[CONAN] Chases By The Book!

Compared to most, I'm a relatively young d20 3.0/3.5 player. I played RPGs other than D&D and delved into the d20 system just a few years ago, when my group started playing the d20 Conan RPG. From the beginning, I wondered how to run chases, and for the longest time, it seemed that I would have to look elsewhere other than the core rulebook or make up House Rules to run my Jason-Bourne-meets-the-Hyborian-Age hair-raising chase scenes. I've purchased the popular Hot Pursuit rules with its Hot Pursuit On Foot supplement. I've looked at what Pathfinder suggests for chases. I've scanned other d20 based games (Spycraft, for example) to see how those games handled the chase scene. I've even a few attempts of my own at making easy-cheesy, down-n-dirty chase rules posted on various threads of this forum. In my Conan campaign, I've used different versions of House Rules to run chases and races.

Nothing, really, has struck my fancy. That is, until the last few days.

I've been re-reading the d20 movement rules, extremely closely, for a base for yet another try at House Rules when I realized that House Rules were not needed. Everything that you need to run a chase is already in the official d20 rules.

I don't know why I was surprised. The d20 3.5 rules are one of the most complete rule sets I've ever seen. They're a good set of hard mechanics combined with base guidelines meant to help GMs with rulings outside of the scope of the hard rules.

So, let's talk about running chases using only the official d20 3.5 rules.

Characters have Speed ratings to govern the movement of chase participants. The Movement rules give us different scales to use for chases (Tactical, Local, or Overland movement scales). Terrain is addressed in the rules along with it's effect on movement along with various environmental factors like rain and poor visiblity.

Fatigue is addressed as well. Look at the Movement rules, under Local Movement. You've got enough guideline there to bring fatigue effects of a long chase, if you want that added to your game.

What it says there is: "A character with a Constitution score of 9 or higher can run for a minute without a problem. Generally, a character can run for a minute or two before having to rest for a minute."

A GM could interpret that to mean: Chases that are run using standard 6 second rounds can ignore questions of fatigue because the chase will most likely end before the 10+ round mark where fatigue becomes an issue. If a character has CON 8-, this character is out of shape, though, and thus will throw a Fortitude save at a DC equal to the chase round number (DC 1 on round 1, DC 2 on round 2, DC 3 on round 3, etc.) or become fatigued.

Those chases that do last 10+ rounds would see characters with CON 9+ throwing a DC 2 Fortitude save at the top of every chase round starting on round 11, having the DC increased by +2 each round thereafter.

That's not the only way to interpret the guideline, but it would certainly work within the context of the chase scene and also avoid the need for House Rules. GMs should be encouraged to customize the rules to their specific chase encounters.


The big question is, "How can you have a chase or run a race when characters with the same Speed rating are move the exact same distance as each other?" This is usually the question, I think, that makes people create new rules to cover the situation. But, I want you to think about this for a second. The 3.5 d20 game is designed for miniatures and a grid-based game. The Law of Common Sense will reveal that Speed ratings are a measure of average movement for a race of people. We all know that, in real life, some people can move faster than others. Age, physical condition, and sex all play a part in how fast a human can move. The fastest women in the world have run the 100 yard dash in 10 point something seconds, and the fastest men in the world have run the same in 9 point something seconds. Old Mr. Tubby can't even run for an entire minute, and when he does, it's not very fast.

So, when we think of a character's Speed rating, we've got to remember that it's a tool designed to help us govern tactical combat movement on a grid of five foot squares. We can also use it as a general idea of how fast a character can move, but we also realize that different individuals also have different pace speeds.

How do we reconcile that within the context of running chases for the game?

I'll show you that, below.


There's a very slight mention of obstacles in the Movement rules. It's open to wide interpretation, and those rules indicate that overcoming an obstacle may require a skill check.

That simple guideline in the rules is the key to running chases.

What can an obstacle be? It can be a fallen log that must be jumped over or avoided by moving around it. It can be small critters, such as ants or tiny spiders or swamp nats, that swarm over the character, biting him but not doing much damage other than providing a penalty modifier to skill checks. It can be the opportunity to use a short cut that will allow the character to cut in half the distance to his chase quarry. "You succeeded on the Knowledge (Local) check! You've just remembered that you can take the alley between the Street of Merchants and the Street of Dreams to cut off that thief you are chasing!" An obstacle, in a chase, is anything that hampers the character from his goal of evading pursuers or catching his prey.

