Saturday, June 5, 2021

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

 One of the things Gary emphasized most strongly in the DMG was time records have to be kept. And they must be accurate.

He was correct, of course.

But why? and what does this mean?

Here is an example from my main campaign, Seaward. Seaward's calendar consists of 13 months of 28 days each. Rather than use in-game names, I'll number the months and use real world names for days and such. Each players has 4 characters of various levels roughly split into groups we'll call High Level, Low Level, the Nobles, and the Scouts. Hold on!

It is the beginning of the year, New Year's Day. As the DM I know the following (all from the past, so no spoilers)

1) The Orcs have received all the signs that a new Overking can be selected. The shamans will need 3 months of rituals before the various orcs that want to rule can start searching for the regalia.

2) The former paladin, now cursed bad guy Whitehill has completed gathering followers. He will be moving through wilderness areas, raiding for supplies as he goes, until he can reach the Eastern Wilds to build a fortress. Getting there should take him 2 months

3) The evil Jann alchemist's orders are being shipped from across the sea. They will arrive in port in the second week of the Sixth Month and will take 2 weeks to get to him in Greenbough.

4)The Kid with the Golden Arms will arrive in the Seventh Month and then spend two weeks getting to the Briars, be there for 3 months, then return the way he came.

Got it?

For the PCs the year starts with the High Level party learning from their NPC sources that the Orcs are restless and active in the Stone Hills. The Low Level party is in Seaward and hears there is plenty of guard work with merchants in the west, so leave for Ekull which will be a 10-12 day journey, depending on weather. The Nobles are anticipating the Tourney season and the Scouts are getting ready to go to the Briars to explore the trails that leave the Old Road, but the weather is bad. The players agree to 'move forward in time' so that all PCs are together in time when the Low Levels reach Ekull, which I determine will take 12 days. It is now two weeks into the year, the 14th of First Month.

The High Level party, in Oldbridge, decides to go to Skull Mountain. They spend a week provisioning, ten days to get to the mountain, and then 6 days in the mountain, then return (to Esber, 7 days. This takes 24 days so they are now on the 10th of Second Month.

The low-level party does not want to sit around that long, so the next adventure the Low Levels (still on the 14th of First Month) spend 5 days looking for work, wait 2 more for the job to start, then guard a caravan to the Four counties, then Timberlake, then Seaward, then back to Ekull. With stops for the Spring Fairs and such this takes them 29 days, for a total of 36 days, so Low Level group is now on the 22nd of Second Month.

The Nobles are literally sitting around, practicing and waiting until the Tourneys.

The Scouts go into the Briars, explore trails, rest, return to Esber for supplies and such, return, over and over for 34 days and are on the 20th of Second Month.

The party agrees to it and all groups are now 'together in time' on the 22nd of Second Month.

For various reasons all agree to wait until the start of Tourney Season, in Fourth Month about the 14th. This means I have plenty to do with NPCs!

Whitehill arrives on the East and spend 2 weeks finding a suitable spot for his castle. It will take him 3 months to clear the land and then a year to complete the castle (with magical help). The Orcs are now scouring the Stone Hills looking for the clues to find the regalia and become overking. The High Level party is told the Orcs are even MORE active.

The Nobles start the Tourney and follow the entire tourney schedule. One of them wins Jousting and the party meets the King! The Tourneys take a loooot of time so by the time the Nobles are back in Oldbridge it is it is 1st of Seventh Month.

Low Level group decides this is a perfect time for some soloing. The mage takes time to level up and then does spell research to 'invent' a spell. This will take them 11 weeks so the mage is now in 15th of Fifth Month. The Fighter decides to travel to High Morath to visit a sage to try to learn the command word of his new magical armor. He also levels up first so this will take him 14 weeks total - he is on 8th of Sixth Month. The thief and cleric also level, each deciding they will spend time with the Guild/with monks respectively.

High Level asks Scouts to scout the Stone Hills. They do so and have a series of encounters with orcs and learn they orcs are all on some sort of scavenger hunt. The Scouts also find an old, abandoned Dwarven mine and explore it. They rest and recover then return to the mine, eventually clearing it out. This plus levelling up for one of them after takes them 13 weeks total so they are on the 1st of Sixth Month.

High Level group goes back to Skull Mountain, spending one more day in the mountain than the previous expedition., meaning 26 days (withe weather) so they are on the 20th of Third Month. The High Level decides to buy an inn withing Esber and take time refurbishing it and turning it into a base. The players agree to all 'move forward' so everyone is on the 1st of Seventh Month.

This means the Jann alchemist has his supplies and is now working on his plans. Whitehill has totally cleared the area for his castle and construction is underway. The Orcs are getting closer and closer to finding regalai and being united as a single nation. And in just a week or two the Kid with the Golden Arms will arrive.

Talking to the players the High Level Party has heard from sources that something odd is going on in the Eastern EWilds, but since Midsummer at Skull Mountain is something they investigate every year they put off travel to there for now, instead asking Scouts to check it out. The Nobles decide to investigate, as well, but independently. Low Level wants nothing to do with the Stone Hills right now, so they hire on with another caravan.


While this may read as banal, even boring, it is actually hyper-critical to the DM.

Why? Because a tremendous amount of the intellectual and emotional engagement in D&D is generated by the resource management elements of the game. Just as in real life there is no more critical resource in D&D than time. With strict time keeping the players are required to make hard choices about where they focus their attention and resources which demands they evaluate priorities in a shockingly different way than if they have all the faux time in the world. Imagine your own life if there was no time limit to pay the electric bill, etc.

Just like torches that only last an hour, making every day (heck, every turn) matter forces the players to be much more engaged with your campaign world. Think PCs value henchmen to carry more rations underground? Imagine how valued they’ll be to make sure the horses at you keep don’t starve to death, or to go on a side mission your PC very literally doesn’t have time for.

1 comment:

  1. The codified progression of time and the careful recording of the actions within is one of the reasons I like Birthright. Progressing time has meaning and weight, and decisions are made and tracked when they occurred.

    As a player I never felt I had more agency when playing Birthright. I always thought Gary was talking about verisimilitude, but really he was talking about player agency (of which meaningful verisimilitude stems).