Recording Game Time with Respect to Each and Every Player Character
July 12, 2020
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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!