Time is a strange concept. It’s a marker of progression, a reminder of what has come before and an ultimately unknowable force constantly driving change forwards. In the realms of science, humans have been trying to understand the span of eternity, naming historical periods and attempting to pin down and explain time by marking it with a more human-made concept: calendars. Obviously, this is a big subject to broach in a simple blog about Dungeons and Dragons, but time is a deeply routed facet of D&D. As the DM, the eternal progression of events is now within your control. As the DM, you are responsible for time within the campaign, especially with regards to the pace of the story. You decide which events can be brushed over in a transition and even stop progression entirely to focus upon dramatic moments. Control of the progression of time within the context of a fictional world leaves a lot of confusing questions: how do you use this control over time to get the best effect for your players and, the main topic of today’s blog, how in the bloody hell do you design a calendar for your world?
Welcome to From the DM’s Chair, I’m Shadowonthewall and today, we’ll be talking about the twenty second session of my D&D campaign: Dorvine, and the lessons I’ve learned whilst running it. This week, we’ll be discussing managing time in your campaign, how to properly pace the events within it with some focus regarding creating calendars for your campaign. My conspiracy foiling adventurers are as follows:
Dion is Kassadin Lightfade, the Chaotic Good Tiefling Fighter.
Joey is Nikita Tomasovna Nikinova, the Chaotic Neutral Tabaxi Rogue.
Lukas is Teoku Skia, the Chaotic Neutral Shadar-kai Warlock.
Beth is Lady Elizabeth Grey, the Chaotic Good Human Barbarian.
Jacob is Doctor Eddard Von Keppler, the Chaotic Good Human Cleric.
Aimee is Erulissë Durfain, the Chaotic Neutral Drow Rogue.
All character art drawn by Dion Russell, whose other work you can check out here: https://www.deviantart.com/floodrushforever.
Last session, the Fellow Vagabonds finally rescued the young Thaneling Symon from the mysterious Cailen Cayden. The mysterious tinkerer was revealed to be experimenting with a corrupting force known only as The Rot, and Symon’s father. In an attempted hostage standoff, Cailen wounded his own son and Nikita, before launching into conflict with the party. A hectic battle to a countdown of explosions ended with Cailen’s prototype ‘anti-Rot’, code-named ‘The Cure’ latching onto Erulissë through a wound in her head and the party leaving Cailen for dead as he fought back the creatures of Rot he had been experimenting on. With the battle finished and Cailen’s tower toppled, the Vagabonds trekked their way back to the Keppler’s Temple of Kelemvor and a well-earned rest.
On the travel up the road towards the church, the Vagabonds come face to face with Mayhem, Symon’s Tiefling bodyguard. Spotting them, he races to approach them, weaving his way to Nikita. Nikita doesn’t need to guess why he’s angry. For all their mild flirting over the past few times the two met, Mayhem has been Symon’s protector first and foremost and having smuggled Symon out into this mess has no doubt gotten him upset. As he approaches, however, his expression softens and his hard glare fades into a look of surprise. Nikita spots his gaze looking to her ear, poorly bandaged by Pip the Halfling Merchant. Spotting her chance, Nikita feigns deafness and tries to con her way past the tiefling. She already hates herself from forcing Symon into a spot like this and getting him injured. Confronting that responsibility only makes her feel worse. Mayhem, however, easily calls her bluff, stopping her advance and looking her in the eye.
“Symon. They say he shall never walk again.”
Nikita’s bluff drops immediately. She goes to storm past Mayhem but he holds her firm.
“No, Nikita, he’s fine, he’s fine.”
Nikita rails again, desperately trying to break free. Mayhem’s arms hold her fast though. As she tries to lean back, Mayhem forces her eyes to meet his.
“It’s not very nice to lie, is it?”
Nikita deflates immediately. A sadness spreads out from the cold gaping void at the bottom of her stomach. Despite the despair flowing though her, Mayhem still holds her close. His arms wrap about her shoulders, pulling her close. It’s a strange moment for Nikita. The frequent flirtations and looks of longing between the two have only been a simple game. Nikita knows men after all. Men, especially those like Alexei, are only in it for the game, for the hunt. Yet, in this small little moment, as she shrinks into him, Mayhem’s touch is tender and welcoming, soothing every ache with a gentle caress. As she looks back at him, she sees a mix of disappointment, pity…and something else she can’t place.
“I wanted to tell you off for leading Symon on,” Mayhem says, “but Symon told me about the attack…about your…I figured you don’t need anymore telling off.”
