[OSR and beyond] Tracking Time in Procedural Play

Hi everyone! I'll keep this brief.

I like playing me some Moldvay D&D and I've come to the conclusion - like many - that the game works at its best when procedure is adhered to pretty rigidly; sticking to turns and tacking the time actions take is the main drive behind the challenging gameplay that makes Moldvay appealing.

Now I come to you, great dungeons masters of time, to help me getting better at keeping my procedural play together.

Right now I've got a scrap of paper behind my DM screen with little countdown clocks and turn-markers which, frankly, I just can't keep track of. I've more than once messed up an entire game by stumbling over procedure.

How can I keep a better track of turns and time?

Can I utilise my players without breaking suspense? Am I missing the point entirely?

Let me know!
-Mike

Comments

  • Yeah, so one of the hack in my wife's game is that the Caller keeps track of time. The Caller also asks "Will this take a turn? " or "Hey, GM I think a turn has passed".

    My caller sheet looks like this:
    O M O M O M
    L
    R

    Cross through each one as the turn passes. M is wandering monster check, so the Caller reminds everyone. L is when the first torch goes out, R is Rest for one turn.
  • Yeah, I don't think tracking time should solely be the DM's responsibility. Hopefully at least one of the players has, y'know, read the rules, right? The important thing is just that everyone knows when a turn has passed. The caller can keep track of rest; torch-bearers can keep track of their torches or lanterns; spellcasters can keep track of their spell timers; the DM can keep track of wandering monster checks.
  • Make a fancy character sheet with the stuff akooser mentioned on it. Have large boxes that can be crossed off and have everything marked clearly. If you leave room for the players to write more info on it, they will be more likely to use it. What time they entered the dungeon, what action they took each turn, who they fought, what kinds of losses they suffered, or what treasures they found. Leave space to mark how long light sources last for. That will make it a more-central aspect of play that everyone can get involved with and help keep track of.
  • Like @Johnstone said when you make the sheet all pretty and fancy folks are likely to pay attention to it. I use little markers and stuff for the torches.

    We also have a turn sheet. That contains this:
    ---
    Order of Events One Exploration Turn

    1. The DM rolls for wandering monsters (1 in 1d6) every 2 turns.

    2. DM describes, players ask questions. The party explores the area.

    3. If monsters are not encountered, the turn ends.

    4. The DM rolls 2d6 to check the distance.

    5. The DM rolls 1d6 to check surprise.

    6. The party and the monsters react:
    If both sides are willing to talk the DM should use the Parlay Sequence
    If one side runs away, the DM should check the chance of Evasion and Pursuit.
    If combat begins, the DM rolls initiative and should use the Combat Sequence

    7. End of Turn. Check HP, rest?, marching order, light and spell duration
    ---

    Again, it's super pretty, big and everyone gets one. There is also a sheet for the Parlay, Evasion and Pursuit, and Combat.

    When training new folks I have them place a f-off big counter next to each turn until everyone gets the rhythm
    .

  • Anything that takes multiple turns, I make the players track.

    I roll wandering monsters every turn—a 1 on the d12.

    So, I don't actually need to keep track of anything over time. Just when one turn ends and another begins. My flow is simply:

    1. Establish that a turn is over
    2. Roll my d12 for wandering monsters
    3. Ask everyone what they're up to
  • I would also include some kind of penalty clause, if you have enough unruly folks in the group that you expect people to lose track once in a while.

    For instance, the GM can ask the party at any time where they're at with the tracking, and if they can't agree or back up their answer, [something happens].

    What happens?

    It could be a sequence of wandering monster checks, torches going out, anything which is unpleasant and unpredictable. You've gone of the rails, and everything is now falling apart.

    Season to taste.
  • You can also make little "torch tokens" and whatnot, and give them out. Every turn, collect one.
  • You can also make little "torch tokens" and whatnot, and give them out. Every turn, collect one.
    Oh that's cool. We used some paper ones. I like the idea of having better 3D ones.
  • Some lovely ideas everyone! Thanks!

    I face some resistance to the concept of a Caller. It's just against the play culture of my group who are reluctant to share the DM's administrative tasks.

