Downtime in D&D is reduced to a role or just ignored at times. This is a huge missed opportunity and I will show you why.
Downtime in D&D is a time where characters can express themselves, further the plot, create new things, and enhance your game.
For these reasons, downtime shouldn’t be ignored. I will show you how different applications can help your game just like it has helped my games.
How to use downtime
Downtime in D&D is a breather. The players have just fought a giant battle and need to take some time to cool down and re-supply. The group is in need of some time to get affairs in order. Whatever gives the players a moment to breathe and not be forced to do something involving the plot is considered downtime.
The question then is, what do you do? What do you do to make downtime interesting? Most players desire some action or plot to keep them entertained and downtime is the exact opposite of that so what do you do?
This is where you need to change the question from ‘what can I do?’ to ‘What am I now able to do?’
This changes the idea of downtime from a negative thing to a positive event. Now players can do everything that they have wanted to do.
Shopping, personal relationships, research, attending to affairs that the players have been looking forward to, and these are only some of the opportunities that you have to work with.
Your players get the opportunity to do whatever they want. This is where you can encourage character growth and further the overall plot through player actions.
After all, only murderhobos or workaholics go from place to place without a thought for respite.
Downtime in D&D is an opportunity that lets just about anything happen, but you want to learn about is how to utilize it. How do you make downtime extremely interesting?
Making downtime interesting
Players will want to do things in downtime and will have an end goal. These goals might not be as grand as slaying a dragon or freeing a kingdom, but they have an objective in mind. The objective might be something as simple as shopping, but once you know the objective you can make something interesting happen.
If a player is just going to go get potions many dungeon masters tell the players to roll an investigate or just find the shop.
If you can, never let downtime in D&D be simplified to a single roll.
A single roll makes downtime not important and conveys to the player that this is at best a chore. Get it over with so we can get onto the next important thing because what you are doing right now is not fun. Don’t let a single roll be all that is involved in downtime!
If a player is trying to find a potion shop then yes have them roll but describe what they see in the city. Tell them about the state of affairs, what they see, and possibly a few random encounters. Make a potion vendor appear in an alleyway as an extra option. Give that wierd vibe to the players and let them get to know this character.
If you give extra opportunities like these players now have the ability to further the plot. They can find out through this shady potion merchant about the black market. Finding the black market can lead to future quests, furthering the plot, or at worst just expanding the world.
Eventually, the players will come to their goal, but reducing all that down to a roll would deprive the players of an opportunity to make a contact, further the plot, and expand the world.
You can always add opportunities to roleplay and have a more interesting time in downtime activities. If your players are only focused on completing their given task and don’t want to be sidetracked, there is still more that you can do.
You have gone shopping before. Most of the time, you are able to find what you need without issue but sometimes there are problems.
Players might be pickpocketed, fawned over, or just unable to find what they are looking for.
When an obstacle happens it is an opportunity to enhance the world and create more options for the players. Why are the players not able to accomplish their given task?
If a wizard is trying to research a new spell but is unable to do so, why? Do they need to get a bigger library? This leads to finding others with the resources needed and getting quests or becoming friends with an NPC. A player might decide that they need their own library instead of befriending NPCs and wants to learn what it will take to make a wizard tower.
These obstacles end up creating adventures themselves. How would a wizard get a permit to get a wizard tower and how would he procure all those books? Does he need to become part of a guild, do quests, become prominent in the town or what?
If the players have to become prominent in the town it also would encourage them to have a home. This allows you to introduce many plot points that the players will be interested in. Introducing a home is one of the main ways to stop your players from becoming murder hobos.
These obstacles don’t have to be a chore for the players to overcome. They can be much more than just another bad guy or tax form.
An obstacle for your players can be a person who doesn’t want to sell the players an item that they want. There is a reason why the NPC doesn’t want to sell an item to the players, and this makes the players interested. They will go out of their way to find out more about the person (most of the time) instead of trying to steal the desired item.
As an alternative, your players might want to get an item but find out that it is being auctioned. The players can learn about society this way and other factions that have interests in adventuring items. Players can also make enemies or friends at these events.
Both methods that I have mentioned have 1 thing in common.
There is more to your world, and each obstacle shows that.
These obstacles show your players that the world does not literally revolve around them. They are the center of the story being told, but the world could run without them. This gives the best results since players become more cautious and have a greater interest to learn about the world around them.
