On Downtime

Ah, the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition was here! It was the summer of 2014. How exciting.

In the adventures there were different factions, and between adventures you could have downtime. But where were the downtime rules. People took to twitter and reddit and asked. "Coming soon!" they said.


In May of 2015, deep into a 5th edition adventure, I (and my players) got tired of waiting. I finally dived in and began creating my own city procedures, outlining what characters could do in their downtime. It was a temporary stopgap measure, because surely the rules would be coming soon.

Years pass.

Finally, this week these rules are finally here! Were the downtime rules worth a three year wait?! (Of course not. Veins of the Earth is worth the wait. Not downtime rules from WotC. But we are going to look anyway. There are some interesting things in there. Let's take a look.

Downtime Rules

Foils are the most interesting part of the downtime activities. You create a small set of Non-Player Character's that hassle the players, with the instructions that some should be good and neutral, and only a few or one should be a "villain". The d20 table of suggestions for foils is good!

What follows is the constant mind-numbing parade of "fantasy realism" that is the bane of official projects. To save you time, it tells you in entirely too many words that you should develop Motivations, Goals, Assets, and a group of Actions a foil takes to achieve their goals. Oh, and a reminder that foils are affected by events and you should have them change over time.

This is useful advice for teenagers. But it's a whole page of wasted text for experienced dungeon masters. We need things like this to help our games. Something creative that's challenging to come up with on our own, not someone adding 50-100 words to an outline point.

Some examples are given, with a format for foils, which is long and wordy and might be useful, if, say, 100 were provided. At the size they have the 'foil stat block' that would be a 50 page document. Hey, if you want to do something like that, I'm sure you could put it up on the DM's guild and have it lost forever in a frothing pit of junk racing to the bottom!

I'm not really this crabby. Just come on already. It's been 40 years. If you're the industry leader, get this shit right.

No, Really, The Actual Activities then

Ok, this section is a bit better. Here's an overview of each activity, along with a link to my City Procedure for the same activity.

Buying a Magic Item: Charisma (Persuasion) check with a bonus of +1 per week or 100 gold spent, up to +10. Result determines which magic item table to roll on. If the players want a specific item, it's there, if you want it in your campaign and if you roll high enough to have it appear.
Selling a Magic Item: Takes 1 week + 100 gp. Charisma (Persuasion) check determines what kind of offer comes in. 

First, is it weird that the persuasion of the character determines the reality of what magic items are in town? I don't have a problem with it, but odd, no? The complications table is fantastic however. Top shelf stuff. Complications include: "The item is cursed by a god" or "The item is at the center of a dark prophecy". That's that emergent gameplay from agency I'm always looking for!

Carousing: Choose lower (25gp) middle (100gp) or upper (Noble background + 500gp) per week. Make a Charisma (Persuasion) check to determine the number of contacts made, up to the limit of 1 + the character's Charisma Modifier.

Meh. You can max out your contact limit in just a few weeks. Really, it seems like making these contacts should be a side effect of complications from other activities. The complications for carousing are pretty standard, sort of a neutered version of the various carousing failure tables among the Old School Renaissance.

Carousing in City Procedures

Crafting: You must have raw materials (gold) of half the items selling cost. Divide cost of mundane item by 50 to determine number of weeks to make, divided by the number of characters working on it. You must have the relevant tool proficiency.
Crafting Magic Items: You need a formula and an exotic material, guarded by a creature of a CR determined by item rarity. There's a cost and time based on item rarity. Potions of Healing and Scrolls have their own special rules.
Brewing Potions of Healing: Proficiency in the herbalism kit allows you to craft them. There is a special table of time and cost.
Scribing Scrolls: You must know the spell and be proficient in the arcana skill. There is a special table of time and cost.

The times on these options are long, by design. It's intended to discourage crafting. Most of the advice is very DM Fiat-ish.

Item Creation in City Procedures

I'm grouping the following activities together. In my city procedures, I have these combined under class activities. As an aside, even though I group them as class activities, I erect no barriers in play, preventing people from performing activities, regardless of their class.

