View Full Version : How To Run Tabletop Chase Scenes?

2009-07-03, 11:08 AM
I am planning on having one or two of these in the distant future, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how one would do it.

So, uh, yeah. How would you enact chase scenes in a tabletop setting? I'm sure you've got all sorts of tricks and tips that would be handy.

2009-07-03, 11:11 AM
Narrative will play a big part. It also depends on the kind of chase scene.

I did a naval battle/chase recently. I put the two ships next to each other, and used them only for positioning of characters and enemies. Under them, I used two model ships to determine facing and position. I didn't just move them along the map or anything, I only emulated the distance between the ships. If obstacles came along, I'd move the obstacles into place, rather than the ships to the obstacles.

2009-07-03, 11:16 AM
Although more or less totally untested, my general plans have been:

1. Have a lot of tiles or graph paper cutouts that can be used to expand an area as the chase scene progresses, or make it in 'stages', where something happens in each map, and then everybody progresses to the next zone, and you're further or closer, or something happens based on actions in the previous zone.

2. Have a designated 'out' or 'they escape' condition, where either the chasee crashes, runs out of steam, or gets caught. Likewise, have players be able to fall too far behind, and be out of the encounter, but can show up if non-running combat starts or once the chase scene ends. Be creative, too, if somebody wants to try and take a shortcut, let them, roll for whatever, and maybe they pop in ahead of the chasee or right behind him in a later stage.

2009-07-03, 11:24 AM
Although more or less totally untested, my general plans have been:

1. Have a lot of tiles or graph paper cutouts that can be used to expand an area as the chase scene progresses, or make it in 'stages', where something happens in each map, and then everybody progresses to the next zone, and you're further or closer, or something happens based on actions in the previous zone.

Hm... Maybe.

I play on a big whiteboard (it was $13, and it is AMAZING for D&D). But instead of drawing the walls and stuff I could actually, you know, make some cut out walls for large buildings and the like... Hmm. Could be, could be.

2. Have a designated 'out' or 'they escape' condition, where either the chasee crashes, runs out of steam, or gets caught. Likewise, have players be able to fall too far behind, and be out of the encounter, but can show up if non-running combat starts or once the chase scene ends. Be creative, too, if somebody wants to try and take a shortcut, let them, roll for whatever, and maybe they pop in ahead of the chasee or right behind him in a later stage.

Well that's part of the narrative. Very amusing that you said "runs out of steam" since they'll be chasing steam-powered entities, though. Well, way down the line. Up first: zombies and you. (Not you specifically. Oh bother, you know what I mean.)

ANYWAYS: On moving the terrain around you, that's probably a bit different with a city whizzing by. I think I'll try it though, thanks.

Mando Knight
2009-07-03, 11:27 AM
If all of the characters participating in the chase scene, I'd consider having them make opposed rolls to cut down on things... like a Dexterity roll to get around a tight corner faster, or a Constitution roll to keep going if they're running. If they're in a vehicle, you can also have characters with ranged weapons/powers/whatever fire at each other's vehicle to try to slow them down...

2009-07-03, 11:27 AM
It depends on the nature of the chase.

If you are in attack-or even vision range then you need to have a very, very, very long battle grid for the people to advance on (multiple A4's that can be placed one after the other to "emulate" a very long route?)

If the chase is way off, like chasing somebody with a day of a headstart, you should do it like a timed adventure, give the "runner" a fixed time to spend in each location in his path, and if they get any single "checkpoint" before he does-they can set an ambush. of course for that they must know his destination as well as his most likely methods of travel and where is he likely to stop for rest.

2009-07-03, 11:39 AM
Well, the crunch depends a lot on the system you're using. I'll assume D&D 3.5 because we're on a GitP forum. I'll also assume a foot chase:

If the characters have different speeds, it's easy. Character with a 30' move catches up with a character with 20' move so fast it's not even funny. Ditto if one of them has the "Run" feat. If they have the same move speed, then it's worth actually running the chase scene. If you're actually running the scene on a map (which I would recommend against) just have them move through the map as usual. They'll stay about the same distance apart until one of them gets held up by something on the map.

