Systems and Time Scales?

Is there a good overview of systems based on the granularity of time scale?

Most popular RPGs have the bulk of their mechanics focused on very short chunks of time because combat is core to the experience; they have rules for dealing with other periods but they often feel tacked-on. I'd love to hear about some systems that have the main mechanics at larger time scales.

Another way of phrasing it: if the entire session occurred at that time scale would it still be fun?

I'll take a first stab at categorizing some based on whether character-time is faster or slower than player-time:

Character Time is slower than Player Time
D&D and Pathfinder break out combat into chunks of 6 seconds of character-time - these chunks often take ~30 seconds of Player Time, if not longer. While there are rules for travel and resting, the mechanics are mostly focused on combat. A session of just travel and downtime might not be exciting.

Character Time is roughly equal to Player Time

Dungeon World / PbtA have rules that allow for combat to be a bit more zoomed out - one roll might cover a flurry of moves in combat.

Fiasco consists mostly of in character roleplaying so the character-time and player-time are mostly the same, with jumps in time between each turn.

Character Time is much faster than Player Time
Microscope can cover eons and the main mechanics are placing events or periods that can span vast periods of time.


  • edited April 2015
    In most of my campaigns, every session is a mix of these timescales. We typically spend the majority of time in a roughly equal ratio, zooming in for combat, and zooming out for downtime and time-lapse scenes. I kinda expect most people to answer similarly.

  • My campaigns go similarly though there's an oddness in that there are rarely any dice rolls for the zoomed out time.

    I was wondering if there are systems where the mechanics specifically target those zoomed out times.
  • Just to muddle the pool a bit, I should note that of the last eight sessions of our D&D campaign, six have taken several days of fictional time and only two have taken one day or less. About one and a half months have passed in game-time at this point, in fact, and I know this because we keep records. It would be easy to say that this sort of old-school sandbox D&D operates more on the logistical scale than anything else, although admittedly there are also rules for operating in 10-minute chunks (exploration turns) and 6-second chunks (combat rounds). The weight of the rules is still on the long side - there are more rules for the exploration turns than the combat rounds.

    At the other end of the spectrum, I've been playing GURPS lately. The GM works it hard, but I think that the one-second rounds are pretty artificially short. I would like it much more if it had some sort of intermediate time-scale that could be used for e.g. talking mid-fight, instead of pretending that all these things take one second each.
  • I was wondering if there are systems where the mechanics specifically target those zoomed out times.
    I'm a huge fan of downtime tables. The DayTrippers GMG has one. But I don't focus on that timescale, like Microscope does it. It's just one roll per 30 days, and you get what you get. Could be fame, could be a windfall, could be a death in the family, could be a bunch of parking tickets or a bad thing happens to a rival, etc. Sometimes these rolls lead to lifeshaping events. But usually not :-)

  • Burning Wheel goes to both the zoomed-in (Fight and most tests) scale and zoomed-out (downtime practice tests and recovery) ends of the scale.
  • EABA actually has an escalating timescale. It starts off with rounds being only a few seconds, but the longer the encounter goes on the longer the round becomes. The intent is to reflect the sudden rush of activity when something like combat starts and then escalates as more tactical maneuvering comes into play. At the end (I forget what the max number of rounds is for an encounter) each round taking (I believe) over ten minutes.

    It's interesting and works better than I expected. I have some issues with the rest of the mechanics so I haven't used it as much as I would have liked.
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