Recipe for a Chase Scene in Dungeons and Dragons

Recipe for a Chase Sequence

I watched a scene in Casino Royale and asked myself, what is the recipe for a satisfying chase scene? Tabletop Roleplaying Games are not known for their action packed, intense speed, but I still think there are ways to increase the dynamics in any scene in your game. Here is a recipe I made, and hope you enjoy!

Hunter: the one pursuing the quarry

Quarry: the one chased by the hunter

In preparation, divide the scene into 5 turns of the chase. Success occurs when the hunter obtains the quarry and failure occurs when the quarry escapes the hunter. Success or failure is determined by the table master by the fifth turn and not sooner. The goal is to have the quarry and hunter run in 5 turns to create tension and release.

Pro Tip: Include as many dimensions as possible (height, weight, depth, time, space)

Rules:

The hunter cannot catch the quarry by simply succeeding on movement. They must interact with the setting and succeed upon a skill check. Do not give advantage until the final turn.. The turns increase in difficulty, 10, 15, 18, 20, 22, 25. Upon a successful die roll, the player moves forward in their pursuit as described. Upon a failure, the player moves forward in pursuit, but at a cost and the table master rolls upon the mishap table. This ensures the chase does not grind to a premature halt due to a dice roll.

turn 1

As the table master, establish the setting, distance between hunter and quarry, and describe 3 interesting features of the setting.

Players may then take their turns in initiative order, and describe how to maneuver through the environment to obtain success. 

turn 2

Table Master: restate the setting, making sure to include any changes in the setting due to the previous turns (continue this step throughout the chase).

Players: take their turns in initiative order.

At the end of turn 2, have one explosion occur and make an attempt to weave this from the player’s actions. 

Explosion examples: a crowd erupts into an angry mob, a fireball, a car drives off the bridge, earthquake: any of these will work as long as they make sense in the setting. The goal is not to create false action, but rather to impose a loud dynamic to alter the plans and give the players a new feature to interact. Again, make an attempt to have the players cause the explosion if possible.

turn 3

Table Master: Establish the alignment of the quarry by giving them NPC interactions

Upon intersection, consider running combat. This helps break up any stale motion by giving an enjoyable social interaction moment. During time of banter, consider leaving the initiative order to give a more free form conversational style between hunter and quarry. By the end of the interaction, the players should learn something about the NPC that creates tension in the chase, or further validates the chase.

Players: take turns in initiative order, and allow for more free form order while conversing with the NPC. 

turn 4

Table Master: Upon the beginning of the 4th turn, introduce a setback for the pursuit. This could look like the quarry/hunter having to strip their armor to continue the chase, or split the party momentarily to avoid burdening a creaky bridge, or it could be leaving behind the party’s favored NPC due to the danger that awaits. At this point, pull out all stops on the tension and prepare for the outcome upon turn 5.

Players: take turn in initiative order.

turn 5

Tablemaster: stay silent during this round until the players make their final move.

Players: describe attempts to finally achieve success either by obtaining the quarry or escaping the hunter. 

Table Master: allow for rolls if needed, having increased the difficulty, at this point, give advantage. Describe the final outcome with a closing statement. Whether success or failure, the description should include a highlight of the player’s actions. Think of yourself as a bard in that respect, you are embellishing the feats of heroism, no matter how the chase ends. However, it ends, make it glorious!

Note to the Table Master: this 5 turn chase sequence was designed by watching chase sequences in movies and developing a framework. Sometimes, in RPGs, the players will incur an action that warrants a sudden halt to the “plans” of the table master. This is where you use judgement to decide if the scene should come to a close. The 5 turn chase sequence is simply a place to start, but it is still decided upon by the table master and the table whether or not to close the scene. Chases that drone on or end early are both disappointing. Make the magic happen.

Enriching your life and your games with a Growth Mindset.

There are many reasons TTRPGs like Dungeons and Dragons have been lauded for their ability to simultaneously grant us fun and growth. Part of that reason, I think, involves all of the tenets in the the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.

In the book, the author explores tons of research involving human motivation and success. I liked this little chart here and thought how similar the growth mindset is to how we play our characters in D&D.

Unlike real life, our characters are simulations of our imagination, and often we expand our exploits way beyond how we would behave in our own life situations. But now look at the markers of a growth mindset and see how often tabletop roleplaying games match up with this mindset driving us to success in life.

A fixed mindset avoids challenges where a growth mindset embraces them.

WOW. If that isn’t D&D, I don’t know what is. In life, we avoid challenges when we are laced with shame, fear or frustration over the potential for failure. In a growth mindset, we embrace that challenge, because those three toxins are not worth the embrace that a challenge can provide. The main reason is that a growth mindset seeks to experience and learn wisdom. A fixed mindset stays home when the wizard comes knocking at your door, but a growth mindset says, “I’m going on an adventure!”

A fixed mindset gives up easily where a growth mindset persists in setback.

Again, wow! In the game, the player’s role is to determine a team goal and pursue it. But you didn’t think the villain was going to hand you the keys to the fortress? In the game, the dungeon master’s role is to provide setbacks that the players so they can practice persistence in accomplishing their pre determined goal, through all the setbacks. What I think is wild is that because the players and dungeon master agree that these are the roles, no one gets upset when the DM throws a curve ball the players’ way. It’s expected. Setbacks are encouraged and like the person who thinks with a growth mindset, they thrive off of the experience that leads to wisdom.

