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Realtime D&D exploration

I’ve got to write down how I do the realtime component of our time tracking because I think it’s not super obvious.

What & how

First of all, “diegetic time” means the time inside the game world, the time the characters experience. It’s the fourth day of the month of Rahat, in the year 1394.

I’ll use “IRL time” for time the players experience. The time on the kitchen clock next to the game table.

I have a piece of paper (I usually use a paper note book) and down along the left edge write diegetic time stamps.

Here is an example from our most recent diegetic day:

1050 (f) ; here I wrote an “f” in a circle since one char used a “frotz” spell (duration one hour). I crossed over the f when the hour was up and let the player know his spells had expired.
1322 (f)
1352 @ 1932 ; here I wrote an at sign followed by the IRL time; I call this “syncing”, I’ll explain that below
1352 @ 1953 ;
1400 @ 2000 ; syncing is way easier at even-ish hours
1500 @ 2020
1500 @ 2040
1510 @ 2100

What makes time pass?

Diegetically, a lot of things take ten minutes, we call that length of time “one tick”.

The two most common things are:

And a short rest takes six ticks.

When time passes diegetically I make new time stamps in the left-most column.

IRL, time passes when they discuss plans or roleplay out their li’l in-character arguments, or when they are exploring “I am pulling the lever, what do I hear?”

And the time that passes is not the sum of diegetic+IRL, instead, it’s the longest of the two.

For example, if they talk for 23 minutes during two ticks, 23 minutes pass total. If they talk for 23 minutes during four ticks, 40 minutes pass total.

How to sync

When I sync, I look at the last syncing to see how much time passed IRL and in game, and make a new one.

For example, let’s say I have a sync mark that says

1400 @ 1800

That means that at six PM here on Earth, it was two PM in the Crowded Sea.

If they do things for two ticks I’ll have:

1400 @ 1800

And if they’ve talked for 23 minutes and I wanna sync, I can note that it’d be 1423 which is more than the 1420 so I advance it to 1423 and I’d have this:

1400 @ 1800
1423 @ 1823

If they instead had done things corresponding to four ticks while talking for 23 minutes, I’d instead have this:

1400 @ 1800
1440 @ 1823

When to sync

Sync when you are pausing the game and taking a fika break. Like in the longer example above, I have 1352 @ 1932 and 1352 @ 1953 because we froze the diegetic time in order to take a 21 minutes long IRL break.

Also sync when the situation or character knowledge significantly changes.

You don’t want to overly sync, that’s just punitive; like in the “23 minutes” examples above, let’s say they do two ticks while discussing plans and exploring 23 minutes and you decide to sync. Since you take the highest time, that means that 23 minutes passed. But let’s say they then do two more ticks in less than a minute. You sync again. You’d have charged them 23+20 = 43 minutes for something that maybe only should’ve been 40 minutes. (One way to get around this is to use common sense and determine when you should look at an earlier sync stamp rather than the most recent one.)

For a good example of when you shouldn’t overly sync, let’s say the characters have a short rest and the players talk for a tiny bit but you as a group quickly go “OK, no monsters disturbed your short rest, you get your rest” and then they walk somewhere 30 minutes away and you scratch three ticks and you go “OK, you’re there” and then they start discussing plans. Obviously if you were a mensch the characters would’ve been talking when they were walking or during the short rest! As opposed to walking in silence and then starting a yakfest at the front of the door.

That said, do sync when it seems very clear to the players that yes, this is the start of a new time period. At the start and end of short rests is usually pretty good.

When time doesn’t pass

If they rest or otherwise do downtime you don’t need to sit there in silence in real life and wait it out. Time doesn’t have to pass IRL whenever it passes diegetically.

Conversely, if you as DM are taking your time with reading some cumbersome description that would’ve been immediately clear to the characters experiencing it IRL, time shouldn’t pass diegetically just because that much time passes IRL.

Fighting is an example of that. In our system, one entire round of fighting (that is, all the characters combined) is just six seconds long. We play fast, a few seconds per turn, but with huge parties and hordes of pretties that’s still like a minute or so per round, ten times slower than the time that’s supposed to pass diegetically. We want to test out some real-time or speed elements to how we run fights but we haven’t quite nailed that down yet.

Syncing can help with time not passing just as well as it can help with time passing.

Why though?

We do this to keep track of light and water and food and shoes. Shoes is really easy with this system: I have a separate column labeled “shoes” that is the time when their shoe power for the day is over, their “shoes off”–time, so to speak, and I advance it they rest since resting doesn’t wear on their soles.

We’ve houseruled the light cantrips to require components such as moss or fireflies. Torches and lanterns are still a really good idea, too.