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An issue came up in the last session of my Pathfinder campaign - that of chronic PC impatience.

It happens especially when they go to cities and between major adventures. They go into a frenzy of trying to buy and sell and talk to everyone and do everything to the point where I have to start enforcing fatigue rules to get them to stop pounding on people's doors at 3 AM demanding magic item sales. Sometimes there is plot related time pressure but often there's not, but they still have a sense of everpresent haste.

In my current campaign, I saw this was happening a lot. Heck, the last huge multisession fight they got into was initiated by a PC going to visit the local wizard's academy in the middle of the night and waking people up to demand magic item sales (with no idea that it had been taken over by the forces of evil... He found out quick though). So I tried to give them an out, in the form of a friendly (as such things go) local crime figure they're aligned with who offered to take care of buying and selling and whatnot for them. I reckoned that would get it off our play session plates and let us get to adventure. "Sure!" they said. And then they immediately went out to do it some more! They literally made that deal with the guy at 3 AM, went to bed, woke up, and then demanded of him immediately whether he'd gotten everything on their wishlists yet. When he hadn't, it was out to kick down doors.

The character, and his player really, was getting frustrated. He keeps wanting to sell and or buy his stuff NOW. Well, I run a fairly realistic game world. If you want to sell something like that in a four hour span, then like in the real world you're going to get pawn shop prices. And if you want some specific magic item, you're not going to be able to find it in that span - especially if you have poor Diplomacy/Knowledge: Local skills. I also run fairly low magic so there's not "magic shops". I try to reward their persistence with some randomly generated magic stuff that some decent scavenging lets them find some gypsy selling or whatever, but this doesn't sate their desire for to-spec items. It's not just buying and selling, it's anything they end up wanting to do in a city (get information, start a criminal empire, etc), but that's a handy example I have that shows the syndrome. PC impatience vs. the realistic pace of the world.

Am I being hard-headed? I guess I feel like a lot of this, and I've said this out loud to the players, can be elided easily. Say you are looking for X - information on something, or a specific magic item, or a specialist person - let's all just say you send out feelers, loiter around in town for a week, and it'll probably show up. It doesn't have to take GAME SESSION time, it can be over with in one sentence of "We look for X for a week What do we get?" But for whatever reason, they don't want to "let time pass" - every waking hour is spent in high activity mode and they seem unwilling to say "right, we go to bed and then don't do anything specific for a couple days so that our items can be completed before we're wanted for some crime or another." This approach ends up making things take a lot more game time than a more relaxed approach would.

I understand that's easy to get into that mindset in a game - it's why in many computer games we set our character to "run" by default, why would you want to go somewhere slowly? But it does stretch my (and NPCs', in my world) patience when the group is a nonstop tornado - trouble in any 24 hour period is practically guaranteed.

Of course maybe I'm worrying about it too much - if they didn't want to waste game session time on it, they wouldn't; they're adults and I've explained all the above to them explicitly. And heck, I can't really claim it's unrealistic - adventurers in town are just like sailors or cowboys or soldiers on leave or whatnot; they have a short time to play hard before they head back out on the sea/trail/etc. and so they don't rest and cause trouble. But it seems to frustrate the players (well, especially the one) because he seems to think it's unreasonable.

A long wind-up, but the question is, how do I get PCs to accept the need to be patient and "let time pass" instead of always acting like insomniac monkeys on crack?

I don't consider time in towns to be some "downtime" thing; it's time spent in towns, no different from time spent on a ship or in a dungeon or whatever. Many of our adventures and plots and whatnot happen in cities. But maybe because a city does have a lot more to do they just wind themselves up and assault it all unremittingly...

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I had a set of PCs who wanted an expensive book right now, and the store was closed. They teleported in to steal it, so I put a symbol of insanity on the bookshelf. The end result was the Alchemist got teleported to Geb. Hilarity ensued. –  Cthos Jan 8 '12 at 3:47
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A simple solution might be to simply add appropriate in-game consequences to the campaign (e.g. merchants refusing to do business with the characters, a nice talk with the town guard, etc). On the other hand, calling your players at 3 am and asking them to borrow a videogame may also get the point across. ;) –  arotter Jan 8 '12 at 14:56
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A reminder from GM to GM - your job as a GM is to accomodate your players. If that means changing your own game preferences, you either change them or quit. Putting go-getting PCs in a small town where nothing ever happens is simply torture. In such case YOU are the trouble instigator. –  jva Jan 8 '12 at 17:21
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@jva The GM gets a vote too. –  AceCalhoon Jan 8 '12 at 17:31
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@jva I disagree. The river is not suddenly calm because you don't want to get rid of the 5 full-plates you carry. The shop is not opened at 2 AM to satisfy players' impatience (driven by metagaming in some sense). –  MrJinPengyou Jun 4 '13 at 23:32

16 Answers 16

up vote 73 down vote accepted

The Obvious Answer

The pat answer is that the player is clearly signalling that they aren't interested in simulating time spent in town with any degree of granularity. They want to show up, hit sell, and get on with the adventure.

The sense of time compression may be a result of their minimizing the importance of the tasks. It could be because they feel "penalized" when they're told that a task takes too long. Or it could be that they're concerned that they'll be caught in mid-task if it takes too long.

In any event, it seems clear that the player isn't that interested in sitting around in town for too long. Is this something that you can compromise on?

A More Useful Answer

All right, so we all hate the obvious answer.

