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Ultimate Edition


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Unread postby icycalm » 25 Sep 2020 23:55


In a regular edition D&D campaign, timekeeping is not a major issue. After all, the players are essentially alone in the world, and all events ultimately revolve around them somehow, so the DM can bend events to fit any timeframe the players are setting. Ultimate Edition on the other hand strongly recommends multiple player groups operating in the world simultaneously, and the Battlegrounds universe even requires it. This creates a host of issues that the normal DM will never have to face. Thankfully, it also creates a host of advantages, on top of the (many) advantages that having more than one group in the world already brings with it.

The main issue is the variable relationship between real time and game time between groups. One group might play an adventure that plays out over a couple of in-game days, while another nearby group might play one that takes an in-game week—while BOTH of them are conducted over the same number of REAL hours. This way, the group whose adventure takes more in-game time will have eventually travelled in the future and will have to wait for the other group to catch up, which might well take several real weeks or even months. This can be avoided if the groups are not about to meet, and they can each inhabit a different time period of the universe; but if they meet, they must meet temporally too lol, at which point we have a huge problem on our hands that requires solution.

Ultimate Edition solves this issue by synchronizing groups' timelines at the end of every adventure. Let's say for the sake of simplicity that your universe includes two player groups. They begin their separate adventures at the same in-game moment, but a month of real time later, one has finished its adventure, and the other not. What happens next depends on which group is ahead in game time:

1. If the group that's just finished its adventure is ahead, it continues on with its next adventure normally. Nothing needs to be adjusted in this scenario.

2. If the group that's just finished its adventure is behind, then it skips forward as much time as is necessary to bring it at the same game time as the group that's still adventuring.

Let's give an example of this. Let's say that the group that's still adventuring is one month ahead of the universe's initial starting point, while the group that's just finished its adventure is one week ahead. This means that the adventuring group is three weeks ahead than the group that's sitting at the overworld and looking for its next adventure. So all we have to do is keep the overworld group on the overworld for three weeks. How do we accomplish this? Via a contrived in-game explanation which the players devise in conjunction with the DM. It could be anything. It could be that the characters are simply tired after their last ordeal, and just want to kick back in some town and relax for a while. Even better if the justification is connected with the characters' personal histories and personalities, or with their future goals. Or perhaps the players put their characters into information-seeking mode for three weeks, to help them choose their next destination, and the DM rewards this with some info they have learned on all their options. Basically anything is possible, and it's extremely easy to come up with not one, but as many explanations as you want. It's just a matter of picking a good one every time that slots well into the campaign's events.

Moreover, it's a terrific way to add depth to the campaign. Maybe a character went off to visit his mother, or to administrate his estate, or do any number of other things that rarely happen in a regular D&D campaign, but SHOULD be happening if all these people were real people. So instead of seeing this complication as a burden to be dealt with, the wise DM will see it as an opportunity to deepen his campaign, and properly direct his players to take advantage of it.

But the benefits keep coming, because this more complex time dimension of Ultimate Edition solves a major problem with D&D, which is the grossly unrealistic passage of time. Going by a regular edition's Player's Handbook, many 1st-level characters start as teenagers, perhaps of 16 or 17 years of age. But if you throw one published adventure after another at these characters, with no pause, they could become 20th-level before they turn 20! And how does it make any sense for a 20-year-old to be a world-class wizard or priest, or even warrior? By routinely adding "downtimes" to groups, Ultimate Edition ensures that the characters it generates develop far more slowly and realistically in game time.

This of course, is downright demanded by Ultimate Edition's new procreation and bloodline mechanics, since an heir, in order to be useful, must be at least around 16 years of age, which means that a full 16 years must elapse WITHIN THE GAME, and what was the last D&D campaign you saw that accomplished that? Ultimate Edition's Empire phase will help here too, because one turn is one month there, so several years can pass in a single game session that's devoted to the Empire phase, but it's also good to have some help in this regard from the Adventure phase, if for no other reason than because it makes no sense for back-to-back complex adventures to randomly happen to the same group of people for years on end. You don't see this sort of thing even in movies: sequels often take place years after the original adventure, and that's more or less how proper timekeeping in Ultimate Edition will help the campaign work.

To sum up: every time one group finishes its current adventure, it skips forward to catch up with ALL the other groups in the world that are ahead of it, before launching its next adventure. Only if that group is ahead of all the rest, it doesn't wait at all, and there is no time-bridging; it simply starts the next adventure on the same day it finishes the previous one, and then the other groups will catch up with it once they finish their current adventures, and time-bridge forward to catch up.

