Tracking Time in RPG Campaigns
One of the most important things you can do in a Dungeons and Dragons home-brewed campaign is keep track of passing time. This involves tracking days, months, and possibly even years, as well as incorporating holidays and downtime activities. While there is already a lot for Dungeon Masters to do while running a session, knowing the date can make a huge difference in your games. We can take a look at both why we should keep a calendar, as well as how.
Pressure on Players
Downtime activities are a great way for players to spend time between adventures, allowing them to heal, train, and pursue personal goals. Some examples of downtime activities include:
- Crafting: Players can use downtime to craft weapons, armor, magic spells, or other useful items.
- Training: Players can spend time training to gain new skills or abilities.
- Researching: Players can research a particular topic, such as a monster they'll be facing or a location they'll be visiting.
- Roleplaying: Players can use downtime to roleplay their characters' interactions with NPCs or each other.
First let's get a quick understanding of the historical relevance to the modern day calendar. They all have their roots based in the religious beliefs of ancient civilizations. Did you know that seven-day week is based on the seven planets known to the Babylonians? And the 12-month year is based on the lunar cycle? The 365-day calendar that we use today is actually based on the ancient Roman's calendar which was heavily influenced by religious beliefs of the time. The names of the days of the week were named after notable gods and goddesses. Tuesday was named after the Norse god of war, Tyr. The months were also named after important religious figures, such as January being named after the Roman god Janus, who was the god of beginnings and transitions. This calendar was adopted by the early Christian church and eventually became the standard calendar that we use today. So, consider that the way we track time in our daily lives is still heavily influenced by religious beliefs of the ancient world.
How To Create A Fantasy Calendar
As you can see from above, if we want to build our own calendar, it's critical that we know if there are any moon cycles and the gods of the realm. Assuming there is at least one moon orbiting your fantastical game world, it's probably easiest to have at minimum 1 lunar cycle per week. To make it simple, we can break up the moon phases from full moon, to first quarter, to new moon, to last quarter. This gives us some flexibility on the amount of days of the week depending on how many gods you are incorporating. If there are any more than 7 it's probably useful to identify the most important gods that affect your realm. From there, just decide how many days are in each month and how many months are in a year. This will give you 4 seasons with a minimum of 4 months along with days of the week. Add more 4 more weeks (based on the lunar cycle) to each season if you want to expand it out. Next, let's look at important dates, such as holidays or events relevant to your campaign's story.
A calendar is only as good as the important dates on it. Incorporating holidays into your campaign can add depth and realism to your game world. Think about adding unique days of celebration based on local religions and cultural importance. To start, you can use some common cross-cultural holiday ideas include:
- Midwinter Festival: Celebrated during the winter solstice, this holiday marks the longest night of the year and the return of the sun.
- Harvest Festival: Celebrated during the autumnal equinox, this holiday gives thanks for the bounty of the harvest.
- Day of the Dead: A Mexican holiday that honors deceased loved ones, this holiday is often celebrated with feasts, altars, and offerings.
- Spring Equinox: A holiday celebrating the renewal of life and the return of spring.
- Lunar New Year: This holiday marks the start of a new lunar cycle and is often celebrated with feasts, fireworks, and dragon dances.
Putting It All Together
There are several methods available to track time in your campaign. One common way is to use a physical calendar or timeline that the players can refer to during the game. This can be either an actual calendar or a timeline drawn on a sheet of paper or a whiteboard. Another method is to use an online calendar tool or app specifically designed for tracking in-game time. During gameplay, the Dungeon Master can keep track of the passing of days and communicate this to the players as needed. Personally, at the top of my notes I just write DAY XX modify it as needed. It's really as easy as that! It's important to be consistent in tracking time to maintain the integrity of the game world and to ensure that time-sensitive events and plot points can be executed properly.
Our Time Has Come
Tracking time in D&D campaigns can add depth and richness to your world, allowing for both pressure-filled moments and downtime activities. By establishing a consistent calendar system and incorporating holidays and festivals, you can make your campaign feel more immersive and realistic.