In my games I've always worked the abstraction. I go around the table, and each player tells me everything they want to do at a high level (i.e. "sell my stuff, and look for magic armor +8"). I tell them how long it will take (and what rolls are necessary), and give them an opportunity to modify their request. Then move on to the next person.

Once you get an idea of what everyone's doing, sprinkle in role playing scenes and random encounters in montage fashion. Just avoid springing anything that's likely to interrupt the overall process.

This is essentially the same concept as crafting. You wouldn't let a player give you the blow-by-blow of their crafting session to save a little time. The same applies here.

Increasing abstraction does, necessarily, decrease the opportunity for role playing. It doesn't eliminate it in this case, but it is something to be aware of.

Introductions

The real problem you're going to have is changing how you've been doing things. Players are going to have a hard time going from doing something in a day to doing something in a week, even if there's no mechanical difference.

Step one is to communicate with the players.

After that, give them useful choices when it comes time to make their rolls. If they want to sell something faster, give them a range of options (you get full book value if you wait several months; half if you sell in a nominal timeframe; quarter if it must go now).

If a roll is required, give them the option of increasing the difficulty to accomplish the task in less time (i.e. base time one week, subtract one day for every five added to the difficulty). Failure means a reroll, resulting in things taking longer.

And bribery never hurts... If nothing else, giving them something they couldn't otherwise get through taking extra time (a bit higher sell value, a cheaper price, and so on) can help swing things in your favor.

Some More Thoughts

Sleeping on this, it occurred to me that human beings actually act like this all the time. We strive very hard not to be idle during our daily lives.

The big difference is that we favor low-activity tasks that give us biological incentives: We savor our meals, engage in idle conversation, read books, watch TV, sleep late, etc.

The gap you're seeing between "realistic" behavior and what the PCs are doing is because they've stripped out all of this idle activity. Why? Because they're not receiving the real-world incentive for this sort of thing (dopamine, endorphins, etc.) and these activities are extremely boring to roleplay.

The Urban Campaign

One of the key assumptions of most of the above is that in town means downtime. Encounters continue, but the assumption is that these encounters will usually be more socially oriented, less threatening overall, and unlikely to disrupt the ongoing processes of town life.

This lets players fudge their sheets a bit. It doesn't matter whether you have that new sword yet or not, you can still take part in what's going on without holding anyone back.

Campaigns with a heavy urban component violate all of these assumptions. Players need to be in top form at all times, because a top-tier encounter could happen, or a thread could pull them out of town on short notice.

In this case, waiting a week for an item to be found gives the players an awkward choice:

  • Be actively looking for the item for a full week. Sit idle while the rest of the group enjoys a week's worth of adventuring.

  • Endure pointless red tape. You've picked the item you want, you've probably paid the money, you've made the roll, but you can't update your sheet until the GM nods at you some arbitrary point in time later.

  • Get the item right away, but "say" you're taking a week to get it. Wha..?

In any case, that's a lot of annoyance for a pretty small gain in verisimilitude (or a really weird drop in verisimilitude for no perceived value).

Urban Solutions

While it's harder to do, there are still a few things you can try to mitigate these tendencies.

Employ Gating

Give the players a buy limit. They're free to buy whatever they want, as long as its value is below X. This will tend to lead to periodic frenzies of buying, making it easier for you to lock down the game world, and decrease the problems listed above.

Whenever you increase the buying threshold, treat that as downtime, and abstract it as described above. Minimize active top-tier adventuring, and let the players go nuts.

The goal is to get everyone buying at the same time (so hopefully the players aren't poking the game world), and to have the game world stop poking them back long enough for them to get their items.

Skinned Gating

I'm still having trouble groking your full situation and requirements, but for the sake of posterity here's some notes on skinning a gating system. I don't think this will necessarily work for you; it requires periodic lulls where the game-world isn't actively trying to get the PCs attention. You can come up with individual reasons, but there's no really good general-purpose reason for this (although it's worth noting: If your game world is constantly poking at the PCs, that may be part of the issue).

Step One: Establish the gates

The first step is to divide the items in the game into different gates. Most DMs use gold-piece value (i.e. a buy limit) because a. all buyable items have one, and b. it's roughly equivalent to how powerful the item is.

That said, you have other options. Some systems support legality and availability codes for individual items (Shadowrun and D6 Star Wars come to mind). You can, naturally, come up with ratings of your own.

Step Two: Apply the gates to your players

Most DMs simply leave the gating itself up to the players. "You can buy anything up X gold-pieces;" "You can buy anything up to availability 3." This has the advantage of decreasing the amount of player/DM bandwidth (a very limited commodity), but can feel kind of gamey.

You can soften this up a bit by keeping availability somewhat secret ("That's a highly regulated item"), and having the players ask for it.

You can also use "soft" gates to make things feel a bit more organic. An at-gate item might be a nominal difficulty, a significantly below-gate item an easy check, and an above-gate item extremely hard.

The down side to these techniques, of course, is that they occupy table time. The upside is that they make things feel a bit more organic and mysterious.

Step Three: Advancing Gates

There are several different techniques you can use to explain a gate advancement. Here are a few examples. I'll tend to use numbers in the explanation, but you can of course use in-world explanations.

  • Location, location, location.

    In our little town, you can only get availability 3 items. Make the trip to the capital and you can get up to availability 6. Find a safe route to the lost city of the dwarves, and you can get availability 12 items!

    This is particularly effective if the goal is to move the players around over the course of the campaign.

  • New blood in town

    As the story progresses, the players' influence may result in the city becoming more favorable to merchants (either legitimate or not-so-much). Or perhaps the city is simply growing over time (depending on your setting). Either way, an influx of new merchants or the establishment of new trade routes could be used to explain a higher gate-level.

