How Long Should an Encounter Last?

I’m very concerned with using the amount of time we have to game effectively, as I feel like the game framework and rules can have a big impact on this.  My question for the readers here is how long do you expect a normal encounter to last?  Do you want to spend two hours or one hour?  30 minutes?  15 minutes?  5 minutes?

8 thoughts on “How Long Should an Encounter Last?

  1. wylliamjudd

    15 to 45 minutes

    If it’s like an epic castle siege that’s been built up to for many sessions, then 2-4 hours is fine for one encounter, but generally I want my encounters to be between 15 and 45 minutes. Less than 15 is not really an encounter IMO, more of exploration/roleplaying.

  2. Andy

    I voted for 30 minutes but agree that certain epic/boss encounters can go much longer than that. A random encounter just meant to provide flav

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      It’s really really hard for an encounter to take less than 15 minutes. If you have 5 players and a GM, each person is getting 2-3 minutes max. This is also an area of the game where I’m really weak. If something seems significant, I’ll let it play out for quite awhile.

      For a combat, there would need to be practically no decisions to be made since they would use up too much time. For each person to, one-at-a-time, declare an action, roll the dice, verify the result, and move on, we’d have at most 2 rounds of combat. The HP would need to be very low and/or the damage very high for characters to be truly threatened in two rounds.

      The solution is to make these combats more generic, like a skill check to resolve the combat (5 min combat). That’s probably not what we want either, so something in the middle for those side encounters?

      I want to make combats more efficient, so I’ll need to think on this a bit.

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  4. Brian

    I’ll say 30 minutes or less for a typical encounter (see bad guys, kill bad guys) with variations adding time as necessary. When your turn is up – you should know what your goals are and how you are going to accomplish them. If the rules/mechanics are simple enough and the players “good” enough then this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. And at some point you should know how many attacks you get, what your modifiers are, your damage dice etc

    Next session we have I’m going to time some of our encounters and get a point of reference.

    also – shot clock (for knowing what you are doing perhaps not the time to implement)? time up then you delay at least until the next initiative is done
    Perhaps shot clock based on what “mode” you are playing in?

    shot clock me next session and if I go over I’ll default to just shooting at something with my crossbow 🙂 or delay.

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      It’s interesting, because that’s a major focus of a number of events at Gencon. Because of the convention setting, the game ENDS at the time, so if you haven’t completed it, you don’t get the award/points/what-have-you for finishing. Turns have to move quick.

      The upshot of this is that you get more gaming in if everyone is conditioned to be deliberate about their turns.

      Of course, sometimes the debate/discussion is part of the fun – but as a general case, you can speed up your turn mechanically without losing anything from the game other than killing downtime and adding to the tempo.

  5. Andy

    Well, I’m also of the opinion that one thing our group doesn’t do extremely well is that we use big resources in minor encounters with the assumption that we’ll have time to rest somewhere down the road before another encounter. I’m not sure how we haven’t died yet because of it, but I think it’ll happen soon.

    My assumption on the 15 minute encounter is that we don’t have to put much thought into the fight. Its generally a fight we are going to win, the only question is by how much. Because of that, it SHOULDN’T take that long to act. Obviously this is different if the fight has a really high chance of killing us. A fight like that will never take only 15 minutes. I’m not very good at setting a fast pace either. I’ll try and concentrate on that next session. IMO this is harder with the cleric because a lot of what I’m trying to do is fix the other party members’ problems, so one person’s turn could dramatically change what my highest priority item is at the moment.


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