- 1 What is a Chase?
- 2 Terminology
- 3 Beginning a Chase
- 4 Starting Distance
- 5 Initiative & Turn Order
- 6 Turn Duration
- 7 Running a Chase
- 8 Chase Complications
- 9 Saving Throws
- 10 Consequences
- 11 Stamina Score
- 12 The Winded Condition
- 13 Character Speed
- 14 Base Speed
- 15 Speed Modifier
- 16 Other Modifications to Chase Complication Rolls
- 17 Being Prone
- 18 Dash
- 19 Heavy Armor
- 20 Other Class Abilities
- 21 Spells, Attacks, & Other Actions
- 22 Multiple Actions
- 23 Taking Damage
- 24 Bonus Actions & Reactions
- 25 Passing an Item
- 26 Additional Participants & Reversing Roles
- 27 Mounted Participants
- 28 Ending a Chase
- 29 Escaping the Pursuers
- 30 Expert Hiders
- 31 Heavily Obscured Area
- 32 Invisible Characters
- 33 Catching the Quarry
- 34 Pursuing the Quarry
- 35 Splitting the Party
- 36 Dropping Out
- 37 Example Chase: Dashing Through the Snow
- 38 Set-Up
- 39 Round 1
- 40 Round 2
- 41 Round 3
- 42 Round 4
- 43 Closing Thoughts
- 44 Similar Guides
It took a trip to the Nine Hells and back to recover this amulet, but you’re finally home. Kept safe in a coin purse, you fight the urge to constantly touch it. “Fine, just once more before I return it to father,” you think to yourself.
Reaching into your purse, you feel the overwhelming weight of nothingness. Your finger pokes through a small slit in the leather. You hear a giggle behind you and turn to see the priceless family heirloom in the hand of an urchin boy in a filthy, red hat. He melds into the crowd of the marketplace. You stand there for a moment, dumbfounded, before sprinting after the child.
What is a Chase?
There are many similarities between chases and combat: Initiative is rolled, turns are taken, and player resources (limited-use abilities, spell slots, hit points) may be drained. The main difference between the two types of conflict can be summarized in this way:
The goal of combat is to reduce your opponent’s hit points to 0. The goal of a chase is to reduce your opponent's movement speed to 0.
Chases can be used to quickly move characters to a new location, as a bridge between two encounters, or to create conflict with a non-lethal win-state. Through the course of a chase, characters will have to use their skills and class abilities to overcome a series of complications. Characters are awarded bonuses or penalties to their rolls based on their movement speed.
Chases tax player resources in the same way that combat does, so they may be used to fill the mythical 6-8 encounters per adventuring day.
While all efforts were made to use existing mechanics, a number of new terms are introduced by these rules:
- Quarry. A creature or object that is fleeing.
- Pursuer. A creature or object that is attempting to capture or follow the quarry.
- Complication. An environmental obstacle that participants must overcome to continue.
- Complication roll. An ability check or saving throw made to overcome a complication.
- Setback. Setbacks are accumulated when a participant fails a complication. This brings them one step closer to letting the quarry escape or being caught by the pursuers.
- Stamina score. A value that represents the number of setbacks a participant can endure before they gain the winded condition.
- Winded. A condition causes a participant to gain exhaustion levels when they gain a setback.
- Speed modifier. An additional modifier that participants add to their complication rolls. This modifier can be positive or negative, depending on the participant’s move speed.
Each of these terms are explained in greater detail in their relevant sections.
Beginning a Chase
A chase requires a quarry and at least one pursuer. These roles are normally played by creatures, but may be objects in unique chase scenarios. (For example, a ring rolling down an escarpment or a giant boulder crashing through a tunnel.)
Combat is not a prerequisite for a chase to begin, but chases are often the result of one side in combat realizing that fleeing is their only hope for survival. Players may request to begin a chase by fleeing from combat but the DM determines if that is possible. Once a chase is declared by the DM, combat is over and no further turns are taken.
