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Monday, 24 August 2015

On Past and Future Timelines in RPG Settings

Now that we're all living in Pundit's World, I think it's time to change a couple of things that have gotten my goat for quite a while.  Starting with how RPG settings handle timelines or chronologies.

See, it's one of the things I never understood about setting design either: making all the cool stuff happen before the PCs show up, or telling you a ton of stuff about what happened before but then providing no guidelines as to how the GM can manage what may happen next!

That's why both Arrows of Indra and Dark Albion have FUTURE timelines.  Albion has like two pages of "this is what happened in the setting before now" and like twenty of "this is stuff that could happen over the next 30 years of gameplay".

I think that's WAY more useful than 20 pages of backstory and no pages of what might happen.


currently smoking: dunhill shell diplomat & Solani Aged Burley


  1. I've been arguing that this approach would work wonderfully for Greyhawk. Start off the campaign in CY 576, and treat all the later stuff -- Greyhawk Wars, From the Ashes, etc. -- as stuff that might happen in the background as the campaign progresses.

  2. The future history in Dark Albion does look very useful, especially if a campaign hits the fast-forward button on the campaign every so often. I know Pendragon does that. If I get to ever run Dark Albion I'll make sure to do something like that as well.

  3. my albion campaign had anywhere between one and four adventures (of 1 or more, sometimes many more, sessions) per year. Thus the timeline advanced relatively quickly. In between the players would describe what they were up to in the downtime.

    Remember that winter would be a natural sort of downtime as it would often not be fit for travel.

  4. You make an excellent point. So many games/settings go on and on about "this cool stuff happened a long time ago before your characters were around" and then dump you at the tail end with nothing interesting happening. It's like playing in Middle-earth after The Ring gets thrown in the volcano and the elves leave and all the rest of the cool stuff has already been done by someone else.

    Much better would be a set up of "this is what's happening now" and "here's some stuff that may happen soon depending on your game."

  5. I realize this is thread necromancy--or comment necromancy, as it were. But I found this post while Googling for something else and just had to comment to say, "thank you for this." I've nearly stopped playing in, and have outright stopped running, established campaigns for exactly this reason.

    I don't want to play Joe Nobody, born after epic heroes of legend fought the great Orcgate Wars, who spends his time hunting goblins for copper. What's happening NOW is what matters to me both as player and GM. I don't want a campaign to provide fluff by way fanwankery that gives cool backstory to a series of generic, linear encounters. I want the players to be shaping history, not spectators being dragged along for the ride.

    By being one of the few roleplayers I've met to share this opinion, you've managed to sell me on Dark Albion. I'll be checking it out sometime in the near future.

    1. Absolutely agree with you. This doesn't necessarily mean that the PCs have to always be the heroes of the kingdom, but the interesting stuff should be outlined for the GM to decide what he wants to do with it!

      I trust you'll like Dark Albion!