Monday, 30 March 2009

Spring is sprung, De grass is riz, I wonder where dem birdies is?

So spring is here, the cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom, everybody is out drinking in the parks; this is the only three-week period of the year in which Tokyo could be described as beautiful.

It's got me thinking about the passage of seasons. Calendars, you see, are generally one of those things that I despise in an rpg setting. Too much opportunity for piddly annoying book keeping and confusion. ("In my setting, there are 10 months, six of which have 46 days, three have 30 days, and one has 15! They're called Janubacky, Februbacky, Mar..z.z..z...zzzz...") And when are they ever really used? "The Baron of Snoozeville expects you to be back on the fifth doy of Octobacky, and not a waak later."

But what if each season brought with it something unusual? For example, here in Japan the seasons have rather distinct flavours - snow in winter, cherry blossoms in spring, sweat in summer, and red leaves and cedar pollen in autumn. (I used to think of this as an annoying Japanese cliche, because it's not as if Japan is the only country in the world with four seasons, but what's certainly true is that the seasons here have very distinct beginnings and ends, as if somebody up in the sky is flipping switches on and off.) It isn't a great stretch to imagine some sort of extreme climatic change bringing with it game-affecting side-effects. For example:
  • In spring, a certain tree begins giving off a pungent pollen which causes dwarves to become sexually active.
  • In autumn, the dragons are out in force looking for food to build up fat reserves for their winter hibernation.
  • In winter, colder temperatures in the valleys allow frost giants to raid further into civilised areas.
  • In summer, swarms of cockroaches scour the land of food, causing localised famine. Some varieties even eat flesh, and strip the weak and old down to the bone.
And so on. What's clearly needed is a table of random seasonal effects, isn't it?


  1. Clearly.
    And I am totally jealous. It'd be all kinds of fun for me to visit Japan this time of the year.

    Especially because New Mexico gets so freakin' windy in the spring. This is not hat weather.

    V-word: Strognol
    Definition: A unit equal to a shot-glassful of lead and no other material.

  2. I find that tracking time and the changing of the seasons is an important part of any long-term campaign setting.

    However, I learned years ago that none of the players at my game table want to be bogged down with the specifics of weather, climate, and all that jazz.

    I for one like adding it to my campaign for flavour, but I fear that it's often a lot of work for details that are lost to my players. I suspect that this is a somewhat common reality among many players, which is really too bad.

  3. However, I learned years ago that none of the players at my game table want to be bogged down with the specifics of weather, climate, and all that jazz.

    They don't need to. All they have to deal with is covering their character's arses when the Summer thunderstorm hits. :)

  4. I love the frost giant idea. I have always tried to come up with calendars for my games and like you, I always find them lacking. But seasons work...

    Good stuff.

  5. I've done some pretty complex calendars for campaigns. The last one I did was nine months of five weeks, each of nine days, further divided into three day intervals. The whole thing tied in to the phases of the three moons and the solar cycle.

    What I've found is that if you have a complex calendar, you need to have reasons for your players to care. In the above example, each month tied to astrological signs, which were tied to magical potentials. The weekly cycles were tied to the ebb and flow of the world's very significant tides and the influences of various deities.

    It also helps to give your players a copy of the calendar so they can use it as a reference and a reference for important events. I created one that served as a sort of party day-timer / log, which really helped make the calendar meaningful.

  6. I love calendars, and I can get funky with months and seasons, but I've found getting away from a 24 hour day and a 7 day week causes all sorts of trouble at the table for my groups. Still, I like to keep track of full moons, religious festivals, and seasonal weather changes.

  7. I've been an adherent to the quick-and-lazy school of "12 months of 30 days apiece, and five extra days of annual partying. Any questions?" ever since reading LOTR.

    The one time I *did* try to write an odd calender the whole thing just got a tl;dr response from the players. So, yeah. Lesson learnt.

    vw: herit - the equinoctial festival of blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...

  8. Rach: You wouldn't like it here then. It's probably even windier. There was even a plane crash the other week because the wind was too strong.

    Ameron: It is too bad, but it's one of those things that I tend to forget about as a player, so I can't really blame others for doing so.

    Edsan: Heh.

    Mike D.: Thanks!

    mthomas768: That's a good idea - giving the players a reason to care. Tying it into magical potential is a great way of doing that.

    trollsmyth: Getting away from 24 hour days and 7 day weeks is one of those "recipe for disaster" things that I wouldn't touch with a bargepole. (Another is messing with units of measurement - I once heard about a DM who came up with an entire new measurement system based on cubes. Never worked.)

    Chris: And you can't really blame them, because I've given that exact response myself from time to time.

  9. mthomas768: A good example of this is the Gloranthan (RuneQuest) calendar, originally published by Chaosium in Cults of Prax I think.

    The magic used by one empire in the setting was tied to the phase of the moon; the phase of the moon changed daily throughout the week.

    This meant that everyone had a good reason to keep an eye on the calendar, whether they used that sort of magic (we shall mount our assault on the fortress tomorrow when our magic is at its peak!); or were fighting against it (hah, we can take them on, there's a new moon!

    Sir Harrok

  10. Noisms: Hm. Zat so? I was under the impression Japan ejoyed fairly mild springs.
    Ah well, another day, another ambition messed up by cruel reality.

    As far as calendars go, I'm with Chris. Unoriginal as it sounds I basically just go with twelve 30-day months, With two feast days in midwinter, one in early spring, one halfway into summer, and one at harvest.

    I'm really not very original much of the time, am I? I mean, it doesn't bother me because I sort of like a plain standardized setting (Though heavy on the dinosaurs and hybridized animals) but it irks a lot of players.

    V-word: Disabb
    Meaning: To alter the flow of a river, specifically to make it straighter.

  11. I am doing hanami with my colleagues in London on Friday, so nyah... one doesn't have to be in japan to have fun. Honestly...

    I think the best example of seasonal madness I have ever read is the series by Paul Park where each season is 80 years long, ("Soldiers of Paradise" is the first). By the end of each season there is always some kind of revolution, either because they have too much sex or not enough food (or both). It's really interesting.

    But for me, seasons mostly just provide backdrops - weather, foliage, etc. I always use standard western calendars so that everyone understands the season immediately, anything else just confuses people. It's bad enough that, coming from the southern hemisphere, I get the seasons muddled half the time anyway...

  12. That sounds interesting. Might have to find some of those books. It reminds me of a Song of Ice and Fire, which also has decades long seasons.