Time-Sensitive Questing


Advice


I'm about to start GMing Strange Aeons, and (very minor spoilers) there's a built-in time limit on the first dungeon due to the risk of NPCs' supplies running out. I'm honestly not sure how hard to emphasize this ticking clock.

When it comes to time-sensitive quests, how do you walk the line between "interesting tension" and "obnoxious restriction?" You want that feeling of urgency, but exploring at your own pace and taking time for downtime is also nice. How do you find the balance?

Comic for illustrative purposes.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

Just asking... but is there a reason why every thread you start has an external link?

That said, my experience with running Strange Aeons is that if your players are remotely familiar with the game, resources aren't an issue. The first book was completed in three in-game days, requiring two sessions of rest. That's with an oracle and a wizard, both of whom clearly had limited spell slots.

As for the topic of balancing tension versus restriction, in my humble opinion that's an out-of-game thing. An agreement between DM and players. "I'll give you all the time you need to do things like crafting, retraining, role-play, and other 'downtime' type activities, but in return you don't ask to rest every time you spend your best spell slots so you're 'always fresh'." Works well if everyone at the table gets it.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

It seems obvious that DRD1812 is drumming up readers for his blog. Nothing wrong with that, really, and some of his comments are interesting.

Ro answer his question, I think time-sensitive quests can be useful, but only if the DM has planned for the possibility of missing the time mark, and the consequences of that. It can spice up the situation, and give the players a reason to hurry, even if they are short on resources of various kinds.


I think time sensitive quests are important actually, but create problems when the timeline is "abstract". If you have weeks or longer till the problem occurs, it can be really hard to keep track and to keep PCs on task without losing track.

Personally, I avoid time restrictions that are more than 2 weeks out if I'm coming up with a time table.

But given the PCs a quest that forces them out into the wilderness for weeks where they have to either use survival and move slower or carry supplies can be challenging, especially if the PCs are trying to chase an enemy with a little lead, or being chased by an enemy right on their tails (think Lord of the Rings).

Still many people don't enjoy those types of challenges and it can be a hard balance.


Time restrictions can result in a TPK if the players have unfortunate rolls in one combat. And not necessarily the final combat.
For example, my group is playing Mummy's Mask, they are aware it's more advantageous to get through a particular dungeon without resting. But then there was a fight where they consistently rolled low so the spellcasters have one spell left each, the healer is out of spells (but has a wand), and the other two are fine as they don't require expendable things nearly as much.
If they continue on, which they likely will as they feel as if they have to, they will eventually have to retreat or it will end badly for them. They've been good about conserving resources, but some things had to be used or they would've already died.

Time restraints can be a killer.

But on the flip side, if they were going nova every fight and holing up somewhere safe, that's really boring so having some pressure is good.
Finding that happy medium is difficult.


DRD1812 wrote:

I'm about to start GMing Strange Aeons, and (very minor spoilers) there's a built-in time limit on the first dungeon due to the risk of NPCs' supplies running out. I'm honestly not sure how hard to emphasize this ticking clock.

When it comes to time-sensitive quests, how do you walk the line between "interesting tension" and "obnoxious restriction?" You want that feeling of urgency, but exploring at your own pace and taking time for downtime is also nice. How do you find the balance?

Comic for illustrative purposes.

For the record, I've run the first book of the AP and loved it. Best of luck to your group.

I'm pretty sure that the AP uses the timer to motivate the PCs (so they don't try to wait things out) and not a hard deadline. I just had the relevant NPC bring situation up from time to tone but made it clear it wasn't like the party couldn't retreat and regroup.

Actual time pressure whether IRL or entirely in the fiction leads to mistakes and that can be deadly.

You already know I'm a big fan of your comic.


Artofregicide wrote:

I'm pretty sure that the AP uses the timer to motivate the PCs (so they don't try to wait things out) and not a hard deadline. I just had the relevant NPC bring situation up from time to time....

That seems like the reasonable way to play it. Having (finally) finished my initial read-through, I could only see the threat of starvation actually come into play if PCs get dinged with diseases and try to sleep it off over multiple days. I doubt it'll be a big deal, so it should be easy to play it for drama and motivation rather than a true threat.

Artofregicide wrote:

You already know I'm a big fan of your comic.

Cheers! It's been nice to have a backlog of my thoughts on various issues. That way I can return to them periodically when they actually come up in my games.

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