Run For Your Life

Levels 1-4

Replace the recommended chase rules from the DMG with a simple skill challenge to add more excitement and less boredom to your chases, pursuits, and races!


If you’re wondering how to run a chase in DnD 5e, you’re probably looking for something to spice up the action scenes in your game. Chases are a great encounter to sprinkle into a high-energy game becuase they break up the pace of combat and turns while still being dangerous and involving a lot of dice rolling.

I’ve read the how to run to a chase scenes in the 3.5e and 4e DMGs, and a few other takes on it (like this one and this one), and I’ve run about a dozen good ones that I can remember. I’ve run some bad ones too.

Here’s the system I use for running chases in 5e now, with only the parts of the other systems that I like and without the parts I don’t.

Why We Use a Skill Challenge for a Chase

At the heart of this chase is a skill challenge, using my favorite skill challenge rules. Note they’re a little different here than they’re presented in 4e: I’m limiting each character to one roll per attribute, not just one roll per skill. That’s because I like them to be creative and use this as an outlet to use their powers in unusual ways. The more we limit them, the more creative they can be.

I like this instead of using combat movement or a more game-ified distance tracking system or even opposing rolls. I don’t like adding too many additional mechanics to remember. Using the skill rules as they exist and then my skill challenge rules I use in every game is about as far as I’ll go, and I think it works here.

Skill Challenge Basics

The mechanical purpose of the skill challenge is to roll a certain number of successes before reaching a certain number of failures. The creative purpose of the skill challenge is to encourage each player to think about how their character approaches different problems and explore different aspects of their character’s personality.

  • Each player must attempt a roll at least once before any player can roll again.
  • Each player can attempt a roll based on a certain attribute only once (one INT roll, one CHA roll, one STR roll), no matter what skills they’re using.

When a player makes an attempt, they’ll tell the table which skill they’re using to make the check and justify it to the DM (if necessary). They’ll describe how they’re using that skill to address the problem or help the group work towards a solution, then make their roll.

The Chase as a Skill Challenge

For this skill challenge, the players will need to roll eight successes to catch the Quarry. If they roll three failures first, the chase ends in a failure, which means a few different things depending on how you set it up (see below for more on that).

In our chase, each player will take a turn in initiative order (you can roll if you like, or just use the table’s initiative bonuses to decide). On their turn, they’ll roll 1d20 and check the table for the encounter you’re running. That’s the obstacle they’ll face on this leg of the chase.

On their turn, each player should describe which attribute they use to overcome the obstacle and make their skill roll. On a success, they should describe how they move on to the next leg of the chase. On a failure, they suffer a consequence of their choice from the consequence table in each encounter.


Player Goals

There are many reasons the party might end up in a chase in the middle of a busy magical city. I’ll only describe three of them below.

All of them are encounters I’ve run in environments like this (with a few improvements in some cases!).

  • The party is trying to steal something important, but have been caught and are fleeing on foot! (Encounter A)
  • The party has caught sight of a mysterious figure that’s been following them escaping through the crowd. After them! (Encounter B)
  • The party is fleeing certain defeat at the hands of a powerful foe! Run away! (Encounter C)

Faction Goals

The faction goals in these encounters work a little differently than usual. We’re just going to formulate the faction goals in direct opposition to the player goals, so we can justtify action breaking out into a chase.

We’ll use these faction goals to design the rewards and conequences at the end of each encounter, in proper proactive faction.

  • The party stole the object from the faction and they want it back… at any cost!
  • The mysterious figure cannot reveal their identity or a terrible secret will come to light!
  • The powerful foe has a personal grudge against the party and will stop at nothing to slay them.

Encounter A

A heist gone wrong means the party is sprinting through busy market streets, fleeing the hobnailed boots behind them.

How to Set Up This Chase

You’re running this encounter if the party has stolen an item and is making away with it through the crowded city streets. I’ve found that no matter how carefully planned a TTRPG heist is, something always goes wrong. I’ve probably run this or variants of it more than ten times.

This chase has a clear success state (the party escapes to safe ground or reaches concealment) and a clear fail state (they are caught by the owners of the stolen object, or by the authorities, or both). That makes it dead simple to run.

It’s essential that you make clear before the action starts exactly what those two states are, so there are no surprises later, and no uncommunicated expecations. I like the party to discuss where they’re running to, not just where they’re running from, before we roll any dice. That way they know where they’ll end up after eight successes.


