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Revising Turns

I am going to revise my timekeeping rules.

The old rules had these options for a ten-minute turn:

I was trying to reconciliate 5e speeds with old school turns: between known locations (“we go back to the ox room”) you move as quickly as the 5e PHB imply, but while exploring new ground you move as slowly as the old school editions imply. (A 5e speed of 30′ is listed as 90′ in some older editions. You’d still only move 30′ in fights.)

But after playtesting this for a few months, I can’t stand it anymore. Torches burn out ridiculously quickly.

So my first idea was to allow both cautious movement plus interaction in the same turn. Boom, there’s double your torch time right there. The other options still wouldn’t stack, but these two would.

It’s more than doubled, because let’s say you moved 20′, interacted, moved 20′, interacted… I was charging them full turns even though they only moved like 20 out of 60′ because they were stopping to search things! No wonder light was running out.

The second thing I was gonna do was to make a table with some pre-calculated “movement math” so that I as DM can better guesstimate how many turns that corridor actually takes.

speed 10′ squares 5′ squares
10’ 3 6
20′ 6 12
30′ 9 18
35′ 10 21

But looking at that table, I realized that even when encumbered down to 20′, they’d almost always be able to go from room to room. It’s so dumb, I’m so eager to abstract away distances in chases and volleys so why have I been nickel-and-diming them when exploring?

Also, one of the biggest sources of frustration for players is when they are doing, uh, when they aren’t cautiously moving through a corridor but instead swimming between ruins and such. That shouldn’t really be “dungeon speed.”

Either a zone is already smaller than the 60′×60′ that even an encumbered character easily can traverse, or it’s big enough to feel more like outdoor speed than dungeon speed.

As long as the characters are interacting with things, there’s no need to even count movement. If they truly aren’t touching anything, then sure, divide up the dungeon into 60′×60′ zones. For many dungeons that’s still at most four zones per level.

Those 60′ zones are also gonna make chases easier. It’s three “moves” on 20′ and two “moves” on 30′, where a dash counts as two moves.

My old list also had that tip that between known rooms, you could in one turn move the equiv of 33 turns between unknown rooms. So any place the party has been to within the last five and a half hours of light, they can instantly go to. But with our new 60′ zones, that’s, uh…

speed known 60′ zones
10′ 16
20′ 33
30′ 50
40′ 66

Yeah, that’s plenty unless for the most mega of dungeons.

Conclusion: I don’t need to count movement anymore! If I’m doing a megadungeon I can divide it into huge 60′ by 60′ zones.

By contrast to the movement rules, I’ve been happy with the 10′ cube “interaction area” rule of thumb. We still do “20 questions with a doorknob” for these interactions, trap finding, treasure hunting, but I’m glad to have a guideline for what’s a reasonable area to interact with. Enough for all the drawers in a desk, not enough to carefully tap a huge wall for echoes.

Stack Exchange misadventures

After writing the preceding, I went on SE to see if someone had asked that and I found a question on Stack Exchange that I misread as asking if searching included movement. I wrote a reply of my own but deleted it once I realized that the question instead was if movement included searching, i.e. searching six to twelve times as fast as humanly possible.

For the overly curious, my now-deleted reply follows:

For months, I’ve been playing the way the other answers on here say that the sources suggest. I’ve been frustrated, even as DM, with how quickly torches burn out.

I like the 10′×10′, uh, “interaction area”, that part is not in dispute.

They are encumbered down to 60′. So that’s six squares, or twelve on a five-foot-map. One problem is that I’ve usually ended up “keeping the change”: they move two squares and then search or disarm or whatever shenanigans they like to do. I haven’t been keeping those two unused movement squares in reserve, I’ve just eaten them. So that’s two turns right there: walk a couple of feet and then do one thing.

So I thought: maybe they mean that you can walk and do something in one turn. After all, you can move and attack in many editions.

And looking in Moldvay and RC (the two editions I have access to, outside of AD&D 1e and 2e), they don’t really contradict that. The quotes posted by others are accurate. RC’s page 147 says that the searching takes about one turn. (“Listening” on the same page has no turn time listed.) Page 91 has the turn checklist and that page isn’t clear either on whether you can move IOR search, or move XOR search.

With Moldvay, the case for XOR is a little stronger, but there is ultimately some ambiguity there.

A character may explore and map an area equal to his or her movement rate in a turn. It also takes a turn for a character to search a 10′×10′ area, for a thief to check an item for traps, to rest or to load a bag with treasure.

but this is presented along with

A base movement of 120′ in ten minutes may seem slow, but it assumes the players are mapping, searching, and trying to be quiet.

“Slow” is right. Dungeon speed is 33 times slower than normal “going from to your kitchen to get a glass of water” speed. Each step in dungeon speed is as slow as thirty steps of normal walking. (And, yeah, I’ve definitely been using Moldvay’s suggestion on the same page that they walk faster between known areas.)

Imagine you’re carefully examining a trapped chest, a suspicious doorknob, a weird seam in the ceiling… is taking a few steps really something you do separately from that? I see a painting on the wall a few feet ahead and I go up to it and look at it for ten minutes. Would I really spend 20 minutes, and fully half of them walking up there?

To me, ruling that these few steps are included in the interaction (in this case looking at the painting) is reasonable and it also to me solves the weirdly slow speed that has been chafing since I first started playing B/X: of course the speed is slow, they’re also doing other things! Just as Moldvay says.

If they are actually mapping, as in measuring walls and such, then I could see that taking a turn per room. But that’s an argument for generosity (“you can map 6/9/12 squares, since mapping is faster than searching, which is 1 square”) rather than stinginess (“you search the desk? Ok, that’s two turns, one for the searching and one for getting there.”).

This ruling (move IOR search) is not only going to let the characters’ torches last twice as long, it’s also going to make my job as DM easier. I just need to count interactions (such as searching), at least as long as those interactions are within 60′ of each other in unknown space, and within 2000′ of each other in familiar, known, clear space.

We also don’t play D&D like a boardgame. It’s, thankfully, not “I spend one turn moving there and one more turn to do the Search action”. It’s more describing how they search, how they open doors, what features in the dungeon give them pause and how they navigate them. We’re getting a pretty detailed blow-by-blow. That makes the time jumps for walking to feature to feature feel even more weird.

In short, when looking at the three factors: text, history and my own play testing:

  1. The texts of Moldvay and RC are ambiguous.
  2. I have no idea how Moldvay actually ran at the time of writing Basic.
  3. My own experience is that torches and lamps run out ridiculously quickly when using move XOR search.

A fresh perspective

Two and a half years later, I stumbled upon Moldvay page B23, in the context of “Order of Events in One Game Turn”:

The party moves, enters room, listens, and searches.

That’s pretty unambiguous as far as I’m concerned.

I started out by running it the way the other Stack Exchange posters suggest—that was before finding or even looking for that SE question—but that led to bonkers results, torches and potions-of-water-breathing lasting for incredibly short amounts of time. You can do only three things per torch or water-breathing–potion! Players were rioting! That led to me revising my approach, considering that a turn maybe included both searching and moving, and that has worked well for the past three years.

I can’t believe I was so sloppy at discovering page B23! It lays it all out so clearly. Playtesting already found it, but it’s nice to also have textual support.