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.