D&D Chase Rules

Published on November 23, 2020

Chase scenes are usually a high adrenaline climax for action movies, but D&D’s turn-based combat can make them feel mundane. How can we fix this?

What are chase scenes?

Webster’s Dictionary defines chase scenes as…just kidding.

Anyone who has ever seen an action movie has seen a chase scene. Usually, the main goal of these scenes is for either the protagonist or antagonist to escape the other party because they do not have the ability to defeat them in battle.

These situations will often come up in D&D. Whether you are chasing an enemy informant through the streets of a city or are racing pegasi to a rip in time-space, chase scenes are a necessary element of any action medium.

Problems with chase scenes in D&D

The Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) has a section for running chase scenes in D&D and provides a decent foundation for on-foot chases. The rules boil down to:

  • Each participant can Dash 3 + CON modifier times
  • Each participant can use attacks and spells as normal
  • There are no opportunity attacks because each participant is moving in the same direction

The section in the DMG also poses some solutions to ending a chase and some complications that could happen during a chase.

This information is a solid start, but there are some issues that can still cause a chase to feel like a slog:

  1. D&D’s turn-based combat
  2. Creatures in 5th Edition all have similar movement speeds
  3. The DMG’s solution for ending a chase scene

Turn-based combat

Turn-based combat makes a couple of real-world scenarios hard to pull off in D&D, namely retreating and chasing. Because each player acts individually and not in real-time, chase scenes have less tension. Combined with the second issue, similar movement speeds, this can cause chase scenes in D&D to feel repetitive and boring.

Similar movement speeds

Because most creature types have a fairly even array of movement speeds, chase scenes can turn into whoever can Dash the most or who can land the first Hold Person spell.

This linear approach forgoes the most important aspect that makes D&D interesting: player choice. If the players start thinking “Guess I have to Dash” or “Guess I have to cast Hold Person” then your chase scene has failed to make an interesting encounter.

Ending a chase scene

The DMG suggests that the only way to end a chase scene is to succeed in a Stealth check against the pursuer or to catch up to the quarry. There are certainly some potential problems here, most of which will lead to an unsatisfying conclusion to the chase.

One important thing to consider is: what is the timeline for this chase? A stalemated chase is an extremely good way to have a bored table. Make sure to create a sense of urgency.

Is your quarry running towards the sewers where you will have no hope of finding them? Or are they trying to get to a vantage point to assassinate a political figure?

What makes for effective chase scenes?

We will be dissecting some of the most famous chase scenes in cinematic history and will be figuring out what tools are used to maximize tension. We will then look at how we can bring these lessons across to the D&D 5e system and incorporate them into chase scenes in-game.

These scenes always contain the following 3 important aspects:

  1. A reason – why the chase is necessary
  2. A goal – what the chase is accomplishing
  3. Choices – how the characters can gain the upper hand using unique abilities and avenues of movement

These three aspects provide purpose to why people are chasing one another and helps make it exciting for the audience. We are looking at these scenes to figure out how we can prevent the biggest issues D&D chase scenes face: dashing, dashing, and more dashing.

Without further ado, let’s check out some chase scenes!

Casino Royale (2006)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g9-ms7L-Ms

This iconic scene features James Bond chasing a surprisingly nimble bomb maker through a construction site. Let’s break this chase down by looking at the aforementioned aspects:

The reason

The bomb maker cannot hope to take on the 00 agents and needs to get to the “safety” of the embassy.

The goal

Bond needs to get the bomb maker alive to extract intel about his boss.

Choices

The empty construction building is an amazing set piece for this chase. You can see the bomb maker, who is faster and more dexterous than Bond, use the environment to his advantage. He extorts his ability to climb and vault over obstacles to gain ground on the slower Bond.

This makes Bond have to think outside the box. You can see this when he gets in the bulldozer in order to negate the bomb maker’s cover or when he uses the crane to help him climb the scaffolding.

What have we learned?

This is the type of situation in which the DMG’s chase rules are built around. The PCs give chase to an NPC on foot in a relatively urban environment.

This is also a great example of how using a unique environment and thinking outside the box can create a fun, engaging encounter to make the best of D&D’s system. 

The most effective way to run this encounter is by utilizing a system outlined by the great Matt Colville in his video Skill Challenges! Running the Game #21

A TLDW of this video is to create a series of skill checks that the players have to overcome in order to complete a goal. The skill challenges should vary which skill is used, therefore allowing each character to play to their strengths outlined by their class features and ability scores.

