Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Too Much Time

The biggest abstraction in D&D is Time. One of the first complaints leveled at 0e combat is the one-minute round. Many assume that the single Roll to Hit (RTH) and the single damage roll after a successful RTH are an abstraction representing how masterfully the combatant performed in that time, and that the hits dealt represent various attacks and blows in those 60 seconds. This depends upon how you interpret the guides. Look no further than the ruling used for magic shields which spells out the chance to block a single successful blow (attack). Others assume in that round that the combatant has exercised all of his experience and know-how in positioning, parrying, exchanging harmless blows, side-stepping, and generally Errol Flynn-ing it up in order to arrive at the single important RTH representative of that one meaningful attack. Maybe so. If you subscribe to that theory it's hard to justify tactical positional modifiers in your game. In reading the OD&D rules over and over, I've come to the conclusion that there was only ever one attempt to strike the opponent per round. Take into account Missile fire. In one minute a skilled Archer could loose half a dozen arrows quite effectively, and probably empty his entire quiver with non-stop launching. Again, I maintain that OD&D melee assumes but a single attack per round. I know this flies in the face of the standard oe acceptance of abstract combat. The issue is not truly one of combat, but rather the time associated with it.

For another example of the abstract treatment of the passage of time in D&D, look no further than Movement rates. The D&D Turn is defined as two moves in the Underworld. Characters take two moves per 10 minutes, ranging in distance from 60 to 120 feet. That's a rate of 120 to 240 feet in 10 minutes. Those rates may be doubled when the characters actually run in a panic situation. Hardly realistic at all.

Outdoors in the Wilderness (defined as unexplored areas, cities and castles; basically anything not in the Underworld itself) these numbers are tripled; a slightly more palatable 120 yards to 240 yards in 10 minutes. Not quite realistic either, although once in the light of day on the surface play normally becomes what is now known as hex-crawling; each Move constitutes one Turn which is equal to a single Day. But you get the idea. Don't let anyone tell you that glossing over Wilderness travel isn't old school. It was designed with the notion of rapid simulation in order to bring the player characters to their destination.

Take the rules for Surprise as another example of this abstraction of time. Surprise awards a free move segment or action, which can be taken to attack if the surprised foes are within range, and then a round of uncontested attack. If close enough the non-surprised combatant can use its free move segment to attack, followed by its free melee turn; that's two free attacks before melee proper begins. That's well over 60 seconds of attacks prior to a response by the surprised side.

Turns in 0e are so ingrained in the war gaming philosophy which gave birth to D&D that the original scheme was readily accepted, as it should continue to be. The fact is that time in D&D is all relative. It is based on Turns which begin at the high end outdoors in the Wilderness representing one Day, continue to the Underworld representing 10 minutes of movement or other non-combat activities, and end at the oft ridiculed one minute exchange of combat.

Does it really matter that a round (melee turn) is one minute long? Does it really matter that it takes 10 minutes to search a small 10 ft. section of dungeon wall? I think not. If you disagree feel free to adjust combat rounds to six seconds and Move Turns to two minutes, or whatever floats your boat. The simple Day-10 Minutes-Minute system is hard to resist for its ease of tracking. Yes the Move Turn could be changed to five minutes I suppose, but the abstract method first devised works very well if you employ it as written. When you keep it at 10 minute Turns, the characters are allowed five Turns before rest, thats 10 Moves followed by one Turn of rest, or one Hour. The Wandering Monster check is easy to track as well; in 0e it is made each Turn, or every 10 minutes.

The length of the melee turn is almost irrelevant. Whether an encounter takes 2 rounds or 8 rounds, referees will simply restart the clock post melee in most cases. So does it matter that 12 seconds or two minutes have passed? Downtime after the encounter normally rounds out the start of the next Move Turn. In my games combat normally represents 10 minutes. With 0e you almost get the feel that combat pauses the Underworld clock and moves to an abstract measurement of time in which sides simply take turns whacking at one another until the encounter is over and everyone has licked their wounds before restarting the clock once again. It's a fairly tight and simple system if you can accept the fact that it is nothing more than an abstraction and that the varied-duration game turns are all relative.

To recap, that's 10 Moves in 5 Turns, with 5 Wandering Monster checks, followed by one Turn of rest and a final Wandering Monster check. One Hour has passed. It is a simple and easy to remember system for tracking time in the Underworld. Each encounter will expend another Move Turn for every 10 exchanges of combat, or portion thereof. A typical Underworld expedition will embody up to 10 hours which includes all time spent underground and the return trek to the surface. Adventurers not resting as required, or surpassing the standard 10 hour allotment will become taxed or even exhausted.

Now we can stop talking even further about time with a few tweaks. Hours become Full Turns, and 10 Full Turns in the Underworld constitutes one Day. Other than the Day itself, all other references to time in the way of hours and minutes has been carefully removed. Suddenly we are returning to the table-top feel where time is all relative, or almost irrelevant. The true concern is using Turns wisely and effectively in the game Day.

To seal the deal consider this: All encounters which result in Combat expend one Move Turn; the first action being the melee itself, the second being rest and regrouping. Now Combat is merely the exchange of blows, each side taking turns until the outcome is determined.

