Chase Challenges

Running down enemies or fleeing from powerful foes is a classic fantasy trope, whether one treks across hill and dale or darts between urban alleys and stalls. Chases are powerful transitional encounters that allow the GM an opportunity to create tension, provide exposition, and cause a relocation in scenery and setting.

Chases are a specific type of movement-based skill challenge in which one or more groups of characters compete against the PCs as rivals or enemies. Chases follow the same rules for running them as standard skill challenges, but they have a slightly different list of elements and have additional special qualities not found in standard skill challenges. In addition, there are some special actions that are only applicable to chases. Unless otherwise noted, assume that chase challenges follow all of the standard rules associated with movement-based skill challenges, such as the sequence for which characters act during a cycle and how initiative is determined.

Running a Chase

Although chases follow the same rules for running them as standard skill challenges, one noteworthy difference exists— the presence of opposition. In every chase, the PCs must contend with one or more rivals, be they an organized group, a lone individual, or some sort of force or object. Chase challenges are defined by the relation between the PCs and their opposition, specifically in regards to what they hope to accomplish during the skill challenge. Except where noted otherwise, the opposition follows the same rules as the PCs when determining how they act during a cycle in a chase.

Characters can participate in a chase for up to 8 hours each day without suffering any ill effects. After 8 hours of participation, characters that require sleep must rest for 8 hours because of the extreme exertion required to participate in a chase for such a long period of time. Characters can attempt to ignore this limitation by making a forced march (see Forced March).

Types of Chases

The goal of every chase is to clear it by completing a certain objective before the opposition completes their objective. A chase’s type represents the relationship between the PCs and the opposition, and determines how those groups interact with one another. Each chase lists one of two basic types of chase—pursuits or races. This section summarizes these two types of chases, including the interactions between the chase’s participants, then details how to use them.

Pursuit

Pursuits feature one character (either the PCs or their opposition) fleeing from the other character, who is attempting to either capture or terminate them. Characters who are fleeing are called quarries, while characters who are tracking down the quarries are called pursuers.

In a pursuit, the pursuers and the quarry have different conditions that determine when they successfully complete the chase. The quarries follow the standard rules for movement-based skill challenges—they clear the chase when they have advanced the number of squares listed in the chase’s completion entry. Pursuers, however, have a different objective. They need to incapacitate or outright kill all quarries before they can advance the number of squares listed in the chase’s completion entry. Acceptable methods of completing this requirement vary from chase to chase, but this typically requires rendering all quarries helpless or dead.

Race

Races pit the PCs and their opposition against one another as they compete to be the first character to reach a specific location or complete an objective. All characters participating in a race are called racers.

In a race, both sets of racers follow the standard rules for movement-based skill challenges—they clear the skill challenge when they have advanced the number of squares listed in the chase’s completion entry. The main difference between races and standard movement-based skill challenges is that only the first group of racers to advance the number of squares listed in the chase’s entry clears the chase—any other groups still participating in the chase automatically lose the skill challenge, even if they eventually reach the requisite square count.

Special Actions

In addition to the list of special actions that you can perform during a standard movement-based skill challenge, there are several special actions that you can take during a chase that are unique to this type of skill challenge. This section discusses all of the various actions that you can perform during a chase other than attempting to earn completion or using one of the special actions detailed in the standard skill challenge rules.

Create a Disadvantage

During a chase, a character can attempt to create a disadvantage for the opposition as a half-cycle action. Creating a disadvantage follows this sequence:

  • 1. The character states how she wishes to create a disadvantage, such as by pushing a stall cart into the middle of the road or by cutting the ropes of a rope bridge.
  • 2. The GM provides a list of at least two different rolls or checks that the character can use to create the stated disadvantage. This can be an ability check, an attack roll, or a skill check. The GM specifies which abilities or skills are used to create the disadvantage, and she may also limit what type of attack rolls can be made to create the disadvantage (such as melee attack roll or ranged attack roll).
  • 3. If the character still wishes to create the disadvantage, she chooses one of the options presented by the GM and spends her half-cycle action creating the disadvantage by rolling the required roll or check.
  • 4. If the character succeeds on her roll or check, she creates a disadvantage. If the character fails on her roll or check, she does not create a disadvantage. Characters can gain additional bonuses or penalties from succeeding exceptionally well or doing exceptionally poorly on their attempts to create a disadvantage, as described below.

