The Interlude – Or – Time Passes

Posted: May 23, 2015 in DM Tips, RPGs

Sometimes when running a game, the game-master (GM) wants to advance the story’s timeline.  But, game-wise, what should be considered when you do this?


The main reason for doing anything in a RPG is because it seems like a good idea at the time.  Other good reasons for inserting an interlude into a campaign include the following:

  • Closure – by definitively inserting a lengthy passage of time into a story, you provide closure to the events of the first period, and provide a beginning to a new story.  This story signal lets participants now that the dangling plot threads are ‘as undangly as they gonna get’ and that the opportunity for pursuing them further was missed.  This allows the player characters (PCs) to refocus on what matters in the moment, rather than doggedly chase after every villain or rumour in their big book of adventures.
  • Realism – realism is something that Immersionist type players cherish, and it sometimes feels more natural in a story for adventure opportunities to arise sporadically, rather than two new ones popping up when one is cut off like some sort of cosmic narrative hydra.  The time between chapters then becomes part of the flavour of the immersion.
  • Expedience – the next cool bit that the GM has planned may take in-world-time to bring to fruition.  Perhaps Sarumon needs time to breed an orc army, or the villains need time to construct their new super fortress, or maybe you’re playing in London 1892 and you want to ‘skip ahead’ to 1897 when the big guy comes to town (oops, spoilers!).
  • Gestalt/montage – sometimes, when trapped in a series of repeating circumstances, it is better storytelling to simply allude to the repetition, showing typical outcomes and highlighting only that which is important.  In the movie Soldier with Kurt Russell, after the initial training, the soldier’s unit is montaged through a large number of battles, in various places on Earth and later in space.  The montage shows that there are continuing conflicts, but from the stories perspective, you’re also showing the acquisition of experience without being pedantic about each and every lesson learned or skill improved.

Game Considerations

In some games, like D&D, there may not be a mechanic for advancing characters outside of combat. But unless the PCs are cardboard cutout parodies of characters, then they probably have life goals.  They have families, careers, hobbies, that is, interests outside of spelunking and slaughtering.  Wizards may want time to research, bards time to travel and perform, and in general, maybe a PC gets married and has children, or opens a business.

However, if we’re being Immersionist, then we want some sort of sign that the 4 years a PC spent tailoring in their shop has somehow made them a better tailor.  Or, if they’re even less cardboard cutout parody action figures, then maybe they’re advancing more than a single life skill.  Does the PC as a spellcaster learn new spells, as the newlywed become more compassionate, as the sneak become more sneaky, learn more ‘local knowledge’, become more diplomatic, et cetera.

Do the characters level up?  In simple RPGs, this is often the one lever that is provided in game for advancing PCs.  You award them experience points and they spend that experience on random combat skills possibly entirely unrelated to their lives within the interlude.  In other RPGs, you can award skill points specifically related to those skills most appropriate without triggering a cavalcade of secondary consequences.

Anything Else?

An interlude can also be a story summarized.  Allusions or Coles Notes versions of events can be given, but important things can be delivered as well.  Here are my draft notes for the last interlude from my Victorian Age Vampire game.  My actual notes are longer, and contain additional details to help the PCs advance their own personal timelines, which I will omit here.  Where last we left the characters, two of them had engineered a train crash, while the other found a cabal of evil werewolves in the tunnels under London.

On a particular Sunday night, a train derailed.  Toxic chemicals spread everywhere, and a great fire ensued, destroying several chemical plants.  The wreckage lay where it fell and nobody would enter it.  The area was rendered inhospitable for some time, and no cleanup was attempted.  The area became a haven for decrepitude, until one shocking night of violence when the rats nest was cleaned out.  The damage was severe, the infestation greater than imagined, and many neonite kindred fell, as well as several powerful kindred were destroyed, including the newly appointed Scourge and the Sheriff of London.  A special crew was brought in from Vienna, and while they dealt with the matter, who knows what concessions to the Camarilla the Prince had to make for such rare expertise.

After repelling several Sabbat invasions and destroying a number of packs, the kindred of London believed the war to be over.  Many on the street wondered what was the purpose, with only a few elders dead, and no headlines in the papers, other than a few mentions of increased violence in the streets.  But the damage was more severe than could be easily realized.

The dead elders were almost entirely Ventrue, except for one Toreador.  The Tremere primogen disappeared when his haven burned down, but no body was found.  With the loss of several of the prime movers in London, a power vacuum opened, drawing in the ambitious to the unprotected core.  A nightmarish display of brutality by the Prince on a particularly egregious grab for power only forced them to become more subtle, and clever.

The independent kindred who had made London their home these past decades eventually returned.  Some had disappeared in those nights, and rumors abound of secret hit-squads that took some of them for loyalty testing, never to be seen again.  The bowels of Bedlam were searched once again, to no avail.  Of those independents that returned, could they ever trust the court of Mithras again, and vice versa, could they ever be trusted by the court again.

Underneath the city, something grew.  Perhaps it fed on the violence and destruction above, or perhaps it was the cause of it all.  The kindred who had previously enjoyed refuge in the Aethenium beneath London slowly began to disappear or otherwise abandon the tunnels.  Stories of hungry darkness and fell spirits abound, and soon the tunnels were emptied of all those who had kept watch.  They say that the Goblin Market still periodically occurs in the Aethenium, but who could possibly know.


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