  • Powerful allies

    NPC wizards, craftsmen, nobles, or merchants helped or extorted by the PCs could all be used as an explanation for a higher gate level. Either through crafting the items directly, allowing access to vaults, or by using their connections to import the desired items.

  • Licenses

    If you use legality as a factor in item availability, you can turn the acquisition of licenses or special dispensations into quest hooks of their own.

Change your magic paradigm

In your description above, it sounds like you're leaning towards the "magic items are special and unique" school of play, while your players are leaning towards the "magic items are an integral part of the character" school of play.

You could always try yanking the dial all the way over to the "magic items are special and unique" school, and eliminate the ambiguity. Players don't shop for magic items... They encounter them in quests and adventures.

If you go this route, be sure to give the optimizers something to replace the magic items they used to find easily (so they don't feel less powerful as a result). Something along the lines of the "inate bonuses" concept in D&Doid games.

As usual, communicate, let the players know that things are changing, etc.

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Accepting this answer as there's a lot of good stuff here. Not sure it will solve my problem, but at least it's the most complete attempt. –  mxyzplk Jan 23 '12 at 21:19

It looks like they're being irrational more than anything: "Yeah we are up at 3AM, so...?" so as you said hand waiving won't do anything. They want in-game results, with out of game expectations. Here are some ideas to bring them back to reality in-game.

  • Curfew: Because of the disturbances they cause the local watch has had to enforce a curfew. The upshot is, they have to do business in the day time. It's important this is very strongly enforced otherwise the issue goes from "How to break down doors at 3AM" to "How to stealthily break down doors at 3AM". Let them get locked up if their caught, wasting more of their time. Don't be too harsh though or they'll start to resent your choice to lock them up for that long rather than their choice to be idiots. Show them being irrational is negative because it wastes time.
  • Limited suppliers: Because of when they're up shopping (late at night) they only have access to thieves and thugs to deal with. Make some of the deals false 'cos that's how crime works, get them mugged. Get them locked up for stealing stuff (better yet the person who's item has been stolen thinks it them. Don't make this a shop owner, make it someone who's close the girlfriend or the crime lord). Show them being irrational is negative because it severs ties.
  • Give them a reason to speed up: Tell they have to go now, to save a damsel in distress. Right now. Yes, they can speak to people, but nothing will be ready. When they're back in 2-3 weeks, then it'll be ready. Better yet, they missed that quest, and now the dragon ate her. Maybe next time they'll get their priorities right.
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Going to bounty this one because it's the highest rated answer that stays within the sphere of in-game simulation. –  mxyzplk Jan 23 '12 at 21:22
  1. Talk to the player. I know computer games {cough... skyrim... cough... fable} let you wake up people in the middle of the night to have plot conversations, and in some cases sell items. Call the player outside of game (or ask him/her to show up half an hour early) and ask the player point blank why they are doing this. What are they trying to do by acting like a jerk? Likely he has not thought through his actions. I worked in retail for years. If someone stayed after closing "time" and was not showing signs that they were going to buy something or leave we would lie to them and say that we had to close by (whenever was less than 5 minutes from the reminder), otherwise we would get in trouble.

  2. Punish the character(s). If they keep up their crazy antics, shopkeepers will still open, but will come down in their nightclothes. They will sell their items to the players, but at much higher prices (I'm thinking 4X more as a starting point). They will buy from the players, but not for more than 1/4 retail value. If the players KEEP going to the same shopkeeper in the middle of the night, I'd have the shopkeeper go to the guard during the next day and report that he believes they are vampires (which may start all kinds of fun drama if you want to play that). He'll then tell his fellow shopkeepers that your players are the Undead.

  3. I ain't opening even for all the gold in a Dragon's Hoard! If the above does not sink in, have the shopkeeper just say "No, it's the middle of the night, please leave." Based on where they are (outside, or inside the shop) they can either start breaking universal laws, or modify their behavior (even if it is to say that particular shopkeeper is a jerk and never shop there again).
  4. ZZZZZ They can keep poking and prodding the shopkeeper, but they just won't wake up.
  5. Give the horse his neck, within moderation. I recall reading that many blacksmiths are not open during bright sunlight hours because they need to be able to detect small variations of color in the metal. But they are typically open from a few hours before sunrise to mid-morning, and late-afternoon until whenever the fire starts to die down. Sure, they may be in some sort of shop during those "missing" hours, but more likely they are taking a long siesta out in a field somewhere. Sure, the blacksmith won't mind doing business at midnight because he's finishing up his workday at that point, but try to interrupt his siesta, and you are likely to make a man who can bench-press you VERY angry. Taverns are open all/most of the night, if the weaver is having a (few) drink(s) at 3am, he may be willing to talk a little business, but he'll have only a few coins for his night's drinking and will say something like, "sounds like we may have a deal. Why don't you swing by the shop tomorrow after I open the shop and we'll settle up the sale."
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Call them at 3:00 a.m. to ask why they are doing this >:D –  edgerunner Jan 21 '12 at 23:04
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+1 for "Those guys who only shop at night? Yeah, vampires." and for charging a premium on midnight service. –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 17:40

Looking at what you've written, I'm guessing the players want their characters to be doing something productive all the time. So, what you want is to offer activities which are a) useful in-game, b) take up lots of game time, c) take up little real time. To achieve a, you may need to offer some actual in-game reward to make them feel it is actually productive, but perhaps it doesn't need to be big.

