Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wilderness and pursuits

I've found that while a chase is often quite intense in a movie, they are seldom as much fun in a game. But, while that's interesting, today I'll talk about a related subject, namely wilderness pursuits.

If you have a team of PCs pursuing some, say, orcs, how do you make that interesting? In a Pathinder/D&D game it's very easy to reduce it to daily rolls on Tracking/Survival and then it becomes mechanistic and devoid of that interesting suspense a good chase should have. If we flip the coin and make the players being players, it's probably their characters being chased. Still, just making a die roll to avoid being hunted down is just as dull.

This is how I'd make these scenarios interesting. It's a compilation of my own ideas, and some I've collected from blogs and podcasts. This will fiunction both as a list for my readers to be inspired by, and a note to myself for things I have to remember to bring to the table.


  • Use the terrain - Someone being followed in the wilderness are probably going to make it harder for you to track them. You'd try to look for different terrain, like trying to not just stomp forward over that soft and marshy ground. Not only will you run the possibility of getting stuck, you will leave excellent tracks to follow. Have you ever seen any Western movie about a chase? That's where you'll want to go for inspiration. I know for a fact that riding in a small streak or creek is a classic way to hide your tracks. You'll want to do that.

  • Create hindrances - If you are trying to run away, the best way to succeed will be to make the guy following you slow down. One way is to use those tools you use in a dungeon. Dig holes, cover them with vines and branches. Tie up a branch of a tree and put down a tripwire which release it in the faces of your follower. Build traps to spindle, fold and mutilate your tracker.

  • Ambush - Sometimes you have to face the fact that you're not getting away. Then it might be prudent to not just stand your ground and await the attack. Instead, plan an ambush! Use cover, hit from afar and run before they collect their wits. 

  • Split the party! - One thing which is a big "no, no" is splitting the party. While it might be hard on the GM, it's a sound tactic. Make your follower have to choose which set of tracks to follow. If you combine it with the techniques mentioned above, you might even decimate your opponents while doing it.

GM techniques

There are a few things a GM might do to keep a pursuit scenario in the wilderness feel more tight. Here are a few of those.

  • Interludes and personal development - In Savage Worlds there is a mechanic called Interludes, where a player gets a benny for telling a short vignette about their character.  Even if you don't use that game system, why not take the opportunity to ask one of the players if they perhaps tells their friends more about that time back in the days when they sit down by the camp fire at night? They might balk at the idea, but try it out.

  • Have a timetable - The best way to make a chase of any kind interesting is to have a timetable. Make sure things happen in the world, and to the people involved in the pursuit at schedules intervals. 

  • Bring more guns - Want to rack up the tension? Bring reinforcements! It would be fun if the guys being chased suddenly joined up with friends and could take the hunt to the hunters, right? Bring in those Allies or Enemies if your game system have them.

Those were my collected nuggets of wisdom about chases in the wilderness. Also, don't forget to think about what happens if someone fails that Survival roll...

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