According to Gary Gygax (Dungeon Masters Guide page 37, caps in the original):
One of the things stressed in the original game of D&D was the importance of recording game time with respect to each and every player character in a campaign. In AD&D it is emphasized even more: YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.
Tracking resources is hard, at least for me. Once events start getting complicated, resource tracking is generally the first thing to be jettisoned. It seems that other people have similar problems.
When it comes down to it, there are only a few core resources:
- Ammunition (arrows, quarrels, daggers)
- Light (torches, lantern oil)
So here’s an idea. Use a stack of poker chips for each resource (regarding poker chips, see also: Lord Kilgore
, Lord Kilgore again
). That way, there is a visual cue for the decreasing resource (as the stack gets shorter). Optimally, each character would have a stack for each resource, with the “time resource” belonging to the referee. One could also use other kinds of tokens or counters, but I like the visual representation of a stack (height is a very powerful metaphor that affects our thinking in many ways).
Proposed poker chip equivalences:
- Yellow = oil (1 hour of light, 4 chips per flask)
- Red = torch (1 hour of light, 1 chip per torch)
- Blue = drinking water for 1 day
- Green = rations for 1 day
- White = ammunition (1 per arrow)
This could be modified in various ways depending on the precision desired. For example, for exact tracking, light units could be measured in turns. Thus, each torch carried would be represented by six red chips. A lit torch would result every turn in a red chip being transferred from the player’s torch stack to the referee’s time stack. To see how much time has passed, one need only look at the time stack. I’m not sure how this would work in play. It might be annoying to move a chip for every turn (on the other hand, it might make time more salient).
Exact tracking would require 24 chips per flask of oil though, which is probably too many (though one could have a stack representing flasks and another stack representing the active lantern). It might be more reasonable to store light in hour units (1 per torch, 4 per flask of oil). The referee would need a separate way of ticking off turns that pass behind the screen, but my guess is that such a method would work better. One could model time using two stacks: one for days and one for hours. Once the appropriate number of hour chips have accumulated, the players know it is time for the PCs to rest (or push on with exhaustion penalties). Alternatively, one could have a pile for the active torches or lanterns with one chip per turn of light and a separate pile for spare torches or flasks of oil. This also has the advantage of the players being able to watch their torches burn down turn by turn.
I really need to try this to see how convenient it is. My players are still down in The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, and I don’t want to introduce such a mechanic in the middle of a delve (I’m pretty sure none of them have rations written on their character sheets, for example, which I am magnanimously overlooking).
Tracking ammunition with this system seems straightforward. Secondary ammunition (like a PC that carries a crossbow and multiple throwing knives) could be represented by other chip colors. If a PC carries more than 20 shots of a particular kind of ammunition, just track the active quiver (like the active lantern example above). And really, unless you have a wagon or a retainer, I think it’s highly unlikely that one would carry more than 40 (or even 20) arrows, especially when carrying other gear. Arrows are bulky.
It seems like this system would work just as well for wilderness journeys, as the primary resources required for overland travel are food and water, which are usually measured in days. Passing days are then represented by every player decrementing their water and food piles by one, and the referee incrementing the days pile.
What I think is interesting about this approach is how it illustrates the action of a ledger: spent resources (light, food) are transformed into passing time. Various abilities can also more easily “cost time” using this approach. Traditionally, actions like searching for secret doors are supposed to cost time. For more on time as a resource, see JB’s post
on the “automatic” thief.
Am I missing any resources that are important to track?