I offer three suggestions:

  • Training: Give a small xp bonus for time spent training. The bonus depends on the amount of time spent training.

  • Work: Offer the PCs opportunities for some boring part-time employment. E.g., hiring on as bodyguards for a week. Just because they have the job doesn't mean the target needs to be attacked during that time. At the end of the week they get paid, but they can't go randomly stirring up trouble around town while on the job.

  • Crafting: If the PCs have crafting skills, they can spend downtime making stuff. Don't require that time spent making items be all at once. It could be a day here, a day there, adding up to enough to make the item. The item could be sold or be useful during adventuring.

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Good problem analysis, that might work. –  mxyzplk Jan 9 '12 at 14:31

I have two thoughts on the matter.

Would you consider hand waving? When the players are in town, why not just say that over the course of two days they buy and sell whatever they need and it doesn't matter if that happened at 3am or high noon? If it does matter to the players how quickly things went down, let them declare that they went out at 3am, pissed off the shopkeepers who raised the rates, and then spent 45 hours twiddling their thumbs.

Are you sure this is a player problem and not a PC one? I've seen several instances where a PC's impulsiveness becomes contagious and the rest of the party gets really enthusiastic about whatever half baked plan they haven't quite finished coming up with. It's not all that different from your average episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

In either case I think you're running into a game expectations problem. If the players are choosing to play PCs who are impulsive and highly active, I think that says something about what they want their hero to do. They are communicating to you that they are interested in playing highly effective people who never quit. I think you should accommodate them. (Don't compromise your game though. Let them wake the armorer at 3am, but have him act like someone who was woken up in the middle of the night. This will help remind them that their characters aren't behaving like normal people, which is something they want.)

If it's a problem of players being impatient my best suggestion is to talk to your players directly. They might have ideas for how you can keep up with their pace without throwing out your setting's realism.

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Well like I say I tried to introduce hand waving, they're like "that's great now we walk out the door and go to the bazaar!" And I'd like to just treat it as impulsive characters, but really I've seen this across campaigns and systems and even groups - the "wound-up killbot" approach to hanging out in bars isn't that uncommon in my experience. (Convention gaming, I saw it a lot.) –  mxyzplk Jan 8 '12 at 7:47

If the PCs are acting crazy, have them be treated as crazy. Crazy and armed.

If they're harassing NPCs at three in the morning, have the NPCs respond in an intelligent way. Give the PCs their money back, tell them the deal's off, and ask them to leave.

Maybe they'll realize they're being irrational when no one in the town wants to do business with them at any price.

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I have not been able to take any time to answer this. And some of the answers are decent. and on top of that I hate getting in late to a question. And I am at work.

but...

but that's a handy example I have that shows the syndrome. PC impatience vs. the realistic pace of the world.

I'll take this at face value....and tell you that consequence is your best friend. GMing is sometimes an exercise in behavior shaping, by playing your part in having the world responding with in-game logic to the behavior of the players. Someone above in a comment said it is your job to accomodate your players. I disagree. Strongly.

And I play a similar ideal where town time is played the same as or more than 'adventure time'. I think I am actually a bit of a mutant in that, but I really believe in Players adventuring for a purpose, not adventuring as an end in itself.

Showing up anywhere at 3am uninvited will cause LARGE issues. Kicking in doors at 3am will get the watch on you...and the part of the watch that is used to dealing with high-power clients.

I use a lot of social cues and social rolls in my game; players that upset one guild become persona non grata with allied guilds.

Rarer items mean tougher merchants and smaller supply levels...if there is availability at all. And even with Writs of Worth (no one carries around 10k in coinage...that is idiotic) and a banking system, that kind of money does not move around that quickly.

One of my groups (or the 2 or three people left from that time period) cannot go to a certain trading outpost without being attacked because of their actions there, and the guilds that own that post have sent word so that the pcs are know anytime they show up in that guilds shops in other towns.

I hope that was some help. You normally have good questions.

edit! I forgot the tax man!!! Damn! http://celtricia.pbworks.com/w/page/14955655/Igbar%27s%20Taxes this is one example in my main cmapaign.

it is a nice way that the players can declare clearly that they are doing things legally or illegally, and to deal with the consequences.

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Being met at the gate as unwelcome invaders, with massed militia and ballistae, would certainly be an entertaining consequence. –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 17:36
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"oh, we DO remember you....indeed." –  LordVreeg May 11 '12 at 0:21

In the case of your Reavers campaign with its pirate theme, being 24-hour party people may not strike the players as being in need of a change. You mention, however, that the players act this way regardless of the setting/tone of the game and regardless of the character being played, citing it as a factor of their regular play style: no wasted time.

Regardless of the reasons for this behaviour (and I agree with you and AceCalhoun that it is likely tied to or sourced in feeling penalized by delays and other issues of downtime) I think ypu are already doing most of what you can do in-game to make the All Systems Go All the Time approach less attractive. As the idea of normal shopping hours should be obvious to all players, I eould lean most heavily on the use of fatigue as it is really not shopping or being active that is irking you, but the desire to do it nonstop.

Fatigue

Even in a pirate freehold people need to sleep sometime. It may be that the entire economy of the port has shifted to a "late in the day, and most of the night" model, but at some point during any 24 hour period there is a time when most merchants and local people are simply not doing anything but sleeping. The first few days in port, letting the PCs go, go, go just makes sense. Realistically - as you say, who wouldn't want to enjoy every moment of their time on dry land after stinky weeks aboard ship? Track their activities like you'd track hit points and when they hit the big flannel wall of exhaustion, let them know. If they want to rob Peter to pay Paul by staying awake via potions and other concoctions... great! That entitles you to even more player-spawned drama later.

