The traveler collapsed upon the chair, “It has been many moons that I have walked, Brother Barthalym.” he began as the farmer’s wife warmed up bacon and a porridge, “Many things have I seen in this time, and many trials I have endured.”
Today I want to talk about an area that is usually over-looked, and it really shouldn’t be, as a part of your job as Dungeon Master, is time-keeper. I have played thousands of games, but an unfortunate thing is that they all appeared to be played during Summer, and it didn’t matter if it took years to accomplish our goal, it was always summer! I don’t think that you need me to tell you how rich and full a campaign can be made by observing the seasons, and YES! Players notice it.
But it is so much work! You say, well there are tricks to properly doing this . . . And you get a chance to play an OLD SCHOOL God! Back in the days when DM’s could be mean and have total control over their games and still get players. This has changed (which I think is a good thing) but there is something fun about playing God.
The first thing that we have to do is figure out how our world observes time. For this essay I am going to base it off of the Norse (AKA: The Viking) world. This system wasn’t perfect, as they based it off of the moon instead of the sun, but I feel that it is more fantastic and colorful without going all nuts creating something that nobody but myself can use.
Measuring Time on Fantasy Worlds
Time isn’t a new concept, it is a necessary evil. It isn’t known when people began to understand that the sun was a very predictable thing that could be relied on to show a passage of time. Typically it isn’t very hard, you only have so many hours of daylight in a day. How many hours you get depends on the season, but I think that that is just too advanced. We don’t need to keep a minute by minute journal of our adventures, however this does get important when going on journeys, it determines how long a person can travel with good daylight, and when they should rest.
Time was kept though the use of sun-dials. Most cities and towns had permanent sun-dials in strategic places where time was important. Churches would want this, as would government officials. As for everybody else, they could just look up at the sky and base a judgment call on what time they thought that it was, they got damned good at it too! Of course, judging time is impossible during the night. For this they had other methods of counting hours, water clocks that dripped a specific amount of water per hour, as well as hour glasses for military use.
Counting time was a business. Typically a professional would observe the time and ring a bell hourly, his apprentice would take his place at night. It would also be this professional that researches different methods of counting time. Not a player character class, but a very important NPC would have this job.
Though unimportant, hours, which is never a fixed thing in D&D, game time and real time are rarely on the same card, hours does lead to days, which is important. This leads us to building a calendar.
Constructing a Fantasy Calender
This chore is so much easier now! What, with computers that can easily be used to construct them. The old way was to buy a modern calendar and just use it, however this wasn’t very fun, as most fantasy realms count months by moon phases, not the 12 months it takes to revolve around the sun.
It is a curious thing that societies that counted days always kept them in groups of 7. Our modern week is still based on the Roman method, each day was ruled by a different God. Just so that we don’t get confused, we’ll keep these days named how they are. We don’t want to get into religion yet.
The Norse calendar differs from the Christian calendar in one dramatic way, as I said before, it’s based on the moon, there for there are usually 13 months in a year. The Norse didn’t keep track of years, this is a Christian concept, but of course we will just so that we can keep track of our timelines.
The first month, for reference purposes, begins on the Full moon in the Christian month of December, and is called Wolf.
The Wolf Moon
This moon is a hard one to survive, it is winter but now the days will slowly get longer and longer. Hunting is definitely required.
The Snow Moon
Winter seems to be the cruelest during this month. If you didn’t prepare enough firewood to last the winter, this is also probably the month that you will freeze to death. It is also the last month where you can prepare for the next moon.
The cruelest moon of all. It is time to completely live off of your stocks, and conserve your energy. It is this time when you stay indoors, tools can be remade, fixed, and sharpened. This is the month of the family, where you keep you’re loved ones close to you. Travel is out of the question, it is too dangerous. Even the animals are scarce because of the terrible winds and snows. Music is really important, as is teaching children about the gods and goddesses that rule this cruel world. A time of rest to prepare for another busy year.
The Plowing Moon
It’s still winter, however the harshness is letting up during this month. The waterways melt and the ground starts to soften. It’s still hard as rock, but it is this time that you must force yourself to plow. If the people bury their dead, it is now time to do it. (The dead were kept during the winter months wrapped up and kept in a building that wasn’t heated so that they wouldn’t rot.)
