Super lightweight ways to keep track of time and weather?

I have seen a handful of methods to keep track of time in games, but most of them are too crunchy for the kinds of freeform games I want to play and run, or require some other kind of structure that I don’t like to use.

The Labyrinth RPG implies that you should re-roll weather between each “scene”, which works pretty well because each scene is like a room in a dungeon where your progress is gated. I struggle to apply this to games that aren’t scene-based. And Goblin’s Henchman’s hex flower is a brilliant tool, but I have no idea how often to roll on it. In practice, it’s “whenever I remember to actually do it” which is inconsistent and requires more processing power from my overwhelmed GM brain.

So when do you go from “it’s morning and [rolls d8] cloudy and breezy” to “it’s early afternoon and [rolls d8] hot and about to rain”? How can this be part of the procedure when the procedure is pretty minimal?

Here are some constraints:

  • The game does not have any notion of “turns” or “hexes”
  • There is no notion of resource management associated with time, like hit points or rations. Time determines other important aspects of the world: Are stores open? What kinds of animals are out? Are folks working or drinking or sleeping?
  • There are PLACES; some are just a single point of interest (such as a grave marker along a road) and others are large enough to contain many points of interest (such as an abandoned amusement park)
  • There are often (but not always) ENCOUNTERS between places (a notable animal, a bandit, a traveler)
  • Use only a single d8
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If you don’t have scenes and you don’t have turns and you don’t have actions that take set amounts of time then you won’t be able to have a procedure I don’t think.

You might need to create a structure if you want time to be important even if players don’t know or don’t engage those rules.

Quick thought would be to divide out the d8 between however many seasons exist in your world. Assign a seasonal effect to each die face within it’s respective category. Reserve one face value for unnatural events. Roll the d8 when a change in weather would be interesting or as the season naturally changes according to your worlds calendar. If it rolls outside the season and not on an unnatural event then the current weather holds. Since you are limiting to a single d8 make each effect noteworthy. If a season does not require multiple effects then extend a single effect across multiple values to simulate it’s stability.

Hope that helps. This all off the top of my head, but should work for simple randomization.

Is this a “success/failure with complications”-type resolution system? If so, change the weather on criticals or when you need complications. Just pick whichever type of weather best complicates things. To track it, just keep a notecard for weather and write the current weather there as a reminder.

I forgot to include anything about time. Randomizing what time it is seems a bit strange to me. In a minimal game the guide’s statements about the world should be enough. Randomizing how long something takes is more interesting in the cases you mentioned. This can be done with a simple die of fate or coupled with any success/failure mechanic you might use.

Oh, sorry if my post was confusing! I meant “how often do you ADVANCE what time it is?” I do already randomize the time when a session starts, like “okay, it’s sunset and people are lighting lanterns…” I just don’t have any good way to decide “now it’s nighttime” without some kind of behind-the-scenes procedure.

But I do like the idea of maybe rolling when I’m not sure how much time has passed since the last notable event. Something like:

1-3 = It didn’t take long, same general time of day
4-6 = Took a little while, advance from morning to early afternoon
7-8 = Took much longer than expected, advance from morning to late afternoon

In games I GM, time generally advances when the session ends and I think, Oh yeah, all that actually probably took time…

Ahhh! Truthfully, I was reading too fast, but my understanding is now clear. Thanks :slight_smile:

Since you do not track turns/actions then time is quite nebulous. This is great for allowing play to focus wherever it needs to be. Your player’s should be the best indicator when to advance time. They will quiet down about doing stuff or start idle chatting. When you notice this advance time. Ask your players, “Hey how much time do you think has passed?” If unsure throw a die like you described for inspiration. Keeping in sync with their internal clock is way easier than forcing them to follow yours.

Write out a small checklist of group behaviors to watch for if you need the reminder.

Honestly, I just don’t find too many situations where fine-grained time tracking matters all that much. If my players ask how much time has passed, I can come up with an estimate. I could be more careful about the math, but it seems like a lot of work for something that rarely has any bearing on what happens at the table. But maybe others get more use out of tracking time than I would.

That’s an interesting idea, although sometimes the weather has been foul for a while and I’m just trying to decide when the weather gets better. I was considering something like “1-2 weather gets worse, 3-6 = weather stays the same, 7-8 = weather gets better” but that still leaves the question of WHEN to perform that roll.

Same here, but that’s what I’m trying to avoid. I’m also trying to avoid Gygaxian ‘meaningful’ time tracking, which is on the other end of the spectrum. There’s gotta be something in the middle.

That’s a good point! I’m fine with creating a behind-the-screen procedure for time tracking, as long as it’s minimalist. I’m not trying to punish players for taking longer on certain tasks, it’s more there for verisimilitude and flavor.