If you are pulling the fatigue rules out as a last defense, then perhaps bringing them into play strictly from the start will help keep things going more smoothly. As always, balance this small dose of realism with the fun side of limitation.

Normalize Now

The other issue, that of "I want to do this NOW" but the character is approaching this at the wrong time of day, without the right information, is a recipe designed for forcing you to say, "No," or "Yes, but..." and if that is all the player hears, and all you can ever say to the player, that gets old very quick - for both of you.

To mitigate that, I would adjust arrival times so that they make port/arrive in an urban environment at times of day when NOW happens at a more reasonable hour so you have fewer reasons to reject requests out of hand, or have the characters earn an unwelcome reputation among the local merchants.

An additional idea is to allow for seasonal adjustments of daylight hours so that from time to time they have loads of extra shopping and marauding hours.

Personal Review

Going over your play reports to see if you have a regular habit of interrupting long delivery times with adventures may be helpful. Players may have adapted to your play style by refusing to accept delays in delivery as a method of ensuring they don't have to wait 1 week + the duration of one or more life and death adventures before they can pick it up. Delays from time to time are realistic and fun. Knowing that your order will be accessible months of real time after you were interested in it, every time (or close enough to be relegated to the status of "every time") is either going to become a fun in-joke, or just frustrating. Players either adapt new strategies to address what frustrates them, or quit. You may not be being unfair, but the players may have tunnel vision on this issue.

If all else fails

If that does not work well enough, then I guess you may be reduced to once again having to take the player(s) aside to explicitly clarify that you aren't out to get them, but that the world you have made has clearly established norms with which the ongoing behaviour clashes, and you'd like to know what the player is trying to communicate about their character with actions that not surprisingly start out with such a low chance for success...

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Thanks! Re: Personal Review - They've definitely had times where adventures interrupted delivery. Sometimes those have been inevitable (they know they have something time-pressing to do and only have 24 hrs in town, but want to put in an order anyway). But sometimes it's that they put in an order and then go provoke everyone in the city until an adventure erupts in response. Re: arrival times, it doesn't matter when they arrive because they just keep going; it really only determines what time of day it is when the coma finally finds them (in the Q I mention that fatigue is my final recourse). –  mxyzplk Jan 9 '12 at 3:56

A long wind-up, but the question is, how do I get PCs to accept the need to be patient and "let time pass" instead of always acting like insomniac monkeys on crack?

You haven't provided much background about how your campaign is structured, but perhaps there's an expectation mismatch between you and the players (especially the vocal one). You mention that you are running a pretty realistic world, from which I infer that as a gamemaster you enjoy creating and managing a world that has internal consistency and a sense of believability.

If the players are interested in something different, like a game world that mimics their favorite computer game, in-game tweaks may not get at the heart of the matter. As a long time GM, my feeling is that you're just as entitled to enjoy the game as your players. But it can be difficult for you and the players to create a fun game if you're looking for different things.

It sounds like you've already discussed the implausibility of what your players are doing, but you may want to kick it up a notch higher and explain to them that the time you can devote to prepping and running your game is finite. The fact that you don't want to spend valuable game time managing absurd 3 am discussions with the neighborhood fletcher is perfectly legitimate, even if you strip out the in-world rationales. If they can't respect the notion that your function as GM is not to cater to every bizarre whim, they may settle down. If they don't, your gaming group may have a larger problem.

I salute you for trying hard to find a solution that keeps both you and your players happy. Best of luck.

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Get at the root of the problem

Unless you understand why the players behave the way they do, attempted solutions are more likely to produce unintended consequences than of desirable behavior. Are the players trying to make the best use of available time? Are they impatient to get rewards they feel they've earned? Are they worried about getting dragged into something new before they're prepared for it? Do they simply not realize that people need consistent business hours and rest to get things done?

Use carrots, not just sticks, and explain why you're using both

While punishment is a useful tool, it's also responsible for a lot of screwy behavior. Rewards are better motivators, because they direct people toward a particular behavior. In contrast, punishments cause them to avoid certain behaviors, but that can just lead people to attempt increasingly weird alternatives that you also wish they'd avoid. In both cases, players often make very bad assumptions about what behavior you're trying to reward or punish. That results in weird compulsions and aversions that can have very little relation to what you actually want. (Pet owners and parents are very familiar with this problem.)

In particular, beware of accidentally punishing good behavior. If the players are rushing because they're afraid of getting caught with their pants down, avoid putting them in positions where they'll regret doing what you ask for. Nothing causes bad behavior like mixed signals. Once you establish a normal pattern that rewards good behavior, then you can occasionally introduce complications outside the usual risk/reward system.

Establish rules

Now for some specifics! You can use some or all of these ideas, depending on what you learn about the players' motivations and what really needs changing.

Set business hours and biorhythms

People are most productive when they keep a set schedule and don't work too much. A twelve-hour workday is probably reasonable for a medieval fantasy setting, and it's a convenient abstraction that lets you limit characters to half work, half rest. It's also easy to break into fractions like half-days (6 hours). In my own games, I usually specify times in half-days and quarter-days rather than counting minutes and hours.

This allows for a very simple fatigue system: If you work outside your normal schedule at all, you suffer a negative level while you work. If you get less than a half-day (6 hours) of rest, you suffer another negative level that lasts until you rest properly (a full 12 hours, during your normal rest period). If you push yourself for multiple days, you get another negative level for each rest period that you miss.