If, however, you're just running the chase through description without the use of maps or minis, try using opposed Dex checks (consider giving synergy bonuses for ranks in Jump and/or Tumble). Start by determining how far apart the cat and mouse are, then have one gain 5' on the other per point of difference on the opposed roll.

Example: Richard the Thief has stolen the crown jewels and is being chased by the king's swiftest guard (both speed 30'). When they enter the courtyard Richard has a 40' lead on the guard, and they each roll a d20 and add their dex bonus and any miscellaneous bonuses. The guard's total score is 12, while Richard comes up at 16. Richard laughs as he puts on an extra burst of speed and puts an extra twenty feet of distance between them.

The chase ends when the distance closes to zero feet (or possibly lasso range?) or opens to a suitably large distance (maybe one or two hundred feet). Obviously, this could get boring quickly, so you as a DM would have to be creative. Use lots of description, and give opportunities to mix it up. Let the fleeing character use a standard action to overturn a fruit cart or a barrel of grease, making the terrain difficult for the pursuer and forcing a tumble check to avoid falling on his face. Or have the fleer run right smack into a cart full of chickens while he glances over his shoulder. The way you set the scene and describe the chase could make it comic, adventurous or horrifying.

You can do the same with horseback chases, just replace the plain Dex checks with Ride checks and double the distance increments (gain 10' per point of difference instead of 5'). If you want to do longer chases, start introducing Con checks every few minutes to see if someone gets fatigued.

Obviously, this works best when fleeing through crowded marketplaces, city streets, castles and the like. Running through an open plain offers fewer opportunities for description and interacting with the scenery, and requires significantly more distance between the pursuer and the pursuee before an escape can truly be effected. To avoid tedium, just replace the multiple ability checks with one single roll and assume it averages over a length of time. Or, if you want it to be a lengthy chase (echoing the mythical scene where the cat chases the mouse for forty days, perhaps), do a Dex check and a Con check every now and then until someone fails one or the other badly enough that you can rule that the chase is over.

So, this is using D&D 3.5 rules. Coming up with the crunch isn't terribly difficult for any system (indeed, several systems have already done it for you!), but the important thing to remember is this: either make it interesting, or make it quick.

2009-07-03, 11:43 AM
Put in obstacles that they need to get over or around. Climb and Jump checks with a fairly low DC (so random luck doesn't stop the entire party in its tracks) are good. Little patches of difficult terrain that they can jump over, go around, or plow right through are good - it's good to give the players a choice of which way to go. If it's in an urban environment, put in crowds (count as difficult terrain, can be influenced to move with Diplomacy and Intimidate) and have them go through buildings, preferably up and down a few stories. Have occasional shortcuts that are more difficult than going straight on (more skill checks with higher DCs required), but allow them to advance further. If its the players that are being chased, put large objects or doors around that they can knock over or barricade (at the cost of an action) to slow down their opponents.
And, no matter what, make sure the Wizard doesn't have Fly prepared.

2009-07-03, 11:51 AM
Since I don't have much space, I uses 2 paper sheet. One on a big scale with the whole area of the pursuit covered, used for moving around with little tokens and description of the pursuit

And another on point blank range, with a printed version of whatever vehicules they are using that we use for fighting and such. I only draws relevant ennemies and surroundings on the latest.

Finally, I plan ahead a lot. Difficulty checks, events, descriptions and such. If it's very straightforward I might plan it round per round. Simple opposed checks of the relevant skill/trait to know who's catching up on who.

2009-07-03, 12:06 PM
The way we do chase scenes is usually to first accept that, for a real chase, turn based combat just doesn't work.

To that end, we usually just start describing the chase scene. Establish where everyone is, what the immediate area looks like, start assessing how far 10, 20, 30, and 40 feet actually IS on that map, and essentially have everyone move in unison.
"The half-orc veers left to try to cut you off around that wagon"
"well then I'm gonna tuck and roll and make a tumble check to slide gracefully over this picnic table and veer right..."

ect, ect.