The standard DC to create a disadvantage using an attack roll or skill check is equal to 15 + the skill challenge’s CR, while the standard DC to create a disadvantage using an ability check is 15 + 1/2 the skill challenge’s CR. The GM can increase or decrease this DC by up to 5 to represent disadvantages that are easy to create and those that are more difficult to create. Whenever a character succeeds on a skill check to create a disadvantage, her disadvantage gains a square count equal to her current square count, her current square count +1, or her current square count –1 (her choice). If she chooses to place a disadvantage at a square count that she has not advanced to, she is subjected to that disadvantage herself when she attempts to advance to that square count.

Disadvantages are created at the GM’s discretion. The GM may rule that a given square count is ill-suited for a particular type of disadvantage, or she may decide that a character cannot use the environment or resources at hand in order to create a meaningful disadvantage.

Characters can create two different types of disadvantages—an augmentation or a hurdle. The types of disadvantages are described below.

Augmentation: An augmentation improves the difficulty of an existing obstacle (including a hurdle created by another character, see below) by increasing its bypass DC, improving its bonus on attack rolls, or increasing its save DC. A character can only attempt to augment an obstacle if her square count is within 1 square of the obstacle’s square count, and if she is aware of the obstacle. Her skill check made to augment the obstacle also represents her attempts to bypass it herself; if her ability check, attack roll, or skill check fails, she is immediately affected by the obstacle’s effects as if she was in its square count and failed to bypass it.

If her check succeeds, she chooses one of the following statistics: attack rolls, bypass DC, or save DC. She grants the obstacle a +2 bonus to the chosen statistic the next time that a character other than herself is attacked (if attack rolls are chosen), attempts to bypass the obstacle (if bypass DC is chosen), or attempts a saving throw against the obstacle’s effects (if save DC is chosen). For every 5 by which her roll or check to create a disadvantage exceeds its DC, she either chooses an additional statistic to receive this benefit, increases the number of attack rolls, bypass checks, or saving throws that a chosen bonus applies against by 1, or increases the bonus granted to a previously chosen bonus receives by +1 (maximum +4 to any one statistic).

Hurdle: A hurdle creates a physical obstruction that hinders characters from being able to advance past the disadvantage’s square count. Hurdles act as obstacles (see Obstacles), except they use the result of the ability check, attack roll, or skill check that created them as their bypass DC. The GM determines what type of obstacle is created based upon the character’s overall goals in creating the obstacle and how they went about creating it. Typically, most characters create a hazard or an obstruction that is either a blockade obstacle or a difficult terrain obstacle— generally, these are the simplest obstacles to create using whatever improvised tools and materials are at hand. Casting a spell to create an obstacle results in either a magic obstacle or a spell obstacle, although some specific spells create other types of obstacles (such as wall of iron creating an obstruction obstacle). Characters may be able to set up more elaborate obstacles, given GM permission, if they take multiple actions to do so.

Forced March

During a chase, all participants can act for up to 8 hours each day without penalty. For every 8 hours of active participation that a character makes during a chase, she must rest for at least 8 hours (see below). A character can circumvent this requirement by making a forced march. For each consecutive hour she participates in a chase without race beyond 8 hours, each character must attempt a Constitution check (DC 10, +2 per extra hour of participation). If the check fails, the character takes 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. A character who takes any nonlethal damage from a forced march becomes fatigued, and eliminating the nonlethal damage also eliminates the fatigue. Characters who are immune to nonlethal damage automatically succeed on Constitution checks made to take additional cycles during the chase.

Obscure Trail

In a pursuit, a character who is participating as a quarry can sacrifice her ability to earn completion to make it more difficult for the pursuers to track her. When obscuring her trail, the quarry rolls a Stealth check and notes her square count when making this check. In order to advance beyond any square count in which she obscured her trail, the pursuers must succeed at a Survival check to follow the character’s trail (see Track Quarry). If multiple characters in the same group use this action, one character (the primary obscurer) makes the Stealth check and the rest (the assistants) use the aid another action to attempt to assist her. Using Stealth during a chase to obscure one’s trail is a half-cycle action.

