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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Downtime

I posted a new youtube video - episode 5 of the great modron march. It's NSFW. 

Today I am going to write about downtime, the system of between-adventure rules created for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. It's a simple set of guidelines designed to help you run your campaign when the heroes are between adventures.

I love downtime. My sessions are probably half spent in downtime. To me, the idea of the heroes going out to get drunk or starting a business is just as much fun as going on a dungeon crawl. The point of this article is to be a simple reference. The downtime rules are spread between two books, which is a little unwieldy. I want it all on one sheet so I don't have to do a lot of page flipping.

I also want to throw out some ideas for expansion, and discuss the potential perils or usability of some of these concepts. I also think some of the downtime ideas are great but are easily overlooked. I'd like to shine a light on them, as they will most definitely enrich your campaign.

Read About Downtime

Obviously I'm only giving an overview in this article. You'll need to refer to the books to get all the rules details. Downtime is discussed in two places:
  • Player's Handbook page 188
  • DMG page 127
Lifestyle: Downtime is frequently tied to "lifestyles", which is the concept of a hero paying a certain amount of money to maintain a style of living. Lifestyles are covered on page 157 of the Player's Handbook. Living a modest lifestyle costs 1 gp per day.

General Downtime Rules: Each activity requires a certain number of days to complete before you gain any benefit. At least 8 hours per day muse be spent on the activity.


You can make non-magical objects. You'll need appropriate tools, usually artisan tools. For each day of downtime you spend crafting, you can craft one or more items worth a total of 5 gold. You'll need to expend raw materials worth half the total market value. So basically you'll be spending 2.5 gold to make a 5 gold item. While crafting, you can live a modest lifestyle without having to pay the cost.

Armor would take a long time to craft. In the book, it gives the example of crafting plate mail. It takes 300 days to make by yourself!

Making leather armor (10 gp) or a shield (10 gp) might work out OK. Or maybe you could make chain shirts (50 gp). The thing about making armor, though, is that you're likely to kill dozens of people on your adventures. You can just take their armor, clean it up and sell it!

Being a bookbinder might be really cool. You could make spell books out of the weird stuff you find on adventures. You could have a book with a cover made of dragon scales, for example.

Practicing a Profession

Get a job! You can live a modest lifestyle while doing this. "Jobs" suggested in the book include:
  • Working at a temple (good for clerics or paladins)
  • Operating as part of a thieves guild (rogues)
Other ones that I can think of:

Fighter: Joining the town guard/militia.
Wizard: Working as a counsel to a local mayor.
Ranger: Working in a stable.
Rogue: A locksmith. How dastardly is that?

Gary Gygax's Book of Names has a nice list of professions on page 163. I am going to pick out the ones that seem the most fun to me:

Shepherd, fisher, "goat boy" (?), "goose girl" (?!?), bailiff, executioner, judge, bowyer, doctor, sage, dancer, jester (the book lists THREE subtypes - buffoon, fool and harlequin), baker, gypsy and crone.

I have no idea what job a crone does, but that seems like a fun character. A gypsy or an executioner sound full of possibilities, too.


After three days of downtime, you can make a DC 15 Constitution save to end an effect that is preventing you from regaining hit points, or for the next 24 hours you have advantage on saves vs one disease or poison affecting you.

I have never seen this come up in 5e.


This one is left largely in the hands of the DM. It could take days, it could include Intelligence (Investigation) checks, and you might need to seek out specific individuals or tomes. It also costs one gold per day to cover expenses.

This is a pretty cool idea that I think is being overlooked a bit in 5e. Most stuff that could require research is sort of handled with a simple skill check. Research is a nice way to have a bit of time pass and make the acquisition of knowledge something that takes a bit of an investment.

One thing that happened in my 4e games is that what skills could do became so abstract and broad that it covered too much ground. There was never a concrete feeling of what one could and couldn't do with certain skills, especially arcana.

I'd say you should go out of your way to put research in your campaign every once in a while. Travel to a certain library in a certain city, track down a dusty tome that needs to be translated, interview an entity through a magic censer. That just feels like a lot more fun than making a simple skill check. It also opens up opportunities for your players to do fun stuff in a town that could lead to some hilarious unforeseen circumstances.

Also, I'd like to see someone work out a sub-section of researching, where a wizard creates a magic circle and summons a demon to be questioned. There's actually a pretty detailed system for this in (I think) The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

Gaining Renown

This one is for improving your standing in an organization (such as the Harpers or the Zhentarim in the Forgotten Realms, or maybe the Sensates in Planescape). Renown is explained on page 22 of the DMG, as an optional rule. As you gain renown, you rise in rank and you gain access to perks. You might have access to a safe house or get discounts on adventuring gear. Higher ranking heroes might be able to call on a small army or gain the aid of a powerful spellcaster.

To gain renown, you take on minor tasks and socialize with members. After doing this for a combined number of days equal to your current renown multiplied by 10, your renown increases by one. I think I should be putting this to use in my Planescape campaign.


This is meant to be a way for a hero to acquire a new proficiency, or to learn a new language. You must find an instructor and ability checks may be required. The training lasts for 250 days! And it costs one gold per day.

I just can't see this coming into play much. How many campaigns cover 250 days in game? And how many of them will have so much off-time that you'll be able to learn a single language?

If you have a campaign that stretches 9 months, chances are that the heroes will be fairly high level and will have magic that will give them access to whatever language they need.

Now we're getting into the Dungeon Master's Guide stuff.

