Monday, 28 May 2018

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn....

The OSR, such as it is, can be thought of as having been an exercise in archaeology: digging out the "real game" from the layers of dull earth piled on top of it over the eons - and discovering what it does well when performed in optimal conditions.

But there are still things that D&D does badly. One of them is the passing of time. Despite Gygax's famous admonition that you CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT, D&D tends to ignore the passing of years and seasons as an in-game phenomenon. As a result, D&D campaigns, even long-running ones, typically pay at best lip service to the notion that "it is winter" (or whatever) and basically only keep track of how many days are passing by in order to see how many hit points are healed or how far a distance is traveled. (This may also be why D&D campaigns are ludicrously sped-up and compressed when you really think about it: the amount of stuff that D&D PCs get done over the course of an in-game week or month is typically crazily vast.) There are exceptions, I am sure. But this has been my overwhelming experience.

A lot gets missed this way. For one thing, the rhythm of the seasons is intrinsically interesting and can lead to different types of adventure. Pendragon is obviously the forerunner in this regard, but the cycle of: downtime in winter/preparations in spring/proper adventuring in summer/girding-of-loins for winter in autumn presents all kinds of important and useful challenges which lead very quickly, I think, to many interesting alternative modes of play. The potential of these different modes have not yet really begun to be properly explored - what can you do to make spell research, social climbing, storing of food, training, long-term plotting and scheming, and so forth, more interesting and gameable?

But there are long-term cycles and changes too. Populations of animals peak and crash due to annual variations in the real world, and also because of long-term trends whose causes we can only guess at. (This May there have been greenfly everywhere in my local area - vast swarms of them, even in the city centre. Where have they come from? They weren't here in these numbers last year.) Why wouldn't the same thing happen with the populations of orcs, kobolds, mold men and manticores - assuming these beings fit into the natural ecology? There are different species of insects who are locked into a 13- or 17-year breeding cycle. What if that was true of goblins - or gargantua?

Finally, what would or could the passing of the seasons mean in a fantasy world? Maybe magic fluctuates in power or changes its effects altogether from season to season. Maybe in winter beings from the spirit world visit ours. Maybe in spring giants migrate. Maybe astrology is real.

14 comments:

  1. I am running an early Iron Age game on G+ for the last few months. Each game is a season and different things happen each season both as down time, and for cultural reasons (Wars and Raiding happen in the summer, but is considered heinous in spring or fall for crop and manpower reasons).

    A big change is that magic does fluctuate heavily by season. There is minor low magic in Spring and Autumn, No magic in the summer, and high magic in the winter.

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    1. I like the idea of having no magic in summer but magic in winter - presents interesting strategical challenges I bet.

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    2. Its something I have done a few different times in games. Its really effective for a number of gameplay problems when running games. If Dungeons are mythic underworlds and only appear in the Winter, it means that "Dungeon Camping" ceases to be a thing due to sub zero temperatures.

      It also makes a nice break in regards to travel, that tends to not happen in winter due to the dangers (meaning people go to the nearby underworld portal).

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  2. We're actually about to switch to week-based gameplay. Like, the party goes adventuring once a week, then gets back to town and rest (it's a Rappan Athuk-based campaign, so it fits perfectly). I've developed a calendar that includes celebrations and whatnot, while also complementing it with a random table of events to spice things up.

    For an upcoming campaign (one I tentatively call "heartwarming sandbox") I made an abstracted calendar not unlike the one in Stardew Valley (each season lasts for 4 weeks only). Again, holidays and random events make it more lively (plus "routines", like merchants with rare items are in town only one day a week, etc.), but this way day-to-day adventuring is conserved.

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    1. What is "heartwarming sandbox"?

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    2. It's a pet project of mine greatly inspired by Beyond the Wall, Ryuutama, Final Fantasy IX, and the aforementioned Stardew Valley. Basically a very optimistic take on fantasy with no grittiness, advancement tied to protecting and bettering the community, befriending monsters as a real option, etc.

      My games eventually tend toward the surreal and grimdark (and it's hard not to let my current campaign go down that rabbit hole, too), so this is essentially my way of escaping my own fantasies.

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  3. Probably a good thing te ebb and flow of the year wasnkt hardcoded into the game early on or we'd be stuck with even more genericish americanna ren-fairia.

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    1. I reckon people would still probably have mostly ignored it.

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  4. If I remember well, Bloodlust (a French RPG about playing Stormbringer-like weapons) had a season system that affected everything (like all rolls) because the double moons had real and tangible effect on people : the Conquest Month, the Parting Month, the Sadness Month ...

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    1. That sounds quite cool. I was thinking of doing something similar for New Troy.

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  5. Flashing Blades from FGU did a 17th century rpg quite well, I thought. Mechanics a bit clunky in some ways, but it had a yearly cycle in which PCs could try for promotion in various careers, and fight in military campaigns if they were in the army or had characters connected to the military. Probably the first game I ever played where characters actually got a sense of time passing, careers developing/failing, etc. I still think it has some good ideas in this regard for current day gamers.

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    1. I'll see if I can track it down some day.

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    2. It is on dtrpg. Or was.

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  6. Could not agree more. The game would benefit significantly from some well-defined rules for "downtime" activities.

    It also helps to deter player activity during the adventuring "off-season."

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