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June 22, 2015

Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 3 - Examples, Original System, and Other Ideas

Two weeks ago, I kicked this series off with rules for escaping combat.  Last week, I gave you revised chase rules for pursuit and evasion.  Those rules are 100% player-facing and minimize the impact that "instant win" spells have on chase scenes.  Today, I'll give you examples of all three new systems and a discussion of the original chase system in the DMG.

Chase Rules: Examples  

Below are examples of the rules, above, using the example of the first encounter in Lost Mine of Phandelver, the D&D 5th edition Starter Set. This is an encounter that should be familiar to most 5e GMs.  Most of you have run it, played it, seen a YouTube video of it, or read about it on forums.  I'm using the starter set characters which you can look at, here.

I'm naming them (Dungeon World Principle #7: Name Every Person)

  • Sir Stanley:  Noble Fighter
  • Berwin:  Soldier Cleric
  • Gladheart:  Criminal Rogue
  • Silverleaf:  Acolyte Wizard
  • Fletcher:  Hero Archer

Warning:  There are spoilers for the first encounter of Lost Mine of Phandelver here.

The first encounter has the PCs escorting a wagon down a road and being ambushed by four goblins.  I will do three examples:  Escape, Evasion, and Pursuit.

Example 1:  Escape

We join our heroes mid-combat.  The goblins have had some lucky rolls, and the surprise round was brutal.  It's round 2, and the casters are out of spells, the rogue is unconscious and dying, and the archer is down to one hit point.  The wizard is only alive because of Shield and Mage Armor.  None of the goblins is dead yet, though a few have taken some damage.

Berwin:  I'm out of healing.  Let's get out of here!
Stanley:  I agree.  I'll hold them off while you guys get to safety.
Gladheart (OOC):  Remember I'm unconscions.
Fletcher (OOC):  All the more reason to get out of here.  I'm at 1 hit point, myself.
Silverleaf:  Sounds good to me.
GM:  OK.  Choose a type of escape and narrate something your character does consistent with your traits, ideals, bonds and flaws.
Berwin:  I tend to wait for others to act.  So I look to Stanley to see what he does.
Stanley:  Like I said, "I'll hold them off while you guys get to safety!"  Stanley holds up his shield and covers the retreat.  I choose Brave Retreat, so I take 1 damage for my level.
Berwin:  OK.  Berwin says, "I was hoping you'd say that."  I'm going to do Assisted Retreat.  Berwin steps behind Stanley while arrows rain down on him, then he runs as fast as his stubby legs can carry him.
GM:  OK, Stanley, you gain Inspiration.
Stanley:  I already have it from Brave Retreat, so I'll give that Inspiration to Berwin and take this one.
Gladheart:  I'm unconscious.  I'll do Desperate retreat.  In a haze of pain, Gladheart sees Berwin running and thinks, "Oh no!  There goes my healer!"  I crawl after Berwin.  I never have a plan, right?  So I'm just winging it.  Stay by the healer!
GM:  OK, with Desperate retreat, the one who helps you takes damage.  Who is that?
Gladheart:  Would Berwin be kind enough to lend me a shoulder?
Berwin:  Yeah, I'd pause to haul you up.  I wouldn't let you die.
GM:  OK, so Berwin takes 1 damage, based on his level.  Gladheart, you get back up to 1 hit point.  Silverleaf and Fletcher?
Silverleaf:  I'll use Assisted Retreat, too.  Would Fletcher cover my retreat?
Fletcher:  Sure.  I use up a few arrows giving you covering fire.
Silverleaf:  Great, so you get Inspiration.  Oh, and since I use big words, Silverleaf is like, "Fletcher! Employ continuous fire in the direction of the southernmost goblinoids so that I can escape their overwatch!"
Fletcher:  Heh.  OK, my turn.  I have one hit point left, so I can't use Brave Retreat.  I'll also use Assisted Retreat.  I use big words too, but this is better:  I'm blind to the risk of failure, so I'm standing there shooting until Stanley grabs me by the shoulder and turns me around.  He's like "run you idiot!"
Stanley:  Heh, yeah.  Sounds like something I'd do.  And I'm giving my inspiration to Silverleaf for that word salad.
GM:  OK, after Fletcher gets moving, Stanley runs behind, keeping low...

