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Monday, July 28, 2014

System Spotlight: Star Wars

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away …

I may be a humble teacher, dungeonmaster, blog-author, sword sorcerer but sometimes I feel like I have a strong understanding of how people think. When I was young one trilogy of movies forever changed the way I looked at the world, stories, conflict, and the spiritual questions that plague mankind. I’m not talking about Indiana Jones but you were close. Lord of the Rings wouldn’t change me profoundly until I was a teenager. I’m of course talking about Star Wars.

From my style of writing, sense of humor, and general sense of self-importance you can potentially see the lasting influence Han Solo has had on my psyche. I can’t be alone, though. Who never wanted to strap a blaster on their hip and fly a starship from port to port, smuggling goods for the next big score and understanding an incomprehensible walking carpet? Also Luke was there, I guess. And Leia was really badass too …

I’m getting off topic. There are cool Star Wars RPGs. Check em out!

Star Wars Edge of the Empire and Star Wars Age of Rebellion utilize identical systems of character creation and dice use but have entirely different themes and tones. I recently purchased the Age of Rebellion Beginner Box pictured less than an inch above these words. I’ve been flipping through the Edge of Empire rulebook for the past few weeks. Here are my thoughts:

Age of Rebellion is for those persons who want to fight against the Empire. You want to be a rebellion commando or pilot or infiltrator who locates Imperial strongholds and blows them up in the name of galactic freedom. Admirable goals, in my opinion.

Edge of the Empire is all about being a scoundrel. The party is supposed to be a fringe criminal element operating on the outer rim, dodging bounty hunters, blackmail, Imperial patrols, and dwindling supplies to try and catch a break. It’s Firefly in the Star Wars Universe. I drooled a little as I typed that sentence.

The dice pool requires purchasing their unique dice or by utilizing a very complex chart to convert D6s, D8s, and D12s into the necessary symbols. I’m going to give you the short, short version of how these dice work:

  • There are Good dice and Bad dice
  • If you are good at things you get more Good dice
  • If you are trying to accomplish something hard or there’s a time limit you have to roll more Bad dice
  • You have to have more Successes show up on all the dice rolled than Failures
  • Even if you Succeed you may do it in a bad way thanks to secondary symbols and vice versa. You can Fail in a spectacular way.
  • There are also Criticals and Anti-Criticals

I just saved you about 45 minutes of deciphering. You’re welcome.

Both games have classes, sub-classes, and races like any good Tabletop Roleplaying Game. There are equipment charts all over these books, statistics blocks for starships, ideas for what sort of debts your scoundrels might need to pay off eventually, etc.

Here’s what separates Star Wars from your average Tabletop experience. It’s bursting with cool droids (playable), intense ship battles (think asteroid field dogfights, escape runs while trying to get the Hyperdrive to work, intense jaunts through narrow canyons while turbolasers blow dust and sand up onto the sensors), and more planets than you can swing a wookiee at (author’s note: wookiees are more likely to swing you). We’re not talking just Tatooine and Coruscant like you’re sick of. You want to go to Corellia, birthplace of the one and only Han Solo? Read up about it and make it happen. You want to go to Klak’dor VII, home planet of the buttheaded cantina band? I won’t judge. Hoth? Cool place. Cloud City? It’s a cut above the rest. I could sit here and make Star Wars planet puns for a long time and my editor would kill me if I did that.

There are some interesting rules for being a Force Sensitive Exile, as well, but I have to admit I’m not 100% on them. But how could you not want to be something called a Force Sensitive Exile while you’re bouncing from starbase to starbase on your rickety ship and exchanging blaster fire with mercenary lizard people?! Seriously?! WHO DOESN’T WANT THAT?!!!

