I'm trying to understand D&D a bit before taking part in a forum based game.

A turn lasts 6 seconds for each player right? Or is it 6 seconds total and everyone acts in the same time? (Which sounds strange to me.)

If my rather charismatic bard rolls 1d20+8 for a gather information check, it takes 1d4+1 HOURS to complete. So does that mean I can't do anything else for christ knows how many turns?! Surely by that time the party would have moved on!

I'm so fuseconned!

Edit: The forum system is RPOL.net, I assume from the games I have seen, it plays exactly as if table top, except that you just post...whenever. The question is essentially about the core mechanics and not specific to the forum based platform :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I have done so. The question doesn't relate to the platform. More the core mechanic of time based actions and turns \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30, 2013 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Though it might not seem like it relates to the platform, with pbp or pbem, it really does, as the rules can be somewhat different depending on who is DMing, and how they are handling the system/combat; even if you're playing 3.5, the DM may have a different idea for his particular game as to how this operates. I'd pose the question to your particular DM for a more accurate answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Aug 30, 2013 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ A fair point @wraith and thanks. There do seem to be a fair portion of threads with "House Rules"! From those that I've seen, it's just minor tweaks so I see your angle. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30, 2013 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/21461/… \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Sep 2, 2013 at 4:39

3 Answers 3


Yes.... and No. Your confusion is about how timing is handled in RPGs.

Typically the 6 second rounds only are used during combat or other time critical events/encounters. In the general course of gaming, you dont need to specify what you are doing in every 6 second block. Sometimes you act in 'real time' when conversing with an NPC (though perhaps not so much in forum based gaming). Other times your group may say 'we're spending the next 3 weeks doing X', and the whole game moves forward.

The only time you'd be sitting around not doing anything would be if the party was split up, and they others were involved in a combat that you werent part of. Then you'd have to wait around. In most groups I've seen that isnt terribly common.


Those are round during combat. When you're in combat things slow down hugely and the action is tracked in detail at the resolution of rounds. You don't use combat rounds for just wandering around, looking at things, and talking to people.

Elsewhen, you just play and time passes in a sensible fashion ("Ok, so you're going to take some time to research in the library? Hey GM, while that's happening I want to go to the bazaar and look for a buyer for this glowing amulet I found…"), or under the explicit direction of the DM ("You get rooms at the inn? Ok, you spend a peaceful night. While breaking your fast in the common room the next morning, there's a commotion outside and the door bursts open…")

If this is your first time roleplaying, think of it as a conversation you're all having about what's happening. That default way of handling events is still used by D&D the vast majority of the time – it just has extra rules about how to handle time during combat to make the order of events clear and regulated in a way that's hard to achieve with less structured conversation.


Initiative and rounds are used only during combat or other situations where precise timing is crucial. Otherwise, time moves “narratively” – it may move faster or slower than the time you, the player, are spending playing.

As for combat, a round is six seconds long. Remember, in theory you are playing as an actual person, who is actively fighting other creatures, often for everyone’s respective lives. No one is waiting their turn. The turns that you take are an abstraction for the purpose of allowing the game to run smoothly. If you win Initiative, it’s not that you actually complete all your actions before anyone else can do anything; it means that you have a slight edge, where your actions are all taking place just before others’ actions. Dungeons and Dragons abstracts this to turns to make it easier to keep track of.

Other systems don’t have turns, but instead list how long any given action takes and you have to keep track of the characters’ simultaneous actions; this is more realistic but combat takes longer to run.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "it’s not that you actually complete all your actions before anyone else can do anything; (...) your actions are all taking place just before others’ actions." Slightly confusing wording here. Is the distinction between "complete" and "taking place" (as in "begins" I assume?) \$\endgroup\$
    – leokhorn
    Aug 31, 2013 at 9:11

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