Nikita recoils, barely able to meet his gaze any longer.
“No. I…I’m sorry…”
Mayhem reaches for her hands, her tiny paws almost eclipsed by his large rough fingers. For a moment, Nikita realises how well they fit together. Then, with a gentle playfulness, Mayhem pats her wrist.
“Don’t do it again,” he snaps, unable to keep a smile from his face.
Nikita can’t help but smile back.
“I won’t,” she promises, half uncertain as to why she is. His hands feel warm.
“Good,” Mayhem replies, “then let’s get that ear checked.”
Licking his arm with hers, Mayhem leads the tomb raider on, ignoring the looks of mild confusion and intrigue from the other Vagabonds as they follow Mayhem up towards the temple.
Upon returning to the temple, the Vagabonds finally get a chance to relax and heal. Still recovering from his injuries from the escape from Cailen’s Tower, Eddard is taken to bed as soon as possible, leaving the rest of the party to loiter in the entrance hall. Faeriel the Dragonborn Paladin confirms that Symon’s progress has stabilised, though he will limp the rest of his life. Nikita’s reunion with the boy is strained but Symon holds no ill will and the pair’s affection for one another wins out with Mayhem and Nikita fussing over the thane-to-be all night. Whilst Symon relaxes, General Huxx visits the church to congratulate the Vagabonds on their actions. He pledges his loyalty to Symon’s cause and informs the group that with the town now free of Cailen’s shadow, the people of Hearthome will be able to hold a celebration of Fabletithe, which he wants to have in honour of the party.
As a holiday celebrating stories of great heroes, Fabletithe is the perfect time for a celebration and the Vagabonds agree that it would make for a great chance to rest and recover from their rather action-packed schedule as of late. With a final farewell from Huxx, the party are finally able to get some rest and relaxation.
Except for Nikita and Kassadin.
Before retiring for the night, the pair visit the abandoned merchant stalls in the town square: Kassadin in search of traders and Nikita in search of her own gift for Alexei. Kassadin soon surrenders in his quest when he realises there are no merchants currently awake and retires back to the temple. Nikita, on the other hand, raids one of the caravans and finds a collection of trinkets with special effects. Finding her perfect one, she heads to the post office, only to discover it is shut.
With no way of losing the item, Nikita’s choice is clear.
“You don’t even know what it is yet!” Nikita insists.
Kassadin glares back but his good heart wins out. He accepts the responsibility of looking after the trinket Nikita ‘liberated’ for the night, unaware of the dire consequences that come with the offer.
In the middle of the night, Erulissë’s trance is cut short by the sound of movement in the upper stairs. She opens an eye to see Eddard limping his way out of the upper rooms, supporting himself on a crutch. The cleric hobbles his way down into the main foyer and rounds onto the staircase, descending deep down into the crypts. Intrigued with Eddard’s disappearance, Erulissë slips out of her bedroll and begins to slink along in the shadows after Keppler. The Cleric doesn’t even glance back once.
She follows Eddard down the crypts, through the sewers and out in the streets at the edge of Hearthome. From there, he turns southward, heading out into the wilderness beside the village. A good mile later, Eddard finally cuts from the main road and towards a large tree standing close to the swamp. Branches stretch out like tendrils, loose nooses and white ribbons decorating the dead wood reaching out on all sides. Eddard moves to stand in the shadow, clearly perturbed. Then, he finds a spot to sit under the shade of the tree and sits, staring off into the distance. Erulissë sneaks as close as she can, brushing just to the rim of a grassy glade before pausing and waiting. The wait continues, for at least another hour. Erulissë is patient, though. Being the underdark, one has to be or one ends up dead. She waits and watches for the longest time.
Then, from the darkness, motions stirs.
A figure in rags limps its way up the slope from the main road, hissing and creaking as it moves like an old ship. Shaking with a slow stride, the figure draws to a stop before Eddard and bows slightly in greeting.
“Apologies for my delay,” a raspy voice emerges from beneath the hood, “I was otherwise preoccupied.”
Eddard does not smile, though he does stand. He studies the figure’s posture, noticing a large mace attached to the individual’s hip.
“I thought we agreed no weapons,” Eddard spoke.
“Fear not,” the voice replies, “I couldn’t use it if I wanted to…though I do wish to ask why you called me here.”
“You know why,” Eddard replies. A sudden gust picks up, brushing the figure’s hood. From where Erulissë is hiding, she can’t make out anything, though the flash of wind gives Eddard a perfect glance of the person’s face. His eyes widen and his face grows pale.
