Advancing the Timeline in an RPG Campaign

On Tuesday, Joe and I went to Matt’s house.  Matt was wanting to talk about the Bloodstone game; He had been working on writing an email but was at an empasse.

Matt is the only player in the present group to have started Bloodstone several times, played to completion once, and acted as assistant GM for another.  He knows the adventure series quite well.

Matt’s concern was that we were spending so much time getting to Bloodstone. There are lots of distractions enroute, and the campaign is only slowly marching towards its namesake.

I’ve been aware of this potential problem, and in my preparation for the next session, I’m trying to better plan the key scenes.  I’m hoping we are able to get to the first large-scale conflict in the village of Bloodstone; I don’t know if I’ll have the curtain drop before the conflict, or if I’ll abbreviate the large-scale conflict by having some linked tests tie into a final Tactics test.

More at its core, however, is the fact that our group, as a whole has not normally advanced a campaign’s timeline off-camera.  That is to say, we don’t often mutter the phrase, “and the winter passes.”

We have tended to play campaigns that grow in scope and march towards saving the world – a task that doesn’t lend itself to saying “and the seasons pass”. I’ve cleaved too close to the urgent timeline of Lord of the Rings, and haven’t taken cues from Avatar: The Last Airbender (Animated Series) nor the Tails of the Earthsea books.

The H-Series has an initial sense of urgency – bandits will collect tribute from the village in two weeks – but then backs off after the first adventure book; Seasons can and will pass quietly.

So I’ve pondered how I can practice incorporating that into my games, and my growing suspicion is that I don’t offer conclusions to my sessions.  In other words, my games tend to follow the cascade of actions and reactions, ever flowing, uninterrupted.

So I’m wondering, what are some tricks that I can use to make sure that the characters in my game are not always a season of 24.  I don’t want an endless stream of action that carries between many sessions.

Is the trick simply to plan for end points?  After all, every published adventure has an ending.  Or in planning for end points, do I need to plan the points in-between?

8 thoughts on “Advancing the Timeline in an RPG Campaign

  1. I had a five year time skip in my 4th edition campaign. Essentially they ran into an entire sub-plot that would have distracted too much, so once we got to a good stopping point I told them the game would focus in after the five years. I free-form RP’ed what they did during that time and what they found out that was pertinent, and then starting things up after the time skip. It’s worked pretty well so far!

    • You’re in an elevator and want to tell someone about your campaign. You won’t have a lot of time to say what it’s about, so keep it simple, quick, and to the point.

      What is your campaign’s “back-cover” blurb?

  2. Most of our campaigns have had the characters immediately working toward some goal or antagonist. If the heroes had to wait for the antagonist to make the next move, that could supply a break. Or defeating the main antagonist and wait to reveal the next one would do it, the problem comes with explaining why the heroes all form up again for the new threat after that time apart.

  3. Ah, that makes sense.My campaign revolves around a group of disparate individuals and the half-devil child they are trying to protect as the world quickly falls apart under the manipulations of a mysterious puppeteer.

    Basically the time skip would have involved time not dealing with this manipulator behind the curtain.

    I could give more details if you’d like, but it gets very complicated and VERY dark very very quickly, so I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

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