Reader Tip Request – The Manhunt

How can you make a manhunt mission interesting?

Today I received the following tip request. As the newsletter is a couple weeks away, and Justin needs some tips asap, I thought I’d put this shiny new blog to work and see if you have any ideas or advice for Justin:


I have been reading your newsletter and blog for about 2 months now and have searched through the archives; however, I cannot find anything on the classic action mystery the manhunt. I write this because for the campaign I am working on my players have requested this to be an aspect of the adventure.

So the question I am asking is, how do you do the manhunt without doing just a bunch of skill checks, and how do the PCs find their quarry when he goes to ground?

Basically, the idea behind the hunt that I am doing is that there is an elven warlord who had a sword hundreds of years back. The sword is a powerful artifact the church needs to perform a ritual. The PCs have found through the aid of the church that the warlord is in a small elven city. Now they just need to find him and convince him to give up the sword.

Any ideas you have on the subject would be very helpful.


Johnn Four

Justin, two ideas for you:

* NPC rivals also search for the warlord. This not only adds tension, but the PCs can use their rivals to get unstuck, if needed, through proposition, coercion or persuasion.

* Make the warlord active. Give him a character flaw of impatience. While it is easy for him to hide in the city, he just cannot stay idle. So, the PCs get rumours and news resulting from his actions that gives them ongoing leads.

They key, imho, is to give the PCs a few encounters where they deal with flunkies and consequences of the warlord’s actions instead of direct confrontation right off the bat.


Hey Justin,

Sounds like you could use any number of police T.V. shows to give you ideas for this task. The basics behind the manhunt is to find out something about the target, investigate that and continue from there. Since you indicate that the elven warlord is living in the city (not just hiding there) he must have habits, favourite haunts and colleagues who could lead to his location.

So, let’s say that the PCs know that the warlord is an avid reader. The first step in searching for him might be to find all the book sellers in the city and interview them (they tone of the interview could also lead to different results). Also Libraries, Universities and private book collectors could provide a clue.

Perhaps they find a book seller who has sold to him but that’s all he knows. Did he see a distinctive ring on his finger? Perhaps he asked for the books to be packaged in a very specific way to ensure they are protected from water (a clue to his habitat?). Perhaps he asked about good food in the area leading to another witness.

Planned correctly, your manhunt could become a series of role-playing interactions with “witnesses” and following up on clues.

Hope some of these suggestions will help.


You could have a trail of clues to follow, which would give you a lot of opportunity to role-play it all out. for instance, they know he is in the city, but do not know where. so, they stop by the tavern and inquire. they say that they know a guy by that name, but only know that he goes to the library every morning. Or, they could say that he lives at a certain address, but upon arriving, you find that the house is closed off and has been vacated for several months! leave a trail of clues, including witnesses that must be questioned/bribed/coersed, or even followed.

of course, once they find him, he may not be reluctant to give up the sword, and he could even tell them that the only way he will give it up is by doing some rather unscrupulous deeds for him, like stealing from the governor, etc.

hope these help :)


Jason Kerney, @bagheer (twitter)


I would make the hunted actively fighting back. Also I would only use skill rolls for active portions of escape. When the villain is trying to leave combat to save himself. I would have planned events that make the hunted seam more cunning. But these would be story elements not skill contests.

The biggest thing about running a man-hunter game is to remember that the focus is a story where the characters are protagonists. So do not have the hunt be random but plan it like any other game. I also suggest using tips from Johnn Four on how to Evoke danger: http://goo.gl/q3LD.

Jason Kerney.

Cam Rawls

As aluded to above, the warlord doesn’t have to work alone. He could be heading back to a safe house where he has a gang waiting for him.

Maybe he is heading back alone because the theft wasn’t well organized and then group he brought with him got killed and/or captured. Prisoners could be a source of information that help lead the PCs to the safehouse (though the info could be vague: A safehouse is Port City vs a safehouse on Blank Street).

Along the way, as other parties get involved, confrontations occur. This way the skill checks are mostly for listening, tracking, gathering info, etc. Then, interspersed with chasing/investigation, you could have some combat or role-play encounters to mix things up.

Cam Rawls

I probably should’ve gone back and edited my comment before posting to catch the spelling and grammer errors, but you get the gist.

Hope it helps.

Da' Vane

My first impression here is to grab a copy of Spycraft 2.0 from Crafty Games and adapt the mechanics for handing manhunts and persuits. Spycraft is excelent for all sorts of modern mystery/crime/espionage type gameplay, and it takes but a little bit of thought to adapt these mechanics to your setting.

Most of these type of Spycraft mechanics are designed to be streamlined through skill checks, because quite often they feature a few of the PCs and allies doing different things against an active opponent in a tense abstracted scene that allows the story to progress on to the next stage.

While you could do well to do it this way, allowing your PCs the full scope of organising a city-wide manhunt, you could just as easily break the various sections down and cover them in more detail, so they become more than just skill checks. If the PCs want to issue an APB, have then go to the city watch and negotiate with the captain of the guard to organise a city-wide sweep. Have them interview specific contacts, meet up with profilers and seers, and try to track down what the Warlord is doing. Can they organise the city to be secured to prevent his escape?

By looking at these options, you are taking a streamlined framework and turning it into an adventure in its own right, with it’s own plot flowchart, set in the city itself.

Johnn Four

These are all excellent ideas and great feedback, folks.

I’ll be posting your answers in the newsletter at some point because they are great.

Feel free to add more.


Along the lines of an active hunted, you can have the quarry throw roadblocks at the hunters.

For action oriented game, try blowing up the last know hideout when the party arrives. Or maybe framing the party for some petty crime. Have some thugs cause an incident when the party is investigating. The event may not even be related. You can have an accident occur as the party closes on the quarry.

If you’re more into the dark conspiracy genre you can try to have the hunted set things up so the authorities think the party is in cahoots with the enemy. The church may send some other inquisitors to “inquire” on the party.

If you’re into the political aspect of it, have the entire city rally around the warlord. Maybe the place really likes the quarry. Try hunting someone down when everyone and their grandma is not helpful.

Manhunts are a fun scenario. There’s so much you can do with it. You can get a lot of ideas just by figuring out the flavor you want to impart.

Comments are closed