Time bubbling

Timekeeping is important when you’re running multiple groups simultaneously in the same world. Doing this means you get to do half the preparation, and might get to re-use preparation on a second group. It’s pretty good GMing practice for people like me, who want to play a lot, but can’t find easy ways to play a lot. Most of the advice I’ve been given about timekeeping in D&D-likes is pretty unsustainable practice for me. It’s typically this: Write down everything your PCs do every day, so that their actions impact the world that the other groups are adventuring in. It often comes bundled with the advice between sessions, game-time progresses at the same speed as real-time, because that’s the way the Gary did it and he’d run for up to 50 players!

Marcia’s Fantasy Medieval Campaigns has the best version of this (which, to be frank, is probably the intended version, those early rules can be vague): Don’t track days, track weeks. However, it’s still more tracking than I want, so instead, for my next open table campaign, I’m going to try something new: Time bubbling. If you recall my previous post on apocalypses, it’s always more fun if you tie an apocalypse into a mechanic, so here it is:

The Apocalypse

Nobody knows what caused it, but sixty-odd years ago time broke. The dead began to rise from their graves – some still rotted corpses or skeletons held together by time itself, some strangely renewed and with cruel powers. Those that lived or walked in solitude became disconnected from time. And when time disagrees with itself, entire communities can be trapped behind impenetrable walls of time itself.

The Mechanic

Whenever an individual or small group leave a larger group (such as a town or city), they enter their own timeline – a time bubble. Everything that happens when they are travelling exists on its own timeline until they return to that same town, and which point it is placed into history at that point in time, as if it all had occurred at once. If contradictory or simultaneous events occur, there is a time paradox in that location from now on (a unique quest is required to resolve a time paradox!) And there are unpredictable impacts on the ability of items or spells to function that originated in the paradox (you both have the sword of knowledge? It only knows half of its knowledge in each timeline!).

An Example

So, in this example, the Tigers of Red Larch set off on the 1st, the Band of the Silver Bridle on the 3rd, and the Party of Five on the 10th. However, The Band arrives back first, and so their adventure becomes history on the 9th. This doesn’t impact the Tigers at all until they return on the 13th, however the Party leaves after they return, and so their adventure exists in the past for them, where the Tigers does not. The Tigers get home on the 13th, impacting the Party’s adventures only 16th, and when the Tigers and the Band resume play later in the month, all three groups adventures will impact the group.


Because I can now run things only in game time, without any real-time impact, which is something I appreciate. Real-time play doesn’t work for me and my friends, who can’t play regularly, and don’t want to wait a year for their downtime magical item to be finished. Timelines don’t interact until adventures are complete.

Tricks and tips! This can also run week-by-week if you wish. I think it’s actually messier weekly, because usually sessions happen on a weekly basis, so everyone’s timelines sync up and it results in more, rather than less paradoxes. Paradoxes don’t occur very often except in the case of specific groups competing for things, and they’re a fun consequence as well, and clever groups might come up with methods to avoid them.

6th February 2023,

Idle Cartulary


Combining fast travel and pathcrawling

Honestly, if you thought I wasn’t going to come back to Advanced Fantasy Dungeons, you were being optimistic. Marcia’s Mosaic Worlds neatly matches with AFD’s counties, and then she wrote about Fast Travel using these counties, which provided me with impetus to trial an option where the words “watch” and “hex” are excised, when they never existed in the original text. And, while I’m at it, let’s incorporate the pathcrawl rules.

Travelling typically takes place on a trail in the wilderness.

Each day you travel on a trail in the wilderness, travel one county. Each day you travel on a road or along a river in a boat, travel two counties. If you have directions through impassible or obscuring terrain, but no trail or road, travel one county every two days.

You cannot travel through impassible terrain without a trail, road, river or directions.

If you travel through obscuring terrain without a trail, road, river and directions it is both unnavigable and dangerous. When you exit the county, randomly select which county you exit into. Roll twice for each die on the wilderness grid, taking the highest each time.

Each day you travel, the GM rolls on the wilderness grid. Roll 1d8 for the type of encounter, Roll d100 for what encounter, and 1d6 for when the encounter occurs. An encounter does not necessarily prevent a day of travel from being completed.

