something more concrete that that. Something that makes magic inherently more dangerous any time it's used; not just to the caster, but to those around them as well.
So below is my table of magical side effects with a dark and dangerous feel. There is a definite Cthulu bent, some temporary mutation, and hopefully enough randomization to keep things fresh. I modeled the table on wild magic from the Player's Handbook, but kept the overall spread of effects much more neutral (the wild magic table is heavily skewed towards beneficial effects). I've included a small number of clearly beneficial effects and a small number of clearly adverse effects. But the vast majority are simply dangerous effects, with about the same chance of being applied to the caster as the enemy. I have purposely avoided any kind of "nerfing" of casters (unless you consider the table's randomness an inherent nerf).
I recommend requiring a roll on the Dark & Dangerous Magic Table any time a spell is cast and the first 1d20 related roll comes up a 1 or a 20. If that chance is too high for your taste, you could limit the checks to 1st level spells or higher only (ie ignoring cantrips), or reduce the chance to 1 in 20 only.
So here it is, Houserule #1: Dark & Dangerous Magic. I hope it helps make magic a little more scary across the primeval continent.
Welcome to DnD Hackers Guild: the site about custom rules to tweak your favourite d20 roleplaying game.
The purpose of this site is to suggest some optional rules to experiment with and better tailor your d20 game to the preferences of your table. Hopefully this will result in more fun for all concerned, as well as encourage others to suggest further ideas we can borrow/tinker with too.
Over time I've also found certain random tables are a useful resource for GMs, so I'm putting those on here too.
I've been playing a lot of DnD 5e and OSR games lately, and enjoying the excellent Primeval Thule setting, so to begin with I'll be posting rules you can drop or swap into these kinds of games. This blog relies on the latest version of Wotc Open Game licence and Standard Reference Document.
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