Sunday, 19 January 2014

More Thoughts on Mythic Underworlds and Mythic Otherworlds

[This post has been significantly edited from its previous version: due to circumstances outside of my control; i.e. my own stupidity, I had the mechanics the wrong way round. I've made the appropriate changes and also updated things slightly.]

Time moves faster in Faerie and slower in Muspel. I've established that, but there ought really to be a way to mechanise it.

Let's begin with Faerie. It is almost always the case in literature involving travel to other, Faerie-esque worlds that time moves more quickly there: think of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for instance. The characters disappear to another world where they have spent years, decades, a lifetime...and return to find that almost no time has passed in our world at all. (A recent update to this story is, of course, the Next Gen episode "Inner Light", which is one of the all-time great episodes of TV in any age or genre.)

So the mechanism for the movement of time in Faerie is simple: on returning to the "real world", the DM rolls a d100 and divides the amount of time spent in Faerie by the number on the dice. So 7 weeks in Faerie, with a result of 50 on the d100, means they have only been away from the real world for a little less than a day. To model the extremes to which these stories can go (the children in The Lion... are in Narnia for what seems to them like decades, but return only minutes later), the results explode downwards. If the result on the d100 is 1-10, the DM should re-roll, but as a d1000 and divide. If the result there is 1-100, the DM should re-roll as a d10000...and so forth.

That's simple enough. In Muspel, of course, things are the other way round. There, time moves much more slowly than it does in the "real world". Again, this can be discovered in myth: in an extreme example, the Japanese legend of Urashima Taro, the main character stays at the palace of the dragon god for 3 days and returns to his home town to find that 300 years have passed.

So the mechanism for the speed at which time moves in Muspel is almost the mirror image of Faerie. The rule is, when the PCs return from Muspel, the DM rolls a d20 for however long they have stayed there (approximately), and multiplies that amount of time by the number on the dice. For instance, if they've been there 6 hours, a result of 12 on the d20 means they've been there 72 hours. If they've been there three days, a result of 12 on the d20 means it was actually 36 days. However, a roll of 18 or above explodes upwards. The DM rolls a second d20, but this time the result indicates a higher time bracket (hours become days, days become weeks, etc.). So if the PCs were in the Muspel for a day, and the DM rolls an 18, he re-rolls; if the second roll is a 12, they were away for 12 weeks. If the second roll is a roll of 18 or above, it explodes upwards again, moving to a higher time bracket once more. This can quickly result in many years passing, in extreme examples.

Now, the question(s) then becomes: won't all this result in an insane level of complexity for the DM? Won't he have to have it worked out in advance what will happen years into the future?

The answer is "No", thanks to two mechanics, which I have yet to quite figure out yet in their entirety. The first of these uses the Series of Unfortunate Events method postulated by Pseudoephedrine on therpgsite years ago; for each month the PCs have been away, the DM rolls to see what has happened generally in New Troy since. (This takes work, yes: it is probably only to be done between sessions.) The second of these would be a table of Personal Events which is rolled for each PC, including deaths of family members, wives or husbands running off with somebody else, and so on - although this would perhaps be done on a yearly, rather than monthly, basis.

Faerie is much easier, of course: there, time moves more quickly. The only complication here is what people think when you go away and come back a few hours later looking incredibly old and with a whole load of new possessions and abilities.


  1. Isn't it already de facto the case that time moves slower when you're in the underworld, crawling about turn by turn, and quicker when you're in the wilderness, crossing forty miles and three days in a matter of moments?

  2. Ah, I thought you were doing this the other way round! Where the underworld is a place of stasis, where you only go if you are interested in personal gain or stuff you can't get elsewhere. I'd personally prefer it that way, as it means the mythic worlds work naturally to keep the timescales more constant.

    1. It should make more sense that way now, Josh.

  3. If I recall correctly, Pendragon had some rules on what happened to your father and grandfather before you were born (in order to give you background information), in addition to the Winter Phase rules. Lots of random event tables and stuff, could it be useful?

    1. Yes, indeed. Actually that's more-or-less perfect. Although requiring a considerable amount of work.

  4. I'm a bit confused.

    If time moves faster in Faerie, doesn't that mean that (as in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe) you can grow old in Faerie, and return and only hours have passed in the material world? Three years is more time than three days, so if three years goes by in three days, then time moves more quickly in the place that when three years passed.

    When this post starts off, it seems that that's where you're going, but then you suggest that more time passes in the material plan than passes in the Faerie plane. And that's what happens usually in stories about Faerie—time there runs quickly, and when you come back no one believes you've been gone for years because you're young again, and only days have passed. Or to put it another way, you can talk to the machine elves for centuries and still come back down only an hour after smoking that DMT.

    In the underworld, however, time does move more slowly—so while you're there, a long time will pass in the real world. This is why folks lost in underground caverns can wander for days and come out years later, and why Urashima Taro was gone for 300 years but only experienced 3 days (he was obviously in an underworld, btw—it's an enclosed palace at the bottom of the sea ruled by a dragon).

    This is partially due to the reasons for the worlds, from a literary perspective. One ventures underground to find great wealth, but does so at a great cost when one re-emerges. One ventures into Faerie for experience or knowledge, but does so at the cost of not having anyone accept that experience/knowledge in the material world.

    So, in summation, either the wording should be switched (time moves more slowly in otherworlds and more quickly in underworlds) or the mechanics should be. I think that the latter option is more true to the literary antecedents and general purpose of the different worlds.

    The one complication is Rip Van Winkle. There is either a case that in rare occasions, the Faerie world's time does move more slowly (natural 1s re-roll given your current dice mechanic) or that the ghosts were manifestations of the underworld in the material world.

    I hope that all makes sense and is helpful. I love what you're doing, and think this dice mechanic is great. Feel free to use / quote / steal / throw away anything I've written here too.

    1. Oops, I have a typo up there because I moved some sentences around. Paragraph two, sentence two should be: "But that's not what happens usually in stories about Faerie—...."

    2. You are, of course, absolutely correct (the mechanics should be switched), and you put it very nicely too. Thanks. What you witnessed here is the results of me posting semi-complicated ideas while hungover on a Sunday morning... I also love your Rip Van Winkle idea with 1s exploding downwards.

    3. Thinking about time is really really hard. I even got it wrong when writing my critique. Glad I could help though!

  5. Your examples of time moving fast in Faerie are examples of time moving *slowly* in Faerie - 3 days in Faerie but 300 years on the outside means that time is moving *faster* in the "real world" than it is in Faerie, so Faerie-time is slowed down.

    Same thing for Muspel, but the other way - your example of 7 days passing in Muspel but only one day in the "real world" is an example of time moving *fast* in Muspel, not slow.

    Are the examples correct, or the descriptions of relative speeds?