Synchronizing Calendars To Avoid Temporal Displacement

The Movie Poster for Back to the Future II

The movie poster for Back to the Future II

For a couple months now, I’ve been considering running a second campaign in my ToKiMo game world. It would be concurrent with my monthly Pathfinder game in that same world. Both groups of players would have free reign to explore and change the world as they desired. The effects of each group’s adventures would manifest themselves in the other group’s world. So if there are rumors of a great legendary sword hidden deep in the forest, then the first group to reach it claims their reward, while the second group to reach it only finds a stone with a strange slit in it.

I’ve wanted to do something like this for years now, ever since first reading the classic “Head of Vecna” tale. I wouldn’t want to pit the two adventuring parties against each other, because I personally don’t think that would be very fun. What I would like is for each party to add life to my game world. I do what I can to make the world around my players seem alive, but there’s only so much that a GM can do. By adding a second party to the mix, it becomes possible for one party to develop a place or an NPC through play, and then for the other party to enjoy the benefits of that development.

Most of the logistical problems involved in running two groups in the same world are minor. If group 1 loots a dungeon, then by the time group 2 arrives at the same dungeon, I’m sure other monsters will have moved in. And if treasure is hidden properly, than it’s doubtful that a single group will ever find all of it, so there ought to be plenty left for the next group to find. And if the players interfere with each other’s quests…well that just sounds awesome, actually. I don’t know why I would want to fix it. There is one problem, though, which I am at a loss for how to fix. How do I keep two games leashed to a single timeline?

When two parties are adventuring separately, what’s to keep them from ending up weeks or months apart from one another? If one of the groups wants to take a month off to craft a suit of armor, and the other group wants each session to begin right where the previous one left off, then this won’t work. There needs to be a method of keeping both parties in roughly the same time period. A task which is particularly difficult since my current group meets monthly, and my new group would probably need to be run bi-weekly.

My first thought is to make time a limited resource for the players. For the group meeting twice a month, they would have a maximum of 1 week to ‘spend’ during the session. For the group meeting only once a month, they would have 2 weeks to spend. Each group would also have the opportunity to spend any time they didn’t use during the game session on other tasks, such as crafting, magical research, carousing, etc. Making time a more tangible resource is something I’ve wanted to promote in my games for awhile, so this would help with that goal as well.

But what if a game session ends on a time sensitive goal? What if the adventuring party is charging into the dungeon to stop a sacrifice which will be performed on the 30th day of the Month of Blood, and they only have hours to spare when our time is up and the session must end? It would be unreasonable of me to force the players to start their next session a week or two into the future, if they didn’t run out of time to stop the sacrifice through play. They must be given the option, in these cases, of beginning the next session immediately where the previous left off.

Perhaps the best way to fix that is to implement a mandatory resting period after an adventure. If group 1 typically has two weeks worth of time to spend in any given session, but a session ends after only a single day, and the next session is a continuation of that same day, then the party must rest for 4 weeks after the adventure to recover from their injuries. I can’t think of a reason why my players would object to this–unless there are further time sensitive goals for them to worry about. If players did object, they could always be given penalties for adventuring while exhausted. A -1 to all physical rolls for each week of rest they miss should work.

But then there’s the opposite problem. What if a single game session ends up taking more time than is allotted to the group? Travel doesn’t take up a great deal of time in the real world–particularly if the players are taking a route they’ve followed many times in the past. But it does eat up game time much more quickly than other tasks do. If you’re running a 3 hour session, and you’ve given the players a week’s worth of time for that session, all they need to do is travel through roughly 30 hexes within the session to exceed the week you allotted for them. And while a lot can happen within 30 hexes, I don’t know if you can (or should) force travel to take up an excessive amount of real-world time just to keep your game’s calendar on track.

The only method I’ve been able to come up with for keeping both parties on track when one spends too much time traveling, is to quietly add a few days to the other party’s resting period at the end of their next session.

I can’t help but feel like I’m over complicating this. Maybe these are edge cases which won’t occur frequently in play. But the last thing I want is for this experiment to turn into a clusterfuck of time travel just because I didn’t create an adequate structure for managing the game’s calendar.

I would very much like some input on this issue, if anyone has relevant experience or thoughts!

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4 thoughts on “Synchronizing Calendars To Avoid Temporal Displacement”

  1. Frankly I wouldn’t worry too much about time compression and such – it’s not like the two parties are really playing in the same world, and you’re already NPCizing each set of PCs for the other. Just use the things that work when they work, a rough timeline is good – but when Party A stops in the middle of a big raid and then the same week Party B cleans out that area – let party A finish – in Party A’s world they plundered that ruin, and in B’s it was them.

    Basically each party is the other’s NPC rival/ally. If Party A decides it wants to kill off the competition, well, make an NPC party of B and let them rumble. If they win I am sure someone else will come along and keep doing the real Party B’s deeds.

    I guess the best way to phrase it is that you aren’t really linking two campaigns you’re using the actions of players in a pair of campaigns to model the NPC adventurers in those campaigns.

  2. On the other hand, I really like the idea of linking the campaigns, and there is some precedent for it. You should check out Chris Perkin’s “The Dungeon Master Experience” articles over at WotC’s D&D site. While the site is 4th edition based, that specific column is all about world building, and he has both played in a game as one of two parties and ran two parties theough his own world. I’m on my phone right now so I can’t post a link but a google search will get you there. From what I’ve read of your site you’ll love this column.

  3. LOL @ “clusterfuck of time travel”

    @Gus

    I think he *does* want to actually link the two campaigns though.

    @LS

    If you explain the issue to the two groups, and say that you will occasionally add a week or whatever of downtime to one or the other of the groups to keep things in sync, I bet that would take care of it. An extra week for crafting and other activities would probably not be frowned upon. This could just be done opportunistically when there is no time pressure (which is probably most of the time if the games are exploration driven).

    1. I figure both groups would be understanding, and let me insert any down time I needed to. I just want to find the ‘cleanest’ way to go about things.