15 Minute Work Day

A frequent complaint one hears about D&D (and Pathfinder to a degree) is the 15 minute work day. The 15 minute work day is the potential for a party to want to rest after they use all of their big resources. This is often at the behest of the Wizard or Cleric of the party after they have used their more powerful spells.

This problem generally lines people up on two sides, both of which can be rather vocal about the issue. One side says this is a problem in nearly every D&D game they have played in and the other says they have never seen it in their games. These arguments usually fall between “it is a systemic problem it isn’t our fault” to “you are playing the game wrong, there is not a problem with the system”. This debate has been going on for a long time, occasionally resurfacing on various forums or twitter feeds.

Why bring it up today at The Iron Tavern? Conan. Conan and The People of the Black Circle actually.

Let me back up just a step though before I get into Conan and the 15 minute work day. I obviously have an opinion on the 15 minute work day, I think everyone does. I fall into the group of people that really has not seen the issue that often.

As a player our groups nearly always push onwards and our wizards tend to be conservative with their spells and manage their resources. That does not mean we adventure on until our resources are completely depleted, but we typically carry on for a good number of encounters before seeking out a place of rest. This has been the case for my local group, for the many organized play games I have participated in, a multitude of play-by-posts, and games I have played online in. Do the casters sometimes announce that they are running low on prepared spells? Yes. But the group as a whole typically pushed onwards.

From the GM perspective I have similar experiences. Players I GM for also tend to push onwards in adventures I run. Sometimes to the point where I actually think it might be best for them to rest up a bit before continuing. This experience is from many varied mediums as my play experience has been.

Given the number of different groups and situations I have a really hard time thinking this is a systemic problem as many like to state. To me a systemic problem would be widespread enough that I would have run into the problem in my playing of the game. I can see room for abuse by a 15 minute work day, but I don’t see it as being a systemic problem in the rules.

There has been one campaign where I found myself facing 15 minute work day scenarios. Kingmaker. The way the exploration portion of Kingmaker works the group will very often find themselves facing every fight at full resources. Now this is an example a systemic problem. As the Kingmaker Adventure Path is written, the PCs are only ever going to face one, two, maybe three encounters in a day during the exploration phases of the campaign.

Back to Conan. I recently started reading People of the Black Circle by Robert E. Howard. As I read that book a distinct thought tumbling around in the back of my mind was if GMs ran their games like that story, the 15 minute work day would never be an issue. The heroes (and even the enemy for that matter) have several moments during the story where they have no choice but to continue on regardless of the status of their resources or how depleted their forces were.

Conan and his companions cannot stop to wait or rest, even as they watch a good number of their forces perish. The girl must be rescued! To wait and recoup health, forces, or arrows is sure to meet with the untimely death or worse for the girl.

The defenders are heavy users of sorcery and at one point in the book are shown using various spells to defend themselves. As the battle unfolds Conan even remarks that they must have lost their capacity for magic as they further retreat. But those sorcerers cannot simply stop and rest! They have a fierce barbarian and his dwindling horde knocking at their doorstep!

Pacing as shown by example in People of the Black Circle is what GMs should strive to obtain. This puts the PCs in an exciting adventure with stakes that mean something to the characters. It paints that sense of urgency that will keep things moving forward and not a series of fight, sleep, fight, sleep and so on. The type of magic system simply will not matter, because it is irrelevant. The PCs must go on to be the heroes, to do otherwise simply ends in devastating failure.

9 thoughts on “15 Minute Work Day

  1. I think it’s because of GM pacing that i find myself on the side of the fence that hasn’t really seen it in games that I’ve played in. There’s always something more important to keep us going than wondering if the wizard has any more magic missiles left today…

    • I agree. Our party’s always want to push on. The wizard might mention the status of their spells, but often we just acknowledge it and go. Since the wizard knows we like to push on, they pay closer attention to resource management.

  2. As GM I have shaped my world to encourage players to play smart, not formulaic, and if they wish to be heroes to be daring and courageous when required. Not every situation requires heroism, and good planning and preparation are “playing smart”. If I press them too much and too often for the sake of keeping the pressure on, then after a while it seems like my world starts to feel like a B grade movie (which isn’t the worse thing, but I prefer to have the feel of Tolkien, rather than “Robot Chimps from Mars”). I’d say about 40% to 60% of the time in a given campaign I might have a high pressure situation. The rest of the time is lower pressure and gives the party time to plan, recuperate, and stock up. When there is high pressure usually it is a Run-And-Fight situation. The rest of the time it is a “Think-And-Do” which also has action, but not as mission critical, and gives the players time to use their heads. I like to mix both because it feels more “real” to me. While the overall plot should have a pressing purpose or objective, not every moment needs to be high pressure. So it is a matter, in my mind, of balance. Some games I might like the whole campaign to be fast paced like Conan, but other campaigns I might like it slow paced like a carefully played chess game. Just depends my mood, and my perception of the mood of my players.

    • Very valuable points vbwyrde. For a campaign with depth I think a mixture of brisk pace with a more leisurely recoup, plan, and such is a good thing. The mixing of the elements does a couple of things in my opinion. First, the players end up not always knowing just how time sensitive something is. If the GM has shown the willingness to have things go south behind the scenes, then the players at least have to factor it into their decisions. That thought process is what helps add the depth to a good campaign in opinion.

      I think the mixed (balanced) approach definitely has a very prominent place in successful campaigns the players talk about for years after the campaign concluded.

  3. Where the 15 min. day can really be abused are city adventures. If the adventurer’s quest has no time sensitivity,it can be a real problem.

    GMs can thwart the party by having them followed, but all this really translates to is ‘more fighting’. As a GM, if your players get into a rut of fight/camp/fight/camp and you can’t figure out a way to give them a sense of urgency, I think it’s better to simply ramp up encounter difficulties to something closer to 50% of the party’s resources. That way they’ve earned that rest, at least.

    • I find sometimes just letting the world move on while the PCs choose to do other things can have a profound effect on future actions when that realization hits that the world does not stop for them.

      For example, say a city adventure with a house full of valuables and traps that needs reconned and then broken into and slowly “cleared” to eventually reach the king prize. If a group takes the fight/camp/fight/camp approach to the house, it may just turn out that someone non-confrontationally beats them to the king prize. Surely if there was something valuable there the PCs weren’t the only ones with an interest in the place.

      And this doesn’t have to happen every time of course. If a DM occasionally uses this pacing tool I think it shapes the characters to be more aware that maybe there is time sensitivity to the task, when in this particular chance there isn’t. They don’t know that though, but will act as if there is.

      It is a fine line between getting the world depth of it always moving and simply being the GM harassing the players. I think if rulebooks should spend more time educating GMs than trying to outright fix it through system mechanic changes.

  4. I have run into this problem quite a bit in games I play in or GM. It is a problem that pops up due to the players thinking time stops for them when they rest or that the story waits for them.
    It mostly appears in non-story games, where free roam is an option.The characters have no sense of urgency since no huge task is put before them which demands it. This leaves them feeling as if they can rest up and reprepare.
    The first time I didn’t experience it was part of a 2nd edition game where I played the wizard. I only could cast one spell and had no battle training due to being a wizard. I thought quick to make Molotov Cocktails out of oil flasks and used those in the case of emergency.

    • Players thinking time stops is definitely a likely culprit. I know when we started playing with our current DM many years ago we learned the hard way that time does not stop in his campaigns. Nations grow and shrink. Competing entities of power shift and cast their shape on things. Sometimes even to the point where we as a party have three options to choose from and we know the two we don’t select will continue to shape and evolve while we tackle the quest we chose.

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