Posts Tagged ‘time management’

Each month the folks from the RPG Blogger Network organize an RPG Blogger Carnival, where a bunch of bloggers all tackle the same question or topic.  This month Game Knight Review is hosting, and the question is “what’s in your backpack?”  The Gassy Gnoll kept the question pretty open — your real world backpack, you’re in-game backpack, whatever — so since this blog is supposed to be about GM tools and game structures I thought I might whip something up about what’s in my “backpack” for running a campaign.

I strongly feel like the most important piece of gear is a hex-map; this may be less true if you’re running a game that takes place entirely inside a megadungeon, or if overland travel is specifically unimportant and hand-waved (as might be the case in any reasonably-civilized setting), but hex maps seem to have been a key component of the game originally and it’s the biggest “missing piece” in modern games if you ask me.  Lots of people have lots of ideas about what makes a good hex map, but I’m going to go ahead and say that it should consist of 6-mile hexes (this makes some of the math a bit easier) and have a moderate-to-high amount of keyed locations (something between 80% and 100% coverage).  These keyed locations can be used to mark settlements, monster lairs, dungeons, etc and can be used to inform “random encounters.” (The Alexandrian has a long-running series discussing his complete hex-crawl system.)

The second bit of gear should be a random encounter mechanism, and you should have one whether the party is in a dungeon, in the wilderness, or even in a city (though that last might be a bit of a stretch). Random encounters give your world a sense of being “alive” and functioning even when the PCs aren’t around.  There are lots of ways to do this; I haven’t had time to use them to great extent, but my favorites are probably the one-page encounters method or more standard, region-based tables.  I think it’s important to note that these don’t all have to be combat encounters (I’d argue they shouldn’t all be combat) but one of the tings that random encounters ward against is the 15-minute work day (because going nova on an early encounter leaves you vulnerable to a random encounter later, and being vulnerable could mean death).

The last piece that I think is essential (and Gygax agrees with me, apparently) is a solid notion of time. Modern games still keep time during combat, and in general people keep track of days (at least in vague terms of night and day), but without the right granularity of time it becomes difficult to keep track of what might be going on “off-screen” and how long it takes your players to accomplish certain tasks — it’s possible that you can get by without a solid notion of time, just as characters can probably get by without flint and tinder, but I think you’re making it harder on yourself.  For me, I use the following:

1 Combat Round = 6 Seconds
10 Combat Rounds = 1 minute
1 simple non-combat action = 1 minute
10 minutes = 1 turn
6 turns = 1 hour
4 hours = 1 watch
6 watches = 1 day
7 days = 1 week
4 weeks = 1 month
13 months = 1 year

Most other tools I’ve found to be essential so far tend to come standard with modern games: things like a combat system, a notion of healing and damage, systems for skill-based action resolution.  A mechanism for adding or tracking weather in your world can add flavor, too; Gnome Stew has a system based on a Dragon article that’s “good enough for fantasy.” I’d recommend finding a system for NPC morale, but I haven’t gotten around to finding a good one yet. And I think there’s a lot to be said in favor of published modules, especially encapsulated ones that can be plopped into any campaign, either for filling out your hex key or presenting to your players when you’ve had a bad week for prep.

What do you think?  Anything I’m still missing from my pack?

Papers and Pencils had a couple of articles that struck me as really interesting, a discussion of the importance of tracking in-game time in RPG sessions, and a follow-up on the same.  What really struck me was the quote from Gary Gygax that P&P lead their first post with: “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.”  And those are Gygax’s ragecaps.

I started thinking about timing a while ago; one of the first Alexandian posts I read was on prepping situations instead of plots, and letting the situation (and the world) react to the player’s actions.  That calls for some amount of time management, because you need to know what events are starting and ending as the players move about the world, so you know what they prevent, what they interrupt, and what they miss.  That could be vague accounting, but the more vague it is the more similar it is to GM fiat — the players interrupt the ritual because the DM declares that they interrupt the ritual.  And like P&P points out, doing rigorous time management lets neat things happen, like having torches sputter out because the characters took too long.  Without requiring DM fiat (and avoiding that is a virtue, if you ask me).

P&P talks about three modes of timing that need to be addressed, which basically correspond to the three modes of movement: tactical movement, local movement, and overland movement. Tactical movement is used for combat encounters, and combat already has a rigorous method of time management that everyone is familiar with: the 6-second round.  P&P then suggests a 10-minute turn for local time management, and days for overland time management.  Turns can be sub-divided into minutes if necessary, and hours could be appropriate for either local or overland time management, depending on what’s going on.

Here are my suggestions for how to divide up and manage time; month, year, and season divisions are only appropriate for non-earth (or at least, non-Gregorian) settings:

6 second is 1 combat round.
10 combat rounds is 1 minute.
10 minutes is 1 game turn.
6 game turns is 1 hour.
24 hours is 1 day.
7 days is 1 week.
4 weeks is 1 month.
13 months is 1 year.
Each season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) is 13 weeks (3 1/4 months) long.

P&P recommends tracking Local time my ticking off turns on a sheet of paper while the players move through a town or dungeon.  Shifting between modes can generally be ignored, unless the players take a really long time in a lower mode.  Five or 10 rounds of combat (30 seconds to a minute) when moving through town won’t make a significant impact on how many Turns to track.

In addition to being able to track things like secret meetings and evil rituals, time management can give you a reliable way to measure the passage of the seasons and long term events like wars and famines.  Calendars can be printed out and used to track events that happen during a session and to schedule events that could happen in the future (if the PCs don’t prevent them).  The possibilities are kind of exciting.