GM’s Advice: The Real Cause of the 15-Minute Adventuring Day

Widely reviled, the 15-minute adventuring day reared its ugly head with the advent of 3rd edition. Since then, designers have tried various solutions to fix the “problem”, with varying degrees of success…

Dungeon Entrance by William McAusland (Outland Arts)

Will this be a 15-Minute Dungeon? by William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

 

These fixes mainly seem to involve giving the PCs more abilities–including at-will powers–so everyone’s always got something to do and can adventure longer before having to rest.

What they have all missed, however, is the root cause of the problem.

Older editions of the game (up to 2nd edition) handle time in a markedly different fashion to later editions. The 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide talks a bit about how long it takes to do certain actions.

A quick perusal of the text, gives these examples of actions that take a turn (ten minutes):

  • Map and casually explore a 20 ft. by 20 ft. area.
  • A party should rest at least one turn in six.
  • A party should rest for a turn every time they engage in combat or other strenuous activities.
  • Thoroughly search a 10 ft. by 10 ft. area for secret doors.
  • Moving and mapping 90 ft. (assuming a move of 9’’).

Similarly, these actions take one round (one minute):

  • Quickly check a 10 ft. by 10 ft. area for secret doors.
  • Search a door for traps.
  • A round of combat.
  • Listen at a door.

So, for example, if a party moves 90 ft. while mapping and listens at a door before breaking in and slaying the hobgoblins within after five rounds of combat almost 20 minutes of game time have elapsed. If the party then rest (as they should after combat) before searching the room another 20 minutes pass. One encounter has lasted longer than most 3rd edition delves! In 3rd edition, the same set of actions would take about one minute (give or take).

Different Beasts, Different Styles

Now, of course, 1st edition and 3rd edition are very different beasts. Both are excellent games, but they each have a different play style. In 1st edition, careful exploration and resource management is often the order of the day. In 3rd edition adventures are much more “cinematic” and fast paced

But that’s not all. 1st edition has several more advantages in regards to longer adventuring days (while ironically individual characters are much less capable in terms of abilities, damage potential and general endurance). These advantages include:

  • Dungeons Were Bigger: Dungeons were bigger in 1st edition. Many dungeons had dozens if not scores of rooms set out over multiple levels. Most 3rd edition dungeons are considerably smaller. (See Speed of Advancement below). The sheer size of the dungeons meant adventurers would spend longer underground poking their noses into places they don’t belong. As I’ve said before, the adventure B5 Horror on the Hill is an overlooked classic. In just 32 short pages we get an extensive wilderness area, a large above ground ruin and three (!) dungeon levels comprising in total 100 or so encounter areas. Imagine trying to cram all that into a 32-page 3rd edition or Pathfinder adventure.
  • Dungeons Had More Empty Space: Older dungeons always seemed to feature a decent amount of unocccupied rooms. Here the PCs could rest, search for forgotten treasures, hide from wandering monsters and more! This was exploration play in action. With an increased focus on combat and “cinematic” action the inclusion of such areas in later editions has faded—deemed boring or a waste of space by designers.
  • Smaller Stat Blocks: Compare and contrast the relative sizes of stat blocks in 1st and 3rd edition. 1st edition stat blocks are tiny compared to their later brethren. You might not think this is a big deal—but when viewed against the dual terrors of page counts and print costs the relative size of stat blocks is tremendously important. While this is a problem for all monsters—even lowly orcs and suchlike—the sitution is even worse for more powerful monsters and classed NPCs. If you are lucky enough to own a copy of Undermountain, get it out and flip through the setting book. It contains an immense amount of information. Now imagine adding 3rd edition or Pathfinder stat blocks. Suddenly, the books becomes much, much bigger (and I expect wildly impractible to use or tremendously expensive). With adventure page counts not really changing over the years, this simply means the size of the featured adventures has shrunk.
  • Speed of Advancement: It takes longer to level in 1st edition. In 3rd edition, as a rule of thumb, if you face and defeat 12 opponents of the same CR as your level you go up a level. Thus, you don’t need particularly big levels (or dungeons) to level up. In 1st edition, the opposite is true—levelling requires much more play, particularly when you consider the average size of a 1st edition party. (This is one of the reason I’m using the slow advancement track in my own megadungeon, Gloamhold, as I think slow advancement provides a much richer, story-driven experience).
  • Bigger Parties: 3rd edition and Pathfinder work on the assumption of a four or five-person party. Most 1st edition groups were considerably bigger, which gave the adventurers more options. If someone got badly injured, or ran out of spells, they could simply rotate to the party’s rear rank and let someone else deal with the dungeon’s denizens. Holding torches, watching the rear and generally keeping an eye out for sneaking enemies are all important in 1st edition; in 3rd edition not so much.