If I were trying to base my chase encounter off of this scene I would:

  • Create a scenario where the players have to capture someone alive to get the information.
  • Create an environment that allows for different ability scores to play into the chase
  • Come up with 4-5 levels of the encounter all with varying ways to overcome them using STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, or CHA. Each ability score would get 2 DCs, one to keep pace with the quarry and one to gain on the quarry. If the first DC is failed, they will fall behind the quarry.
  • Ensure I have prepared for failure, success, or partial success of the party in their goal, as well as an endpoint for the chase.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B67yQmg8xVE

This scene is fairly different from the James Bond scene because it takes place almost exclusively in vehicles. How can this translate to D&D? Read on.

The reason

Bourne is hurt and is being chased by the Moscow police and a rival agent. He can’t take them all on in his current state.

The goal

Bourne needs to use his skills to lose as many officers as he can before he throws down with the Russian agent.

Choices

This scene is a lot more linear than the Bond scene, mainly because cars are harder to get creative with. Characters need to follow the road for the most part or they won’t be able to move fast enough to evade their pursuers.

You see a lot of ramming and shooting through windows in this scene because that is what the characters in this world are limited to.

This chase scene feels a bit strange in the sense that Bourne somehow eludes the entirety of the Moscow police at the end, even though he is hurt and on foot (Spoilers: this gets addressed in a later movie). If I were to adapt this to a D&D, I would have included some set-piece that allows for an explainable way for the party to avoid the reinforcements of the force that is chasing them. Typical examples of this are a train leaving right on time, a bridge opening, etc.

What have we learned?

Vehicles and mounts definitely have their place in chase scenes. They can help remove the necessity of taking the Dash action on each turn, allowing for more ability to actually fight while at high speeds.

If I were trying to base my chase encounter off of this scene I would:

  • Create a scenario where the players have to escape a certain area due to overwhelming odds.
  • Provide mounts to the players and enemies (horses for low-level encounters, flying mounts for high-level encounters).
  • Have a reasonable number of minions chase after the party, along with one or two beefier enemies.
  • Come up with a destination or time limit to the chase to provide the players and enemies with additional win conditions for the encounter other than “kill all the people”. 
  • Ensure I have prepared for players and enemies to fall off their mounts, and what happens if that occurs.
  • Prepare a failure, success, or partial success scenario for the party.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z9qws7M8q8&vl=en

In this scene, a young John Conner and the Terminator have to escape the T-1000 because they don’t currently have the capability to permanently kill it. 

The reason

The T-1000 is stronger than John and the Terminator and cannot be killed with what is currently at their disposal. 

The goal

They must create enough distance to get away unseen by the unstoppable foe.

Choices

This scene is also quite linear in its choices. Unfortunately, this foe cannot be beaten so they need to find a way to slow it down long enough to get away. The choices come from the question: how do we slow this truck down?

Trucks have obvious weak points, their tires, so that is certainly a good option. The other option is to put something too big and solid to ram through in front of the truck.

Due to the nature of this world, the characters are limited to shooting and ramming much like Borne. In a D&D campaign, players will have much more choice in how they want to slow their pursuer down.

The scene does an excellent job of building up tension by showing that the truck is slightly faster than John’s dirt bike. If the Terminator didn’t show up just in time and shoot out the truck’s tires, John surely would have been caught (or smooshed).

What have we learned?

This situation can create a very tense scene because the danger of failing to escape is palpable. If you aren’t fast or smart enough, you will get caught. 

This scene also creates an alternative encounter objective than getting away or killing something. You have to find creative solutions to slow down your more powerful foe in an allotted time.

This is another scenario in which mounts will be paramount to allow players to take actions and bonus actions, while still maintaining a high speed.

If I were trying to base my chase encounter off of this scene I would:

  • Create a scenario where the players have to escape a certain area due to one extremely powerful entity that is hellbent on capturing or killing them.
  • Provide mounts to the players and enemies (horses for low-level encounters, flying mounts for high-level encounters).
  • Create a system in which the powerful entity has multiple parts that all have their own AC and HP, with a list of outcomes based on damage (The Infernal War Machines in Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus is an awesome place to start). The foe will also need ways to impede or damage the players or their mounts.
  • Come up with a time limit that the players will need to escape in or else they will be caught.
  • Ensure I have prepared for players and enemies to fall off their mounts, and what happens if that occurs.
  • Prepare a failure, success, or partial success scenario for the party.

Running an Awesome Chase Scene

Well, there you have it. Three unique chase sequences and a quick outline on how to run them in D&D. The best part is that all of these chase scenes can all be used with the original ruleset provided in the DMG. We have just identified some potential gaps in the official rules and used lessons from tried and true scenarios to bridge those gaps.

Whether your players are chasing someone through the streets of a crowded city or are escaping from the Nine Hells while being pursued by a mega demon, these foundational lessons can be applied to overcome the limitations of the 5e chase system.

If you have any questions or if you would like to see your favorite chase scene added to the list, leave a comment below!

 

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