Choose Your Language

Monday, 16 August 2010

Time ...

I thought I would talk about the topic of "Time" this week. It is an especially difficult topic with respect to D&D (or any CRPG that involves time for that matter) simply because in almost every gaming situation the process of passing time varies from one action to another: From combat rounds to spell durations and even to timed events over days, weeks or even months. In D&D, the passing of time is handled by the DM who determines how much time passes in the world after each player action. In a CRPG like NWN, however, managing such events (in modules that do not have a DM at the helm) are not so straight forward without a robust time system being in place that can cater for the various player actions. As an aside, I found it interesting to read how the D&D rules regarding time have changed over the years: In the 1E rules, time was considered "of the utmost importance"; in the 2E rules, the importance of time became "decided almost entirely by the DM", and by the 3E rules, there is no index reference to it at all. In fact, the 1E DM's Guide even stresses in capitalised letters that, "YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT." So, one question is, just how important is time and its keeping?

Party Time Keeping First of all, however, I want to ask the question just how do our party of intrepid adventurers keep track of time for themselves? The passing of a day is fairly obvious, and so tracking periods of time in days, weeks and months should be considered straight forward enough, but what about more intricate time tracking? Our guide for this comes in the form of equipment that the PC can purchase from a merchant according to the D&D Player's Guide. In the 3E rules, a PC can purchase an Hourglass (25gps) and a Water Clock (1000gps); the latter not being portable. There is also the possibility to refer to a sundial on a sunny day. However, I think it may also be assumed that some ingenious gnomes will have produced a better time piece at some point in time (if you pardon the pun), but, like the Water Clock, this would be well beyond the basic adventurers need considering its cost. The bottom line is, in general, the adventurer does not need to keep track of time to the minute. For the adventurer, the most critical time they will most likely need to observe is when a ritual might be planned to take place, like the midnight hour on the first day of the year. In such circumstances, the adventurers would normally lie in wait at the site until the event occurred, thereby avoiding the need to be too specific. In my own module, Better The Demon, the recognition of a new hour is also handled by magik(*): Towers with enchantments placed upon them will chime at a new hour without the need for interaction. (*) Magik with a "k" refers to objects containing magic, rather than magic with a "c", meaning from a creature.

Game Time Keeping Most CRPGs will not track time from minute to minute, and even if they did, they would normally have a means of fast-forwarding time when required. In most NWN modules (my own included), time is scaled in such a way to allow it to pass quicker than in real life. For example, in Better The Demon, 15 minutes real time equates to 1 hour game time. However, this is not the case where combat or certain spells are involved, which can be confusing if not recognised. For example, a spell that lasts 1 minute per level will last for 15 minutes for a 15th level wizard. This spell would actually last 15 minutes real time, which equates to 1 hour game time. How one interprets this time difference is a matter of perspective during play. (See Amorphous Time below.) Furthermore, when a PC rests, time can be moved forward or not, according to both where they rest and how they rest. For example, in Better The Demon, resting at an inn will always assume 8 hours game time moves forward (regardless of when resting was started), whereas if the party chose to rest (to pass time by waiting until dawn or sunset), then only the number of hours to the specific time will pass. If there is only one hour to dawn, then only one hour will pass when rested. Better The Demon also introduces the concept of Personal Time, which I will discuss next and answers the question of how they rest.

Amorphous Time & Personal Time I have mentioned this before, but will mention it again as it is an important feature to grasp with respect to the passing of time in Better The Demon. To keep the game running smoothly and to prevent a "resting every few minutes to regain spells", resting to regain spells works around a Personal Time frame. Basically, the assumption is made that a PC can rest to regain spells once every 8 hours, and as long as they do not regain them more frequently than this, then they can rest at any time without moving time forward for the rest of the group. I call this Amorphous Time, because time effectively shifts according to the individual player's perspective. I go into an example of how it works in this post: Resting & The Passage of Time. You can also read how time affects party attrition in this post: Hunger & Vigour System.

Is Time Important? I suppose the answer to this question depends upon your own gaming background and just how much of a stickler you are when it comes to such things as resting, spell recovery, timed events and its effect with respect to travel. For me, all this is important, and so I like to make sure time is well catered for. This is why in Better The Demon any form of overland travel will be counted; all resting will be monitored and spell learning periods will be adhered to. (Time for item creation, however, will be instantaneous in Better The Demon compared to time taken in D&D.) Some may argue that adhering to these time elements is superfluous to the story and that time can be moved forward according to the stage the player is at. However, I have always seen D&D as a "free environment" in which the player can immerse themselves and follow events as they see fit. They may wander into new events and quests that demand their time, which in turn may apply time constraints when trying to complete other events. The point being, using time in this way adds a dimension of urgency to the game and causes the player to consider their actions more carefully. For example, if a cure for a poison is not found for the princess by midnight, then she dies. In this case, any form of travelling would quickly add time and so it forces the player to work within the limits that the remaining time offers them. Basically, using time in this way helps remind the player of their own limits, even when they are playing the hero.