Of course, if two groups come in contact DURING an adventure as in a Versus Adventure Quest or Location Quest, things get more complicated. Then you may have to pause one group completely in REAL time: as in not allow them to play the next weekend, for example. Things get complicated here, but hey, no one said Ultimate Edition was easy; if you want easy go play a videogame. I hear Tetris is a good one.

A whole other layer of complexity is added in campaigns involving different groups in different planets and dimensions, where time might pass at different rates. That's when you really get screwed. The chances of a bunch of planets being on the same 24-hour period as the Earth are essentially nil, so "100 days passed" will mean utterly different time lengths in all the different planets. This before we even bring in how time passes in space, or in other dimensions. However, this is an aspect of D&D that's never been properly developed. First of all, the notion that the various settings are planets was only really introduced with the introduction of the Spelljammer setting. And since that setting did not become popular before it was discontinued, very few of the settings include any planetary information at all, and when they do it's something lazy like having 24-hour days etc. So for the DM who wants to go all-in the temporal dimension, you'll basically have to update all the settings yourself, and if you do so, be sure to share your work with the rest of us. An easier option would be to simply make "a day" the universal measuring stick of time in the entire universe, and this is what Ultimate Edition recommends. All official UE material will be written with this assumption. It's a game after all, and not a NASA post: if you like the idea of doing time transforms, we suggest a physics degree with a specialization in relativity theory. You can tell them in your application form that sent you.

And finally we arrive at REAL time, i.e. the realization that, for the game to be as fair as can be, the DM must somehow try to equalize even the REAL time that the different groups spend in the world. After all, if one group plays ten hours a month and another group plays 20, it's not exactly fair when they come to blows is it? This equalization sounds simple in practice: just record how many hours each group plays, and regulate this time to make sure relative equality between groups. But what happens if a group can't play for a few weeks because a couple players are absent? Does that mean that the other groups have to stop playing too?

This is where another massive benefit of the UE/BG system comes in: our current roster includes no fewer than SEVENTEEN people. And when was the last time you heard of a D&D group that big? In fact, D&D groups have been getting smaller and smaller with each successive edition: during 1E and 2E it was not unheard of to see published adventures accommodating up to EIGHT players, while Pathfinder has brought that down to a measly FOUR, which was so ridiculous that the videogame Pathfinder: Kingmaker—which is a straight adaptation of a published adventure path—brought that number up to the traditional D&D maximum party size of six. A VIDEOGAME improving on DUNGEONS & DRAGONS! I never thought I'd live to see the day, but here we are. Goes to show you how D&D has degenerated in the 25 years after the heights of the 2nd Edition. But alas, Ultimate Edition is here to right the ship and blow past everything else with no less than FIFTEEN players and TWO DMs in the world at the same time, if not in the actual game session. But precisely the fact that these players are not in the session simultaneously is how you can overcome the problem of absentee players: you simply recruit players from other groups to fill empty slots in the current group by running henchmen or even full-blown second characters—who are of course slotted into the game via the same means that the absentee players' absence is explained: some role-playing explanation as used to justify time-bridging. The character went to scout something. Or he got sick and had to be left behind. Or he got separated, lost, and will be re-encountered in the next session. And so on. And in the same manner, you slot in replacement players: The group recruited a henchman. Or they encountered a lone traveler and joined up forces for a while. And so on.

So, with ten players from the other two groups to pick from when one player is absent, you should always be able to find someone (and usually way more than one, at which point the volunteers should roll to determine who gets to jump in) and there is no reason to ever cancel any group's session, and the sessions can be scheduled to deliver equal playing times to all groups. The only exception is the DM, whose absence can't be covered by a player. But we have two DMs. The problem though is that it takes a lot of work for one DM to catch up with the state of some other DM's game, and it's just not generally worth it. Moreover, the session will in all likelihood be inferior because the other DM is simply not well-acquainted with everything that has happened, or with the original DM's vision for the adventure, and so on, the atmosphere he has established, etc. So it's best to avoid this substitution wherever possible. In extreme cases—if a DM needs to take a month or two off or something—some radical solution will be required: either the remaining DM has to do his catching up and referee all groups, which will mean reducing all groups' hours for those couple of months; or the ENTIRE universe will be paused, and the players can just play videogames during that time or whatever. I hear Tetris is a good one.

It goes without saying that all groups should keep strict time for every session. The DM already has enough on his plate, so delegate this job to a different player every time. You can have them roll for it, if no one wants to do it; but whoever does it, make sure they do it properly. If you're going by strict UE rules, all you'll need is the number of days elapsed in every session, and the hour of the day at which the game is paused at the session's end, so that you know where you're resuming from at the start of the next session. If you're running a single-group campaign you can adopt detailed planet-specific time measures, but for multi-group, multi-planet campaigns and universes, you should probably stick with standard Earth units for everyone, as aforementioned.
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