Example 2:  Evasion

GM: ...But it's not over yet!  You get a ways down the road when you see the goblins are giving chase!  [Step 1] You duck into the unfamiliar woods, but you still hear them coming.  You have to fool them somehow.  You can stick together or split up...  What do you do?
Stanley:  Half the party is badly injured. We have to stick together.
Berwin:  Agreed.  We try to lose the goblins in the woods.
GM:  OK.  [Step 2] Everyone make a Stealth check, DC 10.

Berwin and Stanley fail.  Fletcher, Silverleaf, and Gladheart succeed.

GM:  OK, you think you've given them the slip.  Now you hear them calling to each other as they search for you.  How do you get out of the area? [Step 3]
Fletcher:  I know the land here.  I'll be the guide.
GM:  OK, roll Survival.
Gladheart:  I'm going to try to cover our tracks.
GM:  OK, roll Deception.
Stanley:  I'm going to keep an eye out to make sure they don't catch up to us.
GM:  OK, that's Perception.
Berwin:  I'm going to help the party cross streams, get over rocks - go places they won't be able to follow.
GM:  That's Athletics.
Silverleaf:  I know goblin.  I'm going to listen to them and try to guide the party away from where they seem to be going.
GM:  That's Perception to hear those calls or Insight to guess what they're doing from their communications.
Silverleaf:  It's +3 either way.  We'll say it's sort of both.
GM:  OK, everyone, make a check with the skill I said at DC 15.

Berwin, Silverleaf and Fletcher fail.  Gladheart and Stanley succeed.

GM:  Bad news, guys.  Stanley hears one very close.  Silverleaf, you realize that some of them weren't shouting, and you didn't realize it.  The nearby one raises an alarm.  "Them over here!  Hurry!"  The goblins crash through the woods after you.  You take off again.  Do you still stick together?
Fletcher:  Yeah.  I blame this die, not my skills.  We can do it.  Run guys!
Others:  Agreed!  Yeah!  Don't split the party!  Not when I have one hit point!
GM:  [Back to Step 2] OK, you're still out of sight, so you can all try Stealth again.  DC 10.  If three of you fail,

Berwin fails.  Stanley, Fletcher, Silverleaf, and Gladheart succeed.

GM:  OK, you've lost them again.  Now you have to sneak out of the area before they find you.
Stanley:  Same as last time guys?
Others:  Yeah!  Stupid die, no more ones!  Yes, let's do it. OK!
GM:  OK, roll them again, DC 15.

Silverleaf and Fletcher fail.  Berwin, Gladheart and Stanley succeed.

Fletcher:  Stupid die...
GM:  But the good news is you got away.  You spend an hour covering your tracks, and you think they've given up.
Berwin:  I'm out of healing.  Let's take a long rest, OK?
Silverleaf:  Good idea.  Now I know there are goblins, I'd like to prepare Sleep.

Example 3: Pursuit

The next day, the party returns to the ambush site, this time prepared for a fight.  The wagon they abandoned has been looted, so they need to capture a goblin and find out where the supplies were taken.  They sneak around and ambush the goblins on the right side of the road.

After making quick work of those two, the ones on the left flee.  In Lost Mine of Phandelver, it seems like the PCs are meant to chase the goblins down a path that has traps in it.  The GM decides to use the Pursuit system instead.

GM:  They're fleeing down what looks like a twisty path in the woods.  In the underbrush, you can only hear them as they barrel through branches and weeds growing over the path.  Do you want to split up and try to head them off or stick together?
Fletcher:  I'm wary about splitting the party...
Berwin:  But you and Gladheart can probably cut through and get ahead of them.
Gladheart:  I'd like to give it a try.
Stanley:  OK, shout if you get in trouble.
GM:  OK, you get three tries to catch them before they get away.  Berwin, Stanley, and Silverleaf are the hammer.  Gladheart and Fletcher are the anvil.  OK, anvil:  You need to figure out where they are and sneak ahead of them through the underbrush.  Give me Stealth or Perception.

