Thursday, December 27, 2012

How to make time mean something in your campaign

What does it mean you have to hole up for two weeks to wait for natural healing, or wait two weeks for that magic item you ordered to be made? Some games actually make time mean something, and not something to be glossed over. Recently I listened to an episode of Ken and Robin talks about stuff where they talked about time in games. It made me think of my old 3rd ed campaign. In that campaign I had the opportunity to see time as an obstacle being circumvented in a not so cool way.

The deal was that with the Craft skill, you can produce items. In this case it was items which should be enchanted, and thus they had to be of Masterwork quality. Unless I remember totally wrong, it wasn't that much harder to do them, or even something you needed a certain level of skill for, but you paid in time. Now, if you delve in the dungeon and the time in between is just that, time in between, then it means nothing. It doesn't matter if it takes one hour or two week if you let it go with "and when it's done you get back to the dungeon". It reminds me of how some spells in older editions of D&D used to age the caster. As far as I remember, that didn't make it into 3rd ed. but item creation rules still had a "time cost".

Can we say something about how time was used to be handled in the olden days, and how time is handled in newer games? I think it's pretty clear that all the talk of the 15 minute game game day, and then back to town for healing and re-memorization of spells signifies something.

Let's think back to the Blackmoor campaign. We know that the players there were in command of armies, and that Arneson in the FFC mention things like yearly events. Clearly time were advancing at a decent pace if it made sense to have random annual events for the kingdom.

But, I am also pretty sure I have read enough of old school campaigns where the only time that mattered was in the dungeon, and I find it significant that in the Mentzer edition of D&D there are no healing rules. You go back to town and when you start the next adventure you are healed. Some time have passed, I guess.

Clearly there are different ways of handling time at work here. There are more examples, and they are not all clearly and easily align chronologically. Maybe someone have done some research in this area. There are some excellent scholars of old school gaming styles, so it would not surprise me. For me it's a stepping stone for ideas on how to play.

Let's say you would like to have time matter. Without keeping those famous records of time, you probably can make the "time tax" useful. Let's take a look at two games where time matters. In Ars Magica and Pendragon time is of importance. Maybe they can teach us something?                                                                                                                        
In the latter game, you often only play one of two adventures each year, and then it's the "winter phase" where you do macro management of your character, talking care of manor economics, childbirth and marriage. Step by step your character age, and later on you probably get to retire your character and play with his heir.                                                                     
In Ars Magica, you play multiple characters and the mage will probably do research that take years to finalize. Since you will be able to play another character while that happens, it's no impediment to being engaged in the game, but it will still matter that your mage is doing research and not out on adventure.                                                                                
How can we use this?                                                                                                                                                                                
Would it be useful to have a limit year year on how many adventures you can participate in? One way would be to have three delves a year, and if you are injured you have to make a save or loose one of those three opportunities being holed up for healing. I think that would be a cool mechanic.                                                                                                    

Let's then take a gander at long term projects, like crafting items and researching magic. If magic of any complexity takes time, then it makes sense to combine that with the idea of a set amount of adventures per year. If a project takes more than a month, one of the yearly adventures is forfeit.

If we in addition to this takes a a cue from Ars Magica and let all players have a "stable" or adventurers we can have our cookie, and eat it too. A stable of characters is a phenomenon I first heard of in 5th edition of T&T. So even if it's a way to hand a player a cookie when her other character is busy doing magic research or crafting, it actually is as old school as it gets. :)
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