I'm going to cover this over the next 2 posts and use 4 headlines to cover the spectrum of how time is managed in game.
Those are General (that catch all), Exploration, Combat and Real-Time. Today's post is about the first 2 of those.
There are many many flavours to how this can be measured in game but General covers situations where the measurement of time isn't important other than to say "time passes" and it's now the next hour, day, week, month etc.
There are going to be occasions when the party has a set range of time to complete a task. This can be handled in a variety of ways but for me the simplest has always been to assign chunks of time to elements of the task and vary that depending on how well the party tackles that particular element.
Situation - The city of Rusteria lies 5 days travel by horse from where they are now. Once the party arrives they will have less than 48 hours to complete their task.
Measurement - So unless you plan to roleplay your way through the next 5 days of travel (through encounters or side treks or whatever) the simplest method is to say "4 days later you arrive on the outskirts of Rusteria". If of course the party try to shorten that journey time either through riding harder or perhaps even going without sleep then you can give them the bonus of getting there perhaps 8 hours early but with the consequence of some form of penalty until they rest which likely depletes the 8 hours they've gained.
Situational time where the party are exploring an area such as a dungeon, palace, spaceport, ruined army base etc etc is similar to General above in that simply assigning an arbitrary time to the task makes sense with a variable depending on how the party achieves that task.
Exploration is further complicated by it normally involving a number of Combat slots throughout, particularly if that's a dungeon crawl. For me the simplest way to handle Combat within the overall time for Exploration is to ignore it. Combat shouldn't take up a large element of time except perhaps for the "big bad" at the end. So the simplest way to accommodate it within the time allocated to Exploration is to give each area of the situation a value of time which can be modified depending on how you and the rest of the party are approaching this.
Situation - Having now reached the entrance to the lost Tomb Of Durthal the party less than 24 hours to get in, recover the Sceptre Of Nurache and get out again. Oh and perhaps have to take on the hordes of Lizardfolk that lie within and whatever "big bad" awaits.
Measurement - So the party have 24 hours. Assuming they plan to sleep within the Tomb (which may or may not be a good idea...) the simplest option is to time box the exploration into those 24 hours with some variables depending on what they do. So the 24 hours would be the maximum time they have available. So unless the GM wants this to be a mad scramble to the finish this could be as simple as saying "This will take 24 hours to complete, including a 6 hour rest period and assuming the party explores each area of the Tomb Of Durthal." If the GM really wants to track this then simply break that down into chunks based on the number of rooms that will be explored and the number of combat encounters that will erm be encountered. It's not meant to be scientific just something arbitrary to suggest that time passes when the party are in the Tomb. If there is a desire to have some of that measured in Real-Time then I'll cover my thoughts on that in the next post.
So that's the coarse tuning elements of time within RPGs, the fine tuning elements will be
in tomorrow's post. Any thoughts on how you'd do this differently?