And, what is the number one obstacle between the feeing thief and the pursuing guard? Distance. Distance and the ability to close or open range between chase participants.

So, one obstacle to overcome is the chance to get away from those chasing you or catch whomever you are chasing. It's a skill roll or an attribute check (and probably an Opposed Throw).

The Chase. By the 3.5 Book.\
There you have it. You've got everything you need to run chases in your game just using the official 3.5 d20 rules. It's up to the GM to take these tools and use them in such a way that they are customized to fit his chase conditions.

My Thoughts.

Above, I included an idea of how to implement the Fatigue guideline in chases. Here are a few more ideas that you may want to use when running chases in your game. These are by no means the only way of using the official rules to govern chases. They're just ideas that I've been developing since I discovered that chases could be run using only the official 3.5 d20 rules. You may come up with other ideas. If you do, please post in this thread. I'd love to read your thoughts.

1. Just because it seems correct to me, I use attribute checks (opposed rolls) when rolling what I call the Movement obstacle and skill checks when I roll for most other obstacle types. A character can roll a Movement obstacle in a chase round if no other obstacle needs to be overcome.

Overcoming a Movement obstacle would generally play out like this: Fred is chasing Ruth. On Ruth's turn, there is no other obstacle in front of her, so she chooses to attempt to increase distance from Fred. Opposed STR checks are made for the character. If Ruth wins the toss, she'll increase distance by 30 feet. Otherwise, distance will remain the same.

I'll customize this, if appropriate to the situation. For example, let's say that Ruth is running with ankle chains that have been split. Her Speed rating is not adjusted, and she is not barred from running at 4x Speed, because the chain between her legs is not connected. But, still, the weight it self, and the dragging, slapping length of chain on each leg is a hindrance. Thus, I might give Fred a +5 to his STR check.

2. As I state above, Obstacles are much more than just objects in the chase path that must be overcome with the physical skills. When creating chase obstacles, sure, use the physical skills as needed: Balance, Climb, Jump, Ride, Swim, and Tumble.

But, also go wider with your thinking. Hide could be used to end a chase as a character disappears in the woods. Knowlege could be used to give the chase participant special knowledge that would aid him in the chase (as with the Knowledge-local check I mention above that tells the player of an alley that connects two streets allowing the character to half the distance to is prey). Listen can be used to avoid an obstacle. "You made your Listen check! As you run after the thief, you cross the town's main street. At the last second, you hear the clop-clop of a horse and buggy that would have smacked right into you had you not heard it!" Sense Motive might give a character a sense of which direction his prey will take at the T intersection. A successful check will allow the character to move diagonally in that direction, gaining X amount of feet on the prey. You get the idea.

3. With the Movement obstacles (see #1 above), I think DEX should be used the first 3 rounds of a chase (if using 6 second chase rounds). Thereafter STR should be used.

Why? DEX is the closest attribute to represent the character's ability to sprint. People with high DEX but low STR are quick out of the box but lose steam in a long race.

An unencumbered human is rated at Speed 30. The world record for the 100 yard dash is 9.2 seconds. That's two 6 second rounds, in game terms. A Speed 30 character can cover 300 feet in 3 rounds (12-18 seconds) which sounds about right for heroes that are not professional sprinters. I figure professional sprinters will have either the Run or Fleet-Footed feat that would enable them to cover the 100 yard distance in 2 rounds.

Starting on the 4th round, and for the rest of the chase, STR is used for the opposed throw to succeed at the Movement obstacles. STR is the best attribute to represent the character's ability to poor on the power and run like the dickens, so it is used for the majority of the chase.

CON is also an important attribute to running. Some would say that it's the most important attribute because it represents a character's ability to endure the punishment a runner generates with his movement. But, that aspect of a chase is addressed in the Fatigue rule (see the top of this post) in the form of the Fortitude check. And, CON is the basis of a character's Fort save. So, I figure that aspect of a chase is covered, and I don't want to double dip.