I want to leave you with one final thought about how incredible I find this Star Wars RPG. Its design accomplishes one of my new favorite things about the Tabletop experience: freedom. You can run a narrow and rigid campaign that forces your players to hunt down a renegade smuggler who stole your previous ship and all the sweet spice you had on it. Or you can bounce from planet to planet, hoping for work and barely scraping by as you outrun the hired guns of a Hutt you crossed three planets ago while you were freeing a Twi’lek Dancer from his prison because she knew the access codes for a shipping crate packed with Corusca Gems. I literally came up with that as I was writing it because STAR WARS.

Monday, July 21, 2014

System Spotlight: Shadowrun

My Rules & Riddles compatriot had a few things to get off of his chest last week, so we took a break from our scheduled programming to bring you “Bards are the worst, and also not fun, and also we hate them.” But if you will remember, our original topic for the coming weeks was setting.

Some really bad people don’t like medieval fantasy. They don’t dream of hanging out in a tavern in a fantasy world and being a badass elf sorcerer warlord. I personally don’t understand these communists people, but we don’t want to leave them out of the nirvana that is tabletop gaming. So allow me to introduce Shadowrun.

Shadowrun has a little bit of everything. Magic, medieval weaponry, robots, and guns all coexist somewhat peacefully in a futuristic parallel-Earth type setting. Megacorporations hold just as much, if not more, power than governments. Humans have undergone rapid mutation, creating variant races such as elves, dwarves, orks, and gnomes. Still other humans have been infected with an advanced virus that has turned them completely into dangerous, non-sentient beasts. If you’re playing a game by the default scenario, the players are Shadowrunners. Shadowrunners are free agents that complete tasks for corporations, the government, or various crime organizations so that they cannot be traced back to the source. So think hacking, espionage, and assassination.

Yes, it is just as awesome as it sounds. If you have never searched the web (I favor Pinterest for my RPG inspiration) for cyberpunk or cybergoth, prepare to be enthralled. Shadowrun has a gritty, urban feel augmented by the super technology that exists throughout this future world. Your character can have cybernetic enhancements. You can carefully plan out covert missions, or strap a laser-katana to your back and go wreak havoc through the city. I just… I can’t even...

CYBERPUNK: Filipe Andrade - Desenho fantástico de um artista super talentoso.  Fantastic drawing by a super talented artist.

The system runs on basic six-sided die, but you’ll need a shit ton or be prepared to record and reroll for every action many times. Players choose their race and then put points into various skills and stats rather than choosing a class, however there are various archetypes to help you build an effective character. The quickstart, of course, comes with pre-made characters to try out. The concepts of Karma and Edge are a little weird for those of us who have been in the D&D system for so long, so make sure you understand how the system functions before you try to launch into a game. Luckily, there are plenty of veterans on the internet to help you through any murky rules and to give advice on any house rules that may make things run more smoothly.

5th edition was just released at the end of last year, so it’s widely available. If you aren’t determined to play the latest and greatest, it’s also a good time to pick up things from 4th edition or earlier at a discount. Players who have been around a while will often try to review new editions. These can give you a good feel for how each edition might play. Like most games, the core rule book will run you about $50, so try it out through the quickstart and do some online research before purchasing. Or don’t. Whatevs.


Pick up Shadowrun if : Running around with a super computer and hacking into an evil megacorporation sounds rad. Neon and black are your colors. You have a friend who is a medieval fantasy hating fascist would feel more comfortable playing in a sci-fi futuristic setting. You want a change from dungeons, sewers (okay, there might still be those here, but the rats will at least be radioactive), and taverns.

Avoid if : You are intimidated by a big rule book and a vast world history that you should probably learn. The idea of purchasing 50 (that may be exaggerating) six-sided dice makes you cringe. Complicated systems aren’t your thing, and you don’t feel comfortable winging it or fudging the rules to fit your style.

Baby DM Out.

P.S. The awesome art that I used for this post are from the Shadowrun book and Filipe Andrade respectively. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Bards are Bad and Not Good

So … I may have left some of you confused with my last blog post. That’s ok. It’s been cooking in my head for some time now and I have very strong feelings about the bard class in most tabletop systems.