    Cool engagement tools - sheets, chits, cards - will certainly help get everyone on board with procedure but how do you sell player responsibility to a group?
  • In the OSR context, it's usually by making it a necessity for survival...
  • Well your Caller needs to be on your side. Like just as excited about a procedural game of exploration, social situations, and fights as a fail state.

    In Moldvay you need:
    Caller - a second DM, handles turn tracking, wrangles the group think together to bring to the GM, helps with rules when needed

    Mapper - we usually rotate this role, it's up to the mapper how much detail they want to draw

    We've added:
    Treasure person - tracks all the goodies you've picked up and stuff that's to big to move out

    Social - Keeps track of where we encountered folks and their reaction to us.
  • In the OSR context, it's usually by making it a necessity for survival...
    Ah, but that's a little self-defeating operationally as, to make it deadly, I have to run the procedures all myself and that is where my systems begin to break down.

    It's less deadly because I'm not running a tight ship, but if they helped me then it would be more deadly - so by refusing to appoint a caller my players are essentially winning a metagame against their DM. Ha ha!

    I suppose I could be a hardcase about it and announce they're plunged into sudden darkness (+roll wandering monster) if they forget to keep track of their light or turn sequence. Is there anything in B/X that might point the way here?
  • Just a suggestion (one I've thought about, but never done):

    If you want to run Moldvay with all the bells and whistles, you might try a very simple dungeon focused on exploration with very little actual danger.

    Not without any danger, but just a lot more open, with less monsters and traps. I wouldn't choose KotB for this, but something looser, with more empty rooms and weird phenomena.

    It'll give 'em a chance to cut their teeth and get used to using all of those rules without giving them immediate shellshock.

    Besides, just using all of those rules should ratchet up tension nicely by itself.
  • @Potemkin Hmmm that sounds like a challenging group to work with ;)

    I mean if they aren't on board for exploration based stuff, that's all good and what-not.

    B/X discourages vs DM mentality. I'd have to think about that. There are enough penalties in built in (wandering monsters every 2 turns, torches out in 6, must rest every 6, low monster XP).

    We use a lot of Dyson's smaller dungeons for training runs with the B/X stocking rules. Like what @komradebob suggested.

    When I pitch Moldvay I am pretty clear about what's expected out of the player's. I also pitch how each class works.

  • Well, you have a number of options for selling your players on the group book-keeping stuff, not all of which are mutually exclusive:

    1. Have a rational grown-up conversation about how you don't want to run the game if you have to do all the work, and you're not their dad, so now this stuff is the whole group's responsibility and not just yours.

    2. Give them XP for proper book-keeping. Levelling in Moldvay's pretty brutal anyway, they might appreciate it.

    3. Make it fun by involving props (basically, a different kind of incentive from 2).

    4. Penalize them for improper book-keeping. If something isn't written down properly, just assume the worst-case scenario from now on. When does the torch go out? Nobody knows? Guess it goes out now. Didn't write down the treasure? Guess you don't have it. Etc.

    I think that covers the basics? (no pun intended)
  • I roll wandering monsters every turn—a 1 on the d12.
    I really like that in its simplicity.
  • If you mean to penalize people for poor bookkeeping, then "your torch goes out now" is too lenient. If your torch was due to go out in one turn and you've missed tracking three turns of play and your torch goes out now, then you've had two free turns of torchlight.

    FWIW, I don't really dig the bookkeeping penalty. I'd rather give people the benefit of the doubt and treat them like adults who are on board with the style of play, including tracking stuff like this, and aren't cheating for some dumb resource advantage. If you talk to them about it and they're still losing track of things left and right, maybe you're playing the wrong game.
  • The problem is that if you're *penalizing* people when they track things (they have to bring up painful consequences like running out of light) but they benefit when they do NOT track things, then it's very natural and human to "forget" to keep track. That's a hard tendency to fight - you're not on the right side of the battle. :)

    Ultimately, if tracking stuff is not in the players' favour, then they're not really going to see the point of doing it.

