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D&D General Time in RPGs

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
In another thread, the question came up of what time represents in an RPG? I had the thought that perhaps it best represents the relative number of other things that can happen while something is happening. A torch burns for 1 hour. How much can happen while it is burning? That varies from table to table - at some tables each character will get six exploration actions. In WWON, an hour can contain from 4 scenes to 6 turns of focused exploration, and the variability of those units is called attention to. 5th ed RAW is clear that a light spell should last exactly as long as a torch... but does it really make sense that every natural torch in the world burns for precisely one hour? And if it doesn't, what does that say about a light spell? I find that time in fiction contracts and expands as to what it contains - to suit our narratives.

I wondered how other DMs and players see time in TTRPGs?

Relatedly I've been thinking how I wanted to manage time for a campaign I am planning after my current one ends, using marches (about 8 hours), watches (about 4 hours) and scenes (about ten or fifteen minutes of intense activity). My (probably controversial) current take is that the ratio of scenes to watches is not as one might assume, 24:1, but nearer to 4:1. My thought is that surrounding short periods of intense activity are long periods of preparation, planning, pacing and personal hygiene that go unnarrated. A day in which a rogue investigated a dozen doors for traps, disabled any they found, and picked the locks, is thus taken to be a long one!

5th ed examples of a march -
  • the listed distance for a mode of transport is travelled without exhaustion
  • a character gets enough sleep to recover from a level of exhaustion
  • a random encounter check is made
5th ed examples of a watch -
  • travellers cover two hexes on a kingdom map, or twelve on that of a province
  • a character gets enough sleep to avoid further levels of exhaustion
  • several scenes are narrated; amid mundane activity - like preparation and personal upkeep - that goes unnarrated.
5th ed examples of a scene -
  • a party carefully climbs around a pit, using pitons to belay ropes
  • a bard persuades reluctant community leaders to assist them
  • a rogue investigates a door for traps, disables them, and picks the lock
  • characters ponder lore, prompting one another with suggestions
  • a party investigates a room floor-to-ceiling for secret doors
  • a party takes a breather
  • a torch burns 1/6th of its fuel
Ordinarily, it should be sufficient to track to the granularity of scenes - even for actions and effects that use a 1-minute timing - but where it is crucial to do so, such as when a battle is ongoing, time (as container) might be tracked in minutes
 

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Bird Of Play

Explorer
The great majority of the time is spent in "real time", except it goes faster. What I mean is that on average, four hours of session usually correspond to about one day in the game time. The players may take 15 minutes browsing wares in the street markets; I'll make a couple hours of game time pass.

There's a pause when they take long rests, which of course may be interrupted by an encounter sometime.

Now, the interesting part is how I approach the travel time. Suppose my players move from point A, say a lake, to point B, say a city. I lay down a map which signals the street they're marching. Now that one street represents the actual distance of going from lake to city, so what seems like a street in the forest they'd travel in 10 minutes, is actually a 3 days long path. That means they move slowly through the map. Pretty much I increase the map scale, so the travel is taking a much wider area. Rests, rations and random encounters happen.

I haven't yet taken a full "let's skip days/weeks/months and move forward", as I feel it breaks the pace. But eventually it'll have to happen, these adventurers gotta take a break some time.
 

aco175

Legend
I can see where keeping general abstract time would be handy. I generally have time pass as needed by plot. You more standardize that a torch burns for 4-6 scenes where I may just judge that checking the room for secret doors, 2 fights, a 10 minute heal break, and spending time on a puzzle is about the same time.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Tracking in-game time is important for a number of reasons, the most common of which is spell durations but is also relevant for (as noted above) torchlight/lantern duration, distance travelled both short-term (e.g. combat, or detailed exploration) and long-term (long-distance voyages or journeys), resource management e.g. food and water, and - on the most basic level but it's a surprisingly common question in play - how much daylight or darkness time remains before sunrise/set.