For NPCs, this essentially means that they will not work outside of their regular schedule unless forced or handsomely rewarded, and even then they won't be as effective. There's no point to dragging somebody out of bed in the middle of the night; you'll only make them angry and delay any work they might do for you.

For PCs, this means that they can only do productive “work” – including shopping and other business deals – during limited and consistent hours. You can let them choose their own rest schedules; smart players should choose something that overlaps well with the kind of NPCs they do business with. Don't apply this during adventure time – you can assume that adrenaline carries them through – just to mundane tasks like crafting and legwork. Encourage the players to describe what kind of fun things they do during the rest period, like carousing, so that they feel like they're doing something and not just twiddling their thumbs.

If you need to establish rules for changing your rest schedule, figure that it takes about a week. During that week, they need to get a solid 12 hours of rest every day at the new time. If they don't want to suffer any penalties, they'll need to get rest according to their old schedule and the new one.

Keep track of attitudes

Use the NPC Attitude system to your advantage. Most vendors should start out Indifferent, although they may be Unfriendly or Hostile if the players develop a reputation. (But let them start with a clean slate – don't do that unless they keep it up.) Friendly and Helpful vendors can give the players more leeway about things like unexpected visits, put a higher priority on PC business (see below), or even offer discounts. Unfriendly vendors may charge more or act passive-aggressively. Hostile vendors may refuse business entirely or even sabotage the PCs.

When the PCs behave badly, it puts a strain on the relationship and can shift NPC Attitude. Pounding on the door in the middle of the night should drop the Attitude by a full step (and a new vendor will probably start out Hostile). A good excuse can mitigate this, but “I want it now” is not a good excuse.

Prioritize NPC business

NPC vendors have regular customers with established relationships, and they depend on that business to make a living. Unless the PCs are offering enough money for the vendor to retire, nobody's going to risk their livelihood to accommodate them. While a Helpful vendor might drop everything else for an important job, you can assume that it takes at least a couple of days to even start on new work. The PCs may be able to request a rush job (for an additional fee), but if they get pushy, the vendor might refuse the job (or worse). Ideally, this will reward the players for building good relationships with vendors and discourage them from making pointless interruptions.

Require legwork

If you don't already have a business relationship with the right kind of vendor, it takes some time to locate one, especially if you're looking for somebody who will cater to exotic requests or work in the middle of the night. Establish how long it takes to track down the right vendor and set up a business meeting: I recommend a quarter- or half-day depending on the size of the city. You can also offer “fixers” who will set up deals for you for a finder's fee (e.g., 10% of the value of what you're looking to buy or sell). The PCs will need to do legwork to find a good fixer, but after that he can do the legwork for them.

This rule gives players something to do with their time (or money) and also reinforces that it takes time to get things done right. If you also use the biorhythm rule, legwork counts as “work,” not “rest.”

Discourage counterproductive interruptions

Interruptions hurt productivity and relationships. The first time players interrupt a vendor (including fixers), warn them that interruptions will only delay results. If they persist, each additional interruption can shift Attitude down by one step, add a quarter-day to the delivery time, or both.

Encourage downtime

Reward the players for actually taking downtime. Encourage them to say what they do during rest periods, whether it's drinking at the inn or taking an actual vacation. Give the PCs plenty of time to relax, where they don't need to worry about work or money or world-ending catastrophes. In one campaign, I told the players up front that adventures would only come along about once a season (three game months). They were welcome to seek out adventure proactively in the meantime, but if they wanted to kick back, craft magic items, build castles, whatever, nothing bad would happen. I wasn't sure how it would work out, but the players really seemed to appreciate the lack of urgency in the overall campaign.

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Excellent answer! I frequently reference the position of the sun when describing a scene to my PCs, and I make interesting things happen when they take downtime. I never have a problem with them wanting to retire when we reach the day's end. –  called2voyage Mar 12 at 19:22

Let me answer a bit different question - how do I accomodate my PCs being insomniacs on crack?

  1. DO NOT give them downtime. Even if it does not take up real session time. Yes, that might mean more preparation for you.

  2. If you do give them downtime, be prepared that they absolutely will come up with things of their own to do. Even if it will waste real session time.

  3. If you try to limit them coming up with things, be prepared that they will try to route around it. And there is more of them so they will have more ideas than you (as a GM you should know that already). Know also that curfew, ghetto neighbourhood, plague, severe weather, etc. is invitation, not limitation.

  4. If you absolutely must give them real in-game downtime, they better spend it without any possibility of social contact (locked inside a well that is in the middle of a deep forest on an uninhabited island in the middle of the ocean). That at least will somewhat limit their options.

Edit: some teaching instead of preaching.

Let me give some examples on how to let the PCs release some steam while also indulging your need for some temporal verisimilitude.

  • If a PC wants some specific item crafted/delivered, he must do something in return (kill some goblins, find a missing relative, vandalize competitor's shop, provide escort for a shipment, etc). Now there are things for PCs to do and additional plot hooks abound.

  • PCs should never have to wait for very-important-NPCs (prince/archmage is out of town). If the NPC is so important, he should have appointed someone to be in charge during his absence. That someone should be competent enough to take care of immediate issues (subarchmage/prince's main advisor). If noone has been appointed, the important NPC probably is not that important and substitutes can be found.

