Imagine this situation. The party is happily doing some dungeon crawling, and everything is going well. But then they get into a fight that turns out much harder than expected. Someone's already at 0HP and Dying. The casters are low on spells and the front row is low on hit points.
The party wants to run away, but how do you actually do that? Do you move to the edge of the dungeon map and give each other a high five? What about all the actions needed to (hopefully!) pick up your fallen teammates? Open doors? Try to create some obstacles behind you to slow down the enemies? What if those enemies have a pretty high speed?
If you crunch the numbers and measure out the actions, running away in Pathfinder (and actually many other RPGs) using the regular turn-by-turn combat rules is really hard or just impossible. But that's not what we want. So what do we do when the basic rules aren't helping us with the fantasy we want to play? It's minigame time!
- Runs blazingly fast
- Feels fast and exciting
- Easy to improvise (you didn't know you were going to need this ahead of time)
- Feels challenging, but is balanced
- Party won't get stuck
DICES: Disengage, Increase distance, Create diversions, Evade obstacles, reach Shelter
Running an escape will be a minigame in five steps, which show the party disengaging from the fight, putting distance between them and the enemy, and eventually finding a shelter where the enemy can't or won't pursue.
Each step is a dice roll against the level-based DC. So a level 3 party is rolling against DC 18. Like most minigames, you're looking to score points:
- Critical success gain 2 escape points
- Success gain 1 escape point
- Failure no change
- Critical Failure lose 1 escape point (if you had any)
Everyone rolls, and the highest result is used to determine success. All other rolls are used as attempts to Aid. Regardless of result, the party then as a whole moves on to the next step.
Each step is about an aspect of getting away from the enemy. The first and last should definitely be done in order, but you can mix up the order of the middle three steps. Also, you should describe each step based on the actual adventure/location you're running. This may also give the players alternative ideas for skills to handle that step. That's fine; the skills and saves listed here are only meant to be the most obvious ways of dealing with that step.
Players might also want to use spells or items that fit the situation. This should still be a dice roll. For spells, using the character's spellcasting modifier is the obvious choice. If it involves a significant cost, like using up a consumable item or a high level spell, you can let the player roll twice and use the better result (a fortune effect).
D is for Disengage
First the party has to get away from the enemy. This means getting out of immediate melee, picking up the bodies of unconscious PCs and so forth.
Suggested checks Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Medicine, Stealth, Unarmed Strike
I is for Increase distance
The party is looking to speed up. This is about speed, stamina and determination, and good guessing where to go.
Suggested checks Athletics, Fortitude, Will, Survival/Society depending on environment
C is for Create diversions
The party wants to slow down and divert their pursuers.
Suggested checks Deception, Crafting, Performance, Stealth, Thievery, and the appropriate skill to Recall Knowledge about the pursuers
E is for Evade obstacles
The party doesn't want to be slowed down themselves.
Suggested checks Acrobatics, Perception, Reflex; and Survival/Nature or Society/Intimidation depending on environment
S is for finding Shelter
Finally, the party is trying to find a place where the enemy can't or won't pursue.
Suggested checks Perception, Stealth, Survival, and the appropriate skill to Recall Knowledge about the pursuers
After the fifth step, count up the total escape points.
- 0-2: the party eventually escaped, but not without suffering several hits and losses along the way.
- 3-4: the escape didn't come easily, and the party took a few hits along the way.
- 5-8: the party escaped without further harm.
- 9-10: while escaping the party actually obtained an advantage of some kind.
Note that in all cases, the party gets away, but if they did poorly there will be a price. Pick something appropriate. You could apply a few automatic hits from the monster to random PCs (but not the ones that are already unconscious). You could also decide that they lost a few pieces of equipment along the way, which they'd have to try to recover later. If they had a disastrous run, maybe their finding "shelter" means actually being captured by a different enemy, that'll protect them for now, but wants a favor in return.
If the party did really well, they gained some advantage. Maybe they lure the enemy past a hazard that deals some damage to it. Or they stumble upon a hidden door to a convenient hiding place that will be useful later in their exploration. Or they find the corpse of an earlier victim of the monster, and it still has some useful loot.
Why not use the official Pathfinder 2 chase rules?
The Pathfinder 2 Gamemastery Guide has chase rules. Why not use those? They've been used in a lot of PFS2 scenarios as well, so they're battle-tested. Yes, and they work okay, but they don't quite meet all our design goals.