2009-07-03, 12:33 PM
At least some of the above advice is good, but remember one thing above all others for a chase scene.
Play Yakkity Sax on some form of music device.

This is vital.

Twilight Jack
2009-07-03, 12:36 PM
My first question is whether the PCs are the pursuers or the pursued. It makes a big difference in how you'll want to handle it. I'm assuming that this is 3.5?

If it's a foot chase, then the first thing you'll need to do is check the base speeds of all targets, and whether any of them have the Run feat. If there's a huge disparity in speeds of the various participants, you're going to have to get pretty creative to justify having a chase scene in the first place. It's not necessarily unworkable, but it adds a whole new layer of complication.

The trick to a good chase scene is not, "Roll X, you get 5' closer/further away," but in the various obstacles and situations which must be overcome in rapid succession in order to stay in the game. The nature of those obstacles depends upon the type of chase we're doing and where it's taking place.

An urban chase through a crowded marketplace is going to be different than a mad dash through a heavy forested area, which will in turn require different considerations from an all-out sprint across a flat, featureless plain.

I'll restict my example of a good chase to a single scenario. You can probably extrapolate some good ideas for the other ones.

The urban chase involves the negotiation of a rapidly shifting environment and the possibility of other participants joining the fun on either side. Here, the pursued character should be constantly looking for new escape routes, tossing objects and people into his pursuers paths, and attempting the occasional feat of derring-do to put more distance and difficulty between himself and his pursuers. Those chasing him will be dodging the obstacles thrown into their path, calling out for other passers by to, "Stop that man!" and attempting to follow the rabbiting character through even the most perilous routes.

An all-out sprint is impossible most of the time; in fact, a great chase scene here could involve one party having the Run feat and trying to find a clear enough spot to actually use it.

So, in the urban chase, I see the pursued character making melee touch attacks against objects and bystanders to throw them into the pursuers' paths, leading his pursuers towards districts where he has friends, making rushed Diplomacy/Bluff checks to get help from bystanders in covering his escape, and a bunch of Balance, Climb, Jump, and Tumble checks to scale walls, leap over gaps, slide beneath the legs of horses, and come up running on the other side. Eventually, if things start going well enough that he's got a bit of distance, he's going to want to start thinking about an opportunity to make a Hide check and lose his pursuit completely.

The pursuers, by contrast, are going to need to make Reflex saves or Balance and Jump checks as appropriate to negotiate the hazards thrown into their paths without losing speed, come up with ways to split up and conduct the chase from multiple angles to cut off possible paths of egress (hopefully preventing the rabbitting character from being able to "decide" where the chase winds up), make the occasional Diplomacy/Intimidate check to encourage bystanders to intervene and detain the fleeing character, and either match the guy's Parkour or find ways to bypass it. They should also be prepared to make an all or nothing Spot check at any point, should the pursued character manage to break line of sight for long enough to attempt to lose them.

Although the characters are not strictly running, I'd go further and say that the level of physical activity required to double move through a crowded market and run up walls is equivalently tiring. After a number of rounds equal to each participant's Constitution score, they need to start making Con checks (DC 10+1 for each subsequent check) every round. Now then, the standard rules say that if you fail a Con check while running, you just have to stop. That's BORING in a chase! Instead, they're merely fatigued and can keep going, so long as they can deal with the penalty to their navigation. Every subsequent failure on the Con check imposes an addition -1 penalty to both Strength and Dexterity, until they become exhausted and MUST stop upon reaching a total of -6 (a total of five failed checks). Exhausted characters move at only half speed, so they're useless in continuing to chase. If the rabbit is the one to exhaust, he'd better find a good hiding spot immediately before he's run down.

2009-07-03, 02:29 PM
I ran a chase once and it was awesome. I tried the same chase scene years later with a different group and it flopped miserably. Now matter how you do it, don't get discouraged if it doesn't work out. You might also want to tell the group that you're trying something a little new and they should bear with you.