Recovery

Chases (especially long-distance ones) are high-energy activities, and characters participating in gruelingly long chases often find the need to rest at some point during the chase itself. This is especially true during long-distance chases, whose cycles represent 1 hour intervals of time.

(For more information on long-distance chases and short-distance chases, see the Frequency, below).

When a character rests, she elects to take no actions during the chase except to recuperate. She cannot take strenuous actions of any sort while resting, which includes actions made to gain an advantage, create a disadvantage, track, and earn completion among others. A character who rests for at least 1 minute regains the ability to use the run action during the skill challenge. A character who rests for at least 1 hour reduces any instances of the exhaustion condition that she has to fatigued. A character who rests for at least 8 hours heals ability damage and hit point damage, removes any instances of the fatigued condition that the character has, and allows her to prepare spells normally. A character who rests for at least 24 hours heals twice as many points of ability damage and hit point damage then if she had rested for only 8 hours. The amount of healing that characters receive from resting during a skill challenge is the same as if they had rested outside of a skill challenge (1 hp x character level and 1 point of ability damage for each damaged ability score).

Track Quarry

During a pursuit with a frequency of 1 minute or more, the pursuers must track their quarry in order to earn completion. At the GM’s discretion, the pursuers in a chase with a frequency of 1 round may also need to track their quarry in order to earn completion if their square count is 10 or more squares behind the square count of their quarries.

The primary tracker is the character who makes all skill checks to track the quarries. Usually, the primary tracker makes Survival checks to track her quarry, but some abilities may allow other skills to be used instead, such as the perceptive tracking rogue talent. If the pursuers are comprised of multiple characters, other pursuers can assist the primary tracker using the aid another skill.

Tracking quarry is a half-cycle action, although a character can take a –5 penalty on her Survival check to attempt to track as a swift action instead. A character with the swift tracker ability (such as an 8th leveel ranger) can track her quarry as a swift action without taking this penalty on her Survival check.

If the primary tracker fails to track her quarry, the pursuers spend the rest of the cycle trying to find their quarries’ trail and cannot earn any completion during that cycle. If the primary tracker succeeds, the pursuers can earn completion as normal during that round during the skill challenge.

The base DC to track the quarry is either 5, 10, 15, or 20, depending on the type of ground dominate in the chase (very soft, soft, firm, or hard, respectively). If a primary tracker attempts to track quarries who are days ahead of her, this DC increases by 1 for every day beyond the quarries that the pursuers are, but it decreases by 1 for every three members who travel together as quarries.

Opposition

The key feature of a chase encounter is the opposition—NPCs who directly interfere with the PCs’ attempts to clear the skill challenge. In a pursuit, the opposition is either the characters fleeing from the PCs (assuming the PCs are the pursuers) or the characters attempting to capture or terminate them (assuming the PCs are the quarry). In a race, the opposition competes against the PCs in an attempt to beat them to the end of the race. The opposition is never referenced in a chase’s stat block, but nevertheless it is important for the GM to have stat blocks for the opposition to determine their skill check bonuses and special abilities. Generally speaking, an opposition whose APL is 1 less then that of the PCs reduces the chase’s CR by 1, while an opposition whose APL is 1 more then that of the PCs increases the chase’s CR by 1. If the PCs beat the opposition in the chase, they receive only the XP award for clearing the skill challenge—do not award them the XP awards associated with defeating the NPCs unless the PCs also managed to defeat those foes in a combat encounter.

Elements of a Chase

All chases, regardless of type, have the following elements: CR*, type, goal*, primary skills*, secondary skills*, frequency, completion (movement-only)*, benefit*, penalty*, and obstacles*. Some chases might also include optional elements, such as demerits or special qualities. Elements marked with an asterisk (*) use the same rules as standard skill challenges.

Type

Chase challenges are movement-based skill challenges in which opposing characters compete to be the first to complete the skill challenge. Chase skill challenges are further divided into two subtypes—pursuits and races. In a pursuit, one or more participants attempts to apprehend or slay a second group, whose ultimate goal is to evade their pursuers. In a race, participants attempt to be the first to reach the end of the skill challenge.

