Rules Index | GM Screen

Mastering Intrigue


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 142
Hunting down your enemies across hill and dale is a classic fantasy trope, and a deeply satisfying part of many books and films, yet difficult to simulate using only the Pathfinder RPG combat rules. Though chase rules appear in the Pathfinder RPG GameMastery Guide, those are specifically designed to cover fast-paced action chases— once the journey is measured in hours rather than seconds, endurance and strategy quickly outweigh fast reflexes and quick thinking. Only by using careful tracking and cunning tricks can pursuers catch up to their quarries. The pursuit system presented below integrates these crucial elements into a structure that simulates a longer pursuit in a manner that’s both fun and easy to manage.

There are two main types of pursuits. In a direct pursuit, the pursuers are following another group’s trail wherever it may lead, with the express goal of catching up to their quarries. In this type of pursuit, the pursuers don’t know where the quarries will go—they’re forced to follow the trail that their prey left behind. By contrast, in a race, both sides know the destination, and the pursuers simply want to get there first, perhaps to catch their quarries or prevent them from acquiring something at the destination.

The Core Mechanic

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 142
In a pursuit, each group travels along a series of terrain tiles. Each group must complete a certain amount of progress to complete a tile and move on. This amount is listed in the terrain tile for that type of terrain. One terrain tile is roughly 12 miles across (see Terrain Tiles for more information).

The quarries always start out ahead of the pursuers by an amount established by the GM. In a direct pursuit, if the pursuers ever share the same terrain tile with the quarries and have made an equal or greater amount of progress on that tile, they have caught up to the quarries. In a race, whoever reaches the destination tile first wins the race, and the groups can continue with their goals from there.

Personal Progress: To determine the amount of progress that each group makes during a 1-hour pursuit phase, first calculate the progress each party member could potentially make. This is roughly based on the number of miles the character could travel per hour when using overland movement if the tile were devoid of obstacles and rough terrain. Each party member’s personal progress is equal to her base land speed divided by 10 (typically 3 for a human or 2 for a dwarf, for instance). Temporary effects that boost movement speed count only if they last for the entire 1-hour pursuit phase (like longstrider or overland flight, but not fly).

Group Progress: The group’s progress is equal to the lowest personal progress in the party. Tactics and advantages, as explained later, can give characters ways to improve the speed of the whole group.

Building a Pursuit

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 142
Once the GM knows the progress numbers for both the pursuers and quarries, she is ready to construct the overall structure of the pursuit. Building a pursuit is fairly simple, but the process depends on the type of pursuit (and for direct pursuits, whether the PCs are the pursuers or the quarries).

When running a pursuit, it helps to have a visual aid of the area where the pursuit takes place. If the GM is using a published adventure or otherwise has access to a nice-looking map of the region, it might be interesting to have a map big enough for miniatures or tokens to sit on each tile. The GM can then draw in the tiles, providing a bit of a game board to help the players visualize the pursuit.

Direct Pursuits

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 142
A direct pursuit involves a pursuing group chasing after a quarry group across a series of terrain tiles. The pursuers must succeed at Survival checks to continue tracking their quarries, as described in the Running a Pursuit section on page 143. Direct pursuits in which the PCs are the pursuers are the simplest and the most common type in an average campaign. It is a good idea to run a direct pursuit as the group’s first pursuit to help the players and GM alike to get a grasp of the system.

PCs as Pursuers: In a direct pursuit with NPC quarries, the GM establishes a linear series of terrain tiles that the quarries will follow, and the pursuers proceed along those tiles after their prey. See the section on Terrain Tiles for common types of terrain tiles. For a direct pursuit that is even simpler to run, don’t give the quarry group access to use all the tools described later in this section. For instance, the quarries might not attempt to gain advantages, and they might use tactics sparingly—and only if it makes the pursuit more interesting. Remember that if the quarry group doesn’t use those tools, the pursuit will be much easier for the PCs.

PCs as Quarries: If the PCs are quarries, direct pursuits become a bit more complicated, as the PCs have options for which path they choose and which type of terrain they enter as they try to shake their pursuers. The GM should present pursuit tiles arranged in more than a simple linear path. In fact, the GM can divide a map of the general region into terrain tiles as appropriate, perhaps using a hex grid to match the system for exploration in Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Campaign.

