In a lot of campaigns both published and homebrewed, there comes a time in adventures that is free time to the players, perfect examples would be for D&D and Pathfinder. This is a time that players can get a look at your world and see the diverse cultures, people, and even events. It is commonly referred to as downtime. Downtime is a great tool to use for both the DM/GM and players. DM/GM’s can use this time to both show off the people of his created cities, the way the people see the players can be seen now as well. If they have just completed a long adventure that may have changed the need for guard’s presence is certain districts, or there is hallowed ground once again after extinguishing a curse that had been laid upon the land. It is also an effective way to foreshadow the next threat that is rising or can be used as a time for you to get the next story arc ready as your players start other activities not related to dungeon crawling or adventuring.
For the players, think of what your character may be interested in while they’re not fighting for their life or trying to outthink a clever foe. Don’t get me wrong, those times are indeed fun, but everyone needs time to relax or get started with ideas that their character maybe wanting to invest into. This is a wonderful time when your backgrounds will greatly be admired. Certain backgrounds are an easy path into downtime activities, and I highly suggest using them.
Are you connected with the criminal underbelly of the city your party has taken a keen too and placed their homestead? Now is a valuable time to get awarded with favors or perhaps get more contacts to expand with for the next call of danger. Were you once a Guild Artisan? Maybe it’s time to get back at your craft and show that you have indeed learned more and may get praised for your new-found work. Or this is the time you have been waiting for to start your guild, store, inn, or a tavern.
The best part about downtime is there are numerous resources you can have a full disposal to. For example, Pathfinder has the “Ultimate Campaign” book with chapters for both your DM/GM and yourself to utilize and use for any new buildings you want to build and own. It even has teams or employees you can use to run the building while away or oversee while there. This resource also includes possible events for most buildings that can start another adventure or just randomly happen that may benefit your building or negatively impact it.
For D&D, the best resource for Downtime activities would be in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. It also has a full chapter to help guide any DM/GM willing to undertake Downtime activities for their players. But also remember both resources can help either game. Pathfinder and D&D are very similar and can be used for each gameplay with adjustments. Always remember that the game is yours, you can change, mend or forget of things written in the rules of each and make it your own. That will sometimes make it for easier gameplay.
This is also an appropriate time to return anything you had to use for your adventure or pay back any debt your party owes. It is best to have a list of things to do for the party in case you or the others may forget about while saving the world, or taking it over, whichever is the case. Think of any favors that need to be redeemed or called on; these can also be led to open to your next adventure. A few other things you can do during this time is making magical items, potions, blacksmithing, animal breeding or training, running a business or temple, investing in other shops that your party has become acquainted too, paying your respects to any fallen comrades or family members, seeing the sovereign or council to inform them of your parties’ doings and successes and possible new threats. The list is endless depending on how enveloped your character and yourself are in the game. Most of these may also take time to do and run and may involve skill checks and more time to roleplay with which will help you see how your character is outside of combat.
The best part of downtime is how you can return to it. The larger projects that need in-game time to complete will be helpful for the DM/GM to get ready and prepared. Even if the idea is achieved quickly by the player, there is always a way to slow it down or make them take time for. Wanting a guild, for example, there is building time, costs, management, etc. If the player decides to buy an abandoned guild hall or other building it may take time to fix, refinish, remodel, etc. The best tool for this I have seen is, again, from Paizo’s Ultimate Campaign book for Pathfinder. It shows how the citizens of that city may view the character or party if they are trying to achieve everything quickly which is by basically throwing their gold at it. This is good for any DM/GM who may have given them either too much loot or to show how some currency may not be used in certain areas. Which this cannot be negative. Depending on some cities it may be beneficial to them, especially if they just came out of war or is having a tough time in general for multiple reasons. This may also prove to be a concern for the nobles or sovereign if the party is damping their efforts to keep the citizens under a firm grasp. This event they are following could indeed start a whole other arc to the campaign that could be a long growing problem that the players may not even see happening for some time to come, and that can start a city-based campaign so the other abilities from characters may be given the spotlight that is hard for them to use while exploring. Or challenges the characters that have no ties to the city, so the citizens offer no help. The events are endless.
Utilizing downtime in any game will cause any DM/GM a little more work and effort into the game. Do not be worried though, if you do not wish to get fully involved, or if you’re afraid of your players not coming back to the story you have spent most of your time working on, simply talk with them to see what their goal is. If it can fit into your story, then I would allow it to keep them and yourself happy, knowing you can use this to further your story and simply have a slight detour. Some activities may have the players trying to create a powerful magical item that will upset the balance within the party. You could simply not allow them to create such an item… Or you can use it to start an event within your story. A quick example would be, let’s say your players have found an ancient text on how to create a powerful weapon or artifact and they want to create it. They may or may not its full potential or purpose. If the word has gotten out what they are doing, or if some clever villain knew they had found the text could be waiting for them to create it so they can take it once it is completed.
Downtime is more than in-between adventure activities for your players. They can start another story or arc of the main story, a time to spend with the culture and ideas of your cities citizens, which could rally them to defend it that much more or cry when it has fallen. Downtime has always been a way for players to create and make their funds, loot, or rank among society or in tournaments. The best way to utilize downtime is to see it as a bigger picture, how does this building effect the city, or this player’s actions start within the city. Downtime is an effective way for those to come to a place and at some point, for the players to see happening in front of them. It shows the life of their created characters and how much their character has grown, enlightened, or corrupted. Before you start downtime, be sure to work with your DM/GM and players to see if what you want to do is acceptable and won’t hold the game still too long for the players that have an attention span of a Goblin. For the DM/GM’s I suggest allowing the players time to think of their downtime activities and have ideas prepared for such ventures. Remember, downtime is only another word for a chapter of the main story, or goal of the current arc. As DM/GM’s it’s our job to make sure our friends are having fun and at times challenging progress. Utilizing downtime is indeed, another adventure in itself.
This has been Coffee and Dice at Boggsimus Games; I’m Joshua Graham I will see you at the gaming table!