Retreat Rules for D&D 5e

Yesterday, there was a little bit of discussion about retreat in D&D, as well as how 13th Agesupports the concept of retreat. One of the responses I received referenced the Chase rules in the DMG, but I think PCs wanting to retreat represents a different narrative beat than PCs being involved in a chase.

I’ve run chases using those rules before, and  I think they work better to represent PCs tracking down someone running from them, rather than representing the group running from others. Given that the chase rules still effectively use the character’s speed as a reference, they also have the same issue as PCs just moving away from their opponent in a tactical encounter, i.e. a faster opponent is going to overrun a slower character assuming the complications don’t hinder the faster pursuer, or the slower pursued don’t find a way to end the chase early.

When I try tinkering, I like to start from a base of something in the game. That means I started with the idea of the group check, and then layered a few things on from 13th Age there.

The Procedure

Whenever the player characters wish to retreat from a combat, the following procedure may be used:
At the top of the initiative round, the entire group decides they will be attempting a retreat. They may only do this one time per combat.
On the character’s turn, they may make an appropriate check to escape combat. Characters may use a variety of ability checks with different skills, if that approach to retreating is logical. They may only attempt the ability check to determine retreat on their turn. They may still use reactions. All characters must make their check, even if success or failure has already been determined.
Once the characters have gone into retreat, until the success of the retreat is determined, characters are treated as if they are dodging and have magic resistance. Characters may forgo this benefit to roll their retreat check with advantage.
If 50% of the group makes their retreat checks, the party has successfully retreated. The DM determines which of the following options is most appropriate to the circumstance:

  • The PCs regroup a short time later, with the hostile parties having left the area.
  • The PCs regroup in the nearest appropriate location, having broken line of sight to the hostile parties.

If the PCs are not successful, they may still retreat by accepting a campaign loss. In general, this means that something the PCs care about has been lost. A treasure they were seeking may be seized by someone else, a location they consider safe may be compromised, etc. If this campaign loss is accepted by the party, see the options above for where the PCs end up when they retreat.
The following are some examples of what retreats might look like in a game:
A group of adventurers are fighting a mob of ghouls in an ancient crypt. Concerned about the sheer number of ghouls and realizing that only the front rank of ghouls has closed on them, the group decides on round two to retreat.
The first party member makes their check successfully–they make a strength check to prepare to run, using Athletics as a skill. The second PC fails, using Wisdom as their check, with the Intuition skill, looking for a point where the ghouls aren’t paying attention.
The ghouls go next and miss the adventurers because they all rolled with disadvantage on their attacks, as the party is treated as taking the Dodge action. The wizard also uses shield as a reaction, and one ghoul moves away, allowing the rogue to take an attack on them.

The final two party members make successful checks. One makes a Dexterity check, using the Stealth skill to look for a good series of hiding places for their retreat. The other uses Charisma, using the Deception skill to tell the ghouls nearest to them to look behind them convincingly.

The DM looks at the situation and decides that and empty room back down the hallway that the PCs have already explored is close enough to a place to regroup the party, breaking line of sight from the ghouls.
If one more PC had failed to make their check, the PCs could have decided to accept a campaign loss. Because the group is seeking an evil altar that is perpetuating a curse over the region, the DM decides that an evil high priest shows up to bolster the altar, adding an additional opponent to those guarding the altar. The PCs get a hint at this when they hear undead in the halls crying that “the master has arrived!”
Sample DCs

Fastest Pursuer is slower that the slowest PC
Fastest Pursuer has the same speed as slowest PC
Fastest Pursuer is faster than the slowest PC
Fastest Pursuer is more than twice as fast as the slowest PC

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