Sunday, December 4, 2011

Time in Game

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
 Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

Time in RPG's is a tricky business to convey accurately. Over the various editions the rules have conveniently broken down some aspects and left others widely open to interpretation. In 4E a round is thought to occur in about 6 seconds. (Rules Compendium page 189) That means that all most all combats last less than a minute. With a typical combat taking 18 to 36 seconds in "Game Time". For the players thirty minutes to two hours will pass. Combat ends with a short rest, ie a few minutes to catch your breath from the flurry of activity. The day ends with a single extended rest. I like some of the alternate rules out there for limiting extended rests. Simply stating that only one extended rest a day does not seem to be enough. The idea of requiring a safe well sheltered location to rest in is one I wholeheartedly support, but not one I have thrust upon my own players over our campaigns.

In your typical linear or near linear campaign the entire career of a PC from 1st level to 30th can occur in only a few short months up to a year. The absolute minimum being 30 days (due to requiring at least 30 extended rests, one for each level. The typical party takes two to three rests a level in my experience. Adding in a few ten-days per level for travel and you arrive at about 300 days or one year to obtain immortality. I found this matter quite distressing during my first and second campaign. I have always pictured heroic tales taking more time. This may be based on my love of Lord of the Rings, but Bilbo's adventure was a little over a year and Frodo's closer to two. I might ascribe low Paragon to the latter tale but the former was barely mid heroic. Aragorn's tale spanned nearly 50 years before he was king. Surely, he was only mid to high paragon at its conclusion. I am also plagued by my early experience with 1st and 2nd edition. The levels came slower the higher you advanced. However, on the counter point a 1 to 30 level campaign takes about 16 months to 36 months to play depending on your game frequency and table speed. No easy solution there.

In my current sandbox game I have been toying with the weekly session taking a ten-day for party prep and research. This is facilitated by an on-line forum where in the Players role play, shop, level, research, gossip and can get more out of their PC's lives. One PC is marrying, others are dating, another has a blossoming business. It is a fine line between creating a SIMS like in environment and a roleplay challenge. The PC's have a weekly expense book. That is not to say that they have to buy every meal nor clothing and gifts and what not. The typical PC spends about 30 sp a week on food and lodging. All other non-adventuring expenses are said to occur in that allotment. That amount is deducted from their over all silver intake. PCs can do odd jobs, buy businesses or receive stipends (Clerics, nobles etc) based on their character generation choices. This soon slides into the background but does present challenges when choosing missions purely for non-financial reasons. Then it can interfere with the PCs ability to buy that new armor or eat for the week but I digress. The forums are a struggle in that that ten-day between sessions is very abstract. What one PC finds out on the first day of the week may occur before or after what another PC does on the fifth day of our week. Its all about time "In Game" vs. time IRL. Not everyone has the same availability. When you sit down to game you have everyone's attention and things occur chronologically. I thought about linking post times to the time in game but away from the table things require a little less rigidity. I don't want folks feeling that have to rush to participate or time will pass them by. After all the whole hobby and this concept in particular is for fun. Once it ceases to be so it is time to bin it.

The sandbox method does create the passage of time though. Seasons change; 12 weeks have passed and mid-autumn has given way to winter. The world moves but only incrementally. The party has leveled up to 3rd and by my calculations at least two years will pass if we continue to 30th. As the party gets higher level and accumulate wealth, I expect that months or even years will pass "In Game" while only a week will pass for us IRL. After all managing a fief, kingdom or astral domain should occupy time when things are well and be but a brief interlude when they are not. How else will you get moments like Pippin and Beregond sitting upon the walls of Minas Tirith watching the gathering gloom first feeling despair and then finding courage...

Do you deal with time in your game? and if so How do you reckon its passing?