Is a Hybrid Possible?

I’ve played every edition of D&D and AD&D going, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of them. Annoyingly, I find, though, I like some facets of 1st edition more than 3rd edition (and vice versa). I love the d20 mechanic—I think it’s simplicity is genius—but I also enjoy the more “realistic” feel of 1st edition. The more I blog about Old School games and Gloamhold the more I wonder if it is possible to marry the two so you can play Old School Pathfinder.

A hybrid, Old School Pathfinder game would be brilliant and one I’d play in a heartbeat. I fear, I don’t have the time or resources to create such a game but I might put together an Old School Rules Supplement for use with Gloamhold. Although the Gloamhold Campaign Guide will be editionless (as much as humanly possible) the play style’s the thing and there’s not much point creating an Old School megadungeon without Old School rules!

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

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58 thoughts on “GM’s Advice: The Real Cause of the 15-Minute Adventuring Day

    • The 15 minute adventuring day isn’t about that at all. It’s a consequence of adventures leaving the dungeon and trying to do something a little more plausible that wasn’t buried in ultra-dense encounters the way most old school dungeons are. A dungeon is at base an excuse to have what you are doing all in one place. And the wandering monster checks were to make sure you didn’t turtle or rest in the middle of them.

      The 15 minute adventuring day was a product of 2E and DL1 leaving the dungeon mostly behind and becoming a game with entirely different objectives from one with XP for GP. (The 3e Magic volume and crafting changes didn’t help mind you…)

  1. I’m playing an Illusionist in a 1st ed game; while the party is large, it’s been a rotating cast, with usually never more than 4 or 5 of us together at the same time, and we’re all fairly low level. The game we’ve been in has been a megadungeon with quite a bit of stuff going on and some tough monsters; ultimately what I’ve seen isn’t a 15 minute work-day but judicious use of spells & abilities and a cautious play-style. We frequently run 6-8 hour sessions without needing to go back to town, even though we’re all level 2-4. The keys to avoiding the 15 minute D&D work day, I’ve found, are: negotiate when possible, avoid fights unless you have favorable odds, plan your approach to encounters and use the environment to your advantage, and picking Magic Missile as your level 1 spell is a noob mistake.

    • 5th ed. It takes roughly 45 days of straight play if the daily exp levels are hit to go from 1-20 levels. The same issue in 3.5 is the characters level from one to 20 in less than a year. That alone is hard for me to take if planning a long term campaign, so I’m back to AD&D.

        • But adjusting rate of advancement in 5e (and I presume you know why it’s designed so that the advancement is very fast at low levels?) is one simple alteration and you’re more or less good to go whereas modifying PF to fit is a major undertaking (wealth by level etc, balance, etc.), except for advancement rate, ironically enough.
          Seems weird that this should make 5e unfit and PF much more suited.

        • One issue as well is exp. is no longer a liner path, at level 11 it flattens out, when I first seen this I thought it was a typo and when I reached out I found it was deliberate to allow players to get past the so called level 10 limit for game boys.
          The best way to describe 5.0 is to play a liner path adventure staged along with the steps given. With the loss of the to hit number and focus on balance its not the game AD&D is.

        • Hmmm. The 5th Ed group I am DM for has been playing weekly for about 10 months. Give or take. They just hit fifth level last week, and after nearly 8 month of in-game time.

          Advancement rates are not the fault of the game, it is the DM’s job to pace things at a reasonable rate.

          • Agreed… It’s also insanely easy to modify the XP chart to fit the ramp one would like. I posted to my blog a slightly slower ramp, but one could easily create an even longer ramp-up by doubling the XP required for all levels.

            I agree that 5e is not AD&D in play stlye, but it’s really quite easy to adapt to an OSR play style.