“…What happened to you?”
“You left me to burn,” the figure replies, “so I did.”
His hands reach up. As they come free from the sleeves, Erulissë catches the glint of bronze metal ticking and whirring away as the limb stretches. The clockwork hand clicks its way upwards, gripping the figure’s hood and pulling it down.
Cailen’s face has been ravaged. The destruction of his base of operations has left his face horribly disfigured with a strange mechanical eye embedded in his right socket. His right arm has been fully replaced by a clockwork prosthesis, whilst a brace of steel and copper holds his frame in place beneath the cloak. Eddard looks Cailen over again, unable to hide his horror.
“Cailen…what did you do to yourself?”
“I have to survive,” Cailen replies, “until my work is done.”
“That is why I am here,” Eddard replies, “to tell you to stop Cailen. You are good deep down and I know you mean well, but these kidnappings, the experiments, all of them end here.”
Cailen pauses, staring at Keppler in the faded moonlight. For a moment, Erulissë considers finishing her work and ending the threat once and for all. Something stays her hand though, a strange twitch in the back of her mind. Mercy? Perhaps the Vagabonds are rubbing off on her more than she would like to admit.
Cailen sighs in defeat.
“Yes. Yes, they are. The cure exists, it just needs to be replicated…and if I can see the girl…”
“Cailen,” Eddard cuts in, “stop. You’re not seeing anyone. You’re Symon’s father. You were supposed to be there for him…not…not whatever that was in your tower.”
Cailen nods, barely focused as he replies.
“I know, but I’m not finished my work yet. You won’t allow me to continue like this…so I’ll have to find a new avenue, one you will be satisfied with. Hence, why I brought this.”
Cailen removes the mace from his pack and offers it to Eddard, who reluctantly takes it in hand.
“It’s a special weapon,” Cailen explains, “magical and has special damage effects related to constructs. So you will be capable of knocking me down if I stray from my new path, a path that will save us all from that god-forsaken Rot.”
Eddard shakes his head. He sheathes the mace and fixes with Cailen with a steely gaze.
“You have one day’s head start before I come get you.”
Eddard turns, picking up his crutch and beginning to hobble off. Cailen tries to follow him.
“The girl, the one with the cure, you’ll need me to take a look at her.”
“She doesn’t need anything from you,” Keppler replies, “you’ve done quite enough.”
“One day,” Eddard reminds him as he leaves, “and we both know how good I am at hunting monsters.”
Cailen says nothing as he retreats back down the road, hood drawn up above his features. Erulissë still watches from afar, but before slinking off into the night, and sprinting back to the church. She’s knew to all this surface world politics but she’s curious enough to wait and see how things play out. After all, this strange force within her is also what saved her from inevitable death. Perhaps it is worth waiting out. She sprints back to the church, beating Eddard, who silently slinks up the stairs to sleep.
Kassadin’s sleep is far more troubling than the rest of his party. In it, he’s surrounded by the desert sands where his comrades were felled by Tiamat cultists. The Vagabonds follow behind him, only for a swarm of sand to begin overtaking them and turning them to ash one by one. Kassadin watches in horror as his new family vanishes with only Yuvari left. As she runs into his arms, Kassadin feels his body jerk and he stabs out into her stomach. Yuvari’s agony gives way to a smile as Dormin’s face peels through her skin to grin at him.
“That’s my boy.”
Kassadin wakes early and immediately leaves the party to their own devices. This is a day of enjoyment and its one he wants to make the most of. Despite that, however, he can’t seem to shake the nervous air around him. Even as he is brought into a challenge with a muscular Halfling for a wrestle, he finds the excitement of the fight only fuels his anger more, Dormin whispering sweet pleas for blood in his ear. Leaving the halfling alive and collecting his gold for the fight, Kassadin seeks solace and solitude, hoping to recover a moment of peace amongst the madness.
The rest of the party enjoy the Fabletithe festival in their own way. Elizabeth, healed from her injuries, visits her new store to find Pip and Peres churning out bargains for eager customers, excited to have a store officially sponsored by ‘the heroes of Hearthome’. Despite the overhyped marketing of Pip, Elizabeth herself soon finds herself swamped amidst crowds of young girls and other admirers exclaiming how great she is and how the monstrous strength she has long been ashamed of is now being admired by complete strangers. The emotions welling up inside her are overwhelming, especially when Peres forces her to start signing autographs. However, at the end of the day, a monumental amount of profits find their way into Elizabeth’s hands and Peres himself is beginning to warm up to her presence. It’s a lovely day for Lady Grey that ends with a stop off at Khan’s forge, before trekking on towards the local tailor’s shop to place a particular order.