Before you can comprehend my loathing for bards you should know how I act as an actual player rather than a DM or GM. Charisma is usually my highest stat regardless of class. I am almost always the face of the group or, at the very least, its most talkative member. I don’t memorize spell lists, I avoid min-maxing like it is the plague, and I rarely ever want to enter combat unless I have to.

You may be thinking to yourselves, my gentle and unique snowflake readers, that bard sounds like the perfect class for me. You get to sit in the back and play music to buff your party rather than fighting on the front lines. You get to benefit from having a high Charisma score in many ways. You get magic spells to compel others to do your bidding and boom we have hit my problem with the bard class.

Don’t get me wrong, I love magic and I’m not averse to illusion magic, but to me magic that charms your opponent is, to put this in delicate terms, a war crime. I hate it on more levels than I can name. Allow me, now, to name some of them.

Charm magic gives a player untold power outside of combat. Examples, you say? Don’t get me started. I’ve mentioned the antics of Zak Earthkin, bard and pain-in-the-ass extraordinaire, before. His player (who is now Zugg’s player for those keeping score at home or those playing Rules and Riddles bingo and now get to place a bean on the Zugg square) thirsted for gold the way a pirate thirsts for rum. The way Inigo Montoya thirsts for vengeance … and wine. He wanted gold. This led to the greatest regular abuse of charm magic ever. He would cast charm person on everything that moved if it meant he could get a better deal selling gems or buying war dogs.

In the playtest for the new Dungeons and Dragons system (appropriately named DnD Next) bards were given way more power than they should have thanks to mesmer and charm feats. Throughout the Temple of Vengeance (my wonderful Avengers themed dungeon) the bard of the group (Sir Robin) was able to do each of the following things:

  • Keep 4 out of 5 snake cultists handled while the party captured one and set up a series of Area of Effect spells to wipe out the other 4. This was the first encounter.
  • Hold an entire room of spiders enthralled so they could loot a pedestal with a fancy belt and a couple of nice daggers. I can’t begin to stress how many spiders there were. Think about the most spiders you can without immediately going into shock. Double it.
  • Automatically befriend the black dragon serving as the final guardian of the dungeon thanks to a natural 20 Charisma roll and a feat I like to call “this feat hates Dungeon Masters.” I think that might be its French translation.

Charm magic can be the death of roleplaying, in my honest and humble opinion. Zak never really needed to roll dice after casting his auto-befriend spell. It was nice of him to humor me but the spell made the person consider him a good friend so he was going to get a good deal for his wares no matter what. Being able to cast charm magic makes me, the DM/GM, have to prepare magic ahead of time to combat it either in the form of items that grant immunity or in the form of spells that I have to give to unnamed, unplanned NPC’s.

Players that naturally struggle with roleplaying may rely on spells like charm person as a crutch rather than sink into their character and understand how they would act in a situation and what argument they might pose to solve a problem. When you’re starting out and it’s your first few sessions at the table then relying on something to ease into an unfamiliar experience isn’t a bad thing. In fact it’s very wise to simplify your life to make your time much easier. That said, there are things you can do as a bard to play the role well.

  • Understand what a bard is. You’re a bit of a swashbuckler, a bit of a con artist, a bit of an entertainer, and a bit of a wizard. You’re a jack-of-all-trades. You’ll likely be the voice of your group or in charge of negotiations. If you’re naturally shy or quiet then perhaps bard isn’t right for you. If you’re boisterous and a bit of a showboat then it might be perfect for you.

  • Don’t rely on your class abilities to define your bard. This is actually good advice for all classes. You aren’t a rogue because you can do sneak damage. You aren’t a bard because you can play song of courage. Those are the rewards and luxuries you get for choosing that class. You’re a bard because you want to help your party or because you want to talk your way out of a fight. You’re a bard because you like to have utility spells or because you like having a lot of options with your skills.

