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I am the DM in this situation and a character has wandered into a small area which links to another plane. In this plane time passes differently, so 1 minute in that plane would be 1 hour in the real world.

Normally I would make sure the players just get equal screen time to ensure they all feel included, but this is complicated by the fact that the players in normal time are in combat, and the character inside the distorted time area is not.

If the player inside the time bubble were to immediately walk straight out, they would have been gone for a full minute, at which point combat would have likely finished.

How can I best play this at the table without making the player in the time bubble just sit around while everyone else fights?

I would also like to keep it vague, so the players outside of the time bubble don't know if it is safe or dangerous inside it (IE: they worry for the character trapped inside), but the only way I can see this being accomplished is to deal with combat first, and anyone in the time bubble gets to sit out of the game until either combat is over, or everyone is in the bubble.

A good answer will draw from experience of similar situations, and ensure that everyone at the table feels like they are getting to do something. My players can be pretty slow in combat (and even slower out of it!) so sitting for a full combat might mean not doing anything for over an hour (actually worst in this situation because the nature of the combat in this area could well take the full session).

Addendum: The time distortion effect isn't mandatory, and if I can't figure out a way to deal with it properly I will just drop it for an easier to work effect, so frame challenges are not needed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 not really given the area, or at least I would prefer to drop the time distortion before I change the fight \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 26, 2020 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WakiNadiVellir "don't do that" is my fallback option, "what can I give a player to do while their character is removed from combat and frozen in time" is one interpretation, but possibly not the only one which is why I gave the situation rather than asked that question specifically. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 26, 2020 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WakiNadiVellir that last comment is why I am looking for ideas that people have used and can back up with experience on how well it went at the table in terms of ensuring everyone got to do something. I can't imagine this scenario is common enough that all your thoughts are tested. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 26, 2020 at 13:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ So is there anything to do in this time bubble? Asking how to keep that player occupied if there's nothing to occupy them isn't really an answerable question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Jul 26, 2020 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Novak I am hoping the answer can help me decide that, because if I give them combat for example the time distortion effect will make it strange if another player wanders in, or if they wander out. IE: When one combat round passes in the bubble a minute has passed in the real world, so someone wandering in couldn't possibly do so until round 10, and I don't know how to make that work. If someone can tell me how to make it work as part of an answer then I will consider it, but really I just want to know what works or not when time distortion is concerned. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 26, 2020 at 18:29

2 Answers 2

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Sacrifice The Rigid Conversion Factor

Your question makes it sound like you have a strict 60:1 conversion factor, because you mention a minute expanding to an hour; your response in a comment makes it sounds like a 10:1 conversion factor, because of the six-second round to one minute conversion. But in either case, you seem to have some constant or rigid conversion factor in mind.

So what you're asking for is a solution to of the classic problems of split parties-- keep both groups occupied (1) with appropriate shares of the limelight (2) for the same amount of real-world clock time-- but now with the added complication of (3) except the in-game clocks are running at different but known (at least to you) fixed rates.

Hopefully when I lay it out like that, you'll see why that's basically unworkable. Combats, generally, don't have pre-determined lengths, and every round that accrues in the main-party is accruing ten (or sixty?) in the bubble. And if your character is doing something with turn-based mechanics inside the bubble, it's probably hard to predict that accurately as well.

Give Your Bubbled Character Something Open-Ended To Do

I have no idea what this 'something' would be. It has to be appropriate to your game, and the area they're in. But it needs to have the following characteristics:

  • It needs to be somewhat open-ended and light- or non-mechanical. You need to not be counting rounds or turns while doing this

  • It needs to be something you as a GM can draw out or contract so that when your main-party combat is over, you can plausibly and satisfyingly end the in-bubble segment

  • It needs to be something that can plausibly take approximately (and I cannot stress that enough) the amount of time you need to fill, here. So if you expect your main-party conflict to take a minute, and your conversion factor is 60:1, pick something that could plausibly take somewhere between half an hour and two hours.

  • It needs to follow the other general guidelines of good role-playing situations-- the character has to have something to do, choices to make, information to receive, etc.

So things like needing to find something, talk to someone, build something, catch something, etc are all reasonable things.

Magical Hand-Wavey Narrative Sync-up

The end goal, as is probably obvious by now, is something like this:

  • Bubble character wanders off into the bubble
  • Main group starts combat
  • After each round (or maybe half-round, or whatever seems right) of combat with the main group, break off and give your bubble character some interaction, and probably some early heavy indication of what they're "supposed" to be doing
  • Switch back and forth between main group and bubble character
  • Use your existing GM skills to telescope the bubble character's task so it ends around the same time as the combat
  • Aggressively do not care about an exact conversion factor, just sync the characters back up as appropriate.

The good part of this scheme is that you're not doing anything much beyond the ordinary skill of a pretty skilled GM-- you're not doing something superhuman like trying to anticipate rigid time in two domains.

The possible bad part (although I don't see it as one myself) is that if this sort of thing is a feature of your world, it almost automatically imparts a sort of a fey, unpredictable, chaotic air to the phenomenon-- maybe one time the conversion is roughly a minute to an hour, maybe next time it's a minute to a day. So if your characters are the type who are going to want to rig up stop watches or try to figure out and exploit an exact conversion factor, that can cause issues.

(I myself would lean into this hard, and describe the course of the Sun as moving from north to south as time passes, just to underscore the unnatural weirdness of it. But that's just me.)

Disclaimer

I am uncertain whether to cite this as an experience-based answer. On the one hand, I have extensive experience playing in a game (Amber-inspired) where the default condition is for characters to be running in different worlds and at different speeds. And this technique of not sweating the details and just syncing up the characters whenever they meet is how it is handled. (Who knows what Dworkin was thinking when he made the universe, it just works this way. The hardest thing about time is doing it.) It fits the genre we are trying to emulate very well, and I wish I could take credit for formalizing it that way, but it wasn't my idea.

On the other hand, we have not to my memory ever tried to use those techniques to solve this problem. Amber in general, and this game in specific, does not even pretend to model things at the level of seconds, minutes, or combat rounds.

But certainly the core idea-- do not use fixed conversion factors-- stems from that experience.

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On how to deal with time distortion, I agree with Novak's answer.

In addition, you ask how to not make players "just sit around while everyone else fights". Therefore it might be interesting to give a "time distortion "-independent answer on how to

Give players of absent characters something to do

I see mainly two options:

  • Let the characters influence the battle, even though they are absent. Maybe speeches the absent characters have given before the battle, influence the other characters. See for example this answer to another question.
  • Give the players control over NPCs that participate in battle. The NPCs don't have to be allies of the heroes, but enemies of their current enemies. (If no extra-NPCs are planned for the battle, you can change that.)
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