1. Determine sides. The chase must have at least one quarry and one pursuer.
2. Roll initiative. Use the side initiative variant rules to determine which order the sides act in.
3. Determine the round’s base speed & chase complication. The former is used to adjust each participant's chase modifier and the later is an obstacle that must be overcome.
4. Take turns. Members of a side can act in any order they choose. In most circumstances, they will use their action to overcome the chase complication. Once a participant overcomes 3 complications, they may attempt to escape or capture an opponent.
5. Begin the next round. When each side has had a turn, the round ends. Repeat steps 3 & 4 until the quarry is captured, escapes, or leads the pursuers to a predetermined location.
Physical distance is abstracted in a chase and the DM should avoid being precise. If it becomes important to determine the exact distance between the quarry and pursuers, the starting distance should be at least 60 ft. to avoid shenanigans involving enchantment spells.
Initiative & Turn Order
Chases use side initiative to determine the order of each group of participants. Participants on each side go in any order they choose. As in combat, each participant in the chase can move a distance up to their speed and take one action.
Variant Rule: Competent Opponent
Competent Opponent is an optional rule you can use to make the chase more difficult for the players. Under this rule, the participants opposed to the players automatically succeed ability checks and saving throws related to chase complications. This ensures the players succeed by smart playing and good rolls, rather than a series of bad rolls by the DM.
In combat, a round represents about 6 seconds in the game world. A round in a chase lasts about 1 minute. From a storytelling perspective, the DM only narrates the interesting parts (the “complications”); the long stretches of sprinting between each complication are glossed over.
Spells and abilities that last up to 1 minute are effective for a single round of a chase. (This includes any that were applied before the chase started.)
Running a Chase
Chases should not occur in an open field or the featureless void of the Ethereal Plane. The underbrush of a forest, the twists and turns of a cave, or bystanders in a crowded marketplace are all good reasons for the quarry to have total cover. The assumption is that attacks are not possible during a chase. If the participants want to attack each other, the DM should be running a combat encounter, not a chase.
On Maps. The general recommendation is to not use a map for chases. What’s depicted on the map will limit the player’s creativity and the encounter will inevitably devolve into a critique of the DM’s cartography skills.
Complications are the essential feature that separates a chase from combat. Chase complications are unique challenges and impediments that force participants to make ability checks to continue their escape or pursuit. Without complications, the quarry and pursuers are just racing each other.
At the beginning of each round, a new complication is announced by the DM. The DM may pre-select a complication, or they may roll on a Chase Complication Table to randomly determine one.
Participants overcome chase complications by making an ability check, using a class ability, or casting a spell. Each complication has a suggested ability check, but the players may suggest a different ability. The DM has final say on what abilities can be used to overcome a complication.
Example: Alternative Ability Check
Given the following chase complication:
A horse-drawn carriage blocks your way. Make a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to get past the obstacle.
A character might suggest that they make a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check to persuade the animal to move, or a Charisma (Intimidation) check to force the driver to move.
Some chase complications require saving throws. For example, the ice over a lake cracks under the weight of the participants, requiring a Dexterity Saving Throw to avoid plunging into the frigid water. In these cases, participants are caught off guard by the complication and cannot make alternative ability checks; they must make the required saving throw.
The consequences of failing a chase complication that requires a saving throw are more dire than usual. However, passing the saving throw gives the participant a rare opportunity to use their action for something else besides overcoming a chase complication.
In addition to any consequences listed in the Chase Complication, passing or failing the complication determines how well a participant is performing in the chase.
Failure. At the end of a participant’s turn, they gain 1 setback if they haven’t successfully passed the round’s chase complication. When a participant has accumulated setbacks equal to their Stamina, they immediately gain the winded condition. A winded creature doesn’t automatically drop out of the chase, but they are now at risk of gaining levels of exhaustion.
Success. Navigating a chase complication successfully allows the pursuer to keep up with the quarry. After 3 successes, they are able to attempt capture or escape on subsequent turns. (See Ending a Chase)
A character’s Stamina score is equal to their Constitution modifier or 1 (whichever is higher). This score represents their ability to overcome extended physical exertion. Mechanically, it represents the number of setbacks they can endure before becoming winded.
