I want my game to be epic, spanning many years, with the potential for characters to grow old; for new generations to come to the fore and take up the mantle; and for nations to rise and fall.
Problem: Even with a game/system which is well designed for that kind of long-term view, everything takes about 2 to 4 times longer than I expected to play out.
Untested potential solution I have not seen touted before: Truncate the calendar year down to 112 days. (This could also serve as a worldbuilding spark.)
Stardew Valley is a Harvest Moon-like video game where you have run cute, artisanal farm. As its a farming game it wants the seasons to change so crops can rotate and you can experience the bountiful summer and fallow winter. However, it doesn’t want you to have to play out about 90 in-game days for the season to shift. That would be tedious.
Instead it uses a 28-day season. Four weeks of 7 days makes up a season. There are four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.
If my fantasy game is in a secondary world (not Earth), then I could truncate the world to have 4 seasons of 28 days – a 112 day year.
This would roughly third the number of days in the year, which is convenient since games take about 3 times longer than intended to play out.
How to manage a truncated year
We need to change the durations of everything in the setting to fit our new 112 day year.
- Events on the day-scale should still take roughly the same number of days as usual
- Cows can be milked once per day
- You eat three meals a day
- You can walk about 3 miles per hour for about 8 hours without exhausting yourself (though you will still be tired)
- Chickens lay eggs every couple of days
- Events on the year-scale should take roughly the same fraction of a year as usual
- Human pregnancies last for about 3/4 of a year (roughly 3 seasons or 84 days)
- Humans legally become adults after 18 years
- Lambs are born in the Spring
There are some events whose new durations will have to be chosen by you (as a game-master or as a table of players). Everything in your game is levers, and you need to decide which setting these levers are on.
- Does health and illnesses resolve on the day or year scale?
- Year-scale means quicker healing but quicker deterioration times when unwell or injured.
- Do weather phenomena change on the day or year scale?
- Year-scale means volatile sudden rains and storms. However, day-scale means a dry spell or cold-snap could have a massive destabilising effect on the crop growth of that year, as there is a smaller band of days to plant and harvest within.
- Are settlements 3 times closer together than normal?
- A 30 day round trip takes a whole season now (rather than a third of a season).
- Closer settlements facilitates better trade and a more in-contact world, with closer cultural ties. It also increases the ability for centres of power to project their influence (though tax collectors and military patrols)
- Does learning occur at the day-scale or year-scale?
- Year-scale means skills and knowledge will match our expectations for the age of a character. However it will mean that learners progress more quickly day-to-day, probably though improved memory/retention or through increased rates of comprehension.
- Day-scale means that everyone learns at the same rate, but it takes longer to build up a knowledge base.
There are so many areas to consider that you would probably have to discuss them a the table as they arose.
A rule of thumb is that day-scale results in a grittier game and year-scale in a more epic game.
What’s the use of this?
- A thought experiment to help you think about how parts of your game are connected to time (and each other)
- A worldbuilding spark (ask yourself “if this is true, what else is true?”)
- A sci-fi world (take this idea and stick it in your traveller/star trek game).
- A design principle. Just as DMs have talked about attacking every part of the character sheet, worldbuilders and game designers should challenge every assumption of the setting.