The GMG chase rules are a bit of a "worker placement" minigame: the players need to figure out which player should be dealing with the current obstacle, and who should be dealing with the next obstacle in the chase. If you don't do this smartly, the chase will be hard. But it requires thinking it through with four to six people and that takes time. Also, you need to explain that to people and they need to grok it. So it's not blazingly fast.
The GMG chase rules could be improvised, but they have some ballast that I think is not really needed, such as using variable DCs for different skills. Yeah, there might be a bit of realism there, but 90% of the time people are going to use the skill they actually have, so this doesn't really give you all that much tactical depth after all.
How balanced the chase is varies a bit from scenario to scenario, and also with how the scenario is scaled for number of players and their levels. It doesn't always work equally well. I've noticed though that setting the DC quite low can be a lot of fun, because then the party gets more successes and critical successes, which feels like they're going fast. (You can balance this out by needing more successes overall to win. Then the chase will be equally hard, but it feels better than high DC, few successes needed.)
Lastly, the party can get stuck, if you're not careful in your selection of skills. If one obstacle requires skills that nobody in the party has, they have no way of getting past it. If half the party is out cold, they don't have as many people making checks, and they don't have as many different skills available.
Recall Knowledge Revisited
What is the problem?
It's been a couple of years now since Pathfinder 2 was released, and we've had some time to try out the new rules. In fact, we're approaching the release of the remastered version. I like PF2 a lot, but Recall Knowledge is one part that I'm disappointed in. It has some issues:
It's too hard
The DC for checks to Recall Knowledge are based on the level of the thing you're asking about. So if you're level 1, and asking about a level 1 creature, that's a DC 15. But if you're asking about a level 3 creature, that's already a DC 18, which is hard for a level 1 character.
To make this worse, what is the creature you most likely need information about? Yep, the high level boss. Oh, the boss has some minions. But they're probably simpler creatures, and odds are, you've already encountered them before.
So we already know you're usually going uphill in DC, but then we have rarity to consider. An uncommon enemy is +2 DC, a rare one +5 and a unique one +10. Of course, these are also again the creatures where some extra information would be the most useful. A powerful boss is more likely to be uncommon or unique than their minions.
Finally, the DC goes up each time you try again. And when do you need more than one bit of information? Well, probably not when facing off against the low-level mook. So we have a pattern here that when it's hard, it's really really hard.
You get locked out when you fail
The rules say that once you fail a Recall Knowledge check, you can't try again. Ever.
Why is this so bad?
Being super secretive and keeping the players totally in the dark is actually not such a cool style of gameplay. If players can't get any information about the monster's interesting weaknesses and resistances, all they can do is just try to hit it really hard. Just like they did with the last monster. Ignorance makes bland. Instead of the party carrying out some unusual and cool plan specifically for this enemy, they're just going to rage, flank, trip, demoralize and all that stuff that they know almost always works.
The high DCs and iffy chance of payoff also means there's not a lot of incentive for anyone but specialists to use Recall Knowledge. This really disappointed me because when I just got to know PF2, I really liked the idea of Recall Knowledge as a "third action". Since each attack in a round has more penalties, it makes sense to spend your third action on something else that's more useful. And you could have fighters and rangers doing some Recall Knowledge too instead of it being reserved for the specialists. But the high DC and getting locked out quickly, means this option isn't really all that appealing after all.
- When face to face with a creature, ignore the DC modifiers for it being uncommon, rare or unique. Recall Knowledge isn't only book learning, it's also analyzing what you see. Now that you have the monster in front of you and you can see it's mandibles, faceted eyes, stinger, pincers dripping with sour-smelling something -- you can draw some conclusions about it based on what you know about other creatures with those features.
- Each time you get new information about the creature, you "reset"; if you were blocked from trying after a failure, now you're unblocked. And if the DC had gone up after previous successes, it's back to the original DC now. For example, if you were dealing with a mysterious killer, and you're examining the crime scene, you can find some clues and make some Recall Knowledge checks to guess at what kind of creature the attacker could be. But eventually you'll fail and don't know anything else. But then if there's another killing and you examine that scene, you can start making new checks. Of if you're preparing to fight a powerful dragon and you just don't know anything about it, you could hit the library and reset.
- When fighting a creature, each time it gets a turn, that counts as new information. Because you can continue observing it and retry your analysis.