Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Recording Game Time with Respect to Each and Every Player Character

Early in my AD&D sessions I stumbled across Gygax’s parenthetical on time in the campaign: “it is best to use 1 actual day = 1 game day when no play is happening.” (page 37, DMG) Looking back at my strict time records, it is clear that I implemented it during the third session of the campaign. The player characters ended up spending six days carousing after they scored their first big treasure haul because that’s how long it took for us to get back together again to play. Little did I know at the time that I was setting my campaign up to a set of forces that would ultimately change both the way we played and the way I thought about the game.

This rule has turned out to be great for several reasons:

  • The campaign immediately takes on a life of its own apart from the players.
  • The campaign can no longer be about a single long dungeon delve whose action is paused over the course of many game sessions.
  • These play constraints lead to more bite-sized mini-adventures that are far easier to improvise from the tables in the back of the Dungeon Masters Guide.
  • The fact that it is easy to improvise everything needed to run the game means that preparation by the referee becomes far more manageable.
  • The fact that the game structure supports improvised play means that the players really can go anywhere and do anything.
  • Freed from doing what the dungeon master or module designer thinks the players are “supposed” to do, the player’s characters become active participants in a living world.
  • Every rule in the game regarding time costs for various activities suddenly has the correct context to make sense.
  • This literally adds a new dimension to gameplay.
  • Individual adventures are infused with additional suspense– the players must return to town in order for the game to conclude. If they find an opportunity, they have to act on it immediately and work to a successful outcome as quickly as possible. If they postpone “winning” until the next session, the treasure they’d set their sights on may be gone!
  • Lairs introduced in high traffic areas are far more likely to be restocked between visits. The dungeon becomes more dynamic and individual areas can be reused many times. The game ceases to be about “clearing out” a static dungeon environment and more about grappling with a living underworld.

In short, this is the missing link of real D&D. It makes the game orders of magnitude more easy to run. Players are observably more engaged and having way more fun. Things in the game rules that seem strange or irrelevant suddenly start working together to make everything else just plain work. YOU HAVE TO TRY PLAYING THIS WAY, I AM NOT KIDDING!

Thanks to the mastermind behind the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary, we now know that this essential game rule was part of the game from its inception. Here is a fragment from the character sheet form the first fantasy campaign that demonstrates that– just like Gygax says to do in the 1979 DMG– the Blackmoor crew “[recorded] game time with respect to each and every player character in the campaign.”

The guys playing with Dave Arneson back in the day had a meaningful campaign. You can, too!

9 responses to “Recording Game Time with Respect to Each and Every Player Character

  1. Bill Barnes July 12, 2020 at 2:27 pm

    Voyages! One of my favorite 80 sci-fi show… (Need an Omni for my pocket…)

    On Sun, Jul 12, 2020 at 3:01 PM Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog wrote:

    > jeffro posted: “Early in my AD&D sessions I stumbled across Gygax’s > parenthetical on time in the campaign: “it is best to use 1 actual day = 1 > game day when no play is happening.” (page 37, DMG) Looking back at my > strict time records, it is clear that I implemented i” >

  2. Wayne's Books July 12, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    It’s a interesting style; I like the possibilities that you mention. Not sure how I’d adapt realtime=gametime for our Monday night games though. We’re all working adults, so sessions often end in the middle of a dungeon or even a combat, which resumes in the next week’s session. Can’t picture the combatants taking a week-long truce.

    • jeffro July 12, 2020 at 3:48 pm

      They’ve got to get back to town before the end of the session or else they’re dead.

      • Joshua Shaw July 13, 2020 at 8:33 am

        My understanding is that ‘and then we returned to town’ was the assumed ending of any play session that was cut short with players still in the underworld.

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  5. rinickolous May 1, 2021 at 2:28 am

    I have some queries regarding this system. That players need to get back to town before the session ends is pretty obvious, but I just know I’ll face edge cases regarding travel and such.
    My group meets on a Sunday evening. Does this mean their regular group of PCs go out adventuring only on Sundays? If not, how is it handled?
    Also, if it takes 15 days to travel somewhere, and we meet weekly, then I expect that’s either 1-2 sessions of travel or switching to a backup group of PCs. That’s fine. But when the group arrives at the dungeon on day 15, do they sit around for 6 days? How is that handled?

    • jeffro May 2, 2021 at 7:53 am

      If the players play on Sundays and the session is a single delve in a dungeon right next to “town”, then yeah… the characters are adventuring on Sundays as well. Characters will typically only be out of play if (a) they level and you are using the training rules, (b) they are severely wounded and recovery takes lotsa time, or (c) the player doesn’t show up.

      That much should be straightforward. Introduction of wilderness travel is more complicated. If you play out a session where a journey + encounters end up taking an entire month of game time, then those characters are in what we call “temporal stasis” until the real world calendar can catch up to them.

      This sounds weird, but in practice it sets you free from the tyranny of the spotlight. You try many different ways of engaging with your campaign rather than artificially warping gameplay to allow one particular group of PC’s be bloated fantasy novel heroes. Further, it inverts your approach to the game so that it is in line with Gygax’s direction regarding “rules > campaign > players.”

      This is how D&D was intended to be played. Both Empire of the Petal Throne and Metamorphosis Alpha assume this type of campaign as well! Had this style of play remained the norm, there would have been no need for an rpg industry.

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