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:
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.
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!).
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,