Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Anniversaries

Hindu Calendar corresponding to Gregorian Year 1871-1872.
Hindu Calendar corresponding to Gregorian Year 1871-1872.

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my computer, wondering to myself, dang, Tristan. I wonder how many ‘Reality Makes the Best Fantasy’ articles you’ve written? How long have you been doing this? Imagine my surprise when I realized I had written 54 articles and it had been a little over a year! WHOA. Reality Makes the Best Fantasy had its one year anniversary and I didn’t even know it! That’s a lot of time flailing at the computer, trying to think of a topic for an article.

‘A year’ is generally the allotment of time we use when we speak of anniversaries. I mean, it’s right there in the freaking word. Sometimes we like to say, oh, it’s the one month anniversary but let’s face it, ‘anniversary’ comes from Latin, derived from ‘annus’ which means ‘year’ and ‘vertere’ meaning ‘to turn’ (the Online Etymology Dictionary and taking Latin for three years is your friend). We celebrate the turning of the year on New Years. We celebrate birthdays, the anniversaries of our births. Many state holidays are anniversaries of momentous occasions such as signings of declarations, treaties, peace accords, laws. Marriage garners wedding anniversaries, full of more flailing and trying to remember. The anniversary of a death could require certain rites to be performed or could be a time of solemn remembrance.

There are many important dates to remember and as the years pass on, the holidays and events can take on new meanings as new generations celebrate and as new events take place, changing the meanings or context of the original occasion. Those involved in the original happening might remember the raw emotion, the energy that it took to accomplish whatever took place that day. The next few years might warrant feelings of triumph, with subsequent years falling to reflection, symbolism or the movement even being co-opted by newer, fresher movements with more energy behind them.

Anniversaries are a time of observance, celebration, contemplation. When the wheel of the year has made a turn, what are the PCs remembering in your campaign? What is worth celebrating 365 days later?

For GMs

  • What types of annual celebrations are observed by the people? State holidays? Personal celebrations?
  • How long is a year? Who keeps track of the passing of the year?
  • Are there certain gifts that are given for a certain number of years passing?
  • What are the rites, rituals and celebrations to properly commemorate the passing of time?
  • Is there a deity of the year, who opens and closes it? A deity of time?
  • How carefully do people record when things happen? Who generally is in charge of record keeping and keeping track of time?

Plot Hooks

  • Ten years ago, the PCs took part in a political movement which had a great impact on their society. However, a new political group has decided to use the anniversary as the leaping point for their own agenda, an agenda the PCs don’t quite fall in line with. The PCs must try and defuse the situation before all their hard work and old dreams are undone. What did the PCs originally fight for? What did they and their friends accomplish? How many of them are still alive? What does this new group advocate and why do the PCs disagree? How do they intend to stop them?
  • After some traveling, the PCs find themselves in a town or village they had been in a year ago. Whatever went down while the PCs were there evidently had an effect as the citizens are gearing up for a huge celebration. Asked to be the guests of honor and stay on, it isn’t made entirely clear what the celebration will entail. Why are the townsfolk celebrating? What did the PCs do? How is it remembered by the people of the town? What are they getting ready to do?
  • On the one year anniversary of the rulers wedding, they and their spouse must make a pilgrimage to a certain temple in order to guarantee the fertility of the couple. The PCs are asked to escort the royal couple there, avoiding things that would delay the pair and things which might bring bad fortune to the marriage bed. How long do they have to arrive at the temple? How does the couple feel about each other? What rites must they perform?
  • When their employer suddenly remembers it is their wedding anniversary, they quickly ask the PCs to obtain an appropriate gift and track down their spouse to give it to them before nightfall. What do the PCs obtain? How do they track down the intended? Did the other spouse remember and give a gift already? What will happen if the missive falls through?
  • On the anniversary of a terrible catastrophe, the city is somber as they remember those who perished and those who were injured. The PCs must organize and facilitate an event sponsored by their church, to comfort those who still mourn and commemorate the dead. When another temple wishes to perform a ritual to ensure it never happens again, the PCs are sent to negotiate and dissuade them, telling them it is too soon. What religious order do the PCs belong to and why are they volunteering? Have they lost loved ones? How do they comfort those who are grieving? What is the ritual to be performed?
  • Local customs holds that after a certain number of years of being dead, an individual’s soul finally leaves for the afterlife. On this anniversary of their gone missing, a group of travelers/a military regiment returns to their homeland. They can’t account for their disappearance and seem startled to hear so much time has passed. The PCs are sent to investigate what happened. Why did the group disappear? Have they aged since they left? What did they originally set out to do and what were the conditions of their return? How have their families adjusted and how do they react to their return?