  • Utility spells always supplement roleplay. This is my personal preference but I think the game is a lot more fun if everyone thinks this way. As a DM/GM I don’t look at a player’s die roll until they’ve explained themselves. If you want to use charm person as a bard then you had better slip it in while you’re buttering up the person. Actually charm them and use the spell to supplement your words and your diplomacy check.

  • Invest time in preparing music. This is very optional but it adds a nice bit of flare. Bring your computer, tablet, or music player and some speakers. Prepare some instrumental pieces that would fit well within your setting. Play the music when your bard is playing their song. It’s a simple way to add to the atmosphere of your table.

Bards are bad and not good. But sometimes they can be good.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

Party Cohesion

The city of [Fantasy] Rome is one of oppression and racial conflict. Humans and servants of Ares rule while elves and dwarves and everything in-between lives in squalor. This is the stage for one of the least cohesive groups of all times. A warlock dedicated to the prospect of immortality, an elf who has made a deal with devils from beyond, a gladiator turned champion of Athena, a sea-elf who just wants to live safely, a floating brain with schemes and plans of its own, and a warforged dedicated to seeing Rome rise to absolute power.

If it can be believed, we never agreed on anything.

Your tabletop party has to work together.

Parties can be good, evil, neutral, chaotic, lawful, or anything that can be imagined. Moral and rebellious, impure and socially oriented, and even solely dedicated to the pursuit of that most noble goal: treasure. What parties cannot be is scattered and self-centered. If each member of the party only ever seeks the completion of their own goals and desires then they want to play Skyrim, not Dungeons and Dragons.

I’ve heard stories of a party run by the tyrannical hand of a lone paladin dedicated to complicated schemes and ruses that he would withhold from the party until they were already sprung. Usually this resulted in unnecessary combat. My point? The paladin was probably having fun being a dictator and controlling the actions of the whole party but the rest of the party probably wasn’t having any fun at all.

We once played as a party of monsters set upon creating a haven for monstrous creatures outside of civilization. The only problem? We had no leader and no direction. We knew vaguely what needed to be done but we could never rally enough to point ourselves at one of the many objectives we had. There may have also been some poorly handled dragon diplomacy.

In order for a tabletop gaming group to remain together and somewhat friendly there has to be a degree of cooperation between each player. And now, in a shocking break from tradition, I have a list for you:

  • Having a leader is important. Someone to stand for the party in tense discussions with a hot-tempered noble or to make the hard decision when the rogue and the cleric disagree on how to handle the interrogation of a captive goblin. A leader doesn’t need to be the best fighter or the strongest wizard but they should know something about helping people work together. A leader needs to be able to see the endgame or at the very least make sure everyone understands that sometimes the party wins and sometimes the party loses. Sometimes the cleric convinces everyone to spare the goblin’s life and sometimes the rogue should be able to add their strength modifier to their diplomacy roll.

  • Every member deserves to have their say. Your gnome wizard may not have said anything in a while but they cast important spells to help handle giant fights. They deserve to have their voice heard when the group is making a decision that will affect everyone. If you are the leader of your group try very hard to never gloss over a quiet member. Let them share their thoughts. You never know when Fred the Dwarf is going to have a legitimate suggestion rather than simply talking about how camel humps aren’t actually full of water.

  • If the group doesn’t follow your advice, relax. They might follow it later or you may get to shove their faces in how right you were in a few minutes. Both are nice. Keep sharing your thoughts. Don’t get discouraged. Your opinion is valid, necromancer, and someday the group will let you build your army of skelemans.

  • If the group never follows your advice, there’s a problem. It might be with you or it might be with them. If a group is never following your counsel then you may be in the wrong group. Try a new character to mesh more evenly with their alignments. Speak with your Gamemaster about trying to fix the issue. As a last ditch effort, leave the group. If you aren’t having fun playing a game then stop playing the game. Find a group you sync well with or start running your own game. There are options. Don’t get discouraged.