Ending a Direct Pursuit: A direct pursuit can end in one of four ways. When the pursuers are on the same tile as the quarries and have made equal or greater progress than the quarries, the pursuers catch their quarries. When the quarries reach a location where they stop progressing (such as a safe haven or stronghold), pursuit ends and may turn into a siege. When the pursuers can’t possibly succeed at the Survival check to continue tracking their quarries and have exhausted any other tactics that might help relocate the trail, their quarries have eluded them. Finally, the pursuers can voluntarily give up the pursuit. Optionally, the GM can choose a distance at which the quarries are so far ahead that the pursuers have no real chance of catching up. For instance, the GM might decide that if the quarry group is five tiles ahead of the pursuers, they’ve escaped; this number might be smaller in jungles or other dense terrain.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 143
In a race, both groups have far more options in their travels. As with a direct pursuit in which the PCs are the quarries, the GM should include more options for terrain tiles than just a linear path. The two groups might start on different tiles and move through different types of terrain during the race. A race features no quarry or pursuer. A race ends when one group reaches the designated destination.

Running a Pursuit

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 143
Pursuits proceed in 1-hour pursuit phases, during which each group (or the group that is moving, if one group is resting) makes progress toward completing its current terrain tile. The group can potentially attempt to use tactics or gain an advantage to outthink or outperform the enemy.

Each day of pursuit consists of eight 1-hour pursuit phases. Pursuits take place over a long period of time and cover plenty of ground, so pursuers and quarries might encounter terrain tile denizens or environmental hazards along the way. Consider using these encounters to provide spikes of tension and to control the pursuit’s pacing.

Direct Pursuits and Tracking

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 143
In a direct pursuit, the pursuers need to attempt a Survival check at the start of each pursuit phase in order to make any progress at all. A failure means they have lost the trail and must spend that hour trying to find it. Success means the pursuers progress at their speed for that phase. The base DC is either 5, 10, 15, or 20, depending on the type of ground dominant in the terrain tile (very soft, soft, firm, or hard, respectively; see the Survival skill for more details). This DC increases by 1 for every day behind the quarries, but it decreases by 1 for every three members in the quarry group.

The pursuing group has one main tracker, but other members can assist using the aid another action. Any pursuer participating in tracking (either as the main tracker or assisting) halves her personal progress for that pursuit phase. If the tracking pursuer has a much greater speed than the slowest member of his group, this might not lower the group’s progress.

Terrain Tiles

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 143
The following are some of the most common types of terrain tiles a group might encounter during a pursuit. One terrain tile is roughly 12 miles across (the same size as hexes from Ultimate Campaign’s exploration system), though pursuit is abstracted enough that the size can vary. Especially large tracts of one terrain type should consist of multiple tiles. The GM might want to customize these options and create terrain tiles appropriate for the situation. For instance, if the PCs use aerial tracks to pursue foes through the clouds, the GM should create a sky terrain tile.

Each terrain tile’s stat block lists the amount of progress a group needs to make to pass off of that tile and onto the next one, followed by the typical type of ground and the base Survival DC in parentheses, plus the maximum number of advantages a group can employ on that type of tile. This limit resets when the group enters a new 1-hour pursuit phase. The number of advantages is smaller the easier the terrain is to navigate, as there’s not many tricks that can speed up travel along a road, for instance, without using a vehicle or magical means of conveyance.

Inclement Weather

Bad weather, especially precipitation, can affect both the progress a group makes and the DCs of Survival checks required during pursuits.

Progress: Heavy precipitation, strong winds, and other environmental factors might impede a group’s progress. For brief storms lasting one or two pursuit phases, reduce the group’s progress by 1 in each pursuit phase. If an entire terrain tile has particularly nasty weather (like a high mountain plagued by winds or a jungle during a monsoon), instead add between 4 and 8 to the tile’s progress to complete, depending on the weather’s severity. Increase the tile’s number of maximum advantages by 1 so the travelers have the opportunity to find a way to overcome the nasty weather.

