What Time Is It?

Welcome to the third installment of Everyman Gaming’s GM’s Guide articles. In this GM’s Guide, we’ll be talking about the concept of the 15-minute adventuring day.

Remember when I gave my ridiculously long backstory about how I came to be a Pathfinder designer? I’m going to reference it for a second to lead into this topic. Go refresh your memory on my story if you need to.

So I come home from college a graduate and I immediately scrounge a Pathfinder game together out of my local friends. Gotta love my priorities! Anyway, I get the guys together and they build their characters. I give them a quest and they’re off into the scary-dark woods to find some old grandma who had gone missing. This is made even more hilarious due to the fact that every PC was evil; the party included a goblin ranger, a cleric of a Lawful Evil god, and an antipaladin. Can’t get much more evil then that, hrm?

 So the party is off looking for grandma when they encounter several weird things. Heavily mutated and corrupted fey; specifically a flock of dryads and a treant. The party fights them and I watch as the cleric blows through all of his channel negative energy attacks and damaging spells in this one combat. The combat ends and the cleric immediately says, “All right, guys, I’m out of magic so we need to rest for the day now.” The party agrees and they stop to rest for the night.

 Has this ever happened to you? Well folks, as a GM this was my first ever encounter with the concept of the 15-minute adventuring day, and I hated it. Today’s topic: the 15-minute adventuring day. What it is, how to spot it, and how to counter it.

Identifying the Problem

When we talk about the “15-minute adventuring day,” what is the problem we are trying to identify? The problem isn’t that the adventuring “day” only lasts 15 minutes. For example, sometimes the GM designs his adventures around a single combat: penultimate dragon hunting encounters sometimes take this form. In addition, sometimes the dice aren’t in the PC’s favor and they are forced to expend most of their resources in what should have been a relatively easy fight. In both of these situations, resting after a single encounter is not a problem because the 15-minute adventuring day was instated by GM design or as an absolute last result.

Where the 15 minute day becomes a problem is gaming is in situations where the “fight-rest” pattern becomes a player tactic rather than a GM decision or a last resort. In my example above, my cleric player willingly expended all of his resources with the assumption that he would be allowed to rest immediately in order to regain his expended power. In effect, a 15-minute adventuring day is a player tactic where one or more PCs wastefully use their resources during an encounter with the assumption that they will be permitted to rest immediately after to regain those spent resources without penalty.

Why Is this a Problem?

Put simply, the problem with the 15-minute adventuring day is that it ignores one of the cardinal design elements of the 3.5/Pathfinder systems: limited use. Many abilities in Pathfinder are designed to be powerful options with the downside that they are only available for a limited under of times each day. As a matter of fact, the entire spellcasting system is built around the concept of limited use = powerful when used. This is why the biggest offenders of the 15-minute adventuring day are usually classes with magical abilities. Ultimately, this practice removes tactical strategy from the game, trivializes encounters, and causes stories to progress at a sluggish, unrealistic pace. All-around nastiness.

Combating the Problem

So as a GM, how do you stop your players from partaking in the 15-minute adventuring day? As Pavlov would say, you get the players to associate bad things happening in-game with wasting time, much as we do in the real world. Here are some tips:

  • Wandering Monsters: Let’s face it; there are just as many creatures that are active during the day as the night. Plenty of animals are active in the day to hunt your foes with. Most bandits and thugs operate by stalking marks during the day and ambushing them at night: if you are going to sleep at noon, you’re just making their work easier, so throwing bandits is fair game. Even if it might not be realistic, you should assault day-resting players players without fail both day and night. The next time they rest, if they choose to make camp at nightfall, be generous and spare them from random encounters, maybe do it two or three times to really cement the behavior. Just make sure you roll some nice anyway (even if you aren’t going to throw monsters at them); you want your players superstitious. And players, even if you’re smart enough to be reading my advice columns to see what your GM might do to you, do YOU feel lucky enough to call your GM out on the fact that he/she might be trying to condition you? DO YOU? … didn’t think so.
  • Time Limit: Putting time limits onto your quests is a great way to foster a sense of urgency that will make your players want to adventure longer. This limit can be to prevent something bad from happening (you have three days to clear out the post before the orcs come back to bolster its defenses) or to sweeten their reward (the orcs will send their trading caravans out in three days: if you wait too long, much of the post’s wealth will be gone).
  • Chases: When your players are racing to catch someone/beat someone to a destination, you’d be surprised how much faster they move and how much better they conserve their resources.