For PCs

  • Do you celebrate any local holidays that are annual commemorations of things?
  • When is your birthday?
  • Do you tend to try and celebrate anniversaries of events more traditionally, to reflect on the past or do you use any excuse to party?
  • Are there any events that have taken place in your life that you commemorate yearly? Do you share these events with other individuals or are they personal triumphs/tragedies?

What say you? What annual triumphs have you had around the gaming table?

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: 24/7

Die Hangematte by Gustave Courbet. Okay. She’s totally going to fall out of that thing.

What business is open the latest where you live? When I used to live in New York City, this would be a tough question to answer. In my neighborhood it was probably one of the bodegas or corner stores but plenty of restaurants stay open around the clock. The existence of street lights and around the clock public transportation means sidewalks and streets always have someone on them and factories, schools and markets keep late hours. Something is always happening in NYC.

Where I currently live in Central California, I would venture a guess that the Wal-Mart is probably one of the very few things open all the time. Many businesses are open later on the weekends but close in the later afternoon during the week. Bars are generally open late with each state and country usually having laws dictating hours for selling alcohol with drinking establishments closing accordingly (apparently a lot of states have laws restricting the sale of alcohol on Election Day, which…HAHAHAHAHAHA).

Business, entertainment and other things center around the work week, with shows and specials starting when people are most likely to be available to partake and take advantage of them. The amount of light available affects the amount of time people have to get their work and their errands done, the advent of artificial light meaning people can stay awake indoors and out till later hours. Parties could go on all through the night as long as the fire is kept burning and the bodies are willing. And of course, staying up all night means you’ll be paying for it the next day.

In some cases, the middle of the day is a time to close down shops and rest for a short period of time. The siesta is well known but many other countries and cultures have their own version, taking this generally hottest part of the day as a chance to relax and connect with their family members and friends after a few hours of hard work. Ranging from 15-30 minutes of laying down or resting to a few hours, many people acknowledge that while life goes on, taking a small break in the middle of the day helps the body deal with it better. These kinds of breaks are easier to take when people work close to home, work from home or have jobs that provide spaces for workers to rest. With a rest in the middle of the day, citizens are able to stay awake a little later, visiting with family and friends and building community after a day of labour.

While gates and ports might be open to some degree around the clock (or…I guess, around the sundial), it doesn’t mean accommodations are waiting on the other side. Arriving after a certain hour or watch might mean all travelling in and out must be done through a certain gate, except in the case of emergencies (or perhaps a bribe?). Inns and bars might be closed or might charge for the inconvenience of having to be up in the middle of the night, getting beds for everyone and vehicles or animals parked. What might be open and willing to receive late night travellers might be less than desirable. And in times of war, illness or stress, curfews might be put into place.

Cultures and technology will make the day last as long as it can. The drive to get more done can be very alluring for people in all areas of their lives. Some want to work more to make more money, some want the fun times with their friends to never end. But days end and people have their limits
Conventions surrounding times of day and rest are integral to any culture and can offer obstacles and opportunities for PCs. Synchronize watches!

For GMs

  • What does a typical day look like for the average citizen of the region?
  • What kinds of hours do business usually keep? What hours find farmers in the fields?
  • What kind of businesses open the earliest? Close the latest? What neighborhoods and districts have the longest hours? Close as soon as it gets dark?
  • What time do things start winding down? When do people generally start heading home?
  • Do people take a break during the middle of the day? How long of a break do they get? Do they go home or stay close to work? Is it because of the heat? The size of the meal people eat midday?
  • Are all in-roads/gates open all the time? Who is watching the gates and what dictates their opening and closing?
  • What kind of technology/lighting is used to extend the day? Is the tech available everywhere?

