Sunday, 20 September 2020

Belswick 23: kill all the elves

Last session in Belswick, our band of luminaries got rid of the Brent-clones infesting the Tomb of the Serpent Kings, and killed the original Brent the bandit where he lay in the fungal cloning chamber

This game, they get a loredump, find a scroll that would cause the Church of the Authority to eradicate all the elves, vandalize a priceless world map, and deal with a bound succubus and a talking alchemist's apparatus.

PLAYER REACTIONS 

SHAMS
Hilarious interaction in the party. Lomin on brand with an eye for loot and Tilbรธrd shaking his head about Lomin ruining the info on a priceless antique map.
The local potion maker trapped in this dungeon for a year and noone misses her. For shame.
If we keep on hitting necromancer / serpent folk tombs, people will start to talk.

MORTI
Our Dwarf has been impressive with the smart use of her Imp ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป
Cool dungeon, lots of variation, great options for characters to shine. interesting fun hooks and most importantly: fun ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป
Morti is spoiled for choice! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ

TILLY

YESSS, sending Ricky after Tilly was excellent! And a nosy Elf at the door ๐Ÿคซ๐Ÿ‘
Morti missing some parts - ๐Ÿ‘€๐Ÿ‘€๐Ÿ‘€๐Ÿ‘€ all eyes immediately swivel to Lomin. ๐Ÿ˜‡ 'what?!'
An absent-minded talking pestle and mortar, a succubus who is a bit rusty in the seduction department, an easily distracted flesh golem...and a mofo-ing Lich! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿคค

DM
Let me tell you, it's pretty hard to seduce someone with your wife sitting right next to you ๐Ÿ˜…
Nice highlights, thanks! Lich: too much? ๐Ÿ˜‡ ...I mean, I'll be happy to turn it into a beholder or a dragon...

LOMIN
Holy Authority protect us.....
One big highlight. I think I hit my role perfectly, and so did the rest of the group. Loved the tinkering Gnome and the dealmaking priest.
(Me: I think it's a succubus. Tilly: Great. Time to take confession.)
And of course the Frankenbeast. After all the effort we took to go around it, Tilly points it straight for us. Nice cliffhanger though ๐Ÿค”๐Ÿ˜‰

 


All the OSR blogs I read say to Jaquay the dungeon with multiple entries and exits - this one is very linear except for the twin stairs leading from the round library/lab spaces below to the square lair on top. It's just easier to plan when using Dwarven Forge - I don't have the material to make more extensive complexes :)


LOREDUMP IN THE CLONING ROOM

Morti the gnome Artificer is fooling around with the fungal cloning chamber (hey look, it's got all kinds of other options!) with the help of his Green Book of Inventation. He's seriously considering turning the dreadful thing into a cabin for a mech. It does seem to be missing some parts though, and full functionality will probably only be possible after those control gems are reinserted.

It is a this point that Lomin, while prying gems out of a wall, gives the performance of his life trying to convince Morti that no, he'd never take any gems that weren't his. Especially not from that funky fungus machine.

Player is pleading for a mishap table. Soon.

Meanwhile the party's two humans Tilly the cleric and Guy the wizard currently a psion investigate a bunch of scrolls and frescoes the bandits shoved into a corner. Working together, they discover that this entire complex was once a last outpost of the Du'van Serpent Folk that ruled the world before the Authority struck them down and turned their homeland into the haunted Nightlands. 

A great search check uncovers a list of the six Du'van lords and ladies that traveled far from the Nightlands to set up a colony here:

  • High General Cyris Maxiumus
  • High Mage Xiximanter
  • Dark Priest Umtak Ktharl
  • Mistress of Spirits Til Zheng
  • General Daevis Vek
  • Striking Shadow Idzara

Another scroll explains their goals. High Mage Xiximanter sited this specific complex to research ways of bringing the Du'van back to life. To keep their race's souls safe and out of the grasp of hell and heaven, he manufactured a new race to house the Du'van souls. Sketches make it abundantly clear: the scroll is talking about the elves. Enough information to start a crusade, if given to the wrong people.

Tilly's grin is positively ghoulish as he looks over to their elf buddy Lomin, who is busy prying gems out of a wall map that seems to depict the entire world. (Which is valuable information for rulers and traders alike!)

  • gems: green sphere big as your eye, 23 facets, 500 gp; two grape-sized gems worth 350 and 100 gp (because of chipping); three smaller gems worth 100 gp each 
  • scrolls: 250 gp for their age alone, much more to the right party 
  • world map: 3x2 yards, chiseled into the living stone - needs serious labour to get this out of the dungeon. A perfect copy would be worth upwards of 750 gp. Dito for the other wall map the party found in Umtak Ktharl's tomb.
  • fungal resurrection chamber: uses a programmable fungus to clone whoever is inside. Looks to have other options as well, such as "enhancing" subjects. Worth 5000 gp, weighs a ton and a half: 40 inventory slots


HOW ABOUT THE SINGING?

