On The Passage of Time

In the real world, calendars and holidays are super important (as I write from a house filled with friends and food). In our games, in the words of E. Gary Gygax from AD&D, “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.” So time should matter. It makes the world feel more real.

And yet, we play our games to focus on the exciting and the escapist. The much derided Papers and Paychecks reduces our RPGs to spreadsheets and actuarial tables. The idea of a time-spanning game has always appealed to me, but having successfully run a somewhat anticipatory campaign, I’m not sure it mattered much. Alek suggested a really good idea of a cultural game (where each character is the exemplar of their people, and the game follows their evolution). Unfortunately for the idea, the average D&D game hits twenty levels in twenty days. Fighting that tendency is hard.

One way a DM can make time matter is to provide time-based quests. Examples include:

  • It takes 2 weeks to get to the town nearest the quest location
  • It takes 2 weeks to get from the nearest town to the quest location
  • The quest-hook is provided during a festival or other celebration
  • The quest location is only available during a festival or astronomical event
  • The quest involves a moving location (a ship, a marching army) before it reaches a goal
  • The rewards for the quest are on a sliding scale, depending on how quickly it’s completed
  • The rewards for the quest are on a sliding scale, depending on how long they can be invested before harvesting them
  • The rewards for the quest are more valuable at a specific time or place
  • A prophecy involving an NPC (or PC!) aging (becoming an adult, becoming married, having a child, dying)

These options make time matter and reward keeping a busy social calendar.


    Happy new year!


    About lackhand

    I was born in 1984 and am still playing games, programming computers, and living in New York City. View all posts by lackhand

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