The Twilight of the Known Worlds
Time in Fading Suns is measured in five units, ranging from the smallest to the largest. These are: the turn, the span, the act, the drama and the epic. Note that time in Fading Suns is measured in cycles rather than exact, standard amounts; plot advancement, rather than an exact hour/minute/second count, determines the flow of time.
Turn — The turn is the smallest unit of time in the Fading Suns universe, and the most precise. Generally speaking, a turn equals three seconds. In one turn, a player can attempt one action at no penalty or can attempt multiple actions (up to three actions per turn), though multiple actions impose penalties to the success of those actions. Some actions (defusing a bomb, climbing a building) take longer than one turn.
Span — The next-greatest unit of time is the span. A span is a sequence of events occurring at the same time and in the same place. Think of a span as a scene in a movie or TV show — the events occurring between a fade-in and fade-out. Generally speaking, a span comprises a fairly short and enclosed sequence of events (interrogating a shady merchant prince, attending a Hawkwood banquet, conducting a chase through the slums, fighting a duel, etc). This is, however, not always the case; events of a span can take place over lengthy time periods or distances, so long as the characters are engaged in a specific task.
For example, characters may spend a grueling week travelling 100 kilometers across the frozen tundra of Malignatius, surviving the vagaries of cold and privation. So long as the characters are primarily involved in journeying to their destination and battling the terrain, this is considered a span. Following their trek, the characters arrive at a hidden bunker where evil cultists are conducting diabolical rites to the Void Krakens. The characters enter the one-room bunker and, in a pitched battle, defeat the foul coven. This is also a span. Even though the journey took place over a week’s time and 100 kilometers, while the battle lasted 10 minutes and took place inside a 20-meter-square bunker, both advanced the plot by about the same amount.
Act — A series of spans that collectively resolve a major plot point is referred to as an act. The closure of an act often involves a major revelation, a drastic change in time and/or location, or a dramatic shift in character fortunes.
For example, the characters, after having learned the whereabouts of their kidnapped comrade, infiltrate the impregnable Muster battle station where their companion is being held. They spend the game session alternately ducking and battling guards, infiltrating the Muster command, and breaking into the maximum-security cell block. Finally, before they can rescue their comrade, the characters’ deception is uncovered and they are captured and sentenced to slavery. This entire sequence of events constitutes an act; the next act will hopefully involve the various trials and tribulations of escaping their predicament.
Drama — A drama comprises an entire story. Generally speaking, a drama begins when characters involve themselves (or are involuntarily involved) in a plot and ends only when the characters resolve the plot one way or another. Less happily, a drama can end in defeat, as characters fail to thwart the machinations of the villain, rescue the noble, save the planet, loot the palace or whatever. A drama ends whenever the players and GM can say, for better or for worse, “THE END.”
Epic — The largest unit of time in Fading Suns, an epic comprises a series of stories, usually involving the same characters or the same overall plotline, such as the Race for the Throne of the Empire or the Rise of House Juandaastas.
For example, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is a drama — a complete story in itself — but is part of the overall epic of Middle Earth, because the events initiated by Bilbo Baggin’s discovery of the ring are continued by Frodo and the Fellowship in “The Lord of the Rings.” In Fading Suns, the chronicle of the player character’s lives and adventures together, spanning many stories, is an epic.
Other units of time may prove important during certain acts. For example, if the characters are imprisoned in a noble citadel, and the guards declare that the characters are to be executed in four hours’ time, the actions taken during those four hours prove critical.
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