When was the last time it snowed in your game? When will winter come? What season is it now? Summer? Still? Wasn’t it summer when everyone started at 1st level? Did everyone really gain ten levels in the space of one season? Does this world even have any seasons? Just what the hell is going on?
The weather can be a surprisingly slippery rabbit hole for the unwary DM. Around this time of year, as the weather starts to change out there in the “real” world, players are particularly likely to start asking tricky questions.
There’s an obvious reason why DMs generally overlook the passage of time – it’s boring. When the players are all ready to get out there and battle some ogres, the last thing any one cares about is how many calendar days there are until New Years. The issue, of course, is that the weather and the progression of time go hand in hand. As soon as you leave out one, the wheels come off the other. You can always go ahead and leave out seasons and time and all that and still run a perfectly fine game – if perhaps at the cost of a little realism and a few prickly questions. But what if there was an easy way to keep the turning of seasons and not get bogged down by exactly which day of the week it is every session.
After some experimentation with the exhaustive fantasy world calendar generators you can find online, I finally gave up and built my own calendar system. Rather humbly, I call it the Great Wheel.
The execution is very simple. First, I gave slightly fantastical names to each month - my only real consideration was to keep the first few letters of each month the same as on the Gregorian calendar to make it at least somewhat intuitive. I arranged these months graphically in a color-coded hub, then subdivided each month into two segments. Each segment represents about half a month. That’s it - and for my purposes that’s enough. Counting the actual passage of days is something I’ve found I almost never need to do. The purpose of the Great Wheel calendar is just to help me track the turn of the seasons and thereby, hopefully, make the world feel a little more alive.
By printing out the calendar, and keeping one handy with my DM materials, I can roughly approximate the passage of time. I round liberally – if the players travel north, wrap up a dungeon, and return to the city for rest – call that half a month. I literally mark off the weeks as they tick by on the wheel. Once a year’s up, I print off a new one and start again. You can even let a player do the honors of marking the passage of time. I left a spot for any relevant notes at at the bottom of the Wheel.
I’ve included a blank version of the Great Wheel that you can use to develop your own monthly calendar. I haven’t bothered with it here, by a more fervent DM might divide a calendar up into 4 segments per month, or mark in which weeks special holidays fall, or even plan the occurrence of portentous astronomical or planar events (solar eclipse, coming coterminous with the shadow plane, etc).
Go as crazy as you want with it, but before you start plotting out where exactly leap year should fall remember that in the world of priorities, fun comes first. Logistics should never be more than a distant second.
-By David Crennen