Time Limit as a Stress Inducer: Thoughts?

Nickolaidas

Explorer
Most of you here have probably played the Witcher 3. One of the things I loved was when there were decisions Geralt had to take, with a time limit to choose. [KILL THE BANDIT / SPARE HIM]

So I am thinking of making some stuff like that. Like, let's assume that a powerful shady NPC has his minions all around the PCs, but gives them a chance to serve him (and change factions) and become allies. If they reject, it's quite possible that the NPC will command his men to attack the PCs. So, in order to create tension, I am thinking of giving a time limit (raising my hand and then slowly lowering it until it touches the table which end the timer).

Do you think it's wrong to do this on tense situations? Is it unfair to not let the PCs take their sweet time and decide what to do in a crucial part of the campaign? Or - when done sparingly - is pure awesomesauce?

Thoughts?
 

ad_hoc

Hero
I don't want stress like that when I'm playing a cooperative storytelling game.

You might find that it creates an antagonistic dynamic of DM vs players.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I do enjoy building time pressure (or time as a resource) into all of my adventure scenarios; however, that exists in the campaign world and acts as pressure on the PCs, not a limit on how long the players get to make decisions or respond to the DM. While we move very quickly in our games compared to others I've played in, I would not want to put a time limit on players making decisions in this fashion. Like rushing someone, it could lead to a negative emotional response which is best avoided in my view.
 

dnd4vr

Keeper of the Seven Keys
Our DM doesn't give us tons of time to make snap decisions. You have to declare your intentions (not normal, but we play that way) and then he moves on. If you aren't in the heat of the moment, take all the time you want.
 

Harzel

Adventurer
Depends pretty much entirely on your players. You could try it out in a relatively low-stakes situation to see how they react. Matt Mercer, the DM for Critical Role, uses real-time challenges to pretty good effect, but a) he keeps it to a rare occurrence, and b) IIRC it is always a 'challenge' situation*, not a make-a-decision situation. Also, he uses an hourglass, which seems to make a pretty good prop and is a clear signal to the players.

In any case, I think it will be more effective and palatable to the players if there is a rationale in the fiction for the time limit. Being trapped in a room with water/sand/gas pouring in, or 'you can hear the sound of the guards running down the hall toward you' are classics. In your example, I'd have the NPC explicitly give the PCs a limited time to make the decision, making it more part of the story and less an arbitrary gimmick.

Only other thought is that I would in general be cautious/skeptical about trying to 'port computer game mechanics into D&D.

* That is, even though there may be multiple solutions, the stakes/threat/objective are clear.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Yeah, it totally depends on your players and how anxious they become under time pressure. I know some folks who would hate it and some who'd love it.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Like others, it depends on the players. I might enjoy it now and then, my wife would hate it. So ask your players, and then ask again after you've done it a few times.
 

Satyrn

Visitor
Count me in with the it depends on your players crowd.

I don't think I'd enjoy the hard time limit you propose with the dropping arm example, but I'd be cool with you just politely encouraging me and the other players to decide in relatively short order . . . so long as you're also cool if I wind up saying "hold on, I'm grabbing a beer first" because I actually need a beer.
 
I've played in games where this idea was used, and as a player I didn't like it. The first time it seemed semi-cool, the second time it was already a trite annoyance.

But I think it's personal preference, maybe your players will find it exciting.
 

Krachek

Adventurer
When a player hesitate, start to make narrative description of the situation.
Describe all the dilemma the pc is facing.
It help make the tension go down and make everybody laugh.
 

MarkB

Hero
The main issue with this in a group game is that it short-circuits discussion, and can effectively lead to one player dictating the reaction of the entire group.
 

Draegn

Explorer
I have in game time limits where the party is expected to do something within a time frame. The paladin and her men at arms are supposed to take a hilltop by noon and it is now 6 am. Her decisions on when to leave, which route to take, etc affect whether or not she and her unit accomplish the mission objectives.

Out of game I ask that they do all of their planning in character as much as possible and in a polite amount of time. Usually this works out to be long enough to make a proper cup of tea.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
Our gaming group uses a 30-second game timer for individual turns to avoid analysis paralysis - I would find no problem with such a time limit on a major choice either, as 30 seconds is plenty of time for a small group (4 to 6) to come to a majority consensus. As long as the DM clearly lays out the stakes (“the villain awaits a response for a moment. Out of game i’m Representing this with the timer. If you answer yes, option A happens. If you answer no, option B happens. If you don’t answer, he takes that as a no. Starting... now.”) then I don’t see a problem with it.