Just to sum up.

At the session start you randomize the starting time period. Then the world around your players react to that time through set behaviors. The players move from place to place and can engage in encounters. Time passes during this process.

A quick behind the screen system is to mark tallies as player’s do stuff. When you reach a number of tallies move the time period forward. Reset the tally and repeat.


That’s pretty simple! Every 5 hash marks, advance to the next time of day. I like it!

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I do turn tracking and divide the day up into six or eight “watches” that I track with a BitD style clock. (With the assumption that 2 to 3 of those watches are for sleep)

I think you could not track turns but still do the watches, just advance the clock when it feels like it’s been about 4ish hours.

I do weather each day with maybe one change during the day. I used to do a 2/6 chance weather changes each watch but found it too cumbersome. I’ve experimented with the hex method for weather but prefer simple seasonal 2d6 tables.


Sticking with situational weather tracking, you change the weather for the better when…

  1. The players get a good roll and that’s a narratively sound way to improve their situation — e.g. they’re trying to work against the weather and roll a critical, voila! the clouds part.
  2. The players get a bad roll and that’s a narratively sound way to complicate their situation — e.g. they’re relying on heavy fog to shroud their movements and roll a failure, oops! suddenly the fog lifts a leaves them exposed.
  3. You’re transitioning in time — e.g. they’ve finished up a big task and you want to skip all of the tedious stuff standing between them and the next fun part, may as well adjust the weather, too.
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Why bother?

Time need only be generalized unless it has mechanical weight. Similarly distance.

The only weight here is in the encounters between set peices/scenes so time like everything else is simply flavoring and can either be built into these scene descriptions, randomized via proc gen, or handed to the players for input.

What about narrative weight? A stranger hanging out along the road just after the sun goes down is very different than the same stranger just before sunset. Some animals are active during the day and others at night. I don’t think you need to have a mechanical hook for something about the game world to be meaningful, as long as it effects the game world itself.

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Narrative weight doesn’t really need to be mechanically supported though. A subsystem to produce it doesn’t need to fit in with any logic besides story logic. I am not a storygames person, but it strikes me that deciding if a stranger is looming in the ominous dusk or napping in the sun for story reasons would be best determined by the ref or players to snap into the story itself.

The controlling factor isn’t how much time has passed and maintaining fidelity to players understanding of the world but if it’s time to meet NPC X or Y to push toward the narrative’s climax. One could systematize this, but it seems more like scene dressing then something needing temporal coherence?

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I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, although I don’t really play in that style either. I’m trying to simulate the passage of time with the least amount of crunch. The passage of time matters a lot because I need to know that as the GM to describe what the world is like, or what encounter table to pull from. It doesn’t need to be a precise or realistic simulation, but I also don’t want to just make it up; I’m doing plenty of improv already, and it feels kind of wrong to make an arbitrary decision about whether significant time has passed. I can resolve a player’s actions by having them roll, and I can resolve many aspects of the world with an oracle die, but I haven’t seen too many simple procedures for “does time pass? how much?” and that’s what I’m chasing here.

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It’s all made up.

The referee describes the world. How the referee describes the world can either be modeled via a subsystem, pulled from prep/another’s work or improvised. Generally I save systematizing for complex and important issues that will effect play. These only need to be specific and detailed if they have a meaningful effect and/or the players can use them to make decisions about play.

For example, you start with the discussion of weather, and weather might be important but … in practice it rarely matters in play, either because it has no mechanical modifers or makes for no meaningful decisions. From the limitations you set on your travel system (no segmentation of time, no supplis) I don’t see much of that.

For example: A torrential storm rolls over the party as they travel from the gravestone landmark to dung town. As written this is meaningless in play. Not without content, but it won’t effect the players decisions except by thier choice. Will they seek shelter? Unlikely unless there’s a consequence for not doing so.

One could have them roll on a “trudging in the rain table” full of risks: horse breaking legs, catching a cold etc. One could make it 2 times more likely they will be ambushed by bandits from surprise, one could give then exhaustion (that last beyond a nights rest at the end of the journey). The players though need to know whatever risk is involved for it to matter to thier decision making, and some of these severe for rain. If one had supplies they could be ruined, and if one had granular turns, time could be wasted (and additional risk faced due to the additional time) - time and supplies help to create situations where a GM threatens something less then PC survival.

Yet without some known negative effect bad weather is just scene dressing, and while it might be nice to have it, it doesn’t seem worth the referee’s limited time and energy to use a subsystem for it.

Again if you are using adventure paths just include time passage and weather in the various point descriptions (e.g. The journey to Dung town will end at dusk, with the party drenched in rain), let the referee make it up or make a simple table of time arrived and post facto justify whyvthe journey took x time.