Chase Scenes in Role Playing Games

Everyone loves a chase scene!  It is the reason movies like Fast and Furious and Need For Speed always make huge amounts of money.  Not to mention all the video games that circulate the idea of car races and chases and general naughtiness that make a mint in the industry.  So why do these things not really make a huge showing in role playing games?

Because the rules that surround most chase scenes in role playing games suck.  Plain and simple the idea of having a chase in any of the modern games that I run or play in make me want to pull every hair on my head with a set of tweezers.  It would be much more fun.  Games these days (and in fact most games) fail to appreciate the tension that needs to be built for an excellent chase.

When asked about this sort of game I always have one reply to people.  It has hands down the best chase mechanic in any game that I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of.  The chase scene also applies to foot, car, motorbike, boat, plane, airship, hot air balloon, in fact any single thing you can think of chasing someone on this has the system for you.  And you know what, it would easily be imported into any game that you play right now with a minimum amount of work.

Stop teasing?  O.K., the game is James Bond the Role Playing Game released in the 1980’s by Victory Games.  It probably does not surprise you in the least that this particular game there was a major focus on chases.  After all, what would any James Bond movie be without a chase scene?  In fact several chase scenes?  I can tell you what they wouldn’t be, they would not be James Bond movies!

And the chase is on!  My son
working out his ease factor…

The base mechanic of James Bond is a percentile based system where you have skills that are pretty much ranked between 1 and 30.  An ease factor is then applied to your skill ranking to make a percentage number that you have to roll under.  The ease factor is ranked from 1/2 to 10.  I know that mathematically that means you can have a 300% chance to succeed at something but the result you roll is broken up into quality ratings so the lower you roll the better you succeed.  O.K. with that in mind as the base mechanic, let us move on to what makes this system so brilliant.

In the game there are several things you can do in a chase like try to extend distance, attempt to ram, attempt a trick maneuver etc.  I’ll not go too much into the detail of that apart from to say that each one of these tasks has an Ease factor that it must start at.  So driving along the road obeying the road rules is ease factor 10 while jumping a twisted broken bridge and landing safely on the other side might be ease factor 4. Still sounds boring?  Well there is one added extra twist that is thrown in that makes this system build the best chase system ever.

That twist is the bidding war.  What happens is when someone calls a maneuver then a bidding war begins at the ease number set for the maneuver.  The bidding war is in place so the opponent of the person that called the maneuver can match the maneuver and thus continue the chase in the same situation or the opponent (if they are being chased) can maintain the status quo and foil the chaser.  Below is a textual idea of how this might be run, although written out it looks no where near as exciting as it is in play to run this…

The GM is running a boat chase along the Nile river in Egypt.  Callum is playing James Bond has just rescued Q from an organisation that was seeking to extract him for his knowledge of a satellite tracking system he designed.  James has a 17 skill in boating and is being chased by a henchman known as Dynamo who has a cover as a stunt-woman in high profile Hollywood movies.  Dynamo has a boating skill of 21.  James has the initiative and calls that he wants to draw away from Dynamo by trying to out run her…

 GM:  Pulling away, Ease Factor starts at 8.  Do you want to make it tougher?

Callum: (Thinking that an ease factor of 8 would give him a chance of 136% to succeed) No, I’ll pass.


GM:  Well, Dynamo is not scared.  She bids 6.


Callum: (6 puts him at 102%, still a likely success as any roll of 100 is a fail) Really, she is feisty, so I will play the game, how about we go 5 and make things interesting? (5 gives Callum an 85% chance here and it is a risk but he wants to own this chase)


GM:  (Dynamo’s chance is still above 100% at 105% right now.  The GM wants to alert Callum that Dynamo is not some hood so she pushes it a little more) 5!  You can almost hear the laughter across the water!  She bids 4.


Callum: (He is nervous now.  Ease factor 4 puts him at 68% and that is no guaranteed situation!)  O.K. He laughs trying to act confident.  Let the little lady see what she can do.


As the GM wins she makes her roll against a success chance of 84%  She rolls a 23 on her d100 and that puts her at a Quality Rating 3 success.  Following this Callum then rolls his d100 looking at 68% or lower.  He lucks it and gets a 67 on his roll putting him at Quality Rating 4


GM: Looks like Dynamo is not just a pretty face.  As you power up she matches you easily and gets a little closer to you as she fakes you into a corner of the river thick with crocodiles…


Now to me, that whole mechanic is the reason that I love the chase system in the James Bond game.  The bidding system builds tension and excitement that translates to the action in game.


But Mark, you said this is easily portable into my game.  I don’t play a percentile game based on Ease Factors…

Well, you are right but if you play a skill based system or a system that requires you to roll a certain target number you have the basis for this system right in front of you.  In Pathfinder as two thieves chase one another across the rooftops of Absalom the GM calls a target number and the player goes OK, then the GM says the thief behind is going to push it and will accept a target number of 1 higher, the player returns with a counter offer and so on.  In FATE the same can be done by accepting a negative modifier to the roll that could be bid on.

Of course there needs to be some reality built in to the system.  A man running away from a mounted Knight on a flat plain is going to lose period.  The Knight will run him down but while there is a chance for maneuvers, there is always a chance you can get away.

Give it a try the next time you play and let me know how it goes!  Oh, and keep on rolling!

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