D&D General How often are your stories on a clock?

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Time pressure? Often. Actual in-world deadlines? Approximately never.

I try to keep the world moving in places the PCs aren't, but I mostly don't bother thinking about what that movement is until/unless the PCs interact with it.
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
But it doesn't have to be "an emergency," it just has to be a bit of time pressure.

My players learned that the temple of Heironeous in Greyhawk had a potion of supreme healing available, which they wanted -but they didn't have the means/funds to get it. They did however have an opportunity to acquire the funds, they pursued the opportunity.

The opportunity took them 5 days. I had privately determined that, after 3 (1d4+1) days (It's Greyahawk, lots of wealthy people), a 3rd party would buy the potion.

So when the players returned for it, it wasn't there - a bit of a loss. But they still had a boat load of gold and had gotten experience along the way - they weren't exactly crushed.

Not any kind of emergency, just a time pressure.
Right. The ship to the Island of Deadly Perils leaves without you. Rival adventurers get to the Lost City of Gold ahead of you. The hobgoblin outriders are reinforced with heavy infantry. The price on a needed commodity goes up. Parts of the dungeon are flooded with water or sand.

There are practically infinite ways to create time pressure in the context of a game based on make-believe. In the doing, it tends to create a sense of urgency and, as I mention above, gives more weight to the players' decisions.
 

Stalker0

Legend
My answer depends on what level I'm running. At low to mid levels, I use time pressure occasionally but not consistently. At high levels, almost always. I feel like time pressure is a needed component to make high level adventurers make sense, as at high levels players can do almost anything given enough time.
 

Time pressure? Often. Actual in-world deadlines? Approximately never.

I try to keep the world moving in places the PCs aren't, but I mostly don't bother thinking about what that movement is until/unless the PCs interact with it.
Yeah, I tend to use mild time-pressure a lot. Far more mild than the examples @iserith gives, actually - I would say most of those are close to "emergency" level time pressure, and you don't need to go as hard as that, and indeed, if your players "call your bluff" on some of that sort of thing (usually by accident!), it can lead to situations that are vexing and uninteresting for everyone ("the session where we spent two hours trying to arrange another ship to take us" is not likely to be a memorable favourite barring particularly spectacular inspiration from the DM). But, for example, the senators who you are escorting want to get to the fortress and safety as soon as possible, plus they're kind of annoying, so the adventurers don't want to draw things out. That keeps them only resting etc. when they have to.

There's also some value in juxtaposing adventures with little or basically no time pressure against those with pressure, because those without seem more special and interesting when it is normal to have at least some.
 
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gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Well, I run Starfinder these days, and while rests between major combats is a sensible tactic and certainly occurs in game, most of my adventures don't have time limits. The only adventure that has some kind of built in time limit is my FREE one-shot module, Rude Awakening. With multiple places requiring having to wear space suit armor to pass through areas lacking in atmosphere and sometimes gravity. However, after "oversleeping" in cold sleep for 9 years due to a caused malfunction while in cold sleep. The space suit armor available has been sitting idle for 9 years and have leaked oxygen out all that time and now only 10 minutes of oxygen remains in all the suits. So this creates hair raising tension, having to negotiate the zero atmosphere areas with precious little oxygen to use - it becomes a race to avoid the obstacles and still have air to breathe, until reaching the end of the module. So the time limits placed regards the hazards of limited oxygen, not for any other reason...
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Right. The ship to the Island of Deadly Perils leaves without you. Rival adventurers get to the Lost City of Gold ahead of you. The hobgoblin outriders are reinforced with heavy infantry. The price on a needed commodity goes up. Parts of the dungeon are flooded with water or sand.

There are practically infinite ways to create time pressure in the context of a game based on make-believe. In the doing, it tends to create a sense of urgency and, as I mention above, gives more weight to the players' decisions.

All good examples of time pressure and a ticking clock (of sorts).

And there, I think, is the productive discussion.

If a "time clock" is always "Free the princess in 2 hours or she dies," "stop the ritual by tomorrow or the cultists take over," "you have 6 hours to save the universe from destruction," then, yeah, it's going to get old and the players will start rolling their eyes.

But if, instead, there are time pressures that just change the situation and move the group along? Those are nearly essential. And the true question is, what are fun ones that keep things from getting stale.
 
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Ondath

Adventurer
I was guilty of using "You must defeat the BBEG immediately!" time pressures a lot in my earlier campaigns, and then I'd always lament the players never using downtime (hah!). In my current game, I implemented house rules (downtime to level up, long rests outside safe havens requiring 24 hours) that force the flow of time to some extent (even still, a bit less than one year of in-game time has passed in my current campaign that's been going on for a bit longer than 2 years) and most of the time there is no immediate time pressure. If there will be some time pressure, I always try to make the stakes clear (the enemy dwarven airship will reach its hometown and get repairs unless you intercept it in 48 hours!). Then again, the world does move on its own without the players' influence, so players might make deadlines by themselves if they care about a world element (e.g., the party wanted to help the small resistance in a land under a dragon overlord's influence, but the resistance was pushed out by the time the players got around to dealing with that threat. Now they want to avenge the dragon that caused this).
 


If ticking clock means there's a deadline - not very often. If ticking clock means things are happening in the background and reacting even if the PCs turtle up in their Leomund's tiny hut for a long rest - most of the time.
I was going to say this as well. Occasionally, there is an actual ticking clock (you must rescue hostage by midnight or they are sacrificed).