The Winded Condition
Once a creature's accumulated setbacks are equal to their Stamina score, they gain the winded condition. While affected by this condition, they are at risk of physical injury if they continue a chase. A winded creature gains 1 level of exhaustion each time they receive a setback. The number of setbacks a character has can never exceed their Stamina score.
The winded condition can be removed by completing a short or long rest, or by the lesser restoration spell. A character’s number of accumulated setbacks is reset to zero when the winded condition is removed.
Levels of exhaustion accumulated while winded must be removed by normal means.
Precise distance between the pursuers & quarry is not measured during a chase. Instead, differences in movement speed between participants are represented by a special modifier that is added to ability checks and saving throws made to overcome chase complications.
The Base Speed of the chase is the movement speed of the slowest quarry. The type of movement used depends on the circumstance; Walking speed will usually be used, but unique chase scenarios could utilize climbing or swimming speed. If the quarry is an inanimate object, such as a crate being whisked away in a river’s current, assume a Base Speed of 30 ft.
The Base Speed may change from round to round. A quarry fleeing on foot may jump into a horse-drawn carriage, or a determined pursuer may quaff a potion of speed.
A participant's movement speed is naturally an important attribute in a chase. Faster participants will be able to focus more of their attention and energy on overcoming the complications while slower ones have to work harder to keep up.
A participant’s Speed Modifier is determined by the following formula:
(movement speed – base speed) / 5, rounded down
Put another way: For every 5 feet of difference between the Base Speed and a participant’s movement speed, adjust their Speed Modifier by 1. This value may be negative and is applied to any ability check or saving throw made to overcome a chase complication.
Example: Speed Modifiers
Assuming a base speed of 30 ft:
A human affected by the longstrider spell: their Speed Modifier is +2. (The spell increases their speed by 10.)
A dwarf: their Speed Modifier is -1. (Their base speed is 25.)
Flying & teleportation. The ability to fly or teleport might seem to nullify the drama of a chase since vertical movement allows characters to bypass many obstacles.
If one or more player characters can achieve flight or teleportation, it is the responsibility of the DM to craft the encounter in a way that makes it interesting. A flying character may need to avoid branches in a forest, a clothesline in an alley, or may need to spot the quarry in a crowded marketplace. The twists and turns of an alley might make casting misty step impossible.
Keep in mind that the additional movement granted by these abilities increases their Speed Modifier. If flight or teleportation truly does render a complication moot, let the character to feel powerful and have them automatically succeed.
Other Modifications to Chase Complication Rolls
Failing a chase complication may result in a participant falling prone. On their next turn, the movement cost of standing up should be deducted from their movement speed for the purposes of determining their Speed Modifier. In most circumstances, standing up costs an amount of movement equal to half your speed.
If a participant takes Dash as a bonus action (through a rogue’s Cunning Action or a monk’s Step of the Wind), they have Advantage on chase complication rolls until the start of their next turn.
Participants wearing heavy armor make chase complication rolls with Disadvantage, unless they are mounted. (See Mounted Participants)
Other Class Abilities
If a character has a class ability that seems relevant to a chase complication, the DM may award Advantage on the ability check. For example, if the chase complication involves scaling a large wall, a Thief Rogue’s Second Story Work ability may give them Advantage on the roll.
The DM has final say on whether an ability or spell has a relevant application for a given chase complication.
Spells, Attacks, & Other Actions
Pursuers who stop to cast a spell, make an attack, or use their action to do anything other than overcome a chase complication run the risk of losing their quarry, and a quarry that does so is likely to be caught. If a participant ends their turn without attempting the chase complication, they automatically fail it.
A participant might be motivated to use an ability or cast a spell if it increases the party’s overall chance of success in the chase. A frail wizard might forgo the physical exertion of a chase and instead cast longstrider on his athletic fighter companion to increase their odds of catching the quarry. An agile monk may take the Help action once they have completed 3 chase complications to aid a struggling ally. (There are no negative consequences to receiving setbacks until a participant becomes winded.)