    For example, mapping only works when it's a necessity (except for rare cases where you have someone in the group who just really, really enjoys drawing maps). Even the group which is most committed to mapping isn't going to do it if, say, they can see the entire dungeon from one place.

    I'd say you have to get uncertainty on your side. People make maps because they're afraid of getting lost (for example). If they aren't afraid of getting lost, then why bother mapping?

    So, what's the drawback to losing track of time? I can think of two things off the top of my head:

    * There's a game-based penalty. (For instance, in cases where tracking hasn't been followed, you have a die roll with potentially bad outcomes. Kind of a 'saving throw' which comes into play when the group isn't certain of how much time has passed.)

    * There's an in-fiction reason for tracking time which gives the players an advantage when they do so. Maybe some kind of dungeon design which emphasizes time? For example, if the skeletons patrol on a strict schedule set by their animator, there are traps which only activate at night, and certain areas are only accessible when the tide is low...

    You could even combine the two to say that they are exploring dungeons designed by a chronomancer, and the environment messes with your sense of time. If you don't carry an hourglass and keep track, you can get disoriented by weird time-bending magical effects (which you then can back up mechanically).

    There's also the possibility of a group which enjoys the logistics challenge and wants to engage in it for their own interest... That would be the "default case" for most games, I think - are the players using the right game for their interests? If they don't want to do so, maybe this isn't the right game for them. The players should be on board with the procedures of the game you're playing, right? But clearly that's not the case with yours...

  • I once saw something that I thought was really good... I wasn't playing anything close to D&D or the like, back then, so I just skipped ahead and didn't memorize the details or anything but it was a really good idea.
    I'd like to give better credit for it, but honestly I don't even recall if I saw this in a finished game, in some beta, or just in some blog post as a vague suggestion...

    Anyway, now that I'm back on the OSR train, I am toying with my own houserule that is inspired by that thing I saw, which goes more or less like this:
    Every turn, the GM rolls a D10 (adjust to your preference):
    - on a 1, encounter
    - on a 2, a magical effect ends (randomly determine which one)
    - on a 3, a light goes off (I usually start by the smallest one, like candles)
    - on a 4, if the GM says so, everyone must stop and eat and drink
    - on a 5+, keep exploring

    I am still working out what to insert in the table and it needs more testing, but so far it was fun.
    Of course it's just a draft - it might need better directions for results like 2 or 3 (magic and lights), and definitely something more solid for the 4 (rations)... But it's an idea.
    Also, you might want to insert something about getting lost, something about a specific dungeon tracker, etc.

    For example, in The Labyrinth of the Mad Ghost King

    Every turn, the GM rolls a D10 (adjust to your preference):
    - on a 1, random encounter
    - on a 2, a magical effect ends (randomly determine which one)
    - on a 3, a light goes off (I usually start by the smallest one, like candles)
    - on a 4, if the GM says so, everyone must stop and eat and drink
    - on a 5, skeleton patrol
    - on a 6, it looks like you're getting lost, are you mapping?
    - on a 7, a special room (from the Labyrinth ad-hoc random table)
    - on a 8, a vision of the Mad Ghost King
    - on a 9, a vision of the Ghost Hunter (the Mad Ghost King arch-enemy)
    - on a 10, you can catch your breath

    I hope this helps...
  • Another thought:

    Make a "time-keeper" sheet, and put it on the wall. Now you're all responsible for ticking off the ticks or whatever it use you do.

    If necessary, attach XP rewards for filling certain boxes. (Maybe just "5 XP for every five boxes checked off at the end of the adventure," or maybe more specific, like "100 XP if you're lost in the dark and your last torch burns out".)
  • edited September 2016
    I once saw something that I thought was really good... but honestly I don't even recall if I saw this in a finished game, in some beta, or just in some blog post as a vague suggestion...
    I think you may mean Brendan S's neat hazard system
    http://www.necropraxis.com/hazard-system/

  • hey robb
    thanks!! I think I saw something different, but definitely this looks like the common source of all this!
    It's a neat system and I'm happy its license allows also to re-use it given the proper credit!

