In normal circumstances, whether or not a character in D&D can catch up to another is based purely on the available battlemat and movement rates. But what happens when an opponent flees off the edge of the map and the GM doesn’t want to set up an entirely new map just to make interesting terrain for the chase? We ran into just such a scenario in my Kingmaker game last weekend, and this system is designed to model attempts to run down that last guy before he reconvenes with his friends or just gets away with the treasure. It can also be used for any kind of chase scene where the GM doesn’t have a miniatures-scale map handy. It is based on the car chase rules for Spirit of the Century.

At the beginning of a chase scene, establish the initial distance between the target and the pursuer. If going from a battlemat to this system, the distance can be determined based on the squares between the characters before the target makes its first move that takes it off the map. Otherwise, choose an arbitrary number based on the likely encounter range. This distance can remain relative, or be set up on a mounting scale of total distance traveled. Any number of pursuers can chase the same target (or group of targets trying to stick together), but as soon as targets split up, split the chase into multiple chase scenes (and if there are more targets than pursuers, some targets will likely get away easily).

Each round, the lead target describes a stunt designed to open up his or her lead: zig-zagging through trees in a forest, leaping a low wall, rushing through a row of houses in a city, or so on. The stunt can be anything appropriate to the terrain that might give a runner an advantage over his or her pursuers. The target then picks a difficulty for this stunt.

All characters in the chase roll an appropriate skill against the difficulty:

  • Acrobatics: Leaping or diving through obstacles
  • Climb: Climbing a wall or cliff
  • Knowledge: Local: Moving through a city
  • Ride: Riding a horse
  • Survival: Moving through the woods
  • Swim: Crossing a body of water

If the skill is especially appropriate or inappropriate to the terrain, impose a +2 or -2 to the roll or disallow it entirely. If no skill seems appropriate because the terrain is mostly open, all characters are automatically assumed to make a normal success: escape or capture will come down almost entirely to movement rates.

Each character that succeeds at the roll advances an amount equal to his or her movement rate. Failure means no progress is made this turn.

Any character other than the primary target can attempt a “raise” to catch up faster (or catch up at all if the target has a greater movement rate). The character must declare this before rolling, along with an idea of how he or she might move closer to the target than pure speed would indicate. The character rolls at the difficulty +10. Success means the character advances at twice his or her movement rate this round. Failure, as usual, indicates no progress.


Any round in which the target has a significant lead (60-180 feet, depending on how many hiding spots are available in the terrain), he or she can attempt to escape by hiding. The target simply declares an attempt to escape and makes no progress this round. All pursuers then make a Perception check against a difficulty equal to the target’s Stealth + 1 per 10 ft. of the lead (with a bonus or penalty of up to +/- 6 based on how open the terrain, based on the spread for the initial lead, above). If any pursuer makes this roll, the target did not escape and the Perception check’s success is used for progress this turn (i.e., any pursuer that made the check advances his or her movement rate).

Once the target successfully escapes from all pursuers, the scene leaves rounds and the pursuers will have to resort to tracking or information gathering to hunt down the target.

Catching Up

Any pursuer with a ranged weapon can forego movement for the round to take a standard action (use a ranged attack or spell against the target). The number of obstacles in the terrain may set an effective maximum range for this attack, and attacks at half that range or greater grant partial cover to the target (e.g., a chase in a crowded city may have a maximum range of 60 feet because the target is running up and down alleys, and the target will have partial cover at more than 30 feet). The distance includes the amount advanced by the target this round.

Any turn that ends with the pursuer within five feet of the target allows the pursuer to make a single melee attack or combat maneuver against the target (as a charge with +2 attack).

Any turn that ends with the pursuer more than five feet ahead of the target allows the pursuer to make a full round action against the target (essentially, the pursuer anticipated and intercepted the target). Next round, both character start back at 0 feet apart if the chase continues.

If the target elects to turn and fight after the pursuers catch up, rather than trying to break away again, the chase returns to a normal fight scene.

Any kind of movement-impairing effect (tripping, holds, dazes, etc.) has the appropriate effect, likely preventing the target from running for at least one round and allowing all pursuers to automatically make a double move to catch up for each round the target can’t move.

Extended Chases

If a chase continues for more than a few rounds, it is likely that the characters are evenly matched and it will come down to stamina more than speed and tactics. Keep track of the total number of rounds spent on the chase. Any character for whom the total rounds is greater than Constitution becomes Fatigued: in addition to the effective -1 penalty to most chase rolls (due to Str and Dex being reduced), the character moves only half as far as would be indicated. If the chase continues even longer, once the number of rounds is greater than double the character’s Constitution, he or she is Exhausted and has the requisite -3 penalty to most chase rolls (from -6 Str and Dex), as well as moving one quarter the distance indicated by the rolls.

Unless the characters continue the chase for a long time after becoming Exhausted, the conditions will disappear far more quickly than normal. The character loses Exhausted after a number of rounds of rest equal to the total rounds of the chase, becoming Fatigued. The character loses Fatigued after eight times the length of the chase (e.g., 16 minutes for a 20 round chase).

Characters with Endurance treat their Constitution as +4 for purposes of when they become Fatigued and Exhausted, and recover as if the chase was four rounds shorter.

Characters with Run gain +4 to Acrobatics, Knowledge: Local, and Survival rolls during a chase.

Playtest Notes

In order to prevent the lead character from attempting to stall out pursuit by setting a DC only he can hit, if the leader fails, the result of his check becomes the new DC for all pursuers that round.

For example, the leader has +14 and has deduced the pursuers only have +10, so sets the DC at 31 thinking that even if he fails, everyone else will too. However, the player rolls a 10 (for a result of 24) and all pursuers actually make their check at DC 24 this round.