4. You've got three movement scales to chose from when considering your race: Tactical, Local, and Overland movement. I will typically default to a 6 second chase round using the Local scale. That way, we're not using a huge grid to plot Tactical movement, and I can just describe the scenery and chase to my players in big, broad paint strokes. Plus, it's easy to drop into 6 second combat rounds if needed.

Pick the scale and round time to fit your chase. What I suggest may be great for foot chases (what I typically have in my games), but you might be featuring a chase where the participants are on horses and/or the chase starts in one town and ends in another, miles away. You may have to deal with flying creatures. So, although I think the 6 second round should be default, there are plenty of reasons to use the other scales and/or increase the time of the chase round.

5. Just for simplicity, I think having one obstacle per round is optimal--especially if using the 6 second chase round. There may be two choices from which the player has to pick, but the obstacle is a single barrier that hampers the characters progression in the race.

For example, let's say the PCs are in a town's bazaar, and the GM has just successfully pickpocketed one of the PCs with an NPC Thief character. A secret Spot check, though, is made that allows one of the other party members to notice. But, by the time something is said, the thief has made it to a narrow street, crowded with people, that feeds into the bazaar.

The chase is afoot! And, the GM says that the street is so densely packed with people that if the thief succeeds on a Hide vs. Spot check (against each of the party members following him), the thief will disappear in the crowd.

As the PCs enter the narrow street, the GM will give the PCs a choice of making a Spot check, without telling them what it is for, or the PC can attempt to succeed against a Movement obstacle to decrease the distance to the thief.

If the PC chooses the Movement obstacle, then he'll never know what the Spot check would have brought him. The GM knows, though, that the successful Spot would give the players knowlege of boxes next to a building, stacked to that they could be climbed, allowing the PC to continue the chase via the roof tops. If he Spot is attempted, the character moves normally (doesn't lose distance), and failure on the Spot tells the character nothing. Success allows the character to make a choice the next round: Does he climb the boxes to the roof tops, or does he ignore the information to make another Movement obstacle attempt? The players may not know this yet, but getting on the roof tops gives them a +5 bonus modifier to their Spot checks anytime the Thief attempts to Hide in the crowd.

It's possible that, even likely, that one PC will gain footing on the roof tops while the other two continue the chase below. It's also possible that avoidance of different obstacles will be attempted by different PCs during the round (maybe one attempts the Spot check to see the boxes while the other attempts to decrease range).

The Thief has choices, too. He can attempt to increase distance from his pursuers, thus not only putting him farther from the PCs but also making the penalty modifier on their opposed Spot check (-1 per 10 feet) when the Theif attempts to Hide in the crowd. But, the Thief can only take on one obstacle per round. His choice, each round, is to either attempt the Hide (The PCs will automatically see the Thief unless he's successful with the Hide) or the Movement obstacle.

Sometimes, some other obstacle will have to be dealt with. In #2 above, I describe using the Listen check to hear an oncoming horse and carriage. Let's say the narrow street cross the wide stone road that the carriage is using. The GM will force the Thief to deal with the Listen obstacle or be run over by the horses and vehicle. Therefore, that's the round's obstacle. There is no option to increase distance or Hide.

6. Something I find helpful in the Pathfinder chase rules are the index cards. Considering the Thief chase I note in #5 above, I would use the cards like this: Each card represents about 60 feet of movement. The characters in that chase all are rated at Speed 30. They're in a town, on a street, so there's no terrain modifiers. The only real hindrance to movement is all the people in the crowded street. I might account for that by placing a -2 modifier (using the advantage/disadvantage d20 rule) on any Movement obstacle throws.

The characters can run at a rate of 120 feet per round, so by using a scale of 60 feet per card, the characters will move one or two cards a round, as they change speed from a Hustle or an all-out Run. Remember that Hustle (2x Speed) is the fastest a character can move and still maneuver, per the rulebook. Running (3x and 4x Speed) must be done in a straight line without hindrances in the way. Unless there are few or no terrain obstacles, chase participants will move most of the time at a Hustle with bouts of Running in between.

