Skip to main content

The Parchment Paladin

Display of Abstract Progress at the Table

Blades in the Dark introduced the notion of progress clocks which are a very concise, visual metaphor for just about any aspect of an RPG for which discernable and meaningful progress is important to track: alert level of the guards on duty, countdown to the villain's master plan taking effect, faction activity, steps to an evil ritual that must be thwarted... oh, and um, hours in a day, I suppose, if time is a critical factor.

Let's explore some different ways to represent abstract progress at the table.

Dice #

Perhaps the simplest way to represent abstract progress is to use the equipment you already have to hand: dice. Lots of games, like MTG use dice as spin-down counters, and they work fairly well, especially impromptu: just grab a die with the appropriate number of sides for what you want to represent, and put it on the table.

For a small investment, but big improvement, pick up a set of Jumbo Polyhedral Dice**. Slamming a huge, brightly colored D6 or D8 down on the table is a pretty clear indicator that this isn't meant for rolling damage. The size and color makes it easy for everyone at the table to see the current state, and importantly, this includes the GM.

Pros: Usually (literally) to hand. Impromptu, no setup.

Cons: Can be a bit awkward to count down/up smoothly if you're not using a true spindown die. Unless jumbo-sized, probably difficult for everyone to see.

Drawn on Paper/Whiteboard #

Of course, it's fairly straightforward to draw a clock, provided you can pass your dexterity check when drawing a circle in front of people. Segment the circle into wedges, and fill them in as you go. Put the paper on the table, or hang it like a tent over your DM screen to display for the players.

Similarly, you could draw the clock on a whiteboard, which, depending on angles, placement, and dry-erase pen color, might have better visibility for your players. I'm partial to running with a small countertop magnetic chalk/whiteboard easel**: It's a chalkboard on one side, whiteboard on the other. I use the whiteboard side to display information to the players, and the blackboard side facing me to stage and arrange magnetic tokens for combat scenarios.

A major downside to displaying progress outward, towards the players, is that it puts it out of your sightline as a GM. In my experience, I often forget to update the state faithfully when I can't see it in front of me, which leads to players saying "Hey, shouldn't that be this/that value?" or "Man, we've been playing for 2 hours and we're only this far towards the goal?!" Which stings.

Pros: Easy, cheap, impromptu.

Cons: Remembering to update can be harder. Sightlines in general might be an issue, based on your table setup.

Bespoke Progress Clocks #

print and paste progress clock

Of course, since this is The Parchment Paladin, we'll also consider taking it up a notch: creating custom, print and paste progress clocks. The idea here is to print out a colored progress clock on paper or thick cardstock, then carefully punch or cut the pieces out and assemble with whatever hardware you have to hand for the center spindle.

To make my set, I used:

The magnetic base for the clock makes it just hefty enough to not slide around when placed flat on the table. Of course, it adheres strongly to my matte black magnetic bases, where the color contrast really pops. I like having it on the tabletop during play: it's an important part of game state, so it belongs on the game "board" where everyone can easily reference it.

So, what do you think? Dust off that inkjet and craft something fun for your table! Download printable clock template.

**: Denotes an Amazon Affiliate Link.