What type of encounter: 1-4. Nothing; 5. Monster Traces; 6. Monster Tracks; 7. Monster Encountered; 8. Monster Lair.

What encounter: 1-40. Nothing; 41-53. Common; 54-65. Common; 66-74. Uncommon; 75-82. Uncommon; 83-88. Rare; 89-94. Rare; 95-97. Very Rare; 98-100. Very Rare.

When is the encounter: 1. Dawn, 2. Morning, 3. Noon, 4. Afternoon, 5. Dusk, 6. Night.

For each day of travel, each character can choose one action to take while they rest, such as heal, memorise spells, prayer, or repair armour, forage or hunt. All characters can choose to force march, forgoing their action to spend 2d6 HP and travel a second county in a single day.

Using vehicles or mounts does not allow you to travel further, but limits or facilitates your ability to travel on certain terrain and allows an expanded inventory.

If you are stranded in the wilderness at the end of a session, each PC rolls to return to the nearest settlement. Roll fortune or an appropriate proficiency, against a target equal to the number of days travel to the nearest settlement, plus the number of turns traveled to escape the dungeon. For every point you fail by, choose either to spend that amount in HP or ten times that amount in GP.

Smush! This is my combined, non-anachronistic, PC-facing wilderness travel for Advanced Fantasy Dungeons! Honestly, it doesn’t appear much more complicated than the previous rules, and it’s definitely faster and has clearer stakes (although may need supplementing with a GMs guide for path rules and generation).

Paths lead to interesting places. Don’t improvise these places!

They are sometimes off the path! If they are, there is either a branch that leads to it, or it is perceptible from the path.

Always signpost paths in some way, be they actual signposts, tourism guides, maps or rumours!

Interesting things lie along the path! To identify what is along the path, roll 1d6: 1. Ruin; 2. Lair 3. Settlement; 4.Wonder ; 5. Hazardous Landmark; 6. Fortuitous Landmark. To identify whether a path continues, roll 1d6: 1-2. Detour to another path; 3-4. Shortcut to another path; 5-6. New path and new location.

Some interesting places have no path apparent! Make finding the path for these places a reward or the goal of a quest.

Look, potentially too many exclamation points, but I really like pithy principles for GMs, I don’t know why. I mightn’t incorporate this straight into AFD 0.2, but maybe I will?

Idle Cartulary

1st July 2022

Pathcrawl revised!

I invented the pathcrawl yesterday, ten years after Daniel D. invented it, although I didn’t know that until this morning. Daniel’s is more complicated, which I don’t like, but captures some nuance which mine didn’t, which I do like. I’m gonna smush them together.

Our basic tension is informed decision making versus freedom of movement. So my rules were simple to facilitate communication. Daniel D. adds complexity in his pathcrawl which leans towards freedom of movement, but is also interesting enough to incorporate:

  • Directions
  • Paths always lead places and always have interesting things on them.
  • Interesting thing generator: 1. Ruin; 2. Lair 3. Settlement; 4.Wonder ; 5. Hazardous Landmark; 6. Fortuitous Landmark. This would be even better as a region-specific d36 in my opinion.
  • Things are sometimes off the path! If they are, there is a branch that leads to it.

So, our new pathcrawl rules:

Paths always lead to pre-existing places and always have interesting things on them. Things are sometimes off the path! If they are, there is either a branch that leads to it, or it is perceptible from the path.

To identify what is along the path, roll 1d6: 1. Ruin; 2. Lair 3. Settlement; 4.Wonder ; 5. Hazardous Landmark; 6. Fortuitous Landmark. To identify whether a path continues, roll 1d6: 1-2. Detour to another path; 3-4. Shortcut to another path; 5-6. New path and new location.

There are four types of path:

Trails allow you to travel. Roads allow you to travel at speed. Conditions allow you to travel at speed but only with the right equipment. Rivers and scalable climbs are conditions. Directions allow you to travel at half speed, but only with the right skills. Maps and divine guidance are directions.

There are three types of terrain:

Impassable terrain cannot be travelled through. Mountains and rivers are impassable terrain. Lakes and oceans are impassable unless you have waterfaring skills and equipment. Obscuring terrain is unnavigable and dangerous. Forests and swamps are obscuring terrain. Deserts are obscuring without view of the sun or stars. Passable terrain allows you to travel freely. Hills and plains are passable terrain.