Plot Hooks

  • When the PCs are on a mission in another region they must deal with a culture that stays up WAY past their normal bedtime. Social expectations trump their desire to finally just SLEEP as their newest acquaintances run them ragged through the streets. How long does it take the PCs to adjust? What kind of things happen late at night in this region? What will they be missing out on if they do sleep? What are the consequences of waking up very tired the next day?
  • A business has just installed special lights that don’t burn hot or make smoke so they can stay open around the clock producing goods. The PCs are workers from a competing business, sent to spy on the rival outfit. How do the lights operate? What kind of workers are willing to work late at night? What are they producing? What is the reason for expanding the operation? How do the PCs get their new ‘employer’ to trust them?
  • When a hitch in their plans has the PCs arriving at the gate way later than they thought, they miss their appointment and their chance at staying at a decent inn. The exhausted and hungry PCs must maneuver the shadier part of town with their belongings. What kinds of establishments are open late at night? How are they received at the gate? Are all the PCs tired or are some wound up from the journey and need to blow off some steam?
  • With the knowledge the security is light when people go home for their afternoon meals and rests the PCs plan a heist to best take advantage of the lack of eyes and abundance of light so they can make good on their escape. If they plan it right they can get it to their employer right before the city gates close. How carefully do the PCs plan? What are they stealing? Is anyone on ‘the inside’ helping them steal the goods?
  • When invaded by an outside force, the city is placed under a strict curfew, resulting in the end to a once bustling nightlife. However, tunnels underground mean the nights don’t have to be slow. The PCs coordinate and guide eager partiers to cultural events and underground bars and if a few dissidents happen to pass their way…how did the PCs get involved in this? How do they feel about the occupiers? How did the tunnels come to be and how do the occupiers not know about them? How do they let people know what is happening and how to arrive at safepoints? What kind of events are happening underground?

For PCs

  • Are you a morning person or an night owl?
  • Do you like to take a rest after any meals?
  • What time of day do you think is best for visiting with friends and family?
  • After work do you like to go straight home or go out?
  • What time do you go to bed? What is the perfect amount of sleep for you?

What say you? We can game till the wee hours of the night; can the PCs throw down till the sun comes up? Check out this list of Top 10 Cities that Never Sleep for a little city building and a previous RMtBF about Light Sources.

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Eff the Good Ol' Days

Hilarious Caption Here

If you are a person you have undoubtedly had someone from an older generation make some kind of reference to “The Good Ol’ Days.” These days are generally invoked when you, the “whippersnapper” talks about something from the present that is complicated, frustrating, or contentious. I’m from America, so  The Good Ol’ Days are the 1950’s, a magical era where Americans loved their country because it was good. Children could go play outside, food was cleaner, entertainment was fun, women were beautiful and kind, and men were stern but dapper. Life was less complicated; the times were more innocent. People wore socks and you could see them. There was only one sexual position, the “Baby Maker.” “I wish you could have seen America in the Good Ol’ Days.’


There is no way in Hades I would want to live in the “Good Ol’ Days,” and not just because of the lack of internet or sexual positions. This is because I’m brown and a woman and attracted to both men and women. In the 50’s my marriage would be illegal in quite a few states. The option to work outside of the home would be greatly reduced and I could be flat out denied a job just for saying my uterus was capable of succumbing to the “Baby Maker.” Being attracted to women could have meant being institutionalized and subjected to medication or terrible treatments, since homosexuality was seen as a disease to be cured. And one of my favourite Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episodes is “Far Beyond the Stars,” where an alternate Benjamin Sisko, Benny Russel, has to deal with how the prejudices of the time keep him from having the story he wrote about a black Space Captain being printed or even reveal he himself is black. His female co-worker has to take up a nom de plume so her gender isn’t revealed (which, by the way? Still done by women writers).

But life was so much simpler back then!

While (certain portions of) the population in America were learning that microwave dinners were totally great and gathering around the telemobox, the rest of the world and many people in America were not all necessarily partaking. The Korean War happened in the 50’s. Countries in Africa and Asia, tired of their European occupiers, rose up, Europe and France fighting and eventually pulling out of Algeria, Vietnam, Libya, Kenya, and other countries. Communism got a foothold in Cuba.

