The Alphastream Game Design Blog
Why do we need downtime in our game? How will it make our game awesome? This is the first in a series of articles examining how we can make the most out of the D&D rules for downtime.
Downtime can be the engine that opens up our game and empowers characters to:
Maybe the above already sounds like your campaign. Awesome! Downtime can serve as a tool to make this easier and give it a stable rules basis. On the other hand, maybe the above sounds different and cool, or even a bit scary. Downtime is a flexible system – you can get increasingly comfortable and develop your campaign’s open feel over time. Similarly, the structure underlying downtime can help players increasingly embrace a more open play style.
Here is an example of how downtime can be added your gaming session. The characters finish exploring a hidden temple, finding that the cultists worship some kind of mysterious imprisoned god. The characters find a map, leading to another temple a few weeks away. Normally, the campaign just proceeds to the next temple. Play is confined to the specific scripted locations and play experiences the adventure contains.
With downtime, play can be more open. You can tell the players they can spend one or two weeks in town before heading to the next temple. You ask the players what they want to do with that time, and they choose activities.
At first, this might also feel scripted. They might choose from the list of downtime activities, or be unsure of what they can do. Over time, players get the hang of it, and play starts opening up.
Angela likes being prepared. She decides her character, Xandra, will research this chained god. Her character backstory is that of a sage, and this is the perfect time to visit her mentor, who works at the city’s grand library.
Dwayne and Tara play good-aligned PCs who worry that this cult threatens the city they call home. They decide that before leaving town, they will meet with the local temples and city government to try to raise awareness and make it harder for the cult to establish a foothold.
Diego’s tiefling character, Adros Quickfingers, is all about the thieves’ guild. Adros will let the other characters worry about the cultists, working instead to attain a higher position within the guild. Adros Quickfingers will be guildmaster someday!
Downtime provides a system for resolving these kinds of cool activities. Notice that in the above examples, we didn’t talk about the rules to downtime. We will review the mechanics in detail across this blog series, but downtime works best when we keep the rules in the background and let the narrative and the player goals shine. Never forget the narrative behind downtime activities. That’s what will pay off across gaming sessions!
You can run downtime in just a few minutes and be relatively dice-driven… or spend a little longer and create cool cinematic vignettes. With downtime, you can create stories that take the DM and players far beyond the confines of most adventures and even most campaigns.
The key to downtime is understanding what the rules provide and how to use them effectively. More on this next time!
In the meantime, let me know in the comments: How is downtime working for you? What aspects of downtime work well or work poorly for you? Do you have any questions or want to see specific downtime topics covered in this series?