Frequency

The amount of time represented by one cycle varies from chase to chase based upon theme, and a chase’s frequency notes the amount of time that each cycle represents. Cycles in a chase can be measured in one of four specific time intervals: 1 round, 1 minute, 10 minutes, or 1 hour. Cycles with a frequency of 1 hour are known as long-distance chases, while cycles with a frequency of 1 round, 1 minute, or 10 minutes are known as short-distance chases.

A chase’s frequency limits which abilities and effects are applicable to the chase. Each cycle that passes reduces the duration by the amount of time indicated by its frequency. For instance, each effect active on a character who is participating in a chase with a frequency of 10 minutes would have its duration reduced every cycle by 10 minutes. As a general rule, an ability or effect cannot have a meaningful impact upon a chase if its duration is less than the chase’s frequency, for it is unable to last for the entire cycle.

SQ (Optional Element)

Chases can possess numerous special qualities—specific qualities that use standard rules that are referenced (but not repeated) in skill challenge stat blocks. All chases can possess any special quality available to a standard movement-based skill challenge, and all chases have the advantage special quality. Additionally, the surprise start special quality functions differently in certain types of chases, as described below.

Surprise Start: Perceptive characters sometimes gain the ability to act during a chase before the chase officially begins. The surprise start special quality functions the same in chases as in standard movement-based skill challenges unless the chase is a pursuit. In a pursuit, the quarries automatically act during the surprise round, and any distance they move is increased as if every character acting in the surprise round succeeded on a skill check to gain an advantage, up to the value indicated in the chase’s advantage entry.

The pursuers can attempt a skill check to act during the surprise round as normal.

Chase Stat Block

Chases are organized into stat blocks, almost identically to standard movement-based skill challenges. This is where all of the information needed to run a chase can be found. A chase stat block is organized as follows. Note that in cases where a line in a chase stat block has no value, that line is omitted.

Name and CR: The chase’s name is presented first, along with its Challenge Rating (CR). A chase’s CR is a numerical indication of what the Average Party Level (APL) of a group of characters should be before they attempt the skill challenge.

XP: Listed here are the total experience points that the PCs earn for clearing the chase.

Type: This line notes the type of chase that is being conducted: pursuit or race, as well as long-distance or short-distance.

Goal: This is a brief description of what the PCs and their opposition are trying to accomplish during the chase.

Primary Skills: This lists the skills that the PCs can use to gain an advantage during the chase, as well as the difficulty and skill check DC associated with each skill.

Secondary Skills: This lists the difficulty and skill DC of all skill checks that are attempted to gain an advantage that are not primary skills. The GM is the final arbiter of which skills can be used to gain an advantage during the chase.

Frequency: This lists the amount of time that passes between each cycle during the chase.

Circumstance Bonus (Optional Element): Some chases provide special bonuses to certain skills, which are noted in this entry.

Languages (Optional Element): If the chase has this optional element, this notes any languages that the PCs must be able to understand in order to gain an advantage during the chase. Some chases with the languages optional element only require characters to understand the listed languages when making specific skill checks, while others don’t require complete fluency. Such exceptions are also noted in this entry.

Time Pressure (Optional Element): This lists the number of cycles that the PCs have to finish the chase. If they fail to clear it in the listed number of cycles, they automatically fail the chase.

Completion: The ultimate goal of every chase is to complete it, and this outlines the chase’s completion method (movement) and the amount of completion needed to successfully clear it.

Backlash (Optional Element): This entry notes any negative effects that the PCs take when they fail to gain an advantage towards clearing a chase or gaining an advantage by 5 or more.

Demerits (Optional Element): This entry notes the number of demerits that the PCs can accrue during the chase. A demerit is accrued anytime that a character fails a skill check to gain an advantage.

Failures Allowed (Optional Element): This entry notes the total number of failures that the PCs can make during the chase before they automatically fail it.

SQ (Optional Element): This entry notes any special qualities or rules that the chase has.

Benefit: This is the reward or boon that the PCs gain for completing the chase.

