Keeping time in the Forbidden Lands
Updated: Oct 24, 2021
Forbidden Lands is an excellent hexcrawl sandbox by Free League Publishing. As the players travel across the map, it is essential to keep track of the passage of time. Not just marking of the watches (quarter days) as they pass to determine how much progress the group makes before they need to stop end rest but also the changing seasons. As summer turns to autumn, the days become shorter, and it becomes harder to fit as much adventuring into a single day. By the time winter comes around, it may be advisable to be holed up in a friendly village or your stronghold.
While Forbidden Lands comes equipped with robust rules about travelling and how much daylight is available during different parts of the year, the details on the calendar used by the local peoples are somewhat sketchy. Some information on the calendar used by humans is provided, but all we are told is that there are four seasons, each divided into two phases of 45 or 46 days each. Festivals separate the phases.
Although it is, of course, possible to keep track of time with sufficient accuracy based on this information, I prefer a calendar to be established a bit more firmly for a game like this. So I set out to nail down the missing details. This necessarily required me to make some decisions about what this calendar should look like. The choices I made may differ from the ones you would have made, and I don't think there is a clear right or wrong choice for most of this, apart from personal preference.
When does the year begin?
First things first. Before determining any other details of the calendar, it may be helpful to
decide when the year begins. What is the first day of the year? The illustration in the Gamemaster's Guide vaguely suggests that the year starts with the Midwinter festival. This is close enough to the Gregorian Calendar to be familiar. There is certainly something to be said for that. However, as far as I can tell the Norse calendar (which only distinguished between two seasons, summer and winter) had the year end with the end of winter. This seems thematically appropriate as winter is a dark and dangerous time and its end, the beginning of spring, mark the beginning of a new year of adventuring. So I decided to have the year start with Awakening Day, the beginning of spring.
A word about festivals
That brings us to another question. How exactly do the festivals relate to the phases? The Gamemaster's Guide tells us that "the year is divided into eight phases, split up by eight festivals". Does that mean the festivals fall on the first day of each phase, or the last day? It also seems possible that the festivals are extra days that don't belong to any phase. Or maybe there is some more complicated scheme? The description of the calendar also says that "During the Midwinter celebration, the most prominent servants of the gods decree when the different festivals will be celebrated during the year." If the festivals fall on a fixed day in their respective phase, why is this necessary? Assuming that each phase is the same length each year, determining the timing of the festivals should only require to keep track of days. Are festivals tied to the phases of the moon so that their dates vary over time? Maybe Awakening Day, the festival at the start of spring, doesn't fall on the first day of Springrise but the day of the first full moon in spring.
There are many options for how these festivals could be organised. In the end, I opted for a simple scheme that makes it easier to keep track of when the festivals are. However, it does make the gathering of priests at Midwinter mostly pointless (at least as far as determining festivals for the coming year is concerned). In my version of the calendar, all festivals fall on the first day of the corresponding phase.
Naming the days
The next question is, what names do people in the Forbidden Lands give to the days of the week? There is a vast number of possibilities, including a lot of local religious variations, and no guidance in the book. From the beginning, I was pretty clear that I wanted a single set of names for the purpose of tracking time. Local variations can always be introduced as flavour during the campaign where it makes sense. But what names to choose? Fortunately, Erik Granström (the author of the setting) had some very useful things to say about this on the official forum:
Humans might use generic naming of days based on practices but with local, sometimes religious variations. (In Swedish for instance Saturday – ”lördag” – derives from ”lögardag” – ”the day to wash yourself”). Perhaps:
Sunday (because every day starts with the sun arriving – for preparation, reading omens and speaking to the skies)
Moonday (because the moon concludes and complements the day – for magic, secrets, mysticism etc)
Blood day (when you go to war or slaughter animals) – renamed as Rust day by the Rust brothers.
Earthday (for growing, fertilizing, sex etc)
Growth day (for accomplishment, education, building etc)
Harvest day (For collecting, bartering, eating good etc)
Stillday (for contemplation, prayer, cleansing, reevaluation, counsel and decisions)
I mostly follow these suggestions, except for Harvest day, which already is the name of a festival. I've named that day Feastday instead, preserving much of the intended meaning.
How many days are there anyway?
Now it is time to determine how many days there are in each phase. From the Gamemaster's Guide we know that they all have 45 or 46 days. Why those numbers? If all eight phases had 45 days that would give us 360 days in the year. Clearly, there are supposed to be more (because some phases have 46 days). Assuming that the calendar is intended to have a familiar 365 days per year, five phases need to have 46 days. I opted to give the extra day to the second phase in each season plus a bonus day for the first phase of summer. This way the days are fairly evenly distributed and the one extra day ends up in summer, giving the players the benefit of the doubt and, again, mimicking the pattern familiar from the Gregorian calendar.
What about the Moon?
This isn't a Lunar calendar, but the phases of the moon have some importance, as the Gamemaster's Guide tells us. Apart from any cultural significance, the question of how much natural light is available during any given night may well become relevant during the game. As much of this calendar relies on re-skinning our own using familiar patterns for the phases of the moon seems appropriate. So I chose to make it 15 days between each full and new moon, arbitrarily choosing the day of the first full moon in 1165.
Get the Calendar
If you'd like a calendar to keep track of time in your own games, a PDF with the one I use is now available online. It has each day broken into quarters shaded according to the availability of daylight. Moon phases and festivals are also marked.