Running Downtime Sessions – Tips and Tricks – Volume 4
Volume 4: how to run downtime sessions effectively
In this series, we are unearthing the arcana of managing downtime sessions and activities in your campaigns. Downtime sessions are those that detail the between adventure activities that the characters get up to. Forging weapons, acquiring lands, or any of countless options. In each article, we’ll offer up some exciting tips and tricks, dos and don’ts, and help you expand this often-overlooked activity of the TTRPG. With well-thought-out downtime activities, you’ll be able to use the Downtime Manager app to keep your players (and their characters) entertained until you all have the opportunity to adventure together again.
This is the fourth article in our Running Downtime Sessions series. You can check out the others in the series here:
In the first three articles we’ve covered the basics of Downtime Sessions. We spoke about different session styles, how to insert downtime sessions into the game flow and how to plan the actions. If you’re yet to check those out, please give them a look.
This fourth installment of the series will talk more in depth about running a downtime session, and go over some of the tools at your disposal with some tips on how to use them.
Running a Short Additional Downtime Session
Nothing beats a good in-person session. You sit down with the players, preferably one-on-one when running a downtime session and dedicate an appropriate amount of time for them to roleplay or just to discuss their character’s goals. They explain to you what they would like to do, you react and tell them what is going to happen. It’s like a regular tabletop RPG session, but focusing on non-adventuring activities. Just because there isn’t a lot of action doesn’t mean it has to be dry, however. These types of player and DM interactions can go a long way towards developing the character and the world in which they live.
While in person sessions are the best option, it’s hard enough to keep your group on schedule to play as it is. Add scheduling another session on top of that and you’re asking a lot not only of the players, but of yourself as the DM. As for the writer of this article, myself and our whole gaming group have careers, families, there are already many scheduling conflicts that keep our game sessions few and far between. We know we’re not alone. The struggle is real.
We all wish we could play more often, longer sessions. We want to keep playing our characters, or for DMs introducing players to the worlds you’ve created. But when the game ends, due to a chapter in the adventure coming to a close, or just because of the clock we’re all left with that feeling of longing for more. The books are closed, the Zoom call is ended, the dice are gathered. When do we play next? Ideally, this option would work for everybody, but life gets in the way sometimes.
Just Tack It On
We could phone in the downtime between game sessions and just say, “Next session you’ll have learned that new skill.” or use random tables provided in the Dungeon Master’s Guide or one of many supplements. And while this saves time and can be achieved at the end or beginning of a session it doesn’t add anything to the experience of Roleplaying that we all love. If we wanted to just crunch numbers we’d stay at work!
There are a lot of great random tables, and there is a time and a place to use them all. The savvy DM will implement them into their campaigns seamlessly, but when faced with an activity that is more about telling the story of a character and immersing them in the world these can often come across as hollow.
So go ahead and use the random tables if you’re really pressed for time, or you need some ideas on the fly. If you can’t meet one on one with the players in character and you’d rather not bog down what little time you already have to play this is a fine option. It’s obvious we don’t care for this option, which is why we’re developed the Downtime Manager app to solve both the issues of time allocation, and player interaction.
Proficient In Tools
A simple tool – like the Downtime Manager 2.0 application – can make it easy for both the players and the DM to manage the downtime sessions effectively while respecting everyone’s schedule and keeping players immersed. We call this the “Flow-based session”, see the second article in the series.
Downtime Manager 2.0 links in-game downtime duration to real-life time. Why? Because we think that besides giving characters rewards for the tasks they did, it is equally important to keep the player and the DM invested and entertained between gaming sessions. If your group plays once every two weeks, make the downtime session last for two weeks of real-world time. It doesn’t matter if one day or one year passes in your game world, your players will be able to interact with their character’s activities, the DM, and one another while staying integrated in the game you are all playing.
By proportioning the in-game and real-life times, the pace of downtime sessions is the same for the player and for the character. This way, the downtime session ends precisely when the next game starts!
Here’s an overview of how to go about using Downtime Manager in your gaming group! We have some additional details on these in previous articles.
- First, decide how much time the characters will have in-world. Are they hanging out around town for a week? Are they traveling cross country for a month? Whatever the time between the next action in your campaign is, you set it here.
- How long until the next session where you’ll all be playing? Do you play every 2 weeks? Are you only able to meet a couple times a year (like us)? This is how long the players have to interact with their character’s downtime activities. We strongly recommend making this duration the time between gaming sessions.
- Next, select what downtime activities are available to the characters. If they’re traveling on a boat for a week it’s unlikely they’re going to have access to a forge, but they could work on skills, proficiencies, learning spells, etc.
- Once the DM has the Downtime Session set up, players will select the available activities they wish to participate in depending on their personal goals, and current resources if they’re required.
Players will even be able to coordinate certain activities with one another, pooling skills and resources. A character can even begin activities that they won’t be able to finish in a single downtime session. Collaborative and Spanning Downtime Activities will be detailed in future articles. The best part about all of this, is that players and the DM can communicate directly in the app’s chat function, adding additional activities, or just staying in character.
Using this continuous or flow-based approach, your gaming group can keep the game going in just a few minutes a day. Check in on the progress of the castle your character is building, or respond to a notification sent by the DM or another player’s request to help on their activity. This simple tool has a high encumbrance for keeping everyone invested and looking forward to the rewards and the next time they can play their characters together.
In article number five we’ll talk about Asynchronous Storytelling. How can you keep a player engaged if being present at the same time is not an option?