Date System Every campaign world with a decent background and ecology usually has its own date system based upon its own historical world events. Toril (of Faerun fame) has its own unique date system and Better The Demon also has one. The problem with a world having its own calendar with different days and weeks has, thankfully, been solved by a great piece of custom work by Edward Beck's (aka 0100010) and his Custom Calendar GUI. Depending upon just how involved you want your calendar system to be, this custom content may require more coding. The personal touch it adds to the campaign, however, is well worth the effort and is very rewarding. You can see a screenshot and more info about the date system in this post: Keeping A Date.

Time To Conclude It's obvious that not every module needs a solid time system in place to allow a fun time. However, if a builder intends to present their work as a campaign (with events occurring over time throughout the world), then I do think there is a strong argument for the case of having an established time system in place. It also depends on your approach to the game and whether you prefer what is now referred to as "hard core rules" that include items and conditions that are affected by time like some of those I mentioned earlier. Yes, it involves more effort to make work, but I believe if done correctly, it can add a great deal of depth to a module transforming it from a good module into a classic module. It's true that playing with the added element of time is more difficult, but I believe the rewards for succeeding with it included are also that much more satisfying.

Time For You That's my take anyway, but what about you? Builders: How do you handle time? Do you stick with the default system or have you altered it in any way? Builders/Players: Does being allowed to rest, heal and relearn spells at any time appeal to your style of play, or do you prefer a stricter setting and background to play? Players: Do you keep track of the date at all? Do you believe timed events are important or not? Basically, tell me what you think about time in the modules you build or play!

IMPORTANT INFO: Any time constraints I use will NEVER stop the player from finishing the game. They are not to be included to frustrate the player, but to add a different slant to the game. Time constraints will have a biggest impact on when a player can rest and recover HPs and spells. Otherwise, time constraints that cannot be circumvented in any way will only appear in side quests. This gives the player a reason to choose a different path to play on a potential replay.


Eguintir Eligard said...

Not only do I not keep track of time, I actually avoid most stages of the day for my outdoor areas.

See I design my exterior to look great in a default lighting, and having my player experience it otherwise disturbs me. I prefer to keep my dungeons dark (requiring a cantrip or u cant even see) and gloomy, and let the bright tropical landscape contrast them to both show contrast and relief when you emerge.

In my later chapters I let some areas cycle time because they were so big that I know you would get to see them at each hour of the day and not miss out. But still the general rule has been a single time of day.

Best example was my like, where I want the beautiful bluegreen mountain lake to reflect the trees and mountains just like the real world place it was based on. The player is only there briefly I don't want them to miss it because they showed up at night.

Eguintir Eligard said...

make that Lake not like in that final paragraph.

Amraphael said...

I agree upon the most in your post. When playing a module with some kind of time component I often find it makes the game too difficult. Especially when playing together with other people. The module can't do like the DM and slow down the time when the party starts to argue about how to solve a problem or which way to go. Or maybe speed up the time to force a quick decision. That's very hard to implement. By now you probably say PRESS PAUSE, but the way we play we avoid to pause the game other than for filling up coffee or visiting the toilet. BUT if one can balance the gameplay to fit a time component it's great. If the party plays it well they shouldn't need to rush back to the city or leave the cave for 8 hours to sleep and then go back and continue the fight. So if you have restrictions and time based quests you have to think about the difference of how a single player plays vs the multiplayer party and that the quests and battles have to be easier but still challenging.

Once back in the NWN1 times I played with the possibility to create a set of scripts that healed the PC over time in a non linear way. Light wounds healed over a day but the more deep cuts and diseases took a week game time. I also tried out some time based functions for regaining spells of arcane casters. So by waiting (or playing) would regain low level spells after 1 hour and then all spells after 8 hours.

About resting/sleeping. I really think this makes something for the game. Setting up a camp resting, restoring and using it as a briefing point for the day or sorting your inventory is great. It make me feel like I'm in the game world. I've made lots of versions of this. From the animated bedroll, sleep function in ZORK (that was of no use at all) to an area dependent camp setup with tents outside, just bedrolls in caves, hiring a room in the village. Everyone with different placeables and a common inventory for all players were they could share lot and such. Then the time would pass naturally because they'd do things one would do when resting.

Calendar is cool and if it's implemented in a journal or in quests it's very cool. One thing I miss in modules is a party log over monsters killed and date (maybe by who and the xp gained ) together with a date marking in the quests gained and completed.

