As far back as I can remember, I’ve tracked time in my campaign. Tracking time isn’t exactly an insurmountable problem or onerous burden, even for the busy GM. That’s because it’s both very easy to do and can pay great dividends for almost any campaign.
While I don’t obsessively track the PCs’ minute-by-minute progress through adventures I do track the day, month and year.
Knowing the date enables me to portray events occurring outside the dungeon such as seasonal bad weather, festivals, notable events and so on. It makes season-based adventures easier to fit into the campaign (and feel more appropriate when they do occur). It also enables me to add flavour and verisimilitude to a setting by describing such events as planting, the harvest, winter snows slowing travel and so on.
So what did Gary have to say?
“Game time is of utmost importance. Failure to keep careful track of time expenditure by player characters will result in many anomalies in the game. The stricture of time is what makes recovery of hit points meaningful. Likewise, the time spent adventuring in wilderness areas removes concerned characters from their bases of operations – be they rented chambers or battlemented strongholds. Certainly the most important time strictures pertains to the manufacturing of magic items, for during the period of such activity no adventuring can be done. Time is also considered in gaining levels and learning new languages and more. All of these demands upon game time force choices upon player characters and likewise number their days of game life…YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.”
Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 37), Gary Gygax
What draws me to this section of the DMG is that it’s one of the few places in the entire book Gary hit caps lock—he obviously felt very strongly about the passage of time and its effects on a campaign. I suspect this has a lot to do with his wargaming roots.
It’s clear, Gary viewed time as another resource to be used by the players. In today’s version of the game, I think that view is somewhat lacking (except when keeping track of spell durations!)
In the quote above, Gary lists training for levels, crafting magic items, learning a language and recovering from injuries as examples of how PCs can spend time between adventures. PCs can still do all these things in Pathfinder–except train to level (and what kind of adventurer heals naturally these days?)–but the amount of time these activities take has been massively compressed between editions.
I’ve previously discussed the different approaches to making magic items between the two editions. But as another example, consider the process of levelling in 1st Edition against that in Pathfinder. In 1st Edition, it took between 1-4 weeks of training to level (and it was jolly expensive to do so, and if you were interrupted you had to start again). In Pathfinder, the PCs level when the GM gives out XP (normally at the end of the session).
It seems that these days game time spent doing anything that isn’t directly related to gaining XP is seen as not fun or irrelevant (even if the game time spent to achieve a given task translates to mere minutes of real time).
I’ve blogged before about Pathfinder being too adventure-centric and I think this attitude is nowhere more obvious than in the way the game deals with time.
Obviously, the game has changed a lot from 1st Edition. In today’s hobby we seem slightly too obsessed with levelling and our cool new shiny feats and spells. We rarely take the time to experience the game world beyond the dungeon. However, while the slower approach to the game—I think—has much to offer, slowing things down doesn’t translate terribly well to many modern, fast-paced adventures or campaigns (such as an adventure path) where the PCs are rushing to head off some terrible threat. Furthermore, I suspect the very nature of a campaign is different now to what it was a couple of decades ago (but that’s probably the subject for another post).
What Do You Think?
Do you track time or do you think it’s a waste of time (do you see what I did there?) Letme know, in the comments below.