    thanks again for the link!!
  • I bought a Post-It office calendar for my current World War Cthulhu game. I'm using the World of Darkness rules (the Breaking Point rules are pretty good; though I wish we had more options for when you see something unsettling) and the "you get a Willpower point back every night" is a really good incentive for everyone to be very methodical about what they do on what day. In addition, their undercover identities have deadlines and important days and such (the church organist plays at Mass three times a week!) I basically put the very barest outline (the day they parachuted in, etc.) on the calendar and then turned it over to them to decide what was important enough to put on the calendar.
  • edited September 2016
    Hey y'all, thanks for all the thoughts. Sorry for not getting back to this thread, I wanted to meet back up with the group and do some live experimentation.

    Firstly, I followed the advice of simply being forward with my players about how the game worked behind the scenes and that if they helped me to facilitate the smooth running of the system I would be freed up to think about meaningful challenges.

    For all of my Real Talk, it was the props that eventually got them all fighting over being caller.

    My solution, dungeon cards:

    image

    image

    Ok, so they're a little scrappy but you get the idea: cards with dungeon sections drawn on that immediately communicate where the party is, its orientation, marching order and where it can see. The only cards that are on the table are where the characters can see with their torches (30 feet being approximated as "into the next section").

    (Yep, them be Catan road pieces for doors.)

    Behind the screen, I had a dungeon map and traced the players movements. From there I had loads of fun playing around with different wandering monster probabilities; typically rolling a d12 when players moved section, as suggested above.

    The players collectively wet themselves when they ran out of torches and it was just a single card on the table as their 'field of vision.' They started running blindly back to the entrance when their map-making failed them and they found themselves on an unfamiliar card. Many a "game over, man, game over" was muttered, and they'd not even run into a monster! They eventually escaped, vowing to never skimp on touches again, never let Dale draw the map again and to hire every dark-vision'd elf and dwarf they could find. The fact than dungeons are dark and terrifying is now a reality to these people. Mission accomplished, I'd say.

    It's getting better. Needs more play, but I like my props. Tempted to paint some nicer looking cards.

    I'm now contemplating using this system to run two or more parties in a dungeon in some kind of PvP game; neither team would be able to guess how near they were to their opponents until they saw a light coming around the corner.
  • Ohhh. So you would drop a dungeon card on the table for where they were at. Then the mapper would sketch it out on their map?

    Players move to a new section so the old card disappears and is replaced with a new one?
  • edited September 2016
    What were the other props? Were the little tokens to represent the characters' marching order in the given tile?
  • The cards look fantastic.

    I don't understand how this resolves your issue, however! How did it help you track torch usage, time, and so forth?
  • A "little scrappy"? Those dungeon cards are excellent!
  • Yes! Enough with this ridiculous modesty!
  • edited September 2016
    Ohhh. So you would drop a dungeon card on the table for where they were at. Then the mapper would sketch it out on their map?

    Players move to a new section so the old card disappears and is replaced with a new one?
    Exactly! Although in this model I permitted the party to see into the part of the dungeon ahead and behind if they had a torch at the front and rear of the party (or had darkvision, hence elven archers suddenly being in high demand).

    We had an interesting situation where wandering goblins came from behind and the Cleric acting rearguard elected to throw down his torch and equip his shield. Being the coldhearted mother I am, I rolled 50/50 to see if the (admittedly dying) torch went out. It did and I snatched the rear-view card and the goblin tokens it contained off the table, that section of the dungeon being plunged into darkness. The party howled in fear!

    I don't understand how this resolves your issue, however! How did it help you track torch usage, time, and so forth?
    The cards visualise the passage of time (as well as space, conveniently) - it's a single turn to move to a new card, given the party is moving with caution. Every new card laid down requires a d12 wandering monster roll and a tick-down on torches (handled through each torchbearer counting on a d6 token next to their character chit on the marching-order tab). All very physical, very tactile.
    A "little scrappy"? Those dungeon cards are excellent!
    Thanks guys. Literally thrown together as of a moment to suit my needs. What I'm trying to work out is the composition of a deck of these things to cover most/all dungeon traversing contingencies. You may think the deck wouldn't need to be all encompassing but my players are already talking of hiring torchbearers to form a "supply line" back to the dungeon entrance to try prevent ambushes; so a reasonable variety has to be available to me.

