Review – Pathfinder Chase Cards

I recently wrote a review on the Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide and one of the new subsystems in that book was chases, which seemed significant enough to me that I was surprised to realize it wasn’t in the core book (I blame the fact that there’s a cool chase early in the classic Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path). So I thought it was pretty cool that a set of Chase Cards was heading our way in May.

The Chase Cards are a small deck, about 50 standard American/playing card size cards, along with double-sided cards explaining how chases work (this covers the basics from the Gamemastery Guide, but not everything). Each card presents a single obstacle in the chase – name, picture, two different checks the character might attempt to circumvent the obstacle, and spots to track how many chase points the PCs have accumulated on that obstacle. Each obstacle has a level (1-8), with visual markers to call out hard (level 3-5) or very hard (level 8) obstacles (chases become much less relevant at higher levels because the ability of magic to handily circumvent any standardized sort of obstacle). The obstacles are also divided into four categories – general, urban, underground, and wilderness.

The instructions in the Chase Cards suggest using them as a visual aid or a randomizing element. Unfortunately, neither of these scenarios works perfectly.

Let’s tackle randomized chases first. There are both mechanical and flavor impediments here. Mechanically, a randomized chase seems fraught with peril. Chases are a closely-tuned mechanic. In general, a party of four characters needs four chase points to clear an obstacle. And they need to clear more than an obstacle a turn to catch up, if they’re the ones doing the chasing. Unless every single character succeeds at every single roll, that means the characters need to get critical successes in order to clear an obstacle a turn. So the difficulty of the checks is really important. Players are going to fail some of the checks – sometimes they won’t have a good check for either option, and even when they do RNGesus will sometimes have his way. So players need to be able to get critical successes. The level of the obstacles presented has to be sufficiently curated that you may as well just pick them out yourself instead of randomizing, which risks the party just hopelessly falling behind in a way that isn’t fun.

Flavor also cautions against the randomized chase and, to some extent, even a curated chase where the cards are just visual aids. Even the general cards aren’t really that general. I don’t usually think of random chasms appearing in urban areas. And a random magical portal is a pretty big deal. But it’s mostly OK if you’re looking at the titles of the cards. That’s where the art comes in. This is part of the reason you’d want a visual aid, right? There’s a picture of the obstacle. Well, the thing is that those pictures have to be at least somewhat specific. If I have a “cramped passage” card for an urban area, maybe that could be a tight gap between buildings. But the picture on the card is a stone tunnel. A forked path could be anything, but this forked path is a choice between a forest and a cave. So, even if an obstacle could be appropriate for use (either in a curated or a randomized chase), the art is as likely to detract from the feel of the chase as to add to it.

For me, then, this leaves the use of the Chase Cards as primarily a way to visually represent how many obstacles have gone by, how many are left, and where the chaser and the chasee are on that path. And that’s a handy thing – if I’m running a chase, I’m almost always going to want some sort of visual representation to keep track of where the two are in relation to each other. With the Chase Cards, I would design the chase (or read it out of the applicable AP) and just grab those cards out of the deck. Without the chase cards, I would probably just draw a flowchart on my washable grid map. Are the cards prettier than that, even with the potentially misplaced art? Yes, I think so. Because I have the Chase Cards, I would use them as a position tracker in a chase. But I don’t know if it’s enough to justify splashing out for the deck of cards.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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