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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - Downtime Playtest

A few weeks ago, they posted a new version of the downtime rules right here. I tried it out with my Planescape players and I figure we'll go over these rules and see what we think. You can get the original carousing rules right here.

These rules don't really work for me, but I like a lot of the ideas.

It might work for you, though. I love downtime. Downtime is a huge part of some of my campaigns. For whatever reason, the most rich and enjoyable part of my sessions are the time that the group spends in town and I get to further all sorts of fun little side plots. Those sometimes grow into full adventures.

This set of rules is 14 pages long, but in most of these scenarios, really we're just making a couple of die rolls.

In the beginning, it talks about how this is a way to give players things to do between sessions. I've noticed that a lot of players don't want to do that. I'm sure many of you have tried resolving little things through email between sessions, and it takes so long to get one response that you never get anywhere.

I think that, in order for this to be something people want to participate in, it needs to be exciting. It needs to be a thing where, when you sit down together to play again, the players ask each other, "so what happened to you since last session?" and the player tells a funny story that has put their character in some amusing condition/situation or they obtained something new and cool. Or maybe they learned something that sheds new light on their goals and gives them either an advantage or direction that gets people excited.


These are downtime bad guys. You'll either use NPCs from your campaign, or, if none fit, make them up.

I think that it might be useful to draw from character backgrounds and incorporate them into downtime. I have found it really hard to work backgrounds into campaigns, because each player's background is so different. Players do get disappointed when their story that they came up with doesn't really get used, and this seems like a great way to utilize it.

It might be a good idea to have each player create one foil and one ally from their background. Then, you don't have to make them up. They're already made, and you know the player is interested in them, because they created them.

I think the foils should be more directly baked into the charts. It seems like a bit of work to fit them in with some of these downtime activities.


There is a 10% chance that there is a complication in your downtime task. There's tables for them. It seems like a lot of work was put in to something that is not going to happen very much. I think that there should always be a complication or  development. There should be good things, bad things, or interesting things. I think it should always take a logical step that surprises the player.

For example, with buying a magic item:
  • Good: The item has an extra power of some kind.
  • Neutral: Somebody else wants the item, and the seller will give it to the highest bidder. The player can try to negotiate with the other person, or undercut them. The other person might be somebody really cool, like a famous NPC or person with clout in the city. It could be the foil! Maybe they need the item for something really important, and they'll tell the character they'll give it to them for a discount once they've used it for what they need.
  • Bad: They have a whole list in this document already. Let's go with.. the seller is murdered before the sale.
This is my favorite, and it's always been my favorite. I love running sessions where the heroes are out to have a good time. There is so much you can do with it.

D&D tends to be very dark. There's a lot of killing. It is so refreshing to run a session fueled by joy. The quest for shenanigans! To me, that's really what D&D is about. Players love it and you can come up with all sorts of ridiculous events. Drinking contests, getting hit on, arm wrestling, gambling, drunken debauchery, you name it.

My group did this one. Bidam went carousing. He paid 500 gp to spend a week carousing in high class places, which, in the city of Sigil, is the Lady's Ward.

We actually rolled a complication. He promised to go on a quest, which I had to make up right there. It ended up being that Bidam promised someone he'd try to get the Lady of Pain to forgive Fell, the fallen dabus. This is a ridiculously difficult quest coupled by the fact that the group hates Fell.

Contacts: What this version of carousing comes down to is making a contact - an NPC ally. If you roll really low, you end up with an enemy. Roll high, make a friend.

It just wasn't enough. It's two rolls. Roll for a complication. Roll a skill check.

I mean, what happened over the week? Where did he go? What did he do? These rules don't cover any of that, it's up to me to make it up. I think you should roll for things that happen every single day of carousing. The way it is right now, it feels flat.

Crafting an Item

Making a magic item, that's cool, right? I've always loved the idea of it, but it has never really worked out in practice. I give my group magic item formulas but they don't really do anything with them. For a while, Theran was making and selling javelins of lightning, but the group's other businesses make much them much more money. I mean.. they have dwarves mining gems for them.

In this version of the rules, you need the right kit to make the item. As in, a herbalism kit, leatherworker's tools, etc. Right there, that's a hurdle. I think they should include an NPC for each of these things that the PC can hire. Most people are only proficient with one kit, it just seems like this isn't going to work. They just won't bother with it because it's already too much trouble.

You'll need ingredients, which involves dealing with a monster. That's cool. The more powerful the item, the more powerful the monster.

Theran was going to make a rope of climbing. I declared that he needed a hair of an annis hag, a monster from Volo's Guide to Monsters.

The heroes know a bunch of hags, so they had no trouble finding the location of an annis. They went to her hut and wow, annis hags are creepy. They skin babies! The group was appalled and a fight broke out. The hag bear-hugged the party's rogue sidekick and threw her through a table. Theran lightning-bolted the hag numerous times, pretty much destroying the hut and the hag. They plucked a hair from her.

Looking at the chart, if takes 5 workweeks to make this. It takes 100 workweeks to make a very rare item!

Too Long: To me, that just doesn't work. Most campaigns that I've seen don't take years in game time. In real life, 6 months might go by and in the campaign just 2 weeks passes. Heck, I've seen groups be in the same dungeon for 6 months of real life time.

This is discussed in the beginning of the document. It requires you to adjust your campaign so that months pass between sessions. I don't think that's bad, I like it. But I think that most people don't do that.

