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How can I track time in non-combat situations? I'm currently running Tomb of Annihilation (ToA) and I know later in the adventure I'll need a way to keep track of how long the party has been exploring (this is for in the tomb itself).

Last time I played this as a player our DM didn't have much of a way of keeping time which led to us (admittedly more me than the other player) constantly asking if it had been long enough for the party to take another long rest. This became even worse when my Warlock opted to not rest with the rest of the party before what she suspected was a big fight for the sake of not losing her 17 temp HP.

I'm hoping to avoid situations like the party asking when they can take another long rest by having some standardized way of keeping track of time when not in combat in a way the players can also keep track of. I thought about simply keeping initiative the whole time but that would be a highly impractical option considering that would be 14,400 rounds by which time they could explore the entire dungeon most likely.

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The two most important things I've found are: 1. the current time needs to be known to everyone, and 2. it should require minimum effort. A clock does that for me.

When I track time I've found the easiest way is to use a clock (I have an alarm clock, but I've just used a phone before too). I set it to midnight to start, just so it's easiest to know how long has passed. I tell the party "Every 15 minutes in real time is 1 hour in game", pause the clock when combat starts (combats are typically so short ingame that they don't affect time, but they can take a lot of real world time), and skip the timer forward when something like travel or long rests happen.

With an average 4 hour session, that means there's around 16 hours of gameplay. If you include the long rest, that's 24 hours. This always worked out nicely for me. You may have to adjust the exact rate at which time flows in your game, I would suggest it's best to use 10/15/20/30 minutes per hour to make it easily divisible.

In the past I've also used a manually incrementing timer, and tokens. As the DM I wait an appropriate amount of time, then increment the timer/add a token to indicate that an hour has passed. In the back end I'm using a clock anyway, so I eventually scrapped that method.

I also wrote a python program to display the game time (just a clock that ticks up 4 times per second, starts at an arbitrary time, and has a pause function), but I found that people are happy to use a normal clock, 1 hour per 15 minutes is simple math.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just what I needed, thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – Himitsu_no_Yami Jul 2 at 0:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Himitsu_no_Yami No worries, once you give it a try be sure to come post a new answer with your experience. Maybe you will come up with something better! \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jul 2 at 0:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you do when you need to "fast forward"? Like "you scavenge for food thoroughly, two hours passed"? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 2 at 8:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Put the timer forward by 2 hours (and by 2 hours I mean 30 minutes), as per the post (sorry if that wasn't clear). \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jul 2 at 8:40
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Can I address your problem rather than your question?

You ask "How can I keep time out of combat?" but the question is meaningless without knowing why you want to. That is, what problem gets solved if you can keep time?

Now, ToA has a very good reason that you need to keep time because of things that are happening globally in the adventure. But that stuff is adequately addressed by counting days:

  • in the wilderness, each day means a certain number of hexes traversed so counting days is equivalent to counting hexes;
  • in the dungeon, each day can be ticked off by counting the number of long rests the party takes;
  • in town, WTF are the party doing in town! The world is ending! Get out in the wilderness or the dungeon immediately!

However, when I read the detail of your question, you seem to think that the day dictates the rests rather than, as is actually the case, the other way around. The rules say "A character can’t benefit from more than one Long Rest in a 24-hour period" - this means that if they take a long rest and, after some time, they take another one then the second long rest is on the day following the first long rest. Time passes because the player's rest; the player's don't rest because time passes. Time is at the complete control of the DM:

  • "Later that night, ...",
  • "The following day, ...",
  • "On the third night of the harvest festival, ..."
  • "Ten years later, ..."
  • "After your long rest, ..."

The players can rest when they want to rest and each time they take a long rest, another day ticks down on the doomsday clock. In addition, each time the DM thinks that the time the players have spent doing whatever it is that they are doing without taking a long rest adds up to a day, then it adds up to a day.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll definitely keep this in mind. I'll experiment with this and the currently accepted answer and see what ends up working better. Also +1 for your "wtf is the party doing in town?!" comment \$\endgroup\$ – Himitsu_no_Yami Jul 2 at 6:41
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Ignore the time restrictions on taking multiple long rests

RAW they can only take one long rest every 24 hours but for your game you do not necessarily need to stick to that.

This answer suggests using a variable day length. In your case you can just say "you can only take long rests when I say you can" so that the players don't feel the need to ask about time.

Alternatively you can allow players to decide themselves when to take a long rest without the once per 24 hour restriction. If you use this strategy you can limit the number of long rests by making them a costly endeavor. If they need to do something urgently or they are at risk of attack a long rest might not be the best option. If they start taking too many long rests you can start throwing more random encounters at them during the rest.

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