Nikita spends the entire day with Mayhem and Symon, doting over the boy and fussing him as only an aspiring mother-figure can. The first stop is a round of stories by the great plaque in the centre of town, learning about how Magnus, the Father of Dorvine, first rose to the throne as king with the help of his nine knights. Then, following on quickly after, Nikita wins Symon a prize at a rigged game at a party stall, using her gun to threaten the man when all is said and done. From there, the three wander down to the post office to finally send off the trinket Kassadin had been watching over night.
“A special present to Alexei,” Nikita explains.
Mayhem visibly appears un-nerved.
“And Alexei is?”
“Nothing you need concern yourself with,” Nikita encourages, taking his hand in her paw and leading the two boys back out to the party.
Teoku and Ouskarr enjoy a day walking around the stalls, winning prizes from one another before retiring away from the town to partake in a most romantic picnic together. It’s a quiet time for the pair for its nice for the two of them to just relax with no sign of imminent danger on the horizon.
Eddard, meanwhile, breaks from the festivities to visit General Hux in the keep just above the village. Eddard encourages the general to continue the hunt for Cailen and in turn, is given a mission of his own to complete later that night.
As the day draws to a close, Kassadin returns to the blacksmith to pay off his remaining debt for his new dragon armour, only to discover that the suit has already been paid for. Nikita and Elizabeth have been secretly donating money to see that the project is finished. The blacksmith even gives Kassadin a good glimpse at the work she and the Dwarves she hired have pulled into it: revealing a fine gleaming red plate with dragon scales moulded into the metal. On its back, the Lightforge insignia glints back at him. Kassadin smiles, silently thanks his comrades and thinks of better days long since past.
With the festival of Fabletithe coming to its conclusion, the Vagabonds reunite. Lady Grey, wearing her new custom cloak of protection, moves to stand beside Kassadin and Ouskarr as the group line up beside the ruins of Cailen’s fallen tower. General Huxx stands to one side, gathering the townsfolk into the central courtyard. Beside Teoku, Nikita fusses over a nervous Symon, who awaits the following announcement with a slight dread. As Eddard finally mounts the steps to the tower and as he takes his place on the precipice, all fall silent.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Eddard begins, “Damen und Herren. We are here, on this – our Fabletithe, to celebrate times passed and tell our stories. We must also, spend a moment to hold those who cannot be here in our hearts and remember them well. Fabletithe is of course a time for stories, long and short, old and new, dead and living. Do not weep for those who are absent today, they are amongst the best of us, because they have all become the stories we all cherish so much. But we must look onward toward new beginnings and new growth. One such beginning is the first step into adulthood. Our young Thane is here to take that step today and take on his official title and responsibilities in his late mother’s stead. May her story be retold to countless generations.”
As Eddard gestures back, Symon steps forwards. He refuses Mayhem’s assistance, hobbling forward until he takes his place beside the cleric.
“Lord Symon,” Eddard begins gently, “Do you vow to be the shield which stands between your people and those who would do them harm?”
“I do,” Symon replies.
Eddard nods and continues,
“Lord Symun. Do you vow to wield fire and fury against the enemies of your people?”
Another quick response, though the solemn look on Symon’s face informs Eddard that the boy indeed means every word he says. It’s strange, he thinks, seeing such spirit in one so young.
“Lord Symun. Do you accept the burdens of leadership and vow to rule justly and with great wisdom?”
This gives Symon pause. Only for a moment, but the hesitation is there. Then, in an instant, it vanishes and Symon’s expression hardens into a firm one. A lord now stands where the boy once did.
“Then in the name of the people, and under the watchful eyes of The Nine and the Gods above, I anoint you Thane of Cinder’s Grove and father of your people. May your reign be wise and retold for countless generations.”
“All kneel for the thane!” Nikita cries, dropping to one knee herself.
The crowd do not need further provocation. The wild cheering instantly fades into a silence of awe as each man and woman takes a knee. The crowd dip their heads respectful, like a wave of loyalty and service passing out over the sea of people. Symon swallows hard but Eddard’s hand finds the boy’s shoulder, before he too bows respectfully. The Vagabonds all kneel and for a moment, the weight of the new found responsibility breaks Symon’s composure. He breathes sharply, and raises his head, banishing all doubt from his mind.
