D&D General Time Pressure and Adventures

Your DM says that tonight's adventure has a time limit. What's your first reaction?

  • Personally offended ("Okay first of all, how dare you?")

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Negative ("Ugh, boring. Nobody wants to watch their resources so closely.")

    Votes: 1 1.7%
  • Completely uninterested ("Gosh, look at the time, I forgot I had to go to a thing. See ya'll next w

    Votes: 2 3.4%
  • Combative (Argument after argument, hoping to wear the DM down and force them to change their mind

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Inflexible ("Whatever, we do what we want. If we fail, it's the DM's fault for imposing a time limi

    Votes: 1 1.7%
  • Indifferent ("Sounds good. I'll go load up on potions and coffee, and meet back here.")

    Votes: 13 22.0%
  • Positive ("It's a puzzle! So first, we need to prioritize stealth and save resources. If we...")

    Votes: 24 40.7%
  • Enthusiastic ("HECK YEAH! Right to the point, no dilly-dallying around! Let's move, team!!!")

    Votes: 15 25.4%
  • Other (allow me to explain)

    Votes: 3 5.1%

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
(Required listening: Queen, "Under Pressure") I'm working late tonight, listening to some tunes, and this song came up in my rotation. And it got me thinking.

Suppose it's game night, and your DM announces that tonight's adventure has a time limit. The clock is ticking! Maybe the princess is going to be sacrificed at dawn. Maybe the caves will flood as soon as the tide comes in. Maybe the curse will take you all at midnight! Or something like that...your DM has made it clear to you that you won't have limitless time to explore, rest, and chase rabbits. You have only a limited amount of time to Do The Thing or you will fail the mission.

Not everyone likes this kind of adventure. Maybe it imposes a new set of constraints that they aren't accustomed to. Maybe their character build(s) depend on being able to rest after each encounter. Maybe they like to explore each and every room and tunnel before leaving the level.

Others might actually prefer it, especially if their group is the sort that easily gets distracted. Maybe they appreciate having that extra bit of structure, or maybe they just like having straightforward plots. Maybe it just feels more realistic.

I imagine a good number of folks fall somewhere in the middle.

How about you? What's your first reaction?
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
My first reaction is to ask the GM if they mean in game, in reality, or both?
A game time limit means more real time planning so that the task may be competed in the game time. A real time limit but no game time limit may mean the opposite.
Mm. Fair point.

For the purpose of this discussion let's say that it's in-game. The DM is tracking the in-game hours, meaning that you will have to pay very close attention to travel times, spell durations, number of rests, and that sort of thing. There's no real-life stopwatch or hourglass sitting on the table.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I've found it takes more work to make a pressure sensitive adventure than not. With "ye olde exploration of ancient ruins", the party can try to avoid encounters, or even potentially regroup and regain resources, consider their strategy, and maybe even resupply.

In a time sensitive mission, you have to hope that their resources can endure, and that a stroke of bad luck doesn't end the adventure prematurely. Like, you know, having the Cleric go down and get dragged away by enemies in an encounter, dramatically reducing the likelihood of success (and that's assuming they don't get sidetracked by rescuing the Cleric!).
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Other: just like any other mission we'll give it a shot: if we fail, we fail; if we succeed, we succeed. The time limit is just one more obstacle in our path, albeit one that we know about and can plan around.

(there'd be some variance based on the character I'm playing at the time; some might see an in-game time limit as being wa-ay more serious than would others :) )
 


I don't remember ever playing or running an entire time sensitive adventure, seems like I should have. I'm sure there were encounters that were time sensitive but I'm old and my memory really sucks these days. This reminds me of the FR novel "Escape from Undermountain" where the protagonist has 24-hours to find his way out of the dungeon or die iirc. Although this does give me an idea to incorporate into my next adventure.

This made me recall an adventure a friend of mine ran where at the very beginning he announced the one of the PCs was going to die. For whatever reason he had written it into the plot/predetermined that a PC would croak. I do remember that it added an exciting tension amongst the players and kept everyone on their toes. Ironically, I don't remember whose character died so I'm inclined to believe the DM was just bluffing and used for dramatic effect to change up the pace of the game for a session or two. So, I think it's good to add a thematic twist to the game from time to time to challenge the players, but like others have said though it should only be used sparingly.
 

If some evil wizard is going to set off his magic nuke to destroy the city, he's not going to wait for 3 extra weeks just because the PCs decided to do a bunch of side-quests and got hammered in a pub and woke up without pants. That story has a time limit. These PCs will wake up without pants and without city if they decided to ignore that time limit.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
The closest I've done to this in 5e was when I ran the conversion of Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. The lower levels of the Shrine are filled with foul air that slowly damages the party (like once an hour). Not a big deal, but it did mean the party could not take long rests. This added tension as they tried to make their way to the higher levels, knowing that they couldn't get long rest resources back.

At least, it started to, until between sessions 1 and 2, the players found a way to trade for a Ring of Spell Storing loaded with a Leomund's Tiny Hut. Darned Adventure League rules...
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
If some evil wizard is going to set off his magic nuke to destroy the city, he's not going to wait for 3 extra weeks just because the PCs decided to do a bunch of side-quests and got hammered in a pub and woke up without pants. That story has a time limit. These PCs will wake up without pants and without city if they decided to ignore that time limit.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
...but it did mean the party could not take long rests.
Them's fightin' words 'round here! ;) Well, in certain threads, anyway. I've seen people come unwound about their characters not being "allowed" to take long rests on an adventure. Something about player agency, something else about action economy, something about what the game designers intended...