Not every obstacle needs to be based on worldbuilding. Some obstacles can be interesting through roleplay and comedy.
Your players might want an obscure item that only a crazy person would have. If this is the case, you can make the only person who sells those items comical. Crazy NPCs is one way to make comedy, but that NPC can have a few interesting quirks that draw the players to them. This might include enthused, odd in a relatable way, or just interesting.
Obstacles can be more than just a pain for your players to overcome, There are some weird downtime objectives that are not listed.
Odd downtime activities
There are downtime activities listed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) like training for skills and languages, but there are many other activities that are not listed.
1 such activity is research.
How long and how much money should it take to research a new spell? This can be for creating an entirely new spell or just learning a spell that already exists in-game. Either way, you look at it, there is no clear cut way to solve this issue in the rules. So you have to make up a solution.
There are 2 ways to make a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist in the rules.
- Use the rules to come up with a solution.
- Make up a rule.
If you use option 1 it will take some time, but you can find out an answer that will satisfy players and give them a template going forward with minimal repercussions.
If you use option 2, you can get by the issue quickly but it will lead to confusion later if brought up. You have no notes to solidify what you said and you will probably not remember how you came to that conclusion. That being said, let’s look at what it would take to look at the rules and come up with a solution.
First, you must figure out how much spells would cost on a per level basis. You can do that your own way or look up some information on a forum or reddit post. Here is a reddit post for 5e that gives some information on spell cost, and it goes by scroll rarity. You can figure this out by looking at the DMG as well.
The second thing you must do is figure out the downtime required in order to make the spell and how much that will cost. There is no information to go off of how much this will cost in 5e so you would have to look towards previous versions for guidance and adjust the cost to fit 5e standards.
The second part will always be guesswork, and this is why I suggest always making things cost more and take less time. If a wizard needs to spend 187 days to research a 6th level spell your players will not do so. Instead, make the price double what it is to copy a scroll and something simple like 10 days per spell level.
This solution is a hybrid solution of 1 and 2. I made it up on the spot and it is simple enough to calculate based on previous numbers that I acquired through spell scroll cost.
You can use option 1, 2, or a combination to come up with a solution to when players make a non-standard downtime request. Just pick the method that works best for you and try to never say no.
Saying yes instead of no
Many dungeon masters have learned to say yes or you can try instead of telling the players no. The reason why this rule came about is not just stupid dungeon tests like asking if a player can lick the ceiling but through downtime.
Dungeon masters sometimes don’t know how to respond to players’ weird suggestions and tell them to make a singular role or just say no to the player’s ideas.
In short, you always want to let your players try their stupid ideas instead of shutting them down. I will keep this section short since this is basic and most dungeon masters know about this.
Something that dungeon masters don’t take the opportunity of using downtime for is to create new mechanics.
We talked about how in odd downtime activities you can make new systems up or use research to address odd downtime activities. This is one way of making new mechanics.
New mechanics should never be introduced in a fight or when it will be detrimental to players if they do not understand them. New mechanics should be tested and introduced to players in a low or no risk situation.
We have rulebooks for just about everything, but dungeon masters might want to add something new to their world. A great example of this is the time on dynamite.
There is no in-game statistic on how long dynamite takes to detonate, but a dungeon might have dynamite in it. That dungeon might even have timed dynamite that will go off and destroy parts of the dungeon.
This is a cool idea, but it would be improved if the players knew how long dynamite took to detonate. In order to solve this issue, you can introduce a fair game and have the players guess how long it takes for a dud to ‘detonate.’ If they played this game and liked it, they will have an idea on how long it will take for the dynamite to detonate.
These new mechanics can make your players look smart, appreciate their past downtime, and realize that everything in the world is connected/has a purpose even if it was just made up on the spot.
You always want to look good after all.
Downtime activities do not have to just be boring 1 roll activities. Downtime activities also do not have to be a chore. You can make downtime activities fun and entertaining for you and your entire group.
Downtime in D&D is extremely important. Every game has it and needs it. Your group is no exception, and downtime in D&D can be used to enhance your game. Build the world, create plot hooks, or invest your players into the world/game that you are in.
Downtime is a wonderful time to enhance your game. I hope that you use downtime to improve your game instead of just skip it as fast as possible.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!