In games with less generous hit point recovery than 4e-5e, time also matters when it comes to resting back to health.

How do I track it? In combat, round by round. Out of combat, informally; but I'll always try to give the players/PCs an idea of how long something will (probably) take or is taking them to do such that if they're worried about spells/torches/etc. expiring etc. they can plan around it.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I've mostly used a combination of 6-second rounds, 10-minute turns, hours, 4-hour watches, and I'll keep a calendar. Usually the real-world calendar for ease of use and reference. Makes it much easier to track things like sunrise and sunset. Pick a part of the real world your game is taking place in and use that as a reference for sunrise and sunset. It's mostly description, but it adds some verisimilitude.

Torches last one hour and weigh 2 1/2 pounds. That's important.

The AD&D DMGs have wandering monster checks broken up into 4-hour watches. This is repeated in some OSR games. The Dark of Hot Springs Island is a good example. I really like their watch actions. I think this works great for something between 10-minute turns and days/weeks of montage travel. Camping and resting are usually two 4-hour watches. Overland travel is usually two 4-hour watches. That leaves two 4-hour watches to do other stuff like explore, forage, or whatever.

If you're not keeping track of that extra time between rest and travel, the PCs are losing a lot of time they could be doing stuff and getting into trouble.
 

pming

Legend
I wondered how other DMs and players see time in TTRPGs?
I've always (ok, only a few decades, but still) a "random variable" to most mundane predictions of time in my D&D-style games. For example, a "Short Rest" is listed as 1 hour. In my game, it's 40 minutes + (1d6x10 minutes...up to about 1d10x10 minutes). The variable dice I roll is based on how much "activity" the PC's have been involved in. If they were just riding horses along a road, +d6x10min; if they have been in 5 fights in a dungeon and are half dead, and resting inside a relatively safe and warm area, +d10x10 minutes. Same thing goes for a "Long Rest". It's 7 hours base, + some random dice x10 or 15 minutes...depending on what they were doing prior to resting and where they are currently actually resting. If they are safe, warm and didn't do much, +1d6x15min. If safe, warm and almost dead, probably +4d4x15min...and I might even start that at 8 or even 9 hours. And yes, the x10 or x15 is on purpose; it helps reinforce the "short" versus the "long" rest...at least in my brain. :)

For my own fantasy RPG system (based on Darkurthe Legends), things (especially magic) are measured in "time periods" that cover a range. What's more important though, is the intention of the spell/item/ability/skill being used.

For example, a spell of "Water Walking", lets say, might have a Duration listed as "Hours". If the mage casts the spell to walk across a medium sized pool in a cavern deep in the dungeon, he casts it, takes the 7 minutes to walk across the pool...and the spell would end, but the Player pipes up and says "I want to walk around the edge of this pool to check things out". Ok, spell doesn't end, he walk around the edge, taking another 45 minutes, and then the spell ends. Back on the surface world, he casts it again to walk across a huge river. He takes the hour and a half to get across...and the spell ends. Same spell, different durations...but the duration is based on the INTENTIONS of the caster at the time of casting.

What this has allowed me to do in my home-brew Fantasy RPG is keep a mechanical aspect to the game...but also allow for a much more free-flowing narrative and dramatic potential. Win/win if you ask me! :)

