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[Check out this newer post on this subject: D&D 5E – Quick Reference – Chase Rules.]
A couple of years ago I published chase rules for D&D v3.5. You can download them here.
With the release of the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons, those rules seem rather heavy. You can still use them if your campaign will have a lot of chases. However, in keeping with the slimmed down rules of 5e, I am proposing a simple house rule for chases. The description below is in terms of a PC character chasing a fleeing foe. Keep in mind that the same rules apply when the PC is the one fleeing.
Most of the time the standard rules for combat work just fine. A chase may occur when one or more opponent turns and runs away. In game terms, he uses the Dash action to spend his entire turn moving away from combat as quickly as possible. If he starts his turn within 5 feet of you, or passes within 5 feet of you, you can use your Reaction to make an opportunity attack.
It all depends on how far away you are from him at the beginning of your turn. Compare this distance to your characters speed. There are three possible results.
A chase is not a race. There are multiple factors that could enable a creature to catch up to another one that has the same speed. Even a lucky slower creature should have a chance. Here is my house rule:
At the end of a turn where you have used a Dash action to advance toward an opponent that is fleeing, you may call for a Strength (Athletics) contest between the two characters. If you win the contest, you move an additional 5 feet toward your opponent. If you lose the contest, you move back 5 feet.
Characters can’t continue running at top speed forever. For extended chases:
After 5 rounds of continuous running, a character must make a [DC 15] Constitution save or suffer one level of exhaustion. Each additional round of continuous running requires another save at an additional +2 to the DC.
The DM may rule that certain creatures are immune to this exhaustion effect, or that they can run for longer periods before requiring this check.
Why do we need more rules? What is wrong with just using the rules as printed?
1) The move rules are written for use in combat, and are excellent for that, but chases are resolved as if they were races. As anyone knows who has ever watched an action movie with an exciting chase scene, a chase is not a race. Being quick, clever and daring (along with a good portion of luck) can result in a slower person getting away form a faster pursuer, or a slower pursuer catching someone faster.
2) On page 20 of the DMG “Evasion and Pursuit” says in round-by-round movement it is imposable for a slower character to catch a faster character. If they have the same speed, let them make an opposed Dexterity check to see who wins. And for long chases, have everybody make Dexterity checks to see who can keep up the pace the longest. This is workable but it replaces what could be an exciting chase into a single role of the dice. If combat was handled like this, everyone would roil one d20, add any ability or circumstance modifiers, and the fight would be over. This would “work” but wouldn’t be much fun.
3) Each character moves during his or her turn during a combat round. Even though this works just fine for combat, for a chase it can result in awkward situations. For example, your character could be chasing another with the same speed, each round on your turn you would move up close to him and then on his turn your opponent would pull away from you. If you are chasing someone and you are both running at the same speed, shouldn’t you stay the same distance apart for the whole round?
4) Actions and moves are handled separately. There are very few actions that can be performed while moving. As we all know, during a chase, you don’t normally stop to do other things. Practically everything you do is done while you are running.
1) It must be simple. The new rules are kept to a minimum.
2) It must still be D&D. A chase is basically a special combat situation. All standard combat rules still function normally during a chase except where specifically noted otherwise. Most importantly, your character isn’t limited to what he can attempt to do.
3) It must work for any number of characters chasing any number of other characters. The PCs can be chasing others or be chased by others and each PC determines his own actions.
4) It must work equally well for characters on foot, mounted, fling or driving a vehicle. Everyone on a vehicle is involved in the chase, but there will typically only be one character driving or controlling the vehicle. The mode of travel can even change during the chase. For example, someone might jump onto or off or his horse, or he might swim across a lake or climb a wall.
5) There must be a way for the slower person to win. The distance you move each round can’t be just a static distance based on your characters speed rate. There will be a roil of a 20 sided die that each character involved in the chase makes that will modify his distance traveled. And it will be adjusted by various factors such as terrain, obstacles, abilities and actions taken during the round.
Download a free copy of these chase rules here: Chase Rules