image: Brian Vigue
Downtime during adventures is always the more awkward and clunky part of any long term campaign I run. My players enjoy role playing, but without direction they just sort of bumble around until something tries to kill them. It’s also a little difficult for me to come up with things on the fly that are much less a part of the overarching story. Let’s dig into that a little bit.
The “between quest mode” of a tabletop RPG is usually the least written about part of a book, if it’s even there at all. One thing that’s gained my interest is The One Ring RPG from Cubicle 7 splits adventuring up into phases, with the “Fellowship Phase” being the downtime. Sadly, I have yet to play that game in an in-depth manner, my only experience comes from play by post. The overall idea is providing a loose mechanic to downtime in games. Surely an interesting concept that could probably help me keep those parts engaging. So there’s a possibility that game mechanics could fill that gap.
On the other hand, I fear that providing a mechanical bit to role playing could interfere with the players making it feel organic. What do I do? Well, I have some ideas…
Since Ald Sotha was my first campaign I’ve ever GMed (and it’s still running!), this whole thing has been one gigantic, years long learning experience for me. This is no exception. What would have been a great benefit for me before this whole thing even got rolling is a session zero. It would’ve rooted the characters in the world and given them friends and family to interact with during downtime. This is so ridiculously important that I wish I had been more interested in what was going on here on the internet before I just charged headlong into GMing to learn it. What that session zero would have made is a collaboration between players to connect them to the world before they were even really plopped down into it. No doubt, some important GMPCs (game master player character, courtesy of Robin D. Laws) that have nothing to do with the plot but have everything to do with the characters would have sprung up from this.
That takes me to a small bit of gaming philosophy, I suppose. Adventures are for developing change in a character, downtime is for seeing how that change affects their relationships with those they love. It creates a much more lifelike and interesting experience for the player and, honestly, I think that would make me feel amazingly good as a GM to watch it unfold.
One thing I do in my games that greatly alters the way downtime is spent (that may or may not be a mistake, in some light) is disregard currency. On the one hand, it makes the players more interested in the story instead of material riches. However, it does instill a mindset into the players that shopping is useless, which is largely untrue. For clarity’s sake; in my game, the players are in the inner circle of a guild called the Axefall. Having the economics of the guild at their beck and call, I feel like currency should take a back seat the the overall story. The better the guild is doing, the more liberal I am with the things they can “purchase”. Without the numerical value to their wealth, it seems that the players are way less interested in perusing around New Port’s marketplace in search of new gear and items. Also assuming that most adventuring gear is on their person likely enables this.
Essentially, some of my most dearly held philosophies on how I run my games alters the downtime phases. My idea for a fix is a little interesting. The main background quest of the game is to strengthen the guild, create a fighting force, and take back the city that was once their home. Surely, this has a lot to do with economics, overall wealth, and health of the players/guild. Keeping it nebulous, as is my way, I think that reminding the players that there are little things they can do to further this goal could help create some depth. Moreover, using GMPCs that have started to fade into the backdrop to present the ideas could create that sense of relationship, community, and realism. Considering that the players are in between quests at this very moment, it could be implemented really soon.
I can’t help but hold a little bit of fear, though. Fear that the players will find this uninteresting, although the tasks are pretty much intended to be mundane. It’s supposed to paint a picture of what the guild looks like when they’re out adventuring, to create a sense that the world ticks and turns while the camera isn’t focused on it. More importantly, I would hope that this approach would make my players feel more of a connection (and by that, I mean simply remember) to some of the faded GMPCs.
What I’m saying is that I should plan a little more. I love improving my games, but damn, the boat does need at least a rudder to sail it. How do you manage downtime in RPGs?
Stay Metal \m/