Shams the Dwarf is getting curious about the last hints of activity in the dungeon. She can hear something heavy stomping around to the north (the other party members have encountered a big snake-themed stone golem here), sporadic singing to the west, and beyond that bubbling sounds and rattling bones. Time to get the party moving.

In a long room turned into a grubby theater, Annabelle the deerling potion maker is manacled to the wall - for weeks now, she says; which must mean she's been down in the wonky time flow of the dungeon complex for over a year. So who is the Annabelle the potion maker the group have met in the village of Crossroads?

The group interrogate poor Annabelle and don't seem to trust her. She breaks down and explains she's been forced to dance for the bandits - and the goblins before them - for weeks now. Can they please free her from this totally innocuous rune-covered manacle around her ankle? Morti plays his Wisdom 4 to the hilt, and picks the lock. The manacle opens, sputters some last binding magic and Annabelle gives him a hug and a kiss...Lomin's player looks on with bated breath, but nothing untoward happens.

Tilly isn't very surprised when Annabelle asks to give confession before returning to Crossroads. She explains to the young priest all the things she was forced to do...until he calls her on her bullshit five minutes in. The deerling shrugs, drops an illusion to reveal a succubus called Baltoplat, and it's time to talk in earnest. Lomin glues himself to the door but can't make out the exact words; he does pick up surprise, confrontation and then the unmistakable sound of Tilly giving a spiel and making a deal.

Morti wanders off to tinker with the fungal cloning device some more. If he takes apart his mechanical "unicorn" (miniature rhinoceros), he should have enough gear to slap some crab legs on the damned thing and have it walk itself out of the dungeon...


DEAL WITH THE DEVIL

"You don't seem troubled by dealing with a devil like myself, young priest."
"Lady, I have zero qualms about unleashing anyone or anything on the world. Let's do business."

It's about that point that Tilly asks Shams' invisible imp familiar Ricky to join the discussion. Damn that low stealth roll...

It turns out that the real Annabelle is a middling potion maker at best; she deals with someone in the dungeon who makes most of her brewings. Tilly suggests that Baltoplat take Annabelle's place in Crossroads, which she will agree to do until she's no longer interested. No formal soul-bargain is made; Baltoplat is happy to be released. (Counting his two browbeaten spined devils, there are now three devils in Tilly's employ. He's level six and has scared me to no end since the first session of play. ๐Ÿ’Ÿ)

Ricky having heard the discussion presents a complication. The little imp has been caught in a Du'van trap since way before the Du'van assaulted Heaven and murdered the Creator; he behaves more like an army scout than a tiny tempter, and he's let Tilly know before that he doesn't understand all this temptation business. Who needs mortal souls cluttering up the Fort Below when there's a war against the Outsiders to fight? Ricky would love to find out, but can't plane shift to hell on his own.

Tilly wouldn't be Tilly if he couldn't make a deal out of this. In return for Ricky keeping mum, he will persuade his master Shams to spend one of her Six Questions to Hell, allowing Ricky to plane shift there and do some recon on the side. The deal is off when Ricky decides any of this could harm Shams, though.


LET'S HAVE A BREWSKY

Confession and deals complete, the party heads for the last unknown in the dungeon: skeletal bone rattling and weird bubbling sounds. They uncover a mini-dungeon run by a sentient alchemist's apparatus. 

I finally get to put on the personality I've been looking forward to since session 1: a happily condescending and forgetful horcrux-type that greets any non-Du'van with a cheerful "Hello, bipeds! My, aren' you splendid-looking mammals. And an inheritor (elf) as well!"

The cheerfully condescending pestle and mortar at the heart of the contraption introduces itself as Xiximanter the Alchemist, a soul fragment split off by Xiximanter the Wizard to take care of mundane affairs in the dungeon. The alchemist has been happy to brew all kinds of potions for visitors in return for livestock and test subjects. (Explaining nicely why Annabelle the potionmaker often takes a pig along when she visits her herb garden near the dungeon entrance.)

Xiximanter chatters along and convinces Morti to become an apprentice. ("Who's your owner? Yourself, you say!? Wonderful, what a joke! Now make a note, we'll need to research a new kind of grammar to distinguish between myself and Xiximanter the wizard. That's just too much of a mouthful.")

The players chats a bit about how Xiximanter could still be alive. Ghoul, wraith, vampire? I just smile at the camera when they say "lich".

Entrance from the larger dungeon top left; then stairs down to the alchemy lab, library and meat locker.

 

Patient conversation with a 5000 gp alchemy lab shows the group that Xiximanter split his mind and soul into multiple parts to multitask more efficiently. The body and arcane soul are busy working on the cloning and resurrection of the Serpent Folk. Meanwhile the alchemical intellect and social skills are stuck in the alchemy lab - happily so, the Alchemist confesses: he's lukewarm about the whole resurrection thing anyway. Much cooler to invent new potions.

