No 15 minute adventuring days in Telengard

There’s been lots of discussion about the “15 minute adventuring day” around the blogs and forums lately — the situation that arises where the party leaves the adventure site/dungeon/etc. to rest and recuperate after every encounter, because they want to re-memorize spells, heal up, regain once-a-day abilities, etc.  It’s a problem because it disrupts the ‘momentum’ of an adventure, and kills some of the excitement and peril.  In fact the issue it has come up in discussions at our gaming table too!

The “edition warrior” answers to the problem tend to be either:

Old schooler: 15 minute adventuring days happen because the players don’t know how to conserve their resources, and you can solve it by preventing recuperation (wilderness adventures, remote dungeons you can’t just leave at will, etc.), or by learning to manage resources better (avoid fights, use better tactics, etc.).  In other words, the 15 minute adventuring day is something you work around with better DMing or better play.

New schooler: 15 minute adventuring days happen because the rules are poorly designed, and you avoid them by adding more resource-restoration between encounters (healing surges, non-Vancian magic that doesn’t require re-memorization, etc.).

Really, either your players suck or your rules suck? Please. Why can’t it be both?

Actually, I think there is some merit to both views — it is an interaction of player choices and rule design.  I don’t think you can blame players for taking advantage of any and all opportunities to recover as fully as possible from every fight.  Combat is war,* after all.  At the same time, you can tweak the rules a bit to make resource recovery a little less disruptive to the ‘adventuring day.’   My solution, which the players seem to be pretty happy with, has been to attack the problem on both fronts.  In the current Telengard campaign, a number of factors make it easier to maintain ‘adventuring momentum’ — some are rules tweaks (up to me) and some are player options (up to them).

  • The d30 rule. This is a once-per session thing, so it does no good to rest up between encounters to get another d30.  Players still have to conserve their d30 (and some do so well, that they have not even used it yet!)
  • The Adventurers’ Guild has negotiated free healing at the temple.  The players can decide to join the Guild, and pay a small “tax,” and get their HP restored at any time in town.  This actually reduces downtime because…
  • The “dungeon” is the town.  Some actual dungeons are in the ruined quarter of town, and the ruined quarter itself is filled with dangerous humans and monsters.  The party is slowly ‘clearing’ this area and will eventually have to venture beyond the town, but they could easily spend their fragile low levels in town-based adventures that are fairly forgiving.
  • Ritual magic.  The spell casters have access to their spells outside of combat and can heal up, use utilities like Detect Magic, etc.  There is still a lot of resource management, but not the kind that requires leaving the adventure to recover.  The ritual magic system is a little complicated so I’ll leave the bullet list to explain it.

Each spell-casting class has the option to spend one turn per spell level to cast a spell they know ‘ritually’.  This does not tap their memorized spells.  But it does consume resources: time, and one other resource, depending on the class.  Note that one turn is the usual interval for Wandering Monster rolls.  You can try ritual casting if you are in a fairly secure spot in the dungeon, but you are risking another encounter.  The other resource is class-dependent:

  • Magic-Users: gold. M-Us need special chalk to draw magical diagrams for their rituals. It costs 10 GP for one ritual’s worth of chalk.  (I don’t bother with most other material components, except the ones that have rules-defined costs, like Find Familiar and Identify…100 GP each.)  Since they need to draw on the floor/ground, there are some restrictions on where an MU can ritually cast, although dungeons are usually fine.
  • Clerics: gold and stealth. Clerics must burn 10 GP incense cones.  The smell may attract monsters, and being smoky there will be a limit to how many ritual castings you want to try in an enclosed space.
  • Elves: stealth.  Elves who ritually cast must sing, recite epic poetry, or play an instrument.  Sure it’s free, but it may attract monsters.  Also this can only be done outdoors (somewhat reducing it’s usefulness, but hey elves can fight too).  Elves may also attract nuisance animals (birds, squirrels, racoons, coyotes, and other woodland creatures) with their singing, which will sing/chirp/howl along with the elf during the ritual and possibly attract predators, begin following the party, beg for food, etc.
  • Druids: No-one has played a druid yet, but my vision is for druids to be likewise limited to outdoor ritual casting, and whereas elves can count any open area as outdoors the druid must actually be outside city limits.  This does not fit quite as well with ‘resource management’ idea but it will make the druids the king of wilderness casting.
  • Paladins: They get spells at higher levels, and will possibly get ritual casting, but i have not decided how that will work.  I’d like to make them sacrifice something of their own (HP, memorized spells, daily abilities) but I’m not sure how to make that work.
  • Illusionists: I’m not using illusionists currently, but I suppose they would need either an assistant and props or some consumable materials like the MU.

