How to run a chase scene

Table of Contents

Random thoughts

This morning a rooster decided it was a good idea to start crowing right next to my bedroom window. It’s 8am right now and he’s been going for 3 hours straight. A wizard NPC looking to play mind games with his enemies should just summon roosters when they’re trying to sleep.

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Running an entertaining chase scene

This article stemmed from an e-mail discussion between Robert – a Dungeon Mastering reader – and Kim & Jerry from Woldian Games. If you haven’t done it yet take the time to check it their website.

You can also read these 2 related articles: D&D rat chase – Part 1 and D&D rat chase – Part 2.

Now let’s get to the point:

How to run an entertaining chase scene

  1. Establish the consequences or Why are we running?
  2. Limit the dice rolls
  3. Exploit the terrain
    • Where are the PCs at the beginning of the scene
    • Where can the chase lead them
  4. Force the players to make choices
  5. Keep it close!

Sounds easy! Let’s go into the details…

Why are we running?

Before the chase scene starts the PCs must have a very clear idea of why they’re running. They could be running away from a creature or enemy. They could also be chasing someone. In either case I would make sure the PCs suffer dire consequences if they don’t succeed in the chase.

Before I go on let me talk about chase scenes in movies. There are 2 kinds of chase scenes IMO. The ones that suck and the one that rule. Since the chase scene itself usually doesn’t bring any new element to the plot the only interest of the chase scene is its outcome. And we only care about the outcome if we care about the characters in the story.

So a good chase scene should make the PCs fear for their life or something they hold very dear. Caring for the PCs shouldn’t be too hard for the players!

Limit the dice rolls

A chase scene is an action scene. Too many dice rolls can slow the game flow. If you like rolling dice to keep an element of chance in the game then just make sure the game mechanics for the chase are simple and you don’t constantly have to refer to your notes or sourcebooks.

Exploit the terrain

During a fast-paced pursuit the most mundane terrain changes completely. A crowded city street usually thought of as “Saturday morning shopping crowd” suddenly becomes “Lots of obstacles and city guards that don’t like to see townsfolks being tackled”. Hopefully that made sense.

What I mean is that the PCs will want an edge so they need a detailed environment in order to enjoy the chase scene. So you need to know where the chase starts and where it could lead so you can prepare and add details to these locations.

Unusual terrain also adds a lot to a chase scene. I once ran a chase downhill. I can tell you from real-life experience that it’s a bad idea to run down a hill a full speed. You might start barreling down the hill faster than you could say “Here comes the concussion”! And was my segway to get to the next point:

Force the players to make choices

In that hill example a PC being chased by a monstrous creature would have to choose between risking to tumble down the hill or slow down and hope the creature doesn’t catch up. That is an interesting decision to make – and it should be fun for the DM to watch a player agonizingly making that decision.

When the PCs are faced with a choice don’t give them any time to think about it before they decide. It adds to the momentum of the scene if every decision must be made in a fraction of a second.

Keep it close

Reward good decisions and quick thinking but never allow the chase scene to end too quickly. Keep it uncomfortably close at all times. If the players come up with smart moves and ideas keep the chase just as dangerously close as it can be. Then reward the players with more experience points.

Have fun!

3 thoughts on “How to run a chase scene”

  1. I just came across this website, and I have to say – good work! There aren’t a lot of resources like this.
    Anyway, I thought I’d comment considering I just ran a really good d20 Modern Game last week (in my player’s opinion) and we had a great foot chase scene.
    The PCs were stranded (their bus had broken down) and they were attacked by, for a lack of better word, “zombies”. They began to fight, and realized that they were going to be overwhelmed and decided to flee.
    I gave the PCs a head start, as the zombies were too busy feasting on the remains of the fallen the PCs had failed to save. To indicate this, I wrote “10” on a piece of paper for each PC in the chase. Then I wrote “5” for the zombies (I just did it collectively). Then I made each PC make a Fortitude Save (DC 10) each round. To make it a little more intense, I didn’t use the tactical grid – it was dark and it’s not like they could see 10′ behind them anyway.
    For each save they made, I added +1 to the number “10”. The zombies had to make Will Saves each round to continue persuing (they don’t have a fortitude save, really). For each one they succeeded on, I added +1 as well. Each time a PC failed, I subtracted 1 from the “10” indicating that the zombies were catching up with them. The DC increased by 1 each round, to indicate that they were getting winded.
    I ruled (to myself, not the PCs) that they had to get 10 more than the zombies to escape them. They did have choices – the forest path, or the road – and threw in obstacles that required Jump and Balance checks.
    Also, telling the PCs that you see “so and so” fall behind you when they failed a save scared the crap out of them.
    … anyway, I thought I’d post this as an alternative. It did require a lot of die rolls, but they were simple rolls that had serious consequences for their failure.
    I hope this helps someone out, and again, kudos on putting up this site. I look forward to adding it to my favourites.

    Cheers!
    T.

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