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.
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