Behind the Alchemist's back, Shams, Guy and Lomin are exploring. They find a big staircase to a hall with green-glowing cobra statues and four seemingly lifeless bodies in large glass vats. The place turns out to be boobytrapped; as Ricky the imp flies in, four giant claws lift the cilinders and a wall of fire springs up at the end of the hall. The bodies flop to the floor - four mutations of Brent the bandit, bred for stealth, brute force and something else, it seems; they must've died when Tilly promoted Brent Prime to another plane of existence last session. 

The wall of fire is still active, though. Asked how to pass beyond it, the Alchemist says that Xiximanter the Wizard doesn't like company; the only way in is with an amulet around one of their servitors' necks. Sure enough, in a meatlocker behind the alchemy lab is a flesh golem with a beautiful amulet around its neck. Morti turns invisible to steal it, Tilly does a "behind you!" in Du'van as the golem grasps for the invisible thief - and off the golem is, to a stairway leading directly to Lomin, Shams and Guy. We'll pick up right there next session!

I don't know why the players want to bother a clone-happy lich, but I'll be happy to oblige once they get past the golem guard and wall of fire...


Monday, 31 August 2020

Lankhmar #1: a golden key

First session of a new campaign is always interesting: I want to introduce characters and immediately give the players something to do, but also want to give them options to approach the situation as they like. In this case, I tweaked DCC Masks of Lankhmar and added an intro scene before the adventure properly starts. Of course my players immediately found a third option and are now completely off the rails. Awesome!

In the seedy Silver Eel tavern in the great city of Lankhmar, the patrons are unnaturally quiet. The reason: two swaggering thieves, openly wearing their silver memberships daggers of Thieves' House. The pair are discussing an upcoming robbery of the eastern collector of curiosa Igrik of the East, who lives in Noble District. At a shadowed table nearby, three sets of pointy ears perk up:

  • BUNTY, Half-Orc druid. Bunty's grand ambition in life is to open a bakery in Lankhmar. She wants to learn how to make the utterly crispy breadrolls that she once got from a passing merchant in her village on the trade road. Tattood with a whisk and a rolling pin on her forearms, the young half-orc still needs to scrape up the coin to join the Bakers' Guild somehow. Bunty has a Criminal background and knows the seemingly-cultured fence Ebenous Rilk, who works from Pleasure Park.
  • XALO, Gnome Warlock of the Fiend. Xalo was a curious little one, even for a Gnome. She's smart (especially with her Sage / Bookworm background), but has a hard time discerning between "mine" and "thine". That's how she wandered into an old hermit's hut, picked up a shackled book, and unwittingly completed a warlock pact. She's just in it for funsies.
  • SIX BURDEN, Half-Drow Rogue and the only native to Lankhmar. A skeletally thin half-elf urchin with dusky skin and a shock of white hair, he was orphaned at a young age by a dad he never knew and a mother drifting out of his young life. The orphanage didn't work out too well, and Six Burden learned to live on the street.


The trio are down to their last pieces of gold and need to come up with money to pay for their rooms in Ivrian's Slophouse.

Home-made map of Lankhmar, based on the city map in AD&D 2137 Lankhmar: City of Adventure.
Locations are from that book, the DCC line of Lankhmar adventures, and a few from the blogosphere.

PLAN, MEET WINDOW

When they hear the lanky thief Issek (named after a long line of sainted martyrs) and his brutish ally Tovlis planning to heist Igrik the Collector's, our trio quickly pay attention. Igrik is planning a big feast to show off his collection of antiquities and ingratiate himself in Noble district, and this is the perfect opportunity to sneak in and steal his new acquisition: a thrice-jeweled golden key.

Where I'd expected them to try and score Igrik' new acquisition for themselves, they instead hatch a plan to warn Igrik and get a reward. There goes my carefully planned heist, straight out the window. Being surprised like this is great stuff, that's why I DM!

Even though it's midnight, the Gnome, Half-Orc and Half-Elf head for Noble district to find the collector's estate walled off and guarded. The original building is very Lankhmart in style, but it seems Igrik is building a new addition: a domed octagonal tower that Xalo (run by a player who is always interested in strange lore) recognizes as specially designed to funnel arcane energies.

The trio try to bluff their way past the guard but fail, Xalo casts a spell to send him to sleep, pilfers a delivery of fish and spices, and the group heads for the kitchens, which are the only place in the estate still active this late at night. Here they meet with the chef, a tanned easterling like Igrik, who tastes recipes with a long copper spoon of office that promptly gets nicked by Xalo. Bunty manages to convince the chef that there's really a heist being planned and Six Burden weedles a signed note out of the overworked chef that says they can come back in the morning.