Characters who can take multiple actions in a turn, such as a fighter using Action Surge, may attempt the chase complication and then do something else with their turn. Alternatively, they may make a second attempt at the chase complication if the first attempt failed. As long as a chase complication is overcome before a participant’s turn ends, no they do not receive a setback.
A chase participant automatically receives 1 setback if they take damage from an attack by another chase participant.
Bonus Actions & Reactions
Characters may use bonus actions and reactions as they would in combat. As mentioned previously, using Dash as a bonus action gives a character Advantage on chase complication rolls.
Passing an Item
Participants in the chase may use their reaction to pass an item to an allied character. They may do this in reaction to their movement speed changing, gaining a condition, or dropping to 0 hp.
Additional Participants & Reversing Roles
The chase might attract unwanted attention, causing additional groups to join the pursuit. For example, characters chasing down members of a cult might attract the attention of the city guard, who want to question them in regards to a recent break-in. As they pursue the fleeing cultist, they must also evade the guards pursuing them. Roll side initiative for the new arrivals, and run both chases simultaneously.
In another scenario, a fleeing cultist runs into the waiting arms of his congregation. The now-outnumbered pursuers decide to flee, making them the quarry.
When a chase participant is mounted, the mount and the rider are considered one participant. The mount’s movement speed and Constitution score is used to determine the participant’s Speed Modifier and Stamina, respectively. To overcome chase complications, the mount’s ability scores are always used for Strength, Dexterity and Constitution checks and saves. For Intelligence and Wisdom checks and saves, either the mount or rider’s ability scores may be used. (If the mount is a dragon, it may be more intelligent than the rider!) Which creature’s ability scores are used must be determined before a roll is made.
Proficient riders. If the rider is proficient in Animal Handling and they are controlling the mount, they may use an action to replace the mount’s Strength, Dexterity or Constitution modifier with their own proficiency modifier until the end of the turn.
A level 5 ranger proficient in Animal Handling is engaged in a chase while atop a riding horse. The chase complication involves hurdling over a stack of logs. The ranger uses his action to control the horse, replacing its Dexterity modifier (+0) with his proficiency modifier (+3). The complication roll is made with a +3 bonus (in addition to any Speed Modifiers that may apply).
Failing complications. If the consequence of a failed chase attempt would make a participant prone, the rider must make a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) or Strength (Athletics) check. On a failure, the rider is ejected from the mount and lands prone (or begins falling in the case of an aerial chase). In subsequent rounds, the participant may continue a terrestrial chase on foot or they may use an action to remount the creature. Alternatively, an allied chase participant may use an action to pick up the ejected rider.
Winded mounts. Once a controlled mount is winded, the rider must encourage it to continue by using their action to make a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check. On a failure, the mount refuses the instruction of the rider and drops out of the chase.
Uncontrolled mounts may drop out of the chase at any time of their choosing. A DM may optionally allow a Charisma (Persuasion or Intimidation) check to encourage an uncontrolled mount to continue.
Ending a Chase
After overcoming three chase complications, a participant may attempt to end the chase. A quarry attempts escape, while a pursuer attempts capture or tracking.
Escaping the Pursuers
Once all quarry participants make 3 successful chase complication checks, the entire group may attempt to elude the pursuers. When the quarry attempts to escape, the chase complication is ignored for that round. (Their escape attempt becomes the round’s complication.)
To attempt escape, all active quarry participants must spend their action to make a group check. Performing the Hide action or a Wisdom (Survival) check to cover tracks are effective methods of escape, but participants should be encouraged to suggest creative uses of other skills and abilities. The DM has final say on which skills and abilities can be used to elude pursuers.
When the quarry attempts an escape, the pursuers must take the Search action to find them. This is identical to the combat action, except that it is performed as a group check. If the pursuer’s group check fails, the quarry has escaped and the chase is over. Otherwise, each quarry participant receives 1 setback and the chase continues. The quarry may attempt to escape again on their next turn.
