Welcome fellow Nerdarchist! It’s that time again for the three-headed beast that is Nerdarchy to lay down some gaming advice for Dungeons & Dragons via the weekly newsletter. Last week we experimented with something new and we’ll continue it. Both the live chat and the newsletter topic are the same. In this case we are talking about D&D downtime.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
D&D downtime — it’s a thing in 5E. Right in chapter 8 of the Player’s Handbook there are a bunch of options — craft, practice a profession, recuperate, research, and train. Training allows you to learn a new tool proficiency or a new language. It costs 250 gp and 250 days of training. I love this option as a way to expand a character’s abilities. It should be more than that though. It should be a chance to introduce new NPCs to the characters and players.
Think of these tutors as possible future adventure hooks in your games. It takes 250 days of training to learn a new skill or language. I reiterate this because it is a lot of time to spend with a person. Heck, even if you were to come up with just one thing for every 50 days spent with the tutor the player would come away with 5 new pieces of information.
Maybe when coming up with NPCs to populate your world you should give each of them a downtime tag
Building a Stronghold
Crafting a Magic Item
Performing Sacred Rites
Practice a profession
Running a Business
Selling Magic Items
Training to Gain Levels
When populating your world with NPCs consider how they might be connected to a downtime activity. Nearly every NPC would have at least one downtime tag easily. Or maybe the list of downtime activities might inspire you to start creating NPCs already connected to them.
In the training example I used above you may not already have an NPC suited to tutoring, but now is the opportunity create one. These types of NPCs are very special in my opinion, because they are the ones your players have asked you to add to the game world.
My advice is to stop just thinking about downtime as something your players do between adventures, but view it as a worldbuilding tool. One where often the players will inform you of the areas they’d like to explore.
Out of Ted’s Head
Downtime is a great feature in Dungeons & Dragons that allows players to accomplish all sorts of things. The greatest thing possible is not really listed in the books: accomplishing character goals. In the Saturday live chat we talked about Dave’s character going to hell to re-acquire his soul. If you tend to run a game designed to be very story-focused and not on the individual character arc, you can use downtime to advance the characters’ story.
An easy system could be to set up a DC based on how difficult the task is and how much downtime it might take to accomplish. For instance, a character who wishes to find a spouse might not be a hard task. Maybe it is only DC 15 and it could be linked to a Charisma (Persuasion) check. If you do not want to go through all the roleplaying to get there, but the player is adamant about this goal, it could be a whirlwind romance over two weeks off of adventuring and now the character is married. Throw in some gold cost for the ceremony and a ring and you are all set.
The same can be done for just about anything. My character in Dave’s game is all about acquiring knowledge. Well, perhaps he also wants to explore a long forgotten tomb or look for a lost library. These things could be simple or complex quests that would take time away from the main story arc and as a Dungeon Master you might not want to do that. It could be linked to several skills (whichever seem most appropriate) or it could be just a straight Intelligence check. Try to pick something the character is proficient with — unless they are doing something that is rather unorthodox.
But you can easily base your DC on the simple (5) to nearly impossible (30) and allow the character to do things they would not be able to do in game during that much needed downtime. Let your players know the things you will allow and will not allow so when one player finds a spouse and another gets a magic item one of them feeling like they got a bad deal does not happen. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: The spouse is a greater treasure than the magic item, of course.]
From the Nerditor’s Desk
To paraphrase the late, great professional wrestler Big Van Vader, “It’s time… it’s time…it’s downtime time!”
Next to backgrounds, downtime is one of the great elements of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. It’s got a bit of mechanical qualities, a bit of roleplaying opportunities, and versatility not unlike a minigame from something like Final Fantasy. How you use downtime in your campaign can have a big impact on player immersion and enrich storytelling.
In Secrets of Castle Greyhawk, Dungeon Master Sean McGovern used the downtime material in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything between the Iron Dabbers’ delves into Xagyg’s dungeon. My character Gusamon Gusfun, svirfneblin Circle of Spores druid, propagated his spores all over town, tended a mushroom shrine (even made a few converts!), created potions of healing, and of course went to Level Up classes when he’d earned enough gold.
A lot of players discover downtime potential playing Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. The urban campaign setting adventure story puts players in a huge fantasy city that becomes a home the characters hopefully care about. They’ll make friends and rivals, get to know their neighbors and get to see how the city works. In the Dragon Heist game I play in as Zandu Zanth, duergar Path of the Azure barbarian, whatever downtime we get into always includes a roll on the carousing table. We started with the one in the Dungeon Master’s Guide in our first session and it’s become a staple of the campaign. And it’s an incredibly useful tool! The DM started collecting different carousing tables found on the internet, and we carouse at some point in every session. It works as a cap to the evening, or a solid option when you’re not sure what to do next. We’ve inspired epic tavern tales, made — and lost — a lotta gold, wound up involved in murder mysteries, and developed all sorts of inter-party dynamics thanks to carousing. You don’t always stick together throughout the night!
I use downtime in the campaign I started a few weeks ago to engage the players more between sessions. They are members of a dubious guild called the Adventurers of Adventure, sent to a little coastal fishing village to find adventure. Between adventures, downtime is a combination of light roleplaying and Q&A with the players. They get to know the town of Fristad and its residents better, handle personal business, and poke around the surrounding countryside until their enamel membership pins begin to pulsate. (That means there’s an Adventure Location nearby.) The players are really invested in their new hometown and in just a few sessions have developed deeper connections and dynamics with each other and the NPCs.
The cool thing about downtime in D&D is how it offers a somewhat codified process alongside flavorful methods to enrich you game through material and narrative benefits. Even including the simple dice rolling activities in the DMG gives characters another way to interact with the game world, potentially inspiring players to learn new things about their characters and the world they live in. It’s a chance for players to paint the scene and help the world come to life. Downtime is another tool for players and DMs to collaborate on and turn the story of the adventure into the story of the characters.