Saturday, February 16, 2019

Chase Scene Variations

Chase scenes (like many other RPG situations) are easy to over-orchestrate. If you find yourself planning where every pushcart and baby-toting mother will be encountered, then you're writing a script instead of setting up an adventure. I prefer leaving many things to chance, as in the almost entirely random approach like the one I outlined yesterday at Kobold Quarterly. (If you haven't read that column, what follows here might not make sense. You probably should read part 1 before this followup.)

It's astounding, the number of uses you can find for a standard deck of playing cards. The variations are almost endless. To demonstrate, let's look at what can be done with yesterday's simple foot chase.

Standard: Roll 3 dice for exits from each card.
Variation: Roll just 1 or 2 dice for more constricted areas, 4 or more for areas with lots of roads and alleys.
Variation: Roll 1d6 when a card is placed to determine how many potential exits there are.
Variation: Roll 1d3, 1d4, or 1d6 to determine potential exits.

Standard: A d6 is rolled to determine the distance between cards.
Variation: Roll a different size of die to determine path length, for longer or shorter paths.
Variation: Instead of rolling a die, the distance is the difference in value between the two cards. For example, the path between the 5 of hearts and the 9 of clubs is 4 "spaces." Give face cards any constant value you like. For longer paths, make face cards worth 10, 11, or 12. For shorter paths, make face cards worth 5 or 6.

Standard: Place one card at a time as they come into play.
Variation: If characters are familiar with the area, then you'll want to reveal more information, so they can make better choices about where to turn. You could:
  • Roll to determine the lengths of paths as soon as the exits are located;
  • Let characters spend a round looking down a path to see where it leads before running down it;
  • Place face-up cards adjacent to each exit so players know where the paths lead, but don't determine the path lengths;
  • Reveal the lengths and destinations of all paths from the current card;
  • Set out a full grid of cards face down, without paths. Designate the starting and destination cards. Characters must find a path to the destination, possibly doubling back when the route dead-ends or is blocked by an obstacle.
  • Create the whole layout beforehand and give the whole thing to the players. Characters can plan their route efficiently, but they won't know what obstacles they'll encounter. 

Standard: The layout represents city streets.
Variation: The card layout can represent a sewer system beneath the streets, the roofs of buildings (paths represent street widths, and the difference in value between the cards is the height difference of the buildings), the inside of a single building, caverns, a dungeon, a wilderness, dry islands in a swamp, or floating islands of matter in the Astral Plane.

Standard: The layout changes each time the cards come out.
Variation: When you set up a town, city, or other area for the first time, take a photo so you can use the same layout when characters return to that location. The cards become your map.

Standard: The chase is on foot.
Variation: The chase can be conducted with cars, motorcycles, horses, dragons, boats, airplanes, flying carpets, or submarines. Characters can mix and match vehicles and foot travel to maximize speed and mobility.

Standard: The action is a chase.
Variation: The card layout can create an area to explore instead of an area to race through.

Standard: Areas are small and turns are a minute or less long.
Variation: Areas can be as big or small as you want, with turns adjusted to match. If areas are measured in miles instead of yards, then turns can be counted in hours.

This card system is something that I've used for years in multiple variations. Many of those uses were in solo games, which I have a real weakness for. I'm sure that I'll circle back around to this topic many times.


  1. Wow! This is a really great idea. I'll be using this in my games very soon. Thanks for the tips and inspiration.

  2. I went ahead and made cards just for these, since I got tired of referring from the cards to the table and back again. The file with the cards can be downloaded here:

    1. That's very cool! Thanks for sharing the link.

  3. The link to Kobold Quarterly is no longer valid (at least it didn't work for me). Where can I view the chase scene mechanic you're referencing above?

    1. Kobold Quarterly has changed to I updated the link. Thanks for the heads-up.