Updated: Nov 10, 2021
None of my DMs or GMs have ever offered me a calendar, and when I started running my own campaigns the first few didn’t have calendars either. I have changed that with my current campaign and it has made a world of difference!
I initially built a campaign calendar because I wanted the players to feel the pressure of time in a hardcore campaign with simple but essential travel mechanics. What I found it actually did was so much more than that...
When building the calendar, I had to consider aspects of my fantasy world that I hadn’t before. This is how my fantasy world came to have three moons and a calendar that works with their cycles.
It also made me think about holidays and seasons and how each town would change over time. My players now know that their decision to be one place at one specific time means they might be missing something somewhere else. It's always refreshing and fun when they are around for festivals and events, but even having them simply referenced in connection to the calendar year strengthens the believability of the world and the players' investment in its preservation.
The second thing having a calendar did for my campaign was what I intended, but not right away...
For the first few months of in game time, despite my referencing it, my players went about pretty much as if things were normal. That is until something magic happened at about the fourth month when someone at the table flipped through the calendar, saw how many months were left, put that info together with the knowledge of a giant beast roving the world and devouring its magic, and decided that was all the time they had to solve the problem.
Now, I never told them this, and I haven’t confirmed or denied it, but this is now the collective belief of the players. When they consider how they spend time now, or when they need to travel somewhere far you can see the stress of that ever-ticking clock weighing in. The stakes are heightened by the simple introduction of a few sheets of paper.
Calendars can also be an amazing notetaking tool for those who choose to use them (GMs & Players alike).
As a Player you can choose a birthday for your characters, write down when that NPC you loved died, or keep notes on how long until that weapon you commissioned should be ready.
As a GM you can choose a day of festival in commemoration of when your players saved a small town, write down the days you want catastrophic events to befall the world, force your players into new seasonal challenges, and so much more.
This calendar will also make any events that you as a GM plan for in advance feel spontaneous and natural when they arise, as they could occur in the middle of literally anything else your players are dealing with: to the advantage or detriment of the party.
The final, and crucial, thing about introducing a calendar is that it helps the fantasy make sense.
I’ve played in games that were amazing but the time frames in retrospect just didn’t make sense: like a war only lasting a few days, while raiding a tomb took months. I can remember another campaign where we weren’t even in our second week at 'school' as characters and a huge conflict had already arisen and been thwarted. Timing mistakes like this can also make character relationships, fallouts, reactions, and level-ups sometimes feel rushed in hindsight.
These are small details, and though they will never make or break a campaign, they do usually cause players who care deeply about the story or level-up timeframe to rewrite these timeframes retroactively so that their progress makes more sense.
Now how do you Add a calendar to your game if it doesn’t have one already?
Admittedly, it is much easier for your players to adopt a calendar at the start of a campaign, but offering it as a tool they can use later in the game isn’t terrible either and it can be really easy to do.
You can take the easiest rout and just use a copy of a standard calendar from a previous year, or use our free blank fantasy calendar downloads and fill them in together at the table:
<- Download the entire calendar for FREE here.
If you're still in the planning stages of your next campaign and want to build a calendar from scratch we have a couple tips for that as well!
When building your fantasy calendar and choosing events take into account things like the changing of the seasons and cycles of the moon along with other celestial bodies that might matter to the citizens of your towns and cities.
To make a standard calendar, like the one we provide, more personal you can rename the months, change the number of months, or change the number of weeks. We recommend, however, that you keep the amount of days to a week between 5 and 10, without keeping close to a standard week structure your calendar will be harder for your players to adopt.
There are other tools that will also help you make custom calendars with less hassle!
The tool I use to generate my custom calendars, lunar cycles, custom week and month structure, and custom month names is the donjon fantasy calendar.
While there is nothing wrong with a campaign that doesn't have a calendar, what I've found is that it is one of the most simple small changes you can make to a campaign that will only improve it.
It makes things easier for GMs and players alike, and with the tricks or tools listed here it’s easy to implement. So consider it, try it out, and let us know how it works out for you and your table!