Saturday, June 30, 2018

Time in a Dayless World

My homebrew campaign setting is called Tidelock. It is, true to its name, about a tidally-locked planet that recently was not. The Apocalypse happened, and it was the Tidal Lock. The world is not geologically or meteorologically realistic. Concessions have been made for fun and convenience. (For instance, the Moon remains arrested out of orbit above the not-Sun-facing pole.) Wizards and Gods did it, all that jazz.

I think this was created by Beau.TheConsortium for the Rare Earth Wiki, but I'm not certain.

The advantage of this setting is that there are clear PC-capability bounded areas, and clear geographical expectations. There is a Habitable Ring around the belt of the planet. Walk towards the Sun and you'll eventually die of heat exhaustion. Walk towards the ice pole and you'll eventually freeze.

What's not so clear, though, is the extent to which things that we (human beings on Earth) take for granted have changed.

The most profound impact of this from a societal standpoint is, by far, the impact on the notion of Time.

There is no Day and no Night. There aren't Four Seasons. No Lunar Cycle. No Tides. No Stars.

(No Stars, at least where people can exist)

So how do people keep track of time? Do they keep track of time? Why would they? What is the relevance of a Calendar when nearly all indicators of Time have been obfuscated?

And, most importantly, how does this impact fantasy societies?


The Wizards of Chronulus, the City of True Time, have been keeping the Time since the Apocalypse, down to the second. They didn't need to do this, but they did. It was a result of neurotic bookkeeping academics - they just had to know.

There are clocks all over the city. Thousands of them. Newcomers to the city can't stand it, and will often go without sleep for days. They run on Metric time. 10 Hour Days.

They say there's about 4 seconds of variance in the city's timekeeping, due to a notorious intern named Fred who messed up the Standard Clock two centuries ago. "Fred" is now used as a curse word in all scenarios.

People in the city work in two shifts: Afternoon (10-5) and Beforenoon (5-10). Each is the equivalent to 12 hours for us. There are no rest days. Weekends were abolished along with the week. They work until they die.


The Men of the Southlands had to maintain the Yearly Rites, terrible though they were, lest the gods retract their protection.

Their numbers were scarce following the Tidal Lock. They could not afford to perform the Rites too often, lest their numbers dwindle. They could not abandon them, either, lest the Wolves claim them.

10 women most fertile would engage in ritual conception. When swollen bellies were first observed, 10 women would partake again. When this second group had given birth it would begin again. All who were chosen were whisked away to a coven, forbidden to leave or to touch any man until the year was up. They were fiercely protected.

The First Children would be augured as omens of peace and prosperity. The Second Children would be augured as omens of death and pain, as their birth signaled for the Yearly Rites to begin once again.

These omens would stay with the Children forever. Such was their burden.


The Dragonborn of Kobara have a sacred mountain in the West, by the endless glaciers of Rim.

The mountain, wide in latitude, shields a great reservoir in its depths. It is a sacred water source - only those of strong protective sorcery ever dare approach it, for fear of the water spirit that resides within.

It produces a steady drip, slow, deliberate, shielded for evaporation or other meddling. This holiest of waters is kept for divination and cleansing rituals. It takes 120 days for enough to decant for one such application. Every such period there is to be a feast.

The Griots and Diviners say that when the waters run dry an empire will fall. It has happened once before, and will happen again soon.


I'll include the rest of my ideas in list form.

How Is The Time Kept?

  1. Crop Harvest - Plant all your seeds at once. When they're ripe one Harvest has passed.
  2. Decomposing Body - Underdark method. Dead body kept in controlled environment with known factors. Various stages give hint at passed time.
  3. Titanwalk - A giant of great strength, in pact with the people who saved him, strides across the land to mine freshwater ice from the western glaciers and bring it to the eastern desert. He leaves "Foot Lakes" along the way. His titanic glacier-placement produces a yearly Nile-like flood.
  4. The Yearglass - Like an hourglass, but much, much bigger. Massive, mechanically automated. Smaller ones used in accompaniment.
  5. Celestial Gazing - In Undland under the Red Moon, where none but the dead may live, one can still see the stars. Frostcrusted astronomers still gaze at the ever-night sky, no longer understanding its significance but no longer caring. Their time in measured in the planet's wobble - a long period which only the dead would use.
  6. The Long Curse - Buried here, in Goldsoul. Based on the orbit of Korw, the Deep Moon. Elementals and deep things can rely on its orbit once every 25,000 years in the mantle.
  7. Observed Cuts - A trained smith or surgeon produces a cut of consistent depth on a tested individual's arm or face. Its stages of recovery grant insight to time passed. Inexact, but useful on the move.
  8. Sleep Schedules - Circadian rhythm, while screwed up, didn't go entirely away with the Apocalypse. People still needed to sleep. Immensely inaccurate method, and highly dependent on individuals, but also the most practical unit of measurement.
  9. The Death Bell - In the Chapel of Crows there exists a little bell that rings every time someone on the planet dies. Averaged out over 1000 occurrences makes a decent approximation for one hour. (Their planetary population is far less than ours.)
  10. It's Not - Some societies are small enough to not be subject to the tyranny of Time. They have memories, but no past. There is potential, but no future. With no daylight to burn there is no rush. Always living in the moment, yet always susceptible to conquest by timekeeping nations.


  1. In "Dark Eden," people in a completely dark world keep time (in part) by measuring "months" using women's periods and "years" using the length of a pregnancy.

    1. Definitely a more practical method than what I described above!

    2. On the other hand, almost right after posting that, I thought "I don't want to force my players to talk about that stuff!"

      Your point about sleep schedules is probably the most practical solution for day-to-day time keeping. If there are three "benchmark" communities that sleep and wake one after the other, you have a "day" right there. Other communities can express their alliance with one of the "benchmarkers" by either sharing their sleep schedule, or by dividing their sleep evenly between two "benchmark" community's sleep-times.