Timekeeping in Numenera

Keeping track of time is one of the more important GM duties. Believable (as opposed to strictly accurate) passage of time is key to maintaining players’ understanding of what’s going on in the game, both in terms of what happened when, and how long things take.

I hate tracking durations of game effects when I run a roleplaying game. That’s why, whenever possible, in Numenera things have durations that are either long enough or short enough that you don’t have to keep track of them. As the corebook says, a duration of 1 minute is usually long enough to last the rest of the encounter, so you don’t have to worry. (On the other hand, I’m not a fan of using “encounter” as a unit of time, because it varies too much, and that variance is based so strongly on PC actions.) If an encounter is really, really long, the GM is free to have a 1-minute duration end before the encounter does–whenever feels about right for the story, because a Numenera round does not have a precise length. Intentionally so.

(As an aside, I actually don’t like tracking anything. That’s why Numenera artifacts have depletion rolls rather than “uses” or “charges” to keep track of. As little bookkeeping as possible is my goal, particularly for stuff that might extend from one session into the next.)

But back to keeping track of time. Sometimes, particularly for new GMs, the idea of figuring out how long in-game actions take can be confusing or daunting. This is particularly true because sometimes an activity is played as an encounter–with every action and event spelled out–and sometimes it’s handwaved. For example, if the PCs are going to talk to the Aeon Priest for the first time, that entire encounter might be described and every bit of dialog conducted at the table. The fifth time they go talk to the Aeon Priest, the PCs might just have a single question, and it’s all done as exposition, so the GM says, “the Aeon Priest tells you that no one’s seen the missing automaton for three days,” and that’s it. Very different at the table, but probably more similar in the game world.

This, then is a handy set of guidelines you can refer to regarding how long common actions might take in the game:

Action                                                           Time Usually Required
Walking a mile over easy terrain                                 About 15 minutes
Walking a mile over rough terrain (forest, snow, hills)          About half an hour
Walking a mile over difficult terrain (mountains, thick jungle)  About 45 minutes
Moving from one significant location in a city to another        About 15 minutes
Sneaking into a guarded location                                 About 15 minutes
Observing a new location to get salient details                  About 15 minutes
Having an in-depth discussion                                    About 10 minutes
Resting after a fight or other strenuous activity                About 10 minutes
Resting and having a quick meal                                  About half an hour
Making or breaking camp                                          About half an hour
Shopping for supplies in a market                                About an hour
Meeting with an important contact                                About half an hour
Referencing a book                                               About half an hour
Searching a room for hidden things                               At least half an hour,
                                                                   perhaps an hour
Scavenging for cyphers or other valuables amid lots of stuff     About an hour
Identifying and understanding a cypher                           About 5 minutes
Identifying and understanding an artifact                        At least 15 minutes,
                                                                   perhaps 3 hours
Repairing a device (assuming parts and tools available)          At least an hour,
                                                                   perhaps a day
Building a device (assuming parts and tools available)           At least a day,
                                                                   perhaps a week
Monte Cook
Monte Cook

Monte Cook has written hundreds of roleplaying game products, along with numerous short stories, novels, nonfiction titles, and comic books. He is probably best known for his work on such notable titles as Planescape, Ptolus, the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (which he codesigned with Jonathan Tweet and Skip Williams), Arcana Evolved, and of course Numenera and the Cypher System. He is a cofounder of Monte Cook Games, and is our lead designer.