Penalty: This is the consequence that the PCs incur should they fail to complete the chase.

Obstacles: This lists the obstacles that the PCs must overcome in order to successfully clear the chase.

Sample Chases

The following chases were designing using the rules described above.

Apprehend the Traitors CR 5

XP 1,600
Chase (short-distance pursuit)
Goal The PCs have been accused of treason, and must flee the city before they are apprehended by the king’s guard.

SKILLS
Primary Skills Acrobatics (average, DC 21), Bluff (challenging, DC 23), Climb (average, DC 21), Diplomacy (challenging, DC 23)
Secondary Skills Difficult, DC 26
Frequency 1 round

COMPLETION
Movement 60
SQ advantage 3, surprise start (Perception [difficult, DC 26], Sense Motive [difficult, DC 26])
Benefit The PCs manage to slip away from the king’s guards.
Penalty The PCs fail to escape the king’s guards. They are brought back to the castle and tossed into the dungeon to await their fate.

OBSTACLES
1 Square+ The guards call for the immediate arrest of the PCs, and their frantic demeanor makes the city’s inhabitants suspicious of their actions and intentions.
Type hazard; Notice Sense Motive (easy, DC 16)
Bypass Skills Bluff (average, DC 21), Diplomacy (average, DC 21), Disguise (challenging, DC 23), Intimidate (average, DC 21); Secondary Skills Difficult, DC 26
SQ Language (Common)
Effect difficult terrain; If the PCs fail their bypass check by 5 or more, the crowd recognizes their wanted status and prevents them from moving, causing them to be unable to earn squares towards clearing the skill challenge for that cycle.

30 Squares The PCs wander into a bazaar whose colorful tents create a dizzying maze roughly 100 square feet in size.
Type obstruction; Notice Survival (easy, DC 16)
Bypass Skills Perception (difficult, DC 26), Sense Motive (difficult, DC 26), Survival (challenging, DC 23); Secondary Skills Very Difficult, DC 28
Effect blockade (cloth; hardness 0, 2,400 hp; 1 success); Every 10 hit points of damage that the PCs deal to the obstacle increases their opposition’s maximum advantage during their next turn by 1, as the screams and shouts of the merchants whose wares the PCs are slashing through alert the guard to the PCs’ presence.

45 Squares The guards have established a blockade to prevent the PCs from escaping.
Type obstruction; Notice Perception (easy, DC 16)
Bypass Skills Acrobatics (difficult, DC 26), Climb (challenging, DC 23), Ride (difficult, DC 26), Stealth (difficult, DC 26); Secondary Skills Very Difficult, DC 28

Effect blockade (wood; hardness 5, 10 hp; 1 success); At the each of each cycle, if any PC has a square count of 45, the guards manning the blockade attempt to arrest that PC by making a grapple check (CMB +10, CMD 26). If the guards succeed, the PC becomes grappled. Grappled PCs become pinned on subsequent rounds, then tied up.

Race to the Tomb CR 5

XP 1,600
Chase (long-distance race)
Goal The PCs must race a rival gang of treasure hunters to an ancient tomb so they can claim its treasures for themselves.

SKILLS
Primary Skills Climb (average, DC 21), Survival (average, DC 21), Swim (average, DC 21)
Secondary Skills Difficult, DC 26
Frequency 1 hour

COMPLETION
Movement 12
SQ advantage 1
Benefit The PCs reach the tomb first, giving them the opportunity to raid its treasures before their rivals.
Penalty The PCs have reached the tomb too late, and will likely have to assault their foe’s base of operations in order to find the treasure they seek.

OBSTACLES
Square 3 A massive thunderstorm is rolling into the valley where the tomb is hidden.
Type hazard; Notice Survival (average, DC 21)
Bypass Skills Climb (difficult, DC 26), Knowledge (geography) (challenging, DC 23), Knowledge (nature) (difficult, DC 26), Survival (challenging, DC 23); Secondary Skills Very Difficult, DC 28
Effect hazard (thunderstorm; On a failed bypass check, there is a 50% chance for the next 1d4 rounds that any attempt to earn squares that the character makes fails as a result of the driving winds and heavy rains. Additionally, each character must make a DC 15 Reflex save or take 6d6 points of electricity damage as they are struck by lightning.)

