D&D 5e Basic was released a few days ago, and it is packed with 110 pages of great information, including full line ups of the common races and classes. What I am most excited about, however, are the rules for lifestyle and downtime! Some version of these types of rules probably existed in earlier editions, but as someone who primarily played 3.5 and 4e, I really missed not having them. I love subsystems that give a little structure to life outside of adventures and give rewards and consequences to taking time off to pursue other goals (or just wait for the next adventure to roll around). Also, for a certain style of campaign it is very fun to put financial pressure on the PCs so they are always wondering how they are going to scratch together enough money to pay their rent and feed themselves (or suffer the consequences of the new rules for starving!).
Let’s explore our options to see what we have to work with:
- Wretched, Squalid, and Poor: These lifestyles are free or cheap, but the text does a pretty good job of outlining why they might not be a great idea for PCs who can afford to avoid them. The DM would be well advised to make day to day life tough for these characters, threatening them with thievery, intimidation, sickness, and occasional random acts as violence, especially for folks in the wretched and squalid tiers. In games I run, I will look for opportunities to bring in previous story hooks to challenge the PCs: maybe a rival sees an opportunity to send an assassin after a PC with no serious legal recourse, maybe a plague is threatening the city and the PC is particularly vulnerable, or maybe the PC finds some of their gear mysteriously vanished and for sale at a local fence who demands a favor for its return.
- Modest: This seems like the default choice and a good way to keep you head down at a reasonable upkeep. As a DM, if I see someone choosing a modest lifestyle, I take that to mean that they aren’t looking for too many complications during their downtime (good or bad), save for ones they bring on themselves.
- Comfortable and Wealthy: These lifestyles start to unlock additional perks: easy access to certain contacts, a way to impress people by throwing your weight around, and some significant measure of legal protection. As a DM, I’ll look for ways to give these PCs a little more privileged access to information and services. If they are looking to hire a ship, for example, perhaps they live two doors down from a sea captain’s family and already have an established relationship. If a wealthy PC wants an audience with the Duke, they won’t have much trouble getting one.
- Aristocratic: This is the kind of lifestyle that really pins the PC as a mover and a shaker. They can only maintain this lifestyle by putting out cold hard cash (as opposed to working a job, for example); clearly the PC wants to get involved in city and court intrigue at this level of play, and as a DM I will look for lots of opportunities to make their life more interesting (not always for the better), threatening them with people trying to swindle them, lackeys trying to profit off their success, and perhaps the occasional well-planned assassination. Of course, PCs can use their position to make a power grab for a town, city or even kingdom, and they can generally throw around their great wealth to command attention and respect.
Players have a lot of opportunities to bypass their lifestyle expenses during downtime. A breakdown from worst to best is below:
- Self-Sufficiency: If a PC devotes their downtime to living in the wilderness, they can maintain the equivalent of a poor lifestyle. I am not surprised that it is so tough for someone with no real survival skills to “live off the land”.
- Practicing a Profession: The trappings of town life comes with a few perks, allowing a PC to maintain a modest lifestyle. PCs must be either lucky or a cut above the usual chaff, since I assume SOME people in towns have poor lifestyles despite actively seeking work every day of their relatively short lives.
- Crafting: This one is a little special since it gives PCs the ability to actually craft stuff, but it also has the perk of allowing them to maintain a modest lifestyle (or half price on a comfortable one). All that is required is proficiency with artisan’s tools or a similar trade. Crafting non-magical gear is not really THAT impressive, but if you keep at it you could get some decent gear at half price, so that’s fun. Kind of cool that it presumably takes actual craftspeople in the D&D universe almost a year to craft a set of full plate. Truthfully, this one is most fun because it gives a glimpse into the logistics of the D&D world.
- Practicing a Profession (Member of Organization): Acolytes near their home temple and PCs who have acquired ties to an organization have it a little better, getting a comfortable lifestyle for free!
- Self-Sufficiency (Survival): Tied with #4, this affords you the wilderness equivalent of a comfortable lifestyle, which I assume includes a sweet log cabin if you want one. All you need is training in survival.
- Practicing a Profession (Performance): Wow, this one is really sweet, as it nets you a wealthy lifestyle. As performance is one of the less obviously useful skills for non-bards, it is nice to see a good reason to pick it up beyond the useful character justifications.
Of course, there are some options that don’t save you any money:
- Recuperating: I like that this takes 3 days and gives a pretty meaningful benefit (advantage on a saving throw). Without looking at all the different monsters it is tough to say for sure, but my sense is that people can be hit with diseases and afflictions that can be cured but might takes days or weeks to deal with. I know I’ve seen some of this stuff from previous editions, but truthfully I never used much of it in my game. With an option to make recuperating easier after a few days of rest, I suspect I’ll feel comfortable throwing that stuff at the PCs. Recuperating also ends one effect that stops you from regaining hit points; I don’t see anything that does that mentioned in the basic rules, but I assume monsters can cause those effects.
- Researching: This option is very fun and fits nicely with Paul’s recent suggestion that all the spells outside the basic rules require research or adventures to obtain. I like that the details are open ended, as coming up with a strict system for how long any piece of research would take strikes me as fairly difficult and open to potential abuse. As a DM, I’d rule that scholars almost always know exactly where to go or how to obtain a piece of information, bypassing the usual rolls or legwork and honing in directly on the source (even if that source is ultimately a dragon’s lair or infernal realm).
- Training: Whoah! Training is awesome. Sure, it takes 250 days and 250GP (and that’s after whatever rigamarole you have to go to in order to find an instructor), but from a realism and pure crunchiness standpoint, it is nice that there are obvious ways you can concretely improve your character without leveling.
Ultimately, I’d love to see a campaign where one player spends their downtime spending lots of money and engaging in courtly intrigue, another player spends it tracking down forgotten tomes of knowledge, while yet another player sleeps in the streets, avoiding thieves and muggers, while they learn the noble art of thievery. Super fun!