    So: what do I need? 4x corners, 4x straights..? etc.
    And: how do I make this more fluid? It'd be fun to see if I can write down some best practice ideas and get other groups to see if this speeds up their crawls.
  • edited September 2016
    How did you deal with variable movement/search speeds based on encumbrance/armor?

    Did they discuss the possibility of getting lightly armored demi-human scouts (beyond elven archers)?

    BTW, if you don't want to draw all of your cards personally, Heroic Maps makes great modular section downloads if you're willing to spill the printer ink and do some cutting with scissors:
    http://drivethrurpg.com/browse.php?keywords=heroic+maps+modular&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto=&x=0&y=0
  • @Potemkin So the dungeon cards represent an abstraction of the dungeon? Or are they a 1:1 match with your DM map?

    Wondering about the possibilities of chunking up a pre-made dungeon.

    This is all very cool.
  • Yes, great answers. Also curious about the questions above!
  • How did you deal with variable movement/search speeds based on encumbrance/armor?

    Did they discuss the possibility of getting lightly armored demi-human scouts (beyond elven archers)?

    BTW, if you don't want to draw all of your cards personally, Heroic Maps makes great modular section downloads if you're willing to spill the printer ink and do some cutting with scissors:
    http://drivethrurpg.com/browse.php?keywords=heroic+maps+modular&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto=&x=0&y=0
    Frankly, I didn't. I'm just not that much of a purist and so long as no one's dragging half a ton of gold behind them, I usually let encumbrance slide. Of course, armour is loud and light gives away your position so semi-human scouts in light armour are a possibility but the players haven't started scouting ahead yet. Safety in numbers is the current philosophy.

    The movement is "one card per turn" - this assumes a slow, cautious pace. Weapons ready, searching for traps, keeping noise to a minimum. When the party ran to escape a monster and out the dungeon, dropped the cautious movement and said they could make it back to the exit within a single ten minute turn (feasible) if the caller made a choice about direction at each junction and they didn't trigger any other traps or monster - which would end their turn and give the original monster a chance to make a "catching up" movement into the rear of the players. Tense stuff in practice, if a little unorthodox.

    Thanks for the tip. They're handsome cards. I like any excuse for a bit of making though.
    @Potemkin So the dungeon cards represent an abstraction of the dungeon? Or are they a 1:1 match with your DM map?

    Wondering about the possibilities of chunking up a pre-made dungeon.

    This is all very cool.
    Thanks!

    So, this is the procedure for navigating tight dungeon spaces in marching order. If they found a larger room or ventured outside I would dispense with the cards and go to larger-unit timekeeping/travel. The cards themselves are abstract, but then my dungeon passages map is abstracted too (I'll upload a picture in a bit) being a tile-grid of 2x2 corridor boxes (corners, junctions, vestibules et al) which wind in a maze with "exit to Room G" etc. annotated on. So not a "real" dungeon, but it facilitates the imagining of one.

    So, it would be fairly easy - I'd imagine, had I the requisite skills - to build a program to generate dungeon maps like this. It probably already exists.
  • The B/X armored movement ( and encumbrance modifiers) rates already include searching and mapping and so on.

    If they haven't realized it, those different movement rates can be a very, very big deal. Having a scout/picket, un- or lightly armored, out 90' from the party generally means that the wandering monster encounter distance is measured from them, rather than the center of the party, which usually gives them quite a bit of heads up and prep time, even with a wildly aggressive monster encounter.

    It also means that thieves and MUs have the best escape chances if it becomes every man for themselves :D
  • Man, I really love that use of dungeon tiles, Potemkin! Especially the way you remove them when they pass out of torchlight view. It does away with a few different tedious aspects of dungeon crawling while increasing clarity and heightening tension at the same time.

