when adventurers aren’t adventuring

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:

  • Craft an item, such as a suit of plate armor or a sword
  • Take a job or practice a craft to earn money
  • Study or practice a craft to become better at it
  • Develop social connections and alliances
  • Build, create, and/or manage a castle, business, temple, or similar institution
  • Manage your followers
  • Raise an army

    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.

  • 10 Responses to “when adventurers aren’t adventuring”

    1. Rory Rory says:

      I like this approach because it may codify a lot of things I do ad hoc in my campaigns. From time to time, I’ll have a few months pass in the campaign world and let the players make some rolls to determine what they accomplish during their downtime, but I either resort to vague plot bonuses or mini-games that I made up. Having a set of fun rules that are integrated into the system and give enough flexibility to take a few different paths would be great.

    2. Jason says:

      I’m a big fan of the post as well. I’ve become very interested in downtime in D&D since playing The One Ring, and I’m pleased to see it’s in the mix now.

    3. GURPS 3e had a index card-sized form where a player could schedule his down time. Studying, building, training, working, etc. Very useful and I’ve used it for other games.


    4. I’m sure you’ve seen this also. I’m getting pretty excited about this new element of gameplay – like you, it’s a topic I’ve blogged about intermittently over the years. =)

    5. Sean Holland says:

      Downtime use can be a lot of fun.

      My halfling in the AD&D campaign we are playing in owns a bakery (partly as a front for her planned thieves’ guild but also Bakery!), so I am entirely down with the pizzeria team in your campaign.

    6. paul says:

      Outsource your dough?

    7. Rory(different Rory says:

      Interesting that mearls brought this article out at the same time Paizo released their “Ultimate Campaign” books, which has EXACTLY this subsystem included (it makes up the better part of the book.).

      Looks like Paizo got there first, and did a bang up job of it.
      Not just castle building – thngs like buying and running an inn – without tedious paperwork – you can go as grand or as small as you want.


    8. KevinS says:

      Its been a while since D&D Next brought out something new to make me excited about buying it! Sounds like a winner!

    9. BrendanT says:

      I’m wondering how I’ll like this in D&D, I guess that will depend on how the actual rules turn out. I do know that I love the system for downtime in Ars Magica. It makes it possible to play out the lifetime of your characters in a reasonable amount of time.

    10. […] Playing Games (blog of holding) when adventurers aren’t adventuring – “In old editions, money is for getting XP, and for paying the exorbitant expenses […]

    Leave a Reply