          • Forgot the link:
            http://ragingowlbear.blogspot.com/2014/08/dnd-5e-fixing-rapid-low-level.html

            I do agree that the new edition could use some of the guidelines on how long certain actions should take. The six-second-round mucked up a lot of the other actions because almost everything is based on doing something in 1 round (5e does have exceptions to that). The DMG could easily have added more alternate rules for longer actions. Might be a good RPG Now PDF supplement for OSR gamers.

  2. Great post Creighton! While I’m not as big on 3rd Edition/Pathfinder I do think you make many good points about how the two could be combined. I think it was a mistake for the designers to design to a smaller party and for cinematic constant action. D&D did just fine with exploration, and slow leveling becoming the biggest role playing game in the world.

  3. I have to take exception with saying it started in 3rd edition. That’s just rose colored glasses, as the concept of retreating once you’ve blown your spell wad existed back when I was playing basic and AD&D.

    • I take your point up to a point–it’s common sense to retreat when you are out of resources. However, I think the concept of very short adventuring days–the 15-minutes, if you will–started in 3rd edition.

      • I don’t think so. I played Basic D&D and AD&D 1st and 2nd editions and in each version we had issues of this. As I mentioned in my post before the true fault of this lies with the DM (granted I was an early teenager when I was DM’ing these – i’ve learned a lot) but the 5 minute workday as I’ve heard it called was around since I started playing in 1987, at least.

        But here’s the real deal. The 5-minute work day isn’t an issue, unless it IS an issue and then if it’s an issue it’s the DM’s fault.

        ~Michael

  4. You might also consider this quote from the 1st ed DMG:

    “For the sake of example, let us assume that you begin your campaign on Day 1 of the Year 1000. There are four player characters who begin initially, and they have adventures which last a total of 50 days – 6 days of actual adventuring and 44 days of resting and other activity.”

    Note 4 PCs but, more importantly, 6 days out of 50! Adventuring days were longer but less frequent.

    Richard

    • I’m so glad you brought this up. It’s perfect quote for another article I’m working on. It’s in the pondering stage at the moment, but the basic question is this:

      “Are 3.5 and Pathfinder to adventure-ocentric?”

        • All too often IME, I have players who couldn’t care less about the detailed world I’ve worked up & just want to get to the next loot piñata; no sense putting in much detail if the players are never going to bother interacting with it.

    • This is because two of the primary mechanics changed between 1st edition and 3rd: hit points and healing.

      In 1st- and 2nd-edition, hit points were ALWAYS randomly determined (though lenient DMs gave maximum points at 1st level), additional hit points from a high Constitution score were harder to come by (and favored martial classes), and increases in ability scores were almost nonexistent. You had to have at least a 15 Constitution score to get any increase, and unless you were a fighter-type that bonus was capped at +2 per die. Also, die-based increases stopped after a set level (usually 9th); after that, you got a fixed amount, with no bonuses.

      This means that characters in 1st- and 2nd-edition games had fewer hit points, and generally had no way around that. Some DMs took this restriction to heart, and made the players stick with their rolls even if they were bad.

      Healing was harder to come by. Cure Light Wounds spells were the only source of magical healing for low-level characters — there was nothing else until you got Cure Serious Wounds as a 4th-level spell. Also, there wasn’t a mechanic for using higher-level spell slots to cast lower-level spells. This means that until a group got to 7th level, their healing per day was very limited.

      For those seeking the natural route, nonmagical healing required a full day of uninterrupted bed rest, and only recovered a single hit point. That fighter with 55 hit points? If he got badly hurt, he could be out of commission for a month or more.

      Parties in earlier editions spent more time resting out of necessity. They had less endurance, and fewer resources to extend themselves. When exploring a dungeon environment, the decision to secure a resting spot (or even leave altogether) hinged on having just enough hit points — and healing — left over to survive a possible random encounter or two. It was a gamble.

  5. This is a great post with a lot of good points. I’ve often questioned the decision to remove the ten minute turn and the reduction of the round from 60 seconds to 6. I’m no simulationist, but it stretches the bounds of my believability that any average PC can move 20 – 30ish feet and strike at a foe with any accuracy in 6 seconds. Or move that same distance and cast a spell with more than one of the component types. A return to the one minute round (something I’ve houseruled in my own games) would be a good thing in my opinion.

