Monday, September 3, 2018

If You're A DM, You Should Get Your Hands On A Chase Deck

One of the biggest obstacles that a lot of dungeon masters deal with is that no one ever wants to run away from a fight. Part of it is that even when you're clearly outmatched, no one wants to turn their backs, but the other part is all the fiddly little mechanics of fleeing. Everything from your movement speed, to the terrain, to who goes where in the initiative order and what the enemy's speed is can make running away not even worth the effort.

That's why it's a good idea to keep a chase deck on hand.

You mount up and run for it... the orcs pile into their choppers and come after you!

What Is A Chase Deck?

A chase deck was something I first came across for Paizo's Curse of The Crimson Throne, and it is one of those tools I recommend every DM have on hand in order to keep the game moving forward when it's time to make a break for it. Simply put, it is a deck of cards that you can use to narrate a chase, and determine whether the PCs escape, or they get caught, through making a series of checks.

While there is some variation depending on the deck you use (whether you use Paizo's, another game company's, or you just make your own), the setup of a chase deck is pretty simple. You set out a number of cards, face down, in a straight line across the table. You put the party on one card at the far end, and their pursuers a little ways back (either on the card behind them, or two cards back if they got a head start). Everyone rolls initiative, and they act on their turns.

What happens is that you flip over the card the party is on, and there will be two checks on the card. A player can make either check, and advance to the next card, or they can make both checks to advance two cards. If they fail one check, that's their turn, but if they fail both checks then they're stuck for a turn. So there is a bit of strategy involved.

Can I make this jump? Did you forget how many monk levels I have?
While most of the checks on these cards will be skill-related, you'll come across some saving throws, some ability checks, and even the occasional attack roll. But each stage of the chase is placed in a certain context by the card it's on. For example, one card might say that you're running down a back alley, and you either need to make an Acrobatics check to jump the fence, or a Strength check to pry apart the boards. Alternatively, you might be fleeing down a mountain path, with the option to either make a Perception check to notice a shortcut, or a Climb check to scale the face and make better speed.

You get the idea.

The goal, of course, is to stay ahead of your pursuers, and to use your skill, your wits, and your powers to reach the end of the chase cards first. If you do, you get away. Fail, and the bad guys can re-instigate combat. Also, while your movement speed doesn't affect a chase scene (otherwise monks would just blow through it), you can often bring other powers and features into play. Whether it's favored terrain, spells, or even alchemist discoveries, there are all sorts of ways you can get an advantage when it comes to a chase that wouldn't normally show up in such a high-tension scenario.

While the Pathfinder chase deck from Paizo is a good place to start, you can also get chase decks centered around specific environments. The urban chase deck and the forest and jungle chase deck from Louis Porter Junior Games are ideal examples of what I'm talking about.

It Is For More Than Running Away, Too

While one of the major uses of a chase deck is PC escape, keep in mind they can flip the tables, too. If a bad guy wants to run away, don't just give them a fair escape. If the PCs want to give chase, then give them the chance. That way it feels like the big bad has to earn their way out of a fight, rather than dropping through a hole and swearing he'll be back to fight another day.

Additionally, if the PCs set off an alarm while they're sneaking into a fortress, or if they need to capture someone who flees across the rooftops, a chase scene is an easier way to handle that situation. It's clean, it's neat, and as far as mini games go it can be fun to break out on occasion.

Two pieces of advice for using a chase deck, though. First, while you can randomly shuffle the cards, you're often better off picking them in advance to make sure the obstacles you're getting make sense. Otherwise you get a mix of dense forest, inner city, and swamp scenes that can be disjointed and confusing. Second, don't use the deck too often. While it might seem like a fun little novelty, it can also greatly extend a scene or a combat, which eats into your game time. Consider how much time, effort, and investment goes into the chase, and make sure you don't kill your table's taste for it by serving a chase with every session.

That's all for this installment of Moon Pope Monday. Have you ever used a chase deck? Would you recommend it? If so, leave your preferences in the comments below!

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  1. This article would have been considerably more helpful if links had been given to chase decks had been provided or better still 'here's a chase deck', as opposed to 'get your hands on one'.

    1. If you have time to type this comment you have time to Google "chase deck" on your own. Welcome to the 21st century.

    2. Wow is that some lazy snide shit.

    3. lol even though I think the fact that you didn't include a sample chase deck is dumb it doesn't make it any less funny that you showed the above poster the door in one of the saltiest responses I've ever seen by a blogger. Hats off to you, sir blogger, for making my day!

  2. Also, I'm guessing your lazy snide butt hasn't done it. Lot of garbage in the results. Probably would have been a good time for the author to promote his or some he likes.

  3. Maybe try "RPG chase decks", I got a lot less static from that. And this review gave a number of examples in addition to a detailed review of the Paizo deck...

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    1. Sorry for repost, edited:

      I'm not a fan of chase cards due to my experience with them from Curse of the Crimson Throne's anniversary release.

      Mild mechanical spoilers for that game in this post: we were level 3, the lowest check DCs were 25. If you have a +5 modifer, +3 class skill, +3 skill ranks, +1 from a trait, and +2 from a masterwork tool or a feat, that's... a 50% chance to make the check. If you put as much focus on it as you can without explicitly investing permanent feat slots and other serious commitments for the one thing you have not idea will come down the pipe that fast, and that's for the one skill of several used. Half of the DCs are 30 instead, and you don't know which challenge on a square is which DC.

      We actually succeeded, purely because the person we were pursuing who was custom made to make this chase and several levels higher than us still couldn't make the checks reliably and someone hit a hot streak of 19s and 20s. The base system is fine, but please, please, please don't use the DCs baked in. Do a quick math check to figure out what is appropriate for your party's level.

      Pathfinder in general has an issue with DCs; one AP has an above-CR encounter triggered 'should the party fail' to Bluff a higher level NPC with Sense Motive buffed to the gills (including a class-based buff), and a later similar fight from the same area explicitly mentions 'don't worry, this should be their only encounter for the day'.