  • Start a campaign by ensuring group cohesion. Character creation is a fun experience and should be done with the party you intend to play with. If you make characters together then it means you can avoid the larger problems. Discovering during character creation that one member wants to play a chaotic evil warlock dedicated to a god of hate and death and one member wants to play a lawful good paladin of butterflies and sunshine is a good time to defuse the inevitable explosion of conflict that your group is going to suffer through. My rule is usually to have parties within one of the alignment spectrums. The party needs to be entirely Lawful, Good, Chaotic, or Evil. Neutral party members can usually fit with any party flavor but there are always exceptions.

  • Don’t be that guy. You know who you are.

What’s my one rule? Your tabletop party has to work together.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Quickstart: A Poor DM's Portal to New Lands

Our goal here on Rules & Riddles isn’t necessarily to get you to play D&D or Pathfinder. Both are excellent games, and happen to be ones that we play around our gaming table on a regular basis. They are also some of the most visible tabletop roleplaying games in that the general public actually knows that they exist in some form. This often manifests as some vague knowledge of elves and dwarves and possibly chainmail bikinis. Regardless, our goal isn’t to force you into playing D&D. It is to encourage getting off of the computer and out of your parent’s basement tabletop gaming in any of its forms.

With that in mind, we’d like to introduce you to a few other options. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be doing some posts that will focus specifically on choosing the setting for a new campaign or one-shot series. This may be an introduction to a completely new system of play or to an unique setting for a D&D based adventure. Most of the time, we’ll be trying out these systems for ourselves as we introduce them here on the blog.

Trying Out New Systems, Near and Far

Rulebooks for roleplaying games are ridiculously expensive (at least on a college-student / young adult budget). It’s difficult for me to drop $50 on a book for a system that I’m not even sure that I will enjoy.

It was with this in mind that publishers began to release quickstart rules. Quickstart rules can often be found as pdfs somewhere on the great, wide interwebs. These are small sets of rules that allow a group to play low level adventures and give the game a try.

You won’t find prestige classes and extra campaign settings here. However, they do often come with a starter dungeon or adventure and a variety of premade characters. And best of all, these rule sets tend to be (legally and everything) free! Just distribute among friends and get playing.

What To Get and Where

I grabbed up about 30 quickstart manuals and free adventures at DriveThru RPG. What you choose to try out is really up to personal preference. There is a huge variety, including sword and sorcery type games, horror, urban fantasy, steampunk, and a few based on popular TV shows and books.

Here’s my quickstart acquisition list thus far:

  • World of Darkness and it’s spin-offs, which include Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken, Mage: The Awakening, and Hunter: The Vigil.
  • Valiant Universe
  • Scion
  • Shadowrun
  • Outbreak: Undead
  • Corporia
  • Clockwork Dominion
  • Brass & Steel: The Case of the Croquet Mallet (actually a LARP, but sounded fun)
  • HackMaster

There are a few others that I am still taking a look at, but if they seem to be worth trying I will add a note into another post. In the meantime, check out the vast online world of free quickstarts and try some new things. Even better, DM them for your gaming group. Your friends will have no idea if you screw up. Yay!

Baby DM out.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Creative Acquisition

The party has delved into the dangerous Temple of Vengeance, a tomb for a group of long dead heroes that once saved the world from a snake cult. They have arrived at the Tinker’s workshop and one of his remnant iron golems has activated, threatening the party with death via monk punching.

Sir Robin, bard extraordinaire, hurriedly attempts to disguise himself as the Tinker himself, creator of these golems. In his haste, and lacking knowledge of what the Tinker looked like, he transformed himself into a murloc instead. The golem was not amused.

Steal as many dungeon ideas as you can.