Square 6–8 The PCs must scale the side of a large mountain in order to reach the hidden tomb.
Type hazard; Notice Knowledge (geography) (easy, DC 16), Knowledge (nature) (easy, DC 16), or Survival (easy, DC 16)
Bypass Skills Acrobatics (challenging, DC 23), Climb (challenging, DC 23), Survival (difficult, DC 26); Secondary Skills Very Difficult, DC 28
SQ critical fumble (character loses 1d4 squares of movement, to a minimum square count of 5)
Effect difficult terrain

Square 9 The PCs have reached the entrance to the tomb, only to find it trapped.
Type peril; Notice Knowledge (engineering) (difficult, DC 26), Perception (challenging, DC 23)
Bypass Skills Disable Device (difficult, DC 26)
SQ trap-like
Effect Melee Atk dart +9 (1d4+2 plus poison); multiple targets (all characters with a square count of 9); wyvern poison—injury; save DC 17; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 1d4 Con damage; cure 2 consecutive saves.


Designing a Chase

As chase encounters essentially run like standard movement-based skill challenges, designing a chase is similar to designing a standard skill challenge. When designing a chase, you follow the same steps and guidelines as you would when designing a movement-based skill challenge with one exception—you must design NPCs to serve as the opposition. Tips and guidelines for designing appropriate NPCs for a chase are detailed below.

Determine Opposition

When your PCs are participating in a chase, you must design their opposition. You can design your PCs’ opposition either before or after designing the skill challenge itself. Ideally, you’ll want to assign NPCs to your skill challenge who stand a fair chance at winning, but who aren’t so competent that the PCs stand little chance of defeating them.

Although having full stat blocks for the opposition can be helpful if your PCs get into a brawl with them (and could be necessary based upon the effects of the chase’s obstacles), the most important part of designing good opposition for the PCs is determining their skill bonuses. When choosing the opposition’s skill bonuses, the opposition should be able to succeed on most easy skill checks by rolling a 5 or higher and on most average skill checks by rolling a 10 or higher. The opposition should be able to succeed on at least one-fourth of challenging skill checks by rolling a 10 or higher, and should be able to succeed on at least one difficult skill check by rolling a 10 or higher. The best way to determine the minimum bonus needed to accomplish this is to reference Table: Skill Challenge DCs by CR and subtract the minimum d20 result that you want to result in a success from the skill DC for the desired difficulty and use the remainder as the opposition’s DC.

For instance, if your PCs are participating in a CR 5 chase and you want to create opposition for them, you would begin by consulting Table: Skill Challenge DCs by CR and listing the skill DCs for each skill check difficulty for that CR. In the case of CR 5 encounters, the target DCs are easy (DC 16), average (DC 21), challenging (DC 23), and difficult (DC 26). To determine an appropriate bonus for easy DCs, take the easy DC associated with the skill challenge’s CR (in this example, DC 16) and subtract 5. The remainder, 11, represents a good target bonus for the opposition, while will allow them to reliably clear easy skill checks in the skill challenge. Continue this process for each remaining difficulty and desired result (rolling a 10 or higher on average DCs, rolling a 10 or higher on challenging DCs, and rolling a 10 or higher on difficult DCs). This will give you a good list of bonuses to build for when designing the NPCs, or you could simply note the target bonuses and the skills they apply to and use them that way.

Sometimes, you may not want a skill challenge that is fair for the PCs. For instance, when the PCs are being pursued by a more powerful foe or are attempting to beat a team of amateurs to a location before they can get themselves hurt or worse. In such instances, you should adjust the CR of the skill challenge accordingly, reducing the CR of the skill challenge by 1 if the opposition is weaker than the PCs or increasing the CR of the skill challenge if they are more powerful or skilled. This may also apply to a powerful opponent who is inconvenienced by the nature of the skill challenge (such as a massive troll lumbering after the PCs in a forest). In such instances it is acceptable, even encouraged, to give the opposition circumstantial bonuses or penalties that place them on more even footing with the PCs.

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