Now, you might argue that the street in the Thief chase example is so crowded that the terrain is considered hindered. This would mean, by the d20 rules, that Running and Charging are impossible, and a character is capped with a maximum move of 2x Speed (Hustle).

When the Thief chase starts, I would decide how much of a lead the Thief has on the PCs and how far apart the PCs are from each other. That information will tell me how many index cards I need to start the chase.

There are three PCs. I'm going to represent these characters with silver change. The PC stolen from will be represented with a quarter, while the other two PCs will be represented with a dime and nickle, respectively. The Thief will be represented with a penny.

When the chase starts, two PCs are at a merchant's stall, looking over his goods. The victim PC is 30 feet away. And by the time the Thief is spotted and the PCs are alerted to follow him, the Thief is 150 feet from his victim (and 180 feet from the other two PCs).

This means that I'm going to need 3 index cards to start this chase. I'll lay the blank cards on the table in a line. On the far left card, I'll put the quarter, dime, and nickle markers. The victim PC is close enough to his comrades to be marked on the same card. Remember, the cards represent 60 feet of distance in this chase.

The middle card will remain blank. It's just showing us the distance between chase participants. On the far right card, I'll place the penny.

Using this simple method, all the players will have a sense of the race. If a player's character is represented by the quarter, he can see that the Thief is two cards distant--a distance of 120 feet. Range is not only important to know for the chase, but all players will instantly know if their characters try to use distance weapons during the race.

I have harped on how crowded the narrow street is, so considering the density of the crowd (Hey! Maybe Church just let out!), the Terrain will be considered difficult until the crowd thins. For now, the characters are limited to a Hustle move and one card at a time (it will take a minimum of two round to reach the Thief).

The heart of the chase is the GM's description. Draw a vivid picture in your players' heads. The cards are just a quick-n-easy tool to express chase information. Don't focus on that. Describe how hot it is this early in the morning. Tell about the smell of the crowded street. After a round or two, describe how a character's heart is pumping so that he hears it in his ears and feels it beating at his temples.

Add cards if the Thief increases distance. Move the markers down the line of cards as the PCs close distance. If a PC gains distance, but not enough to add a card (let's say the Thief gained an additonal 30 feet during a round because the PCs climbed up boxes , then simply scratch down a note next to the marker on the index card. If, next round, the Thief gains another 45 feet, you'll add an index card to increase range and make the note say "15". Every time "60" is reached, a new card comes into play.

7. Unless absolutely necessary, don't throw combat initiative for the chase. You want to keep the chase simple. The index cards (from #6 above) help you keep track of things. If you've only got two participants in a chase, you might not even use the index cards as you can keep track of things easily in your head. But, if you've got a chase like I described with the Thief, you could easily have a situation where the character are spread out over four different cards with blank cards between them.

The reason you don't want to throw initiative is that you don't want to start with the guy third back from the prey, then skip to the second guy, then deal with the Thief, then move to the character in the caboose position.

How to easily run the chase? Start from the right side of your line of index cards and move left. This way, you move the prey first, then you move the first character chasing him, then the second, and so on.

The only time you'd probably want to throw normal combat initiative is if combat ensues. But, even then, many times the chase stops and combat begins (with the chase cards showing you starting positions for the combat). Otherwise, allow chase initiative to start with the character farthest left in the index card line, and characters can improve their chase initiative by passing others and getting closer to the prey.

Think of it this way: In a chase, the pursuers are normally being reactive to what the prey does.

8. What about characters with different Speed ratings? If Speed ratings are vastly different, you probably won't have a chase encounter. If you did, it would be over in a round or two as the faster chase participant quickly catches his prey or zooms out of range, endng the chase. So, if you've got a man on foot (Speed 30) and a man on a horse (Speed 60), it's probably best to either describe the situation in scenes or play it out on the Tactical combat grid. There really is no race contest between a man on foot against a horse.

If the Speed ratings are slightly different, consider either ignoring the difference for purposes of the chase or handling it this way: Let's say that you have a Thief on foot (Speed 30) chased by a Hunter with gear that makes him Speed 25. In this case, make your index cards represent 60 feet (Hustle for the Thief) but also give the Thief automatic bonus distance each round to account for the Speed difference.