This past weekend featured the Fourth of July, otherwise known as Summer Christmas and America’s Birthday. In honor of this auspicious day I created a dungeon with what I felt was a patriotic theme. The players had to fight through a room of berserk curses, a chamber of pure spiders, a room of living suits of armor, a hallway with a serious arrow fetish, the wrath of a storm goddess, and the star shaped room of a heroine.

It was Avengers themed with minor tweaks to throw my friends off, but they had a hoot and it took them a good long while to figure out what I was up to. Of course, once they reached the one-eyed black dragon named Furaxis at the end, all subtlety was lost. I’m clever, not subtle.

Here’s my point, patient reader: I … “creatively borrow” as many concepts for my dungeons as possible. I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel. The wheel is doing a really good job. Writers have been coming up with incredible ideas, artifacts, traps, punishments, rewards, etc. for hundreds of years. I sure love tweaking them in my favor.

How do you do this, you ask? Good question. You should feel proud for having asked that. It’s fairly easy. Allow me to offer you this list:

  • Comic book heroes make for interesting room themes. The room I made for Black Widow was a room of pure magical darkness that swallows light, revealing only a pair of daggers at the center of the room taunting you with their potential extra shock damage and 1 round stun. High above were spiders. Sooooo many spiders. At no point does a redhead show up and start power murdering people, but the concept comes across and I came up with a challenging room that my players conquered creatively (bard mesmer is OP) and then ran far from because spiders.

  • Magical weapons and armor have existed for thousands of years. Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur, has been around since the Dark Ages. Its scabbard protects the bearer from being cut and its blade can best any other. Together they are powerful relics. Steal it, twist it, make it your own. Name it Callandor and place it in a fortress called the Stone (wait that’s from something …). Tone down the scabbard’s power and make it resistance to slashing weapons. There are more magical weapons out there than your players have heard of and I bet they will enjoy a reference that makes them more powerful.

  • The internet. Seriously just … just look at it sometime. It’s really great. You can pretty much search anything in the entire world and Google will just drop it at your feet. Need traps? Search ‘em. Need a name generator? There are about fifty. Don’t feel like drawing your own dungeon map? Oh, I’m sorry, that’s the one thing they don’t -- WAIT -- of course they have that and also randomizers and digital graph paper for people who hate pencils. Even if all you have is the basest beginning of a concept you can find it on the internet.

  • Science Fiction can be converted. Technology = magic. The first villain I ran for my players in this One-Shot-Verse (that’s what we call it, don’t kink shame) was a modification of a Warhammer 40K Techpriest that I occasionally use. I made his mechanical replacements alchemical and aberration in nature and I turned a Techpriest into a terrifying wizard gone wrong. Starships become sailing vessels. Planets become islands. Teleporting becomes … well it can still be teleporting but there are probably doves or something. Wizards need a bit more showmanship anyway. Star Trek contains millions of good plots for a seafaring campaign that you can tweak. Star Wars is structurally based on a samurai movie. Convert it back and season with dragons.

  • Westerns are perfect one-shot plots. Read or watch a western sometime and you will acquire the following: a good villain, downtrodden villagers, incredible set pieces, strong motivation for characters of all alignments, and grit. Lots of grit. Tweak it. Throw in some castles and dragons and make the villainous gunslinger a sorcerer with two wands who slugs it out toe to toe with your party’s wizard in a wizard-fight to shatter the ages. High noon becomes midnight if you want to make it even better.

What’s my one rule? Steal as many dungeon ideas as you can.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Timing: It's All About the Rhythm

Timing a dungeon is a double-edged sword.

Members of my tabletop gaming group have been recently inspired to try their hand at sitting behind the screen, drawing graph paper maps, and planning traps (that rhymed a bit). They’re getting in way over their heads and I couldn’t be more proud. But, like all new Dungeon Masters who want their first dungeon to be a homebrew one, they are confused about how to time things and make certain it all runs smoothly.