I love time pressure in my adventures. I think the party should literally miss the boat if they take too long getting to the docks. I think bounties should have expiration dates...and/or competitors who might get the quarry first. I think that waiting an hour to "grab a short rest" before chasing the bandits means that bandit is long gone. Take too many long rests in the desert, and you're going to run out of food and water. Wait too long to rescue the baron's son, you might be named an accessory to the crime. And so on.

I use time pressure in just about every adventure. I think it's an important part of the realism.
 
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amethal

Adventurer
Them's fightin' words 'round here! ;) Well, in certain threads, anyway. I've seen people come unwound about their characters not being "allowed" to take long rests on an adventure. Something about player agency, something else about action economy, something about what the game designers intended...

I love time pressure in my adventures. I think the party should literally miss the boat if they take too long getting to the docks. I think bounties should have expiration dates...and/or competitors who might get the quarry first. I think that waiting an hour to "grab a short rest" before chasing the bandits means that bandit is long gone. Take too many long rests in the desert, and you're going to run out of food and water. Wait too long to rescue the baron's son, you might be named an accessory to the crime. And so on.

I use time pressure in just about every adventure. I think it's an important part of the realism.
I'm fine with all that, so long as the DM is okay with the hostage failing to get saved on occasion.

I'm much less keen on "save the world in 24 hours or die trying" sorts of adventure, where the characters have no opportunity to recover from a bit of bad luck early on, potentially leading to the players being forced into a TPK and presumably the entire campaign world being blown up and everything they'd ever achieved in the past being rendered meaningless.

(And an unfortunate part of me want to fail the adventure on purpose when that happens, just to see if the DM will go through with it - they must be more attached to their campaign world than I am, right?)

In our games we tend to have an unspoken social contract where the PCs will proceed heroically (rather than resting after every fight just because they can) but if they end up getting delayed they'll still arrive in the nick of time.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
All of my adventures and campaigns have time pressure of various forms, so it's normal in my games. I think overall the game works better when different time pressures are in effect. This may be in the form of events that occur at a specific point, day, or time or something like wandering monster checks at regular intervals. These create a sense of urgency and present the players with meaningful choices to make with their resource of time relative to their other resources. To my mind, the more meaningful choices the players have to make per unit of real time, the more engaged they become with the game.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I'm fine with all that, so long as the DM is okay with the hostage failing to get saved on occasion.

I'm much less keen on "save the world in 24 hours or die trying" sorts of adventure, where the characters have no opportunity to recover from a bit of bad luck early on, potentially leading to the players being forced into a TPK and presumably the entire campaign world being blown up and everything they'd ever achieved in the past being rendered meaningless.

(And an unfortunate part of me want to fail the adventure on purpose when that happens, just to see if the DM will go through with it - they must be more attached to their campaign world than I am, right?)

In our games we tend to have an unspoken social contract where the PCs will proceed heroically (rather than resting after every fight just because they can) but if they end up getting delayed they'll still arrive in the nick of time.
Yeah, this is all true. I've learned that if I'm going to be rigid with time pressure, I have to be flexible with consequences.

I've had NPC heroes show up to save the hostages (and collect the rewards, and the fame) when the party decided they needed to spend a week of downtime to buy a +2 longsword first. But the message eventually gets across: the players aren't the only band of heroes in town, and there's always someone willing to do what they aren't, for the right price.

And if the party arrives within an hour or two of the "deadline," I'm all for giving them the benefit of the doubt. Unless I have an awesome idea for what happens otherwise. :devil: Sometimes I can't decide if Ending #1 or Ending #2 would be the most fun, so I let the party decide for me. But I'm not going to punish them if a random encounter dropped their cleric and they had to take a knee.
 

Tallifer

Hero
I have played a few scenarios with a ticking clock, and it is fun to be thus challenged, However, I do prefer a leisurely exploration spread over forever.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Them's fightin' words 'round here! ;) Well, in certain threads, anyway. I've seen people come unwound about their characters not being "allowed" to take long rests on an adventure. Something about player agency, something else about action economy, something about what the game designers intended...

I love time pressure in my adventures. I think the party should literally miss the boat if they take too long getting to the docks. I think bounties should have expiration dates...and/or competitors who might get the quarry first. I think that waiting an hour to "grab a short rest" before chasing the bandits means that bandit is long gone. Take too many long rests in the desert, and you're going to run out of food and water. Wait too long to rescue the baron's son, you might be named an accessory to the crime. And so on.

I use time pressure in just about every adventure. I think it's an important part of the realism.
I didn't write the adventure, but I couldn't see any other way to rule it; if you take damage while attempting a long rest, it's interrupted, right?
 

These create a sense of urgency and present the players with meaningful choices to make with their resource of time relative to their other resources. To my mind, the more meaningful choices the players have to make per unit of real time, the more engaged they become with the game.
This is something I need to give more thought to in both planned campaigns and adventures as well as when improvising and roleplaying on the fly. My players have long since felt that the campaign world revolves around them and they can amble through it as they wish. This is good food for thought.
 


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