Ok filling up your comments now. Sorry :)

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Eguintir,

I do understand about wanting a player to see an area as designed by the builder in all its beauty. In such circumstances, I might slightly alter the time of arrival to conincide with the "sweet spot" if possible. E.g. If the party were travelling to an island, then a small storm at sea may have delayed their arrival until the following morning, where its daylight and the island looks just as I like it. :) I would, of course, then allow time to continue. While this solution may not be feasible in every case, I think it could be made to work in most circumstances. As for interior areas, their lighting is not affected by time(as I see it) and so time should not be an issue here. :)

Hi Amraphael,

I think you hit the nail on the head with respect to quests involving time: Balance! Or ... this can also be used to create a deliberate pressure on the player to make a choice ... save the queen from poison or get to the boat that leaves to another destination on time. I would not want to do this kind of thing every time, but with careful consideration, it could add some exciting elements. E.g. If they save the queen, how will they get to their destination now? Obviously, the builder will have to cater for either of the choices. ;)

I like your ideas on healing and spell recovery. :) I have simply tried sticking to the D&D rules as close as possible, with variation according to quality of rest. E.g. Resting at a good quality inn allows more healing of HPs and better spell recovery than if resting out in the wilds. Some use bedrolls as animations (when outside), whereas resting at an inn is simply a GUI selection.

You will be pleased to hear that I *have* implemented the calendar to work in the journal and world items as well. :) However, I do like the ideas you mention about recording the date of acquiring and completion of quests. Hopefully, I will be able to include that quite easily in my own system. :) A party log over monsters killed might be a little more involved to include, but I will look into it at some point - even if it is just to declare the greatest creature killed by a PC and on what date. (It could update as a greater CR creature was killed.)

I love reading comments, so don't worry about that. It helps my mind start working. ;)


Anonymous said...

I mostly leave the time as it is. Thanks to my module being very linear, the player can be in most areas only in a specific part of the day, so most exterior areas are just set to the default time setting. That saves me a lot of work and makes it easier to create relatively decent areas with my horrible artistic skills.

Resting doesn't take any time, but I have a limit on how many times a player can rest in each area (mostly only one resting allowed) so that the player can choose to rest whenever he prefers, with the game implying that he doesn't have any time to waste.

On the calendar subject, I remember once finding a script that marked the date the journal was updated. I thought it was a default function from the toolset, but I can't find it now, so it most probably isn't. It only added two numbers, which I guess were the day's and month's, so I deleted it. I would very much like a script that adds the date properly, though. It's a very simple detail that adds much in atmosphere.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Anon,

Certain modules (like the sound of yours) can get away with leaving the default date system if they are set in Toril and/or more linear than not. I'm sure your art skills are not as bad as mine. ;) That's why I have to have other things like time ... maybe I should make all my scenes at night. ;)

I will be interested to see how players work with your rest system. The problem I have found in the past (in my own experience) is that no matter how urgent I try to make the quest, without an extra system, players will rest when they like, which (for me) is a little frustrating at times. It feels like an abuse of the story due to the way the game works.

Funny enough, I thought I recalled the same date system for journal entries, but never found anything. Making the date appear is a little more difficult than it first seems by the way, but I do have it working now. I also had the added difficulty in that there are two backgrounds that make the game start differently, which also affects the way the date system works! Add the fact that I am using a custom date system and it got even more complicated. ;)

For your own module, the simplest way to do it is to add custom tokens to the front of the journal entry and then make sure the custom token is updated *before* the players receive the journal entry. For a module like yours, it is much easier to implement.


Shaughn said...


When I think of time constraints I shutter and have flash backs to the orginal Fallout. I loved the game however I spent too much time exploring and everything else and eventually, even with all my saved games, I was unable to beat the game. I still haven't finished that game, thanks to my brother I seen it's ending, but the time constraints ruined it for me.

Time is a tricky thing and I would suggest only having non-plot quest having time dependant components and to have time quest confined to a single mayor area with some sub areas (no travel time between areas -houses, caves, 2nd 3rd levels ect). If the player chooses to leave the main area then the quet ends and they loose by their choice. I would strongly discourage having travel times included in your time quest.

For Risen Hero I have used the MotB rest system so when the player successfully rest 8 hours is added. This is important to me for repeat placed encounters. If they reactivate after X hours and the player rest and has to back track or needs to travel to a safe place to rest the encounters may reactivate. In my rest script I add a delay command so I take advantage of the default rest system. it may seem like a bug and can be exploited by some players but allows for some hitpoint gain during rest (about 1/3) if a random encounter happens. No time is added but the player alwats gets somew hitpoints if resting is allowed.

This has turned a bit into a ramble: but have times specific quest isolated. I also think that the majority of players don't track or notice time, but I could be wrong.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Shaughn,

I know exactly what you mean about the type of time constraints you mean - Rest assured, my own time constraints will not be like that at all! My goal is NEVER to add any time constraints that will prevent the player from finishing the game. My own module would frustrate me if I did. ;)

Any time constraints that cannot be circumvented in some way will only be related to side quests. And like you, many of my time related pressures are more to do wth HP and spell recovery - and possibly encounters.

I believe I will add what I just said to the main post to ensure readers are aware of this fact. :)