Time Chips

A while back I noted that we were going to start making use of poker chips for tracking various things, particularly hit points. Though we haven’t played as much in the past month or so as we would have liked, we have managed a few games here and there with the chips, so here’s a quick update.

Honestly, the hit point tracking idea hasn’t seemed terribly useful. Though we’ve tried it, the results have been nothing to write home about. Though combat isn’t uncommon, the vast majority of our playing time is spent in exploring, not fighting, and the amount of damage being taken isn’t so great that a quick tracking aid like poker chips makes much of a difference. I can still see with a large number of players, each with their PCs hit points laid out at the table, that it might be nice. But not for our small games, which are often one-on-one these days.

However, one place where we’ve been liking the chips has been in tracking time in the dungeon. We’ve been using red chips to represent turns and black chips to represent hours. I keep five red chips behind the screen, and as we play, I simply add one to the stack at the appropriate time. When it’s time for another, I put another black one out and pull the five back.

You've been in the labyrinth for 2:30

You've been in the labyrinth for 2:30

What this does is make it easy for me to track it and makes it easy for players to be aware of the passage of time. No more “What do you mean we’re getting thirsty? We’ve only been down here an hour, haven’t we?” after four and a half hours of dungeon delving because the players haven’t been keeping track or paying attention and no more “It’s getting late. You begin to wonder if maybe it’s time to had back to the surface.” from me when I see that they’ve been down there for eight hours and need to nudge them into realizing that they’re probably getting ready for a break.

Now, they can see time pass and if they want to overstay, that’s their call.

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8 Responses to Time Chips

  1. Timeshadows says:

    Nice idea. I may have to use that.
    –Thanks. 🙂

  2. ze bulette says:

    i think this is a great idea and like the fact that you only update the players awareness of time every hour – do you set an alarm or just watch the clock? it certainly seems more elegant than a simple pen/paper notation – really the beauty here for me is in the drama/act of slapping down another chip, even if you do it in an understated/low key way.

    • Kilgore says:

      I’ve actually been putting the turns out lately, too. So the players can better judge how long things are taking.

      Only showing hours can be interesting, too, and I’d figure it was time for a new torch and that was how they were marking things.

      Doing it in an “understated/low key way” really adds to things, I think. The PCs should be able to have a rough “feeling” of how much time is passing, with things like torches helping keep it in line. Just placing chips in the middle of things (either on the hour or by turn) can help simulate this vague sense of time.

  3. Telecanter says:

    I agree, helps DM manage things while also building tension for players. Two thumbs up.

    • Kilgore says:

      Thanks. It’s funny you mention tension because I think it REMOVES potential tension of surprises that it’s suddenly dinner time, but it actually ratchets things up a bit because they can “feel” how long things are taking as they see the chips pile up.

  4. GamerDude says:

    This is an awesome idea. Just out of curiosity, how do YOU track time in the dungeon? In the wilderness?

    For me it’s usually distance traveled, in both cases. But I’ve heard a few different methods and I’d love to hear what you’re doing.


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