This is a question about how to track time during a (mega-)dungeon delve, especially concerning the granular spell durations of 3.X D&D.

So in the older editions, time during a delve is tracked in turns. Simple enough: A turn takes x minutes (10, I think), and all significant actions in the dungeon take 1 turn - searching a room, walking down a hallway, disarming a trap, etc.

All 1 or more turns. Roll for random encounters every x turns. Simple and easy.

Now come the buffs of the PCs. I can just use turns in 3.X as well, but then the players will call foul: Their buffs now run out much faster. Technically it is possible to track the time of every action, but that's a nightmare at the table.

My question is: How can I track time in a Pathfinder game efficiently without counting every action and not too much work at the table, but without cheating my players out of their spells?

Thanks in advance, guys.

The point is that players attempt to conserve buffs by e.g. arguing "This or that only takes 1 action". Conflict arises when I tell them that completely searching a 40x40 room takes more than 1 round. My ruling stands, but they keep attempting it, and it gets tiresome.


3 Answers 3


Another answer I'd read last week (maybe here, maybe on GitP) pointed me to the article Hacking Time in D&D by the Angry GM that addresses this topic in some detail, and is a great starting point.

It covers so much that it'd be difficult to summarize here, but some key highlights are:

  • real time != Game time. Trying a task ad infinitum, or waiting for hours, in game is easy for the players, but characters would (and should) experience boredom and monotony
  • introduces a time pool mechanic to track such mental fatigue
  • ties this mechanic to the passage of time in blocks that roughly map to spell durations

I think it'll prove useful, and the Angry GM blog in general is a gold mine of information for GMs.


Use real time unit

A round is 6 seconds. So 10 round is a minute.

Ok you can go look at the corner and comeback, but it will take 10 minutes to do so.

Be sure to inform your players about time flowing.

Roll for random encounters every x turns.

Well I guess it is a matter of style. I send encounter when I think it is relevant to do so. But once again using real time unit can be helpful.

Well you hear soldier footsteps coming ahead. They will be here in 5 minutes.

To track time, use a timer or a basic clock during roleplay exchange. Keep in mind that Real time is Game time when you want it to be. Even if most of the time it is not.

A good narrative weapon is Ellipsis. Feel free to use them.

You locked the door from inside and for the first time you feel a bit secure. You take the time to breath. You are sure to be left alone until you decide to go out. What do you want to do?

Ok. It will take 10 hours. Have some rest.

6 hours later... You are doing your stuff. Wait. From the outside, someone just knocked the door!


Track time only in regards to player searching. For anything shorter than a minute, disregard that time.

A normal skill check takes a round. (so you would ignore it)
Taking 10 on a skill check takes 10 rounds. (or One Minute.)
Taking 20 on a skill check takes 20 rounds. (or Two Minutes.)

Time spent searching rooms comes down to 1 check per cell in the room if they're doing unspecified searching. So if there's a 40x40 cell room, complete with things to search and points of interest, if they just wanted to say.. check a suspicious barrel in the room and see what was in it.. sure. One round. Negligible time. But searching a 200 x 200ft mausoleum with sarcophogi lining every wall down to the last cobblestone if taking 10 would take 16000 rounds for one person (or 1,600 minutes, or 26.6 hours), and if you're taking 20, it would take 3,300 minutes, or 53.3 hours for one person. There's a reason archaeologists spend hundreds of hours dusting down and spending time in ancient buildings. They want to make sure they find all of the things there.

Your spells would have long durated by then. And even then they would have to deal with wandering monsters or pre-planned encounters. The best way to handle this is to roll a d100 to find out when during the long search their thing happens, and use that estimation to determine if their spells have durated (or what kind of schedule they'd like to keep up when refreshing their active spells). If you roll a 40 on the d100, the event takes place a little before the halfway mark of the middle of your searching session. If they have eight hour buffs, They'd need to refresh them three times or choose to cast them at the beginning of a round when danger rears its head. If they're attempting to stretch out a short duration buff like Owl's Wisdom to an entire search? Pffff. Not gonna happen.

Time spent moving between rooms takes average party Move speed / distance to room minutes if the characters are actively searching as they move. So if a room is 60 feet away, checking the corridor for traps as they moved down it would take about 2 minutes. Doing so while taking 10 takes about four minutes. Doing so while taking 20 takes about 8 minutes.


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