OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


Time distortions in roleplaying – Do your story threads match up?

Distorted clock

One of the most complicated aspects of writing for a roleplay online is one that I’ve actually never heard many people discuss, although every game and group probably has their own interpretation of how it should be handled. What I’m talking about is time.

Time is more or less constant (unless you ask an astrophysicist of course). And often days or weeks can go past between writing your roleplay post, and you often don’t want time to have elapsed since your last post, which means time goes slower in your roleplay.

Lets take an example situation. In my roleplay there’s two characters and I write that they meet a person, frozen in some sort of cryo-chamber at the end of my post. A day later, the player of the 2nd character posts, explaining that she presses some buttons and the person is thawed outfrom the booth, only to discover it’s a zombie that starts chasing us. She leaves that as a cliffhanger ending and I continue the story the next day. So 3 days have passed in real time, but only a few minutes have elapsed in game time.

So time goes a lot slower in game time. Marvel comics actually deal with this too, where time in their comics elapses a lot slower than in real time, or the characters would grow old too fast. They call it Marvel time.

How about I throw in another complication, the one that makes this a lot worse. So whilst the events of our 2 characters and the monster is going on, some other players are concentrating on a different story thread, which is moving a lot faster. They’re able to post much more often, sometimes a few times per day, and so their characters get a lot more done and it’s mentioned the characters sleep several times, indicating that full days have elapsed, whilst the first 2 characters are still having the same conversation.

So the complicated bit is when the storylines merge back together and the characters meet each other again. For one group of characters it’s been several days, but for others, it’s only been a few minutes. So what happens?

Well, I don’t claim to have all the answers, apart from “Just work it out amongst yourselves”. You could gloss over it, considering it unimportant, or you could fill in the missing few days with some sort of brief backpost. Or you could do something a lot more elaborate. Here’s what Wes from roleplaying forum StarArmy does:

Wes DavisTime difference problems are usually glossed over with “between mission” time or addressed by tracking dates in threads. In the past, this has usually not been a problem…with a few notable exceptions, such as one plot whose mission, measured in days that took months to role-play, returned to the main setting after four years. We blamed it on the time distortion, using a mysterious rift phenomenon on the map.

Wes Davis, Star Army

So if it’s really an issue, you can resort to some ‘wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey’ Dr Who stuff. If you want that is.

I’m interested in knowing how you handle this in your own games, let me know in the comments below!