Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Jeffrogaxian Time Keeping vs Variable Time Keeping [Theory]

 I am the foremost authority on Jeffrogaxian Time Keeping (JTK) vs Variable Time Keeping (VTK) because I've run and am running two campaigns rn using ACKS and all it's complicated campaigning rules. These include fielding armies, leading military campaigns, building keeps, crafting spells, running trade ventures, running crime syndicates and all the other things that make a dnd campaign more interesting than just delving dungeons and going back to town. One of my ongoing campaigns uses JTK and one uses VTK. 

As the authority, and as a giving man eager for the people to enjoy superior dnd campaigns, I am composing this blog poast to explain to you, the people, how they differ and why JTK is the better of the two.

First lets define them. 

VTK is method of dnd ttrpg etc timekeeping with which most DMs and players are familiar. How does it work? The main thing you'll be familiar with in VTK is that if you have a 4 hour dnd session and run out of time whilst your PCs are deep into a megadungeon it's nbd. Your DM hits the PAUSE button and you and he pick up where you stopped next session. Some version of VTK, like my ACKS Greyhawk game, allow PCs to FAST FORWARD through time for whatever reason they wish. These might include fast forwarding so the wizard can create a magic item that takes 1 month to create. During that time I'd say "hey what are the rest of y'all doing in that month" and we hash that out at the table.

JTK is different in that players can NOT pause the game between sessions. My e-fren Chanticleer describes JTK as follows: 

"During a campaign sesssion, players have some control over the flow of time. Players can spend their time traveling, exploring, fighting monsters, resting to regain spells, or in one recent session my players spent an entire week of in-game time casting glyphs of wardind to lay their aboloeth trap in the sewers. However when the game is not "IN SESSION", players DON'T HAVE CONTROL over time. When the players aren't playing the calendar of the campaign setting moves forward in sync with the real world calendar. "

Chant gives an example but I'll give one of mine so there are more out there for higher variance of reader grokking. Imagine the players began to explore the wilderness on July 7 and it took them ten days. They come back to town on July 17th. My next session is on July 14th. The PCs involved in the above exploration can't be played on the July 14th session because they were busy doing things that day. They won't be "done for 3 days".

When you institute JTK you end up with a major paradigm shift on how players approach the game. Guess what kids, you can't PAUSE in the dungeon so you better complete your delve and get back to a safe zone before the end of the session time. Some players and DMs don't like this, claiming it tethers the PCs to civilization or that it limits their choice. 

In some ways, perhaps. But the gains are massive. Swole.

In practice the players realize that if they take just a day or 2 to delve during a session they have 5 days their PCs are existing in the world before the next DND session. They don't want to waste that time so they start making "Downtime Requests". Those are things that Mr Wargaming describes as things that  respectable adventurers should be doing but which don't really warrant session time. 

Such as: hiring mercs, burglarizing petty nobles, carousing, rumormongering, making magic items, assassination... etc

Players will start jumping at the opportunity to do these things because they don't want to WASTE that downtime between sessions. In a VTK campaign they often won't have time for ANY of that unless and until they are able to convince their other party members to slow down and let them do those things.

In practice this often means multiple players bored at the table as Joe the Mage describe the magic item he's going to create. Or Swole the Barbarian rolls dice and counts gold pieces to figure out how many infantry he can hire this week. 

My Greyhawk ACKS campaign in VTK does the above. These are players who have been friends since middle school so they work things out pretty well about when they're going to take breaks from adventuring to do "upkeep" type stuff. It goes pretty well for us. But a JTK campaign is going to inspire players to do those things more readily.

Running a VTK with big elements will mean a DM has to be quicker on his toes. If they want to spend 2 hours of session time hiring infantry to go wandering around looking for randomized trouble (lairs etc) you need to be on your A Game as a DM and have lots of modular materials ready. I use various Books of Lairs as Dynamic Points of Interest as per ACKS GMing advice.

This is MUCH easier on the DM using JTK because he will only need to "fake it" for a couple hours and then he'll have another week to do some more detailed prep if the players decide to push one with that plan next session. 

So ease of DMing is one point in favor of JTK. Another is that a JTK campaign can have COMPETING PLAYER CHARACTER PARTIES. 

My ACKS Auran Empire Campaign has two different PC parties. I run one group of players weekly online and I run another group every month or so face to face at my home. The player parties have already swooped each other's hooks and such a few times.

This is not possible in VTK campaign. If Group 1 pauses time in a dungeon does that mean Group 2 is stuck paused as well? Silly. Two points in favor of Jeffrogaxian. 

Last but certainly not least is JTK Campaigns can have Chantsonian Patrons. You're going to have to check out my last session report for an explanation of this one. But the bottom line is, with JTK, you can have wargames between massive factions happening AT THE SAME TIME as you run normal dnd sessions. The results of those various wargames (or syndicate street battles or whatever) will echo into the dnd sessions. 

