Alternate chase rules for D&D

In a recent D&D session, we had a perfect situation for an urban chase: a hero, escaping the Watch station, running through the streets with guards hot on her tracks. I remembered the Dungeon Master Guide (DMG) had a section covering that exact topic (DMG, pp 252-255), so I figured I would give it a spin. Some elements I liked, but overall I was not impressed.

I completely agree with the DMG opening comment:

Strict application of the movement rules can turn a potentially exciting chase into a dull, predictable affair. Faster creatures always catch up to slower ones, while creatures with the same speed never close the distance.

However, applying the suggested rules lead to something which was not much better. Per the DMG,

Participants in the chase are strongly motivated to use the Dash action every round.

This is indeed exactly what happened. As a result, we ended up in a rather unexciting sequence where everyone was taking the Dash action for a while. Sure, there was a sprinkle of fun with random complications, but overall, this was not thrilling.

This got me wondering what was missing, and how to make chases more interesting.

Designing a different Chase system

In my opinion, one element missing is choices with dramatic consequences.

We want a chase to be an exciting affair, with fast-paced decisions, and potentially costly mistakes. A typical chase scene in movies involves many elements beyond dashing. Heroes may try to hide from their pursuers, jump over dangerous obstacles or create problems for their pursuers, face their pursuer and fight… Oftentimes, there is also a dilemma: do the heroes stick together, or do they choose to save their own hide and leave their companions to fend for themselves?

At a high level, the direction I took boils down to these principles:

Running and Dashing

The biggest change I introduced is around Movement. Instead of making each Move a guaranteed success, I wanted mechanics to reflect whether or not a character manages to keep up the pace. I decided to make every Move (and Dash) an Action, requiring a roll. On a success, the character maintains the pace or gains ground, on a failure they lose ground.

To that effect, instead of tracking the precise distance covered by each Move (which also requires tracking the exact distance between characters), I simply keep track of the distance between protagonists in Steps, where a Step is 30 feet. I figured 2 aspects should be taken into account in deciding whether or not a character can keep up the pace: their Speed, and their Athletics skill. Here is what I landed on:

As an illustration, a character with a +1 in Athletics, and a Speed of 20 feet, would roll 1d20 -1 (+1 Athletics, -2 Speed Modifier).

I liked the DMG suggestion to introduce an additional risk of Exhaustion when dashing. In this case, a Dash represents a character pushing themselves, taking a risk to gain ground:

What purpose does this serve? First, instead of having to keep track of the precise distances between every party involved in the Chase, we only need to keep track of a distance in steps. More interestingly, every Move and Dash comes at a potential cost, with dramatic consequences that will require tough decisions. Do you leave your Companion behind, or do you stay and try to help them out?

Teamwork

This brings us to the second main modification. Instead of going character by character in Initiative Order, we resolve first the decisions for everyone in the Quarry group (in any order), then for everyone in the Hunter group (in any order). Each character can decide to go solo, or go as a Group, using Teamwork. The characters teaming up together must all take the same action. They all roll with Advantage, and the worst roll applies to the whole group.

As an illustration, it is the turn of 3 characters who are being chased. 2 of them decide to Dash together. The first rolls a 6 and a 12 (including their modifier of -2), that is, a 12 with advantage. The second rolls a 13 and 16 (including their modifier of +1), that is, a 16 with advantage. As a result, both have a 12 on their Dash, and gain 1 step. Each rolls their Saving Throw independently.

Chase rules summary

Initial setup

Decide

During each Round

Mechanics within a Round

During a Round, Characters can take one of the following Chase Actions:

Teamwork

Characters in the Group can decide to help each other out with Teamwork. To do so, all Characters must perform the same Chase Action. Each Character rolls with Advantage. The lowest of the rolls is used by all characters.

  1. Unless they want to remain in the Chase, for instance to help their companions