...and that's where we end this short first session!


LOOT

  • two bowls of food begged in Igris' kitchen
  • a bunch of raw salmon sprinkled liberally with saffron
  • an unwieldy official master chef's spoon (5 sp or 15 gp to the right collector)


STARTING TROPHY

Each character got to roll at the start of the session to get a special item. These aren't directly useful, but may drive stories further down the road. From Against the Wicked City's 20 things your trickster might have 'acquired' and not be quite sure what to do with.

BUNTY has a bundle of incriminating papers, implicating the influential Countess Kronia in a variety of crimes and misdemeanours. About half of them look genuine, but she's pretty sure the rest are high-quality forgeries.

XALO has a land grant, bearing the seal of a dead official, declaring Lord Farhad and his daughter Ara to be the rightful owners of Seven Lake Country. As far as she knows, Farhad and Ara have been dead for years, and Seven Lake Country is way, way out into the wilderness; but still, if she can pass herself off as a descendant, maybe she can find more profit here than out on the frontier...

SIX BURDEN has a hand-drawn map of the temple of Skama the Moon Goddess, with several secret passages marked on it. Next to one of them - which appears to connect the temple with another nearby building - someone has written the words: 'NEVER use this tunnel after dark.'

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Second campaign: swindlers and thieves in Lankhmar

 "You know, it's so long since I RPGed - I'd like to play again." How can I say no to that, especially coming from one of the witnesses to our marriage? And so I started thinking about a three player campaign in addition to my Belswick run (the Bronze & Sand stuff petered out over summer, I'm afraid).

Rereading Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories gave me inspiration for a rogue campaign set in the decadent and criminal city of Lankhmar. We held session 0 and 1 this weekend, and I think it's going to be good fun. (By which I mean my wife and our two best friends bullshitting me and my NPCs every step of the way. Awesome!) First here's a setting overview, next up is a brief session log.


SETTING

Lankhmar is the center of civilization on the world of Nehwon - or the largest cesspool on its face, depending on who you ask.

The city grows fat on the grain trade across the river Hlal and the Inner Sea. Its many workshops fill the air with smoke and smog - rare is the night when one can see the stars. There is a guild for almost everything; pay an entry fee and monthly dues, and you too can set up a shop. The Guilds of Thieves, Slayers and Assassins especially do not take kindly to freelancers.

The city of half a million is ruled by the pleasure-seeking Overlord Glipkerio and his council of nobles and advisors. Lankhmar is equally corrupt, decadent and squalid. Luxuriate in the Grand Library or the Great Play House, then turn a corner and slum it in the Marshlight Theatre or opium den. Every appetite can be stilled here.

Plotting nobles and sly merchants rub shoulders with nefarious mages, weary actors, feuding guildsmen, ecstatic cults and conniving thieves. Among the masses one may even see travelers from the Eight Cities, the Cold North, buried Quarmall, decadent Evanmaransee and the Mingol Steppes. Visit the Plaza of Dark Delights after dark to mingle with dubious sages and peddlers of arcana; deal with the underworld in Pleasure Park, then stroll along the Hlal and find your favorite temple on the Street of the Gods to wash away your sins. Lankhmar awaits.

Home-made map of Lankhmar, based on the city map in AD&D 2137 Lankhmar: City of Adventure
Locations from that book, the DCC line of Lankhmar adventures, and a few from the blogosphere, like
Vlinderkaai's (Semper)Vivarium


STORIES

I will be using the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as inspiration, as well as the DCC adventures in Lankhmar and some reskinned adventures from OSR blogs.


SYSTEM AND HOUSERULES

5th edition D&D. Almost no house rules, which is a novelty. Here are the most important tweaks to vanilla D&D and to Lankhmar:

  • D&D: spells above 3rd level are incredibly hard to find; beyond that level, casters don't gain spells automatically as the bleeding edge of the art is jealously guarded by isolated practitioners. Join the Sorceror's guild, or seek the patronage of shrouded mages.
  • no focus on traditional alignment. I'm using word-pairs as described above.
  • Lankhmar: the original books feature mostly humans and 1-2 offshoot races like the invisible people of Mount Stardock or the Ghouls with their translucent flesh. I'll allow all D&D races - Lankhmar is a center of the world, and even rare races have a chance of popping up here.


ALIGNMENT

I can't remember who I stole this from, but I've swapped out aligment with a set of 5 word pairs; to be used as descriptors, not as straightjackets. For session zero, the players just picked the one word that resonated with them the most. The Half-Orc druid is SUPERSTITIOUS, the Gnome warlock is CAREFREE, and the Half-Drow rogue is TOLERANT.

  • responsible - carefree
  • superstitious - skeptical
  • romantic - cynic
  • traditional - radical
  • tolerant - intolerant


STARTING TROPHY

Each character got to roll at the start of the session to get a special item. These aren't directly useful, but may drive stories further down the road. From Against the Wicked City's 20 things your trickster might have 'acquired' and not be quite sure what to do with.


