GM’s Guide: Chase and Social Encounters

Running Chase Encounters

There’s three ranges a chase can take place at. A close range chase is probably what you think of as soon as the word “chase” is brought up. The pursuer and the quarry are both within sight of one another. The quarry can attempt some daring feat of Athletics or Acrobatics to try and get away, and the pursuer must either match pace or do better. The quarry gets to set their own DC for the check, because they’re choosing what fence to jump or rooftop to leap from or river to dive into. If the quarry fails their check, they stumble and fail and the pursuer catches them automatically. If the quarry succeeds, then the pursuer must either attempt the same stunt at the same DC or else must attempt an even more spectacular stunt with a DC 5 points higher. If the pursuer fails the check, then regardless of what DC they chose the chase moves to long range. If the pursuer passes the check and picked the same DC as the quarry, the chase continues at short range. If the pursuer passes the check and picked the higher DC, they’ve out-stunted the quarry and caught them. Note that this isn’t an opposed check. If the quarry picks a fairly modest DC 15 but then rolls a natural 20 and gets a total result of 27, the pursuer is still picking between a DC 15 stunt to keep up or a DC 20 stunt to catch the quarry immediately.

In a long range chase, the pursuer catches only occasional glimpses of the quarry as they sprint through tangled underbrush or narrow alleyways. At this stage the quarry must attempt to disappear before the pursuer rounds the corner and catches another glimpse. The quarry can roll either Athletics, Acrobatics, or Stealth, in the former two cases to pour on some extra speed and round a corner before their pursuer catches a glimpse, so that the pursuer has no idea which corner they turned or what way they went, and in the latter case the quarry attempts to hide before the pursuer catches up and sees where they’ve gone. Either way, this is an opposed check, with the pursuer rolling their choice of Athletics or Acrobatics against a quarry’s Athletics or Acrobatics and rolling Perception if the quarry rolled Stealth. If the quarry succeeds, they are out of sight and the chase moves to extreme range. If they fail, the pursuer is gaining ground (either because they’re moving faster or because the quarry stopped to hide and was then spotted) and the chase moves to close range.

In an extreme range chase the pursuer can’t see the quarry at all and is instead following tracks. The pursuer first makes a Survival check to find tracks at all, and must beat the navigation DC for whatever terrain the chase is taking place in. If the quarry likes, they can roll their own Survival check to set the DC, but they must accept the results of their Survival check even if it is worse than the navigation DC of the terrain. If the pursuer succeeds on their Survival check, the quarry sets the DC for an Athletics check, and just like at close range, the chase moves to long range if the quarry fails their Athletics check, and if they succeed, the pursuer can either make an Athletics check against the same DC to maintain pace or raise the DC by 5 to move to long range. If they fail either check, the quarry has escaped completely. If they maintain pace, the pursuer must make another Survival check before making the next Athletics check.

In an urban environment, rather than making a Survival check, the pursuer makes an Investigation check. The default DC is 5 for a village, 10 for a town or small city, 15 for a larger city, and 20 for a metropolis. If they like, the quarry can roll either Stealth (to hide altogether) or Deception (to avoid being recognized) to dodge their tail, and just like with the wilderness Survival check, their check replaces the default DC. If the pursuer succeeds, the chase moves to long range immediately, without any Athletics checks.

Description is the soul of a chase encounter. There’s not as much meat on these bones as combat, stealth, or social encounters, and it’s fine if chases just don’t take up as much of the spotlight as some other encounter types, especially since it’s very easy for a chase to blend in with combat when the pursuer catches the quarry or with stealth when the quarry gets away and starts stalking the pursuer and in a dozen other ways tends to end up as a hybrid encounter. To keep the chase parts interesting, however, it’s important to ask for actual specific stunts performed.

Let your players invent some scenery to help them out – they’re going to use Acrobatics to jump up onto a balcony and then dash inside the apartment, or they’re going to use Athletics to leap up and grab the edge of a low wall dividing two quarters of the city and haul themselves up on top of it, or they’re going to dive into the river that cuts through the city and swim through it. If someone suggests something that’s not appropriate for the location, try to avoid just saying “no, they don’t have that kind of thing here” and instead say something more like “well, this is the poor section of town so it’d probably be the wall around a workshop instead of a noble estate, but some basic idea, go ahead and roll.” This helps create a feel for the location the chase is taking place in without making your players feel like they need to guess the appropriate scenery before you’ll let them make their stunt. If you’re having trouble coming up with something, it can’t hurt to ask for help, though: “The river is clear on the other side of town, but there’s probably something you can swim through, any ideas?” might prompt the player to say “maybe someone’s cesspool?” to which the only appropriate response is “hey, man, it’s your brand new leather armor, if you want to drag it through a cesspool, that’s not my problem.”

Running Social Encounters

There’s a reason “what’s my motivation?” is a cliche question for actors. The heart of a believable character is motivation, and every NPC you run should have a motivation, even if it’s just to get glass of water. Minor NPCs don’t need complex motivations. An administrative peon might want nothing more than to be left alone. A merchant probably wants the party to pay as much as possible for the least valuable merchandise he can offload on them. A craftsman might be dedicated to their art and be insulted when offered low prices for their goods, even if it’s the best they can get under the circumstances – it would be an insult to the craft to sell a masterwork sword for silvers, regardless of whether the craftsman won’t be able to sell it at all otherwise. A town guard might be motivated by loyalty to their community or the town’s ruler, by the money they’re paid and the security of their position, or might be dedicated to the idea of law and order itself.