I can see situations where a player will go, "Hey, let's not go fight the dragon until I've made this staff." The group will ask how long it will take. "Two years."

Shortening the Time: They're not going to wait. That staff will never get made. It think the time needs to be shorter. This could be explained by getting other wizards or casters to help you make it. Together, you enact a ritual over the course of a week or something. Maybe it involves calling on your god to bless the item, or you have to pour a portion of your lifeforce into it, maybe draining you in some way for a few weeks. Maybe putting your lifeforce into it means it is imbued with your personality to some degree. Or maybe you are bonded to it, and if it is destroyed, you are mortally wounded. If you die, it is destroyed.

I just think that the timetable absolutely kills the chance that people are going to bother with this.


What a cool idea. This involves three checks: Stealth, Dex, and then either Investigation, Perception or Deception.
  • All 3 Fail: You're in jail. Possible outcomes:
  • 1 Success: Fail but escape
  • 2 Successes: Partial success, half the payout.
  • 3 Successes: You get the payout.
The DC depends on how much money you're gunning for.

Punishment for getting caught is paying a fine equal to the amount you tried to steal. You're jailed for one week per 25 gp value. OK.. just trying to steal 200gp, that's eight weeks in jail! And 1,000 gp, that's 40 weeks!

Again, that can mess up a campaign and it might cause problems. The rest of the group won't want to wait for that person to get out. They'll just tell the player to make a new character or something.

A lot of these increase the DM's work load. You have to make up a place that is being robbed, you have to make up the victim and if the character is in jail.. then what? What if the group goes on an adventure without them?

Someone should make a bank robbery adventure, that would be a lot of fun.

Buying a Magic Item

You spend 100 gp and spend one work week (5 business days, basically). Make a Persuasion check. The higher the check, the better the items found. The DM then has to roll on one of the magic item tables.

The hero is probably looking for a specific item. It seems extremely difficult to get it. You have to roll the exact table it is on. I'd probably just say that if you rolled high enough, and the item is on a table that is found on the list of results lower than your roll, you find it, or at least have a good chance.

The way it is now, the character will be spending weeks and weeks to find it and they're going to get bored or feel like it is a waste of time.


You can bet up to 1,000 gp. This one involves three checks. The DC is 5 +2d10, rolled for each of the three checks. The best result is for you to double your money.

I like it, I guess.

Pit Fighting

This one's odd. You roll three checks to determine how the battle goes. I think a lot of players would be disappointed to find that they don't get to roll out the fight or anything. The reward is just a bit of gold. You can make up to 200 gp per week.

This one is just too abstract for my liking.


This is an interesting idea. You gain advantage on saves vs. disease and poisons. At the end of the week, you can end an effect that stops you from regaining hit points or you can restore an ability score if it was reduced.

There's no complications, no nothing. Relaxation is amusing, there should be something. Maybe you have a deep thought that changes your perspective. Maybe you realize something about an ally or an adventure. Maybe you gain weight!

Religious Service

You make a check. You can earn favors and promises of future assistance. You could get spells cast for you more cheaply, or gain nebulous support.

This is too vague for me. Again it feels like I have to come up with everything for this.


You spend money and you roll. The higher you roll, the more pieces of lore you learn. This seems like a cool way to learn about a monster you might have to face. In the Eberron campaign, we did research on rakshasas and this would have helped.

It's always weird when it comes to monster lore. I know what the monster does in real life, but does my character know? As a DM, I say that anything a player knows, a character knows, at least as far as monsters. It's a benefit earned by playing a lot and investing time in the game.

We can say that your character heard about it. I'd imagine that in the campaign world, people talk about monsters a lot. In our world, people talk a bit about bigfoot, so I'd imagine a world full of dragons and orcs that are right there over the next hill are going to be studied and discussed a lot.

Scribing a Spell Scroll

You pay money depending on how high level the spell is. Making a scroll of a 5th level spell takes 8 weeks and 5,000 gp. I just don't think that will work. That's too much time and I think players would recoil in horror at the idea of spending 5,000 gp to cast a spell one single time.

Selling a Magic Item

I like this one. If you roll high, you can actually sell an item for more than it is worth.


There's really nothing to this. It takes at least 10 weeks! I don't see this getting much use. I guess it might be interesting if you run a game where the group has to train before they gain a level as then you could use this and maybe make up some events that happen during the training involving learning their new spells or abilities.


Get a job! What a funny idea. This can be used for bards who want to perform. There should probably be a "Perform" downtime, and you roll to see how your performance is received. Low means people are throwing tomatoes at you, high means you're becoming a local celebrity.


I think this is still a work in progress. It's hard to figure out how to handle it. People like me want details, lots of details, but if you're trying to use it as something to do between sessions, then it should just be a few rolls. That said, I think they need to spice it up and make sure that something interesting always happen during downtime.


Jon Gazda said...

My group does downtime constanly between sessions, and we've found a way to make it work well.

We use a Slack channel so that players can interact in-character and I can adjudicate. I usually let them know when they've hit their "downtime limit", and we have a bot that rolls dice for us so we can resolve these situations. I like it a lot, though we haven't had a chance to try out these new rules yet. I'll definitely be giving them a shot!

Sean said...

Jon Gazda: I've never heard of Slack, I'll check it out. Try the new rules! The complications are pretty cool.