The Seeding Moon
Spring is now starting. Farmers must go out and plant their first crops. This is also the time to get youngsters involved in romance with other families. Friendships are renewed and new ones are formed. A happy time, you have survived another harsh winter!
The Hare Moon
Babies are typically up and running around during this moon. Re-birth and the Goddess’s rule has returned. The world is coming alive, as are the people.
The Merry Moon
The month of Marriages, and a time of joy. It is now summer, but not so hot that it is unbearable. Mead is generally made during this month and it is plentiful and cheap. Food is also plentiful, and this is a great time to be alive!
The Fallow Moon
The time where farmers re-plow their fields and let the earth rest for a time. Land is redefined, and new fences built. Towards the end of the month, new crops are planted (always they are rotated so not to kill the soil)
The Corn Moon
Fast growing crops with big yields (typically corn) is tended. Buildings must be finished by the end of this month, as next month there will be no time for such things.
The Harvest Moon
Autumn is beginning, the crops are harvested and processed. A very busy time, winter stores are replenished, but there is lots of food for everybody.
The Shedding Moon
The rule of the God is returning, the Trees and plants dry and die.
The animals are fat and plentiful. It is time to prepare meat for winter use. Winter has begun again.
The Fog Moon
This name comes from sailors, the seas were the most dangerous at this time because of thick fogs that would roll in and make navigation impossible, but they had to go fish regardless. It is also called the Fog Moon as some years it isn‘t there at all! But for simplicity reasons, we‘ll go ahead and always keep it.
That is the Nordic year. As you can see, most of the names mean something to the people whose toils keep everyone alive. Granted, the Norse did not have what we would call Cities, it was all loose farming communities, but these moon phases would still keep their names in a more advanced society.
The key to naming months, is that they do mean something. Your games typically do take place in temperate climates, the proof of this is that houses are built to weather the seasons, more tropical climates have no need for such sturdy constructions, they are built to weather winter, so it is important that we add winter to the game.
But of course a calendar doesn’t just give meaning to seasons, but it also has another primary function of the game that is typically left out in the wind. RELIGION!!!
Religion and it’s place in the Fantasy Calendar
The Cleric is completely robbed if you don’t use a calendar, we don’t want these guys to be regulated to walking hospitals. In order to really color them how they deserve, is to give them days were religion is important.
Clerics really do deserve much more attention, but that I leave up to you. For this essay, I’ll just focus on the really big Holy days that are always present regardless of what religion we are talking about. Again, I’m going to color it in shades of the Nordic flare.
The Autumn Feast of the Dead which takes place on the first moon of Scorpio, or The Shedding Moon. Great Feasts were laid out to celebrate those who have died. Our loved ones and great heroes that made life possible. It is also a time when the veil between this world and the next is at it’s thinnest. We now call it Halloween.
The Celebration of Yule, which takes place around December 21st, during the Wolf Moon. This is the shortest day of the year and symbolizes the Death and Rebirth of the Sun God. A Yule Log was burned on this night, and the ashes sprinkled over the fields, with some being kept and stored away to start next years Yule log. Mistletoe is also hung above the door to keep out evil spirits (same thing was done in Summer Solstice) Yule was celebrated with the family, and the family only. Doors are not answered on this day, and all buildings are closed to practice this, the most powerful day of the Calendar. Even Adventures would take a break on this day, Inns would close the doors and observe with the guests who were unfortunate enough to be stranded away from their own families. Candles were burned and life was enjoyed. Today we call this Christmas.
This holiday is observed on the first moon of Horning, or the first day of Spring. It was a time of cleansing and purification. It celebrates the goddess in preparation for growth and renewal. Clerics would be busy blessing homes, and people busy cleaning their homes and airing them out after the long winter. Today it is loosely observed as Spring Cleaning day.
This holy day is practiced around March 21st, during the moon of Plowing. It’s the time for sowing, the light and darkness are in perfect balance on this day, so great bonfires are lit and burned. The people dance and be merry, leading cattle between two bonfires to promote fertility.
This holiday takes place on the moon of the Hare, and is dedicated to the worship of the Bright God, the Sun God! Food was left out for nature spirits, trying to gain their favors. The powers of the Elves and Fairies were now growing and will reach their peek on Summer Solstice. The house guardians are also honored at this time. The day after Beltane, cattle is finally taken out to field to graze. To add more spice to this holiday, you can have magic be more powerful as well, spells cast by priests act as if cast from a higher level.