Crime: Spend 1 week and 25gp. Choose a DC to determine the haul, then make a Dexterity (Stealth) check, Dexterity with thieves tools, and one of Intelligence (Investigation), Wisdom (Perception), or Charisma (Deception). No successes is jail, one success is failure+escape, two successes is 1/2 money, and succeeding at all three gets you the full payout.
Gambling: Spend 1 week and between 100-1,000 gp. Make a Wisdom (Insight), Charisma (Deception), and Charisma (Intimidation) check versus a DC of 5+2d10 (Average 16). No successes is lost money + that money in debt, 1 success is 1/2 of your money lost. 2 successes allows you to gain 150% of your bet in profit, and 3 successes you gain 200% of the money you bet in profit.
Pit Fighting: Spend 1 week. Make 3 checks—do we sense a pattern here. Athletics, Acrobatics, and Insight versus 5+2d10 grant you the win for 0/50/100/200 gold pieces depending on success.
Relaxation: Spend 1 week. Gain advantage on saves and end one effect or restore one ability score.
Religious Service: Spend 1 week, Make a Intelligence (Religion) or Charisma (Persuasion) check. Gain 0, 1 or 2 favors based on the result. A favor is a promise of future assistance.
Research: Spend 1 week and 100 gold. Make an Intelligence check with a +1 bonus per 100 gold spent, up to +6. Gain 0, 1, 2, or 3 pieces of useful lore.
Training: Take 10 weeks, minus the characters Intelligence modifier. It costs 100 gold per week. Learn a language or tool proficiency.
Work: Takes 1 workweek to work. Make a skill check to meet a lifestyle threshold.

These options are much less exciting. The complications are more mundane and less useful. Some are  difficult to make gameable. "Your victim is financially ruined by your crime", or "you are banned from the library". The actions themselves are much less impactful and lackluster. You can basically win a bit of cash, but most of these carry little to no risk. Pit fighting nets you a few hundred gold?

My problem with this, is that these systems are gameplay, they are pretty complicated bookkeeping for background flavor.

Compare my arena fighting: The purse is 1d6*100gp*the fighters level. The opponent is 1d6-2 levels higher than the fighter. They can bet on the fight. The fight is actually played out at the table.

Class Activities in City Procedures

Reaction and Analysis

There's been quite a bit of response already to these long awaited rules. The pit fighting rules don't necessarily favor the classes that should be good at pit fighting. Pit fighting is also a lot more profitable then say, working a job. The complications for pit fighting are milksopish also. The worst one is "almost fatally wounding your opponent". Yes, you can't get hurt pit fighting. The complications only trigger in 1 out of 10 cases anyway.

It takes nearly 2 years to scribe a 9th level spell to a scroll. Which is fine, but, you know. Two years. Apparently an improvement over the 50+ years required for legendary items in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

It took so long for these to come out, I wrote my own. Unsurprisingly, I like mine better. At least they are finally released for those people who want to only run using "official" materials. Your milage may vary.

Hack & Slash 


  1. Yeah, my players friggin _yearn_ for Haven Turns. (The clearly superior way of referring to downtime). They go to some lengths to ensure they get as many of them as possible. They're as coveted as any treasure.

    They would not feel that way if THIS was their array of options.

  2. Downtime is covered in the DMG, so not exactly crickets...

  3. I run an open table. Beginning of each session they have to account for the real time that has passed. They declare a lifestyle in 5 day blocks and then each day they can do one thing, training, crafting, working, gambling and so on. The end of the block they have income and outgoings to calculate and they roll a d20 life event, with mods for lifestyle. Things go wrong, some things are a benefit. Takes 20 minutes before the next session starts and then away we go. Passage of time feels filled by "life". Complexity almost zero. Fair number of random impetus to adventure generated. One player who has "tamed" a giant spider (sort of) had to pay a fine because his spider ate someone's pet dog in the down time last session. I don't know that I'll use the UA stuff.

  4. Good analysis. I find two things especially annoying about WotC information architecture:

    no overviews at the beginning of chapter - not even a list of content - and no formulas.


    Magic item creation section.


    Formula or recipe = adventure to find it
    Time (days) = Cost (gp)/10
    Raw materials (gp) = Cost (gp)/2
    Ingredients = monster bits (CR, see table below)
    Complications = maybe (see table below)

    Consumables = time and raw materials / 2
    Potions of healing = special (see table below)

    That's basically _all_ they've written, but it took them 2 pages?

  5. That "Your victim is financially ruined by your crime" and "you are banned from the library" stuff drives me crazy when it appears in RPG materials. Basic rule: everything should be a hook. And it's not even that hard to make hooks:

    Your victim is financially ruined by your crime and plots revenge (here is a d10 table of victims and their capabilities to do harm).

    You are banned from the library and to get back in their good books (geddit?) you have to do such and such...

    You almost fatally wound your opponent and he has an older brother/happens to be related to the king/is married to the daughter of an evil wizard...

  6. thanks for the mention
    wondered why that post was getting hits
    fixed a few typos too


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