Variant Rule: Individual Escape
To increase tension and the likelihood that a portion of the quarry is captured, the DM may allow or require individual participants to attempt escape once they reach 3 successful chase complications. In this scenario, the round’s chase complication is not ignored. The pursuers are aware of any escape attempts and must decide whether to search for the hiding quarry or continue chasing the fleeing quarry. If a quarry remains undetected until the start of their next turn, they are considered “safe” and cannot be found unless they willingly re-enter the chase.
If a quarry has an ability that allows them to attempt to hide when lightly obscured or in an environment relevant to the chase, they make escape attempts with Advantage. Examples include a wood elf utilizing Mask of the Wild in a forest, a lightfoot halfling utilizing Naturally Stealthy in a crowded street, or a character with the Skulker feat. The DM has final say on the relevance of any ability.
Heavily Obscured Area
If the area the chase occurs in becomes heavily obscured for any reason, such as heavy smoke or the fog cloud spell, the quarry makes escape attempts with Advantage.
Invisible quarry may attempt escape regardless of the number of successful chase complication checks.
Catching the Quarry
Once a pursuer makes 3 successful chase complication checks, they have closed the distance between themselves and the quarry and are able to attempt a capture. The pursuer can position themself at any distance from the quarry that allows them to perform a desired action without penalty.
A pursuer must use an action to attempt capture. If a quarry’s speed is reduced to 0 for any reason – such as becoming grappled, restrained, or unconscious – they are considered captured. If the pursuer fails to catch the quarry, they gain 1 setback and the chase continues. They may attempt capture again next turn.
The context surrounding the chase should make clear what the goal of capture is. The recovery of information is the most common reason to capture a foe rather than killing them. Once that information is extracted, it’s up to the captors to decide the fate of their prisoner.
If the pursuers are NPCs, they always have manacles, rope, or some other mechanism to restrain a captured quarry.
Pursuing the Quarry
If the pursuers intent is to follow rather than capture the quarry, they may attempt to do so after 3 successful chase complication checks. They make a Wisdom (Survival) or Intelligence (Investigation) check contested by the quarry’s passive Dexterity (Stealth) score. On a success, the pursuers may drop out of the chase and confidently follow the quarry to its destination. Otherwise, the pursuer receives 1 setback and the chase continues and they may try again next turn.
The DM may also use a chase to act as a bridge between two locations. In this case, the chase lasts a fixed amount of rounds. If the quarry evades capture, they lead the pursuers to a predetermined location. How well each pursuer handled the chase complications determines their position at the start of the next encounter. Consult the Pursuit Resolution Table below.
|Number of Setbacks||Outcome|
|3+||Quarry starts next encounter with upper-hand|
|2-3||Neutral start to next encounter|
|0-1||Pursuer starts next encounter with upper-hand|
Quarry has upper-hand. The pursuer is able to follow the quarry to the next destination, but the quarry has enough time to prepare for the next encounter. This might take the form of hiding, alerting allies, or setting a trap.
Neutral start. The pursuer is able to follow the quarry to the next destination, and the quarry knows that the pursuer followed. Neither side has an advantage in the following encounter.
Pursuer has upper-hand. The quarry mistakenly thinks they have lost the pursuers and are safe from danger. The pursuer gains vital information about the next encounter or has the opportunity to ambush the quarry.
Splitting the Party
If only a portion of the pursuers are able to follow the quarry, they will have to decide whether to continue to the next encounter without the rest of their party, or lose any potential advantage by waiting for their allies to catch up.
If the pursuers split up, the DM determines when the other allies are able to join the next encounter.
At any point during a participant's turn, they may declare that they drop out of the chase. Once a participant drops out, their turn is over, and they take no further turns until the chase is over. A pursuer automatically succeeds on an attempt to capture a quarry that has dropped out. If all pursuers drop out of a chase, any remaining quarry have outlasted their opponents and automatically escape.
Example Chase: Dashing Through the Snow
In a small clearing, a human fighter & half-elf wizard have made quick work of the goblin raiding party. A thin blanket of snow – now speckled with blood – dampens the sound of metal clashing and screams of agony. The single surviving goblin takes stock of their position, then bolts into the forest. The wizard’s hands glow with fiery magic, but the tangle of underbrush makes a clear shot impossible. The fighter shouts: “We’ve got to stop him before he warns the chief!” then begins running. The wizard lets out a sigh and joins the chase.