Continue reading “Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Eff the Good Ol' Days”

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Time and Deadlines

The clock is ticking! Uh…I mean dripping. Photo courtesy of Marsyas

Deadlines are terrible and inspiring. Terrible because of the feeling of dread they can instill in us as we are pushed towards them. Inspiring because they require us to finally act. Whether it’s a word count by the end of the workday, all our errands completed before dinner or defeating the Fire Lord before a comet will enhance his elemental power, time limits increase the sense of urgency and lend gravity to a situation. As humans most of us tend to divide the day, the year and our lives up into bundles that we try to dole out proportionately to the things we want to accomplish, setting goals along the way. Married by age thirty, five kids and a chinchilla farm by age 40, all the kids out of the house and five chinchilla farms by age sixty-five at the latest. And when our plans don’t go the way we wish and we don’t hit our goals, we tend to flail and either give up or reassess our goals and make new ones.

Adventurers don’t have to be gifted with all the time in the world to get things done! Why should they? A change in the seasons could mean the adventurers need to return before the end of autumn or be trapped behind treacherous mountains. A campaign set in space could have a certain amount of days before the origin and destination fall out of alignment, making travel between the two bodies difficult or even impossible. Many cultures have auspicious times for things and there are always holidays and other important events that might be the cutoff for return meaning that even if the goal was accomplished or the goods acquired, the buyer might already be gone or the need diminished. Even worse, natural items are liable to spoil.

Time limits can be even more immediate. Things like sinking ships, burning buildings, changing of the guard or a procession going down a street can all put time limits on PCs. Choices have to be made and sometimes, sacrifices. When pressed for time some of the best and worst decisions can be made. Which ones will the PCs make?

For GMs:
-Decide how you are going to keep track of time. Is it something that is going to take a certain amount of rounds? Days? Months? Keep a calendar for longer periods of time and be clear how much time is remaining for the quest. State how much time is remaining at the beginning and end of each session so everyone is on the same page.
-How does the culture keep track of time? Do they use a solar calendar? Lunar? What is the length of a work week? The length of a month(However, use a straight up Gregorian to keep track Out of Game. Or you’ll be wondering if it’s the Moon of Horses or the Moon of Turtles, get frustrated and TPK everyone)?
-Who created the calendar? Was it made by the church to reflect holy days? By the state to reflect the agrarian year? A combination of both?
-How many seasons are there and how long are they? How does the weather change for each season and how does this affect things like travel, availability of lodging, Are there blizzards in the winter? Monsoons in the summer? Sandstorms in the autumn?
-If the PCs complete their task but not in the time required, what are the consequences? Will there be a second chance? Will it affect them or others? Loss of money? Loss of reputation?
-Who keeps track of the time? Does every city, town and village have a person or organization that keeps track of the passage of time? Is it displayed for all to see?
-How is the day broken up? What kind of time-keeping instruments are utilized? How accurate are they? How available are they?
-What makes up a day? Is it sunrise to sunrise? Evening to evening?
-Different countries might have different calendars, different clocks and be in different timezones. Not to mention that time may pass different in locations under the power of certain energies.

Continue reading “Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Time and Deadlines”

GM Essentials: How to keep a handle on clues, communication and collateral damage.

Image Courtesy of Corbis Images
This plan is flawless, I tell you! Flawless! (Courtesy of Corbis Images)

Regulating the flow of information can be one of the most difficult parts of running a game. Give the party too much information, and you’ll spoil the ending for the clever players or risk entire portions of your plot being bypassed altogether. Conversely, if you are too vague, stingy or incomprehensible with your clues, you’ll wind up with a group of bored, frustrated players who are probably going to find the next available suspect and cram them into a industrial mixer full of borscht until they start coughing up some information.

Contrary to the title, this article is really for the benefit of your players. Treating them with fairness and delivering information with clarity are two very important steps to running a successful game, and after the jump we’ll look at a couple of common pitfalls in this neck of the woods and get a better idea of how to avoid them.



Continue reading “GM Essentials: How to keep a handle on clues, communication and collateral damage.”

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