Unearthed Arcana: Downtime

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Roll up your sleeves and get some work done (between adventures) with this week’s Unearthed Arcana…

That’s right folks. Time to get some milage out of those proficiencies in perform, craft (basket), gambling sets, and artisan’s tools, because this week’s Unearthed Arcana is all about downtime and what adventurers can do when they’re not out roaming the land, being murderhobos.

What do you mean there aren’t any adventurers here right now? What are they doing…working?

Downtime is an interesting idea in D&D. It’s a way to reflect the passage of time–because sometimes, outside of the “travel time” that it takes for the characters to go from place to place, it seems like all the characters do is adventure. If you stop and think about it, how many campaigns/adventures have there been where the characters level up a few times within the in-game space of a couple of weeks. Nevermind all those 1-20th level in a year or so kind of deals.

So downtime is a way to add a little detail to the timeline there and helps you play with the pacing of the game. Admittedly, you don’t need the downtime rules mentioned here to do that–you can always just say, “two years pass, what are your characters doing,” and then pick up from there. Especially if you’re using the Milestone leveling system. That said, these rules are great and you should definitely mine them for ideas if nothing else, because holy cow there’s a lot of fun to be had in them.

Downtime is pretty straightforward in these rules: pick an activity, figure out how long it’s going to take, make a couple of rolls, and then see what happens. But then there’s the chance of a complication–and its in these complications that all the fun happens. Also I should briefly mention the other thing covered in this section–Foils. Foils are characters who get in the way of the party in some fashion, whether as a villain or just a rival who wants to put a stop to a specific thing the characters are doing. Whether or not you use downtime, the Foils part of this entry provides great insight into how to run a proactive villain in your campaign no matter what.

But more on that later. For now let’s look at downtime activities.

Downtime Activities

These are pretty straightforward all in all:

Buying a Magic Item. Guidelines for buying a magic item, for better or worse. Though I do like that they point out a couple of times, that it’s up to the GM whether or not to allow it. One of the things that makes 5th Edition work for me is that you don’t really need magic items to succeed, so it’s nice to have it explicitly called out that, hey, this doesn’t have to happen.

Carousing. Drink and drink and drink and drink and drink and drink and fight.

Crafting an Item. Here are some quick rules for crafting a magic item–though the game points out that, like buying one, whether or not this is allowed is up to you.

Crimes. I guess if you want to be a thief, but you CAN’T talk your party into carrying out the heist, this is for you.

Gambling. Take a risk–but it’s weirdly one of the safest options here.

Pit Fighting. Apparently this is all about fighting IN a pit, not AGAINST one. Disappointed.

Relaxation. Just chill out, but, also be careful that a couple of guys who are up to no good don’t start making trouble in your neighborhood.

Religious Service. Finally, a chance to atone for…well…you know what you did.

Research. Support your local library.

Scribe a Spell Scroll. Okay if there was one thing in this list that needed rules, this is it.

Selling a Magic Item. Finally, something to do with all those Tridents of Fish Command that you keep finding.

Training. Learn a new language, or proficiency with a tool.

Work. Get a job, you lazy bum, and earn a week’s worth of lifestyle accomodation.

Most of the rules come down to make a number of checks with skills related to what you’re trying to accomplish. This can be something simple like your performance (if you’re doing Work as a performer) or more complex–doing crimes requires three separate skill checks. But as we mentioned above, where the real fun happens is in the Complications. I have never enjoyed reading through tables quite as much as I have in this article. Here’s a look at what can go wrong just from carousing…

Personal favorites include:

You have been challenged to joust by a knight.

You have been recruited to help run a local festival, play, or similar event.

Surprise! You’re married.

There are charts like this for any of the activities–and again you don’t have to use them, but there are some fantastic adventure hooks embedded in each of them. I mean, it might just be me, but I would LOVE to see what happens when, after a week of carousing, the Dwarven Paladin suddenly finds that he has to help put up a play for the Baron for the Summer’s season…

At any rate, you’ll note that many of these entries have an asterisk denoting that they might involve a foil, so that’s as good a segue as any to get us talking about them.


Foils, as we mentioned are NPCs who actively oppose the characters. Whether villains, rivals, or just people who dislike the PCs because they keep messing with them, Foils are a great addition to any campaign. Though they are presented here with the express purpose of messing with downtime stuff, these are great rules for designing proactive villains and running them in your campaign.

They break it down into five distinct parts:

Motivation Why is the Foil doing the thing. What do they want. How do the characters interfere with their ultimate objective, and how can potential conflicts be resolved?

Goals The specific thing the Foil is trying to achieve–whether taking over the town, helping a temple prosper, selling the most cabbages, etc.

Assets What resources do they have? Assassins? Fruit Carts? Fear? Surprise? Ruthless Efficiency?

Actions What are the steps in their plans.

Events If their plan goes off without a hitch, how does the world change?

In just those five points you have everything you need to apply to any character you want to be fleshed out. I like that it talks about their influence on the world–it’s how you make a character stand out, show how the world is affected by them or their absence. It gives them the same “weight” that the PCs have in the world.

Anyway, you should definitely check out the rest of the article. Here are the Sample Foils for you, though:

Read about Downtime and Foils

Take the Starter Spells Survey

Happy Adventuring!

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