    I have to agree with the comments about adventure page counts as well. I kind of resent having to pay $150 for a Pathfinder AP where a third to half the adventure is stat blocks (which I generally rewrite for my own ease of use). I love how densely written 1 and 2e modules are.

    I also just want to point out the irony that it takes upwards of an hour to get through a combat in cinematic, fast-paced 3e. This fact alone caused my primary group to switch over to 5e (though I only hand out 25% of any encounter’s listed XP; I do love Pathfinder’s slow advancement track.

  6. In my current campaign I allow the characters to take feats from later editions as proficiencies. This has allowed my players the “experience” without too much trouble. I convert on the fly for some monsters or no a that have them also. It is not too different from the 2.5 ed. High level campaigns book. At character creation they all started as per the PHB but as they have progressed they could take feats as proficiencies.

    Other things I’ve adopted into my 2nd ed. Game, is the players constitution score as starting hit points For survivability at the low levels. It has made a huge difference

    Luck points. After each adventure they earn 1-4 (modified) hero/luck points which allow for a single reroll.

    Also a stat increase of 1 every four levels. Keeping in mind racial limits etc…

    These little things changed have kept the core rules intact with minor modifications that my players enjoy.

    Look at every rule system and make the game fun for all.

  7. I wrote an article on how to design encounters in 4e to avoid the problem. I understand that 4e isn’t for everyone, and in any case what I wrote won’t translate directly to other editions, but what I learned from designing the alternate system is that you can solve the problem within the structure of any system. The real problem is that gamers tend to be slaves to what’s presented. We all know that the games are meant to be what we make of them, but all I see DMs do is incorporate some relatively minor house rules. Tear into that thing. All of these systems allow for a lot of fudging. What’s published is just the baseline.

  8. Very good points. I would also add that adventures in 1st and 2nd edition were much more mundane and exploration based rather than the plot based “world is ending and only you, level 1 fighter, can stop it” type adventures that came later.

    This combined with creatures in later edition being much more video game bosses like with multiple abilities and strategies beyond just attack or cast a spell. This drags everything down when every encounter ends up being an exercise in strategy rather than just “punch the wandering goblin in the face”.

    I think a hybrid approach is possible. It would require some degree of thought as just dropping new school classes into old school restrictions never works well for players or GMs.

    • Great point, Aled. I think the change from more mundane adventures to saving the world style adventures is mirrored in the kind of films Hollywood puts out now. In every other Sci Fi film these days it seems the whole world, galaxy or universe is in danger. After a while, it gets a little humdrum.

  9. I don’t really see this as problems with the system, as much as problems as to how the DM presents their game and runs it.

  10. One additional feature of old-style (1e or 2e) AD&D that has gotten lost in more recent editions is the wandering monster. This has made it less “necessary” for DMs to track how much time is truly passing while characters search, explore, argue, and rest. Bringing back that constant threat of unwanted/unwelcome sudden encounters would have a profound effect on how time is tracked/used in the dungeon.

    A second issue is the nigh-universal availability of healing in more recent versions of the game. On the surface, you’d think that having greater access to instant healing would encourage groups to explore longer, but the reverse is actually often true, because groups are much more brazen in the fights than they used to be. Thus, they don’t shy away from exhausting most of their resources in a single fight, because they know they can stand toe-to-toe for longer, as long as that cleric is behind them with a wand of CLW and/or the ability to spontaneously convert other spells to heals. They also know that they won’t have to traipse back to the surface and spend days healing (again, possibly running into wandering monsters along the way), so they don’t feel the need to stretch things out and milk a trip for all it’s worth.

    When these things happen, the need to conserve resources and/or use them more judiciously lessens, so groups “shoot their wad” in a single, more challenging fight with no need to hold something in reserve for (again) wandering monsters. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s been my experience with the later editions of the game.

  11. You may want to consider Castles & Crusades if you’re looking for a game with an old school feel and modernized mechanics (http://trolllord.com/cnc/). Castles & Crusades reminds me of AD&D 1st Edition with some of the mechanical kinks worked out. D&D 5E can also have an old school feel, depending on what options you choose, although I’d compare the experience more to AD&D 2nd Edition than 1st (it has features that are reminiscent of kits and non-weapon proficiencies, for example).

