Tracking Light in the OSR

Allen Douglas-1

I’m re-reading the original Referee Book for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It’s a terrific piece of work. (I highly recommend checking out the free PDF version if you’re interested.

I’ve reached the section on “Time.” Raggi admonishes everyone who waves away concerns about how long lanterns and torches last. How long these precious items last is a resource that has to be tracked make all the rules of the game click together.

I admit I was one of those people. I’ve been playing games jumping from scene-to-scene for a while. But Lamentations of the Flame Princess asks me (of course) to go back to an older way of playing. (For me, the Holmes edition back in the late 70’s.)

After pouring through the rules for Lamentations of the Flame Princess I see now how everything does fit together and I’m eager to try it out. (Did I just buy pretty much every hardcopy of LotFP material I could find — even hitting Italy for a copy of Better Than Any Man? Yes, I did.) I want the Players to be aware of how long their torches will last, how many they have left, and when darkness will envelope them if they don’t get back to the dungeon entrance in time.

Still, the notion of tracking time and how long a torch lasts and how to impart that information to the Players without just becoming a bore of a bookkeeper left me cold.

But I had an idea on the matter I thought I’d share. This is how I’ll track time both overall and for any items that are time sensitive.

For every Turn (10 minutes) I’ll drop a white chip in front of the Referee Screen. At the hour mark I pull up the white chips and replace them with a red chip. Anyone at the table can glance at the pile of chips and see how long the group has been traveling. Concerns about food, water, sleep, and other resources are quickly checked against the pile.

Let’s say a PC lights a torch. I’ll write
on an index card and place it by the PC’s character sheet.

Then, every turn, I’ll place a token (a white poker chip or a white glass bead) on the index card. Each token is another ten minutes passing.

For a lantern the card would read 24 TURNS. At every hour, the white chips would be replaced with red. (Or, in the case of the torch, the index card would be removed.)

In this way:
a) the players, again, have a clear, graphic clock ticking away as they continue on their journey.
b) each lit item has its own tracking device
c) the measure of time is not dependent on any one tracking system. If the torch goes out, the pile of chips in front of the Referee screen make it clear how much time has passed and continues to pass.

I think a) is the most important and fun part of this idea. The idea that every time they look down at the light source and see it getting closer and closer to running out of juice is exactly the feel a LotFPgame should have.


4 thoughts on “Tracking Light in the OSR

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  3. Hi Chris,

    Curious to know if this method has evolved at all or if you still track time and light in the same manner? I, too, am a hand-waver for such rules but looking to implement time and light tracking in my next campaign and looking for ways that make them fun rather than a chore.

    Take care,


    • I still use them!
      Still a bit of a chore… but resource management is always a chore.

      But it seems to work! If makes the Players make choices about when to press on an such. All good stuff!

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