What I came up with was kind of like a skill challenge. The chasee was slightly faster than the party and was escaping through dwarven mines. Every so often he'd stop to set up some sort of trap or obstacle. To sum things up, the obstacles could be passed quickly with a skill check, or bypassed entirely but slowly. Some members of the group could run/jump/swim/climb over everything, but then the group would be separated and easily murderized. Figuring out how many to send across was tactically interesting to one of the groups, but not the other and either made or broke the encounter.

2009-07-03, 07:47 PM
A guy's come up with some decent chase rules for WFRP, but there's no reason they can't work for any other system. See here: http://homepage.mac.com/whymme/WFRP/rules/pursuits/pursuits.html

Basically you roll a d10 (or d6, d20, whatever you like), add some derivation of the movement scores, and whoever wins either pulls out a lead (if they're in front) or closes the distance (if they're behind). Start the two parties an arbitrary "distance" apart (he uses 10 pursuit points). If the distance between them narrows to nothing, the pursuer catches up. If it extends past a certain distance (usually double the starting difference) the escapee gets away.

Rather than running, each round you can take an action, so you can shoot, overturn a cart, what have you, to liven things up.

Obviously the exact details will vary depending on what die size you're using and how large the movement scores are- his system is based on a normal Move score of 3-8, but it wouldn't be difficult to make some adjustments to take account of scores of 20-40.

Narrative will of course be important, though, otherwise no matter how good the rules you're using are, it'll just be dice rolling and maths.

2009-07-03, 09:43 PM
The closest I've had was a battle on a runaway lightning train (Eberron) in my current Red Hand of Doom run. I had added an extra encounter with a Rakshasa hitman before the actual opening of the adventure.

Background: The PCs were on their way to the terminal station of the train. Suddenly, the lights go out, and one of their guards turns out to be a rakshasa (Naityan, the ToB rakshasa). The party soon discovers that everyone in the engine car of the train is dead, and that the elemental driving it is going berserk.

The party was getting thrashed badly. They couldn't coordinate well due to the narrow aisles. Eventually they were able to do enough damage to make the rakshasa run toward the rear of the train. They decouple the engine (where everyone is, as the artificer tries to regain control of it) from the rest of the car. The rear cars begin to decelerate, as the rakshasa runs toward the end.

Then the kalashtar psion remembers that there were other cars in the rear. Thinking that there still might be survivors, she risks getting left behind with the angry rakshasa without any help. She arrives at the end, finds no one in the rear cars, and gets mauled by the rakshasa jumping from the roof.

She had one HP left, and about 70 feet of first class train car to run, and a widening gap between the engine and the 1st class car she was in. She took a full turn running inside, being chased by the rakshasa (which had a 60 ft. movement speed thanks to its Elusive Adversary form). She leaped across the widening gap and barely made it into the engine. She then turned towards the car with the rakshasa and blew it off the rails.

It was awesome.

For battle grids I use laminated A3 sheets of paper. I simply drew the respective boards with the engine and the carriage further and further apart with each turn it decelerates.

That said, you need to take the following into consideration:
-Terrain. The environment always makes for a memorable chase scene. Whether it be on a runaway train or on a narrow mountain pass on horseback, the PCs should be able to interact well with the surroundings. Even the flattest plain can have dangers of its own--hidden sinkholes (which characters with Survival could spot ahead of time and use to their advantage), ruts, streams, and rocks.

-How much space? Since my entire area for the train encounter was moving, I didn't really need to give the PCs and monster much space to run. All they needed to keep in mind was that falling was pretty much certain death.
How far are your PCs willing to give chase, and how fast can they and the monster run?

-Are there crowds and innocent bystanders? What are the PCs (and monsters) willing to do to get them out of the way? Also, insert the obligatory fruit cart and carried panes of glass.

Dark Herald
2009-07-03, 10:40 PM
Chase scenes bring to mind three things with me

Return of the Jedi, the speeder bike chase on Endor. both parties are the same speed, so there was no passing unless the faster person wanted it. rules would work out as follows

Fleeing party moves up to maximum speed away, takes a ride / dexterity check to throw someone off their trail. Can opt not to take check and do another standard action, with a suitable penalty, like shooting or spell casting or what have you.