In this case, play the chase as if the Hunter were Speed 30, but at the end of each round, jot down on the Thief's index card that he gained +10 or +20 feet (depending on Hustle or Run movement). As stated in #6 above, add another card when this total reaches 60.

9. Impromtu or Planned Chases? The answer to that question is totally up to you. How's your play style? Do you need to alway put in a lot of pre-game work? Or, are you the type of GM that's quick on this feet and can envsion and describe a situation vividly at the drop of a hat?

I'm a bit in the middle of those extremes, with one foot in each description's bucket. I might plan out a chase as a big encounter for my game. I've had two big chases during the last adventure I ran. Then again, I try to be flexible enough to deliver a cool chase if it just happens, unexpectedly, during the game (that's why I went searching for chase rules to begin with).

If it will help, you might want to make a list of obstacles for different locales: a city list and a wilderness, for example. Or, maybe a different list for different types of terrain. Then, when a chase happens unexpectantly, you could just pick from the list or roll on the list then implement those obstacles as you run the chase.

If I know a chase is likely, I might jot down some ideas just to get them in my head but not really use it in the game. I don't want to be rolling on lists and making the chase boring. My imagination usually works just fine.

What I might do, though is throw a die to indicate the likelyhood of an obstacle each round. For example, I might throw a d6 a the start of each character's turn, in secret, behind my GM's screen with a result of "1" indicating that some obstacle (a downed tree trunk to be jumped or an avalanche to be avoided) will be imposed on the character. Then again, I might just let the obstacles come to me organically. Do whatever works for you.

You could, if you wanted, make a stack of index cards, some of them blank, and some with obstacles penciled on them. Then shuffle the stack, and as the chase progresses, you pull from the stack at random, placing them on the index line as called for. Just an idea.

Whether you make up chase events on the spot or spend a week devising a Hollywood style breath-taking race, you might consider flow-charting. If a chase erupts right in front of you, you could scratch out a flowchart away from prying player eyes, developing it as the chase progresses and ideas hit you. A line and a quick note is all you need. And, don't be afraid to break from it, if drama demands, as the chase unfolds. It's supposed to be a tool, not a story written in stone.

I ran a chase in my game a while back that I flow-charted before we played it. I used it like a movie director uses a script--it's a plan that doesn't need to be followed too closely. Players do unexpected things, and I had new ideas as we played. The ending of that chase was no where near what I had pre-planned. But, it was still cool. We all had a good time. And the flow chart did its job helping me keep the chase flowing smoothly.

10. Ending the Chase. Although you can do this organically as you play, you may want to warn the players of the chase-ending events that you have in mind.

For example, in the Thief example I've been using above in these notes, the chase will end if the Thief successfully Hides among the crowd. The chase may end in other ways, too, that the players don't know about or that you make up as the chase proceeds (as with the Listen check I cite above to avoid being hit by the horse and carriage--that could possibly take a character out of the fight as he's the TIE Fighter that zoomed by and crashed into the asteroid).

Another example: Let's say you've got a chase happening in medium dense forest. The terrain rules say that line-of-sight is 2d8 x 10 feet. If LOS is 60 feet, then you could rule that prey is lost and the chase ended if the prey increases range to 61+ feet.

Of course, you might take that scenario organically into a hunt for where the prey went to, with the PCs rolling Spot checks. Maybe have the Prey make Hide and Move Silently checks. If the prey is found, a new chase could begin.

A last example is that you could state a distance that the prey has to travel to end the chase. Let's say you are on foot being chased by a pack of wild dogs. The dogs have Speed 40, but you've got such a lead on them that it makes sense to run the chase in spite of the 10 point Speed difference. All you've got to do is make it to the town gates before the dogs overcome you and tear you to bits.

Here, the goal of the prey is to get to a certain point a certain distance away. If the PC makes it to the gate, the chase ends.


A. Decide on starting distances between participants, chase round time, and length represented by index cards. Then, lay out the cards in a line. Place character markers. Determine any situations that will end the chase.

B. Start the chase with the character farthest left on the index card line, resolve his actions, then move to the next character right, and so on.

C. Resolve only one obstacle per round. Movement obstacles are attribute based opposed throws. Most other obstacles are skill checks.