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Thread: Narrative Time

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    Amechra's Avatar

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    Dec 2010
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    Default Narrative Time

    One of the things that's never really sat well with me in more recent editions of D&D is how durations are tracked in real-world time units without there really being enough structure to make that tracking easy. And I kinda hate having to ask the DM how much time has passed outside of combat, because it takes me out of the flow.

    Anyway, here's a set of houserules broadly based off of the Persona series.

    Under these rules, days are split into three blocks - Early, Late, and Night. Blocks are a flexible measure of time, which can include an arbitrary amount of activity. One block ends and the next one begins once any of the following happens:
    • There's a lull in the action, and everyone agrees that they want to move on to the next block.
    • The party takes a short rest. If the party decides to take a long rest instead, you skip the next block. For example, taking a short rest after the Late block would lead into the Night block, while taking a long rest would lead into the Early block.
    • The party performs some kind of time consuming activity, like hiking a fair distance or fortifying a building. If it was very time-consuming and it makes sense, you may end up skipping a block as if you took a long rest.

    For the purposes of these rules, I'm going to assume that the party uses the Early and Late blocks to do things, and that they use the Night block to take a long rest. Depending on your group, you might feel like it's appropriate to add fatigue penalties if people put off long resting those are outside of the scope of what I'm trying to do here.

    Most "shorter" durations don't really work with this system as a result, you will have to translate anything with a duration longer than a few rounds and shorter than a couple of days as follows:

    • One Minute: Anything that lasts one minute lasts for one full combat encounter, and may still be active for a round or two if you run into more problems in quick succession. Out of combat, these abilities last for one short social or exploration encounter, and stop working at some dramatically-appropriate moment sometime in the middle of longer ones.
    • Ten Minutes: Anything with this rough duration lasts through multiple consecutive encounters. They end if there's a lull in the action.
    • A Couple of Hours: Anything with a duration of less than 8 hours will last "half" of a block. In general, this means that they will last until the end of the block if you activate them in the "middle" of the block, and that they'll end at some dramatically appropriate point in the block if you use them at the start of the block. If it would last at least 5 hours, you might as well let it keep going until the end of the block.
    • One Block: Anything that lasts 8+ hours will last until the end of the block you activate it in. If you activate it right before ending a block, it will last until the end of the next block instead.
    • Two Blocks: Anything that lasts 16+ hours will last until the end of the block after the one you activate it in. If you activate it right before ending a block, it will last through the next two blocks instead.
    • One Day: If something specifically says it lasts "24 hours" or "1 day", it lasts until you finish your next long rest. If you activate it right before taking a long rest, it will last through the next day instead.

    The translation for hours is a bit loose, so here's a "worked" example.

    • A Druid who uses Wildshape in the middle of the "action" can safely assume that they can stay in that form until it's time to rest. If they activate Wildshape right after resting, however, it will last until the group decides to cross the city (or whatever).
    • Once that Druid reaches 10th level, they can safely assume that, regardless of when they activated their Wildshape, they'll have it until the end of the block.
    • A 16th level Druid can activate their Wildshape right before resting and have it last until the end of the next block.
    • Regardless of level, a Druid can cast Goodberry before taking a long rest, and will still have those berries available throughout the next day.

    Broadly speaking, anything with a duration from 1-7 hours can be activated right before taking a short rest if you want it active during that rest. I'm mostly adding this for Druids - by 10th level, they can effectively burn their uses of Wild Shape to pretend to be an animal all the time, if they so choose.

    Some Notes
    • Due to the way that some classes end up wanting more short rests than others. Given that this set of houserules makes time a bit more rigid, it might be appropriate to allow the party to take a "free" short rest once per day. Taking this short rest counts as a lull in the action and might be a dramatically appropriate time to ask people to renew any effects that only last for a few hours. Taking this short rest does not end the block you're in, though, making it perfect for pre-boss healing/recovery.
    • If anyone in your party knows Catnap, treat it like a free short rest for the purposes of time and durations.
    • Rituals basically just take a dramatically appropriate amount of time and count as a lull in the action. This is pretty straightforward.
    • I'll be nice and say that Extend Spell should kick your spell's duration up to the next highest category. For example, extending Darkness would effectively improve the duration to a couple of hours. You're welcome.
    • In general, I suggest that a DM using this system should delay any major indirect reactions to player actions so that they happen "in-between" blocks. The party took a short rest, so the bandits had time to throw up hasty blockades and call for reinforcements. That kinda thing.
    Last edited by Amechra; 2021-01-20 at 11:46 AM.
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