I've whipped up a new PDF which considers the above information. It is now embedded in my OD&D links section to the right and is entitled Game Time.

EDIT: 3:00 PM EST: I made the changes necessary to the Time in the Game PDF. As a note, it does indeed replicate the OD&D rules with one exception; that all melee is considered to occur within the span of one Move (or roughtly five minutes for those keeping track).

I hope you find it of use. If nothing else it should help fellow fans gain a better understanding of the original system and its wargame underpinnings.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


JB said...

In gaming I don’t spend too much..um…ENERGY (won’t pun, won’t pun) on time myself. A “round of combat” is the length of a “go.” You go, I go, etc.

I am a proponent of abstract combat, and I play B/X where the rounds are only ten seconds long. Even so, I realize that’s more than enough time for a skilled archer to loose several shafts at a target (rate of missile fire being the biggest flaw in the “abstract” theory). I chalk it up as follows:

Time to load, time to draw, time to aim, time to loose…all while maintaining poise under the pressure of a combat situation.

For fighters in B/X, I usually allow 2 shots from a bow-in-hand per round, 1 from a light crossbow or sling, and one-half from a heavy crossbow.

As to the rest of your post (new time systems)…the only reason I can see to keep track of the original 10 minute turns is spell length. Everything else (movement, wandering monsters, torch/lantern duration) is fairly negotiable. As long as you're converting spells to the new duration system, more power to you. I play it pretty fast and loose with time-frames.

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks JB. The heart of the reworked Time system I put together is that everything boils down to turns, time is irrelevant.

The PDF hews to the original D&D rules exactly, except for one minor detail (that all melee is equal to one Move). So it's not truly a new system.

All I did was remove any mention of time, other than Days. If you realize that 10 Full Turns = 10 Hours (detailed in the post, not the PDF), you see that the Move Turn is still the same as always, 10 minutes long.

No longer must one consider how long a round is, or why can I only move 90 feet in 10 minutes.

I also took time to organize and explain all of the ins and outs which are difficult to understand at times in OD&D.

I just realized that I need to clarify something on the document and redo the PDF. Unless one has read the post the use of the term Day in the Underworld is misleading.

A Day in the Underworld, or 10 Full Turns, is not a period of 24 hours. It is the maximum conceivable time characters can remain in the Underworld before becoming taxed or even exhausted.

I suppose the same should be clarified for the Travel Turn = 1 Day. It's not 24 hours, as it encompasses travel, rest and respite.

Anyway, I'll edit later tonight.

Unknown said...

Interesting points, David. You might find this thread of some interest: One Minute Rounds and the Alternative Combat System

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks Matthew. It took me a few tries to guess my pw at K&K. I haven't posted there in so damn long. If I can expect this sort of thread more often I'll start reading and posting there regularly.

I left a reply. Excellent topic and the thread was a good read.

Joshua Macy said...

As a combat mini-game it makes no difference at all how long a turn is, but as soon as you try to include actions that aren't part of the mini-game (roleplaying) it's vitally important to have some sense of approximately how much time is passing. The answer to whether somebody can, say, hold their breath during combat is going on is going to depend on whether a round is about 10 seconds, 1 minute, or ten minutes. Similarly for trying to look something up in a book, pick a lock, write a message, build a dead-fall trap, repair a device, and so on for all the myriad things players come up with.

Sham aka Dave said...

jamused: There aren't guidelines for any of that sort of stuff in OD&D, other than the suggestions that it typically takes 10 minutes to search a 10' section of dungeon wall, and 2.5 minutes to use ESP.

Referees just use common sense. These types of myriad actions:

"...will be adjudged by the referee as to what portion of a turn will be used by the activity."

I do understand that perhaps most referees prefer a set time be defined for Melee Turns, so I hear what you are saying. I'm just debating that in OD&D there is no precedence for such a definition.

Joshua Macy said...

I'm fine with the idea of just using common sense for how long an action should take, rather than having a detailed list provided by the game, but I still maintain that you need to decide how long the turns are so that you have a yardstick. I agree that it doesn't much matter whether you choose 1 combat turn is 1 minute, as in OD&D, or 1 combat turn is 10 seconds, or 6 seconds...but I think you do have to pick one before you start playing out a combat so that you have some way of lining up your common-sense rulings about how long it's going to take to root through your pack for a potion with how many attempts your companions and the monsters are going to make to damage each other while you do that (or if you'll have time to spare afterward to get your own licks in that round).

Sham aka Dave said...

This is a valid point jamused. I used to assume that characters could manage one action and half a move, OR a full move each round. Attacking counted as an action, so did swapping weapons and that sort of thing.

I think I'll redo the Time in the Game doc to spell out the amount of time each different type of turn represents. Based on the feedback I think this might simply be too much of a departure for most fans. Even with the time spelled out, the essence of the doc still works; it organizes and explains the OD&D system, adding a few tinkerings that tie it all together.

From a tactical viewpoint, your comments do ring true. This is the kind of observation that can only serve to let me know when I'm off in lala land again.