  • If PCs want to find some information, there should be specific NPCs that they can go to (tribe's shaman, thieve's guild, village's gossip club). That takes out the unspecified loitering part and gives them someone "real" to talk to. If that NPC gives an estimate on how long it will take to find out, he can also give a wink to how much should be paid to speed things up. 10gp after a week, 70gp tomorrow, 700gp by noon. Or he could give advice on who in the town needs things done while they wait. He, after all, is a person that knows such stuff.

  • If the PCs want to do business at weird hours, there should be seperate shops that cater to such needs (insomniac shop keepers, blacksmith that is of species that does not sleep, magical automatons that work around the clock). Make them mark up their price accordingly. 100gp in business hours. 200gp after midnight. Revers for selling items.

  • Do not make PCs search for a specific buyers for magic stuff. There are several ways to solve this.

    • There are shops that buy all magic items. They were set up to solve this exact problem. They all use universally accepted price mechanism as set up by your system. Shops that stay open during night might use a different price system.
    • If PCs are selling magic items to obtain different magic items, let them craft it themselves by disenchant/enchant rituals. They can even do it during weird hours and noone will object.
    • Get rid of magic item selling altogether by giving usefull items as part of loot. It might seem cheesy, but do give it a try. It might require some adjustments to encounters. Mage needs +2 staff but adventure says the boss has +2 greatsword? Boss has an arcane lackey with a staff or vice versa.
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I didn't see it mentioned, but you can always say that anything beyond simple replenishing of staples like food/arrows & other basic staples requires an email between sessions and tell them the results along with what they need to do to finish the order if it's going to need anything special when the next session rolls around.

Another possibility that I'm not sure is the case, but I figure it's worth mentioning is that one of theplayers might be trying to help you by trying to interact with merchants and suchlike. I know I've gone out of my way to do so in games where the rest of the party seemed to be in a grab hook from NPC they will ignore>runaway & kill/steal their way to the objective making the GM resort to what basically amounted to a powerful npc stepping out of a portable hole whenever a new hook needed to be added or to direct the group in the right direction at which point they would dash off to repeat the process of kill/loot/steal to objective with as little interaction as possible. If it's just some of your players really pushing for something like that, it might not hurt to have a private talk about things.

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Something you might want to try is having a shopkeeper call the gaurds and the entire group gets kicked out... maybe after a couple of times of players X&Y not getting their items because player Z is going crazy maybe the players will force him to calm down through peer pressure

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Welcome to RPG.SE! interesting solution, not sure if it would work, but it might be worth a try if you want the burden of correction on the players. –  wax eagle May 9 '12 at 15:53
    
This is a good point for groups where not all of them are murder mavens - like here in the US, if just one of your gang of robbers kills someone, you're still up for murder 1 during the commission of a felony... Guilt by association could provide peer pressure. I like this better as an answer to my "murderous cretins" question actually. –  mxyzplk May 9 '12 at 18:42

Handle this out of game. Just ask them for a list of what they want and send them back what they buy if it's available.

If something is unavailable because of plothook, tell them that the item is unavailable and give them a hook of what to investigate and why.

This means usually that pcs can't buy things in the middle of an adventure, but lessons their frutration.

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You will note that I explain I tried to do this in my question. –  mxyzplk May 12 '12 at 15:56

How well does your group accept things not going their way? For example if someone buys a item at 3AM and wakes up to find it's useless would they quit the group? I think you have to consider the mental make up of the group before what you decide to do.

If you have a group that doesn't like ambiguity, I would I would just let the players know before they do something a specific chance of something going wrong, and let them roll for it -having to pay for the roll up front. 1 - item is cursed, 2-4 useless, 5-6 what they paid for.

If they are like me and can handle some surprises, do the roll in secret and let them find out when they are in a fight if the item the paid for was worth it.

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You've got a handful of issues it seems. The easy one is dealing with the whole RLD your PCs seem to have. What's RLD? Rapacious Looting Disorder. :P
Then there's the clear Cocaine Addiction of the one PC.
Finally, there appears to be the same PC's (and player's) requirements for Custom Magical Bling.

RLD

To deal with Rapacious Looting Disorder...

Step 1 Buy Shadowrun. Or borrow it from a friend, it's hardly rare. Doesn't matter which edition, though 3rd I know has more rules on this, and 5th tries to minimize it (albeit in theme, and the reasons may be worth considering).

Step 2 Read sections on "Fencing Loot." Also "Contacts." Maybe watch Firefly for some hat-tips to the process. "Fencing loot" is criminal parlance (honestly, probably law enforcement parlance) for selling stolen goods. The process can be similar for items difficult to sell for whatever reason, including the seller's unfamiliarity and lack of contacts. A "Contact" is someone you know or have contact with who may be willing to provide you with capabilities (goods, services, etc) based on some personal relationship (vs an anonymous NPC).

Essentially it runs like this: For a given item, your contact is going to give you a certain amount of money based on their ability to sell the item at a profit after considering storage, legal entanglements (and if you don't think that's an issue in High Fantasy, look up "Sumptuary Laws" and similar social class based clothing issues in history... all those noble titles mean something, after all). You're generally making a fraction of the legitimate price; 1/3rd is doing very well indeed. Various social rolls and relationship ranks can play into this depending on version.

