time stretching and condensing as game mechanisms

Chiarina's picture


I´m thinking about time stretching and condensing in a role playing campaign.

In literature it is the author´s job to shape the impression of passing time.
If the reader needs longer to read than the described action lasts, time is condensing.
If reading time and the time the described action lasts match, time is congruent.
If the reader needs less time to read than the described action lasts, time is stretching.

In my case I want to run a campaign that begins with condensing or congruent time. The scenes should succeed without leaps.
The longer the campaign takes, the stronger time should stretch. Towards the end, the leaps of time between the scenes should be big and months should fly by.

My intent is to create an impression of a maelstrom of time the player characters are dragged into.
Time seems to pass faster and faster and what´s happening escapes more and more the grasp of the player characters.

At present I´m thinking about (additional? alternate?) mechanisms that could convey this feeling (for instance the frequency of tests (?) ... something like that...(?)).

Do you have some ideas?

DeReel's picture

I am thinking higher level concerns : fixed phases of development, like : intro in medias res, personal situation, city wide ramifications, goes federal, alien invasion, that comes in fact from a dimensional breach. Players who keep their original PCs will feel overwhelmed (some typical interesting SF characters), but they could migrate toward faction play by degrees through faction skills, moves or perks (and other forms of authorship).
It's not an elegant "self contained mechanism" that will produce what you describe but rather a superimposed mechanical structure modeling it. Maybe just keep the idea of "higher concerns" ?
On the other hand, for a game based on this, you could take any simple enough existing system and just state that "rule X : whenever a player wants something to take place at a longer timescale than the actual one, they gain initiative." Storytelly as hell and very inelegant. Maybe keep the idea of a "timestep" meter ?

Tod's picture

I try to do this, I really do. However I often find that my players - like novice authors - have a need to RP every moment, every room-crossing, every "stage direction." A means of mechanizing time skips would be of great interest to me.

Chiarina's picture

I like the idea of a "timestep meter". Perhaps the achievement of a new level could depend on another game relevant fact - critical failures for example.

Look at this:
Start of the campaign: scenes succeed without leaps
After 11 critical failures: one scene per day
After 17 critical failures: one scene per week
After 20 critical failures: one scene per month
After 22 critical failures: one scene per season
After 23 critical failures: one scene per year
(next critical failure will end the game?)

The intervals for the next level become smaller, so there is kind of a pull towards the end.

The idea is very abstract. I don´t know, if it leads to a worthy game experience.
Maybe I just have to try it...

DeReel's picture

Loving Devil's bargain stories, I suggest making it a choice for the player. Escaping the consequences of the critical failure, taking an increment on the time-o-meter.
Thank you Chiarina for reminding me of the impression I had reading John Taine's Time stream.

Paul T.'s picture

I really like this idea:

When the player experiences a terrible failure (or some other undesirable thing), they can “buy” success but at the cost of time - fast forwarding to a moment in the future.

Paul T.'s picture

I should also note that the *pace* of play (narration) within a scene is an entirely separate issue from how far apart scenes are moments of play are within the fictional timeline. We can breathlessly summarize several days of action in a row, or we can play out every moment of a scene, then skip forward ten years, and do the same thing.

It’s worth thinking about which of those you care about, and when, how, and why.

You might find David Berg’s pacing dial to be of inspiration here:


Chiarina's picture

Thank you for your inspiration. I thought a while about Pauls "buying of success at the cost of time"... and first I hesitated because I was unsure about the possibility of preventing time stretching.
Eventually I understood, that it is a choice between two evils. Looked at this way the mechanism seems to fit. I´ll try it.