I'm working on a text RPG (in principle similar to cantr.net) that allows players to role-play their characters in a player-driven world. Players form cities, societies and so on. Pretty much nothing is predetermined for them including currency, etc.
The thing I'm struggling with is how to strike a balance between "pro" players that are logged in nearly 24/7 and more casual players that would like to log in once a day/two days. Most of the systems already take that into account and I'm fairly happy with them, but I'm struggling with creating traveling system that would be fair both ways.
Currently for crafting and other things I'm using "energy" points that are capped at X number and regenerate Y number per hour (basically it regenerates every three real-life days so allows for some catch-up if you miss a day or two). Could it be applied somehow to traveling? What are your ideas?
The world is a flat surface with x/y coordinates the "locations" are just specific points on a map that users can go to and while in the same "location" they can interact with each other. Kinda like Fallout 1 map. I was thinking of allowing movement of X units per 1 energy + some bonuses if vehicles/horse is used.
Let's assume this situation: a thief steals something in a town and starts to run. The game shouldn't require the guards (which are player characters) to be online 24/7 to be able to catch up. They need to have some form of slack or catch-up mechanic to be able to compete, but the thief shouldn't be severely punished by that either. I don't want to force guards to be online too much but at the same time I'm trying not to create a situation where guard characters can just talk freely and "don't give a shit" for a day and then go and chase because they know they will catch him easily.
What are your thoughts on this?
EDIT: As requested I'm going to include a bit of more context here. The game itself has no goals, quests or really any "purpose". All that I need to provide is a world and mechanics that allow player characters to craft, fight and live in a sandbox world and do whatever they wish. Players are "role-playing" in the Dungeon & Dragons sense - they actually have to play and talk from the perspective of their character.
But since I can't expect players to be logged in 24/7 I need to create a fair (or close) system with respect for players' time.
The biggest problem I have is with travel. Not travel per se but chasing mostly. How not to require constant logging in and checking if something happened, allow to catch up to someone who logged in earlier/in different timezone but give the chance to escape as well.
I was thinking about energy points (so players would have to strategize and leave some "just in case") and using something like Tracking skill which would influence how well one character can find another character in travel.