A couple of thoughts about using time as a map of sorts. This isn’t revolutionary, but it’s been poking me in the brain.
Using the timer to show opportunities expiring.
Just this. We use timers to show a countdown until something happens, but we could use the same device to show that job boards, rumors, and other information has a shelf life. This will provide urgency, which adds tension, which makes excitement. This doesn’t have to ape RL anymore than a timer telling you about an imminent crisis apes RL; it’s an artificial narrative device to make things more fun and provoke interesting choices.
Using enumeration of encounters to trigger events. This I stole directly from Professor Dungeon Master of Dungeon Craft. He suggested that to tie a character’s background of a lost father into an adventure, that on the third room explored, the character would find graffiti left by the father. This is an interesting way to handle plot elements: not tied to a location or to a time, but to an ordinal designation. I love this idea because it allows the GM to ensure certain events will intersect with the party without forcing them to be in a certain place at a certain time. It takes a back way around the quantum ogre, by tying the encounter to time and space in a particular way. If the PCs leave the location before a thrid encounter, the event remains unused, and it’s up to the GM to decide whether to reset the timer for the location.
Using a timeline to create a living world independent of the PCs’ actions.
thinking of events in time as an overlay to the setting should give the PCs a sense that their actions matter, sort of. In other words, if x happens in three days, y in four, and z in a week, and the PC’s have a reasonable stake in hearing about it and caring, then the world can feel more alive. On the other hand, in a truly epic campaign, the PC’s should be at the heart of the events that matter the most to the campain world and an overlay of ordinary events won’t really add anything to the game. This is just food for thought. Not sure if t really is worth it to subjugate myself as a GM to tracking things the PC’s aren’t involved in. Almost feels like I"m not making good enough adventures if I have to do that…Hm.
Thoughts? How have you used time to engage your players and make your worlds feel urgent and alive?