Turn! Turn! Turn! To Everything There is a Season

Recent events have me thinking about time; time keeping in games, the effects on pacing and the meaning for players. As I turn a year older soon and I prepare to return to my long running fantasy campaign I’ve been revising the campaign calendar and thinking about how to make the passage of time relevant to players.

Just to provide some context let me share how I’ve dealt with this in the past. When I began playing RPGs there was very little consideration for time, beyond knowing what season it was, and sometimes not even that. Traveling to the dungeon took X amount of days, a sea travels so many weeks, so on and so forth. If players asked about days of the week I believe I simply used real world days for ease of reference.

Soon after I began developing my home brewed campaign, I began to thinker with calendars. This was back before I had a computer, so I did most of my planning by hand, I might have been inspired by an article in Dragon Magazine, no idea which issue, dealing with just this subject. Eventually I began to use spread sheets and a calendar creation tool in the Irony Games website (apparently now defunct!) to create a calendar for my game.

The original calendar was very similar to our regular calendar, divided by seasons, months with about the same number of days. Eventually I began developing calendars for different cultures in the world, a lunar calendar for elves, a calendar for creatures living underground, and another human culture whose calendar was less like ours, the names used reflected the history of those that developed it.

I was going to go on about how I created my calendar but there are some excellent tools out there. From online tools like the calendar tool in the Starting Tavern, RPG specific tools like Master Plan that has a campaign calendar feature, to these excellent articles in Gnome Stew, A “Realistic Enough for Fantasy” Calendar and the follow up article on generating fantasy weather. That last one refers to an article on dragon #137 which may be the one I mentioned earlier. (I don’t have my Dragon Magazine collection handy right now to double check, and I’m not taking the boxes down from the closet.)

So there are options out there to help you create a calendar if you want. But I want to discuss what to do with the calendar AFTER you’ve created it. I keep notes of my sessions using my laptop, count off the passage of time and then jot down when the session began and when it ended. When creating handouts for players I try to reference the campaign date, especially during prolonged periods of downtime. I’ve even done countdowns to important events (which I discussed in a post here) to make the passage of time an element of tension in the game, but for the most part the campaign calendar has been a tool for me, the GM.  I would love to change that…

All my calendars have special days marked for celebrations, religious festivities and such, but I as a GM have consistently failed to weave them into the story. True players have not always been in civilized places when such celebrations occur, but I want to integrate the preparations and build up, or the aftermath, into the narrative. Perhaps the market is particularly busy as they are resupplying because of an upcoming religious celebration. The local noble is cleaning up the streets of beggars in preparation for the memorial of her coronation, her daughter’s wedding, [insert motivation here]. You get the picture…

I also would like to integrate the birthday of players into the campaign calendar. I don’t think any of my players wrote down the day their player was born, and since they come from different cultures they will use different calendars, but converting from one to another should be no problem. Doing this would allow me to not just celebrate in game when a character’s birthday comes along, but to explore how different cultures deal with the celebration of birth, if they celebrate it at all. To integrate things such as horoscopes, traditions and superstitions, making the world come alive a little bit more.

When we retake out Pathfinder RPG fantasy campaign I will ask the players for their character’s birthdates and attempt to integrate it into the game. These don’t need to become pivotal elements in a game session, but just a little detail will add verisimilitude to the game. And anything that makes the world seem more real is a plus in my book.

Do you create custom calendars for your games? What tools do you use? How do you keep track of time? How do you make it relevant to your players? I’d like to know…