Tracking: If there is rain during a direct pursuit, increase the DC of the Survival check by 1 for every pursuit phase that it rained. If it snowed, increase the DC by 10 instead. To track the duration of the precipitation during a direct pursuit, mark down the tile where the quarries are and the amount of progress they have made when the precipitation begins, then mark down the progress they had made when the precipitation ends. When the pursuers are on that tile and have made an amount of progress equal to or greater than the lower progress value, use the increased Survival DCs. After the pursuers have passed the higher progress value, the Survival DCs return to normal. If the precipitation occurs before the quarries entered an area, the Survival DCs to follow the trail might be reduced since the ground becomes very soft mud or covered in snow.


Progress to Complete 12
Ground soft (DC 10) or very soft (DC 5); Maximum Advantages 2

Cold terrain includes tundras, glaciers, and the like. The rules for environmental cold dangers apply in most cases, potentially affecting both groups.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground very soft (DC 5), soft (DC 10), or firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 3

Desert terrain includes warm and sandy areas. The rules for environmental heat dangers apply in most cases, potentially affecting both groups.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 3

Forest terrain includes both deciduous and coniferous forests, but not dense jungles or rain forests.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 3

Hilly terrain includes areas with plenty of uphill and downhill travel, but not mountains.


Progress to Complete 32
Ground firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 8

Jungle terrain is denser than forest terrain, and it also includes rain forests. Jungle terrain is particularly slow going, but there is ample opportunity to gain an advantage over pursuers or quarries.


Progress to Complete 24
Ground firm (DC 15) or hard (DC 20); Maximum Advantages 6

Mountainous terrain contains areas that require climbing, as well as the potential for steep cliffs and precipitous drops. If the need to climb is especially ubiquitous or if the characters are climbing above the timber line (use the rules for cold dangers), a mountain tile can have more maximum advantages and take more progress in order to complete.


Progress to Complete 8
Ground firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 0

The plains terrain is a basic terrain type with no particular hindrances or advantages, and often represents a tame, flat grassland that isn’t difficult to travel across. A wild and overgrown savannah tile can easily have more maximum advantages and take more progress to complete. The statistics for a plain tile also suit many other types of readily navigable ground.


Progress to Complete varies
Ground varies; Maximum Advantages varies

Planes vary so wildly in their nature that it would be impossible to create a listing that covers them all in any meaningful way. Sometimes, an area on the planes can be simulated by using another sort of terrain tile. On other planes, tracking becomes nearly impossible. On planes with truly strange or exotic features, such as highly morphic planes, it’s appropriate to offer plenty of know the terrain advantages and other advantages involving the plane’s nature (such as an advantage using the Fly skill to understand and control subjective gravity).


Progress to Complete 8
Ground firm (DC 15) or hard (DC 20); Maximum Advantages 0

A dirt or cobblestone road can let a group move quickly without leaving as clear a trail as they would in unworked terrain. However, traveling on a road makes it more likely they’ll be seen. The gather information tactic can make it easier to track road travelers. Old, unused, and overgrown roads are treated like plains.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground very soft (DC 5) or soft (DC 10); Maximum Advantages 3

Swampy terrain includes bogs, marshes, and fens, as well as any other sort of wetlands. A swamp tile with a significant number of deep areas, quicksand, or more can easily have more maximum advantages and take more progress to complete.


Progress to Complete 12
Ground hard (DC 20); Maximum Advantages 2

Underground terrain includes caverns and dungeons. While the ground is hard—making it one of the most difficult terrains through which to track prey—the lack of rain or snow can make it much easier for pursuers to catch up to their quarries. While the typical underground tile only offers a small number of obstacles and hindrances, an underground tile with extremely narrow tunnels, yawning chasms, treacherous dips and climbs, or other sorts of features can easily have more maximum advantages and take more progress to complete.


