We just finished a very awesome penultimate Pendragon session. Our GM has to move, so is in the position of having to resolve the Great Campaign a little over 40 years from the end (on our second batch of characters, we’d just reached about the year the standard campaign starts). It was essentially handled by setting up two quests that the party had to split to pursue: One drove the group into Faerie, where they were time shifted and slipped forward to the final year of the campaign. The other sent the group to become guardians of the Gnostic Gospels (that had been recovered in game dozens of sessions previously). The knights that slipped in time emerged as they had entered (with a Glory bonus for being presumed dead in the pursuit of a quest). The knights that guarded the holy texts were able to either accrue standard yearly bonuses but have to counteract several decades of aging penalties, or take a greatly reduced influx of character traits due to spending most of their time working at rites of life extension contained in the books. The final game should see the return of great knights thought long dead and very old and decrepit/weirdly monkish knights to engage in the final fight for Britain. We’re all very excited.

The whole thing, however, leads me to consider other options for handling the situation. Pendragon offers a built-in tradeoff, as any year without an adventure drastically slows character improvement and moves the characters closer to decrepitude. However, few other systems have such an innate mechanic: if one character has an active downtime and the other an inactive one, the active character should logically come out more powerful based on previous adventuring. This could be anything from cryo-sleep in sci-fi to torpor in Vampire, but players will very likely be upset if their characters spend several sessions growing quickly in power and then a long period with no advancement purely to retain party balance.

The following options can be used, individually or mixed together, to create a logical but acceptable divide between those who stayed active and those who slipped in time.

  • The vigor of rest/youth: Also popular in some games that allow players to choose between callow heroes and experienced veteran, this system presumes that those with a fresh outlook on things will gain more from adventures, quickly catching up with the elders that spent much of their years with limited accelerated-learning opportunities. The GM determines how much advancement was accrued by the active characters for the long downtime, splits it up into gradually shrinking packages, and awards it to the inactive players as bonus advancement for each session, likely with a small bonus. This means that, after a certain number of sessions, the inactive characters will again be of equal (or slightly greater) power than their counterparts, but the active characters will have an advantage for several sessions.
  • Can’t forget what you can’t ignore: Characters that are active through a downtime will typically accrue “background” traits as part of their advancement. In addition to positive growth, the GM should layer on a number of new enemies and troubles that have plagued the active characters over the years. These will be issues that should serve to harass the active characters in the new adventures while mostly leaving the inactive characters unscathed. Meanwhile, if the time slip is long enough for the inactive characters to be presumed dead, or at least not a threat any longer, their personal demons should fade in threat, allowing them several sessions of additional effectiveness at surprising the foes who were not expecting them. Further, active characters shouldn’t lose too many background traits that aren’t easy to recover if desired, particularly if they were not at fault for slipping in time.
  • Unexpected vigor: Many situations that split a party in this way will be extremely unusual in nature: walks through Faerie, stasis or cryosleep, supernatural torpor, etc. Inactive players in these situations might actually gain equivalent advancement to the active characters. However, these points are allocated, as directed by the GM, to buy only traits that might arise from the condition: psychic or supernatural powers, unexpected physical traits, or other traits relevant to the reason for slipping. The players that lose time don’t lose stats, but simply emerge with unexpected new capabilities.
  • Fortune and background currency: Each character gains a certain number of Fate or Drama-point-esque tokens for the downtime. Those that slipped in time can use this currency to buy minor alterations of fortune or bonuses in the standard way for such points, to represent reality refusing to cause them to suffer extreme misfortune again so soon after losing time. The active characters can use their points for minor but beneficial declarations about the setting based on things that might have happened during the period that was glossed over (e.g., “fortunately, I visited here often in the past few years, and can find a contact to help us.”).
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