Time Passages or I’ll Stop the World and Rest with You

We’ve talked about a number of considerations for the GM in running his game, but there is one thing, surprisingly which we’ve not covered yet, and that is how the intangible element of time can greatly impact play. Whether you’re running a campaign or an adventure, the manner in which time is handled can certainly impact your game.

In any system where there is the recovery of assets, be they fatigue, power points, or health, it is natural and expected for the players to want to rest somewhere until their characters are back at full health. Some game systems have modified their mechanics over the years to reflect this very game style and allow recovery after the end of a scene and so on. Is this particularly realistic? No. Does it suit some folks play styles? Absolutely. Not mine. When you get to that point in a game where mechanics are dictating roleplaying and adventure creation, I have to pause, and shake my head.
Now, there is NOTHING WRONG whatsoever with characters wanting to rest up and heal, but it should make sense within the storyline, and the GM should have viable options to the characters sitting around for six hours. Mana wells, healing pools, and the like have much more meaning when they occur in the world–it allows for the characters to get back into the game with the assurance of more deadliness ahead. This is recommended for the high fantasy route, and is only appropriate to certain worlds and play styles.
What is better is for the GM or designer to craft their adventures with a ticking bomb, something is going to happen within a certain time frame, and you can spend that time making wicker baskets, hunting for clues, fighting monsters, or resting on your laurels. In 36 hours, the meteor is going to hit the earth, the orcs are going to climb over the battlements with slaughter and dark deeds in their tiny, little minds, or the Crucifier Virus is going to turn all the cheerleaders in Chapel Hill into zombies. This makes the game experience more intense and more cinematic–the characters are going to keep going whether they are bent, spindled, or mutilated. In mechanical terms, they are not going to let a little thing like Power Points, Fatigue, or a few Wounds keep them from saving the day. There are FAR WORSE things than not being able to cast a fireball, after all.

Not every adventure needs to have such an obvious and severe ticking bomb in it, there are ways to plant little smoke bombs throughout the adventure letting the players know the world doesn’t stop, even if they do. For example, if they are a bunch of cowboys and try to tangle with the rustlers who have been attacking a rancher’s herd, they may catch ’em by surprise, the first time. If our heroes run off licking their wounds, resupply, and recover their power points (one of ’em is a preacher of no small talent), at the very least, the rustlers have the opportunity to do the same, and it is highly unlikely the characters are going to catch them out. Heck, the rustlers may have decided to move on to other territory, or they may plan on taking the fight to the characters because players often feel invulnerable at their camp site. Catching the characters out like this should be dependent upon the motivations of the NPCs–if the head rustler is Yellow, he’ll have his boys cut a trail at the first sign of trouble, with himself leading the pack, whereas if he’s Greedy and Overconfident, he’ll take the fight to the folks.

Make the world water, not ice. Keep things flowing. Otherwise, you are training your players that things go on stand by whenever THEY want. This detracts from theĀ verisimilitudeĀ of your hard work. Don’t do that.

It’s far better to keep things going, have developments unfold. Whether these things directly impact your players or not, it gives them the sense they are a part of a living breathing world. Sometimes, the developments in the world can help, and hinder, just like real life. For example, take something as simple as a wreck on the interstate. This often causes you to restructure your plans based upon this news. Imagine a game world, where the characters are in a city and have been hired to assassinate a wealthy merchant. Logistic problems already exist. If the characters spend too much time gather information about their target things could get far more difficult. Let’s say, you have the adventure written out…characters are hired…the merchant has X number of guards, defenses, etc…in three days time, the character is visited by a foreign prince, and guards/defenses are doubled for the next three days. Six days after the prince’s visit, however, there is a major holiday, and the merchant will be more exposed, as his guards are on a skeleton crew with many of them attending the festival. See? It’s not that difficult. You craft your adventure, build a little timeline around it, and the world seems much larger and more vibrant. So, before the next time you run a game, go for dynamic elements, create rewards for action rather than passivity.

Do we root for our heroes most when they are holed up nursing wounds, or do we like them digging deep and, ragged and haggard though they may be, taking the fight to the enemy at all costs? That’s what truly makes heroes shine–overcoming adversity, not resting in camp every six hours until they’re up to full strength.

Now with these thoughts in your noggin, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

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