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Blog: Between Slaying Dragons (What to do with Downtime?)

Between Slaying Dragons: What to do with Downtime?

Travis J. Rodgers

What is Downtime?
Downtime is the time between the characters’ active involvement in adventuring. Downtime can occur if a character is uninvolved in a scene, if the player misses a session, or if the players have reached a natural stopping point before moving onto the next adventure. Additionally, between a session zero and a first session of a campaign, the GM may allow downtime.

Downtime gives players a chance to do things that are ancillary to, or at least outside the flow of, the campaign proper. The main desiderata from a gaming point of view are: increasing player enjoyment and fulfillment, allowing individual pursuits that the group need not be involved in, affording an opportunity for players who miss a session to contribute nonetheless to the story, and to minimize what might otherwise be grunt work (exploring, interrogations, restocking supplies).

Degrees of Freedom
There are three main considerations that affect what can be done during downtime. The fewer the restrictions on a particular aspect, the more options in terms of quantity and quality there should be available to the characters.

Time: how much time is available to the characters during their downtime?
Place: where are the characters and where can they go during the downtime?
Manner: what are the special resources available to the character in order to accomplish tasks during the downtime? For instance, if a character is a member of a guild, that membership should open some avenues that may not be available to other characters.

Options for Downtime
In essence, the character will be pursuing some sort of experience or activity in one of the following areas: emotional, environmental, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, or spiritual. In all cases, the character can attempt to create, modify, or eliminate something in the process. These areas have a target; for instance, emotional plays will target a character’s sentiments. I leave these at a rather coarse-grained focus, because GMs should tweak these ideas to their particular games, settings, and parties.

EMOTIONAL: Sentiments
Examples: carouse, meditate, therapy
Carousing may increase spirits, meditation may reduce negative affect, and therapy might convert negative affect.
Examples: construct, cultivate land, gather resources, hunting
Constructing building, shelters, and the like can aid, transform, or harm the environment. Cultivation of land helps replenish the earth; hunting and gathering resources remove something from the environment.
Examples: add spells to your spellbook, gather info, plan an upcoming adventure, research a spell or fact or lore
Intellectual endeavors mostly end up increasing or transforming someone’s knowledge base.
Examples: craft items, gamble, perform labor, restock
Crafting, gambling, restocking on supplies, and performing labor create or redistribute wealth and labor.
Examples: heal others, physical training, rest
                Resting, healing others, and training oneself tends toward improving the target’s health.
SOCIAL: Connections
Examples: hire workers, recruit for an organization, replace animal companion, spread rumors, train an animal
These activities focus on social connections, and though they tend toward fostering or strengthening connections, one could also fire workers, get rid of an animal companion, and the like.
Examples: lead a group, serve the gods, vision quest
Spiritual endeavors focus on clarifying the character’s sense of purpose and goals.

SWOT Analysis
Note that each downtime activity can be handled in a simple way - it just happens with minimal feedback - or in a more involved way. Alternatively, if you want to add more involvement and engagement, consider the SWOT analysis approach to endeavors (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).

Involved Activities
Strengths and Weaknesses: consider what activity promises internally (those directly involved in it)
Opportunities and Threats: what opportunities might this activity open up outside the activity itself? what threats might there be to the activity or what might be opened as a result of it?

Suppose a character wants to purchase a backup dagger after losing it in a sorcerer's leg.
Simple: "Okay; you can find a dagger for seven silver pieces."

Involved: The party member may have a particularly compelling interpersonal skill that could facilitate the deal, but perhaps the character is sometimes overly boastful. Then again, the weaponsmith has a job that needs attending to; although it could be dangerous, the character's reputation has preceded them around town. Thus, the weaponsmith might happily throw in the dagger as a down payment for a future side trek (or larger adventure), possibly creating a foil in the process.

Some Works Referenced


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