Behind the Screen: A strangely relevant burning question…

2007 December 31
by Dante

Being very close to the new year, I’ve gotten into several discussions today regarding how we demarcate and track time. This question entered into my brain once again as I sat down at the keyboard tonight, and I got to thinking about the relative difficulty of tracking time within a roleplaying system such as D&D.

It marches on, but sometimes at different paces

Often within our campaign, we accelerate segments of our time line or intentionally mask others (in the case of capture, drugging, or imprisonment) and this can pose some very sticky situations when it comes to tracking and measuring the time of year, or even the time spent on a given task.

This all becomes even more sticky when we start actually manipulating the time line of a campaign artificially, through time travel, deity intercession, or other means. When I am running our sessions, I do not sit with a “calendar” and mark off what time of year it is mostly because there are more important elements to be considered during a gaming session most times. In rare circumstances where seasons, dates, or other influencing factors make time relevant I usually task one of our players to perform the “measuring of days” task for me or I rely on our co-DM to handle that.

What to do when things change

In the cases where we artificially mess with the time line, I often come out and explicitly state any perceived changes in the season using the weather as a barometer. If the players happen into a city, they can easily derive the year, month, or day with a bit of investigation but I often leave it down into some form of NPC interaction to add a little more interest.

There are many different ways you can handle marking time and communicating changes in seasons, but I am curious to hear what methods and what levels of detail that you use in your campaigns? How much attention to this is too much, and how integral is the time line to your plots?

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