  12. I completely understand! I miss the old style of play, but as I’ve noticed with players nowadays, we’re in competition with video games. I remember games lasting all day and into the night back in my school days–when we had time—now we have families, jobs, etc., and time is of the essence. So, I think the modern editions of the game have attributed to that. As you’ve pointed out, everything is cinematic. The 1st edition was, truly, like reading a Tolkien novel! My current players don’t go for that pace, it’s action, action, action…. which I can deliver, but some days… I really miss those early years of playing.

    • I think most campaigns have space for both styles. Sometimes the players are exploring other times they are romping through a dungeon. Patrick makes a great point down thread about the GM setting the pace of the game. I think that’s a very perceptive point I hadn’t really considered before (at least not consciously, anyway).

  13. I suspect the extended power of the casters is a big part of it as well.

    In pre-3e, casters had so few spells they were hoarded jealously until needed or seen to be set for maximum effect (such as holding onto your one sleep spell until you run into a mob of goblins (up to 16 of them drop at once!) or an ogre (4+1 HD, _just_ within the casting limit) when the party is exhausted.

    Mind you, once our casters were exhausted we tended to look for a place to hole up… but we went a lot longer before this happened. Not because we had more spells, but because they were so constrained and we hoarded them until needed.

    Now what I see is casters blowing through, casting spells whenever useful (rather than hoarding them) until they run out. Then, because they’re “out of good options” they pack their bags and go home.

  14. I think much of that is largely due to a vancian magic system. A melee type can do damage all day long and really never be less effective. It’s generally the casters that cause the hiccup. It’s very easy to expend spells and then they aren’t very good after that. They aren’t generally good at melee and even with a high dex they are not very good with ranged. Even with all 0 lvl spells and unlimited casts. Perhaps making you spell casting abilities similar to the maneuver system to that of Book of 9 swords or Path of War in terms of regaining spell slots.

    • I’m always a bit conflicted here.

      In principle melee types can do damage all day long and never be less effective… but I’ve found that in practice they run down on hit points way too fast for this to be true (and if they don’t, it’s because they’re being propped up with healing sticks and… casters again).

      The changes I made to my healing rules (http://www.kjd-imc.org/blog/on-hit-points-and-healing/) made this rather more true than it was.

      I think part of the problem here is the expectation that casters be effective in every combat encounter. Fighter-types must be effective in all combat encounters because that’s what they do (and for the most part, all they have). Skill types (rogues) are supposedly most useful for non-combat purposes but have some pretty good combat ability under specific, limited conditions (surprise and flanking). I think the game works best when primary casters work in primarily support (buffs and defense) or non-combat roles (providing things mundane characters simply cannot do), with the occasional combat trump. Spell design seems to support this (clerics are decent in combat and have good support abilities, wizards have lots of world benders available and some combat trumps).

      The expectation that wizards be useful in most combat, and thus focusing on their combat trumps (which is a highly effective tactic, no question) really drives the observed nova behavior.

      • I’ve been told before (and no doubt I’ll be told again) that resource management isn’t fun or cool anymore. That’s certainly something that drives the expectation of casters always being effective in combat. I love resource management, and it’s one of the main reasons I play wizards. Sometimes it’s worth the wait to bring out the perfect spell at the perfect time!

      • I just realized this might be a way to fix much of my dissatisfaction with modern D&D. Early D&D, typically the wizards were less than useful in a fight, so tried to avoid being involved (unless they had the ability to make a big enough effect to be worth the expense, such as the well-timed sleep spell).

        In making them wizards always able to be effective in a fight, then concentrating on fights, means they are as useful as fighters and can do other stuff. Removing the symmetry, so each character is good at different stuff and they need each other to round out their capabilities, might be a way to balance things again.

        • It’s funny you mention this–making wizard’s more useful in a fight. It immediately made me wonder, “What did they do to make fighters more useful when not fighting?” I guess the answer is “nothing.” It’s therefore not that surprising that we focus on fighting more than in previous editions–after all everyone can do that!

    • Trailblazer (Bad Axe Games, late 3.x-era/early PFRPG supplement — as clearly indicated by the name) introduced a ‘rest mechanic’ (copied at http://www.kjd-imc.org/ogc-library/trailblazer/rest-mechanic/). I based some of the reasoning in ‘On Hit Points and Healing’ on it, in fact).