More prominent NPCs may have multiple motivations, and those may conflict with one another at times. A king might have a loyalty to his people as well as to his cousin, the daughter of his aunt, who married the king of a neighboring land – so now that cousin is queen of the neighboring land. In times of famine, does the king hoard food to keep his people fed or share them with his beleaguered neighboring nation, not only an ally but the responsibility of a family member? A prominent town guard – say, the captain of the guard for a town that serves as main hub for several low level adventures – might have a loyalty to his community but also be greedy enough to try and make some money on the side. A little bribery won’t do any real harm, right? But where is he going to draw the line? Multiple motivations means that NPCs might plausibly do more than one thing, and they can serve as the impetus for great character moments as they’re pushed to decide between two things they care about. As the NPC approaches the crisis and realizes they must choose, they might turn to the PCs for help or the PCs might just happen to be informed of the situation, and they can try and persuade the NPC to pick one or the other. The party might be conflicted as to which route to choose. This is roleplaying, and it’s great.

Sometimes, the PCs will want to convince an NPC to do something that is orthogonal to, or even contrary to, their motivation. The skill by skill guidelines in the Art of Rulings included some one-roll examples, and here we’ll elaborate a bit on exactly what it means to act in a helpful versus merely friendly manner: A friendly person will do things that are unrelated to their motivations to help the party, or alternatively they will follow one motivation over another when they conflict on the party’s advice. A helpful person will jeopardize or set back their motivations to help the party, and thus usually doesn’t require a roll at all, although one may still be needed for particularly onerous demands (and while the base DCs for helpful creatures are quite low, bear in mind that they’re increased by their Wisdom save, so high Wisdom creatures may be quite difficult to persuade even when helpful).

For more complex negotiations, the party needs to get more than one concession out of someone. Very big concessions, like a king joining a war, might have to be broken into multiple smaller concessions, like committing different units or resources to the war effort, which allows the PCs to convince him to anything from total mobilization to a token reinforcement. The total number of concessions needed for the party to get everything they want from a negotiation should usually be five, give or take a concession. The party has a total amount of patience with the interested party, which is decreased by one every time they fail a check. The amount is usually 1-2 with an indifferent party, 3-4 with a friendly party, and 5 with a helpful party. This is in addition to making the checks themselves easier.

The party might have to contend with someone arguing against them to try and persuade the king (or whoever) to do something else. A treacherous vizier in the pocket of the dark lord, for example, might argue to keep the armies home to defend the king’s own borders rather than uniting with their neighbors. In this case, the party must make opposed Persuasion checks for each concession needed from the king. In this case, the target of the Persuasion attempt has a separate patience score for both sides. Any time someone rolls a Persuasion that would fail to gain a concession even without opposition, the target loses patience with the persuader. If a persuader rolls a Persuasion attempt that would ordinarily succeed, but is outdone by an opposed check by another persuader, the successful persuader may have the target either grant them a concession or else lose patience with the opposing party. Generally speaking, when the target runs out of patience for one persuader, they will grant whatever concessions are still on the table to the other persuader, but sometimes they may still require persuasion even after the opposing persuader has been defeated.

Regardless of whether you are using an extended negotiation, a single Persuasion check, or if you’re not rolling dice at all, it’s important to keep your NPCs distinct. A funny voice is one of the most stereotypical ways to do this, and while using a funny voice for an NPC does have its uses, those uses are not dramatic. A funny voice can accomplish two things. First, if you do it right it can make players laugh, and if the character isn’t meant to be taken too seriously that can be a worthy goal on its own. Second, different voices can help you differentiate between different NPCs who are both in the same conversation without constantly having to stop and identify which NPC you’re speaking as. You don’t generally want NPCs to just talk to each other while PCs are present, but you may well have two NPCs having an argument mediated by the PCs, or PCs arguing with one NPC for the favor of another. Bear in mind that funny voices are funny, so while you want NPCs who may interact frequently with one another to have distinctive voices, you don’t want to try and have a dramatic scene between one NPC represented by your normal voice and another represented by you putting on an outrageous French accent.

A better way to distinguish characters, whether you’re playing in voice or in text (where adding “[name] said” to the end of all dialogue is far less intrusive, so the problem of making sure PCs can keep track of who said what is much more easily solved), is to give them distinctive word choice. A half-baked wizard who wants to appear more brilliant than he is might use big words that he doesn’t quite know. A noble will demand respect from anyone who isn’t of similar birth or station, and be offended if treated as equal by someone they consider beneath them, especially if this noble is a lord for whom the traditions of feudalism are the source of significant political power. A street thug will be crude and straightforward, while a conniving merchant will be gracious but relentlessly vague. Some NPCs might be friendly, others spiteful, and some may act friendly despite having intense spite for the party (and the Persuasion DCs to match) while others might spew vitriol despite an unfailing willingness to help you idiots get out of trouble again.

Motivation and mannerism are by far the most important thing in keeping NPCs distinct, to the point where nearly all effort spent on building NPCs is usually best spent making more complex motivation and more believable mannerism than on virtually anything else. If every NPC has a goal and they pursue it and speak in a manner informed by their background, culture, and personality, they’ll feel like real people, and they’ll react largely as real people would to the PCs.

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