I'm undecided as to whether I'll incorporate the famous two rogues in the campaign. Since none of the players have read the stories (I think), I might just leave them out or have them as off-screen NPCs. Image by Mike Mignola

Monday, 3 August 2020

Belswick 22: back where they started

After 22 sessions of Belswick, my group is roughly back where they left the Tomb of the Serpent Kings 18 sessions ago: mostly cleared out, but with all the interesting bits left for the next band of squatters to move in. Last session they attacked the front door, this session they dug deeper.

I've precious little time this week, so you're just getting my group's highlights over chat. Enjoy!

Shams the Dwarf fighter
  1. Handling the nightly mischief by the Brents in my PJs. Sending the teargas back into their faces with a modified Thunderwave spell was nice.
  2. If anyone can scare the Brents shitless, it's invisible imp Ricky with his House of Horrors whisper campaign :D
  3. Almost forgot to mention the Brents! Lovely "bad guy" :) Too bad he's ded now.

Did they dig deeper? They sure did.
 
Tilly Oathbreaker*

* See Lomin's comments below and of course the loot from session 12.

Good fun! Freeing the world of the plague that was Brent was a good thing. Cool how a couple of potions and different strains of Brent caused problems ๐Ÿ˜†
  1. Morti and his collection of murder axes. Saw them in three parts from a distance, or throw a greataxe into their back as they run away! Shams has gotten a bit more insight into the weirdness and wickedness she's been caught up in. ๐Ÿ˜…
  2. That moment your suspicion is confirmed that Annabelle the herbalist is behind the whole plot - and you get extra layers of complication to boot. ...sister? Potion maker? Black tentacles?!

DM 
...Really, I mentioned black tentacles?

Tilly 
Yep, beyond the stone golem and beyond Annabelle's room. ...right? Or am I imagining things? lol ๐Ÿค”

Morti 
 Purple tentacles, right?

DM
Oh, those!! Yep, you're right. Purple ones. I was so tired by then, forgot I mentioned 'em. But they're definitely there.

Morti the Gnome artificer
  1. I love a good kill steal
  2. Morti's concept is working: either you behead someone with a glancing hit or you can't chop your way out of a wet paper bag.
  3. Liked the variation in Brent types and the clever use of potions
  4. Password!**
  5. My steampunk mini rhino Uni ๐Ÿฆ„ did something useful ๐Ÿคฃ
** "Tilly is a stinking bastard". Divulged by a Brent under interrogation, then promptly forgotten by the group. Came back to them in the last few minutes of the game, when they tried to bullshit their way into a safe room full of Brents. Was it smelly, ugly, nasty,...?

Lomin the Elf rogue noble son / Human noblelady
  1. Interrogating a captured Brent. Lomin turning out to be more trustworthy than Tilbรธrd Oathbreaker. And Brent getting executed by axe fetishist Morti. With a living axe.
  2. Infiltrating the great hall where the basilisk used to live. The big Brent battle. Morti turning out to have an even bigger axe fetish than I thought.
  3. Tilly's wide smile as he helped Original Brent out of the cloning sarcophagus and into the grave. Chills to the bone.
I had a great time and I'll miss Brent ☠️ Well played, DM! 

Ready to enter the Basilisk Hall (basilisk had been set free long before, not that the current PCs new that. The mini was there just to freak people out :D




Morti
I won't miss him, I'm just afraid what the next thing will be that the DM throws at us... and well played indeed!
As to point 2: Morti is actually the axe, the Gnome is just a pet ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

By the way, DM, what's that infernal cloning contraption worth anyway? I have inspiration, ahahaha!

DM
From session 4's (!) log:
Fungal resurrection chamber - 5000 gp, weighs a ton and a half - 40 points of inventory.

Lomin
For sale: Fungal copier. Serious bids only please๐Ÿ˜‹

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Chase rules

First non-session log post in ages! I'm going to run a city campaign for/about a bunch of thieves, and I wanted to offer more explicit options to resolve situations than fighting, bluffing and stealth. Here's the chase system I'll be using; a slightly tweaked Night's Black Agents with encounters for a bog standard low-magic medieval fantasy setting.

Chase scenes are about outwitting and outrunning your opponent. They should be frantic, vivd, fast-paced. And everybody in the group should be able to contribute. I want to run this off the cuff, which means I don't want to micro-manage and plan out every last little obstacle, juggle movement speeds per character, initiative, opportunity attacks and so on.

Eberron skycoach chase in Sharn

I'll run chases as extended opposed skill checks. Yes, it's a reviled D&D 4e mechanic, yes we'll make it work anyway. My goal is a fast movie montage of cool situations and quick decisions, not endless fiddling with modifiers. I also want variety in the challenges; not just comparing movement speeds, but throwing up situations for the players to navigate in (hopefully) new and exciting ways. I'm choosing a system that treats a group of chasers or runners as one single entity, so that I don't have the hassle of tracking how far ahead each individual is. Speed over detail here.