During the chase, you may need to have players who fail their rolls face the consequences. Here’s the list of options I usually let them choose from:

  • Take 2d10 damage. The player should explain how this results from their run-in with the obstacle. There is no attack roll and no saving throw—that’s already covered by the skill check.
  • (For spellcasters) Use a spell slot of the highest available level to overcome the obstacle at the last minute. It sucks to lose spell slots.
  • If the stolen item is magical, it applies its magical effect in a way that is harmful to the carrier (if it causes harm) or beneficial to the pursuers (if it produces good effects). If this choice doesn’t make sense for the item your players have stolen, don’t offer it.
  • The stolen item is dropped and recovered by the pursuers. This option turns the failure they just rolled into a success instead. Most parties would rather die than do this.

How to Resolve This Chase

If the party rolled eight successes and ended up succeeding the chase, they make it to the safe zone and have evaded capture. Hooray! Their reward is the item there were trying to get away with, plus a breather to heal and communicate.

In most cases I like to award them a grace period where they can do stuff in public before they’ll be identified on sight by the authorities. This is a logical reward of getting away, but it shouldn’t last very long—just enough to start their next thing.

It might not be totally realistic, but it’s a great way to propel the group into the next part of the plot without any dead time.

If the party rolled three failures before rolling eight successes, then the chase failed and they couldn’t get away. This means their pursuers catch up with them and a confrontation is unavoidable. I usually try to head off any wiggle room by telling the party to immediately roll for initiative when the last failure is rolled.

If you don’t have a pursuing faction in mind, just throw six guards at them while you figure out what happens next.

I’ve set this chase right in the middle of a crowded market because I think that’s the most interesting place for it. I’ve seen a lot of cool kung fu movies with chase scenes like this, and I love ‘em.

Obstacles in This Chase

  1. A sudden gust of wind, guided by a weather manipulating mage, sweeps through the street, forcing the party to brace themselves and slowing their progress.
  2. A group of street performers starts a fire-juggling show nearby, drawing a crowd and blocking the path.
  3. A pack of domesticated pseudodragons, spooked by the commotion, darts into the crowd, causing chaos and scattering people in every direction.
  4. An apprentice mage, practicing his transmutation spells, accidentally turns the cobblestones under the party’s feet into slippery soap.
  5. A city guard patrol suddenly rounds the corner ahead, forcing the party to change their route.
  6. A wild surge of magic from a nearby classroom causes random gravity fluctuations, making movement difficult and unpredictable.
  7. The clamor of the chase wakes up a grumpy gargoyle perched high on a building, who starts to fling debris at the party.
  8. An ethereal rift suddenly opens, spewing out harmless but disorientating illusions of beasts and monsters that run amok.
  9. A pot of a mischievous alchemist’s newest concoction explodes, releasing a cloud of dense, obscuring smoke.
  10. A group of college students, engrossed in a game of Mage’s Duel, accidentally sends a harmless but forceful spell veering off course and into the party’s path.
  11. An inconsiderate teleporting merchant appears right in front of the party, peddling his wares obliviously.
  12. An enchanted moving statue wanders across the street, disrupting foot traffic and blocking the party’s way.
  13. A floating building momentarily loses its charm, descending and obstructing the alley the party was going to use.
  14. A helpful civilian, thinking the party is in distress, casts a spell of Slow on the pursuing guards, but mistakenly hits the party instead.
  15. A street vendor’s canopy collapses, raining down colorful silks and obstructing vision.
  16. A well-meaning but misinformed magical animal, such as a blink dog or a pegasus, tries to “rescue” one of the party members by scooping them up.
  17. An undulating wave of magical energy from the nearby college washes over the street, causing brief bouts of uncontrollable laughter in everyone it touches.
  18. A group of local kids start a game of street-tag, weaving around the party’s legs and hindering their movement.
  19. An ambitious bard starts playing a captivating song that creates a dancing aura, causing the crowd to start an impromptu dance and clog the streets.
  20. The stolen item itself, if it’s magical, may begin to protest – perhaps it glows brightly, makes loud noises, or even starts to float away, drawing attention and making concealment difficult.

Encounter B

At long last, the mysterious figure that’s been following the party is just ahead of them. Can they chase down and catch them in time?

I’ve set this chase in the docks/shipyard district of my metropolis. It could easily be adapted to a sci-fi or modern setting in a similar city.