5th ed examples of a march -
  • the listed distance for a mode of transport is travelled without exhaustion
  • a character gets enough sleep to recover from a level of exhaustion
  • a random encounter check is made
5th ed examples of a watch -
  • travellers cover two hexes on a kingdom map, or twelve on that of a province
  • a character gets enough sleep to avoid further levels of exhaustion
  • several scenes are narrated; amid mundane activity - like preparation and personal upkeep - that goes unnarrated.
5th ed examples of a scene -
  • a party carefully climbs around a pit, using pitons to belay ropes
  • a bard persuades reluctant community leaders to assist them
  • a rogue investigates a door for traps, disables them, and picks the lock
  • characters ponder lore, prompting one another with suggestions
  • a party investigates a room floor-to-ceiling for secret doors
  • a party takes a breather
  • a torch burns 1/6th of its fuel
Ordinarily, it should be sufficient to track to the granularity of scenes - even for actions and effects that use a 1-minute timing - but where it is crucial to do so, such as when a battle is ongoing, time (as container) might be tracked in minutes
Sounds similar'ish to my "durations" thing I just talked about. It also is reminiscent of how I handle time when I'm GM'ing my "SUPERS!" RPG campaign (SUPERS! is an amazing super hero RPG... worth a look if you like super hero games). In my SUPERS! campaign, time and actions are handled from the perspective of "What would it look like in an actual comic book?". By that I mean pages, panels, and spreads. If a PC can take out 6 mooks (thugs, 'red-shirts', minions, etc) in one action, that can be imagined to be in a single panel, meaning it was fast. If the PC wanted to take out those 6 mooks, but 3 are at a door and 3 of them are on the catwalk above...that would take two panels. Meaning he could only take out 3 this action, then the next 3 the following action. Same thing goes for Range/Distance. If you can picture it in a panel, page or even a spread, given the current narrative situation, then you have the 'range'. If you can only picture your target as a small dot on the page...then no, too far away.

But, SUPERS! is a very narrative based game (say, 75/25 for narrative vs mechanical), and D&D is MUCH more mechanical), so the same sort of thing might be to "squishy" for a 5e game.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I generally have time pass as needed by plot. You more standardize that a torch burns for 4-6 scenes where I may just judge that checking the room for secret doors, 2 fights, a 10 minute heal break, and spending time on a puzzle is about the same time.
This. Or, codified:

  • A duration lasts as long as the GM says so, unless
  • The player throws a fit, in which case it lasts a little longer.
 


Personally, I've tried to adapt a mix of OD&D and 5E. Time management depends on the scenario: traveling, site exploration (including city adventuring), and "dungeons." Random encounters generally occur on the primary time span, occurring during one of the broken down segments. Combat obviously remains in rounds, regardless of the area.

Traveling is pretty straightforward, following the rules of 5E. Encounters and events will occur at Dawn, Morning, Noon, Afternoon, Evening, and Night. This times are fairly loose, averaging about 4 hours each. Most adventure time will take place during Morning, Noon, and Afternoon. Unless otherwise noted, regularly cast 8 hour spells will be cast mid-morning, lasting until Mid-Afternoon, giving a 50% chance they're up during the beginning and ending.

Site exploration is when the party is in a large, open site. This includes most wilderness and city site adventuring. Time is measured in hours, and can be broken down into 10 minute exploration turns as needed. Effects of 10 minute duration are unlikely to be used longer than 1 scene. I've added some exploration actions to be used with the normal travel activities.

Dungeons don't have to be specifically dungeons, but include any enclosed adventuring site. Time is marked in 10 minute exploration turns which can be broken down into minute activities as needed. I've added even more exploration actions to this, including some common activities like searching for traps/secret doors, listening at doors, opening locks, searching rooms (both casually and in detail), and investigating items of interest.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I have always tracked hourly time ad hoc. I judge based on PC activities and/or travel and warn players if something they are considering doing will take a significant amount of time - like "Digging through that earthen wall is possible, but would take three or four people with shovels working at if for five or six hours to make a hole big enough for folks to go through one at a time."

I do keep a detailed calendar of all events and travel times, during which I might narrate several days of travel at a time or slow things down if there are features or events that might draw their attention and they can decide if they want to investigate or move on (if it is in their power to choose).

I have been working on a "random encounter" system for traveling but have only implemented it loosely as I test it out. But I feel like it amps up the tension when players are rolling for possible encounters without exactly knowing what they are rolling for.
 


turnip_farmer

Adventurer
I used to be really diligent in tracking time. I have a little piece of paper where I could move counters along in different increments (there's a combat round section, a minute section, a minute section etc depending on what was happening). I fell out of the habit because, a lot of the time, it didn't matter.