Night's Black Agents has a perfect little system - I only needed to file off the serial numbers and write up a bunch of obstacles. Rules first, obstacles and persistent conditions at the bottom of the post. This is written for a 5e game in a lowish-magic setting like the City of Lankhmar. In a place with a lot of low level magic like Eberron, spice things up with feather fall tokens, boots of jumping and so on.

Optional rules for those who like more crunch are in italics. They can mostly be used independent of each other.


>> USE THIS CHASE TRACKER FOR D&D 5E [ google doc ] <<

CHASE RULES

Set-up. Runners are the people trying to get away, Chasers are the ones trying to catch them. You track the distance between the two groups in an abstract way using the Lead stat. Runners need to reach a certain Lead to escape, Runners want to reduce that Lead to 0.

  • Draw one box for each number of Lead on some scrap paper; track the Runner's Lead with a token like a die, a coin or a mini.
  • If you're aiming for immersion, don't show the players the progress track - only describe if they're pulling away, close to getting caught, how close they are to their goal etc.
  • If you really need to know exact distances, assign ranges for spells and attacks to different brackets of Lead. Lead 0-2 is 0-60 feet, Lead 3-6 is 60-200 feet, Lead 7-14 is 200-1000 feet.

Lead and Obstacles. The way you change Lead is by going through Obstacles; quick little situations you can navigate in a ton of different ways. Select Obstacles in advance or roll them as you go. Be prepared for a chase to hit the rooftops, sewers, water etc - I've included slightly longer lists for those environments.

The Runner starts with a Lead halfway to their Target, depending on the overall terrain:
  • Crowded, twisty alleys, lots of obstacles: start at Lead 3, escape at Lead 6.
    +1 bonus to rolls to the most agile group (highest average Dex), adjust initial Lead by 1 in their favor
  • Minor obstacles: start at Lead 5, escape at Lead 10.
    +1 bonus to rolls to the fastest group (highest average Speed), adjust initial Lead by 1 in their favor
  • Wide open terrain: start at Lead 7, escape at Lead 14.
    +1 bonus rolls to the group with the best endurance (highest average Con), adjust initial Lead by 1 in their favor
  • Initial conditions: ± 1-3 to Lead for an (un)favorable start like being surprised by guards, sabotaging the opponents' cart etc.



Have you tried just walking at street level?

Have the group pick a leader for the round and let them describe their approach. Each group moves as one close-packed group. Every round, another player heads each group and rolls a skill check to try and overcome the Obstacle.
  • Every skill is fair game, if the player can describe how they try to use it to navigate the Obstacle. Allow for crazy stunts and reward those in narration. In 5e, you can always give +d6 Inspiration for a really cool idea.
  • The base difficulty for the skill check is 13.
  • Each round, the head Runner may decide to raise the stakes by upping the Difficulty by 1. They may also keep it at the current level. The Difficulty may only be lowered by 1 (down to 13) when both the head Runner and Pursuer agree. This represents choosing a faster pace, a more difficult route or some other risky stratagem. Ask them to describe how they see this raise looking in the fiction.
  • If the lead character wants to use a skill that their group already used before in this chase, up their Difficulty for this roll by 1 - stimulates creative solution.
  • Up the difficulty by 1 if a character has headed the roll-off before - this both simulates the group getting tired and stimulates them to let everyone in the group take a turn.

Roll-off. Best roll changes Lead in that group's favor. Describe the results of the rolls, tell your players how close they are to catching or escaping their opponents, and go for the next Obstacle. If the chase is heading in a particular direction (you need to reach the boat / catch the cultist before they reach their safe house), mention how close you're getting.

  • Runner fails, Pursuer succeeds: Lead shortens by 2.
  • Runner and Pursuer both succeed or fail: Lead changes by 1 according to whose margin was greater. In case of an exact tie, keep the Lead as-is.
  • Runner succeeds, Pursuer fails: Lead lengthens by 2.
  • If either party rolls a 1, add a Condition and up the Difficulty by 1. (See bottom of post for examples). If either party rolls a 20, they can remove an ongoing Condition and reduce the Difficulty by 1.
The Goblin Chase, by Sean Andrew Murray

RUNNING A CHASE

Pick an Obstacle. Describe quickly what the group sees - this is all happening on the run. First impressions, one big hit of flavor, then boom: who takes point? What do you do?

You'll get questions from your group. Fine, use those to flesh out the scene. Try to keep that to under one minute though, this is about keeping a frantic pace.

Have the head Runner for the group describe their approach and pick a skill for it, then the same for the Pursuers. Describe results: this is going to be chaotic, lean into that. Reward crazy ideas with cool descriptions, then on to the next Obstacle!