      Many abilities ‘reset’ on taking a short break. You get back some hit points, some abilities that are limited uses/day are recovered, some spell slots are regained (based on types of spells cast: 0-level, single-target spells with duration 1 minute/level or less; there are some restrictions), and ongoing effects (buffs and whatnot) end. There’s a trade off. You can get some other abilities back as well, by spending an Action Point (all hit points, all spell slots spent on restricted spells [area of effect/multiple target, spells with duration >1 minute/level, conjuration spells], etc.)

      Looking back I’d make a few other changes (such as a rest recovering a single use/day of each ability, not all; possibly limit the highest levels of spells to ‘non-rote’ status, so you don’t automatically get your finger of death back after each fight), but overall this could be a viable approach to the idea of spreading out the joy of magic through the day.

    • … and I just explored adapting the On Hit Points and Healing model to magic and spell casting at http://www.kjd-imc.org/blog/hit-point-variations-mana-and-madness-and-taint-oh-my/ (also, madness and various forms of ‘taint’).

      You have Magic Points in a fashion much like Hit Points (and yes, everyone gets them). Some things cost ‘temporary magic points’ that recover on a rest (as you release your effects), others cost ‘long term magic points’ that require overnight rest, or more, to recover. You can pop off as many limited spells as you can afford before recovery, before all the points come back, but your big mojo is more limited.

      (and for things like madness and taint, might not recover at all without specific, and big, measures… but that’s a different topic. They just use a similar mechanism)

  15. I play 3.5 99% now but learned and played 2nd for a little over 10 yrs. Since I DM I am able to control a lot of the timing issues in 3.5. Since turns went from 1 minute to 6 seconds a lot of issues have arisen. I fix this pretty quickly with anyone that is new to my games. Go take 6 seconds and draw a 20 X 20 room with features notes anything you want. You get 4 lines at best. Your character isn’t doing this any faster in full plate or 80 lbs of gear so no you don’t get it done in 6 seconds. This gives people the time ratio expected out of combat scenarios.

    In short combat is faster but I make sure they go through the same issues and timing out of it for most things. I think realistically the biggest issue for this is they took out a lot of the Roleplay/Social aspects and people now want/need to have that filled with something.

    Before entering an empty room would in my groups start with searches make sure all clear and then as a group discuss, does this seem like a suitable place to hang, can it be defended well etc. Most people I know of that never played 1st/2nd give me odd looks and who cares comments if asked now. Well if you thought as your character you would be concerned with this shit too you know.

  16. The short day was always a problem for my group and a constant annoyance. Using up resources in D&D can be tricky as well as throughout your day, no matter how long, the party gets weaker and weaker. This might be more realistic, it also makes it challenging as a DM to gauge encounters properly depending on the assumed condition of the party.

    This along with many other reasons is why I created the Fyxt RPG. ( https://fyxtrpg.com/ ) It is very much a hybrid of all the bits of 1-3rd edition D&D (With hints of other games as well.) It is also a hybrid in the sense it combines today’s technology with the traditional tabletop experience.

    In the Fyxt RPG I handle character strength by allowing characters to “reset” after any battle. This means 99% of their abilities return after every fight. This is great as the group is a constant strength which makes it easy to GM. I think this also makes it easier for players as they know what they can handle. This allows the group to tackle a ton of encounters a day or just a few. In either case it rocks because they don’t have to take 8 hour rests after every time they use a big spell or whatever.

    This really just illustrates one of the many streamlined/hybrid concepts in the Fyxt RPG. Leveling is super easy. Groups can be solo to 10 players in size really easily. Then the GM and players can mold the game to the size and breadth they want.

    Anyway check it out. You can play it for free. And keep up the great work on the in depth articles on game mechanics. We can never get to much of those!

  17. The cause of the 15-minute work day is the DM. If they don’t create a situation where time is of the essence and the party has no option other than to push ahead (conserving resources as much as possible) there this is no legit reason to NOT stop and fully rest after each encounter.

    Michael

    • Exactly. If you want a longer day and more of a challenge then give them reasons. So many ways to get there too:

      + Need to pay rent and other upkeep so if you don’t get enough swag, you have to keep going.
      + You’re doing something for pay and your sponsor has a deadline for completion.
      + If you clear out room one, someone else may come along and get the big score in later rooms while you’re recharging.
      + Organized enemies replace dead guards with more guards once they’re given time.
      + As you head further into the place you’re raiding someone discovers the pile of bodies you made at the entrance and then the time pressure is really on.