As small boats filled with candles are pushed out into the swamp to honour the dead, a new call is taken up by the people, a call that echoes across the vast wilderness to all parts of the province.”
“Love live the thane.”
And thus concludes the twenty second session of the Dorvine campaign. Fabletithe ended up a great success for the players, a lot of them enjoying the chance to actually have a holiday. Of course, sometimes it’s hard to have holidays in D&D when you don’t have much recollection of time, which is why this segment is about timekeeping in your D&D game.
Always be sure to keep notes about events in your campaign and when they happen.
In my opinion, what makes D&D, and for that record many stories, so enjoyable is to be able to see time passing before your eyes and realise how much a character has grown and evolved over the time period. For a non-D&D example, I have recently been rewatching Avatar the Last Airbender, introducing it to Dion for the first time, and my thought whilst watching has been how well the series shows the passage of time. The oranges and dull colours of Autumn fade into the blues and whites of winter and each event leads on from each other in a natural way that suggests a gap in time. When playing your campaign, you want your players to be able to track their progress similarly, to know that they started three months ago as a rag-tag group of adventurers and now, they’re the servants of a king, or great bandits. As such, scaling the events of your campaign to a timeline help the world to feel real and lived in and for your players to just feel a lot cooler. A campaign that’s supposedly had unrecorded years pass in game will always pale to a campaign that might have only had six months of time in world but for a player to remember what they did on a particular day. Plus, from a narrative standpoint, a player will definitely notice if you spring the same holiday twice in one year. Such disrespect for your universe’s continuity implies that it doesn’t matter and that’s the exact way your players will take it.
Of course, to help with tracking time like this, it’s always handy to have a calendar on hand.
When making calendars, draw from inspiration from real world sources and your own world’s mythology.
First thing’s first, you do not actually need to invent a calendar for your world before beginning your campaign, or even during. It is just as easy to take our own and shove it in. However, personally, I find that calendars can be used as a great way to reveal lore or narrative through it. After all, look at how many facts and figures of our own world went into moulding our calendar. July and August are named for Julius and Augustus Caesar, Roman Emperors, and December stands as a reminder that there used to be ten months instead of twelve. Our own world history and culture is loaded into our own calendar and as such, if you want to build one for your own world, your invented calendar should reflect your world’s view.
For Dovine, I invented two calendars, partly because I’m an insane nerd, but partly because it reflected the two dual cultures within Dorvine: the old-guard of Dorvine and the imperial remnant of Torvali. The old calendar is split into four large months for the seasons with five days of the week, each attributing to the spiritual elements of Dorvine: water, air, earth, fire and spirit. In contrast, the Torvali calendar is heavily inspired by the fictitious history of the Empire, with months named after famous members of the royal family, their allies and enemies. In addition, knowing the spiritual and cultural beliefs of each faction, I was able to invent holidays to dramatically occur when needed. Considering the party’s victory occurred in the month of Marai (named for the first Emperor’s mother, a renowned storyteller), I invented the holiday of Fabletithe, where the players could celebrate stories of past heroes and their own accomplishments for their own ‘stories’.
Admittedly, none of my players really know the calendar (bar Aimee, but she’s a lore goblin) but by knowing it myself, I can accurately record how long the campaign has been going on for and also attribute events to certain days, seasons and even spring up holidays when dramatically appropriate for the players to relax.
The occasional low-stakes fun sessions can be just as entertaining as the big sprawling epic ones.
As of this session, the player characters have been in the Dorvine world for twenty three in game days. On the one hand, the fast pace has been entertaining but also incredibly overwhelming for the party. Jacob and Dion had been talking prior to this session about wanting to slow the pace down and get some time to rest, which was a focus for myself in this session and next session.
As epic as the grand finale of your story arcs might be, your players are also present to have fun and enjoy themselves. Considering, as DM, you can determine the pace of the game, it’s nice to give the players a session once in a while where they can forget their quests and overarching plots and just have some fun. It allows for a calmness over the table and can help defuse a lot of brewing tension.
That’s going to be it from this session of From the DM’s Chair. Join us next time as the party finally get a chance to get drunk a tavern again, where we enjoy a lighthearted bit of role-play and we talk about the role-playing, NPCs and, maybe, how to spring a dramatic twist of two on your party. Apologies for the lateness for the blog and if the content is sub-par compared to normal, there’s no excuse but I have been very worn out recently.
Until next time, thank you everyone for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s session of From the DM’s Chair. Please leave a comment. Constructive criticism is welcome.