The reason I see it that way is that part of both real life and many fiction stories are hard choices that people and protagonists have to make, after all. It’s what separates tabletop games from computer games and CRPGs - no save button, and consequences for actions and inactions.
 
This was a fairly common technique back in the AD&D days. The only thing I would suggest is instead of raising your hand and lowering it, which might be misinterpreted, I would simply raise both hands with fingers spread wide, then slowly close 1 finger at a time. This is a MUCH more obvious countdown, which will put the pressure on the players. A vocal countdown can work, but I've found that it actually distracts the players, since they might not hear each other (listening to the countdown). The idea of an hourglass or other visual, unbiased tool would be the best, because players won't think you're speeding it up (which you might be), but the downside is you can't choose to slow the count to give them an extra moment.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Perhaps, more important for such a scene - do you allow the *players* do discuss the matter during whatever time, or is all conversation in-character only. There are benefits to both angles, but make it clear to the players which it is.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
I do this from time to time, but I keep it sparse to make the events feel meaningful.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Most of you here have probably played the Witcher 3. One of the things I loved was when there were decisions Geralt had to take, with a time limit to choose. [KILL THE BANDIT / SPARE HIM]

So I am thinking of making some stuff like that. Like, let's assume that a powerful shady NPC has his minions all around the PCs, but gives them a chance to serve him (and change factions) and become allies. If they reject, it's quite possible that the NPC will command his men to attack the PCs. So, in order to create tension, I am thinking of giving a time limit (raising my hand and then slowly lowering it until it touches the table which end the timer).

Do you think it's wrong to do this on tense situations? Is it unfair to not let the PCs take their sweet time and decide what to do in a crucial part of the campaign? Or - when done sparingly - is pure awesomesauce?

Thoughts?
Is the NPC doing this or is there any in-game manifestation?

If not then, nope. You the GM should not be a mechanic in your own right.

If there is an actual time facet going on in the game, let the gzmeceorld do what it does.

As soon as **you** become part of the story, it's going in the wrong firection.
 

Iry

Adventurer
I do enjoy building time pressure (or time as a resource) into all of my adventure scenarios; however, that exists in the campaign world and acts as pressure on the PCs, not a limit on how long the players get to make decisions or respond to the DM. While we move very quickly in our games compared to others I've played in, I would not want to put a time limit on players making decisions in this fashion. Like rushing someone, it could lead to a negative emotional response which is best avoided in my view.
I certainly agree with this, and actually have some short stories to share!

  • One player was reduced to tears when I tried to put a time limit on length of rounds in combat.
  • One player is very intelligent, but stresses out and goes into 'freeze' mode when under a time limit.
  • One player just didn't like them, and said "Deadlines are something I'm trying to escape from."
All of them were fine with more general time limits, such as "If you take a short rest, the villains are going to make considerable progress with their escape." It was the short time limits similar to Witcher 3 that were met with negative reactions.

But the important thing is just checking with your players. Communicate.
 
The problem for me with 'turn on a timer' is that I'm not actually in the game seeing what happens. If the DM hasn't adequately described the situation, I end up having to use big chunks of what are supposed to be decision time for clarifying things that the character would either already know or find out at a glance. This is especially true when playing in a noisy environment like a gaming store, where it's often hard to even hear specific words. Time limits also tend to reward the most obnoxious players, as whoever talks over people and gets the DM's attention first gets the information or gets their action to count. And they can be devastating to people with disabilities - someone who's hard of hearing is going to have a much harder time figuring out what you're describing than someone without the difficutly, for example.

In the specific case, you're not asking for an individual decision, you're asking for a group decision. Witcher is a one player game, where just one person decides, but you've got half a dozen (or so) players who need to reach a consensus on a major campaign decision. Putting them on a timer when it's not even clear whether or not they can talk is almost never going to reach a good result, as lots of players will feel like the result was just BS that got decided by whoever talked the loudest, not a real decision. You're not likely to get the clean 'we agreed to follow the villain, now we are in his faction' that you were looking for, but get a lot more 'we will stab him in the back ASAP'. Trying to play 'your alignment says you have to' or something else along those lines is less likely to be seen as legitimate by the player, since they'll think they got railroaded.
 

Advertisement

Top