Check out here where I had my dad run a wargame against one of the major NPC villains wherein he controlled one of the major NPC good guys. This isn't feasible in VTK because how would I gauge the timing of the military campaign if my PCs can PAUSE Time in the megadungeon? Or if they can FAST FORWARD THE WHOLE UNIVERSE. I can't!

So let's conclude. Jeffrogaxian Time Keeping is superior because it makes downtime easier for a DM (and PCs) to manage well, it allows competing PC parties, and it allows Patron play with major wargames etc going concurrently with normal dnd session play. 

Variable Time Keeping has no clear advantage on anything that makes a good ttrpg campaign. Some players or DMs may be skittish about running an "always on" campaign, or just not enjoy pondering their hobby as much as JTK players do. But this may be a sign that said players would be better served by a different sort of game. 

Candyland, perhaps.


  1. Okay, so I need help with this concept (I started down the rabbit hole of "JTK" a month or two back, but I just haven't had the chance to yet read through all these back blog posts. I *am* trying). If you could help me with these questions, I'd be greatly appreciative:

    #1 In a VTK campaign, if you're forced to "pause" mid-adventure, and then are unable to play for weeks (or months!) due to [reasons] it's easy enough to pick up where you left off. But how does this work in a JTK campaign? You have to play through a bunch of "passed time" to bring the PCs back to the present? Everyone gets a free month or more (assuming they get back from the adventure alive) to heal and train and whatnot once y'all finally sit down for a session?

    #2 Is it possible/easy to convert a VTK campaign to a JTK campaign (assuming players' willingness)? Or is it necessary/far easier to start a JTK campaign from scratch with a new "start date?"

    #3 Reading through Jeffro's notes on his July campaign (and your posts here), does JTK only work (or work best) with the addition of patron play? Is it just something to add depth/richness to the campaign (that can be added later) or is it an imperative to play?

    #4 Does this style of play ("Real D&D") require the internet and social media to make work? This probably sounds like a dumb question. I run AD&D for kids who aren't yet grafted to cell phones, twitter, etc. and I try to stay the hell away from that shit, too...when I can. And Jeffro's talking about shifting one's paradigm to that of a 1970s Dungeon Master; um...there was no "twitter" in those days. But I'm not sure how else you can run this kind of campaign (especially with players in other time zones) without regular 'net access.

    Thanks for your time.

    1. JB: 1: yes that's about right. You can say to the PCs "ok your PCs last did things a month ago. What have they done in the last month?" to start a session. It can often lead to that sessions theme and goal if the day. Or you do like me and chat with your players during the week and kind of keep up with what they're doing in downtime every week or so.

      2. If your players are into the idea you can just go JTK immediately. All the concepts I discuss in my session reports can be introduced step by step. I added Patrons later on after Chant's campaign tried them and proved it would work.

      3. Patron play becomes a no brainer with JTK campaign. Introduce patrons at a pace you're comfortable with and, IMO, when an NPC would start taking more action in the world for whatever reason. Because players of Patrons will be much more active (usually) than the NPCs you control with random dice rolls and such.

      4. Jeffro ran Trollopulous without a bunch of chatting or tech. Each session ended with "what do you plan to do with your downtime until I see this PC next time?" He took a note for each PC. The following session that PC might be like "I was looking for henchmen remember" and Jeffro would roll it then. Constant chatting and tw1tter etc can be fun but it is NOT necessary.

    2. Right on. Thanks for the responses, man. Appreciate it!
      : )

  2. The problem with 1:1 timekeeping is it makes no sense from the perspective of the characters. Here's an example: Let's say the party is on the trail of an assassin who plans to murder the king. When the session ends they haven't quite caught up with him. So are you going to force the party to spend a week on "downtime," thus letting the assassin commit the murder? In that situation, how would you justify it to a player who says, "That's bullshit! I may have to work tomorrow, but Grim the Cleric doesn't! He wants to hunt down that assassin, not dick around in the village."

    1. This was one of my initial objections to Jeffro. Couple things you realize about this:
      1. PCs can try and do something about assassin guy during downtime.
      2. Character might lose interest for a few days because the Player is busy; this tracks with reality because PCs aren't perfect planning and execution machines using every minute for their Big Plans anymore than we use every minute at our work or hobbies. We fade in and out of interest.
      3. You can't always group up a party of PCs. They are a bunch of misfits and roustabouts. Having PCs work as a party during session play bakes in this concept that they organized themselves to act in concert. Just as you can I can only play DND when we organize our friends, you can't act as a PC Party whenever you wish.
      5. If players organize enough to act as a party during downtime that's fine. But real life thus projected into fantasy world constraints come into play. Did Bob answer my private message in time? No then his Thief is busy or drunk somewhere.
      6. What happens in this kind of gaming is a fantasy reflection of real life challenges. It's very good gaming, much better than Variable Time gaming and any small objections like the above aren't worth as much as the much better experience you're going to enjoy.
      Also: love your publishing thank you for some of the best current year pulp going.

  3. “I use various Books of Lairs as Dynamic Points of Interest as per ACKS GMing advice.”

    Any recommendations of this type of book you use?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.


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