Speed modifiers. All participants have a move speed of 30 ft., so everyone’s Speed Modifier is +0.
Stamina scores. The fighter’s Constitution score is 16 (+3), so he can fail 3 chase complications before becoming winded. The wizards Constitution score is only 8 (-1). He will become winded after a single setback.
The goblin’s small frame navigates through a rough patch of brush. Make a DC 10 Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to get past the tangled vegetation. Small or smaller creatures make this check with Advantage. On a failed check, you take 1d4 slashing damage.
Fighter. The fighter rolls a 15 on his Athletics check. He puts his shield in front of him and rams through the brush unscathed, and spies the goblin in the distance.
Wizard. The wizard tries to hurdle over the brush but rolls a 3 on his Acrobatics check. His cloak gets caught by a branch, causing him to land face-first into the brush. He takes 4 slashing damage, receives 1 setback, and gains the winded condition.
A stream of ice-cold water blocks the path ahead. The goblin nimbly jumps on a series of rocks to get to the other side. Make a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to get to the other side. On a failed check, you fall into the stream, taking 1d6 cold damage.
Fighter. The fighter decides to make a Wisdom (Survival) check to spot a shallow section of the stream. He rolls a 12 and steps into an area of the river that’s only a few inches deep.
Wizard. The wizard, already wounded and winded from the first complication, takes one look at the freezing water and shakes his head. He picks up a pinch of dirt from the river bank and uses it to cast longstrider on the fighter. He shouts “It’s your fault if he gets away!” then stops to catch his breath.
The wizard drops out of the chase.
A gust of frigid wind darts through the trees, obscuring the area with motes of snow. Make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. On a failed check, the cold air buffets your face, blinding you.
Fighter. The fighter rolls an 8 on his Constitution saving throw. He would have failed, but the longstrider spell has increased the fighter’s move speed to 40 ft. and thus his Speed Modifier is +2. His total roll is a 10: Success!
The wind stings his eyes and nostrils but he’s able to endure it. He emerges from the cloud of snow on the heels of the goblin.
Uneven ground threatens to slow your progress. Make a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to navigate the area. On a failed check, you fall into the frozen dirt, taking 1d6 bludgeoning damage.
Fighter. After 3 successful chase complications, the fighter is in position to capture the goblin. He ignores the rounds chase complication and lunges at the goblin to attempt a grapple. His Strength (Athletics) check of 12 is bested by the goblins Dexterity (Acrobatics) check of 15.
Not willing to let the goblin out of his grasp, the fighter uses Action Surge to take another action and attempts the grapple a second time. This time, the fighter's roll of 18 easily beats the goblin’s roll of 9. The two fall into a mound of snow. The goblin pleads with the fighter in broken Common: “No kill Droop! Droop take you to Cragmaw himself!”
After a few minutes, the wizard catches up to the fighter, who has bound the goblin with rope. “You know, there’s a bridge just a bit upriver.”
Chases Revisited started as an exercise to make the 5e chase rules “more fun” and to come up with a game structure that might compel someone to actually prepare longstrider. Through the course of development my goal has become much loftier: To offer an entirely different way to resolve conflict and thereby changing the first pillar of D&D from “combat” to “action”.
Once the rules outlined in Chases Revisited are incorporated into your game, your players can plan daring escapes and be ready to chase down fleeing monsters. Class abilities like the thief’s second story work and spells like expeditious retreat go from rarely used to crucial in the right situation. I hope these rules create opportunities for non-lethal action that is as exciting and challenging as combat.
If there's sufficient interest, I will follow up this post with a "DM Toolkit" to provide advice on crafting your own chases and how to prepare your players. In addition, I've converted every published Chase Complication Table to be compatible with this system, which I'd love to share.
- A Guide to Running Chase Encounters
- A chase encounter for level 5 characters based around a wagon and a river of ice.
- Looking for feedback on a homebrew subclass I came up with
More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "I Think It’s Time We Blow This Scene: Chases Revisited" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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