Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mission Time

Scarlett: You know the drill?
Ripcord: Yeah. Circle the area and listen for your beacon on channel 23. If we hear nothin' in 30 minutes we consider you dead and report back to the Flagg. 
Scarlett: You don't have to like it.
Ripcord: Good. 'Cause I don't
G.I. Joe: Resolute, Episode 6 (Watch it here: Adult Swim or Youtube)

This dialogue struck a chord with me because I've been thinking a lot lately about mission time in D&D and how it can be leveraged in play. The 10 minute adventuring turn is just as fitting for tracking small unit military ops (appropriately enough, perhaps, given the game's history), as it is for the "heist style" campaign I'm working on. 

Why haven't adventuring turns been emulated by more RPGs? Or have they? I like to think of myself as having a pretty broad experience with the hobby, but while I can easily think of games put concepts like abilities, character classes, surprise checks, and so on to good use, I'm drawing a blank on systematic use of adventuring turns. Even D&D hasn't really used them since pre-2nd edition. Has anyone emulated this kind of structure? 

My sense is that it hasn't been used by many games. Maybe it's a side effect of taking the game out of the dungeon. Or, if staying the dungeon, playing more of a "kick in the door, kick some ass" style game than an exploration and expedition style game. Maybe it's because skill systems have absorbed some of the work -- it can take a variable amount of time to carry out a skill check, depending on the skill. But even then, it seems like a lot of games don't offer much in the way of benchmarks for how much time passes with a skill check, with a few notable exceptions. 

The James Bond 007 game would be one exception. It's a standout game for a lot of reasons, but one reason is that it manages to include a base time for each skill (which is then modified by degree of success), with skill entries that include information like: 

Demolitions: 12 minutes. 
Lockpicking and Safecracking: 3 minutes for lockpicking; 15 minutes for safecracking.
Stealth: 1 minute per 50 feet travelled. 
Seduction: Anywhere from 5 minutes to a lifetime.

Millenium's End is another game that gives some information about time associated with skill use. But neither one builds in a default adventuring turn structure like classic D&D. Does anyone? It seems to me that a 5 minute "mission turn" would be a good fit for a modern game, and where appropriate, skills could fairly easily be given a base time in terms of 5 minute mission turns. If I wanted  to run a "military adventure" campaign (i.e., GI Joe), I think I'd personally want this kind of information handy. 

As referee, I like to be able to set up the basic situation of the mission, maybe including a map, some information about key rooms, and some patrols, and then let the players decide how to deal with it. Adventuring turns with associated skills would help make this kind of play work well without relying entirely on ad hoc judgment calls about how time passes. Now, the ability of a referee to make ad hoc rulings is a basic part of what makes RPGs so flexible, of course, and I don't see an adventure turn system as something to replace that. I think of it more as something to provide a background rhythm and set of shared assumptions, something that helps everyone stay on the same page and helps the referee make consistent rulings about time. 

For a lot of play styles, this may not be a big deal. But for running heists, military operations, spyjinks, and expeditions into hostile dungeons, I think it would be very valuable.