Friday, August 4, 2017

Time Gone By

Despite Gygax's admonition about meaningful campaigns and strict time records, the games I've participated in don't show a lot of evidence that anybody is doing this beyond the tactical level. In some ways, I feel like this is a miss opportunity and I enjoy media with a "sweep of history" or strong chronological grounding. It isn't really an issue in drop-in adventuring, but it makes a campaign feel more real to me.

That said, I don't usually pay enough attention to it myself when I'm gamemastering. There are always other things to think about. Sometimes I do, though. In my Weird Adventures campaign, I was able to construct a timeline, not so much from clocking downtime activities but from time references within the adventures, and the length of time they took in-game. Holiday themed games are a help in this (two Yuletimes past in that game).

My current Land of Azurth game is a good bit looser, partial because I want to capture the "time runs different/timelessness" inherent in inspirations like the Oz books. While I typically narrate some passage of time to have occurred between the adventures (we only game once a month), I've also drops hints that time "runs strange in Azurth' so they might spend a longer or shorter subjective time on an adventure than what time has passed for folks back in town. This allows me to have a fairly static status quo at times--or to shake things up. For instance, the party return from one adventure to find an election cycle passed and a new Mayor elected--and a new group of heroes the toast of the town!

How about you? Kept really strict time records or done something interesting with the passage of time in your game?


trollsmyth said...

This is something that's become a big deal in my 5e games. If the PCs go up a level every two or three sessions, and they don't spend a lot of time travelling to adventure locales (my first 5e campaign was largely urban), it's easy to take the PCs from 1st to 10th level in less than 50 in-game days. Especially if you successfully create a sense of urgency in your campaign. Heck, even when I ran something a bit more traditional, the entire campaign was completed within a single in-game year.

I'm not sure what to do about that at this point. Characters speeding from 1st level to 10th within an in-game year feels wrong, but I love the urgency my players feel for in-game events.

Scott Anderson said...

You can't have a good combat without rounds.
You can't have a good dungeon exploration without turns.
You can't have a good adventure without days.

Why would you try having a campaign without a calendar?

Jay Dugger said...

"Well, as initially pointed out, it is a necessary penalty imposed upon characters for certain activities."

I found it very important to keep strict track of time in a two-year campaign of Vampire set in modern-day Chicago.. Players better understood the importance of avoiding daylight when they could look up the times for sunset and sunrise. After the introduction of werewolves the lunar cycle mattered as more than a special effect because players used it to plan attacks.

Travel time, even in the modern setting, had more meaning because it affected the opportunities different player groups enjoyed. From actual play, two groups of PCs intended to investigate Milwaukee from their Chicago home. The group that air-freighted themselves got stuck at Mitchell International during a "terrorist attack," while the group that drove north along I-94 suffered an attack en route. Knowing which PCs arrived when and where let me divide the werewolves blockading Milwaukee in a consistent manner.

(For the record, the FedEx specials hid out while the main werewolf force took a beating at the airport. The road trippers stopped to pick up a "hitchhiker." They spotted the ambush and came out of their car with silver bullets flying.)

"Beyond that, it also gives players yet another interesting set of choices and consequences."

The game had about a dozen players, and such strict timekeeping helped keep the campaign moving forward at a good pace. Unfortunately, it did not work well with all players. Players who had an agenda for their character found it very easy to play in this style. In two cases, all I only had to say the in-game date and time, and ask "What does your character do?" In other cases, with passive players, I had to field complaints about "nothing ever happens to my character."

Finally, real-world settings make a calendar very easy. You simply look up the date, time, and if appropriate, weather for the play's location. This is just as easy as using a virtual globe for the describing a real-world setting in play. Applying this to a fantastic setting takes more work, and in some games doesn't make sense. The timelessness of Faerie, or even modern fairylands such as Oz, or the setting of the Phantom Tollbooth. Time travel games require calendars too, but that's left as an exercise for the reader.

Jon Bupp said...

My "time keeping" more closely follows yours Trey. Though I do wish that I could keep better records. It kind of flows along with other resource management currently in my game and is pretty much "hand-wavey". I do tend to more of a heroic or epic style.

Back when I started DMing, I did keep strict track of time. So much that I had a clicker counter that I would use to count off rounds, turns and days. That was when I ran more megadungeons, so time and resource management were more important.