 And that about wraps up my thoughts on the 15-minute adventuring day. What do you think? Do you or your players regularly employ this tactic, or is this the first you’ve ever heard of it? How do you handle players who try to perform a 15-minute adventuring day? Do you think this play style is a problem? Leave your answers and comments below, and I look forward to seeing you next time for the next installment of GM Guide!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune pathfinder savant, and his favorite pastime is endlessly throwing waves of kobold raiders against PCs who dare to try to metagame at his table with the 15-Minute Adventuring Day tactic. Fun times. Fun times.

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13 thoughts on “What Time Is It?

  1. You pretty much summed up how I handle it. Unless there is a good reason for the 15 minute work day (like I designed it that way or the dice gods hate the party) I will absolutely ambush the party. For example, at one point the Party had let a 13th level Wizard escape (was kind of a mini-boss). They instituted a 15-minute workday at the previous session, so at the beginning of the next session, the Wizard that escaped came back and decided to piss them off.

    They were camped in a Rope Trick with one man on watch (cycling the watch every 2 hours). He came in and used his Ratling familiar to use a Scroll of Summon Monster VII to summon 1d4+1 Xill while the Wizard himself used Augment + Superior Summons to summon 1d4+2 Xill. Then he readied an action to cast Wall of Stone after the Xill used Dispel Magic to end the Rope Trick and the familiar used a Scroll of Cloudkill. The Xill dispelled the Rope Trick dropping the party into a Cloudkill that the Wizard then used Wall of Stone to trap them inside. They had one exit, and had to get through ~7 Xill to escape. The Wizard then proceeded to try to use Feeblemind on the party Wizard, but the Wizard then followed that up with a Dimension Door with the Fighter (leaving the archer, paladin, rogue and oracle behind) to take on the Xill, but the Familiar used a Scroll of Dimension Door to escape.

    Kind of a double lesson learned for the party. Lesson 1) Don’t let an enemy Wizard escape. Lesson 2) Don’t use a 15 minute day.

  2. So, isn’t this really more about creating a world with appropriate consequences? It means adjusting tactics and situations to account for enemies who might know the adventurers are coming, or who suspect they have a foe dogging their steps. That’s going to be different depending on the kind of antagonist the characters face.

    • Not necessarily. The more realistic approach would be to roll randomly to see if anything disturbs the PCs. My advice is to skip the rolling and pelt your PCs with horribleness every time they try to abuse the resting mechanic. >: )

      • I don’t think that’s very good advice.

        First of all, it runs the risk of sending your game into an undesired direction based on the consequences of an unplanned encounter. Second, it can break the verisimilitude of your setting; if the characters are in an otherwise peaceful region and you attack them with some kind of monster, then you’ve just turned the well-patrolled countryside into an unattended wilderness (at worst) or threatened realm (at best). I don’t see how random encounters are more realistic than determining the consequences of party delays with considered events. By keeping a timeline of the story’s progression, you know exactly where the antagonist is in the execution of their nefarious plot while the party decides to chill out for an afternoon in the woods.

        I suppose you could hit them with other encounters from the adventure, essentially bringing the adventure to them, but I really dislike the idea of “random monster safari.”

  3. oddly never had this problem in any gaming group I’ve ever played in. Even one shots at conventions. But I have seen it happen to other people. In my groups I usually find the opposite, spell casters who are so afraid to cast their “good” spells in case something bigger comes along before they have time to rest. We had one wizard who manged to only expend three spells in one day and he was 10th level. HThere was the threat of looming big bad monster so he was afraid to “waste” spells. We didn’t meet the creature till the first encounter of the next day.

    Clerics make it easy, so do the druids they spell out for you that you just can’t rest after one encounter to get your spells back. You have to pray at a specific time everyday. So if you want to get your spells back after your first encounter than you have to wait 24 hrs. Which means you can make camp all you want but every wandering monster on the face of the planet has a chance to find you as you sit there all day doing nothing.

    Now although Wizards and Sorcerers don’t spell it out as clearly the whole phrasing :daily allotment of spells” means to me, and I put it out there when I GM, That you can’t just rest 8 hours after expanding new spells, your mind isn’t ready to retain new knowledge until 24hrs after you memorized spells the last time. But that’s just my house rule as it isn’t laid out as specifically as the divine spell casters.