I’ll be getting to my tips and tricks for running a well timed dungeon down below but first I want to explain my philosophy when it comes to this sort of issue. If you sit and plan the exact number of minutes your party should spend in each room then you leave no wiggle-room for tavern shenanigans or long roleplay arguments. If you don’t plan time for a room at all then you’re likely going to end earlier than you intended or feel obligated to draw out some encounters to artificially stretch the encounter.

My first gaming group had a very strict schedule for when we could play. Four hours each Friday. This was largely due to a single party member’s schedule but he was amusing so we worked around it for him. I say amusing because this is the character who regularly fell unconscious at least twice a session and managed to “bluff” his severed hand back onto his wrist in a moment of miraculous dice intervention. Needless to say he was an odd squid but a funny one.

I had to plan each and every one of my first dozen sessions into a four hour time block and since I hated erasing maps I planned each map within the confines of our wet erase board. Back then I like to railroad my party. I was young and foolish. Because of this I allowed for very little shenanigans. The only time they spent in a tavern was time I allotted to them. Their roleplaying was largely in response to traps or monsters or boss fights. In hindsight it wasn’t perfect but we got a lot of amusing stories out of a dozen 4 hour sessions.

It was also remarkably stressful having to work within that timeframe. Even having an extra hour would have reduced my headaches and night terrors. Lately I plan for roughly six hour sessions with one of those hours being dedicated roleplaying time in a tavern or ship cabin or brothel or whatever. My party’s weird, guys.

Tips and tricks for timing:
  • A large room is ten minutes. A small room is five. Ignoring monsters and traps, rooms are largely uninteresting. If there’s nothing to fight or avoid then the party will be in and out as soon as they find the hidden loot.
  • A room suspected of having a trap is fifteen minutes at least. If your party is like my party then they are terrified of you. Treasure is always going to hurt them. A simple hallway is not a simple hallway. Chests will bite their hands off. Columns mean ambush. Bookshelves mean jumping spiders. Some days I feel like I’ve contributed to my players’ nightmares in all the right ways. Anyway, a party that suspects a trap will take their time. Fifteen minutes is the shortest amount of time they’ll give you to get through a room with suspected traps.
  • A monster encounter is at least a half an hour. Even if you think your party can kill a creature quickly remember that the dice hate a proud DM and will punish you for your hubris. An encounter that scales with the party’s level should have a half an hour planned time for its completion. This includes prep time for the fight if they intend to ambush the creatures, a rest afterward while they figure out what to do next, and of course looting time.
  • A bad boss fight is fifteen minutes. A good boss fight is a half hour. I’m not great at boss fights. I always underestimate the party’s power and then they get these incredible dice rolls that curb stomp the two hydras I have for them so my boss fights end very quickly. Good boss fights involve multiple phases, ramping difficulty, and maybe terrain manipulation or interesting environments. I’ve been in maybe two interesting boss fights in my time as a player. Unless your boss can rock a mad soliloquy a half an hour should be fine.
  • Be willing to adjust on the fly. If your players are bored with an encounter or bored with a trap or too frustrated by a puzzle then adjust. Either you need to adjust the difficulty of the encounter or trap to bring it to a close or your need to reevaluate how much time you’re giving them to solve a riddle. Make future encounters shorter or longer (not easier or harder, those are different entirely). Remove sections from your dungeon (I will be writing an article all about this at a later date). Edit the phases of your boss fight. Until your players know what’s going on the dungeon is still a mystery that you are running.
  • For roleplay centered sessions assume that you are going to go well over your time limit. It’s nearly impossible to plan time limits for a roleplay heavy session. Who knows what the players are going to latch onto and enjoy. For these I usually plan far too many things and the players ignore about half of them, which is fine. I gave them opportunities to interact and they chose the ones they thought were interesting. Giving your players choices is more important than offering them a choice of railroad tracks.

What’s my one rule? Timing a dungeon is a double-edged sword.