But I'm resolved that, as of today, time tracking is coming back. The party recently spent considerable time underground (over multiple sessions), and I had no idea what time it 'should' be when they emerged. I'm not sure how many weeks they've been away from their home base, I'm not even certain whether it should still be summer or not.

Maybe that's all irrelevant. The players are probably not counting so they're not going to notice any discrepancies. But it feels off to me. Somehow dissatisfying.
 

I mean, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight seems to have a Time Tracker for it. I wonder if its good enough to be used for 5E time tracking during the campaign to begin with. Especially since WoTC has various Subsystems appearing in different books.
 

Esbee

Dungeon Master at large.
For dungeon crawling, I use a tally counter and click off the rounds and turns they spend, noting the count where they light torches or spells are cast etc.

Random encounters in the dungeon occur based on the appropriate frequency of the encounter for the dungeon.

For date keeping, I have a calendar sheet I use to track time in the campaign world. Any time that passes at the table is played out. Time away from the table equals time passed in game - so two weeks between sessions means two weeks pass in game. Now, in the case where it doesn't make sense to advance the calendar (we leave off on a cliffhanger with a battle about to start, for instance) I 'bank' the time and apply it during the next bit of downtime the characters have. Historically, I have often forwarded time by several months. This ensures time passes in-game at a commensurate rate.

I don't use a strictly defined system such as the OP noted.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Time does not require more labels. When something happens in a game, we either track or figure out how much time it took and then adjust accordingly. Usually, there are a lot of gaps between events that allow us to be pretty fluid. Time usually comes up when people are worried about when something has expired or recharged. I'm usually of a mind to interpret things in the way most beneficial to the PCs to keep the fun rolling.
 

I just wing it unless it really counts. I run games by scenes regardless if its 5 minutes or 2 days. No one in our group is overly concerned anymore when were only playing for 3-4 hours at a time.
 

IMNSHO, this topic is a great example of when GNS principles are useful in modeling how a game is played.

When multiple characters are attempting to act at once to achieve goals, time is handled with the gamist method of rounds. When the story takes precedence, the game will travel at the speed of the plot/narrative (respect to Babylon 5). When strict timing is needed for realism, the DM can enforce simulationist methods for keeping track of time as a resource.
 

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
I tend to use a very rough sense of what's "real" in the fiction when I describe the passage of time.

Usually, it's only noted when the party expresses a desire to take a long rest. At that point, I'll arbitrarily decide the time which has passed since their last rest and take note of the hour.

Because a long rest is around 8 hours, I'll add 8 to that time, describe the sights and sounds of the time that results, and then not worry about the time until the party stops for another rest.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
Time does not require more labels.
Possibly labels and units of division means the same thing here. Do you mean you prefer to use the normal division of days into hours, minutes, rounds and turns? Do you use work weeks and ten-days, or normal months?

Part of what drew me to less precise, chunkier divisions is with the aim of more diurnal and seasonal progression. I find the default too precise and too finely sliced, which in part is a consequence of the normal elision of mundane action: all the stuff happening around the more intense segments that goes unnarrated. I'm bringing this into world as

Morning march
  • Dawn watch
  • Noon watch
Evening march
  • Afternoon watch
  • Dusk watch
Night march
  • Midnight watch
  • Grave watch
Seeing as I'm using FR, I use a slightly modified Calendar of Harptos (I make the 5 extra days part of the 30-day months, so I can just use twelve 30 day months as a year, which makes it easier to manage ten-days and downtime 5-day work-weeks). To attempt to summarise the general benefits, I can't recall a time it mattered to know in my fantasy campaign that it was 14:30 hours, but we often want to know "Is it the afternoon yet?" I find it satisfying that such time divisions contain things that matter in a ludonarrative sense.
 

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