Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A thought about calendars and fantasy games

I was over at Valley of Blue Snails (Great work btw, go check it out if you haven't yet.) and noticed a posting about calendars. This is a topic that has always sort of bothered me.

I agree that saying February 23rd in game is always a bit of a disconnect. But on the other hand, I also loathe some of these convoluted creations that are used instead. They're completely confusing and are a pain to deal with. It seems to me that the effort one takes in creating a "calendar" system might better be spent elsewhere. I don't honestly think that I can remember a time when any of my players were specifically interested in the date. Maybe that's just a result of my play style. I don't know.

What I do know is that seasons make a LOT more sense in terms of in-game time keeping. Terms like: Approximately two moons left in the rainy season... The end of the grain harvest... Dead of winter... seem to ring more true to me than some made up date. After all, the majority of the populace in the middle ages had absolutely no way of knowing the date, nor did they give a hoot.

Maybe clergy members might care about the date. I could see wizards being interested in some arcane system of dating via astronomy and the study of entrails, in order to keep track of important events "elsewhere" (distant planes and such...). But for the common everyday adventurer, how is "The 23rd day of Plestance, in the 5th age of the Great Wyrm" going to make any difference in play?

Sure, this might be nit picking, but I've always run my games using weather and seasons as markers of time, and it's yet to fail me. I even had a case of the PCs traveling to a different plane where time ran at a slower pace. When they returned it was still high summer, but two years later. They figured it out via NPC reactions to their return and odd comments about dogs that had passed away of old age, of a failed harvest due to early snows, and things like that. No mention of time, just events. They caught on pretty quickly.

That's just my Wednesday $.02.


Brunomac said...

I like to use seasonal points (early spring, mid spring, late spring, etc), and would be happy not having to hit particular dates, but I also have this weird affinity for holidays in my game. I think I was inspired early on by one of the Arduin books (dozens and dozens of holidays), although I am pretty sure Hargrave used modern names for months and days unless I am mistaken.

Also those pesky players, especially the chicks, seem to like to know everything about their birthdays. That is cool, because it lends a nice feel to things to have time go by, so it works in the DM's favor.

Although I have had names for months and days of the week for my world since I was a kid, I hardly ever use the day names, finding it easier to just say "it's Saturday, the weekend is here." But for the players sake, I try to keep them abreast of the month they are in.

As an aside on seasons, I just realized that I start most of my campaigns in late spring in my game world. Wabbit season!

Gamer Dude said...

Hey Bronomac, you bring up a good point; Holidays / Celebrations. I use those as well, but nearly all of them are around a specific time of the season, and therefore have nothing to do with a "day on a calendar".

As an example, in my current Labyrinth Lord game with the wee ones, they just recently attended the "Gathering Festival", which is obviously a festival dedicated to some type of important agrarian event.

Now birthdays, that's something I'll have to admit to never having dealt with. I'm not exactly sure how I'd handle it but I'd imagine that it would be something along the lines of the way it's done in many cultures, where they celebrate multiple births with one celebration.

We sort of do this currently in my family. Example: My wife, youngest daughter, sister and brother-in-law all have birthdays in either January or February so we all gather on some jointly agreed upon date and celebrate all of them together.

I can't think of many cultures in ancient history where commoners outside of a major city were aware of a "date" per se. Rome and its public calendar system, and the Aztecs with their religious calendars are good possible examples.

Brunomac said...

I might as well be honest (always points out my flaw of laziness when it comes to working on anything, including my game world), but I wish I could get myself to be more on top of important dates and holidays. With around 110 years of character continuity, I'd like to have kept a list of all the important PC's and NPC's birthdates that have come and gone over the decades. Some were important enought to have their birthdays be holidays (although I have been good at keeping track of the dates big events happened - thus spawning holidays and festivals in the future). I think the only birthday I have managed to keep track of is the current queen's b-day, and other important dates in the city based on past things from games.

Another drawback is that I have made the common folk more informed than their real world historical counterparts, or at least every settlement has a sage or learned person, so I should be ready with all info. Like I said, lazy...

It will only make things worse now that I have just introduced the printing press to my world.

Gamer Dude said...

Printing That's definitely an invitation for a more defined time keeping system. Now I see why you're a little more attentive to time than I am in my games.

You think you're lazy? Ha! Compared to me, you sound like you're the epitome of organization. I'm horrid at keeping track of time. That's quite likely why it's taken a definite back seat in most of my games. Maybe I ought to rethink that... Hmmm.

Brunomac said...

Believe me, if I had known I was going to have the same gameworld in my 40's as I did when I was 15, I would have put in a bit more detail. Had I been using Forgotten Realms or a bunch of homebrew worlds, I would not have cared much.

What helped a lot was that by around 1983 I started keeping track of the major things and at least the month they happened in in a single journal-style book (no game entry being more than a half page). Around three or four years ago, I threw out about two dozen old notebooks going back to my teens, so having that journal to go refresh on what happened was a real life saver. According to my newer players, all that history at my fingertips (and in my misty memory) really helps bring the game setting to life. I think they can tell I have a very intimate relationship to the world, and awareness of time seems to help with that as well.

Gamer Dude said...

Now THAT is cool! I've always thought that it'd be cool to be able to play in Greyhawk with Gary running, or Blackmoor with Dave running, get the idea. There's that sense of continuity and "life" that the creator brings to the story, that's missing with most "off the shelf" worlds, that would be neat to experience.

It sounds like that's exactly what you're offering your players. Which is not something they'll find every's pretty rare.