The in-game calendar – Why it’s tough

In Game Calendar

Highmoon, 448PK

Many people have seen the new campaign calendar and extended it to the next logical step: Why not create a calendar for your in-game time? On the surface, it seems like a good idea, and it’s definitely something I have struggled with in the past. Unfortunately, it’s a very tough problem, and the final result would probably not be what you imagine.

Many Campaigns, Many Worlds

The first thing many DMs do when they start their game is to mutate and mangle every recognizable feature of our world to create a new world. The calendar is no different. Many campaign worlds have a wildly different calendar. How many of you run games that have January to December, 365.25 days per year, 7 days per week? Using our exiting calendar is like naming your cities Detroit or Atlanta. It breaks the veil of fantasy and exoticism that we try to inject into our campaign worlds.

So, when designing or choosing a calendar, we have a bunch of options. Many GMs cheat a bit and use our real calendar, but rename the months. Others, like me, get even lazier and just leave the calendar undefined. I would just tell my players, “It’s spring” or “It was spring when we started, it’s been several months, so now it’s winter.”

Ok, so now we no longer use our real Gregorian calendar. This means that all pre-built calendar software is useless. Open up iCal or Google Calendar and try to change the names of the months. Of course you can’t, why would you need to? The sexy Javascript calendar you see on the campaign calendar tab? Also useless, since it assumes a Gregorian calendar. And we’ve only just started…

Some GMs, the kind who probably care enough to use an in-game calendar tracker, don’t stop at renaming months. They rework the whole thing, and often get creative:

  • Weeks have 6 days, except for every 5th week which has 5.
  • There is no such thing as months. Instead, time is measured by how many moons are in the sky. The first day of Threemoons marks the start of a new year.
  • The galactic time standard cannot be based on any single planet’s day, so the Imperial Council decreed that all time be measured by the periodicity of a distant pulsar that rotates very slowly. There are 88 seconds per minute, 90 minutes per hour, and 14 hours per pulse.

These sound like fun campaigns, eh? The kind where the GM puts all kind of effort into fleshing out the little details and making it truly exotic. They also represent a massive headache in trying to create a universal calendar system that can account for this kind of stuff.

Can you define it?

Not only would it be awful to program for me, it would be horrible to use. I would have to create an interface that allows you to create the calendar of your dreams. Since you can all dream pretty big, it would be a big form with a lof of options. Can you imagine filling out a form like this:


It would probably be 10x longer than this...

In order to account for even a small fraction of the creativity that GMs inject into their calendars, it would require a massive amount of customization. Even then, it would probably would be just restrictive enough that it would frustrate the GMs who are trying to use it. You want to add one little creative detail to your calendar (like leap years) and the system won’t let you. What do you do, not add the detail? Heck no. You say, “Screw this crappy calendar thingamajig. I’ll just create a wiki page and do it there.”

Spend our time wisely

I’m not trying to say that an in-game calendar wouldn’t be cool. It definitely would. But, there are so many other things that would be cool too, like enhancements to the maps, the ability to upload files, better management of your images, etc, etc, etc. Therefore, we have to be picky about what we spend our time on, and we usually shoot for “biggest bang for the buck.” From that perspective, an in-game calendar fails miserably. It would be incredibly difficult to program and would only serve a very small handful of GMs. Those two traits together send it directly to the bottom of the priority pile.

Use a wiki page

Since we’re not going to create an in-game calendar widget, at least not any time soon, I challenge all of you to come up with a good way to do it. If you were going to try and track time in your game, how would you do it? Personally, I’d probably just keep a wiki page Current Day and try to update it after each session. Or, keep it on the main wiki page under a heading of “details” or something. If you have a better way, please share and help your fellow GMs.

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