5E D&D carousing downtime

Enhance Your 5E D&D Experience the Noisy, Lively Way Through Carousing in Your Downtime

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Over at Nerdarchy the Discord a discussion came up about downtime activities in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. The brief conversation made me think of my experience playing through Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and how the Dungeon Master incorporated downtime into the campaign. Near the end of our first session the DM asked what each character did on their own following the session events and since everyone grew heavily invested into the theme and vibe of the adventure we all agreed on the ideal downtime activity — carousing. Described in chapter 6 of the 5E D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide carousing, along with several other activities, offer things for characters to do between adventures. Carousing became a staple of our campaign and I thought I’d share how it made an impression for my group and added to the overall storytelling experience. So let’s get into it.

5E D&D downtime with meaning — carousing

Before hopping into the benefits of carousing and how it adds to both individual and group story development it’s important to get a clear picture of this downtime activity. The DMG suggests including downtime activity as a way to stretch out time during a campaign, give characters opportunities to pursue their own interests and increase their investment in the setting. In my 5E D&D experience downtime often bleeds over into adventuring, which in some ways does a disservice to this chunk of game content (and the adventure part too!). But that’s a whole other ball of wax. We’re looking specifically at carousing as a downtime activity and here’s what the DMG has to say about this particular one:

“Characters can spend their downtime engaged in a variety of hedonistic activities such as attending parties, binge drinking, gambling, or anything else that helps them cope with the perils they face on their adventures.”

When characters engage in carousing as a downtime activity players roll a d100, add their character’s level to the result and the DM explains the outcome based on a table. If I’m honest the part about adding your level feels a bit strange to me. An 11th level or higher character feels like they’d have just as much potential to be jailed on charges of disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace as a lower level character. But I digress.

The first time our party engaged in carousing the results were terrific. One character’s carousing became the stuff of local legend. (This is an actual result of rolling on the table.) Another character awoke in a strange place robbed of all their wealth. One character was caught up in a whirlwind romance and the final party member made an enemy. Everyone in the group loved rolling on the table and imagining the circumstances surrounding their carousing results. This became a tradition and each session ended with a carousing roll.

Over time these downtime blocks evolved into meaningful stories for each of our characters. My duergar barbarian became embroiled in demonic cult activity and a murder mystery, often making her way back to our Trollskull Manor in the earliest hours of Waterdeep mornings. She always made a point to stop for doughnuts on the way though. As these downtime plots emerged she developed a working relationship with their neighbor Vincent Trench, a human detective.

None of our carousing directly impacted the adventure itself, sometime I feel is an important distinction to make. As a player and through my character I grew enamored of Waterdeep and felt like a real resident of the city — one of the intended design goals for the campaign itself — through these additional circumstances. Taking a few minutes near the end of each session for characters to develop and build on their own personal stories without pulling the campaign in different directions worked very well.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything expands downtime activities. For carousing two additional aspects add to the experience. One of these generates a contact for the character through a special Charisma (Persuasion) roll. Depending on the results a character might make anywhere from a hostile contact up to three allied contacts. The other aspect involves economics, and a character can carouse with lower, middle or upper class folk — each with their own set of potential complications. These run a huge gamut from “Streaking naked through the streets seemed like a great idea at the time” to “You have agreed to take on a noble’s debts” and lots of things in between.

It was very cool to see Carousing incorporated into Ghosts of Saltmarsh too. There is a whole section in the book detailing various downtime activities within Saltmarsh itself, tailoring what you find in the DMG for this particular setting. As far as I know this is the only 5E D&D adventure including this sort of thing, which I’d love to see become more of a staple in official material. I suppose it depends on the adventure itself somewhat, but a quick look through some other adventures comes up lacking in this regard. For example in Tomb of Annihilation the Things to Do in Port Nyanzaru seem adjacent to downtime activities, but they’re presented as parts of the adventure itself. It’s a nuanced distinction but it’s there nevertheless.

5E D&D carousing downtime

Carousing resources for 5E D&D

If you’ve convinced how valuable carousing as a downtime activity can be for your 5E D&D campaigns, here’s a few places you might enjoy exploring. These carousing tables build on what you’ll find in the DMG. You might take a page from our Waterdeep: Dragon Heist campaign and create your own tables too. If this sounds fun or if you just love creating tables of any sort I recommend checking out Chartopia here. This free online resource offers really easy ways to create, save and share your own random tables and browse through tons of others.

Now I want to know about you. Tell me your most memorable carousing stories! Do you incorporate downtime activity into your 5E D&D games? Do you have your own carousing tables you’ve tailored for your campaign? Lay them on me and until next time, stay nerdy!

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Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, worldbuilding or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy he enjoys cryptozoology trips and eating awesome food.

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