Fletcher and Gladheart both succeed.

GM:  Great!  OK, hammer.  You need to flush them out and catch up.  Roll Intimidation or Athletics.

Berwin and Stanley succeed.  Silverleaf fails.

GM.  Good enough.  That's more than half.  You've got them surrounded.  Ahead are Fletcher and Gladheart, bows drawn.  Behind are the others, blades and spells ready.  The goblins are trapped in the middle, with a boulder at their right and a thicket at their left.  Roll initiative!

Existing Chase System

The existing rules suggestion for chase scenes in 5e D&D is on page 252 of the Dungeon Master's Guide.  It uses distances and movement speeds.  Characters can Dash to get ahead, though there is a limit to how often it can be done (limiting the rogue's ability to abuse Cunning Action).  The rules don't take place in rounds, solving the Opportunity Attack and the accordion problem.  These are all good improvements.

At the end of each round, characters who passed through cover or concealment of some sort during the chase can use Stealth to hide.  The chase ends if all the quarry get away and hide.  This means that the most important stats for escaping a pursuit are Stealth and Constitution (more Dash actions), and the most important stats for pursuing a quarry are passive Perception and Constitution.  Some nice tables of Chase Complications provide fun obstacles that bring other skills and attributes into play.

There are problems with the DMG rules.  Likely the pursuers will catch the quarry.  This is because...

  • The quarry will frequently need to zig and zag to move through cover and concealment, slowing their movement, while the pursuers do not need to do so ("If the quarry is never out of the lead pursuer's sight,the check fails automatically" p. 253); 
  • The rules don't work for indoor chases; and
  • There are many popular spells that will make capturing your quarry trivially easy.

If you are going to use the DMG chase system, you should do the following:

  • Put a lot of cover and concealment in the area.  Use narrow city streets with side-alleys, doorways, laundry lines, stacks of crates, and so forth.  Or use a dark dungeon with dim light.  Or a forest with ample undergrowth as the characters race along deer trails.  This lets the quarry move their full speed without having to zig and zag any more than their pursuers.
  • If the PCs are the pursuers, and you want the quarry to have any chance of escape, you have to do something about spells.  Start the quarry farther away from the PCs, so that the PC casters will only get one chance to use a spell before falling too far behind.  Give the quarry good Constitution scores so they can Dash early and often to keep the casters from getting line of sight on them.
  • Use the Chase Complications liberally!  Instead of rolling 1d20 on tables where 11-20 is "no complication," consider rolling 1d10, so there's always a complication.

Like a lot of the systems in 5th edition, the chase system gives savvy DMs the ability to create an outcome that is "by the rules" but nearly guaranteed to come out exactly how the DM wants.  If you want the outcome of the chase to be nearly certain in the pursuers' favor, use the DMG chase system without the suggestions above, and give the lead pursuer proficiency in Survival, to cause the quarry Disadvantage on their Stealth rolls.  If you want the outcome of the chase to be in the quarry's favor, have it lead into an area that's heavily obscured like total darkness or thick foliage.

Other Chase Systems

Old Dungeon Master has some chase house rules.  These rules change the system more than mine do. They also don't handle the problem of attack spells and other spells that can pretty much instantly end a chase when you can target the enemy.  Breaking line of sight is the technique I use to prevent magic from instantly winning chase scenes.  You might also want to use Paizo's chase deck, and convert it to 5e.  The problem with the chase deck is spells, again.  You have to rule that the chase never quite has line of sight, and get your players to accept that premise.  If it weren't for the problem of spells, there are other RPGs you could steal chase rules from.

This post is part of a trilogy!  Here are links to the other posts.

STAY TUNED for Part 2 and 3 coming later in June!

  • Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 1 - Introduction and Escape Rules - Run Away!
  • Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 2 - Pursuit and Evasion
  • Chase Rules for D&D 5th Edition Part 3 - Examples, Original System, and Other Ideas

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