Adventures in Downtiming

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

Downtime. It’s what adventurers do between mighty quests of derring-do and limb-endangerment. Anything from working at their profession, to carousing, to adventuring. It also lets the characters spend all the gold and riches they’ve acquired.

The activities available to characters in my game during downtime are based on 5E’s Downtime rules, but I added other options of significance to make it potentially just as fun and interesting as any other kind of activity at the gaming table. Based on our prior session, it appears to have worked well!

During your downtime you can work, study, research, craft, carouse, train, or adventure. Any of the options result in not just something potentially beneficial, but in needing to make rolls for something interesting.


Work is obvious: you perform a job. So you earn a living wage for that period. BUT you also make a contact or a rival.

Crafting is also pretty self-explanatory: you make something. A sword, armor, a magic ring, a turnip cart. Whatever.

Study, research, and training are similar activities, but apply to different things: you can gain knowledge of new languages or skills, learn or invent new spells or martial techniques, or improve your attribute scores, and requires finding and paying willing instructors. If you fail, you can try again, or you can do something else with the rest of your downtime.

Carousing is what it sounds like: making friends and influencing people. And lots of drinking. And recovering for the horrors of fighting monsters in moldering crypts. But it provides temporary reputation bonuses, good for hiring new Retainers or changing the locals’ opinions, and cultivates many new relationships — for good or ill.

Adventuring is the option I’m still working out.


Having an adventure (during your downtime) is a solitary activity per character. Any known NPC might be involved in some way, but generally not Retainers (unless that makes it more interesting and fun). Beyond that, it isn’t a group activity. Having an adventure also takes up a few months of downtime, which means other characters may not wish to wait before setting off on a new quest. Though that provides a good reason to swap out characters for a new or previously established one.

As to the adventuring itself: the player must describe a travel vignette wherein their character performs heroic feats of daring in distant lands by themselves, takes on a quest for a patron in return for a granted boon, or has a rousing, terrifying, and unplanned…well, adventure. There’s a chance of serious injury, of course — but not death. That’s no fun. Serious injury lays up the character for a couple additional months, and gives them an impressive scar.

You’re wondering what the point of downtime adventuring is?

The adventurer gets stuff: a new level, a new magic item, a significant relationship, an additional Background, or secret revelations. They can pick one, or roll randomly (which has its own potential benefit). I’ve been waffling on how, precisely, to determine the results of the adventure — for the last game, I ran it as “a new level, plus something else”, but I am thinking perhaps a level should be one of the choices instead, not an automatic, or the results should perhaps be entirely random.

Regardless, one thing I’m certain of: the player themselves must describe a travel vignette of their adventure or they just can’t use this option. It doesn’t have to be a twenty-paragraph micro-story. Basically, nothing longer than the kind of summary you’d find of a Conan story, something you could fit on a notecard: why you were involved, where you went, what danger you faced, what you found, or any other relevant information.

Two examples from our recent game:

  • Having heard of her battle-prowess, a nobleman contacted the elven princess’ alter-ego, an errant knight, requesting she retrieve a dragon’s scale from a cavern high in the dwarven mountains to the north. She found the lair and, with the stealth provided by her elven boots, crept inside, successfully stealing away a scale from the sleeping beast. She also found the remains of the fallen hero who had unsuccessfully attempted the task before her, along with his magical elven sword, which she took with her. Unfortunately, she broke her toe in a tumble coming down off the mountain.
  • The elven song-wizard became caught up in an investigation being conducted by her sister, a detective, and her sister’s client/business partner — a drunken, amnesiac mage. The investigation led to the discovery of a reptile cult in the underways and sewers of the city, and a battle against the were-crocodiles who had been terrorizing the people of the lower city. The two wizards enchanted a sword together to use against the shape-changers, and the three put an end to the cult’s activities in the city, though the song-wizard suffered a terrible bite from a crocodile upon her arm before the battle was done.

These were both pretty cool vignettes — one of them even tied directly back to previous sessions. Both the reptile cult and the source of the drunken mage’s amnesia were characters and plot elements of prior sessions, which ended up bringing the stories together. The players each picked a magic item as their adventuring reward, both of which ended up being enchanted swords (luckily, the song-wizard can use a sword; she had previously foregone a level of spell-casting ability in order to do so). They also both took serious injuries during their adventures.

Another character had considered going on an adventure to find the other piece of a broken staff previously discovered, but then decided against it, preferring to train one of their low attributes up so they would not suffer a penalty any longer. (The group’s new quest, of course, is seeking out the other piece of the staff.)


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