THINKING ABOUT OBSTACLES

Ideally, Obstacles are situations that the players can decide to tackle in lots of different ways, not a straightjacket to which there is only one answer. So, "You run into an alley full of street food vendors, with drunks and hot grease everywhere - what do you do?", instead of "there's a closed fence - roll for lock picking!")

My advice is to pick or roll a bunch of Obstacles ahead of time so you can keep up the pace during the chase without having to consult tables all the time. Of course if your group decides to head for the roof tops / into the sewers / back to the streets, you'll need to find appropriate new Obstacles, but it pays to have some pre-selected.


OPTIONAL CHASE RULES


Only recommended if you've got the basic Chase rhythm down.

  • One Runner and one Pursuer character may choose to take an action (ranged attack or cast a spell) to try and change the Difficulty for the round. This always raises their group's Difficulty by 1.

    For instance, a druid could summon a thicket of brambles to tangle his pursuers and give them +1 Difficulty, or a wizard could cast haste to give his group an ongoing -1 Difficulty. The idea is not to drop into blow-by-blow combat during a Chase - that's what the combat rules are for. Reflect the effect of the player's action in the round's Difficulty and move on.
  • Runners can choose to split the party at the start of a new round; the Pursuers then have the option of sticking with one group or splitting up as well. Deception / Insight checks might be necessary if the Runners want to hide which group has the MacGuffin, hostage, etc. (No casting spells or attacks this round; this counts as one character's action - see below.)
    • If both groups split up, run this as two separate Leads to close or open up. Botches and Criticals still inflict / alleviate Conditions.
    • If the Pursuers stick together, increase the Difficulty for their Runners by +1 to represent them being hounded by a comparatively larger group. The other Runners escape.
  • At Lead [target -2] or higher, the Runner may make an additional skill check at Difficulty +2 to make a sudden escape; the lead character decides how they suddenly manage to give their Pursuers the slip. Failure ups their Difficulty by 1 for the rest of the chase. Depending on your system, inflict subdual damage or exhaustion as a cart crashes, ankles are twisted after a long drop and so on. As before, skills used already once before incure a +1 Difficulty, so just spamming "we run extra hard and roll Athletics" is not a winning strategy.
  • At Lead 2 or below, the Pursuer may make an additional check at Difficulty +2 to grab the Runner in a final burst of speed. The lead Pursuer describes how this happens and which skill they want to use. Failure ups the Pursuers' Difficulty by 1 for the rest of the chase. Depending on your system, inflict subdual damage or exhaustion.


OBSTACLES

FINALLY, shit to pepper your chase with. Either plan these out ahead of time (so you can foreshadow) or roll as you go along. Sewers and rooftops have longer lists, because face it, your players will go there first chance they get.

Street market (d12)
  1. Pottery merchant on obstinate donkey
  2. Cart with wine barrels
  3. Oil barrels waiting to be carried inside
  4. Carpet vendor
  5. Street food vendor, lots of grease and hot coals
  6. Busy market square
  7. Slippery, smelly fish market
  8. Porters taking a break, street filled with their haul
  9. Stampeding herd animals
  10. Escaped flock of poultry and their owner
  11. Escaped exotic wild animal, owners shouting not to hurt it
  12. Cock or dog fight

A complication (d12)
  1. Doom prophet loudly denouncing you to his flock
  2. Jugglers and the crowd around them
  3. Bar fight spilled into the street
  4. Loan shark thinks you owe them
  5. Assassins mistake you for their quarry
  6. Clandestine drugs sale to noble's servants
  7. Frantic victim asking to help escape kidnappers
  8. Man begging wife for forgiveness as she throws his stuff out the window
  9. Guards sleeping lightly on the job
  10. Bunch of prostitutes trying to turn a trick
  11. Robbers beating up victim in back alley
  12. Murderous black fog out to throttle someone

Crowd (d12)
  1. Mimes and living statues, invisible walls & illusionary obstacles
  2. Road full of tired, disoriented pilgrims
  3. Funeral procession, black robes and lots of chanting
  4. Town cryer and group of listeners
  5. Priest giving outdoor sermon
  6. Bunch of guards saw you running and intercept
  7. Marriage ceremony in progress
  8. Pickpockets working a crowd - including you
  9. Bucket brigade trying to put out burning building
  10. Rowdy party-goers spoiling for a fight
  11. Workers revolting against unfair taxes
  12. Outdoor pub, wooden planks on barrels

Hindrance (d12)
  1. Slippery puddle of spilled oil or worse
  2. Alley deadends into tanner's worksplace
  3. Archway leads to a busy smithy
  4. Stairs turn into a bricked up doorway
  5. Alchemists guild disposing of acidic waste
  6. Inn keeper refusing to take delivery of substandard wine
  7. Two cart drivers refusing to give way
  8. Magnificent war horse blocks half the road
  9. Sedan chair with snooty noble and guards with big sticks
  10. Cart pulls out in front of you
  11. Idiot bard on horseback weaving across the street
  12. Two men very carefully carrying a plate of glass

