The more I read Mike Mearls’s latest column about downtime as a resource, the more I like it. (That’s not that surprising; I’ve suggested something similar in the past.)
Mike says that you will be able to spend weeks of downtime (and money) to do non-adventuring things. As examples, he offers:
This could provide a framework for a lot of things that have been left out of recent D&D editions. For instance, I’m excited about having official rules for castlebuilding.
Time-as-a-resource is something that old editions actually did quite well. As Mike Mornard has reminded us, Gygax said that “you cannot have a meaningful campaign without timekeeping.” You spent specific amounts of time and money on tasks like research and building. Returning to a similar system does allow a Gygaxian sort of campaign where everyone has a stable of characters, and specific characters drop in and out of adventures depending on their time commitments. That’s very different from how I’ve ever played, but it could be interesting to try.
As fun as that sounds, the thing that’s most intriguing about Mike’s suggestion is that it solves a couple of specific D&D problems I’ve had in my game.
What is money for? In old editions, money is for getting XP, and for paying the exorbitant expenses the DM levels in order to motivate the PCs to further adventures. In newer editions, money is for buying magic items to increase combat effectiveness. None of these are quite satisfactory to me. I can imagine that, in this system, money is used to vote on what kind of adventures you want to have. Investments in castles or in spy networks or in mystical research are all ways that the player can drive the campaign towards a destination of their choosing.
How do you balance combat vs noncombat abilities? I’ve often complained about the D&D feat system, which balances, say, learning a language vs. +1 to hit. I’d like noncombat/story resources to be drawn from a separate pool from combat abilities. I’m fine with feats and such as the combat pool, and I actually like time and money as the noncombat pool. The article doesn’t suggest this, but I’d like language-learning and similar skills to be part of the downtime system.
What to do with all these pizza toppings? These rules could address one immediate problem of crucial importance. In our weekly Isle of Dread game, the players have gotten it into their head that they want to start a pizzeria. Every herb they discover and every monster they kill is turned into pizza toppings. They’ve clearly voted for the next installment of the quest to involve commercial enterprise. I’d love to have a rules framework on which to hang the next adventure.