Also, ritual casting has risks.  Casters can safely memorize a few spells a day, and rituals basically exceed their normal limits. Rituals involve bargaining with supernatural forces, and possibly annoying them.  Every time a caster casts a ritual, he must roll a d20, adding his INT mod and level, and subtracting the spell level and also subtracting one for each spell ritually cast that day.  Spells of higher level can also be ritually attempted, but at double the penalty.

0 or less: disaster (probably one of these, depending on spell level)

1-5: burnout, no more ritual casting today

6-10: spell fails

11+: success.

I have not actually implemented the failure risk, but will be playtesting it in the future; it may change.




*The ‘combat as war vs. combat as sport’ post has rightly been mentioned a lot lately as a good analysis.  Another really interesting thing about it is that if your read the comments, a LOT of people on ENWorld seem to read it, then comment that CaW or CaS is badwrongfun.  After the OP explained that they are two different ways approaching the game suited to different tastes. This is why I don’t read ENWorld.

Published in: on February 11, 2012 at 9:14 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. I think this is really a matter of player (including the referee) taste, so it’s not exactly a problem to solve. A while back Justin Alexander wrote a piece called The Rise of Tactical Gaming which really crystallized this for me:

    Basically, it’s about what planning resolution players prefer. Do they want to play the equivalent of Halo, where their shields recharge after every combat, or a game where they need to manage health between combats as well, and deal with resources like health packs (healing potions). There’s clearly not a right or wrong answer here (Halo is a really good game). And I think it’s probably a spectrum: a player might be okay tracking ammo between encounters, but want their health to recharge.

    I think this is sort of saying the same this as combat as sport versus combat as war.

    The mention of the 1d30 rule leads me to an interesting idea for a metagame rule: what if healing, like rolling the d30, is a once per session kind of thing? It does give players a security blanket, but not a blank check. One could call this a second wind, but not connect it to any kind of healing surge mechanic.

    Of course, if your players really want to play a tactical game (in the line discussed by The Alexandrian and the CaW/CaS piece), why not just let them heal after combat? Rationalize it as rituals or whatever. But if you try to slip stealth costs in there (like you suggest with time as a resource and wandering monster checks) you might just end up irritating them. Seriously, could you imagine a CaS player’s reaction to their healing ritual being interrupted by a goblin warband? Unfair and unfun!

    I do think that people who ref more often tend towards the CaW mentality and that people who play more often tend toward the CaS mentality. This is somewhat unfortunate, but it might just be the nature of the beast. Or maybe I’m just projecting as a thoroughly CaW ref.

    PS: I think OD&D had a wandering monster check every turn, but Moldvay (and all other entries in the basic line, I think) has checks every other turn (page B53). Thus, expected value of wandering monster encounters should be one every two hours of in-game time, assuming the PCs are moving. It is suggested that check frequency should be diminished if PCs spend “a long time in one out-of-the-way place.”

    PPS: Great summary of wandering monster checks here:

  2. I love your system of ritual casting; I’ve been trying to work out how to do something similar for a bit myself. I would probably make it so that dungeons are always places of magical power/weak dimensions etc, so that these abilities only work there. That way you can just rely on wandering monster rolls to balance it, and not worry about the other rolling.

    If I was going to do the rolling, I’d make it so that it is possible to “unlock” rituals in other locations, magically attuning them to other dimensions etc, but doing so is vs the strength of the spells a community put on the place to stop people doing that, and of course, starts summoning random monsters into the local area from some other plane, setting up a new wandering monster table for that area.

    Paladins should probably take oaths from a list, that get more and more onerous as the list goes on.

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