Travel is affected by these features:

Travel through passable terrain at half travel speed, trails at travel speed, and on roads at twice travel speed.

Conditions are impassable, except with their condition, or where they intersect with another path (for example at a ford). Unnavigable means roll 1d6 and exit via a random hex. Dangerous means random encounters are higher level and twice as frequent. Impassable means no individual can enter, without unique skills and equipment, or magical assistance.

My pathcrawl is taking shape. Clear, simple information, available to the PCs. Interesting endpoints and detours. Freedom of movement. This is fun!

Idle Cartulary

30th June, 2022

Wilderness walls and halls: Streamlining hexcrawls

Joel wrote this, about why he doesn’t prefer hexcrawls. Joel’s got some sense, and it made me think about what I don’t like about hexcrawls. Namely: As anyone who has travelled in the wilderness will tell you, the wilderness has walls and hallways. The wilderness is a dungeon.

Caradras: They’re taking a path!

You can’t just climb a mountain. Certainly not in full armour carrying weapons and treasure. You have to take a path. You can’t just cross a river. You have to ford one. Forests are impenetrable to those who don’t know the secret path. You cannot tell your direction when you cannot see the sky and are unfamiliar with the territory, rendering swamps, forests and deserts death traps.

On the other hand though, rivers and creeks are often easy to follow, given a boat, paths do exist carved by beast or person, and often roads exist paved and suitable for horse and vehicle. Plains are free to wander across, although grasses are usually long if grazing animals aren’t native.

Joel’s solution is a pointcrawl: Effectively making you choose to take either the Gap of Rohan, the Pass of Caradras or the Mines of Moria if you want to cross the Misty Mountains. You know what you will have t face for each! It’s an informed decision, with positive and negative consequences! Each route is tailored for the party!

The problem for me with this solution, is that I have to tailor these routes, and that it feels restrictive for the type of open-ended multi-player table I like to run. I’m thinking of a middle way, a pathcrawl.

When I make a hex, I consider the paths that pass through it, and the type of terrain it is. There are three types of path: Trails, Road or Conditional. Trails allow you to travel, roads allow you to travel at speed, and conditional paths are things like rivers that allow you to travel at speed but only with the right equipment. There are three types of terrain: Impassable, Obscuring, and Passable. You cannot enter impassable terrain, you are immediately lost in obscuring terrain unless you are familiar with the territory or have vision to the sky, and travel in passable terrain is as a trail.

While we can assume competent way finding from an adventuring party, most terrain is impassible and obscuring, and most paths are trails or conditional. Smart adventurers avoid impassible and obscuring terrain, unless they find or are shown the trail.

And we can use simple symbols or colours to communicate this information on the map; potentially blue or red borders, or trails being dashed and roads being unbroken lines. Obscuring and impassible could also be colour-coded, especially in a monochrome map, but could also have small accompanying symbols.

Obscuring and impassible, from the Noun Project

What this results in, is a map with difficult terrain almost everywhere, and adventurers who are loath to leave the path, and only do so with an ancient map, a guide, or specific directions. This feels more actionable with a simplistic ruleset than a typical hexcrawl, but not as bespoke as Joel’s pointcrawl.

I guess we need some rules. Lost means roll 1d6 and exit via a random hex. Impassable means no individual can enter, without unique skills and equipment, or magical assistance. Your game of choice should deal with travel speed, but do away with difficult terrain rules, because under these rules, all terrain is difficult. Trails are travel speed, and roads are twice or travel-speed-and-a-half. Conditional paths like rivers are impassable, except with their condition, or where they intersect with another path (a ford).

So, a five minute sketch reveals a a basic pathcrawl that could look as simple as this, assuming rather than showing that certain terrain is impassable or obscuring:

Or as complex as this, which with a little better graphic design chops I’m sure could communicate pretty clearly a lot of information very quickly:

Anyway, this is what I think a pathcrawl should look like. Less bespoke than a pointcrawl, but more wilderness-directed than a hex crawl, and with clearer rules for travel that the adventuring party can more easily understand.

Late Addition (30th June 2022): Daniel Davis did this ten years ago! His post is here! I prefer my approach, so I amalgamated them for the best of both worlds.

Idle Cartulary

29th June, 2022