A familiar act–a completely known act–can be very different when time is introduced.
I am away from my wife many weeknights, which is made far more bearable with the panoply of modern communication. We catch each other by cell phone in the evening, and often text or message via facebook, with emails also in the mix. It reinforces that we’re together, even though we’re physically apart.
She recently gave me an interesting gift; a journal that we pass back and forth at each week’s end, writing long hand “letters” to each other. Even though I was already writing and talking with her–and I’m trying not to cut back on our established communications–the new format introduced a different style of writing. I won’t claim it’s better… but it’s a letter, not a conversation, which has a very different feel.
We notice the efficiency gains from faster communication–how disruptive introducing phones into homes was over telegraphs, much less displacing letters with email, IMs, and texts. The same can be true in reverse; if letters are expensive, or only go out on Tuesdays, then you’re encouraged to write more completely, since it will be a long delay if “please explain this sentence” costs two weeks of development while the mail trundles back and forth.
Time at the Table
In roleplaying we often skim over routine actions and events, to emphasize the enjoyable parts of the adventure–and to preserve our precious time for interesting events. As a GM, you can carefully reintroduce description of the ordinary to ground the players in the setting. For a literary example, the second quarter of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows really drags. The emphasis on despairing travel lasts no more than 1/30th of the series, but it feels disproportionately long in the experience–exactly as a hopeless time should.
A month long journey to a foreign outpost has a very different feel depending on how it is handled. A breezy, “and, after a month of exhausting travel you reach your destination,” is great for a globetrotting game. If, instead, each day’s travel gets a few distinguishing characteristics then it will feel much longer and give a better sense of the landscape changing over the course of the journey. If that journey is instead broken up with nature sightings, wild animal howls, people in hamlets watching fearfully from their doors as the PCs ride by, encounters with bandits, monsters, traveling merchants, and toll collectors… you might several sessions of material. To be clear, taking several sessions just to get somewhere isn’t “better” or “more realistic”, but it does emphasize the elapsed time in a way that the players will feel and reflect.
Taking more table time emphasizes things other than journeys too. If you show NPCs weighing their coin and carefully listening to prices at the inn, it emphasizes how much expense the evening meal is to them. Similarly, if you emphasize the bills and junk mail that build up while the PCs gallivanted about the world, players will be reminded that the world continues in its routine. Even if they’ve had life changing, world shaking experiences, their energy bill is due.
Time and Tech
If you go away to fight overseas, the infrequent mail may be your only connection to home. If your science fiction universe doesn’t have FTL communication, packet ships carrying information might mean that news is months out of date if you’re far from the core–or if traders rarely make their way to your end of the arm, due to lack of trade goods. You can recreate the delays in transatlantic communication–from the modern week or two via airmail, or a month via ship, to several months mimicking 17th century ships–in your science fiction. Of course, if the “mail” has to be physically carried (even if its in the computer databank), that allows for more censorship possibilities for the mail carrier–or opportunities for rebels to develop rival information spreading networks.
Introducing delay allows for interesting divergence, and encourages self sufficiency and independent solutions. If they have to fly an IT guy out to reboot your server, it might be worth learning how to do it yourself, unless your business can handle lots of downtime. On the other hand, if a reboot and diagnostic is just a quick phone call away… why not let the expert do it?
Have you used time deliberately in your games of late? Do you have a good trick for making something feel lengthy, without wasting the whole evening? Please share your experiences and advice in comments.
I have not often used time this deliberately before. I did once, have the PCs make a choice that would split the group for roughly 8 months in game. The one PC left behind was a very successful business owner for an airship company. When the party made it back to the frontier he had a small fleet which impressed the hell out of the rest of the party.
The game I am currently playing in is using time in a cool way. We’re playing Dresden Files, and normally our episodes took a few days to a week to resolve the issues. Our current episode is called “The Longest Day of My Life.” The “downtime” for this game has been about 2 hours where only 1 character slept. The rest of us did research and investigated more about the gates to hell we need to deal with.
From a cinematic level, I almost hope the GM starts to give the group an aspect about being tired- we have been going for a long time with no break. However, giving the enemies more ways to hurt us is bad.
In another topic:
Communication issues can lead to some interesting adventures. Getting a call for aid, and arriving too late- with nothing the PCs could have done to get there faster. Or having couriers function as spies for the emperor in a FTL travel game (something similar to Dune with foldspace technology, but no way to speed communication). The abandoned creepy science ship that performed all sorts of terrible experiments is left floating, unheard of for over a month and the PCs are sent to investigate.
Those are all interesting examples. The airship fleet would be a cool thing to see happen–a great way to show the world continuing on. The “no sleep squad” does sound like a likely aspect–nasty compels, but at least you’ll get fate points… and some sleep. 😉
Yes, communication delays and hiccups can allow for some interesting plots…
Time IS Emphasis. Eloquently simple and very, very important. Good Article, Sir.
Never forget the journey! The journey can be just as much of an adventure as anything else. I actually wrote an article about this recently ( http://violentmediarpg.blogspot.com/2013/09/esoteric-limited-infinite.html ).
As far as implying time w/o taking up too much of it, go-go-gadget Liberal Arts Degree!
Repetition gives emphasis and implies the passage of time: “The rough path Stretches on endlessly, winding slowly up the mountain face. Each moment Stretches into hours. Every monotonous step deepens the dull ache, Stretching all your forward progress into one long exercise in pain. When you finally, at long last, reach the summit, the dull volcanic landscape lies scattered miles and hours behind you.”
Diction, as in the example above the words you use set the tone for what your doing; “monotonous”, “slowly”, “finally”, “at long last”, etc. help to reinforce the time of the journey (despite the mere moments it takes to speak those sentences).
Tone, speaking in a droning, monotone, or even an annoyed tone of voice can also accentuate the fact that those sentences represent hours of in-game time. Trailing off with something like, “on and on and on…” can have a similar effect to fading out in a cheesy 80s montage…
And, if you know much else about Literary Criticism there are metric ton of literary devices that can help your Gamemastering.
I like the idea of deliberate repetition as a strategy to amplify the feeling of tedium, or time stretching. I’ll have to add that to my tool belt!
Thought of another one: Long, overtly complex and convoluted sentences, the ones that just keep going Thoreau-like, also help things to seem to drag. Shorter sentences drive home a sense of speed and immediacy. Yay! Syntax!
Hmm. I know that when excited, my sentences sometimes extend and tangle…
Something that can help convey a sense of time is asking for repeated rolls. That may only take a few moments for the player, but making 10 rolls emphasizes how tedious doing research, building something, or making a long, harrowing journey.
I’ve done this and found it works best when there’s narration between the rolls. Just 10 rolls is resolved pretty quickly, and seems to resolve as annoyance, not a journey–usually. (It can also be perceived as “roll until you fail”, unless more is noted up front.)
I’ve got a free PDF download one-shot called Frozen Wind for the Kaidan setting of Japanese horror (PFRPG). The adventure comes in 3 acts, that change what is goin on at the end of each, and all 3 are time critical. A sense of urgency motivates the adventurers, especially the last one which leads to overwhelming odds against the PCs unless they can stop a ritual being performed to summon a terrible evil kami ice bear.
Especially for horror games, time use is important.