Running Downtime Sessions – Tips and Tricks – Volume 1
Volume 1: The Basics
In this new series, we will unearth the arcana of running downtime sessions. 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 can keep your players (and their characters) entertained till you all have the opportunity to adventure together again.
What is downtime and why it’s important?
So the latest chapter of your adventure has ended, the heroes uncovered another part of your plot and are inching one step closer to figuring out who the big bad evil is. One last thing to wrap up as you bag up your dice, when does everyone have time to play next?
Everyone syncs their calendars for the next session and it looks like it will be several weeks from now. A longer downtime is bittersweet, as nobody likes to wait too long to play again, but it gives the GM some time to really prepare for the next session, and the players will be talking about the awesome antics of this one for a while. But what will their characters be doing between sessions? Will they head to the local taverns to tell the tales of their adventures? Will they relax and learn a new skill? Surely they won’t spend time between adventures in some sort of stasis, these characters have a life of their own now. So what do they get up to when your gaming group isn’t gathered around your gaming table?
The GM knows that there will be several weeks until you all get together to play again, and according to the story they are telling they decide that about 2 months will pass for the characters. Everyone can discuss what their players will do at the end of this session, or the beginning of the next one. Perhaps a lot of changes happen in the city they’re staying in that the GM wants to detail.
This is, essentially, downtime. The time characters spend between adventures. There are multiple ways to do this matching your gaming style: from quick rolls to short one-on-one game sessions, from simple question-and-answer style to an elaborate flow-based approach. Different styles will fit different groups, but one thing is clear, keeping characters involved with the world they inhabit between adventures will enrich everyone’s experience to the overall adventure. So let’s explore how you can best use this in your gaming group.
A Downtime Session is a set time spent between adventures, where characters can pursue other interests and opportunities aside from adventuring.
Downtime will have an in-setting length of time that characters can take advantage of, and typically a real-world length of time that is often just the time between games. Downtime for characters in the setting can be days, or even years if it fits the story.
When establishing a downtime session there should be some parameters as to what characters can engage in. Imagine that you are in the jungle, and the characters will be walking overland, uninterrupted for 2 weeks. It is unlikely that they have access to a forge, so crafting metal-based armor or weapons is out of the question. Mind the location of the downtime session and the availability of options for the characters! Then figure out what they can and cannot do!
The activities themselves which the players can choose are nearly endless in their options. Benign activities such as tending to your owned land, or crafting an item, to the fantastic such as conducting a complicated ritual and everything in between are in play when characters have time to kill.
Here’s a shortlist of potential downtime Categories. this is by no means comprehensive, and many activities that player characters may choose from will not have direct rules references available. As with most TTRPGs, it’s up to the players and the GM to come to an agreement on what best fits the campaign, including coming up with something incredibly specific to the character’s situation.
|Acquire Land||Spend the required resources to acquire deeds or lands directly.|
|Breed Animal||Start a horseracing team, a successful dog kennel, or breed the ultimate prize-winning Holstein Friesians.|
|Brew Potion||Brew some potions that could potentially save your life using your alchemical skills.|
|Cast Ritual||Lock yourself in your tower with candles and summoning circles to cast that days-long spell you always wanted!|
|Construct Building||Build a tavern, a tower, a castle, a farm, or a manor on your land.|
|Craft Weapon||Use your proficiencies and skills to create different kind of weapons.|
|Craft Armor||Dedicate your time to craft an armor for yourself.|
|Craft Magic Weapon||Imbue the weapons with magic so you can better fight monsters.|
|Craft Magic Armor||Imbue your armor with magic so you are better protected against said monsters.|
|Craft Rod, Staff, or Wand||Use the best of your magical abilities to create formidable sorcerous tools.|
|Craft Ring||Store useful magics in carefully forged rings.|
|Craft Wondrous Item||Create special items to further increase your powers.|
|Create New Spell||Spend time in your wizard lab and experiment with that new spell of yours.|
|Get Follower||Everyone can use an extra pair of hands, whether it is a maid, a butler or a loyal henchman.|
|Learn Language||Extend your knowledge and learn a new language.|
|Learn Feat||Learn a new trick and make yourself more formidable!|
|Learn Proficiency||Learn to use tools so you can craft and create!|
|Learn Wizard Spell||Wizards learn new spells by reading arcane texts and experimenting with casting.|
|Religious-Activity||Help the deities by giving away food, cleaning the shrine, tend to the sick or elderly.|
|Scribe Scroll||Use your time to put your magic on paper.|
|Train Ability||Train and practice. Become smarter, stronger, faster and more charming! Increase a chosen ability value.|
|Train Skill||Hone your skills to perfection by practicing in your free time. Increase the chosen skill value.|
|Miscellaneous||Whatever doesn’t fit into the categories above.|
Most downtime activities have some sort of requirements that the character must meet. This requirement can be a simple monetary cost of acquiring an item, a minimal character level, or something with multiple conditions that must be met such as gathering together all the required elements to craft a magical item. The core rulebooks have some basic information on similar requirements and you can set your own making these activities simpler or more thorough to fit the setting. Like everything else, make sure the players and GM are on the same page about the task and requirements for success!
Every downtime activity has costs. At a minimum, they have cost as time typically tracked with the number of days the character needs to spend with the given activity. Admittedly some activities such as Scribing a Scroll take less time, while others such as building a castle can take years!
They can have costs in coins, meaning the amount of money needed to perform that action. You need to buy raw materials, parts or ingredients, pay the rental of the forge, and so on.
And they can have costs as items required for the activity like a special black candle that is needed for a 3-weeks-long summoning ritual. If readily available items can be simplified into a monetary cost but you might want to consider include items in the cost list as well.
And finally, after the downtime activity is concluded the player receives their rewards. Did they finish crafting that new Great Sword? Or did they spend their time becoming proficient in a new skill? As mentioned previously, it can really be anything. Just keep it balanced with the requirements and costs, and when the downtime session is over, the character has something to show for their hard work!
In Volume #2, we’ll delve into the details about how to run a Downtime Session! We’ll discover the options and the possibilities and we will share some best practices. Volume #2 will be out next Friday!