“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” – Jack Torrance, The Shining
Downtime is an important part of everyone’s life. You can’t keep going on the road or working without eventually having the need to slow down. Just like you need to take time to smell the roses and goof-off for a while, so does your character. But one thing that is often struggled with, is how to handle downtime in both a fun and meaningful way. Let’s take our first steps to finding out.
Things to do – Players
Players will first need to think of things to do, and the first thing that should jump into their minds is their character’s hobbies. If you don’t have a good hobby try finding PC hobbies that don’t suck. Hobbies can grow as the campaign goes on, giving something somewhat consistent for the characters to do when they get downtime.
If you’ve just recently entered into a City, think of what you haven’t been able to do since you’ve been on the road. Shopping, bartering, fine-dining, and socializing with new people have all been unattainable for the recent past. Everyone needs to enjoy the finer things in life every once in a while.
Think of projects for your character. This could be crafting, repairing your wagon, learning a new language, or researching for the creation of a new spell. This can be a goal that is long-running, or an immediate flight of fancy.
At this point, your character is likely looking for something easy to do, to take the edge off. Don’t discount goofing-off with other party members. There’s nothing like reminiscing with a PC about that time you got kicked out of the pub for picking a fight with a bar stool.
How much time to spend
As the Game Master, you’re the secret glue that can make-or-break downtime. Downtime is a delicate balancing act of time management. More often than not, both you and your characters will want to spend more time on adventuring than downtime. But downtime can be an important factor in PC Character Growth and can be some of the best stories that a group can have.
When I run downtime as a GM, I try to schedule 5 minutes per player for their downtime. If two player characters are grouping up, then I would double their time and give them 10 minutes as a pair (as opposed to 5 minutes each). However, keep this loose. If all of the players decide that something is fun and they want to turn it into a side-quest, let them. Just make sure that all of the players are included, you don’t want anyone sitting on the sidelines for an hour. That’s no fun.
Setup and Roll
To handle downtime, I first ask the players to decide what they would like to start doing. I then immediately ask for a roll, to determine what opportunities are available to them when they start their activities.
In my experience, this is the secret to effective downtime. Creating a small obstacle makes downtime feel more realistic, and actively engages the players. Regardless of the roll the player has, there should always be a complication of some kind. Something that the player has to resolve or figure out in the 5 minute period that you give them for their downtime. Their roll, however, should be taken into account for the complication. A player that rolled a Natural 1 when trying to buy magical items, may try to buy a counterfeit item, whereas rolling a Natural 20 my just have them encountering a weird shop owner.
Depending on the activity created, the roll may determine the outcome. For example, in crafting, rolling low may mean that you didn’t make too much progress on the creation of the item, whereas rolling high may mean that you are much closer to your goal. Other times, such as in the case of shopping, it may determine how difficult it is to get a good item, as opposed to whether or not you can get it at all.
In the end, engagement of everyone at the table is the ultimate goal in every event that takes place in Tabletop gaming. For downtime to truly be the most effective, it should create stories and help to expand the world or the players in some way.
What does your character do in their downtime?