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For the last couple of years my group’s been playing two high-tempo D&D 3.5 campaigns (I’m the DM in one of them). The PCs, their families, their homelands and their worlds have been constantly threatened, traveling has been difficult (with visits to other planes, other side of the world or direct restrictions on teleportation). Any kind of research, crafting, downtime activities have been almost impossible.

We’ve had fun and we liked it.

However, for my new campaign (Pathfinder) I plan to take it more slowly. It’s still going to be a long story arc campaign (with some rail-roading, because we like it) and eventually events will accelerate, but at first the imminent end of the world will be in the players’ heads, not characters’.

This issue has nothing to do with typical problems of late-night shopping, boringness of travel or downtime.

I fear that any clue I throw will be examined so thoroughly and so fast, there will be no time for other events to unfold. And if I tell the players “nothing happens for a week”, they might not take it well. Meanwhile, in a typical medieval setting (even with magic), a week is not a long time.

I will talk to my players, sure, but I’m looking for some techniques to remind them in-game that the world is not ending tomorrow, so that they can devote a few weeks to crafting items, that gathering information for a few days is OK and that a month long travel will not destroy their chances.

At first, the campaign will feature a series of mundane adventures, that will include some degree of mystery, hinting for things to come. I’d prefer the players to think “Oh, that’s curious, let’s see what will come out of it” and not “Let’s split up, you go to the library, I will visit the Wizard, you cast Commune and you stay here and watch everyone”.

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Actually, I happen to be in a similar situation as you. My group has played games that vary in pace from Shadowrun games where we spend three real time weeks (one session per week) planning for a single run, to Pathfinder games where we clear a new dungeon every session.

Right now, we're playing a D&D 5e game set in a Dying Earth styled setting in which the world is probably going to end soon. We're all very close friends, so I think I can accurately represent some techniques the GM is doing:

Mention a prophecy. It doesn't have to have many details, or even be completely accurate, but giving the players some idea of what the end of the world is going to actually look like helps. That way, they'll know the world isn't about to end yet since they haven't seen the events of that prophecy unfold. Include several different omens, although not every omen has to be apparent right from the get-go. You might show an unexplained omen, and later have an NPC explain it to the PCs if you want the opposite effect ("oh crap the world is ending sooner than we thought").

Have NPCs prepare in a meaningful way. The players can use NPCs more well-versed in the aforementioned prophecy to gauge how close the end of the world is. In our particular example, the queen of a city-state has decreed that the citizens are to build a citadel on a particular hilltop to prepare for the end, since that's mentioned in the prophecy. The players can get a very rough idea of how close the world is to ending by knowing whether the citadel has been constructed or not; that is, the fact that an expert on the prophecy hasn't hidden away yet should mean it's still safe.

You can also take a more direct approach. If you notice that the players are getting too anxious, you can introduce a sagely NPC that feeds them more information about the prophecy, proving to them that it's not going to happen yet. In our case, we found a hermit in a myserious lighthouse in the desert, filled with clockwerk mechanisms. Turns out that this hermit has lived for perhaps hundreds of years, maintaining the beacon, and it also turns out that he's looking for a successor, because the beacon drives away aliens bent on destroying our civilization. They believe that as long as the beacon is lit, an ancient empire capable of defeating them still stands. So, in this case, the players can reasonably be assured that they're safe as long as nothing happens to the beacon.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the beacon idea very much! Especially that I have already designed (and presented to the players in a teaser) some "Wonders of the World" that, with minor tweaks, may serve this purpose. (The other suggestions are consistent with my ideas, which is good too). \$\endgroup\$ – burlap Aug 22 '15 at 9:38
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Fronts

Dungeon World (descended from Apocalypse World, but with an SRD freely available) has a successful mechanism for doing just this. It's called Fronts. Fronts represent impending badness, following the ethos of *World games, where danger is announced before it manifests.

Fronts and dangers are described better by the SRD than I can manage here:

Fronts are secret tomes of GM knowledge. Each is a collection of linked dangers—threats to the characters specifically and to the people, places, and things the characters care about. It also includes one or more impending dooms, the horrible things that will happen without the characters' intervention. 'Fronts' comes, of course, from 'fighting on two fronts' which is just where you want the characters to be—surrounded by threats, danger and adventure.

This method of threat management is successful in a number of genres, as evidenced by the propagation of this mechanism from Apocalypse World through the other games powered by the system - fantasy, supernatural teen romance, horror, Icelandic sagas, and female Russian air corps.

It is designed specifically to escalate danger in a logical, meaningful way, in-game.

By providing a series of escalating consequences, the players can respond to the threats appropriately. By using adventure fronts, you are giving the structure you referred to above. When you reveal a portion of a front, you are giving your players the event you want them to respond to at that time. As it says:

On the session-to-session level there are your adventure fronts. These fronts will see use for a few sessions each. They're tied to one problem and will be dealt with or cast aside as the characters wander the dungeon or uncover the plot at hand. Think of them as episodic content: 'Today, on Dungeon World...'

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you speak to how they prevent players from jumping at every sign of impending doom, though? That's the focus of the question, not tracking impending doom in a structured way. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 21 '15 at 21:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's about managing information so what they jump at is what you want them to jump at. Solving the problem you present without necessarily skipping right to the endgame. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Aug 21 '15 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not just what though, but critically how. (Last paragraph of the question.) Based on the preamble, the OP has no problem with structuring and presenting things for the players to deal with. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 21 '15 at 22:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ This thread about off screen action had some interesting points related to this problem, and some answers that address part of this question. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 22 '15 at 2:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is somewhat offtopic but the linked Fronts section is interesting. Also, it makes me want to try out Dungeon World even more. Which SE variation is the place to ask "how to make your day last 30 hours?" \$\endgroup\$ – burlap Aug 22 '15 at 9:41
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I’m looking for some techniques to remind them in-game that the world is not ending tomorrow.

Arrange some way for them to have part of the villain's plan. Not it all, of course, but enough info that they roughly know where the "now loading doom" bar is. This way you can both chill and hurry up as you see fit. When they start to worry too much about timing, you can always remind them "the villain still need to steal the Orb of McGuffin, and it is safe in the castle". And if they start to forget about the story, you can make a royal announcement that the Orb disappeared last night.

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