Examples of timers



Hi folks,

I’m trying to import the concept of Effort and Timers into my OSR game, but my creative well is running dry. All I can think of are things like (a) reinforcements come in 1d4 rounds, (b) 1d4 troops spawn every round, and (c) something goes boom/ritual is complete/victim is sacrificed in d4 rounds. I want more variety, but, perhaps due to mental exhaustion, I just can’t think of that many.

Do people have examples of timers beyond this? Can people share their process for looking at an environment, either combat, trap, or “talky”-RP, and coming up with a timer for it? (Also, this was suggested as a similar post to mine when I started writing this, but that has more to do with the game mechanics, and I’m talking more about in-world examples.)



In my opinion, the key to a good timer is context and the use of player knowledge. Do they know what happens when the timer is up or no? Do they have perfect information about the outcome or no? Those are largely contextual, but those questions can help a bit.

  • “The druid’s curse will thicken their blood as to sap, and gnarl their flesh into wood to become an ash tree in their grove, as others have before. Wails through the transformation are heard as far north as Velstead. You’ll need to absolve the hex within seven days or your friend will become a home for crows, eternally in agony within the heart of the tree.”

You can have Timers that players can alter the timer on:

  • “The Portal is closing, the fiend is getting away!”
    “Hold fast, I’ve a trick that might keep the way open, but only for a moment! Are you prepared to follow wherever it leads?”

It’s okay if players don’t know the outcome of a timer, but you can immediately see their investment in the timer when they have a little information in it. If you tell them guards will be there in d4 rounds they will react to that somehow. If players just watch you put a d4 on the table and count it down without any knowledge of what it is they won’t really know what to do with that information.

You can use Effort to show relationship status if you plan on characters interacting with certain NPCs over a longer period of time. Say there are several organizations in town that your players want to earn favor with to gain information, climb the ranks, or have access to certain assets in their possession: during RP scenes where players are positively influencing their position have them roll CHA Effort to see how they might improve their status. If players do work for a rival organization, their accrued Effort in one might be lowered by their improvement in another. You could roll CHA Effort:

  • After doing a mission for the faction

  • After an RP scene with leadership of some kind that turns out to be favorable

  • Doing something that somehow assists the goals of an organization (that one might be important for organizations the players aren’t directly related to, but are watching how the players are affecting them)

All of these CHA Effort ideas are really sandbox-y and rely on being in a more urban setting for a bit to see this come to fruition. That’s no big deal if you like some political intrigue and some real blades-in-the-dark kind of stuff. :slight_smile:

There are tons more, but I hope that gives you some ideas!


Not exactly on topic…and there is a YouTube video on the topic. But here is a couple of previous discussions.

Interesting discussion on concepts, with links to related topics.

A great list of timers

As to how to use…start by always having a timer present. It might represent the day in 6 hour segments. But when it really matters…it means something is about to change…that change can be anything, but it’s up to you to keep it interesting.

Last Flight of the Red Sword…is a great intro to timers… but you can have a D4 inspire fear and foolishness by your party…add to the pressure…

OSR is odd if you are playing it to be retro, timers might be a bad idea. However if it is to have a simple rule set that makes sense and there is a ton of source material of support…then they fit.
Timer…traps…hell have the players roll it.
Can equal…
Rounds till room fills with water, sand,…
Turns until the fire following oil gets to that barrel right next to us.
Rounds till the river goes up by that many feet…(camp near water will you!!!) total of 5 rolls of the D 4.

What 2 hour segment of the night something interesting passes the camp.

Rounds bad guys will let pass still and silent after a broken twig sound as they approach the hero’s campsite. They are watching the camp to try and pick out movement to see who is on watch.


Over the years I’ve come to use timers to push the narrative forward more than anything.

PCs enter to find the location they have been walking toward is under siege by countless enemy mooks or minor enemies. maybe 1d4 more spawn every single ROUND

Roll a 1d4 timer

during this time they are trying to learn what is happening. Who is attacking? Does any NPC nearby know why? They fight and learn possible new mechanics on what the enemies do. Do they explode when they die? do they use poisons? that kind of thing.

timer hits 0…move the narrative forward

The boss enemy shows up, breaking out of the mayor’s estate holding an important item/hostage revealing their true intentions with the siege.

Roll a 1d4 timer

The boss is trying to escape with whatever they acquired and this is the time the PCs have to stop them from escaping or reclaim that which was taken. Maybe the boss has synergy with the mooks they encountered with the first timer and their knowledge they learned helps them overcome this synergy. Lesson and Exam logic.

timer hits 0…move the narrative forward

A giant dragon/bird/airship shows up to pick up the boss and the stolen thing and they escape if the Players were unable to stop them in the previous timer.

if they did stop the boss and reclaimed the stolen item/hostage then have another event resolve instead, maybe reinforcements show up for the town and drive away the mooks and victory is achieved. Something that progresses to the next scene or story event and not drag out the current one any further.

I personally write a list of narrative points using Runehammer’s Social Encounters formula

1.)where you have the vanilla “as written” story
2.)the favorable outcome, a bonus or reward
3.)negative outcome, consequence

and then you’re just reacting to whatever awesome thing your players do so they guide the story instead of you dictating it.

This is how I’ve been using timers lately and its been very effective for my group. Don’t be afraid to let your players fail. Failure isn’t just a TPK, failure is letting that boss escape with that hostage/artifact. Failure opens so many more doors to your campaign. Just my 2 cents.