Geography (d12)
  1. Cul-de-sac with rusty gate and closed doors
  2. Extremely narrow alley
  3. Sudden open square with long lines of sight
  4. Collapsed building filling road with rubble
  5. Lots of ankle-trapping potholes
  6. Dizzying cliff edge, view to lower level
  7. Overhanging wrought-iron balcony
  8. Run into cliff wall to higher level
  9. Narrow, rusted crate to the sewers
  10. Open sewer
  11. Narrow bridge across a stagnant canal
  12. Slippery quay with small boats

On the water (d12)
  1. River patrol demands you stop
  2. Fat river barge blocking the way
  3. Unusually large fish nudging boat
  4. Extremely low bridge dead ahead
  5. Pleasure boat with raucous party in your way
  6. Fishers arguing over whose turn it was to haul the net
  7. Swarm of rats climbing into the boat
  8. Floating debris blocking fast travel
  9. Three nobles in an illicit gathering
  10. Drunks pissing into the river, throwing rocks
  11. Rope covered in pitch across the water
  12. Assassin on the run jumps into boat, demands getaway

In the sewers (d20)
  1. Ancient cistern with exits halfway up the smooth walls
  2. Thieves exiting torn down wall into a cellar
  3. Meeting of Rat cultists
  4. Albino alligator drifting past
  5. Sudden flood of waste water
  6. Marsh gas, liable to explode
  7. Gate rusted shut
  8. Apprentice trying out some demon summoning
  9. Moonshine still with lots of flammable juice
  10. Sluice half-closed against the recent heavy rains
  11. Spider webs. Thin strands at first, then fat cables and curtains
  12. Unstable and slippery wooden plank leads to darkened side tunnel
  13. Flood of rats racing to you
  14. Three ghouls digging into a private crypt
  15. Tunnel lowers to slippery crawlspace
  16. Vermin collectors placing traps
  17. Underground market with illegal goods
  18. Shut-in commune asks gift to open gate
  19. Drug runners with a skiff full of green opium
  20. Guards with plague masks hunting drug smugglers

Rooftops (d20)
  1. Clotheslines, impossible to see past
  2. Damaged roof with lots of holes to fall through
  3. Red roof tiles that splinter and get slippery in rain
  4. Midnight drug users on a rooftop terrace
  5. Assassins getting ready for infiltration
  6. Rusty drainpipe will break if climbed incautiously
  7. Tyaa-bird (intelligent bird or harpy) making its way into a skylight
  8. Steep roof over a deep drop
  9. Big jump across the street
  10. Gusts of biting clouds from below
  11. Narrow beam across very wide street
  12. Thatched roof, catches your feet, very flammable
  13. Large stained glass window in the way; a skylight is open
  14. Next roof over is higher than this one
  15. Clattering roof tiles alert home owner and their dog
  16. Astrologer blocks path with elaborate, fragile telescope
  17. Glyph of Warding to ward off burglars on your path
  18. Spiky weathervine swinging back and forth
  19. Hatch to lower level is bolted from below
  20. Surprised smugglers accessing their secret stash

CONDITIONS

When either Pursuers or Runners roll a 1 on their skill check, inflict an ongoing Condition on everyone. If a party rolls a 20, they can choose to end one condition.

Every condition inflicts an ongoing problem on the Runners and Pursuers. The lead character in every group rolls a check against Difficulty every round or the group suffers a

  • Flash rains block sight, extinguish torches, make everything slippery. Dex save or the group loses 1 Lead.
  • Lightning storm disorients everyone with flashes and thunder. Wisdom save or the group loses 1 Lead.
  • Fire! A band of arsonists - or cultists? - has set fire to the neighbourhood. Dex save or everyone in the group takes d6 damage.
  • CLOUD OF HATRED. A hidden cult has summoned the Cloud of Hate. People riot in the streets. Wisdom save or the group members inflict d6 damage on each other; add +1 to the Difficulty of Obstacles involving people.
  • Festival! An obscure faith demands an impromptu celebration. Fireworks, loud trumpets, jostling crowds. Persuasion check or the group loses 1 Lead. 
  • The stars are right. Mad visions plague the living. Intelligence save or reroll your chase check.
  • All Thieves' Night. Impromptu celebration by the followers of a local thieving god. Perception roll or a random group member loses a small item like a purce, ring or amulet. Any objects the group just stole (probably the reason they're being chased) have a 1-in-6 chance of being stolen this way. If the roll misses by 5 or less, the group realizes the theft and can try to chase the thief. If not, they realize next round and can give chase at a higher Lead.