Building A Stronghold

You will need a plot of land and if it's in a kingdom, you'll need a royal charter, land grant or a deed. These things are given as a reward, or inherited, or bought. Buying a deed costs anywhere from 100 gold to over 5,000 gold.

We get a sweet table that breaks down how long building different types of places takes, and how much it costs. This chart assumes the hero is there to oversee the whole thing. If the hero is off adventuring, construction takes three times as long!

A castle takes over four years to build!


This is my favorite of all the downtime activities. Most of my adventures involve some level of carousing, and rolls on the epic carousing chart on page 128 of the DMG.

Your character chooses how many days are spent carousing (drinking, gambling and getting up to all sorts of shenanigans). You roll a d100 on the carousing chart. The worst result puts you in jail. The best means you win a fortune in gambling.

Crafting a Magic Item

The creator must be a spellcaster with spell slots, and the character will need to have a specific formula in order to create that particular magic item. The character should be able to cast any spells that the item can produce.

The higher level you are, the more powerful item you can craft (see the chart). Each item has a value in gold. One day makes progress in 25 gold increments. So, making an item that costs 100 gold would take four days of work.

While crafting, you can maintain a modest lifestyle for free.

This one is a little tricky. I would say that the best way for a hero to obtain a magic item formula would be in a slain enemy's spell book. Or it could be a book found in an ancient library or dungeon. Handing out a magic item formula isn't exactly the top priority when a DM is figuring out treasure, but it's pretty fun and it seems like something wizards should do.

I'm half-tempted to say there should be a skill check involved. Roll low and the item comes out cursed or defective. Roll high and it is super-charged somehow. I suppose players would hate the idea of spending all that time and money to end up with a faulty item, though.

Performing Sacred Rites

Basically, you pray for 10 days and gain inspiration at the start of each day for the next 2d6 days.

In my experience, inspiration is a rule that just doesn't stick. Players always forget about it, even when the DM tries to promote it. It's weird, because you'd think the players would be all over something that gives them advantage. But the ways to obtain it are a bit vague and it just feels a little wrong somehow. I think we need more concrete rules for it, like it can only be used once per session or something.

Running a Business

If I was a player, I'd be all over this one! The DM will have to handle how the heroes acquire the business (the book suggests that the heroes get a farm or tavern as a reward). You roll a d100 and add the number of downtime days spent on this activity by 30. Check the chart on page 129.

The lowest result means you must pay 1.5 times the business's maintenance cost for each day. The best result is gaining a profit of 3d10x5 gp. Seems a little low, doesn't it?

Selling Magic Items

This will probably come up with almost every group at some point, when they find an item they don't need or they don't want. Potions in particular seem to sit in backpacks, completely forgotten.

To sell an item, you make a DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check to find a buyer. Fail means no buyer is found for 10 days. Success means you roll on the chart on page 130.

The higher the roll, the more money the buyer offers.

Sowing Rumors

This is an odd one. You spend 1 gold per day to cover the cost of drinks. At the end of your gossipy rampage, you make a DC 15 Charisma (Deception or Persuasion) check. Success means the community's attitude toward the subject shifts one step toward friendly or hostile.

There's a little chart that shows how much time is required. A village requires 2d6 days to get a rumor going. A city needs 6d6 days.

I can see players with too much downtime on their hands spreading rumors about each other just for kicks.

Training to Gain Levels

This is a variant rule. Once you gain enough XP to level, you don't actually gain the level until you train. There's a table to show how much time it takes and what the cost is. It takes 10 days and 20 gold to hit 3rd level. It takes 40 days and 80 gold to hit 17th level.

The training rules seem cool, but I've never tried it. Players generally hate the idea, as it seems like a way for the DM to really stick it to them. They put all of that work into hitting the next level, and now they still don't get the benefits until they jump through more hoops.

I think if you are cool about it, you could get some fun stuff out of this. I sure wouldn't have the town be under attack while the heroes are training. But you could cook up some cool mentors and teacher-types, and run some fun training montages. You could make fellow trainees, either rivals or love interests.



Mason said...

Regarding inspiration - in my 4E group, we had a longstanding incentive for good role-playing. When someone did something that made everyone else laugh (in the flavor of the game) or that was just simply awesome, they got to "reach into the bag". I had a bag full of plastic poker chips I'd picked up at the dollar store and written on with a sharpie. They either had +1, +2, or something to that effect - allowing them to be used during the ever present combats of 4E. I even included some high value ones like 2x Damage that my players loved to stack up (and if they're having fun with it, who cares if they go combo-breaker). I usually made them use the tokens in the same session as well.
So in the case of inspiration - a physical reminder, an inspiration token - would probably help players remember to use it.

Unknown said...

As an Entertainer bard, I have roof, food and clothes from the tavern i am playing in. I am going to stay in Baldur´s gate for a week, so I am promoting myself in the major plaza, announcing my show there (marketing!) Since downtime activities focus on spending money not earning it, I want to know how much money can I expect from these performances (hoping the dice gods smile upon me). From prestidigitation to tumbling, I am going to create a memorable show for these six or seven days in a major tavern in a major town. So let´s talk numbers: How much can I get from it?

Andre Michael Pietroschek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andre Michael Pietroschek said...

I don't know, if it can help you. Still I crafted my own homebrew chart, when we stopped playing Birthright Campaign Setting. It gives minor examples of operating buildings, alike a D&D version of 'The Guild' PC game series added to regular characters and strongholds...

On demand check:

Oh, and 1st edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay did order the professions under the four base classes, giving more extensive examples, IF you need them...

Plus: and are working on fifth edition for their own, interesting background worlds and settings, too.