    • There is some truth to this. Clerics are at least proficient in combat to the point where they don’t need to be casting spells all day long. Sorcerers and Wizards have only paltry cantrips to fall back on when the going gets rough; its why I personally think that cantrips should have been designed to do comparable damage to some weapons to help out at the lower levels. (I.E. a melee touch spell that deals damage like a dagger and ranged touch spells dealing damage comparable to a light crossbow.)

      • Well, a simple enough house rule is something like it dealing +1 damage per 2 caster levels. This lets casters fall back on a cantrip that, while not great, will at least deal, somewhat, of a noticeable amount of damage.

  4. I as DM do not like the 15 min work day but my player’s love to nova. Since I always use a time table and since I put 6 to 10 encounters in front of them as a days work they have gotten quite good at finding ways to skip encounters and go straight to the boss. They use almost as many resources skipping as fighting but it leads to a pathfinder game that feels like shadowrun. It is fun.

    • On one hand, it can feel fun to be super powerful and fling your best abilities around at your leisure. On the other hand, the game isn’t really designed to handle that. If you’re looking for a high-powered game where everyone is blowing everything up, I suggestion looking into the Mythic rules; it’ll really help to capture that feel without needing to rest every 15 minutes.

  5. In a time long ago, in a distant galaxy known as “the early 80s”, as a young DM I ran into this problem. My group was more experienced at RPGs than I, and knew a number of tricks that allowed them to nova encounters, so I approached my Dad and asked him for some advice. My Father was at the time a military tactics instructor and his advice was very simple. “When behind enemy lines, drawing attention is the last thing a combat unit wants to do unless its mission is in fact to draw attention especially if their only means of resupplying is from the enemy. All missions have a time table, if a unit fails to achieve its objective in the time allotted to it, tactical and strategic consequences tend to be extremely negative. Mission difficulty is a combination of enemy strength/fortifications, navigation challenges, and time to mission completion.”

    Thus I started to design my campaigns with timed objectives, I would either pad or trim the time allowance to provide options or create tension. I also populated areas with additional encounters that would lay dormant unless activated by player activity. These dormant encounters would be keyed to the party abilities and further drain their resources or interrupt their recovery of spent assets. Most of the time these dormant encounters were designed to be nuisance, just enough to keep the party off balance and unable to rest but upon occasion it would be a real threat. When they tried to defeat this with regular use of rope-trick or similar spells, I always tightened the time table and would throw complications their way usually in the form of weather or terrain changes that caused them to either expend more magic to defeat it or burn time to get around it. Horses going lame, supplies spoiling, fatigue penalties for climate conditions, booby trapped supply depots: sometimes these would be literally traps and other times things like food/water sources that were tainted (nothing like low Fort save classes having to contend with diarrhea). I would make it a point to let them know the weather would get worse if they rested prematurely and would further slow them down. My BBEG ALWAYS had a time table, things they would do and become aware of the longer the players dragged their feet and I’d let any new players know this feature of my games upfront.

    My goal was also to do my level best to deplete at least 30-40% of their resources before the climatic battle (i.e. Boss Fights) so that the players were never at a full tank of resources. If I noticed resource paranoia kicking in, I’d cloak my activity by asking the player who was hoarding to make a check, then slip him a note playing on whatever the class’ particulars were that he had a hunch that now would be a good use of X (i.e. a Rogue’s ‘clever instincts’, Ranger’s Survival, Cleric’s faith, etc). This check would be allowed rerolls with increasing bonuses till they made it (my rule of thumb was a +3/+5/+8 progression). I also would fudge the encounter numbers, if my initial design had 10 of something and the party was running a little low, I’d reduce the number of foes or their hit points as being already wounded, likewise if the group was having a great run of luck I’d scale things up a bit.

    I was careful not to overdo it, my goal was to keep them from treating my game like a CRPG with a save function, so if they stayed briskly of pace, I’d tune accordingly either by removing complications or allowing scavaging of their foes to be more helpful. It didn’t take long before groups got deconditioned of that nova-burst habit and in order to develop my instincts for pacing such things I would regularly submit multiple choice surveys to get feedback. The 15 min adventure is dull even to players, its a computer game at that point with no sense of tension or achievement, as sadistic as it may sound, the more someone has to work for something, the more cherished the victory is at the end of the day. And yeah, I’m still gaming at age 50.

  6. First time my party tried that I let them sleep, for two hours anyway, they had a good nights rest the night previous and couldn’t manage to get an uninterrupted eight hours sleep to refresh their abilities in the middle of the day.

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