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In my experience, campaigns often span a relative short amount of time, and i'd like to change this.

On one side, this is because downtime is often hard to play and justify and make meaningful: you're an adventurer, why would you wait in a town for days when there's adventure to be had? Travel around and find the new adventure if none is at hand!

Long voyages (when they happen) seem to be the only exception for time passing, (though often these are turned into interesting, sequences of brief events) it is hard to justify an adventure having to span months, or even years. Also, often these long voyages (3week +) change setting, which makes it hard for past actions to influence the future, which is what i'd like to achieve by having campaign that span longer in time.

What are plausible ways to add "span" to a campaign, so that it is plausible for the party to want to wait some months in a place (or in a set of places)?

These plausible ways would be sped-up at the table, the goal would be to have the world move on for months, while the table has not.

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I've had some success in games I've GM-ed for with the suggestions below:

  • The plot takes place on the longer timescale.

If the BBEG has a scheme that unfolds over years or decades, there might be very little for PCs to do at any given moment. If they've completed a chapter of the adventure it might take a long time for the next chapter to pick up, and the GM can simply decree that there is little adventure to be had in the interim.

  • Give the PCs options which take time to develop.

Giving players long-term in-game options give an incentive to work with the periods of downtime. Things like starting political factions, meddling with economies, destabilizing cults, and so on can work very well. It's obviously not unheard of for these things to happen quickly within a campaign, but they can also be natural "fillers" for downtime.

  • Make the long-term player endeavors matter to the plot.

If the players need to prepare a country to withstand the return of a demon lord (for example), and that's prophesied to be in 25 years, then you have a very natural and intuitive frame for PC actions. You'd want to make the most out of the time you have available, right? Then the players can think up strategies to execute over that time. With an understandable timetable, they will try to think of ways to fill it.

  • Use a sandbox-y campaign.

Long downtime is an issue because characters would be up to things during it. Giving more options in a setting where their choices can really change the environment will make trying to do so more enticing.

  • Create antagonists that will interfere with your players' long-term plans to make those plans interesting.

In the same way that villains create elaborate plans and player characters frustrate them, NPCs can and should interfere with your players' plans. This can keep them invested (as opposed to just getting higher numbers on their sheets as time passes), and make for interesting adventures between major plot events. Players need to think through their plans, and potential disruptions, to successfully fight them off.

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