A fixed mindset sees effort as fruitless where a growth mindset masters

Part of the fun of the game is taking a level 1 character that begins an adventure and using the rules of the game to level up after completing an experience. Some tables use experience points, some tables use checkpoints to level up the characters, but all understand that the purpose of the game is to do better at playing your character by granting that character bonuses, rewards and features. A fixed mindset would remain static in their levels of mastery because they don’t believe it would make a difference. But then again, the fixed mindset is already avoid challenges and running away from setbacks, so why would they attempt to master their craft? The growth mindset, as you can now see, builds upon itself like a series of interconnected muscles. The growth mindset believes that every experience adds up to reward and therefore, they look for that reward. Seek and you shall find, it has been said, and when players defeat the long awaited villain, they indeed look for treasure and lo and behold, it is there. I wish to gather that gumption in my own life, that I look for the reward.

A fixed mindset ignores criticism where a growth mindset learns from it

So much can be said about criticism. When to give, where to give, how to give and more importantly how to receive. We cannot control another’s opinion, but we have agency over our reception. In the wonder of D&D, as a player, you can have a metagaming view of your character, watch them, learn from them and even criticize them from a 30,000 foot view. Yes, the player brings the criticism and not afraid because they have power to learn from their character’s weakness, flaws and mistakes. In our own lives, I believe the reason a fixed mindset avoids criticism is that we feel powerless to do anything with it. A growth mindset apprehends the criticism and uses it as a resource, for everything is a value of energy. Sit around and think about that for a while!

A fixed mindset feels threatened by the success of others where a growth mindset celebrates and becomes inspired by the success of others.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

At it’s heart, D&D is a collaborative storytelling game. The rules create a party balance in which not one character has every tool and resource to beat every challenge presented by the dungeon master. Therefore, the collection of the players must celebrates the collective success because the party moves as a unit. There is no room to feel threatened, because the healer’s spellcasting might bring you back to consciousness before the axe falls upon your neck! The warrior’s rage might shield you from flying arrows! The inventor’s brilliance might bring about the answer the entire party needs in a split second. A growth mindset is required to play the game well.

Those who continue to operate in a fixed mindset eventually see their fate as determined and their agency stripped to a life of doom. Flipping into a growth mindset is the answer to bring about the agency, the free will and the empowerment one needs to achieve and succeed. By playing Dungeons and Dragons, with a growth mindset, we can simulate real life situations with imagination. In doing so, I think we will find ourselves “leveling up” in real life, because lessons are transferable. It’s that easy. May your story continue.

Tips from the Dungeons and Dragons Community

I found a wonderful thread from @slyflourish on Twitter. He asked about one simple tip to dramatically change the game (for the better). I found these answers from the community to be most helpful and inspirational! May you use them to add to your life and games!

  1. Technically a house rule not just a trick, but very simple: PCs only get the benefit of a long rest in a place of relative safety and comfort, not when camping in the wilderness. Lets you run wilderness adventures like they were dungeons. – @alexbro97829019

I really liked this suggestion and it reminded me of the wilderness rules in the Middle Earth RPG for 5th edition, something that I’ve used in my games to make overland (and underland) travel grittier and more deadly, therefore, giving the PCs more to consider. If you want to create strong tension and upbeats in the game, limit how and when a long rest can occur!

2. Electric tea light candles go on for concentration spells – @geekmoviehouse

Haha, at first, I had to read this a couple of times, but slowly realized that the electric tea light upon the table, acts as a physical prop and indicator that concentration spells are being used. This is an amazing idea, affordable and also adds to the ambience around your game. I love this idea!

3. -having states of failure, meaning one dice rolling bad is not the end of the thing, for instance if some is trying to persuade an NPC, rolling 1 or 2 fails just makes the PC act less friendly. – @skinny_bob

I couldn’t agree more. Keeping in mind a scale of variance for success and failure in the game makes for more of a dynamic game, rather than one that stops/starts upon success and failures. Having a mind of variant success and failure means the difference between pushing a button and turning a knob. Good advice!

4. Create problems, not solutions to them. – @groshnik

Wow! This is a discipline for every tablemaster! Many times I have prepared the “plan” or “way out” or “answer” and that, I have discovered, puts out the fire for the players. It can be tempting to give the answer while simultaneously asking the question (for we want our players to succeed). I think in the culture of having a more “friendly” DM has also brought about the “answer DM”. I believe part of the fun of RPGs involves some opposition birthed by the tablemaster, and of course no one has to be mean! But creating challenges, problems, and allowing the players to then take the wheel and drive home the solution, now that’s good RPG.

5. Asking my players to describe why they fail at something when they roll a Nat 1. It gives the player control over a dramatic moment, it lets them scale what happens based on how they’re feeling at the moment and often give amazing insight into the character’s thoughts! – @oboeluaren

I couldn’t agree more! The first couple times I tried this, my players looked back at me blankly. Not used to having a DM allow for such narrative power, the players took sometime to get used to this routine, but since then, less of the narrative burden on me and more various description from the other players at the table! It takes trust, but worth doing, in my opinion.

6. For theatre of the mind, on a player’s turn, describe the last turn/what they seeing through the PCs POV. Ask “what is (PC name) doing?” instead of “what do you WANT to do?” This helps alleviate choice paralysis and helps players who might not have caught every detail. – @marcellus_krowe

Daaaaaang. What a game changer! Just a simple turn of phrasing completely alters the course and the flow of combat. I have witnessed this choice paralysis in theater of the mind and I can see how by simply asking the player “what is your character doing?” keeps the narrative flowing in the fantasy game, rather than breaking immersion and asking direct questions to the player. I’m going to remember this one for sure.

There were many more suggestions in this thread and many more threads, but hopefully, if you have but a moment, you can trust and add a few of these features to your games around your table. May your story continue!