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Monday, January 30, 2012

The Fifteen-Minute Workday

No Map Monday this week; I had a map for the next MegaModule, but was too tired this weekend to complete the one-page write-up. Instead, I'd like to talk about the Greyhawk Grognard post on the fifteen-minute workday. This debate (not the first time we've seen it) is about two polar opposites:
  • Stay in the dungeon until you've explored everything;
  • Make short expeditions into the dungeon, with lots of resting and restocking between trips.
The fifteen-minute workday is the extreme case for the second option; as soon as the magic-user has used up all the "good" spells, return to camp/town and rest. It's true that this can feel a bit silly when taken to that extreme, but as Roger pointed out in the thread, short expeditions feel right:
"Even with a first level party the availability of spells and hit points seems perfectly timed to our 3-4 hour sessions. Once or twice a party has actually taken two sessions between rests."
The game was designed to encourage the short expedition style, precisely because you could play for a few hours and end the session with everyone back in town. The passage of time can then be "synced up" between the game world and the real world, as indeed Underworld & Wilderness Adventures suggests on the last page:
        Dungeon expedition      =     1 week
        Wilderness adventure    =     1 move = 1 day
        1 Week of actual time   =     1 week of game time
The time for dungeon adventures considers only preparations and a 
typical, one day descent into the pits.
The reason why short expeditions may occasionally feel boring to modern-day players may be because of an over-emphasis on encounters with creatures. Most of the rooms on a level should be unoccupied (no monster, no treasure,) but not necessarily "empty"; there should be stuff to interact with in almost every location. Every moment between monster encounters should be focused on decisions: "Do we turn left or right?" is the most trivial, but players should also be asking themselves "Do we climb down into this pit and see if there is anything down there?" and "Do we dive into this pool and look for underwater exits?" and "Do we move all those rocks in that pile over there?" They should be scouting around, getting a feel of the area, noting things on the map, deciding which boxes, barrels, or heaps should be thoroughly searched. Remember, if the 1st level party has to leave the dungeon after 15 minutes because the M-U cast a Sleep spell, that means you threw an encounter at the party too soon; if you had just placed that monster further from the entrance, or substituted minor vermin for the earliest monsters encountered, the expedition would have lasted longer.


  1. Indeed, I had the same insight about encounter-free rooms after reflecting on how we fill up all that time when we actually play. I write and use adventures in which monsters are only present in a third to a half of the rooms to be explored. The rest is exploration, investigation and problem solving that doesn't require expense of resources.

  2. The 15 min work day problem is only a problem when the only resource management is the management of wizard spells. If you are 12 turns away from the exit of the dungeon, tha's 12 wandering monster checks, that's 4 torches, Back in town it's a weeks pay for hirelings.

    When wizard spells are your only resource concern, the party will rationally re-supply that resource at every opportunity.

  3. @UWS: I see your point, although I think your numbers are a bit off. Should be two monster checks and two torches for 12 turns. I'm not vicious enough a GM to spring a monster on a party every 10 minutes...

  4. 0d&d is a 'check' every game turn (2 moves), at 1 in 6 chance it comes to an encounter every hour spent exploring--give or take.

    If you only check every 12 turns then an encounter only happens once every 12 hours! Not enough to disuade groups from, "searching every 10' of wall in the whole dungeon."

    I thought torches burned for 30 min?

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  6. Hey Talysman-
    I was sympathetic to your comment over at Greyhawk Grognard, but also to Joseph's concerns. Vain creature that I am, I borged them onto something I had been noodling with- some tables for procedurally generating competing interests for the PCs based on their success in the dungeon. This post wasn't up yet (sorry for the lack of pingback), but my response to Joseph is up over at the Mule Abides.

  7. As a DM, I don't enjoy dungeons. I prefer a more narrative style of play. If the PCs must explore a building, they have a very good reason: to escape from confinement, to rescue a important NPC, to disrupt the critical doomsday ritual, to recover a specific artifact. There are natural time constrains in each of those missions that prevent rest. Also, this arrangement force the PC to do manage their resources carefully.
    Typical dungeoncrawl could be nice as a change of pace, but it is boring after some time.