The GM Awakens: The Art of the Chase

Image by Mark Molnar.

This series follows the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of a fairly inexperienced GM who has recently picked up the hobby after a long time away. It aims to assist new GM’s by examining what worked, didn’t work, and what failed miserably as he spins up new campaigns, modules, encounters, and adventures for his friends and family in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny system.

One of the most cinematic, narrative, and fun moments of any movie or game is a good chase.  In a video game or movie, it can be pretty easy to create an epic chase that really feels like you’re hanging on by the skin of your teeth and zipping by at break-neck speeds.  But in an RPG, it’s really difficult to make a good chase scene stick, and one that really feels amazingly death-defying.  A chase on paper and pencil RPGs just, by its nature, is not one that you can just pull off with little effort.

It’s a subject that I’ve really been trying to grasp at my tables.  So much so that a few months back after asking the Order 66 hosts how to handle a good chase scene, they devoted an entire show to it.  That show, plus reading forums, reading through some rules again, and some careful planning, I’ve come up with some guidelines I’ve adopted for running good, fun, cinematic chases.

Chase Rules As Written

First, lets discuss what the rules are in the core books from FFG.  They are fairly straight forward.  The rules are as follows:

  1. Have each ship or vehicle involved in the chase make a competitive piloting check.  This is not an opposed check.  You add up the successes and compare them.
  2. If the pursuer gets more successes, he gains a range band on whomever he or she is chasing.  If the pursued gets more successes, he or she gets a range band farther away.
  3. If the winner of the check is going faster than the opponent, then they increase the range bands they move by the difference between the vehicles’ speeds.  So if a ship is going two speed points faster and wins the check, he will gain or separate three range bands.  One for winning the check and two for the differences in speed.

Difficulty of the check should be based on the “Stellar Phenomena or Terrain” rules in the Core Rulebooks, if applicable.  Advantage, Threat, Triumph, and Despair on these checks will be discussed in detail below.  But the real key to the chase rules is that when a round starts, you perform the steps above before anything else happens, and then go into a normal round of actions.  Only this time, with the second actions and maneuvers taken by the characters, they will be unable to do anything that changes their relative position among the chase scene going on.  They can fire weapons or find shortcuts or any number of narrative responses, but they keep where they are in the chase order to the checks made above.

Buff up your vehicles

A house-rule that’s been floating around a while is in regards to how strong vehicles are in combat and tense situations.  How strong a vehicle or starship is becomes important in chases because many things can cause collisions, taking strain, or taking damage.  So the first thing you should do is double or even triple the Hull Trauma of the vehicles, unless they’re Silhouette 4 or higher… sometimes those have enough already to withstand a little punishment.  Because if you keep the Hull Trauma of a ship or vehicle at what the books tell you it is, one hit and you might explode.  Now, narratively, when you have a sky full of TIE Fighters, you want them blowing up with each hit, just like the films.  But, when it comes to chases, you need to be able to ram into things, jump, flip, and all sorts of fun things.  To do that you’ll want more HT at your disposal, so don’t hesitate to bump it up.

Advantages, Threat, Triumph, and Despair

So the one thing I was getting very, very wrong in my early chases in games surrounds the use of these symbols, especially the competitive check parts of the chases.  I know how to use Advantage and Threat, sure.  But I wasn’t really applying them in the moment in the obvious way.  That is, when you’re doing the competitive check, use the dice to add the flair to your chases.  This is where your chases change over from being tactical, plodding parts of the game, and into cinematic movie moments at your table.  Here’s some examples of how to use each of the symbol types during a chase during the competitive check.

  • Advantage – You drop back momentarily and slam the back of your speeder into the front of your pursuer’s.  His speeder begins to spin a bit and it will require him to make a piloting check to regain control as he fights the controls to stay in the chase.
  • Threat – You keep your foot on the pedal and try to stay in front of those chasing you in your speeder.  Suddenly, there is a huge jam of people in your way and you must reduce your speed by one to keep control.
  • Triumph – You glance behind you to see where your pursuer is and you watch as suddenly, another speeder heading perpendicular to him, slams into his speeder, leaving one less on your tail.
  • Despair – You get nervous as you look behind you… you’re being gained on.  You gun it and floor the throttle.  As you do, you hear a bang in the engine as smoke starts billowing out.  Your speeder begins to slow down.

So when you do the competitive check, be sure to use these symbols to turn your tactical chase into a cinematic experience at your table.

Extra Checks Are OK

So the last thing I’d recommend, while not going overboard, is allowing more checks than normal in a chase.  As long as you moderate it reasonably, this can add a lot of fun to these scenes.  Whenever something might get in the way of the folks in the chase, let them make another piloting check to avoid it.  If some Threat is rolled, make them roll a check to dive out of the way of a tree falling in their way, or dodging in between a lot of blaster fire.

Just remember, when you’re in a chase, don’t be scared to get rid of rules about how many checks each character gets.  It adds a lot of flair and fun.

So that’s just a really quick run down of how I’ve adjusted my chases and have made some recently really shine.  They’ve come from experience and a lot of folks smarter than me.  If you’re not already doing these things, consider them next time around. My table has been glad I did.

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Scott Alden

Scott Alden

Scott is a full-time IT Manager living in Lawrence, KS. (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Just outside Kansas City for those who don't know.) Scott is a veteran of several role playing, table top miniatures, video, and board games, starting with the Atari 2600 when he was 6, and the classic red box Dungeons and Dragons game when he was 12. After a long hiatus away from the hobby, Scott has recently picked up gaming once again, and is running two different campaigns in Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny lines. He is an avid X-Wing miniatures player, as well as Armada, Imperial Assault, Space Hulk, and Rebellion. (His family is obviously a Star Wars family, right?) Scott is married to his high school sweetheart, and has 2 children in middle school, both Black Belts in Krav Maga martial arts.
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