Progress to Complete varies
Ground varies; Maximum Advantages varies

Underwater pursuits also require more planning than other types. Because travel speeds can very wildly, a pursuit might end up being trivial if one side has members with swim speeds and the other doesn’t. Typically, if so much of the pursuit occurs underwater that it takes up an entire terrain tile or more, and both groups are on equal footing in terms of their ability to move underwater, it’s best to find an analog among the other terrain tiles and use that instead. For instance, traversing an underwater garden might work like a jungle, traversing open stretches of water might work like a plain, and swimming under an iceberg might be cold terrain or a mountain (and could use the rules for cold dangers). This also assumes the groups can breathe underwater for enough pursuit phases to traverse an underwater tile.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground firm (DC 15) or hard (DC 20); Maximum Advantages 3

In theory, urban terrain covers settlements from a thorp to a metropolis, but for an entire terrain tile to count as urban, it must be a large enough city to warrant a tile (though smaller settlements might certainly appear on another terrain’s tile, thus opening up different tactics or advantages). Tracking through an urban environment can be extremely challenging, given the sheer number of creatures present, but that also makes the gather information tactic more effective. Despite the relative ease of moving through a city, an urban tile takes longer to navigate because of the difficulty of tracking creatures through a heavily populated environment.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground hard (DC 20, see text); Maximum Advantages 3

A lake or an area with many rivers counts as a water tile. Because such a tile contains little ground, Survival checks to track involve following wakes or looking for refuse quarries left behind, functioning the same as hard ground. Rapids might cause a water tile to take more progress to complete, and water features with currents typically have more maximum advantages. A group traveling on water usually needs a boat or raft, and uses the speed of that vessel. Swimmers must attempt a DC 20 Swim check for each 1-hour pursuit phase or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage (See the <%SKILLS&Swim">Swim skill for more information). The special movement tactic allows a creature with a swim speed to traverse water rapidly.

Pursuit Advantages

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 145
During each 1-hour pursuit phase, any member of a group who is not spending that phase tracking can attempt to gain an advantage, and a group can gain up to the maximum number of advantages allowed by the terrain tile. The sample advantages listed below mention the terrain types most likely to allow them, but the advantages available for any given tile—and even hour-by-hour across the same tile—can vary significantly. The GM chooses which ones apply at any given time in a way that adds flavor to the pursuit’s current location in the same way that the chase rules in Pathfinder RPG GameMastery Guide have a set of options available at each location in a chase.

Advantage Bonus: If a character succeeds at gaining an advantage, the group’s progress increases by 1 for that pursuit phase, unless otherwise specified. Attempting and failing to gain an advantage reduces that character’s personal progress by 1, unless otherwise specified, due to the effort they expend. If that person had a higher speed than the slowest member, this might not slow the group as a whole. Each of the sample advantages list an appropriate skill.

Failing a check to gain an advantage by 5 or more reduces the entire group’s progress by 1, unless otherwise specified, as the character made such a large error that it hindered all of his allies. The increase or reduction to progress applies after any multiplication or division due to tracking, hustling, and the like. Because advantages represent more than just speed—finding shortcuts, for example—they can cause the group to make more progress than the fastest person’s personal progress.

Checks attempted to gain an advantage represent an entire hour’s worth of checks, so temporary modifiers that don’t last the entire time cannot be applied. These skills can’t be rerolled by an effect that would reroll a single check, and the character can’t take 10 or 20.

Sample Advantages

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 146
The following advantages are just a sample of those possible. Each advantage lists the terrains most likely to allow it, though there are certainly exceptions. Customize the selected advantage to fit the particulars of the situation. It is possible to choose more than one of the same category of advantage for the same terrain tile (for instance, a jungle with multiple know the terrain advantages might require different Knowledge [nature] DCs).

Climbing Lead (Hill or Mountain): A character can attempt a Climb check to ascend ahead of the others with a rope to help his allies navigate the worst of the area. The DC varies based on the difficulty of climbing.

Craft or Modify Tools (Any): A character can attempt a Craft check to fashion or modify specialized tools (such as footwear to travel over icy surfaces). Unlike normal, attempting to gain this advantage requires the character to spend 1 pursuit phase without moving per check she attempts. This either reduces the group’s progress to 0 or requires her to split up and catch up later (see the split up tactic). Once she has succeeded once per character, the advantage applies for the rest of the current tile, without further action on her part, unless the situation changes enough that she needs to modify the tools again. The DC varies based on the complexity of the gear, though it is typically 15 (for a high-quality item). If the character is modifying similar items to what she needs rather than crafting brand-new ones, she can attempt two checks for each phase she doesn’t move.