Very often, there are various types of time pressure:
  • location is cursed, you must make a save every long rest or suffer increasing penalties;
  • 5 people were poisoned and you are racing for the antidote, they will make saves against the poison at regular intervals, if you are dlow, they may not all survive;
  • the adventure will continue while you take a short or a long rest: you can’t clear out half a fortresses guards and expect no one to notice;
  • your provisions/ torches will be consumed while you rest.
  • other people may be attempting to accomplish the same goals;
  • the nature of your objective is one that can be put off indefinitely.

At the end of the day, it’s just unrealistic for the party not to generally have to hustle to complete their objectives.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
My stories are never on a clock.

My NPCs are.

It's just a matter if the players want to be involved with a particular NPC.
 

I told my players once that they had 2 in game weeks before a ritual was complete just so they’d get on with the adventure instead of pissing around town.

I’m currently using the dungeon turn with every hour indicating a roll for random encounters. The players also know that if they stay too long in the dungeon something is gonna snatch up their cheeks.
 


Mort

Legend
Supporter
See, this is why I don't really like time pressure: clearly they wanted to piss around town and now they can't.

Sure they can.

If they take too long, they just won't interact with stopping this ritual, which is likely an opportunity for loot/experience. Either someone else gets to it, or the group see the consequences of the ritual being completed - and have to deal with it.

Nothing says the PCs have to jump at every plot hook/opportunity for adventure. They should pick and choose, depending on what they actually wish to do.

Frankly, A DM that has all/most of his plot hooks be "do this or the world ends..." needs to dial it back in favor of smaller more organic consequences!
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Like much of what I do with encounter, adventure and tier design, I mix it up. Players may have a time limit they know about, have a time limit they don't know about, know that they don't have a time limit, or don't know they don't have a time limit (whether they think they do or not). I also heavily mix up the number of encounters an adventuring day, from 1 to as many as 15 (with some being avoidable and others in front of side objectives not necessary to complete the main objective). All of that uncertainty leads to the players making decisions about the moment in the fiction, not based on expectations of the game.
 

If ticking clock means there's a deadline - not very often. If ticking clock means things are happening in the background and reacting even if the PCs turtle up in their Leomund's tiny hut for a long rest - most of the time.
This. Stuff happens, the world is dynamic, other people's plan move forward on their own timelines, not on the players/character's time.

Players can stop and rest, or try to, anytime they want. I do (or will, as never come up yet) limit 3 short rests per day (long rest).
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
There are rarely explicit ticking clocks in my game, but there is always time pressure from the fact that the party always has multiple simultaneous priorities. The faster they accomplish any given priority, the sooner they can tackle the next one.

For example, let's say the party is exploring an uninhabited ruin. There's no inherent time pressure here, but the party also wants to help their allies deal with a goblin problem, investigate rumors of a foreign theives' guild muscling in on the locals, follow up on a lead from one of their agents about a magic item that may be available for sale, and track down a wanted criminal that they suspect is in their neck of the woods. The faster they finish exploring the ruin, the faster they can attend to these other priorities, none of which are just going to wait for them.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I mix it up. A few adventures have hard-line clocks on them, others more soft-deadline clocks or clocks where the deadline isn't and-or can't be known by the PCs other than they know there's a deadline out there somewhere, but most have no real deadline at all other than "just get it done". :)
 

jgsugden

Legend
There is almost always some form of ticking clock, although it is often ambiguous.

For example, the PCs in one current campaign are attempting to liberate a monastery devoted to a Knowledge God that was assaulted by sinister forces in search of hidden knowledge. They know the enemy forces are searching, but they do not know when they will find it. But i do. And there is a specific time they'll find it is the PCs do not delay them. The PCs and players know there is a clock - but they can't see it.

Overall in that campaign, the nation that the PCs began within was assaulted by an overwhelmingly powerful force, and a small number of the people of the nation fled across the seas. They've discovered that the overwhelming force intended to wipe out the entire nation. They know that that force is going to follow them across the seas. They just don't know when.

I make it clear early on that I have a calendar of events that are in motion, and things on that calendar take place unless the PCs change the situation - and they do not have time to solve all the world's problems. They feel the time pressure, and do not waste time lightly - and that has been a consistentl good way to keep them from trying the 'rest after every battle' technique (as is having united forces of enemies that gang up on the PCs if the PCs only take out a scouting troop before retreating to rest).
 

See, this is why I don't really like time pressure: clearly they wanted to piss around town and now they can't.
Yeah I get it, but I was tired of it and wanted things to progress for my own sanity. It came down to pacing really. The game was getting stale and so I injected just the slightest amount of pressure to kinda light a fire under the players and shift the focus of the adventure.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I’m starting to use ticking clocks more because that’s the style I want to run. More fast-paced action-adventure rather than meandering, in-your-own time, rests galore style game. I’ve also had players absolutely demand long rests after taking one hit point of damage, so I fully sympathize with your friend. I also just had a group decide that the door to the dungeon looked too scary…so they went home. A lot of modern players are absurdly risk adverse when it comes to their characters. So without a clock, they won’t ever push their luck.

As others have said, it doesn’t have to be obvious. You have one hour to rescue the dragon before the princess eats him is only one version. Background consequences when the PCs take too long are also a great way to reinforce this is an action-adventure game.
 

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