The pursuant party then takes their turn, catching up as much as the other party slowed down, but not any more. people or horses don't randomly shift into higher gears, they are always going as fast as possible. the pursuers then take a dex / ride check equal to DC of the opposed party to continue pursuit. success means they navigate the obstacle or whatever, failure they crash or lag behind. then they can fire, presumably with less of a penalty because they don't have to look back...

Anyway, the fleeing party controls where the chase goes, and does whatever they can to throw off the pursuers, including jumping from rooftops, blowing through stopsigns, and running along narrow ledges. the pursuers control the speed of the chase, and must pass all the tests that the fleeing party has, like canyon jumping or dashing through a red light at a busy intersection.

the pursuers need to be tough, while the fleeing people need to be resourceful, doing whatever it takes to throw off the enemy.

Or, it's like The Gunslinger by Stephen King, with constitution checks and a final confrontation, bidding a certain amount of travel every day for an increased DC.

Or, it's like podracing, with obstacles, but a set course. pass the check, no problem, but if you fail the check, the other guy gets closer/farther or you crash and die. Just a series of skill checks, DCs increasing slowly and a moderate selection of skills. Give the fleeing party a 5 point head start.

escapees fail a check, -1 point; at 0 points they are caught
pursuers fail a check, +1 point; at 10 points, they lose the fleeing party.

three ideas, but not all the way fleshed out.

2009-07-04, 03:28 AM
If you're using 4E, the Skill Challenge Mechanic can be useful.

Some thoughts:
- Short Pursuit: individual Athletics Checks to overtake the target (if the party is willing to break up) or the lowest Athletic Check makes it for the group. Success and you "catch up" with the target; fail and you either lose him entirely, or you can switch to Long Pursuit.

- Long Pursuit: either personal Endurance Checks (if the party is willing to break up) or the lowest Endurance Check rolls for the group (when they stay together). If you succeed, you "catch up" with the target; if you fail, you fall behind, exhausted.

- Cornering: once you've "caught up" with your target, you have to keep him from running. Here, a standard Group Skill Challenge allowing maximum creativity for using skills & terrain. Success, and you've caught him in an area where he can no longer run (easily); Failure, and he escapes.

Obviously, you have to use plenty of narrative skill to keep this from getting boring; but, if you use easy (4/3) Challenges for Pursuit and harder ones for Cornering, you should be able to keep things interesting. Also, if the PCs have a way of stopping him from running, or make it easy to catch up with him, then let them Corner him immediately if they succeed - leading to combat, likely.

2009-07-04, 09:06 AM
Ok, to clarify, since it came up:

1) Yes it's going to be in 3.5. I was looking at general know-how, though, because I'm pretty sure I'll have chase scenes in other systems in my life eventually. It's good to learn skills that will come in handy later, you know?

2) Narrative is everything, of course. I have to rush plans because the PCs did not-smart things, though, and essentially screwed themselves. (I'm sure they'll make it). This first one, pop-culture zombies are milling about and they basically are about to infect everyone in their safe-house unknowingly. The second one is months down the road for once this campaign wraps up (or weeks, if this one goes... poorly) and involves PCs chasing robots carrying bulky things down the streets of Sigil.

I think I'll macro the scale a bunch so that they only move 'one space' (or two if running) on the board and are much smaller than the regular pieces. After all, combat isn't the deal here.

2009-07-04, 11:41 AM
1) Technically you're supposed to make a single dex check (short distance, obstacles) or con check (long distance). Pretty boring if you want it to be a neat encounter though.

2) Battle map with LOTS of erasing and redrawing. I'd wrap-around the map so when you hit the right edge you start drawing on the left edge. But since your average joe runs at 120 feet (24 inches) or double moves at 60 feet (12 inches), you'll be redrawing every single round.

3) Lots of preprinted or premade adventuring tiles. Either takes an insane amount of paper b/c you got to map out everywhere the PCs go, or you make it modular so you can set it up on the fly. You still have a tiny master-map that maps out everywhere behind the DM screen.

4) Verbal description with dex checks and/or skill checks.

2009-07-04, 11:57 AM
You could easily port over skill challenges from 4e. They work perfectly for this type of thing.