Crowd Control (Urban): A character can attempt an Intimidate check to thin the crowds, making it easier for the group to progress. The DC depends on the composition and size of the crowd.

Evade Hazards (Any): A character can attempt a Survival check to recognize hazards and rough areas and ensure that the group skirts around them when possible. The DC varies depending on how devious or hidden the hazards might be.

Fancy Footwork (Any): A character can attempt an Acrobatics check to help balance over an icy or wet area, leap over quicksand or rooftops, or otherwise move more rapidly. By using ropes, finding a safe path, or otherwise leading the way, the character helps her allies move faster as well. The DC varies depending on how treacherous the footing is.

Know the Area (Any): A character can attempt a Knowledge (geography) check to allow the characters to exploit nearby useful terrain features that he remembers while avoiding dangerous or obstructive features. The DC varies based on the feature’s obscurity.

Know the Terrain (Any): A character can attempt an appropriate Knowledge check (usually nature, but dungeoneering underground, local in an urban environment, and planes in a planar environment) to deduce something about the current terrain that gives her group an advantage. The DC varies based on the particulars of the deduction.

Notice Shortcut (Any): A character can attempt a Perception check to notice a shortcut or other hidden feature that grants an advantage. This advantage is not as helpful for pursuers in a direct pursuit unless they split up or deduce a point where they are sure to intersect the quarries’ trail.

Professional Opinion (Any): A character with a relevant profession might be able to grant the party a significant advantage in a pursuit. For instance, in a pursuit through a mine, a character can attempt a Profession (miner) check to learn about the mine’s layout based on markings or other indicators the miners left for their colleagues.

Tight Squeeze (Underground): A character can attempt an Escape Artist check to fit more quickly and easily through narrow tunnels. This allows her to scout ahead to find more direct passages, set explosives to open up passages, or otherwise clear the way for allies. The DC varies depending on how tight the squeeze is.

Pursuit Tactics

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 146
Tactics are the key to shaking a tenacious pursuer or capturing an elusive quarry. The following tactics present many of the most basic methods for doing so, but if the PCs come up with a new tactic, the GM should use these examples as guidelines. Tactics can affect a single character, multiple characters, or the whole group. There is no limit to how many tactics a character or group can use, but common sense prevents using two contradictory tactics. Characters and groups decide which tactics they are using for each 1-hour pursuit phase, though some last for multiple phases or until the characters using them decide to stop. Some tactics require the group to be either the pursuers or the quarries, and can’t be used in races.

Individual Tactics

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 146
These tactics apply to individual characters, and each character decides whether she’s using the tactic.

Fast Track: A character using this tactic does not reduce her progress by half while tracking. However, she takes a –5 penalty on the Survival check to track. Abilities such as the ranger’s master hunter class feature negate this penalty.

Obscure Trail: Mark the terrain tile where a character starts and stops using this tactic. A character using this tactic reduces her progress by half in order to increase the DC to track her group by 5 throughout the marked section. This tactic requires the group to be quarries.

Recovery: A character can spend a phase tending to the health of her or her allies. This allows the character to cast healing spells, for example, which can be useful for removing nonlethal damage if the group has been hustling or making a forced march (see <%RULESGroup Tactics&Category=Pursuit Tactics">group tactics). A character that spends a phase helping with recovery can’t attempt to track or gain an advantage in that phase.

Special Movement: A character with consistent access to a fly speed, swim speed, or the like for a full pursuit phase might be able to move particularly quickly over the appropriate type of terrain; though, for instance, a character flying above a jungle canopy would not be able to follow a trail below.

Group Tactics

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 147
These tactics apply to the group, and can be used only if all characters agree to do so.

