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Tracking Time in Cal of Cthulhu investigations/adventures

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Hi Cultists!

I have read the Keeper Rulebook but didn't notice any advice about tracking "how much stuff" the Investigators can do in a given day. And I know that CoC is all about being fast and loose with such things, exactly how you handle cash in game. But in certain instances it might be important to track time in a way. In Masks even though the PCs have a lot of time, Time is important and rituals and stuff happen on a sort of schedule. In "Ties That Bind" in Doors to Darkness there is a schedule happening with some NPCs.

So that being said, how would you "time-keep" as a Keeper? I saw in the Glass Cannon Podcast playing Masks of Nyarlathothep that the Keeper told the PCs that they can basically do 2-3 significant things in a given day, depending on what they do of-course, so that made me think how I could use that "mechanic"...

I think some structure about how many things the PCs can do in a day can help beginner Keepers and also offer verisimilitude to the players, since they then feel like "real investigators" having to manage their busy schedule while dealing with the bat shit crazy things that are happening.

Something like:

Morning - 1 "long" activity.

Afternoon - 1 "long" activity.

Evening - 1 "long" activity.

Things like driving for a long time might reduce the thing the investigators can do in a given day, or pushing a library use roll could waste one extra "time-slot"

What do you think about this? Advice appreciated ^^

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My group is very roleplay-heavy, so we rarely do time jumps. Because of that, I make a point of noting the time whenever we’re transitioning between scenes.

I also often make the roll matter for the time duration. A failed Library Use roll often means they still find the information, but they spend all day laboring in the library trying to locate it. Extreme success? They have great instincts and within 10 minutes they’ve pulled the right book off the shelf and flipped to a helpful page.

I recognize this is kind of the opposite of what you asked for, which is useful guideposts for newer Keepers. But I think there IS a lot of room for major variation, or at least the best methods for tracking and managing in-game time are highly dependent on group playstyle.

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I remember when I first started out as a Keeper having similar thoughs. When I first looked at doing a scenario with a structured timeframe I was quite nervous about how to handle it effectively. My advice, and what I would say first, is to cut your teeth (gain experience) on one shots that aren't timescale dependent and get to grips with the overall gameplay and mechanics as well as you and your group's playstyle. Once you're comfortable playing, the rest will start to come quite naturally.

To expand though...

We always just try to be reasonably realistic.

Most scenarios and campaign's give you good maps for regions and show you distance measurements. Which allows you to ballpark how long a local, or even global, journey will take using different modes of transport.

With actual gameplay, Joe's advice (above) on Library Use rolls giving an indication of time spent is spot on. In general, all research activities will take a significant amount of time. Just try and place yourself in a basic research situation; going to the local Library and looking for information on a topic you are familiar with is still going to take an hour or so, once you factor in searching for the relevent book and then actually flicking through, reading pages, comprehending and (presumably) note-taking. Researching something new is going to take considerably longer. Consider what the information is that your INVs are going to find when successful. If it's just one sentence of info then maybe it's a few short hours of scouring the books. If it's a good number of bullet points or paragraphs it's going to take considerably longer.

You don't need to role play all of that.

We often have a quick interaction with a clerk or librarian, a bit of a description of the building, to help provide mood, tone and context, and then roll for the result and summarise their time researching. What happened to make them take so long? How did they get lucky? Try and make it character relevant - it all adds to the story and in making things more personal and immersive.

Something similar can be said for conversations. Whilst, when you roleplay conversations, these often last a relatively finite amount of gameplay time (totally dependant on context, significance, and play style, of course), the conversation in real life would probably have gone on much longer, especially when you consider in any other factors that may have been summarised - such as being guided to a certain room, sitting and sharing drinks or food etc. Think how long this conversation would realistically have taken and ballpark that as the time taken.

For peace of mind, I'd say use that as a principle for everything your players do. Ballpark. Ballpark how long a journey, activity or conversation would realistically have taken if it was played out for real and use that as your progression of time.

We are now 2 years into playing Masks of Nyarlathotep and timekeeping is perhaps more relevant and important in this campaign than it is in one-shots, as there is a set deadline for INVs to discover and fight against. With that in mind, after each activity I always suggest to the players how much time has passed and the current game time. Its a good way to check that they're ok with how time is being managed and provides them an opportunity to counter if they wish (though they never have). 

Timekeeping isn't something you need to sweat over. If you're unsure, ask the players. Make them an integral part of the process. If nothing else, it will help to make them feel even more engaged with the narrative and responsible for their INVs actions. 

Just be reasonable and realistic in your estimations on timeframe and you can't go wrong.

But, as always, each group is different, and you will find you naturally fall into a rhythm and understanding with your players. Your play style and game management will develop organically over time. Just enjoy playing and telling stories. 


Hope that helps.

Very best,



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Very good advice, thanks people!

Basically I have from you what I wanted to know^^ Thanks!

More or less the way I like it a "wing it" kind of approach but in the back of my mind some sort of "it takes about 3-4 hours" per important activity. This way I can keep time important in my future masks campaign so that the investigators don't do EVERYTHING in one day like they will do if I won't tell them the limits haha

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