I wouldn't say it discourages looting, but it reduces the profit for it by creating a mini-game (or subplot, depending on your perspective) to handle the natural consequences and concerns of goods which may be illegal for you to own or sell, or which may have a vengeful former owner('s clan) interested in their whereabouts. That magic wand you got from the vampire you killed, for example, may indeed be worth a king's ransom... but it may also hold sentimental value to a passel of bloodsuckers, which would make the pool of deep-pocketed buyers (and deep-pocketed middlemen aka fences). After all, a fool and his money are soon parted. The head comes shortly thereafter

Step 3 ??? (aka adapt these sub-systems/minigames to your chosen game system.) This is where you pick some dice, pick a trait to compare them to, and roll 'em to determine how much money your players can get and possibly how long it takes.

Step 4 Profit! (aka implement, advise players, and move forward playing your newly hacked tabletop!) You profit not in gold pieces, but in fun at the table. There you go, you've just taken selling loot and transformed it from being a trip to the vending machine into a fun little interaction scene with some dice rolls and meaning.

Step 4 may be aided by reviewing this article: http://angrydm.com/2013/08/help-my-players-are-talking-to-things/ This is an excellent article (part of a great series) about running engaging social scenes. I'll try to summarize this extra information, which is not necessary to run a scene, but you're really doing yourself a disservice not reading this article.

In summary, NPCs will have Objections, and the players will need to provide sufficient Incentives with which to overcome them. If all your PCs think about is gold, this is simple and you have a boring scene of saying "Manny the Merchant isn't going to pay more than ten gold for the crate of enchanted Orcish weaponry."

If your players are creative, though--and it's partly your job to inspire that creativity, in my opinion--you turn this insipid visit to an NPC vending machine into an awesome night your players reference for years to come with lines like, "And then Paul's bard says to Manny, he says, 'Oh, you haven't even heard of Elvish Whiskey? You're gettin' lucky tonight!'" and "I can't believe we let Manny talk us into panty-raiding the Duke's harem! We totally forgot about the dungeon for like 6 sessions, it was stupid-awesome."

So which do you want? Stonewalling your players with arbitrary rules about looting? Or your players running a panty-raid on the Duke's harem to get that last 5 gold out of the merchant?

Cocaine Addiction

Alright, now we deal with a player who hardly seems to respect the boundaries of time and the limits of human(oid) physiology. Sure, you can deal with this by enforcing fatigue rules. From your description of the problem, though, I get the feeling that the "stick" approach doesn't work well with this guy, so perhaps you adapt this into being something unique about the character. Cocaine works, but might be a bit too low fantasy for your needs. There could be a number of supernatural afflictions/blessings that could come over a character.

Vampirism comes to mind right away as an example, and may be a great form of poetic justice: now he can do all his trading at any hour of the night... because that's the only time he can, and you've got rules showing what happens when he doesn't.

Doing similar things for other players could help soothe any hurt feelings (and just might be awesome anyway). For example, have the shadow torn from a character who's always trying to sneak everywhere, giving him some obvious mechanical bonuses and an interesting little trait for NPCs to pick up on... Oh, and then have that shadow stalking the party from then on, causing everything from minor annoyances to major hazards.
Is someone always killing prisoners, beheading every foe, etc? Give them a dread aspect, a supernally tinted mien which neither friend nor foe, stranger nor sister can ignore. Bonuses to intimidation and fear checks, but penalties to some social interactions?
Mage has too many magical rings? Brainstorm with them what the traits of a shirt of literally magical-ring maille would be like.

Custom Magical Bling

With this I go full circle. So someone in the part always wants some custom-made magical bling for his adventure, and expects to get his Boots of Flying Over Ice But Not Fire +7 (to what that +7 is, he's not telling you) right freaking now if he flashes enough gold.
Incorporate that, too. I understand, you're in low fantasy, so it may take some work... but some infernal fence who can be summoned like Beetlejuice would work wonders for this and RLD. Of course, everything comes with a price. Maybe he's Rumplestiltskin (in Once Upon a Time), maybe he's The Godfather. But while he can produce those Boots of Flying Over Ice But Not Fire +7 and will replace the wagon load of orcish battleaxes with a bag of gold, he requires a favor to be done before he'll perform another transaction--the first one is free, of course.

This favour isn't money, and can't likely be bought. This favour should be some quest, some journey or goal. Maybe it's concrete one time: He needs the panties from the Duke's harem, and everyone has a good laugh. The next few are little random-seeming things. The next time, however, he needs the hair of a particular Wight, whom the PCs find to be an ancient princess. Pepper in some esoterica like "Tears of a Ghost" or some such. Given time (and declaring some things to be red herrings after the fact), you can develop what his actual goal is and turn this friend into an over-arching villain (or was he http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GoodAllAlong ).

Adjust this all to taste, of course. I've utilized versions of these to admittedly mixed effect over the years. Much of that was a problem with not being on the same page with my players though.

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Answers should be self-sufficient whenever possible. Links go dead, and "read X entry in Y book" isn't much better. Can you edit your answer to summarise the point you're hoping these references will make, so people can get a sense of how useful, relevant, and actionable the answer is without having to go out and buy something? –  BESW Oct 28 at 0:29
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External links and additional reading are welcome in answers which are otherwise self-sufficient, but ease of access to the external resources doesn't make this answer self-containedly useful. You're advising the querent (and all future inquirers) how to do their own research parallel to yours, rather than sharing the fruits of your own research and experience (which is what SE is about). –  BESW Oct 28 at 23:16
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So all this is interesting, though I'm not sure that it actually addresses my core question. Note it's not 100% about buy/sell and it's about the high pressure trying to make everything happen immediately even in the middle of the night when "things take time." I do incorporate the buy/sell into the roleplay, which doesn't seem to be helping. –  mxyzplk Oct 29 at 3:18

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