Obstacles in This Chase

  1. A massive crane, enchanted to move cargo, swings a large crate in the path of the party, obstructing their pursuit.
  2. The fugitive darts through a crowd of drunken sailors who are celebrating their recent return from a voyage, causing chaos and confusion.
  3. An awakened sea creature, irritated by the commotion, splashes a huge wave onto the dock, making the planks slippery and dangerous.
  4. A sudden, heavy rain shower begins, reducing visibility and making footing treacherous.
  5. A group of smugglers, not keen on being discovered, spring out of the shadows to delay the party.
  6. A ship’s anchor chain, manipulated by a mage’s telekinesis, rattles and swings across the path to block the way.
  7. A swarm of dockside rats, startled by the chase, scatters across the path causing party members to dodge or risk tripping.
  8. An illusory wall, cast by a defensive dockside wizard to deter thieves, appears and confuses the party’s sense of direction.
  9. A net full of fish suddenly tears, dropping a slippery, slimy mess onto the party’s path.
  10. An enchanted fog rolls in from the sea, obfuscating the area and making the figure hard to see.
  11. The mysterious figure throws a smoke bomb, creating a thick smoke cloud that hinders vision.
  12. A sudden squall picks up, churning the sea and causing boats to rock wildly, some even crashing onto the dockside.
  13. A cluster of magical lanterns, being loaded onto a ship, explode in a burst of bright, blinding light.
  14. A portal to the college, used for quick transport of goods, opens up and a rush of people and cargo spill out, causing confusion.
  15. A shady merchant, not wishing to attract attention, sets loose his aggressive guard mastiffs.
  16. A city guard patrol happens upon the scene and, misunderstanding the situation, attempts to detain the party.
  17. A gang of dockside urchins, seeing an opportunity, try to pickpocket the party in the confusion, causing distraction.
  18. A large tentacle, belonging to some unseen marine creature, briefly surfaces and thrashes about, causing chaos on the docks.
  19. A magical malfunction causes a nearby streetlight to burst, showering the area with sparkling, distracting energy.
  20. The dock beneath the party’s feet starts to creak and buckle, hinting that it might collapse under their weight.

How to Set Up This Chase

Before you run this chase, you’ll need to know who the mysterious figure actually is. I’ve used long-lost siblings, secret kings, and demonic tutors in this role. If you’re reading this one to run it, you probably already know who it is!

That means our success and failure rate is even simpler with this chase than it was with the last one. On a success, the party catches the mysterious figure in a way that makes unmasking them possible, and on a failure, the mysterious figure gets away and won’t be seen again here.

I like to tell the party that if they succeed, I’ll have it end up where they can confront the mysterious figure without violence if that’s how they want to run it, even if I don’t know the specifics yet. Then when the time comes, I’ll improv how it happens (tied up in nets, pinned beneath falling architecture, etc) based on how the chase has gone so far.

I also make it clear than on a failure, this person is smoke in the wind and cannot be found in the near term.


During the chase, you may need to have players who fail their rolls face the consequences. Here’s the list of options I usually let them choose from:

  • Take 2d10 damage. The player should explain how this results from their run-in with the obstacle. There is no attack roll and no saving throw—that’s already covered by the skill check.
  • (For spellcasters) Use a spell slot of the highest available level to overcome the obstacle at the last minute. It sucks to lose spell slots.
  • The character harms or slights a dangerous local criminal faction in some minor way, but it will be remembered—sometime in the next few weeks, two thugs will join a fight they weren’t invited to and try to kill the characters while they are occupied.
  • An attentive street urchin follows the party, interested in where they’re going. If the party manages to catch and unmask the mysterious figure, the rest of the city (or everyone it’s relevant to) will know their identity too, in a matter of hours.

How to Resolve This Chase

If the party rolls eight successes before three failures, they’ve succeeded in catching their quarry and the mysterious stranger is temporarily at their mercy. I usually don’t like to force a fight right away, so I’ll cook up a situation in which the party can think and talk for a minute before the stranger can either escape or fight. Sometimes they want to just fight right away, and that’s fine, I guess.

But my real objective during this short exchange is to give the party additional information they weren’t necessarily looking for. This is the “+1 information” idea you may have read about in our other posts or the book. The idea is that the party is chasing the mysterious stranger because they want something immediately, but I want to reward them for successfully overcoming the encounter by rewarding them with extra information.

This is usually something they didn’t know they wanted to know, but they’ll find useful. I use it often to direct them to something else I have already prepared. If they skipped a cool crypt I prepared last month, for example, I’ll use a +1 to steer them back towards it (EX: “the mysterious stranger, the bastard son of the king, tells you of a secret cult the king leads in a nearby crypt, and the next meeting is soon…”)

If they roll three failures before eight successes here, then the chase just fails and the mysterious stranger gets away. This often feels anticlimatic to me, so I usually have the chase end with a different action scene, like a quick fight (maybe they ended up in gang territory?).

Encounter C

A powerful foe with a personal grudge against the players stalks them through the halls of the college of mages, hellbent on getting its claws in them.

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