Today's post was inspired by a discussion with a friend about Skyrim. Now, while the conversation was about how this feature would have - in my opinion - made Skyrim a much more powerful and immersive world, the same holds true for your table top RPG as well. Why? Well, people are already saying that Skyrim is the videogame version of a table top, do I need to draw more comparisons than that? (if so, let me know in the comments ;) )
Because Time Doesn't Wait
The idea behind this is fairly simple. It basically states that time waits for no man, no matter how important they may be. I'm sure most GMs know the story I'm about to tell. You set up a plot, drop the hooks and lines in front of the PCs - they even seem receptive to the quest. Just, they want to go and do this other stuff first. Sure, sure, grand army of orks is coming our way, but first let's go shop for magic items and see if we can rob the museum for some extra loot.
In videogames, and in a lot of Table Top games, the world seems ok with this. It just pauses and lets everything happen and then goes back to the plot. Sometimes it happens due to "quick things" taking a long time IRL to handle, but a lot of times it is just the fact that events keep getting in the way even if the PCs are working towards some goal.
Immersion Is Key
But what would happen if that dilly dallying had a cost? What if the fact that you didn't go and warn the local magistrate that a dragon was in the area meant that the town that sent you got destroyed because you weren't fast enough? What if the assassin's note you ignored resulted in someone else, someone important, being killed to get at you or stop you from doing something?
These events transpiring show that while the PCs are important, the world is still moving a long. It is a living, breathing thing that is not simply sitting at their beck and call. If they spend three weeks training their archery, that's fine. It just means that ye olde prophecy of impending doom is 3 weeks closer to completion. Can they still stop it? Maybe, but it is going to be a lot harder.
Not Just Bad Things
The trick to this is to not just have bad things happen on this time frame. Other things have to happen as well. Maybe the local contact the PCs had in a village has gotten married since they last spoke. Maybe a town militia is forming to deal with the bandits since it seems no hero is coming to help them out. This is the last trick to the immersion because it shows the world reacting to the players - to both their actions and inactions - over time.
The Quest For Glory Experience
The first video game I saw this in was Quest For Glory, and to me it is still one of the best ways to do things. In a lot of ways, as far as the old Sierra adventure games go, QFG was the 80s version of a game like Skyrim. You made your dude, you explored the land, and you did things while a main plot went on. The plot in QFG2 though involved elementals coming to destroy the city (fire, earth, air, water if I recall the order correctly.) So what would happen? You'd wake up one day after days of nothing happening (just your own adventuring) and be told that the elemental of
The only problem was, if you ignored it for too long then the game would end. Why? Because the elemental would destroy the city. It didn't become harder to beat (adventure game, they had a puzzle to solve for each), but it did put a time limit on it. Hell, one time I got lost in the desert and was out there for so long the city got destroyed by the first elemental (I had decided to see if I could run to the other city. Answer was yes I could, but I had picked a bad time to try :P )
It made the game feel more real than a lot of games. And certainly a lot more respectable than a lot of other RPGs I'd see where you'd be begged to save someone by midnight, and could then go on a world spanning adventure - sleeping in numerous inns - and return just in time to save the day by midnight.
I'm curious as to how many of you try to do this. Do you have good results? Bad results? The time limits don't have to be dastardly and short to force the PCs into doing things now, but just having that sense of things moving on can be a powerful immersion factor. Sound off in the comments.