Much like those of us locked up at home, our adventurers often need to take a break between adventures. But how do they spend their downtime? Today we take a look at how players can burn the time between their weeks of delving into dungeons.

Frodo stands at the edge of rivendell, enjoying some downtime after escaping the Nazgul..
Frodo spent two months at Rivendell – imagine what shenanigans Merry and Pippin were up to all that time

Exploring your options

In Adventurer’s league, players get given a set allotment of weeks and a list of things they get to do. Between scribing spells and learning tool proficiencies, there are a few good options available. The DMG outlines some default options, but in a home game, a DM can create a vast amount of options, or take them all away – depending on the story and the world you’re in. (My last session as a player, our DM left us in a town where every artisan was either dead or closed after the events of the week).

If you want to do something specific – whether it’s to work on your character’s abilities, progress toward a particular goal of theirs, or even just make some cash on the side, communicating with your DM is the best way to make sure you know how to keep those options open. Depending on how heavily downtime factors into your campaign, they may even leave cues within a session that could give more options on how you spend your time between sessions.

As for what you do within that time, don’t limit yourself to crafting or learning a new trade. While those are valid options, you can also spend that time working up the ranks in a guild, or gathering information about the world around you. An enterprising player could use those connections in their adventures as well, such as by joining the local militia and having them keep an eye around town for that elusive rogue your party’s been tracking. The possibilities are endless.

Downtime in your game

There are several approaches DM’s can take to downtime:

“Playing it out” – Some DM’s like everything that happens at the table to be in-depth and in-character. In campaigns with this playstyle, entire sessions can be taken up by players doing their shopping, or similarly “mundane” tasks. (Don’t get me wrong, a good DM can use the “mundane” to flesh out the world to be an even more full and wondrous place – See “Pumat Sol“) The tricky part here is knowing when you’re in downtime, or when you’re just around the corner from your next adventure stumbling into you, and being ready to make the leap from downtime to adventure!

The "Mighty Nein" shop at the Invulnerable Vagrant between their adventures.
When your shopkeeper inspires fanart – that’s worldbuilding.

“Glossing it over” – Some DM’s, especially in more action-oriented campaigns, will include downtime activities, but be very quick about running them. During my first campaign, I’d often say things like, “The boat ride is two weeks, what are you all doing?” and that conversation would be over in a few minutes, and as many rolls. Especially in larger parties, this helps DM’s keep the flow instead of focusing too deeply on individual players in ways that the other’s can’t really get involved. It’s a popular method to handle downtime in-between sessions, and have the DM quickly sum things up at the start of a session, which fits well with this play style.

“Downtime? What downtime?” – Some campaigns are pretty much rollercoasters. Either the threat the adventurers are facing is simply too relentless to allow for rest periods, or the players (and/or DM) are much more focused on other aspects of the game. This can be a great play style if all the players have the same view, but is probably the hardest to deal with if there’s a split. This can be even worse in cases where a player’s backstory or goals would tie into that downtime (wanting to be a legendary weaponsmith, for example).

Dwarf with braided beard forges a sword
“Nobody knows a weapon like the one who made them” is a great basis for a character.

In any of these instances, be sure to talk to your DM (or players) if you want to have a little bit more (or less) time for your characters to work on themselves.

Communication is key

A common theme in any aspect of D&D, is talking to each other. As a DM, if you want to focus more on downtime in your campaign, or how you handle it, talk to your players and try to get a sense of what they (or their characters) would want to do. If you’re lucky, you might even get some adventure hooks out of it. If you’re a player, and you’d like to do certain things with your character, make sure your DM knows about it – it might not fall into your lap, but they’ll probably at least make certain things possible if you grab the opportunity. Similarly, if your campaign isn’t handling downtime in a way that you’re more interested in, talk to the others – they might also want to try out a different way.

In any case, it’s common for players to discuss the game in between sessions, and downtime is one of the few things you can actually discuss between sessions that directly affects the game.

Downtime, in-game and IRL

Handling downtime can be streamlined by handling it between sessions – especially if your DM (or you, if you’re DM) is the type who can’t wait for the next session and spends half of that time planning anyway. Whether your DM barely focuses on downtime, likes to just gloss it over, or fully gets into it, they can at least have their plans ready for when you get to the table if they have the whole week to plan. In the cases of DM’s who like to focus on it less at the table, this allows players to have that bit of light on their characters without slowing down the action when they get to the table.

For the engrossed, die-hard players, there’s even an app that lets DM’s manage their parties’ downtime between sessions, without having to match timetables. The DM simply sets up the party, gives them their downtime, and checks it before their next session. (It’s also got some minigames related to the game in it, to distract those players that poke the DM button just a little too much).

Main task menu in downtime app
It’s nice to see the options laid out so simply.

Consolidating your efforts

Whether you’re handling your downtime at the table or in-between sessions (or both), communication between players is just as useful as communication between player and DM. It’s common for a smith and a mage to work together on making enchanted items (See here for a very thorough look at crafting), or for two fellow rascals to work together on some sort of caper/scam/shenanigan. D&D is a social game, and it says a lot to that point that even between adventures, a team is strongest together.

Even with social distancing happening at the moment, we still find ways to play together. Similarly, characters are almost always able to communicate with each other over some sort of distance, and can even work together to achieve the same larger goal by doing separate, smaller tasks (like one person gathering ingredients while the other brews potions).

Make sure you and your fellow players get to take the breaks you deserve, but if you’re always a little bit in the game, talk to each other about downtime, and make the most of it. With all the world taking some much-needed downtime at the moment, it’s as good a time as any to take some for yourr character as well. So go ahead. Take a break.

Dylan Beckbessinger

App developer by day, Chaotic Neutral dungeon master by night, Dylan has been a DM for 10 years, and an avid fan of all things geekdom for far, far longer than that. Favorite class is eldritch theurge, because raw power doesn't need any limits.

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