For a Better Day (Calendars for PathfinderRPG Campaigns)

timelord corrected

With a lot of people having just gained a ton of new resources (Humble Bundles, GM’s Day Sale picks, and the like) some folks will inevitably consider running a new campaign. A significant element to consider when setting up a campaign or crafting a world is one of time. And among the management of time (as opposed to time management) would be the decision of what, if any,  calendar to use for your setting.  If you are working with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game’s core setting, good news you already have one. If not, here are some things to consider when creating a campaign calendar…

Campaign Calendar Basics

First, when setting down your groundwork for a game setting is the simple question:

Do you even need a calendar?

A lot of games, fantasy novels, and other  creative media just decide to ignore the calendar altogether. Beyond the simple sense of seasons, most storytelling concerns don’t NEED to rely on what week or even what day it is. If you don’t believe you stories need one then skip it, there are enough complexities to track at the game table in Pathfinder to let it slide. Some stories DO NEED a calendar though…

Why do you need the calendar?

If the answer is yes, you do need a calendar, then you probably have some idea why you do. Getting clear on your needs for a calendar is key to both campaign planning and reconciling systemic issues with time.

Calendar Questions to Ask:

  • How long is a day? A week? A month? (Standard Time or Nonstandard Time): This question is generally more commonly seen in Science Fiction than it is in Fantasy. Altering the flow of days, weeks, months and more can have radical consequences for record keeping, natural phenomena, and physics in a game. In a Pathfinder Roleplaying Game campaign it can exponentially complicate system math.
  • Where did the calendar come from? (Calendar Origins): Generally a calendar is made for one of a few reasons. Common reasons include agriculture (planting and harvesting), religion (observation of rites), and astrological or astronomical (observable celestial patterns). Delving into the origins of the calendar will probably help you layout the naming conventions, seasons, and holidays (if any). Religious calendars often honor churches or deities in their naming. Lunar cycles may bear on the calendar as well.
  • What events are there? Annual (holidays)? Campaign year? (Setting Dates of Importance): Selecting dates on the calendar will help layout the calendar and more importantly may place specific dates in the future that add benchmarks and time tables to a game. Saving the kingdom from the dark cult sounds valorous, but stopping the dark cult before the last day of Hightide when their master will be freed speaks of far more immersion and tension.
  • What individual importance does the calendar give to the player characters? (Engaging the Players): Do cultures celebrate birthdays? Ages? Majority? Does the party have religious or cultural affiliations that will emphasize dates? Does a party member craft items or have special training that will require downtime?
  • What implications to verisimilitude are there? (Reality Checks): A vague or simple calendar can nearly be omitted. And  over-complicating the calendar can trip you up. Look for a balance of reality and story enhancement. Don’t forget supernatural realities either, Gods might like their calendars certain ways after all. Look for glaring problems and engineer solutions.
  • What systemic ramifications are there? (Check the Mechanics): Altering day length or even weeks can have implications for spells and powers (1/day, 1/week, 1/year etc) and can directly impact the usefulness or relative strength of abilities. Pathfinder’s core setting uses fully “Earth-Normal” time.

Calendar Layout Example: Issovohl

To help illustrate the above process, we will look at a Lost Spheres setting, the fantasy mega-city setting of Issovohl. The setting is a high fantasy world recovering from a man-made disaster involving Chaos Magic. Let’s see how its answers shape a potential calendar…

Answers from the above:

  • How long is a day? A week? A month? (Standard Time or Nonstandard Time): Issovohl uses a lot of magic. And we mean a lot, as such the realities of game systems imply limits to our alterations if we don’t want to be doing an equal number of time conversions. So hours and days are standard, the active presence of immortal powers in our early history is sufficient explanation as to the “coincidence” of standard time. A campaign theme exists of civilization’s illusion capping natural reality’s circumstance and we think a slight deviation from Earth normal weeks might be fun way to emphasize the off-ness of the setting. We look at months and decide to keep 7 day weeks adding a single “Last Day” to each for thirteen months of four, seven day weeks with an odd Last Day taking each month to twenty-nine days. A 377 day year is longer but with climate mitigation (see below) the implications are minimal (except to genies which we decide need to wait twelve more days on Issovohl to hand out wishes).
  • Where did the calendar come from? (Calendar Origins): Agriculture in the early days of civilization was a definite need for time keeping to track growing seasons. In time however, the magical alteration of weather mitigated the needs for this greatly as such the calendar was “sterilized” given a second naming convention more centered around day length. As such each month has an old name (agricultural) and a new name (astronomical). The dominant lunar body matches the 29 day cycle of the month.
  • What events are there? Annual (holidays)? Campaign year? (Setting Dates of Importance): The above “sterilizing” of the calendar probably eliminated a lot individual community holidays as the cities merged over time into the larger whole of Issovohl. As such Last Days are “Holidays” for each month and minor observances of the equinoxes still linger due to the use of solar benchmarks for the new era calendar.
  • What individual importance does the calendar give to the player characters? (Engaging the Players): De-emphasis of Holidays and other aspects of the calendar has created more focus on the individual in many parts of Issovohl. Birthdays are more significant because of this. Individual birthdays are particularly important at intervals of 5 years when citizens are magically evaluated for maturing magical talent and exposure to Chaos Magic.
  • What implications to verisimilitude are there? (Reality Checks): The presence of immortal influence and mitigated climate smooth over a lot of the “real world” implications of a slightly off earth normal  calendar. Stretching the differences much further would likely result in math or conversions that would bog game play or causes disconnects for realism-oriented players.
  • What systemic ramifications are there? (Check the Mechanics): The small alteration of 1/year abilities is the biggest difference in the game mechanics and normalized hours and days should minimize most other concerns. Months are close enough to cause rare deviance but not enough to concern us.

Putting It Paper

Once you have laid out your calendar, recording it is key to maintaining verisimilitude for most players. Decide on the presence you want it to have to player characters. There are advantages to each player having a copy of the calendar and an equal number to keeping that information to yourself. Consider dialogue-ing it with your group and see the individual interest before “hiding from” or “forcing on” the players. Consider tools like Donjon Calendar Generator or Aeon Timeline for tracking them (if your calendar is “Earth-normal” you can just alter a standard one).

Calendars can add tension, immersion and organization to your Pathfinder Roleplaying Game in fun and amazing ways. Just remember not to over-complicate or bog down your sessions with them.

Have a favorite calendar or tool for time tracking you want to share? Please do in the comments below!

New options for every day in your campaign from Lost Spheres can be found at: d20pfsrd.com, drivethruRPG, Paizo.com and RPGNow. Speaking of dates through March 10th, 2016 get the Book of Beyond WIP and the rest of the Lost Spheres Publishing backlist titles for 30% off during the GMs Day sales at most of these sites.

OGL Notice: None of this article is considered open content. Issovohl is product identity for Lost Spheres Publishing.

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