Forced March: A group using this tactic takes a ninth pursuit phase in the same day, directly after the eighth phase. As with a normal forced march during overland movement, this tactic causes each character to attempt a Constitution check or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage (and possibly become fatigued).

Gather Information: A group that is stymied in tracking their adversaries can attempt to gather information with a Diplomacy check, though it takes 2 pursuit phases, and it requires either that there are people around to gather information from or access to special abilities that allow them to question things like animals, plants, or stones. The DC is typically 15, though it varies depending on the area and how sneaky the quarries were being. The information is sufficient to make progress during that pursuit phase without a successful Survival check.

Hustle: This tactic is analogous to hustling during overland movement. A group using this tactic can double the progress they make during that pursuit phase. They can use it once per day without consequences, but using it again requires all members of the group to take 1 point of nonlethal damage and become fatigued. Each additional hour spent hustling deals twice the amount of nonlethal damage of the previous hour. A group can hustle during a forced march, but they take the nonlethal damage and conditions from both, meaning a healthy group usually becomes exhausted when they do so. Hustling is a useful tactic with fairly light repercussions, but the group spends all of its time moving. This means that the obscure trail, recovery, gather information, and set a trap tactics can’t be used when hustling. Unless an advantage is focused specifically on movement (such as climbing lead or fancy footwork), it can’t be gained while hustling.

Intentional Hardships: A quarry group using this tactic chooses a circuitous or treacherous path to attempt to shake pursuers. This decreases their group’s progress by 2 as long as they use the tactic. Mark the terrain tile and amount of progress the group made on that tile when they start and stop using this tactic. While the pursuers are in the same area, their progress is reduced by 2, but their number of maximum advantages is increased by 2. Like advantages, this reduction applies after any multiplication or division due to tracking, hustling, and the like. For simplicity’s sake, the GM might want to require the quarry group to use intentional hardships when they first enter a terrain tile and stick to it throughout that terrain tile.

Set a Trap: A more extreme version of intentional hardships, this tactic involves leaving a trap or ambush for the pursuers somewhere along the path. Depending on the situation, this trap could take a varying amount of time to enact. Make a note of the terrain tile where the quarries left the trap or ambush and adjudicate it as a normal encounter. If a trap or ambush would involve the quarries themselves, they halt their progress until they spring the trap, and springing the trap likely ends the pursuit unless they split the group and sent someone ahead toward their destination. This tactic requires the group to be quarries.

Split Up: This tactic allows a group to split into multiple groups. For example, quarries might choose to do so to ensure that at least one character gets away (or to send off a decoy group that doesn’t carry what the pursuers want), whereas pursuers might choose to do so in order to attempt more Survival checks and have a greater chance not to lose the trail, or they might leave a tired but faster character behind to catch up later. Pursuers who split up will probably need to use magic, a smoke signal, or other means to arrange a rendezvous. This makes the pursuit more complicated, so GMs might want to consider restricting this tactic for their groups’ first few pursuits.

Damage, Fatigue, and Exhaustion

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 147
Damage taken during a pursuit follows all the normal rules for damage. A healer can use the recovery tactic to take a break and cast healing spells (or spells that remove afflictions or conditions, for that matter).

The forced march and hustle tactics cause nonlethal damage, and can cause characters to become fatigued (or exhausted if they were already fatigued). This nonlethal damage goes away at a rate of 1 per hour, as normal, and a character can use the recovery tactic to remove more. However, a character who is fatigued or exhausted takes any penalties that apply before the nonlethal damage is healed and the conditions removed.

The following penalties apply to characters who become fatigued or exhausted.

Fatigued: A fatigued character reduces her personal progress by 1. This reduction applies before any multiplication or division due to the character tracking, hustling, or performing similar activities.

Exhausted: An exhausted character halves her personal progress. This stacks with tactics that halve her progress, leaving her at 1/4 of her normal personal progress, or tactics that double her progress, leaving her at her normal personal progress. A character that becomes fatigued by a tactic while already exhausted falls unconscious.

Unconscious: An unconscious character has a personal progress of 0, and can’t increase it as long as she remains unconscious. As with fatigue and exhaustion, the character must take this penalty for the entire phase in which she recovers from unconsciousness.