    I am wondering how to do the same thing with more generic cards, and may need to do some experimenting of my own the next time the opportunity arises.
  • my players are already talking of hiring torchbearers to form a "supply line" back to the dungeon entrance to try prevent ambushes; so a reasonable variety has to be available to me.
    Oh yes, what monsters like to call a "buffet line."
  • Wait until they figure out you can cast different forms of Light on objects and throw or roll them!
  • Mike, it sounds like the experience you generated was awesome. Also, if a use of cards similar to (but less abstract) what you've described caught on, there might be a market for little decks custom-designed for classic adventure modules. One could buy e.g. the Keep on the Borderlands deck to be sure each cave was covered and ready to go.
  • The B/X armored movement ( and encumbrance modifiers) rates already include searching and mapping and so on.

    If they haven't realized it, those different movement rates can be a very, very big deal. Having a scout/picket, un- or lightly armored, out 90' from the party generally means that the wandering monster encounter distance is measured from them, rather than the center of the party, which usually gives them quite a bit of heads up and prep time, even with a wildly aggressive monster encounter.

    It also means that thieves and MUs have the best escape chances if it becomes every man for themselves :D
    It's not perfect, to be sure. Just in the same way that B/X isn't perfect, either. I've not quite worked out how the granularity of differing movement rates get incorporated into this system that abstracts movement (which is, I've worked out, @akooser , what it's being abstracted here - not necessarily the dungeon, which can be 1:1 with the DM map, slightly truncated.)

    I'll have to play but it may be that scouting parties simply get their own card and I run both movements simultaneously with differing wandering monster odds to account for quieter armour. The system doesn't differ for 35'/round compared to 30'/round: so just as I've made a special turn/system for a "Getting the Hell Out of Dodge" move, I may have to invent one for "Nimble Sneaking."
    Um: 'You can Nimbly Sneak any distance until you are interrupted by a Wandering Monster, a Trap or a Locked Door.' - Is that too powerful at first glance?

    Oh yes, what monsters like to call a "buffet line."
    That and I'll elect that, because there are no PoV characters present, the party still cannot see those cards. Ho, ho, ho. 'You return to a scene of carnage..'
    Wait until they figure out you can cast different forms of Light on objects and throw or roll them!
    'The glowing ball rolls down the corridor. From this distance you can draw few details from the diminishing patch of light aside from more grim masonry.'

    Too mean? Or just realistic enough? Abstracted cards don't call for abstracted descriptions of what the character's senses tell them (but behind the scenes that ball is triggering all the wandering monster checks, of course).
    Mike, it sounds like the experience you generated was awesome. Also, if a use of cards similar to (but less abstract) what you've described caught on, there might be a market for little decks custom-designed for classic adventure modules. One could buy e.g. the Keep on the Borderlands deck to be sure each cave was covered and ready to go.
    That would be a load of fun! I can get so far as making the images for cards to a decent standard, but how to make them physical things that people could buy is beyond me.
  • We might be talking past one another...

    I grabbed my old (1981) copy of Expert to look for cheat sheets. Movement rates are summarized on p X2.

    The move rates for your ten minute exploration turn are
    120' (unarmored/unencumbered with treasure)
    90' 400-600 coins OR Leather Armor
    60' 601-800 coins OR metal armored
    30' 801-1600 coins OR metal armored and carrying treasure

    (Carrying treasure drops you one category. It's a bit confusing honestly)

    Your encounter movement rate is 1/3 of that per round ( summarized in chart also, for ease of use)

    The Turn includes mapping, moving around normal obstacles, mapping and other dungeon exploration SOP. The per round movement is when it comes time for killin' stuff.

    Those different move rates are kind of a big deal. An unarmored scout is moving 4x the pace of a heavily burdened dude with treasure in armor.

    When you check the move rates of some of the monsters...it gets scary. Vampires in Expert move 120'(40') on foot, for example.

    Now that difference between combat speed and exploration speed has also led me to wonder if a prepared critter, in crisis, on home turf, actually moves at combat speed over a ten minute turn.

    IOW, does that kobold sentry who escaped (normal move 120/40) move 400' over a turn ( presuming they are in their lair)?

    If so, I've got an idea for a really FFVN type scenario to spring on some players using the full B/X rules.
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