Death Timer Idea



Like a lot of us, I’m excited about Arcane Library’s Shadow Dark.

Many of the reviews on YouTube focused on DS’s implementation of real-time torches—a torch’s light being set to a real-life one-hour timer. I have tinkered with real-time torches in the past and found them useful. Usually, in my family game that I GM, we don’t go delving underground much or just kind of handwave light restriction, but we have used real-time torches.

They add a nice sense of tension to the story.

More importantly, they help foster this mindset of, “We have to make a decision quickly. We can’t sit around lollygagging.”

I have played at tables that drowned in lollygag.

I wouldn’t want to overdue this mechanic and have a dozen timers setup, but I was wondering how to use a one-minute sand timer at the table to add some tension and quicken decision-making.

That’s when I thought of a death-timer. When a player drops to 0 hit points, instead of giving them so many rounds, what if the sand timer were flipped and placed in front of the player or even on the table next to the PC’s fallen character token?

When a PC drops to 0 hit points, the party has one-minute in real-time to save them or the player needs to roll a 20 on their turn, or it’s bye-bye amigo.

Most gamers have at least a couple of these timers from other board games in case more than one player drops.

I’m wondering if anyone has tried a real-life timer for a dying character. If so, what were your thoughts?

Do you think this would add the right amount of tension? Is one minute the appropriate amount of time? I’m open to feedback and ideas.



Agreed. I wouldn’t make a change like that without talking to the table first.

What do you mean by “put players out of the game?”

Using IRL-time for a torch is not original to Shadow Dark. We’ve found it a lot of fun. One minute might not be enough time for a death timer. What would be the goldilocks amount of time, where players can’t act and roll but not so much time that the body can just lie there?


I think the question is a matter of scale. When the torches in SD flicker out, PCs don’t die instantly.
You’d probably have to test how one minute real time helps or hinders quick decision making at the table.

My personal gut feeling would be that you don’t need a real-time death timer and that implementing it, would increase tension at the table, stress everybody out and make the game extremely unfun.

What problem does the real-time death timer solve and what are alternative solutions to that problem?


I see what you are saying and that’s an interesting perspective.
From my personal experience, I’ve seen more games drag because people are taking a minute to make a decision that would really be a split-second decision. Waiting for someone else to make a decision (boredom) is more unfun than death.
Death before boredom. That’s what I say!


I’m a huge fan of ICRPG but I have never loved ICRPG’s death timer. I’m not sure I even consider it that much of an improvement from 5e’s death saves, which I also never cared for.

That’s not to be critical of either ICRPG or 5e. Both of which I enjoy. In addition to EZD6, ICRPG is my go-to game.

But, IMO, the dying mechanic should feel unique and stressful.

The problem it solves is this…
I don’t want to be a hard-butt and always pushing the players to make quick decisions like Professor DM does with his Taboo timer. So, the thinking is that it can feel like crunch time in a certain scenario, for example, when a player drops to 0 hp.

Does that make sense? Do you have any suggestions?


Agreed, but I also think that’s a thing that can be solved by talking to each other.

“Hej folx, I have the feeling that combat sometimes takes a bit too long, because we only start thinking about what we want to do, when it’s our turn. If you’re cool with that, I would like us to think of what we want to do in our turn before it’s out turn.”

I can imagine having other real-time timers for situations like heists or dragon attacks etc.

“The security system will reboot, you have 1 hour/half an hour/15 minutes etc. before it’s back online.”
“The dragon will regenerate their breath weapon in 5 minutes real-time and will destroy parts of the city if you don’t take them down before.”

The “fun” thing about torches in Shadowdark though is, that monsters can attack them directly to threaten players, because they can’t see in the dark. The real-time torch mechanic also does not instantaneously kill players but makes their life extremely hard. I think any other real-time mechanic needs to have the same kind of stakes. If a timer runs out, things get hard but not impossible.

Take Darkest Dungeon for instance: sometimes you weigh using torches against how much stress your heroes still can take. And sometimes you decide to not light a torch to save on ressources and have your heroes take stress instead.


I’ve heard of darkest dungeon but never played. I’ll have to check it out. That’s a good point about the torches and monsters targeting them. I’ve sued IRT torches at the table but never had monsters target them before. I’ve had monsters cower from them.
Thanks for the suggestion. Appreciated!


I think this sounds like a very exciting way to do a dying timer, and would certainly get everyone’s attention. Might need to be a 5 min timer. If you didn’t want to do this all the time, you could make it the effect of one particular kind of enemy, or attack. For some reason I feel like it’d be good for a weird west Ghost Mountain type setting.


Setting or monster dependent is an interesting idea.
I could imagine doing something with a party that is adventuring through the underworld—like the IRL timer starts off with 10 minutes in the first ring of the Nine Hells and every ring of Hell that the players go down the timer loses a minute, until they get to the last pit of Hell and the timer is one minute.


That’s good stuff, it promotes pc focus, tension, running through scenes instead of pcs checking behind every impromptu tapestry and stool looking for ghosts and mimics. Unless the game is supposed to be more of a detective story. I unintentionally created similar tension while trying to plan out the session in timed brackets, not explaining to the players why I was watching the timer on my phone count down. That session I was taking average combat time per turn, per player, and had the enemies retreating based on the allotted time for that combat and not story or character driven motivations. I had anticipated so much time for investigation in this room before ratcheting up the action by this surprise to eb and flow the story but on a strict timeline irl. It was more baking than stir fry, if you will. We all had fun, but I think timing the scene seems easier to manage and prepare with similar or better results.