      Any of these can keep things flowing and demonstrate that the rest of the world goes on while the party is doing other things thus improving immersion.

    • On the other hand, if time is always of the essence it starts to feel pretty artificial.

      That said, I do like to build in consequences for those who back out. Whether it’s limited resources for the PCs (you have one batch of potions of resist fire, you only get one shot at this before they wear off) or inhabitant reaction (today you can blitz them with some fair chance of success, but if you simply test their defenses they will be ready for you when you come back, or they’ll advance your plans and sacrifice the princess early, or just leave).

      • Hey, I think I remember you from rec.games.frp or thereabouts 🙂

        I don’t mean to suggest that every delve should have a timer ticking. I’d rather have a mix of things going on, but if they’re doing a ‘tomb of horror’s type expedition with no-0ne on their tails then 15 min days probably makes sense…even zero minute days if the casters decide they want to swap out their spells for something specialized as they hit a tough stretch.

        I do mean to suggest that if you don’t want this run to be like that there are many, many ways to switch up the tempo that can also make the world around the characters seem a bit more alive and responsive to their actions.

      • It doesn’t always have to be artificially built or an immediate need. The party needs to find herbs in an unknown forest to create a cure, without knowing how long the disease takes to affect people. Then it’s up to the party to decide how long they want to take.

        The examples you give are just other ways of creating that sense of immediacy. How are any of the examples you’ve given NOT time is of the essence?

        Also, I’d say spring them on the party at some point. Have them make their feint at a group’s defenses one day, and then back off thinking they have time, only to come back and have the group gone, or the princess dead, etc. Nothing will spur on a group faster, or make them “push on” than a taste of failure.

        The issue as I see it isn’t time is of the essence or “save the world” or anything of the sort. It’s setting the player’s expectations. If the players expect the game to be like a video game where they fight, stop, “regain hp and mana” and continue on, or feel that, like a video game they can quick run back to town eat 650 apples sleep 8 days and go back, then that’s what they’re going to do. If the GM sets the expectation that the PCs actions have consequences, they’ll fret over every hour wasted, figure out how to not blow all their strength at once so they can push on.

        My players know that there’s going to be a lot of interaction with NPCs in my game, and roleplaying, that their actions have repercussions, and they’re expected to take that all into account. They know that leveling will take time. Most of the time I don’t even calculate XP to the number. I figure out where they are in regards to how I want the story to work around them, and then tell them they’ve leveled.

        The pace of the game is set by the GM, but ultimately player expectations are what’s going to drive it. And if some players don’t want to work at the slower pace, that’s fine too. Let them go, and replace them with someone else.

      • On rereading the comments here, I just remembered the 13th Age rule: you can always safeword out of an adventure… but it immediately ends the adventure as a ‘failure’. You don’t get the big treasure, you don’t rescue the princess, and the bad guys achieve their goal. There isn’t necessarily a time constraint per se, but backing out counting as failure looks like it achieves similar purpose.

        I seem to recall being told that 13th Age has a “four encounters between ability reset” rule, regardless of elapsed time between them… but I don’t remember reading it.

  18. Thanks for the thought-provoking article. It makes me wonder how D&D 5e would compare to 1e.

    So far, I love the core mechanics of 5e, but I have made several changes on aspects like how much do to award. I’ve had to do this, mainly because I have taken to running adventures from previous editions, using 5e.

  19. I’ve been trying to capture an old-school feel in my Pathfinder games. I’ve even converted several AD&D 1st Edition adventures to Pathfinder. You are absolutely right about the stat block requirements for all these creatures. It can get quite insane.

    • WAIT. Please tell me I’m reading this incorrectly. Was Gimli implying they could EAT the horses? Possibly, I guess, but my understanding was that they'd left the packs on the horses and therefore the horses ran off with the food.

  20. There is such a game; Basic Fantasy, takes the d20 mechanic and ports it into a simplified OSR game similar to 1e or 0e in some cases. Combat rounds are 10 seconds so people who had a problem with the one minute round should be happier. And over all, it is very rules lite and easy to get started in. Pathfinder practically requires 3 college credits worth of study to learn all the rules.