This holy day is practiced around June 22 during the Merry Moon, and symbolizes the Sun’s Turning. The longest day of the year! The God of Fire and the Goddess of Water are perfectly balanced. Again, great bonfires are lit and mistletoe is hung over doors to ward off trolls and other evil spirits. Herbs collected on this day are extremely potent, as are potions that are brewed.
Takes place on the full moon of Fallow. This is a community festival that celebrates either the Pre-harvest, or in upper Northern regions, the final harvest before winter returns. It celebrates life and age, as many elders won’t make it to see the end of winter. It is also the last day that herbs can be collected, after this day they will be void of any magical properties. It is believed that if you make a wish on this day, it may come true!
Takes place around September 21st , during the Harvest Moon. Again, the sun and the moon were in perfect balance, and this was a time to feast and celebrate a successful harvest season. Food was stored for the winter and thanks was given to the Gods and Goddesses for the bounty.
Creating your own holidays
For each God and Goddess that your characters worship, they will have a day set aside for them specifically. Those that worship this deity will probably not adventure that day, and instead pay respects to them.
There are also local holidays that have nothing to do with religion, perhaps a fair, or a game day where sports are practiced and a winner crowned with honor. Festivals happen annually to encourage growth and to give people a sense of accomplishment. Foods will be cooked and judged, animals will be examined and prizes will be awarded to the owners of exceptional beasts. Hunting tournaments will take place, as will fishing, wrestling, and other games that make people happy.
Holidays are needed to keep life interesting, all work and no play leads to a terrible life. People work hard and they should also be allowed to play hard as well.
You can also lay out special days where things work differently, to keep magic interesting, you can use the moon phases to determine shifts in magic. Perhaps the three days of the Full Moon, good aligned magic users have stronger magic and cast their spells at a higher level then they normally could, and the same for Evil aligned magic users during the 3 days of the New Moon, which forces good magic to be cast at a level lower then the caster.
Building your Timeline
The timeline is used to record world changing events, it is a memory aid for anything that you want to remember. My memory is very shoddy, I keep track of reigns of power, deaths of powerful monsters, rises of powerful enemies. Anything that would help me keep the continuities down. We also want to give news from other parts of the realms to our PC’s, news is always a big deal to characters, through this news they may acquire information that may come in handy, this news may or may not be role-played, if the PC’s are struggling with something you can have them roll against their wisdom to see if their characters remember a little tidbit that could be handy to them now.
Your time-line can go back several thousands of years before play begins. If introducing the ruins of a city, long lost to time, this can be added to your timeline. As a general rule, however, most characters in our world won’t have any knowledge of any history dating back 150 years or more. The exception to the rule is of course your Wizard Class, and those that chose to study Ancient History. If a player does chose the NWP of Ancient History, then that is your cue to build a history for him. This timeline, like everything in D&D, is built slowly over time, as you need it, but if you do do it, it is a way to not only keep things in chronological order, and accurate, but you also want to save your work.
Using a Calendar to save Data
As a player, I can tell you with authority about a little thing called, None Approved Bonus Spells. This is an extra spell that you get because a DM isn’t paying attention, and you know it. By using a calendar, you can eliminate this problem by just keeping a quick tally of spell points used. You can also track XP points daily, and write yourself short notes, such as unknown spells cast on players, charting illness and poisoning times, and other things that require your attention.
Calendars make the life of a DM that much easier, and it is a way that we can save our work! You can more accurately control the game, it gives you specifics at a glance for information that you’ve chosen to record. If a magic item can only be used 3 times a week, there is no excuse for you not to keep this rule in check now. You can get as elaborate, or as simple as you want to get with them, as long as you find a system that works for you, and as a bonus, YOU GET SEASONS!!!! Fighting through raging blizzards! Feeling the relief of a long awaited and much needed rain. Celebrating their gods through ancient rites. Knowing when to construct a Sword which honors the God of Justice, in a way that, if he sees fit, he may bless with his divine power. The world is yours, take it!
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Time and Movement
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Contact me at Ripx187@gmail.com
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